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Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 8 #1

It's been a while since I posted up a blog entry with a read or re-read of of one of the classic or new Legion of Super-Heroes comics. I figured that today is a good time to post up another one. :) So here are my thoughts on the first issue of the current run of the Legion of Super-Heroes run...





Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 8 #1
January, 2020
"Untitled"
Script: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciller: Ryan Sook
Inkers: Ryan Sook and Wade Von Grawbadger
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Colourist: Jordie Bellaire
Cover: Ryan Sook (signed)
Variant Cover 1: Ryan Sook
Variant Cover 2: Jim Cheung (pencils) and Romulo Fajardo, Jr. (inks)
Associate Editor: Brittany Holzherr
Editor: Brian Cunningham

Mission Monitor Board:
Karate Kid, Wildfire, Star Boy, Saturn Girl, Superboy, Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, Brainiac 5, Colossal Boy, Dawnstar, Blok, Chameleon Boy, Shadow Lass, Mon-El, Bouncing Boy, Timber Wolf. (There’s no introduction of Legionnaires scene so I’ve only mentioned members who are clearly identifiable or who identify themselves. In the final two panels with the Legion about to battle the Horraz scene, there are 31 Legionnaires, not including Ultra Boy. Since his status as a Legionnaire is not clear here, he rates different status in the entry for now.)

Featuring:
Ultra Boy

Guest Star:
Rose Forrest

Opposition:
The Horraz; Mordru


Synopsis:
On the Planet Gotham in the Bludhaven sewer system, a shadowy, caped figure is pursuing some "idiots" who are flying a Cormorant through the sewers. The ship bursts out of the sewers into a main thoroughfare, and when the caped shadowy figure attempts to deal with them, landing on top of the pilot's section, he is blasted by an energy weapon. The ship itself crashes as the figure is thrown off it by the blast, and while he is momentarily hurt, he recovers. Before one of the "Horraz trash" can attack him again, as it didn't work the first five times they tried it, he takes out the Horraz criminal. The figure has a familiar symbol on the chest area of his clothing and is revealed to be Ultra Boy (Jo Nah). He then spots and picks up a container that holds something special. Jo cannot believe that whatever is in the container is actually real.

Before he can do anything else, he is blasted by a mystical energy bolt. The villainous, demon gangster "who started this mess", Mordru, gets hold of the container as Ultra Boy tries to pull himself together. Mordru asks him if he knows what the item is and what it can do, and Ultra Boy replies, "It can save a planet!" As Mordru prepares to blast Ultra Boy to smithereens, he is attacked by an energy bolt, and then a flying foot knocks him to the ground momentarily, and Mordru loses his grasp of the container.

Karate Kid, Wildfire, and Star Boy of the Legion of Super-Heroes arrive on the scene, and after Karate Kid introduces himself to the villain and a reluctant Wildfire also does so, the Legionnaires and Jo Nah try to avoid being killed by Mordru and also try to prevent him from getting the container. Jo Nah says that he's leaving, as he can't let Mordru get his hands on the item in the container, and the Legionnaires agree to this and take on Mordru. Seeing the Legionnaires in serious danger, Jo Nah flies back to their aid and takes down Mordru, the demon gangster seemingly killed in the process. Jo Nah refuses to relinquish the container and what it holds, though Karate Kid believes it to be broken. Jo refuses to believe this, and tells them that he pursued their ship to the point of seeing more of planet Gotham than someone his age should. The Horraz stole the ship, murdered everyone on board, and he's been pursuing them ever since. Karate Kid is enlightened to learn that's what the Horraz look like, and says that they stole the Awelter battle cruiser from his homeworld the previous year. Finally, Jo Nah opens the container and takes out the artefact from it - the legendary Aquaman's trident! Jo Nah says that Aquaman's trident has been missing for over a thousand years.

Over on (or in?) New Metropolis, Saturn Girl arrives with the newly recruited Superboy (Jon Kent) via time bubble. The two are engaging in banter. Superboy is adjusting to travelling through time and being about to enter the future. The air, the smell of it, will all feel different Saturn Girl tells him. As they arrive at their destination, and exit the time bubble, they are met by pretty much every Legionnaire. Saturn Girl introduces Superboy to the Legionnaires. He is so overwhelmed that he's not making it easy for her and the other Legionnaires. The Legionnaires use some old technology to create holograms next to them that has their codename, real name, powers, and planet of origin, called Frichtman tags. They use these when deployed on worlds that are in crisis so that the citizens that they are rescuing know who they are and will not panic as much, and it is presumed for other reasons. Superboy then looks up into the sky and asks, "What is up there?" Brainiac 5 then stooges around, saying the old "Is it a bird?" Superman reference. The Legionnaires tell Brainiac 5 to stop with his cheesy dad jokes.

Superboy then asks if what he sees is glass, but Chameleon Boy says it's a long story. Saturn Girl reiterates that she does have an orientation program to show him that will clarify things. Superboy then freaks out and asks if the city is in a bottle, saying that he has a real problem with being in a bottle. It's a thing with his people. Various Legionnaires chant "Long Live Kandor" in reaction to what he says. Rose Forrest [from LSH: Millennium] introduces herself, but Superboy brushes her off and then takes off into the sky. He flies up into the air and looks down on New Metropolis. Superboy asks if this is Metropolis. Saturn Girl explains that the entire city of New Metropolis is the Legion's headquarters. "There are quite a few of us," she says. Superboy asks why New Metropolis is covered in glass, to which Saturn Girl says that it is not glass.

The scene then switches to the Legionnaires and Superboy looking down at New Earth. He panics, and tells the Legionnaries that they have to go back into the past and save the planet Earth, and is told that the Legionnaires have already done that. That what Superboy sees is what they could save, that the Earth was damaged by all of the revamps and reboots. Brainiac 5 explains how New Earth is the product of the best engineers from all over the galaxy. It is the greatest project of the United Planets and the Earth's President. Superboy asks if there is a Gotham. Brainiac 5 says that most of what they know of Gotham City's history is classified. As the Legionnaires and Superboy fly back into New Metropolis, Saturn Girl asks Superboy if he could come back to Legion headquarters and sit through orientation, as the orientation will bring Superboy up to speed. Superboy exclaims that all of the oceans are gone, and then asks if there are bathrooms! Suddenly, Chameleon Boy's Legion flight ring starts buzzing. He says that there is a red alert at Legion headquarters. Cosmic Boy orders every into formation and Bouncing Boy announces that their flight rings are synced.

The Legionnaires then arrive at an undisclosed location in New Metropolis. There, they find Karate Kid, Wildfire and Star Boy, as well as Jo Nah holding Aquaman's trident. Jo says that the alarm is his fault, that he lives there, and that he's Ultra Boy. Wildfire says that they teleported back here with a foreign object of immense, ancient power. He says that he didn't read the Legion manual, but that they have must have accidentally broken at least eleven big ones. Saturn Girl asks Star Boy what they were doing on Gotham. Star Boy replies, "Nothing." Saturn Girl reminds him that she can read his mind. Ultra Boy then says that it's time he told the Legionnaires about his father. Brainiac 5 says that Jo's father is Crav Nah, the highest-ranking military officer in the United Planets, and that Jo's home planet of Rimbor is always in a state of civil war. Ultra Boy tells them that's why he now lives in New Metropolis. Ultra Boy says that he heard his father being briefed about Aquaman's trident. He says that a Rimborian hit squad was pursuing Mordru, and that by the time he came across it, there was a trail of bodies "across the Andromeda galaxy." Superboy tells them that the trident looks real, and that he knows Aquaman, who's a friend of his dad, Superman. Superboy tells them that he thinks the trident talks to fish. Brainiac 5 says that legend has it that when Earth fell, the oceans did not just disappear into space or burn in the final fires. The Legionnaires wonder if the trident can bring back the oceans.

White Witch interrupts, asking Wildfire if he forgot to close the teleportal. Wildfire replies, "I want to say no." The Legionnaires are suddenly surrounded by a horde of the Horraz. White Witch says that the Legionnaires have this under control. However, the Gold Lantern replies that they absolutely do not. Superboy asks who the Horraz are. Saturn Girl says that all of this is covered in the orientation.

Meanwhile, on the United Planets homeworld, the U.P. President (a strange looking female alien) is being informed of the Legion of Super-Heroes pulling Superboy out of the timestream and bringing him to their time period. The President says that the Legion has broken the number one rule of the United Planets. The assistant says that the Legion brought Superboy to their time in honour of United Day. The President tells her assistant to stop, and then asks, "No seriously, why would they do that?" The assistant then tells the President there is also news about a stolen Aquaman trident. The assistant says, "It’s a complete affront to everything we’ve been--" The silent President contemplates...


Commentary:
I want to start this off by saying two things. First of all, I've been a Legion of Super-Heroes fan since way back in the early days of Adventure Comics Vol 1, and so was thrilled to hear that there was going to be a new series this year. And I still am. Second, there has not been a LSH comic series in six (!!) years, though the previous version of the team appeared in various stories in the DC Universe. Therefore, the presence of the LSH Vol 8 series is a great thing, and will hopefully bring in a whole bunch of new readers and also get the juices flowing of the older fans of the 30th Century team again.

The question is: will it? One thing to bear in mind from the past is that very often, non-Legion fans tend to be put off by the setting, the overly large cast of characters, and the vast investment that long-term fans have made to really "get it”. While I have never really agreed with that, I never really understood that viewpoint until today. This first issue of Volume 8 of the Legion of Super-Heroes brings the reader a revamped, updated for the current time Legion, but introduces them in vast numbers. (I counted 31 Legionnaires, not including Ultra Boy, in the final pre-battle panel of the issue.) Very few of the Legionnaires present have any dialogue, but those that do are more central to the current story being told here. However, adding in the wonders of the 31st Century and some of the sequences, as well as the info dumps about various things found throughout the issue, one has to wonder how a newcomer to the Legion felt about all this and whether they will continue reading the further adventures of the Legion of Super-Heroes.

One nice touch in the issue is that, as mentioned, Bendis does introduce the whole team during the issue (even if no formal introductions of most of the Legionnaires cast are made); Bendis and artist Sook came up with a neat way to handle the "who's who" question around a team of this size. To explain who everyone is to new readers, Bendis and Sook use a new concept called "Frichtman tags" (which actually seem to be something similar to what was used in the X-Men comics some years ago). These tags are an in-story explanation for the name and description blurbs that often pop up in comics to explain who is who, used by the Legion to ease social interaction in the future. Unfortunately, these tags are not very visible in this issue. In future issues they will hopefully be placed in more visible locations for a proper introduction. The size of the cast also forces a certain amount of compression, which works in the book's favour.

The script of the story is just a whole lot of the same stuff. It's front loaded with action and packed in the middle with info dumping and rote exposition and window dressing stuff to be sure, but author Bendis gives the impression that he's floating through the future on autopilot, (over)stuffing the book with bland banter, some bad jokes, and plodding momentum. While he does strike some interesting elements into the mix - the first story arc seems to be centred on Aquaman's trident, which somehow survived the destruction of Earth and is still connected to the Earth's oceans - then there are the jokes: Saturn Girl's frustration at making a comprehensive (and interactive) orientation presentation that no one ever sits through; a clever phrasing jab about the "original" Batman; Karate Kid introducing himself to the villainous Mordru (more on him in a few moments) and making Wildfire go along with that as well; Brainiac 5 making the "Is it a bird?" joke at Superboy's expense, and a few others. However, it all seems so...lifeless. While Superboy/Jon Kent steps in as the readers' surrogate, none of it feels like it matters. Jon Kent is played for laughs and some downright foolish incredulity in the story (examples of that include when Superboy flies up into the air and looks down on New Metropolis and asks if this is Metropolis. Does Bendis think that Jon Kent suffers from brain damage? He just had Saturn Girl talk about how this is New Metropolis. Jon cannot be written to sound so dense), and I won't even talk about the business with the bathroom. Sheesh!

One of the most immediately striking aspects of this new Legion is the fabulous, highly talented designs and art by Ryan Sook. Sook was tasked not only with drawing the issue, but also crafting the look of the entire Legion team and the world they live in. It is a monumental amount of work that had to be done before even starting the first issue, and the results are simply...stunning. I will say that I've mentioned in a few places on the 'net that I’ve not been thrilled with the new look of some of the Legionnaires, but... The attire of each Legionnaire pays homage to their classic outfits in some ways yet are completely re-invented for the modern era. This group of Legionnaires looks like the 31st century, and not just because of their outfits. This Legion is perhaps the most diverse team of characters to ever grace the pages of a DC super-hero team book, both racially and in terms of body type. Many of the Legionnaires are now drawn as non-white, providing much needed diversity to a team that exists to fight for tolerance. Several members, such as Princess Projectra, Element Lad and Dream Girl, are drawn much more alien in appearance. Matter Eater Lad is now large and buff, while Timber Wolf is stockier. Sook's art throughout the issue itself is equally as thrilling as his design work. Like Bendis, Sook and the art team need to manage 30 characters, with the entire team appearing on the same page multiple times. Each Legion member is given the care they deserve, and their designs are beautifully realized and leap right off the page. His vision of the 31st century certainly draws from more classic depictions, but it's the science fiction edge he adds that truly makes it something special. From the bright, shining surface cities to the dark and dingy corners below, fantastic inks and colors bring Sook's pencils to life.

Sook's art also adds to the almost comedic feel that author Bendis lends the book. As much as Sook's name calls up images of dark, foreboding stories like the Seven Soldiers (I actually looked up a few of Sook's other work in the field!), this series shows a much lighter side to his work. There's a strong contrast between the moodily lit action scene that opens the issue and the brighter, more hopeful, team-building scenes that follow. That's also one of the particular strengths of colourist Jordie Bellaire, who seems to be right at home in this futuristic setting. I don't know all that much about inker Wade von Grawbadger, but his inks seem to bring out the detail in Sook's lines. One other point about Sook's work is that he does a very good job with the panel layouts (though in some places I was a bit confused about which panel to read!). This aids in giving the issue a dynamic and interesting look with each page.

However, there are some real problems with the issue, as far as I'm concerned. First up, there's Jo Nah, aka Ultra Boy. It's very clear that Jo Nah is a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes from Superman Vol 5 #14 and #15, as well as the LSH: Millennium #2 issue). However, in the opening sequences with him and the recovery of the trident, it's pretty clear that he’s *not* a Legionnaire. When the multitude of Legionnaires arrive at their headquarters in answer to the alarm, Ultra Boy says that the alarm is his fault, and states that he lives here. If Jo lived there, why would he set off the alarm? Furthermore, if this is where Jo lives wouldn't his teammates all know that? After all, Chameleon Boy said that the alarm was going off in their headquarters. And why is Ultra Boy introducing himself to his teammates? Jo was with all of the Legionnaires when they went and recruited Superboy, as noted above. This is just a mess. Ultra Boy later says it's time that he told the Legionnaires about his father. However, with the implication that Jo had never met the Legionnaires before, this sentence implies that he has known the Legionnaires for a while. No internal logic here. Later, when Ultra Boy says that he how he happened to be in pursuit of Aquaman's trident, he was following the trail of the Rimborian hit squad. However, this issue takes place after Superman Vol 5 #16, and we know that Ultra Boy was in Superman Vol 5 #15. How much time passed between those two issues? It only seemed like a day, so how could Ultra Boy also have already been so deep into this mission tracking down the trident?)

Bendis does a terrible job handling Mordru in this issue. I was somewhat stunned that the author would take one of the most powerful and iconic Legion foes and reduce him to the level of an almost jokey villain, a demon gangster! Mordru is never taken seriously in the story. He gets cheesy dialogue ("I don't fight children, I eat them!"), and is taken out with one punch in a fight that lasts a single page. This is either Bendis being ignorant about Mordru and his position in Legion continuity and the Legion Rogues Gallery or simply laziness in writing Mordru's character. Either way, it reduced him to a punchline. Demon gangster, really? Not!

Author Bendis also drops the ball with the setting of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Bendis only gives the reader a vague idea about New Earth and the general framework of the United Planets, though we see several different parts of the setting in minute detail. The author does a terrible job explaining the Legion of Super-Heroes' headquarters. As a matter of fact, we don't even get to see it and a flag of some sort, and this is a terrible crime. The Legion's headquarters has always played a massive role in the Legion continuity; whether it was the old school clubhouse from the Silver Age or the cool science fiction headquarters in the Modern Age, the Legion's headquarters was always an important aspect of the Legion. However, in this issue, Bendis gives the reader a vague, wishy-washy vision of the Legion's headquarters. He has Saturn Girl say that all of New Metropolis is the Legion's headquarters. However, he then writes Chameleon Boy stating there is a red alert in the Legion's headquarters and they go to a specific undisclosed location in New Metropolis. This indicates that there is actually a specific place in the entire city of New Metropolis that is considered the Legion's headquarters. And yet, we don’t get to see any visual of that location from overhead or the like. Criminal, just criminal, especially in Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 8 #1.

Something else that frustrated me and annoyed me was that there was no continuity between this issue and the recent Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium two-parter. Rose shows up in four panels, and gets brushed off by Superboy, and that's it! So what was the point in buying this issues of Superman Vol 5, Supergirl Vol 7, and LSH: Millennium, given they have nothing to do with this story? And to be honest, this scene is not the same as the scene shown in LSH: Millennium. For one thing, Ultra Boy and his team are not present in this version of Rose meeting the Legion. So there's already inconsistencies between stories, written and drawn by the same people. Doesn’t bode well for those of us who like our continuity and try and keep track of it (or the lack thereof).

On a positive note, there is the business with the President of the United Planets, which I am curious to know more about. I can’t say that I recognize the character design for the current President of the United Planets, so I’m not sure what's going on here, but the design of the character is...intriguing. (Hopefully, it's not a re-imagined Dominator!)

And I have to ask: What is with that halo over Phantom Girl's head? It's rather neat, of course, and it's clearly visible on the two-page spread on pages 17-18. And in the final spread of the heroes about to be attacked by the Horraz, Phantom Girl literally grabs it off her head! Colour me intrigued...

Overall, this was an "Okay" story and start of the new Legion of Super-Heroes series. There was a lot of stuff that confused me in the early part of the story, and some of the changes to the Legionnaires and their personalities didn't sit right with me, and the less said about Mordru the better. I think that newcomers to the Legion might be overwhelmed with all that Brian Bendis tried to do in the story, and the sheer presence of so many Legionnaires was a bit less than necessary. That said, the artistry and vision that Ryan Sook brings to the 31st Century is stunning and perhaps a bit overwhelming in its own right, but definitely makes this book a good one in my opinion. It certainly wasn't a perfect opening to the new series, but I'll be sticking around to see where the story and the Legionnaires are going in the 31st Century.


Final Notes:

This is the first issue of what is considered to be Volume 8 of a book called Legion of Super-Heroes. Let's hope it lasts a long, long time.

Ultra Boy is not wearing the same uniform he was wearing in Legion: Millennium.

Karate Kid mentions that the Horraz invaded his home planet, meaning that he is not from Earth (as the original version was).

Saturn Girl and Superboy appear to be using a Time Bubble.

Superboy asks about the toilet facilities on Metropolis, which is probably the first time bathrooms have ever been mentioned in a Legion comic book.

In the final, two-page spread of the Legion about to face the Horraz, Dr. Fate appears to be four-armed. Insectoid alien of some sort, perhaps? Another interesting bit.





Next Issue: Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 8 #2
Tags: comics hut, legion of super-heroes, legion read, lll, long live the legion!, lsh, review
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