New DC Comics, Part 2 – Keeping the Backstory

While most of the new DC titles tried to be “new reader friendly”, they definitely approached it in different ways. A few seemed to ignore the concept entirely, and just slapped a “#1” label on top of a story that had been going on for some time now. I’m told the most obvious example was the Green Lantern titles, but I haven’t been reading those. Here are the three series I am reading that would be challenging for a new reader to start with. Ironically, two of them were new to me with this relaunch.

cover to Legion of Super-Heroes #1

Legion of Super-Heroes

Legion of Super-Heroes

(Based on issues #1-5)

The Legion of Super-Heroes is DC’s answer to the X-Men, with a large, angst-ridden cast and a mind-boggling amount of backstory. Unlike the X-Men, though, the Legion’s devoted fanbase has been too small to support them, and the series has been relaunched several times. Just recently, classic author Paul Levitz returned to the title, and the general consensus I heard was that the Legion was finally getting it right again. With the September reboot, I took the opportunity to check it out.

However, it turned out that the new series was continuing with the ongoing plots, and wasn’t even going to slow down to introduce its characters to us. Further, the Legion “getting it right” turned out to mean that it was fully embracing ridiculous plots and over-the-top teenage drama. This is a convoluted story that expects the reader to know years’ worth of history, and the payoff for following all this is simply having a greater appreciation for why one character is snarking at another about relationships or leadership positions.

Fortunately, I do have just enough Legion knowledge to keep from being lost, even if the modern plots mean nothing to me. I’m enjoying the trashy, often hole-filled story despite being in a little over my head. I fully admit that my rating here is inflated, and that I’m not even sure how long the series will keep holding my attention. However, it currently has the guilty thrill of a B-movie. I’m not even sure if I’m laughing at or with the series, but Levitz writes it with enough confidence (and Francis Portela’s art revels in the loud colors and dramatic, unrealistic poses of superhero comics) to make this enjoyable on its own strange terms.

Sample story: In the first issue, the Legion lets two new recruits infiltrate a potential enemy’s camp. The logic is that the new members are not well-known yet and can go incognito, but they never bother to remove the large Legion insignias from their costumes. It fools the enemy, though… for one page. Almost immediately, the new recruits give up on the subterfuge and attack, and the rest of the Legion congratulates them for their “on-the-spot judgment”.

It’s bad, but in a fun, gonzo way that modern comics have nearly forgotten. I certainly hope that no one else decides to copy from this style, but I’m enjoying it.

Grade: C+

cover to Legion Lost #1

Legion Lost

Legion Lost

(Based on issues #1-5)

The Legion is apparently doing so well that DC decided to add spin-offs. (There is also Legion: Secret Origin, a mini-series that I’m not reading.) Unfortunately, Legion Lost doesn’t live up to the awkwardly mixed standards of the main title. Fabian Nicieza and Pete Woods do a decent job of imitating Legion of Super-Heroes’ style, but without the panache that makes that one so bad it’s good. Instead, a limited cast and scope keep it centered on one plot without any needed distractions, and Nicieza holds the focus on each character a little too long to keep it comfortably shallow.

The idea behind Legion Lost is that a small team from the futuristic main title chased a terrorist back to our time, but ended up stranded here. The villain has released a science fictional virus among us, and the heroes are scrambling to save humanity. They’re in over their heads, and have so far just made the situation worse, though I assume that won’t be the case forever. I won’t be sticking around to find out, though.

The comic puts a spotlight on a different character each issue, but the dive into their psyches just shows how little is really there. They go on and on about their dedication, their love for each other, and their doubts, but there is no aspect of a real human being in any of them. It’s comics like this that give superhero stories a reputation for shallow and unbelievable characters.

Grade: D+

cover to Batwoman #1



(Based on issues #1-5)

I’m surprised that this title needs to go on a “not for new readers” list, but after reading online comments and loaning it to a co-worker, I’ve learned that it does. There have only been about a dozen issues of Batwoman comics in the past, so the story seems like it should be easy to catch up on. However, the first issue jumps right into the plot, and gives the impression that some elements of the new story are things that the reader should recognize. I think that the mix of those with the actual backstory is too much for new readers.

That’s too bad, because people who skip this title are missing out on a modern classic. Batwoman is basically just an excuse to let J.H. Williams III draw a monthly comic, and his art may be the best in superhero comics. He handles characters and backgrounds in a way that fits closely to the standard DC and Marvel house styles, though with a gift for detail and realistic figures that rises far above the norm. His real skill is in composition, though, and the fact that each beautiful page rises out of “normal” comic book elements just makes them that much more trancendent.

Most of Batwoman is told through double-page spreads, which are usually a way for lazy artists to fill up space. Williams gives each splash page as much story as a normal comic page, though, and multiple implied panels coexist with the full picture. Sometimes the effect of the composition is to show two contrasting scenes, or to tie the pictures into the shape of a Batwoman symbol. Other times, though, they are truly inspired, such as one spread showing a super-powered gang war along with the detectives who are walking through the aftermath to piece the story together.

Williams is an artist first, and this is definitely a case of the art driving the story. I’m not going to complain, though. It’s probably not a coincidence that the two DC titles with the best visuals (this and The Flash) are both headed by writer-artists. The plot (written with the help of W. Haden Blackman) is a mix of Batman-style clichés with a gothic ghost story that feels out of place, but it gives Williams free reign to do the art he wants. If it’s never compelling without the pictures, it doesn’t have to be. It is satisfactory at the worst, and at its best makes these typical Bat stories seem completely fresh. It also sets up an interesting status quo by the end of the first story arc. That’s important, because Williams can’t keep up a monthly pace for long, and there will need to be a worthwhile story once others are drawing it. (In fact, a new artist is starting up with issue #6. Hopefully this is just temporarily.) If you like comic art, these initial Batwoman issues are must-haves.

Grade: A-

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