Review: Justice League vs. Legion of Super-Heroes trade paperback (DC Comics)

June 7, 2023

 ·  2 comments

I have perhaps too often decried DC Comics perpetual event machine, in which the purpose of every crisis (and their numerous pricey tie-ins) is simply to lead to the next, and the next. But among stumbling blocks for Brian Michael Bendis' Justice League vs. Legion of Super-Heroes is that very lack of connection. We can all intuit reasons, of course — given regime changes at DC, whatever JLvLSH was meant to be, it likely ceased to be that after a good part of it was already planned — but it remains that given the potential scope for this book, League/Legion ultimately feels too small.

There is a perfectly workable story here, with a couple impressive cameos, and indeed Bendis brings his Legion run to something of a close with callbacks to the beginning of the series. Also artist Scott Godlewski is spot-on, with a hint of rounded cartoony-ness that reminds of the ye olde Legionnaires series. But frustratingly there feels a greater League vs. Legion story just under the surface here, that the book sometimes ducks its more interesting storylines for something that emerges as simply rote.

[Review contains spoilers for Justice League vs. Legion of Super-Heroes and Checkmate]

It’s clearer than ever coming out of League vs. Legion that Bendis could have made a long go of his Legion of Super-Heroes series. The second issue origin of Gold Lantern Kala Lour is fantastic — beholden no doubt to the tropes of Green Lantern origins, but providing significant detail about Lour, including that he comes from a planet where half the population is blind, he was a school teacher, and he’s something of a pacifist. Not any of this did we know about Gold Lantern through the 12 issues of the regular series, and one imagines Bendis had equally interesting origins for Monster Boy, the new Doctor Fate, and so on. Bendis' Legion moved at a slow pace, to its detriment, but we can see there was plenty material to mine.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

League vs. Legion is in good company at the point in which members of the two teams are partnered up and spread throughout time, evoking any number of previous superhero team-ups. It’s also a nice callback to the Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium miniseries that kicked all of this off. There, we watched the immortal Rose Forrest (of “and the Thorn”) age forward in time through many of DC’s notable futuristic landscapes, and here we visit those again as elements of the Legion’s past. Seeing the Legion crossed with Batman Beyond is always a kick, not to mention the sheer storytelling possibilities in what Brainiac 5, Mon-El, Naomi, and Kamandi might find in the amalgamation of a Leviathan/“Command D” stronghold.

But the answer is that they ultimately find nothing, and this is very much indicative of League vs. Legion as a whole. Where JLvLSH could have explicitly closed Kamadi’s loop with the published-earlier Checkmate, it does not. Naomi is apparently known as “Queen Naomi” in the future, but why or what legacy Naomi has in the future is never explored. It’s really never been clear why Bendis chose Rose as his tie between the past and future, and it’s not even as though Rose has wisdom to impart, speaking from the future with people from her past. In the cliffhanger of Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 2: Trial of the Legion, Brainiac stated resolutely that the Guardians of Oa who gave Gold Lantern his ring were not who they say they are; there is a minor bit of Latern conspiracy in this book, but never is Brainiac’s statement readdressed, even if to show Brainiac was mistaken.

Instead, it all comes down to time machinations by Vandal Savage. In any number of places, League vs. Legion feels as though it could do something new, but instead resolves — either by plan or by necessity — on a plot we’ve seen shades of everywhere from a season of Legends of Tomorrow to Justice League Unlimited’s “Savage Time.” There is never, I should mention, the promised “vs.” teased in the title (the one time “fight, then team-up” might have been acceptable), and even the stinger is suprisingly emotionless — the Legion thanks the League for their help, and that’s it.

I will say Bendis writes a particularly good Wonder Woman in this book, a character he hasn’t had access to for a good part of his DC run. If there is any larger philosophical underpinning to be found in Bendis' two teams meeting each other and the pairing of DC’s present and future greatest heroes, it’s in Wonder Woman’s recognition that the existence of the Legion’s future makes “all our battles … all our sacrifices” worthwhile. For all the various heroes' trips through time, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it presented quite like that, and it’s a beautiful sentiment, that the League now knows with certainity that they’re largely successful in saving humanity and bringing peace to the galaxy. That’s unlikely to affect the characters in any meaningful way, of course, but still a nice sentiment.

Structurally, there’s much that League vs. Legion has in common with Bendis' Event Leviathan, and therein might lie some of the point. That is, despite global calamity and mass evacuations, much of the book takes place in headquarter rooms as mostly Batman and the Legion try to parse out the cause of the “Great Darkness.” I’m not sure it is what it could be, but I can no more fault Bendis for his approach than I can Superman for flying or Tom King for using repeating phrases. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some rather careless errors — “1920’s” instead of “1920s,” Rose and “Thorne” instead of “Thorn” — that one would think the editors would have caught, and which burden the story more than it needs.

2.25

Rating

Justice League vs. Legion of Super-Heroes is, again, a perfectly workable Justice League/Legion team-up. It’s just that, given the potential here, perfectly workable isn’t quite good enough.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Comments ( 2 )

  1. > But the answer is that they ultimately find nothing

    This is the most tragic part of the Bendis era at DC. Bendis was writing one story (more or less) at Marvel from 2001 until 2018. (Well, two, if we count Ultimate Spider-Man separately, which it mostly was.) By comparison, he was at DC from 2018 to 2022.

    Bendis had much less time at DC but no shortage of keys to the kingdom - with both Superman titles, Justice League, and events like Leviathan, I wonder if his DC work would have crystallized the way his Marvel run did.

    But maybe what's at stake here is actually a core difference between Marvel and DC. Marvel is much more slice-of-life ongoing superhero soap, where Bendis can have 80 issues to explore the world of The Avengers. At DC, it seems you can't go six months without a big event or line-wide crossover of cosmic crisis proportions. Bendis doesn't write in that rhythm; his books always have more of a hang-out vibe than DC can typically accommodate.

    I think he was building to something - all his past work gives me that sense, even if he was making it up as he went along - but I don't think we'll ever get to see it.

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    1. AnonymousJune 10, 2023

      "But maybe what's at stake here is actually a core difference between Marvel and DC. Marvel is much more slice-of-life ongoing superhero soap, where Bendis can have 80 issues to explore the world of The Avengers. At DC, it seems you can't go six months without a big event or line-wide crossover of cosmic crisis proportions. Bendis doesn't write in that rhythm; his books always have more of a hang-out vibe than DC can typically accommodate."

      That's a very good point.

      I've said before I was tired of Bendis by the end of his Marvel tenure -- but I HAD wondered and even hoped being at DC and outside his 20-year old comfort zone and toy box would creatively re-energize him.

      But I think you're right -- that Bendis' style definitely is better suited to the House of Ideas rather than to DC.

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