EC Archives, Legion of Super-Heroes, Unknown Soldier: Still kicking!

By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service

Nov, 3, 2009 -- Forget turning lemons into lemonade; I’m beginning to think writer Geoff Johns can turn lemons into fine wine.

Johns has gained a reputation for fixing characters that have become radioactive because various revamps have made their histories too convoluted. He did it with Hawkman, he did it with the 1960s Green Lantern and Flash, and now he’s doing it with the Legion of Super-Heroes.

For the uninitiated, the Legion is a group of super-powered teenagers from 1,000 years in the future who, inspired by Superboy, suit up and fight bad guys. It was a throwaway concept in 1958 that refused to die and became a major part of the Superman mythos, since Superboy would routinely travel to the future as the team’s paramount member.

But along came Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986, which removed Superboy from DC Comics history. That excision mortally wounded the Legion, and various reboots tried to resuscitate the corpse by filling in with ersatz Superboys. Going into Final Crisis in 2008, that year’s major company crossover, DC had at least three distinct Legion teams, each with its own history – and fans. Now what?

Paging Dr. Johns. He penned Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds, a five-issue miniseries starring not one, not two, but all three major Legion variations, battling one of those ersatz Superboys, now turned evil. Johns didn’t play favorites among the various Legions, or their respective fans – he said all versions of the Legion exist, in different, parallel dimensions. And since Final Crisis is restoring Superboy to the timeline, the next iteration of the Legion can go anywhere. Everybody’s happy.

As for the story itself, now available in hardcover ($19.99), it’s an old-fashioned superhero punch-em-up, with wall-to-wall costumes and breakneck action and art by fan favorite George Perez. When three Legions team up, there’s a little something for everybody.

Elsewhere:

* I thought Gemstone’s beautiful EC Archives series had come to an end, as it appeared that the company that publishes the annual Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide was getting out of the comics biz. But then here comes EC Archives: Frontline Combat Vol. 1 ($49.95).

Combat, which debuted in 1951, was the second EC war book by the legendary Harvey Kurtzman (creator of Mad), but for some reason seems less sure-footed than 1950’s Two-Fisted Tales. A couple of the stories struck me as having poor pacing, or that maybe Kurtzman didn’t find his point until the last page.

But that’s quibbling, as even a mediocre EC comic book is head and shoulders above almost anything published before or since. And this volume contains the classic “Big ‘If’!”, one of the most famous war stories ever drawn. Plus this hardback, like all of Gemstone’s EC efforts, is beautifully crafted.

As to the future of the EC Archives, a Gemstone spokesman said they hope to have something to announce soon. I hope it’s good news, because these are really gorgeous books.

* DC’s Unknown Soldier used to be a war comic, about a mysterious WWII special forces operative who had no name, could disguise himself as anyone in seconds and wore iconic Invisible Man face bandages when unmasked. The new Unknown Soldier is nothing at all like that.

Writer Joshua Dysart has steeped himself in the politics and history of the Ugandan conflict that more or less began in the 1970s, and written a horror story masquerading as a war story set in that unhappy land. His “unknown soldier” does indeed wear bandages, but only because he’s torn his own face off in reaction to the horrors he’s witnessed in the bush. Plus this Soldier, a Ugandan-American doctor, has a voice in his head that we are led to believe is somehow linked to the original U.S., instructing him how to brutally and lethally engage his enemies. That should make continuity-conscious fans happy, I suppose, but the real story here isn’t the old Soldier or even the new one, it’s the appalling Ugandan civil war itself.

The Soldier dedicates himself to stopping it. “I see now how it is,” he ruminates. “How it must be. Someone has to sacrifice. Do horrible things. Commit to ending this once and for all by any means necessary.”

You can see some of those horrible things in Unknown Soldier: Haunted House ($19.99), which collects the first six issues of this Vertigo ongoing series. There is nothing pretty about this story, but it won’t let you go after you put it down.

Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com.

Views: 230

Comment by Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) on November 6, 2009 at 4:27pm
Great to see the EC Archives are still up and running!

That Unknown Soldier book looks good, too. I think you've got the price wrong, though -- most Vertigo volume 1s are priced at $9.99 for easy entry, and that's what Amazon is listing this one as, too.
Comment by Mark Sullivan (Vertiginous Mod) on November 7, 2009 at 12:04pm
Yep, Unknown Soldier is one of the bargain first volumes. I liked it a lot.
Comment by Captain Comics on November 7, 2009 at 12:23pm
Yup, it's $9.99. I misread it.
Comment by Martin Gray on November 9, 2009 at 7:30am
I don't think GJ has made the Legion less radioactive with L3W . . . leaving three teams in operation at the close is just asking for trouble. Play a favourite! It worked for 30 years.

Happily, I doubt new writer Paul Levitz will be shifting focus between the two Legions and the (yechh) new Wanderers.
Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on November 10, 2009 at 8:29am
Frontline Combat was one of three volumes that had been solicited when the line went on hiatus. The other two were Haunt of Fear Vol. 1 and Two-Fisted Tales Vol. 3. (FYI) And speaking of publishers that may or may not have gone out of business, has anyone heard anything about Checker lately?
Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on November 12, 2009 at 2:36pm
For anyone who may have read my comment about Checker above and is wondering, they are still in business. However, due to a dispute with their distributor (Diamond), they haven't shipped anything since February and won't be soliciting anything new until the dispute is resolved.

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