Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Legends #2

Writers: John Ostrander & Len Wein
Artists: John Byrne & Karl Kesel

So - what's the point of Legends?

From a market perspective, Legends was supposed to help reintroduce some characters into the post-Crisis Mythos: Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, a new incarnation of the Justice League, the Wally West version of the Flash, the new Suicide Squad, and probably a few more I am forgetting.

From a theme/aesthetic perspective, the idea seems to be call into question our need for heroic storytelling. Well, not really call it into question, since, as opposed to things like Squadron Supreme or Watchmen, we already really know what the answer will be, but you know what I mean.

The writers put what could be words from a "serious" comics critics in G. Gordon Godfrey's mouth: "I feel the very concept of the hero has become trite and outmoded! Today's high-powered world is too sophisticated, too complicated, simply too dangerous for such an outdated notion as the heroic ideal! It's time we put all such childish notions behind us!" (In fact, I'm pretty sure that you can find these exact sentiments on this recent thread from the TCJ message board).

Of course, this is all part of Darkseid's plot.

Which reminds me...

The first issue ended with what I felt was a very effective moment: Billy Batson vowing to never again become Captain Marvel because he had accidentally electrocuted a giant Kirby-esque villain. That had some teeth to it, but here we find out that, no, Cap wasn't responsible at all. It was all part of Darkseid's plan: Darkseid had Macro-Man rigged with dynamite that would explode when Cap had his lightning bolt strike, which Cap was psychically induced by Darkseid's minions to call down.

This is a big problem with these kinds of "event" comics (at least until recently - I'm not completely up to date): the creators want to change things up and introduce new ideas, but, whoops, they can't really be too new and the can't challenge any of the givens of the "property".

But the bait-and-switch here feels a little like editorial weaseling. They want Cap to face a moral choice, but they want to make sure that the moral choice has no teeth to it.

Actually, after a little more reflection, I think the problem here is that Ostrander and Wein are fumbling the details. Darkseid's overall plan - destroy Earth's heroes by having the public turn against them - is solid enough. But writer's scene-to-scene execution of this plan is spotty at best. Darkseid should be able to come up with gambits that are a lot less clumsy than these. This gets back to the Fault Line Question: Kirby's Darkseid deserves to be much more than merely the Big Bad of the Week/Month/Year.

The rest of the issue features scenes of regular folks buying into Godfrey's message and turning on various heroes. Some of these scenes work, but most of them feel a little "off" in some way - somehow not true to the characters involved. For instance, an angry crowd turns against Batman and Robin. Not a bad idea in itself, but it isn't handled very well. For one thing, it just doesn't feel right to have Batman out in broad daylight in a mall. For another, it is almost a complete deal-breaker that Batman would abandon Robin to the mob, as he does here - leaving Robin to get beaten!

The similar scene with the Blue Beetle works much better.

The highlight scene might be the one between Reagan and Superman, where the Pres explains that he needs to call on all heroes to cease their activities in order to quell the growing tide of public distrust. It's interesting to see Ostrander and Wein try to bring elements of TDKR and Watchmen into a mainstream DCU title.

I should also note that the Phantom Stranger shows up hanging out with Darkseid and I have no idea where he came from. Was he introduced in one of the tie-in issues that I don't have? I'm not sure and there's no indication given here about where I should look for an answer.


Nik said...

What I remember most about this series was very nice Byrne art but some awful writing, including what felt like page after page of exposition from Darkseid and the Phantom Stranger. Shoulda been called "Exposition Legends," really.

Jon Hastings said...

Exposition starts to get really heavy in Issue #3.

The "big picture" plotting is not bad at all. The implementation is very uneven.

Joe Gualtieri said...

Legends crossover into Secret Origins at some point early on (tie-in #10 or 11 IIRC) and taht issue finally reveals the origin of the Stranger.

Well, sort of. There are actually three possible origins given, and oddly, the one by Alan Moore is far and away the most boring and cliche of the three.