Friday, December 28, 2007

Legion of Super-Heroes #37 Review

This is a pretty big deal for Legion readers.

Jim Shooter has returned to The Legion of Super-Heroes with issue #37, and it signals a new (old?) direction for a series which has had as many reboots and revisions as its had members. The cover boldly indicates where Shooter is planning to take this comic, especially if you compare it to any random cover on the Waid/Kitson run which concluded a few months ago. The costume redesigns have been discussed across the internet since the first Francis Manapul images appeared, but I hadn't seen that new logo until I walked into the comic shop today. The new logo abandons the upright, formal typeface of earlier Threeboot issues in favor of a colorful and dynamic font which recalls the original, post-Superboy comic and the Giffen/Bierbaum run from two decades ago. Todd Klein blogged about Legion logos this summer, and if you take a look at the top cover and bottom cover from that Klein blog page, you'll see what I mean about this new logo being a combination of two classic looks. Obviously, someone at DC wants to signal that this new Shooter run will return the Legion to the good old days.

But is issue #37 any good? Yes, with a few exceptions.

What works? One of the reasons Paul Levitz was such a great Legion writer was that he could juggle a large cast and a variety of locations in each issue. He could convincingly shift from one group or Legionnaires to another, from one planet to the next, in a span of a few pages, and keep everything moving forward toward a climax. Jim Shooter recaptures that kind of Legion rhythm almost immediately in this issue, by jumping from a partially-botched Karate Kid operation at the Disk Region to an unstable Lightning Lad plotline at Headquarters to a group of Legion emissaries sent to Triton (Neptune's moon) on a mission of warning. The three plot threads weave together nicely, and Shooter fades the Disk Region mission out as the Triton mission ascends in importance. Meanwhile. Lightning Lad is overwhelmed by the practical requirements of Legion leadership back the the HQ.

Even though Shooter throws in some strange structural quirks that aren't seen much anymore, like scene transitions that occur in the midst of a page instead of at the end of one, he does a nice job keeping the plot clear and moving forward with appropriate swiftness.

Shooter also handles the characterizations quite well, even if they don't exactly match what Waid and Bedard had established. Karate Kid, in particular, shows more anger (and overall emotion) in this issue than the previous 36 issues combined, and Phantom Girl is established as a sexy flirt all of a sudden, but these changes work well to define these characters for a potential new audience, and they don't necessarily contradict anything that came before. Waid and Bedard hadn't done a whole heck of a lot with some of these characters, so Shooter has plenty of blank slates to work with.

Francis Manapul, as penciler, is also a great asset to the book. He brings a style that's reminiscent of mid-career Travis Charest, but with a stronger sense of fluidity. His characters are more animated than Charest's ever were, but he has a similar sense of light and shadow.

What doesn't work? Manipul's pencils are not ideally served by the inker, Livesay. Livesay may be a fine inker, but here, his penwork fails to give substance and weight to Manipul's lines. Some of the ink lines seemed either not to have reproduced well, or are too lightly feathered (or both), but Manipul would benefit more from an inker who could add lineweight, not make everything seem even less substantial.

Shooter also makes a few missteps, mostly with the dialogue. The characters speech seems a bit clunky, although that might be Shooter's attempt to sci-fi it up. Sci-fi stuff has clunky dialogue, doesn't it? Well, so does this. He's also got some cringe-worthy bits like the Triton native's favorite greeting: "Yo-d'lay!" (which is repeated so many times that you can only suspect Shooter either thought it was really funny, or that he's thinking, "no, they SERIOUSLY say that"). Also, here's Shooter's take on future snowboarding slang: "And the body on those perky yumdrops...! Makes my metab rate spike!" "Perky Yumdrops?" I think it's the word "perky" in that sentence that's the creepy part. But those characters are supposed to be creepy badguys, so it's not such a bad thing.

Overall? The cover bodes well. The characters may not actually don the costumes on the cover just yet. I assume that will come in a few issues, but this issue sets this book up as a more dynamic, active incarnation of the Legion. It's not a reboot by any means, but it's a new beginning and now that I've read the first issue, I'm looking forward to this comic more than ever.

Edited to Add: This is my 200th post on this blog! I didn't realize that until I went to compose the next one. Anyway, thanks for reading, and check back daily!


Marc Caputo said...

Congratulations! I'm a bit behind on my LoSH books - I haven't even read the Bedard mini-run yet. Looking forward to this.

marcwrz said...

I liked Waid's run, thought it was different enough and loved Brainiac in it...perfect smart bastard.

Anyways, this issue was pretty solid, liked the art, love seeing the snowboarder girl set up as a future member...and then...well...not.

As for Karate Kid...I kinda got a merger of Waid's and the semi-classic styled one running around in Countdown.