Thursday, August 28, 2008

Legends #3 - "Send for... the Suicide Squad"

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

In a comment on my post on the previous issue, Nik brought up the series' seemingly endless exposition scenes. In this issue, the exposition is cross-cut with the main action: at the bottom of every page we have a panel of Darkseid and the Phantom Stranger recapping everything that happened in previous issues. Then they finish recapping previous issues and start recapping this issue! Laying it out this way is a kind of half-smart idea that backfires: in some ways it's more interesting than a two or three page info-dump. I can even imagine that you could play the exposition to counterpoint the current action, which would be more than interesting and actually thematically compelling. But that doesn't happen here.

From a historical perspective, I can't help wondering about DC's editorial policy regarding this kind of recapping. I thought it was strange that the first issue of Flash didn't really give any background for a completely new reader - something I would assume you'd want to do in a first issue. But three issues into Legends - a comic book that will make no sense unless you've already read the first two issues of the series; a series that will make no sense unless you're already a fairly hardcore DC reader - all this recapping seems like a waste of space.


From a nostalgic fanboy perspective, I was glad to see the introduction of the Suicide Squad. Suicide Squad was one of the DC titles I collected religiously. In fact, looking back, most of the DC titles I got into - Suicide Squad, Flash, the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League - were Legends spin-offs. So, some anecdotal market research showing that these events can bring in new readers.

The stuff with the Squad is handled fairly well, even if they have to stretch it a bit to make Captain Boomerang's inclusion on the mission make sense. (Interesting also to see how many of these characters would end up playing some part in all the Countdowns and Crises of the last few years).

The big problem with this issue has to do with Darkseid's running commentary. Blockbuster dies in the Squad's attempt to take on Brimstone. Cool enough - it's the Suicide Squad after all. The problem is that Darkseid refers to Blockbuster's death as another "Legend" falling. That is, to put it mildly, stretching things. It would be one thing is a fourth string super-hero had bitten the dust, but Blockbuster is a fourth string Batman villain. Not a "Legend". I see this as another case where the writers' "Big Ideas" are just fine, but the execution is hobbled. I don't think this is because of editorial constraints in themselves, but rather because the writers did not (or did not have time) to work out the details of their plot (and the dialogue) with those constraints in mind.

In terms of making use of the DC Mythos, the Big Picture Good/Details Bad thing carries over to a comparison with Baron's Flash:

Ostrander and Wein have a better sense of how to use the DC Mythos to generate some thematic oomph through how they position the various characters. However, they flub a lot of the little narrative details, so the theme feels layered on and unearned.

Baron does not seem to be interested in using the Mythos in this way. IMO, he misses out on getting the most thematic oomph out of the Mythos. (The DCU-related aspects of his Flash series are the ones it inherited from Legends). However, his Flash series works pretty well on a detail level. Without that connection to the larger DC Mythos, though, there's not much point to writing about Wally West.


Nik said...

AH yeah, #3 is the one I remember vividly with the silly cross-cutting monologuing going on. One of those Byrne tricks (although Byrne didn't write the series, but I sense his input on that) that didn't quite work, like the Fantastic Four issue that kept cutting between Dire Wraiths and witches or some such.

Mark said...

It could have been a "hangover" from Byrne and Wein's days under Shooter at Marvel. Shooter had the philosophy that any comic book could, in theory, be a readers "first issue" and insisted on having enough expository dialogue in each issue to get those readers up to speed on the current narrative thread as soon as possible.

Jon Hastings said...

Mark - That makes sense. The Flash comics I'm reading do a little bit of recapping every now and then, but not very much. Certainly nothing like this.