Thursday, April 03, 2008
Comics! Superman and the Legion!
Just a quick note here to tip our hats to the conclusion of Geoff Johns' epic "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" storyline unfolding in Action Comics.
The storyline - the best Action Comics has hosted in many, many years (and one of the best Superman storylines in recent memory, period), left us all on a great cliffhanger last time around, with a powerless Superman (in the future where the storyline takes place, the nefarious xenophobic Earth-Man has used captive Sun Boy's solar powers to turn Earth's sun red, thus depriving Superman of his powers)(which is silly for two reasons: 1. Sun Boy is the teenaged result of a freak lab accident - he's just not powerful enough to pull off solar transformations, even nefariously augmented, and 2. it wouldn't change everything anyway - Superman is from a world with a much greater specific gravity than Earth - even with a red sun in the sky, he'd still be super-strong and damn near invulnerable ... but we digress ....) fearlessly attacking Earth-Man, who's purloined all the super-powers of every member of the legendary Legion of Super-Heroes.
At the commencement of this issue, that fight is going exactly as you'd expect: Superman's losing badly. But our heroes are active behind the scenes, trying to revive Sun Boy and get him to reverse the spectrum of the sun (the actual means by which he's revived is hilarious and fitting, and it's all the more ironic that the suggestion comes from Brainiac 5).
They succeed, and a restored Superman faces an enraged Earth-Man in full view of the watching crowds, who've been brainwashed into thinking Superman is human and hates all the aliens currently living on Earth. "That's not Superman," says one helmeted police officer. "Superman wouldn't help aliens. He's for human rights. He's for us!"
Gary Frank is not the artist for Superman. His costumes have too many real-life wrinkles, and we've already discussed his penchant for 'rabies faces.' But still, his Superman can occasionally be visually stirring, and this is one of those times. The Man of Steel looks at the crowd and calmly says, "I'm for everyone. And you should know that, officer."
(a moment later, just before he takes the fight to Earth-Man and away from the innocent bystanders, he has an even better, even more quintessentially Superman exchange with that same officer: "Get everyone clear, officer." 'Yes, sir." "And be nice to each other while I'm gone, okay?")
There follows an epic battle in which Superman enlists the aid of the newly cobbled-together (and all grown up) Legion of Super-Heroes to fight Earth-Man. Needless to say, the bad guy loses, interplanetary war is averted, and the Legion is restored to public esteem. For those of us who devoutedly wish for a monthly Legion of Super-Heroes comic in normal continuity (and we're damn near getting it, in Jim Shooter's revamped Legion over in its own book, a title that just keeps getting better and better), this stuff is pure gold: this Legion is just what we remember our Legion being - heroic, quipping, conflicted, but always shining. Johns must have fed on the same back-issues, because his treatment of the Legion is pitch-perfect.
The issue's ending - indeed, it's hard not to think of it as the graphic novel's ending - is so satisfying as to be almost euphoric. The adult Brainiac-5 assures Superman that he'll need a couple of minutes to repair the irrevocably shattered time-sphere that brought our hero to the future, and just like that, we're back the past: not Superman's present, but his past as well. The issue's ending opens on a sunlit scene outside the Kent family farm in Smallville. A time-sphere opens and disgorges a very young Legion - Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad - and one other ... a nerdy little teenager called Clark Kent, who's been brought forward by the trio to share in their 31st century adventures and has come back crowing and laughing with the largeness of his adventures in their world.
It's a touching moment. He plaintively wonders if he'll ever see them again, to which they reply "what are you doing tomorrow?" Lightning Lad scorches an "L" in a nearby tree and says "Meet us here after school."
The issue ends with a grown-up Superman standing by that same tree, safely returned to his own time, looking back at his time with the Legion - young and old - as some of the best times of his life. It's a perfect grace-note on which to end what has been the best 'adult Legion' storyline ever written.
The oddities linger, of course. The new adventures of the Cartoon-Network Legion are being produced by the same parent-company that produces both Bryan Singer's Superman movies, and so the very young, obviously early-teened Super-figure in those adventures is called 'SuperMAN' by his young teammates - almost as though the DC powers that be want to pointed avoid using the term 'Superboy' ... and what about the conclusion to this epic, satisfying as it is? We're supposed to believe that young Clark Kent's hard-working parents could pay for every Kansas sweatshirt burned off him in the 31st century in pitched battle with the Emerald Empress?
No, somebody somewhere in some DC boardroom has said, 'Let's not call anybody 'Superboy' - and that kind of thing is only ever said if somebody's thinking of profit down the line. We'll have to wait and see what that amounts to - a live-action series of movies (or even TV-movies) starring some young teen heart-throb like Zack Efron or Jesse McCartney can't be entirely ruled out - but in the meantime, this present series has been so immensely satisfying that we, for once, can't complain. Long live the Legion, indeed.