Comics: Flagship Teams!

Among this week’s new four-color superhero comics are two flagship team-books, one that I’ve liked intermittently over the decades, and one that I rather inordinately love. The first, Justice League, is set in the present-day and features – in this latest incarnation – a core roster of some of the most famous super-heroes ever created, including Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. The second, Legion of Super-Heroes, is set a thousand years in the future and features an almost hilariously enormous roster of super-heroes nobody but a comics nerd could recognize or name. Both teams were re-launched almost a year ago as part of DC Comics’ “New 52″ company-wide revamp, and that thought ought to give you chills right there. The “New 52″ has been a big commercial success for DC, and it appears to be connecting the company’s line of super-hero comics with a new generation of readers who might have been put off by the sixty years of continuity being carried around by the earlier incarnations of all these titles. But the revamping shows every sign of having been conceived and written in something of a hurry, and the intervening months haven’t done much to change that impression.

Justice League is one of the worst offenders. This is the ultimate super-team book, and to be fair, with this roster – Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg – even a writer as talented as current scripter Geoff Johns might be a bit stymied. There’s virtually no physical opposition possible, so any writer has to shift the dramatic emphasis to the psychological – and that’s pretty tough to do, when most of the “New 52″ versions of our old heroes are petty, bickering jerks. That’s certainly the case here, with Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman all being portrayed as graceless, rampaging morons, Superman and Batman being portrayed as aloof, clueless stooges, and Flash and Cyborg being portrayed as naive, toothless nice guys. All the complexity that was built up in the various Justice League runs in the ten years prior to this rewriting is gone, and even after eleven issues, there’s virtually nothing in sight to take its place. These teammates don’t like each other; they don’t trust each other; hell, they barely even know each other’s fighting capabilities – amply demonstrated in this latest issue in a way, admittedly, much to my liking: when the League tries to stop this new, revamped Wonder Woman from going after the bad guy (an effective re-imagining of Dr. Destiny), she retaliates by flooring first Green Lantern and then Superman himself. I’d been worried that Wonder Woman fared as badly as she always does after any re-imagining … in other words, that in “the New 52″ she was a loud-mouthed weakling. So these particular brainless fight-sequences were a welcome sight – although they were annoying in their own right, since they underscore one of the biggest shortcomings of this new Justice League: there’s just not enough of it. Fully one-half of the issue is given over to a backup story introducing the new version of Captain Marvel. That leaves 20 pages for the main Justice League story, and of those 20 pages, one is a splash page and six are two-page spreads. Jim Lee’s artwork continues to please me very much, but even so: this kind of per-issue commitment sure as hell doesn’t break his back.

Which makes the sigh of relief I heave when I turn to Paul Levitz’ ongoing run on the “New 52″ Legion of Super-Heroes feel all the more cowardly. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the only silver linings for me among the serial desecrations I’ve found in this company-wide revamp has been the fact that the Legion has been unaltered by the ruckus hitting every other title. In fact, things might have been ever so slightly improved: right before the launch of the “New 52,” the Legion was being cast as an older, more bitter group than the idealistic future-teens long-time fans had grown up loving. But one of the strongest tenets of the relaunch is youth: all our characters are visibly younger than their pre-reboot counterparts. Since the very idea of an embittered, adult Legion is anathema, the subtle youthening of its many members is a nice little bonus. And of course Levitz – a Legion legend – can do no wrong when it comes to writing this title. In this latest great storyline, a handful of team members are lost in Dominator space, at the mercy of long-time Legion enemies – with the bulk of the team unable to aid them, for political reasons. This is just the kind of storyline Levitz handles superbly (even though he’s most famous for entirely more epic, less nuanced proceedings), right down to the great Legion moments, like the one in this latest issue where a nicely-revitalized Triplicate Girl grimly adheres to the Legion’s bedrock tendency to look after its own:

But this all works so well precisely because it was largely ignored by the sweeping changes of the “New 52″ – it being the one title DC executives could be sure would sell well regardless. I’ll just have to hope it stays that way, since it’s currently the only DC title I actually enjoy every month.

 

 

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