Saturday, October 1, 2005

Comics Review: October 1

Brief note before we begin: I read most of my regular series by arcs, and mini-series only when they're complete. So while I'm reading "Young Avengers", I won't comment on the current storyline until the last part of it is out. I'll also try to get these reviews up on a weekly basis (Saturdays or Sundays), though I might add some during the week if anything interesting comes up.

With that in mind, it's been a pretty slow week overall: the only issue I'll discuss for this post is Mark Waid's "Legion of Superheroes #10", which doesn't really take an arc-by-arc approach, so I read it as I get it. For future reference, other books I'm currently reading that follow this paradigm are "Girls" and "Spider-Girl".

So, anyway, "Legion". I have to admit, this is one book I never thought I'd be reading; previous incarnations of the LSH had always seemed too unwieldy for me, too caught up in its own continuity with a cast too bloated to be explored sufficiently. But I like Mark Waid's work, and I'd heard this series would be a ground-up reboot. So I figured, what the hell.

And I'm glad I gave it a chance. Because it's a genuinely enjoyable book that avoids every possible pitfall this particular series could have fallen into. The cast is still rather formidable, but rather than try to cram thirty characters into twenty-two pages, Waid expands the roster of the Legion to a number of thousands... and then spends each issue featuring a handful of characters at a time. It's a stripped-down, back-to-basic approach that does wonders for the accessibility of the series (especially crucial considering DC doesn't offer recap pages for its various comics). There's no ludicrously complicated time travel here, no 30th-century versions of 20th-century characters... rather, Waid takes a bit of time to explore what the 30th century would be like socially, culturally, and portrays the Legion as something akin to a youth movement, infusing a strong political context into the superheroics.

The Legionnaires themselves are a varied bunch, apparently slightly more heterogenous than past incarnations. Their characterization also takes into account their individual alien nature: Brainiac 5, for example, is a cold, calculating intellect without a shred of interest in humanity. If past incarnations of the Legion were built on the similarities these varied people share, this version highlights the differences between each member. It's a more complex method, which yields equally more rewarding results.

As mentioned before, this is one of the few DCU books that eschews both the inevitable "Infinite Crisis" tie-in (as Waid has confirmed, multiple times, that this is one of three DCU books that will not, at any point, touch upon the current crossover), and the trend of structuring plots into story arcs. Of course, this makes for a slightly more difficult read, as there's no real jumping-on point for readers who didn't start at the beginning... but on the other hand, we're only ten issues in, and Waid can afford to continue using this technique for a while longer. The advantage, of course, is that the story receives a much wider scope - while each of the early issues contained individual stories looking at various members of the Legion, there's also been a particular subplot concerning an impending galactic war that's been building to a head, and is now reaching what appears to be a cataclysmic climax.

Ultimately, that's why I haven't gone into detail as to what exactly happens in issue 10; it's pointless to summarize without summarizing the previous nine issues. But I can tell you that, generally, Mark Waid has pulled off a rather surprising coup, streamlining the Legion of Superheroes for new readers while providing an exciting array of plots and subplots and characters. This Legion is, I think, the most realistic take yet on a group of disparate, disaffected youth fighting against the complacency of their zeitgeist; a bunch of kids who are as different from each other as they are from the adults they're fighting; a legion of superheroes up against the wall and facing annihilation.

Highly recommended: two thumbs up. :)