Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads
By Paul Levitz, Marcus To, John Dell
Collecting Huntress (third series) #1-6 (Dec 11-May 12)
DC Comics, $17.99
I swear to God, when I put this TPB down I actually thought “what did I just read?” There was nothing in this story that stuck in my head, and if you’re going to do a mini-series, shouldn’t it, you know, have a point? This was just a story of Helena Bertinelli going back to the old country to mete out some old-school justice to some human traffickers. Nothing special here; it was basically a point-and-shoot video game. “Oh, bad guy.” Kick! “Bad guy in a boat.” Explosion! “Another bad guy.” Arrow! Man, at least she could have worked up a sweat.
Perhaps the point was the “surprise” ending, when -- SPOILER! – Power Girl shows up. So the hero is really Helena Wayne! And this is really Earth-2! Wow, that means, uh, uh … gee, that means the Earth-2 Robin is a stone killer, which doesn’t make sense. Because, as Levitz's Worlds’ Finest demonstrates, Huntress started out as Earth-2’s Robin – and she isn’t a killer. Oops.
Oh, well, so things changed between when Huntress started, and when it finished, or something, and the origin shifted. It’s DC – they can always retcon it away, like they have all their other history. And I wouldn’t mind … if there was something else in this book to remember about it except for it not fitting in with The New 52.
I just finished writing this sentence, and I’ve already forgotten what it was about again.
Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 1: Hostile World
By Paul Levitz, Francis Portella, Walter Simonson
Collecting Legion of Super-Heroes (seventh series) #1-7 (Nov 11-May 12)
DC Comics, $16.99
I know it looks like I’m picking on Paul Levitz, but I had a similar experience reading this book that I did with Huntress. Which is: I can’t remember a single thing about it.
But this time it’s for a different reason than Huntress, where I felt like the story was pedestrian. In this case, it’s from reboot fatigue: Legion of Super-Heroes has been rebooted so many times, that I no longer accept what I read at face value. Instead, I wait to see if what I learn in a given issue is going to continue. I put everything I read on "hold" until it's confirmed elsewhere.
That’s not fair to Levitz, who is actually continuing exactly the Legion he was writing before The New 52. Everything he established in the last Legion reboot (sigh) is holding: Star Boy is still in a wheelchair (I forget why), Mon-El and Shadow Lass are still broken up (I don’t think we ever learned why), and Shadow Lass is mourning Earth-Man, who died just before The New 52 (although a violent xenophobe dating an alien or an alien loving an anti-alien bigot can never be explained to my satisfaction). Mon-El is still Legion leader, per the pre-New 52 election. And so forth.
And Levitz’s pre-New 52 Legion stint continued from his previous writing stint, which ended with Zero Hour in 1994. Everything in between has been erased (or possibly, per Geoff Johns in pre-New 52 Action Comics, still existing on parallel Earths). So Lightning Lass and Shrinking Violet are lovers again, although they were both hetero in the interregnum. And so forth.
So, in a sense, reading Levitz’s Legion of Super-Heroes is like putting on an old pair of slippers: Comfy, but kind of the opposite of exciting. But there are some new things, some of which I like.
Polar Boy, who I seem to remember having lost a hand, has not only regrown the hand somehow, but has also grown a personality. (Well, he used to have one, but it was earnest and boring.) Brainiac 5 is just as obnoxious as ever, but now his force field is being used as an offensive weapon – which makes perfect sense, in that in essence it makes him an invulnerable object. Sun Boy was presented in a pleasant way; the effort to make him a tragic figure seems to have been abandoned. Element Lad got a dramatic (re-)introduction as one of the most powerful Legionnaires, which I think every Legion fan in history has been clamoring for since 1963 (although, to be honest, he’s introduced as the only Legionnaire besides Mon-El capable of beating a Daxamite, and then fails to beat a Daxamite). Colossal Boy has quit the Legion and joined the Science Police, which is not only a nice nod to the old “Adult Legion” story, but recognizes that a guy who gets really big on a team with Mon-El and Ultra Boy is more of a redundant liability than a player.
But there’s new stuff I don’t like, and that is mostly comprised of the new members. Comet Queen (who joined in the pre-New 52 Levitz run) still uses faux-future-hipster slang that sounds, well, dumb. Glorith’s pre-New 52 history is so complicated I hope she doesn’t have any of it, but if she doesn’t, it means I don’t know anything about her (and we don't learn anything here). Dragonwing is another Claremont-style tough chick, one with unimpressive powers, and I’ve had my fill of those in X-Men. And the new Chemical Kid has the same problems of the previous versions (usually called Chemical King): His power isn’t visual, it’s difficult to explain and overall he’s rather boring. (Although he does beat the Daxamite.)
One problem with the new characters – and the series in general – is that so little is explained about them. In fact, Levitz offers little explanation for anything. Maybe it’s an effort to make Legion less complicated; maybe DC sees a hit-the-ground-running approach as a solution to reboot fatigue; maybe it’s just the post-Wolverine writing style, where mysteries drag on and on until nobody cares any more what the answers are.
Whatever the reason, I feel it’s a disservice to the reader. I don’t need to know why Polar Boy has two hands again; this is a new series (kinda) and this is our starting point. But if you’re going to have Mon-El and Shadow Lass constantly referring to their previous relationship, shouldn’t we finally get an explanation as to why they broke up? It’s not trivia; it’s characterization that will certainly affect their interaction in the future. If Levitz is going to devote several scenes to Brainiac 5 exploring Glorith’s mysterious powers, shouldn’t we have a clue who she is, where those powers come from, why they are to date baffling a super-genius and, you know, what they are? Again, this isn’t trivia, or a juicy mystery, because we don’t have enough facts to get intrigued.
Levitz is too good a storyteller to skip over basic building blocks like this, so I’m guessing he’s under a mandate to make Legion more accessible, or simpler, or something. But the end result, I think, is that when even older readers like me are frustrated by lack of information, that younger readers are simply going to put the book back on the shelf.
Legion Lost Volume 1: Run from Tomorrow
By Fabian Nicieza, Pete Woods, Tom DeFalco
Collecting Legion Lost #1-7 (Nov 11-May 12)
DC Comics, $14.99
First, Legionnaires being lost – and, specifically, trapped in the “present” – has been done a bajillion times. There was a whole other series called Legion Lost, for example, with essentially the same concept, except that it wasn’t on Earth so it had the advantage of having an interesting milieu. But being trapped in the present? Going back to Mon-El, Shadow Lass and Superboy hiding in 20th century Smallville (Adventure Comics #369-370, Jun-Jul 68) to Karate Kid, Inferno and Timber Wolf having entire series set in the present, this is really nothing new.
Secondly, the book suffers from a typical problem found in time-travel stories: The Legion is here to stop a plague from destroying humanity on Earth, but there’s no suspense, because they come from a future where humanity still exists, so clearly they will succeed. Oh, maybe a plague in the past would create an alternate future, or something. But, really, is there any doubt that this book has a built-in expiration date? And will have exactly zero consequences when it’s over?
Finally, I have a complaint that is specific to me, which I don’t expect many Legion fans to agree with. And that is: I don’t like most of the Legionnaires starring in this series:
Wildfire: Drake Burroughs is a fan favorite, but I’ve never liked him. His obnoxious personality and misplaced aggression just strikes me as being a petulant child, not a hero. Your mileage will (almost certainly) vary.
Dawnstar: Another fan favorite whose popularity baffles me. She’s an ice queen with essentially no personality, except for constantly reminding us how badly her (Native American) ancestors were treated on Earth. Seriously? Race is still an issue in the 31st century, where alien beings are commonplace? I'm sympathetic to what Native Americans suffered, but in 1,000 years, when "history" is now galactic and includes millions of races, it would be less than a footnote.
Tyroc: See above. I couldn’t stand Tyroc when he was introduced, because of the obvious (and unwelcome) insertion of 20th century racial-identity politics into a shiny, multi-racial future where that clearly wouldn’t be an issue. And, it being the 1970s, Tyroc had to have an Afro, open his shirt down to his navel, and be the clichéd Angry Black Man. That made perfect sense for a 20th century hero created in the 1970s (see: Luke Cage), but was counter-intuitive for 30th century Earth. Tyroc, unbelievably, accused a team where half the team was from other planets and had blue skin, orange skin and green skin among its membership, of being racists. Racists. Really? Plus, it didn’t help that they gave his home island Brigadoon’s story. There wasn’t a single original element in Tyroc’s origin, I found the racial politics angle insulting, plus his power was stupid (“Ayyuuuu!”). Now, maybe some of that will be ameliorated in the current incarnation, but it’s hard to get that original bad taste out of my mouth.
Timber Wolf: I liked him a lot better before they turned him into Wolverine.
Gates: Nobody will ever accuse me of being a conservative, but Gates’ constant Marxist sloganeering is tiresome. (Useful power, though.)
Chameleon Girl: I still can’t believe all is forgiven after she pretended to be Shrinking Violet and married Colossal Boy in the service of people trying to infiltrate the Legion (and didn’t say anything while Violet was imprisoned and tortured for years). I think that goes a little beyond “youthful indiscretion.” Maybe The New 52 version has a different history, but if so, we don’t know, because we’re not given any information about her. So she’s either unforgivable or a cipher.
Tellus: I don’t really have anything against this character, but I don’t really like him, either. He’s kinda just there, talking … like this … all … the time … which is … tiresome. (Useful power, though.)
I expect pushback on these opinions. That’s OK, that’s what this board is for.
Legion: Secret Origin
Paul Levitz, Chris Batista, Marc Deering
Collecting Legion: Secret Origin #1-6 (Dec 11-May 12)
DC Comics, $14.99
It may seem like I’m beating up on the Legion of Super-Heroes. If so, it’s out of love. But here’s another disappointment.
This six-issue series, for all intents and purposes, decompresses the Silver Age origin that took about 3 panels into six issues. Levitz adds some elements that were introduced later so it all happens at once, like Brainiac 5’s origin, the mystery of R.J. Brande, the introduction of the Time Trapper, and so forth. But none of this is NEW new information; all of it can fit snugly into the Silver Age framework wherever it might go from here. (For example, R. J. Brande turned out to be a Durlan in the original series, and Chameleon Boy’s secret father. The “mystery” here allows for that explanation, and kinda points that way, whether it turns out to be that or not.)
Nothing to see here, Johnny. Move along.
Voodoo Volume 1: What Lies Beneath
By Ron Marz, Sami Basri, Josh Williamson
Collecting Voodoo #1-6 (Nov 11-Apr 12)
DC Comics, $17.99
Coming out at the same time that fandom was outraged at the misogyny and/or sexual controversy in Red Hood and the Outlaws #1, Catwoman #1, and other New 52 titles, it was guaranteed that Voodoo would hit the same buttons. After all, the first issue is set almost entirely in a strip club, and there is lots of female flesh on display. But here’s a place, IMHO, where cheesecake works.
The titular character (sorry) is a stripper, but she is also an alien, under observation (ha, ha!) by the FBI. Voodoo is a shapeshifter and telepathic, so working at a strip club near a military base is a perfect cover for learning about Earth’s military, part of her brief in prepping her race (Daemonites) to invade the planet. Sure, there are probably other ways for her to do it, but being a stripper really is a good idea – as she says, “This is a good place to learn about people. Men, especially. They let their defenses down here.” No kidding.
And, once you see what Voodoo looks like, and watch her kill someone in a shockingly brutal fashion, whatever titillation the male reader might experience quickly turns to horror – and, believe me, nobody’s thinking below the waist after the murder. It’s really a neat trick Marz pulls, suckering you with what looks like pandering before turning the reader’s snickers into screams. Sort of what Voodoo herself does.
The flaw here is that it’s really hard to empathize with the title character, which Marz offsets by giving us a sympathetic (and female) FBI agent. However, it’s Voodoo’s book, and I never really warned up to her, although her story turns out to be interesting. I won’t spoil anything here, but Voodoo begins investigating herself after the shocker of the first issue, and much of what we learn in the first issue is turned on its head. By the end, I was really intrigued as to where Marz was going, and I’ll be on board for the second TPB, if there is one (Voodoo was an early casualty of The New 52.)
Demon Knights Volume 1: Seven Against the Dark
By Paul Cornell, Diogenes Neves, Oclair Albert
Collecting Demon Knights #1-7 (Nov 11-May 12)
DC Comics, $14.99
I haven’t decided if this series has legs or not, but I was entertained.
The set-up is a whole bunch of familiar names from the DC Universe, in New 52 incarnations in the Middle Ages. Which is weird, because there’s a huge magical fight here that should have made the history books, but somehow never did.
Anyway, we see various characters bump into each other, presumably by coincidence, at an inn which, again by coincidence, happens to be in the way of an army led by two sorcerers who MUST go through that town, because somehow going around it is tactically unsound. The characters in the inn become defenders of the town, sort of in Magnificent Seven fashion, but because they’re attacked and can’t escape, not for money or altruistic reasons. Those characters include:
Jason Blood/The Demon: Essentially the same character from pre-New 52, a mortal bonded to a demon at the fall of Camelot, to the annoyance of both. One of the problems with The Demon is that he’s really freaking powerful, and being a demon, there’s always got to be some sort of story reason to prevent him from doing really horrible things and somehow force him to fight on the side of the white hats. Sometimes those reasons are convincing, and sometimes not, but the cumulative effect of them on me in the pre-New 52 is that The Demon wasn’t very scary – in fact, he seemed sort of tame, since he almost never acted like a demon. In this series, he’s a good guy because of:
Madame Xanadu: An immortal magic-user, we don’t know who she is in this incarnation, although there’s nothing here to disallow her pre-New 52 origin, in which she was Nimue, the nymph who seduced and betrayed Merlin in the Arthurian tales. Anyway, she’s humping both Jason and The Demon, and telling both that she really loves him alone and is just using the other guy. Gee, what could go wrong?
Sir Ystin: Sir Justin, The Shining Knight, has been in the DCU since the 1940s, but was re-imagined as a female by Grant Morrison in his Seven Soldiers mega-series. Morrison kept intact the original Shining Knight’s origin in Camelot, placing Sir Ystin (sometimes Ystina, the Welsh spelling of Justin) out of time altogether, an aspect of the eternally re-occuring Camelot concept who is from 10,000 B.C. but had been imprisoned by the Sheeda during the legendary Camelot, where Justin was, altogether (it’s Morrision, just roll with it). This Sir Ystin seems essentially the same, although this one insists she is a he, which everyone pretends is true to avoid giving offense. And since she is unaware of the actual Camelot, and is very aware of the conceptual one, she thinks all the other characters who were at the fall of Camelot (Xanadu, Blood, Demon) are lying.
Exoristes: Greek for “the exiled,” she is an exiled Amazon. She’s really strong.
Al Jabr: An Arab whose name is the historical origin of the English “algebra,” this character is sort of a mechano-wizard MacGyver type who can whip up siege engines out of paper clips and bubble gum. I mean, with only the scant resources of a small village, with only a small, untrained work force – and overnight.
Vandal Savage: Immortal like his pre-New 52 incarnation, this version resembles Marvel’s Hercules more than the scheming, barbarous villain of yore. You know the type: outgoing personality and outsize appetites.
Horsewoman: A woman who is magically restrained to always riding horses, involving enchanted bridles in some way. She can also communicate and command horses. Sort of an Aquaman (swims fast, talks to fish) for the Middle Ages (rides fast, talks to horses).
The bad guys are led by The Questing Queen (new character; sorceress) and Mordru (evil 30th century sorcerer pre-New 52, Middle Ages sorcerer driven by love, possibly, but also evil, probably). The Queen is questing for the Holy Grail, which is also what Sir Ystin is after.
Gathering these characters and setting up all the motivations and background is essentially what this book is about; the Macguffin is the two sides battling over the small village. In the course of the battle, the info above is revealed by characters’ actions and dialogue.
And I enjoyed it. I’m not sure I’m on board for the long haul, but this was sufficiently amusing that I’m on board for at least one more collection.
Polar Boy, who I seem to remember having lost a hand, has not only regrown the hand somehow, but has also grown a personality. (Well, he used to have one, but it was earnest and boring.)
I liked Polar Boy's previous personality. The sub who made good. A mixture of enthusiasm and obnoxiousness (how he rubbed a few members the wrong way when he ran for leader way back when). I like this version as well.
Sun Boy was presented in a pleasant way; the effort to make him a tragic figure seems to have been abandoned.
Agreed, that they've been trying to push the tragedy on him forever it seems. Although the current version has seemed pretty plain to me.
Element Lad got a dramatic (re-)introduction as one of the most powerful Legionnaires, which I think every Legion fan in history has been clamoring for since 1963 (although, to be honest, he’s introduced as the only Legionnaire besides Mon-El capable of beating a Daxamite, and then fails to beat a Daxamite)
He's capable just doesn't mean can do it. I am capable of making a perfect over easy egg, but I still break the yolk sometimes.
Glorith’s pre-New 52 history is so complicated I hope she doesn’t have any of it, but if she doesn’t, it means I don’t know anything about her (and we don't learn anything here).
Well the last version of her was just a girl trained on Sorcerer's World. Then she was taken into the Legion Academy, and soon graduated with Comet Queen, Chemical Kid and Dragonwing. Now we don't know much about her background, and Brainiac 5 has been trying to test her limits. Yet, with so many characters on the team it is probably just something Levitz hasn't been able to get to yet. I will say it is hard to really care about her, since we've barely seen her lately and barely got to know her to begin with.
Legion Lost: My biggest disappointment in this series was that they put it in current time. They had so many other time periods they could have put them in just to change it up a bit it would have been great. I disagree though that there can't be suspense. There can be, the creators just don't achieve any. Plus, they get sidetracked a lot.
Now to the characters
Wildfire: Man, I've always liked him. I don't see his aggression as misplaced. I think he is continually venting at having lost his body. In this book though he comes off more stupid than he has in the past.
Dawstar: Visually she is great, but about the Ice Queen personality.
Tyroc: I missed all of his background baggage the first time around, so it doesn't really affect me. I've enjoyed the use of his powers in non-combat situations. Like in the previous Legion series when he was using it at a crime scene. Good stuff.
Timber Wolf: I dunno he was Wolverine before Wolverine was. One of my all-time favorites though so don't expect any objectivity from me.
Gates: I love the little worm myself. I thought his Marxism was usually used as a comedic effect, was I wrong? Are writers using all of that seriously?
Chameleon Girl: Don't really have much of an opinion on her.
Tellus: I used to not like him, but he has grown on me over the years. Not sure what it is.
So we differ quite a bit on that line-up. :)
Legion Origin series though? I passed on that. Like I said about all of the Superman origins the past few years I don't need another one. I know the Legion's origin.