Thursday, August 13, 2009

Comics! Adventure Comics #1!

Well naturally, I read DC Comics' new relaunch of Adventure Comics - how could I not? After all, Adventure Comics and I go back a long way, and the two DC creations here - Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes - well, I go back a long way with them too.

Once again, Superboy is the star of Adventure Comics - only it isn't young super-powered Clark Kent, sole survivor of the planet Krypton ... it's a vat-grown clone created in a lab using DNA from both Superman and Lex Luthor, a clone now called Conner Kent, since he's been quasi-adopted by saintly Ma Kent in Smallville, Clark Kent's rural hometown. This character already has a long and eventful history in DC Comics (had Stevereads existed back when he had his first series, with fantastic artwork by Tom Grummett, I'd have praised it then), including dying in some mega-crisis or other.

He's back now, and this first issue has the languid pacing and extensive backgrounding that's actually a canny way to kick off a series obviously meant to re-introduce the character to readers. In this issue, he respects Ma Kent, plays with Krypto the super-dog, has a long heart-to-heart with Superman, and secretly agonizes over the fact that one of his two daddies is the most evil man in the world. Geoff Johns does a good job drawing readers into what feels like a longer, more careful story than the usual first issue these days, and the coloring job Brian Buccellato does over Francis Manapul's oddly stiff artwork is nothing less than breathtaking.

And it was tough for me to notice those things, because the issue's back-up feature, "Long Live the Legion" (also by Johns, with artwork by Clayton Henry), is why I paid attention in the first place. Here were all the marbles in one inertron basket: the dust had settled from the Legion of Three Worlds, a couple of weeks had passed, and all I wanted was the answer to one question: is the Legion, the real Legion, back at last?

It is indeed. Right there on page 23, I get literally everything I've wanted from Legion creators for what? About six or seven years now? I'll quote:

It all began when Jor-el and Lara sent their only son to Earth to escape the destruction of the planet Krypton. Kal-el became the first documented alien immigrant to Earth [picture here of Clark Kent flying, where his Superboy costume]. A thousand years later, Kal-el's legend paved the way for extraterrestrials from across the universe to venture to Earth. That included three teenagers who saved the life of the 31st century's greatest entrepreneur, R. J. Brande, from a mysterious assassin. Inspired by their unity, Brande funded the Legion of Super-Heroes - an organization made up of representatives from across the universe. Eventually, the three founding Legionaires even traveled back in time and recruited their inspiration, Kal-el, a.ka. Superboy. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So there it is, and thank you, DC Comics. Just leave it like that and tell stories, and I'll stay happy.

Well, almost. This issue contained an embarrassing little mistake in the two-page spread of the adult Legion. The spread was meant to be impressive (although Henry hasn't yet fully crafted his own sense of what the Legionaires look like ... I trust that'll come with time), but no geekoid Legion fan is going to notice that, since right there on the left hand side, the identifying boxes for Shadow Lass and Night Night Girl have been transposed (these things are moved around the finished art by computer? Are such things possible?). The blue-skinned young lady in the black bikini is actually Shadow Lass, Tasmia Mallor, the planetary champion of Talok VIII, who can generate vast fields of impenetrable darkness. The beehive-haired young woman in the black leotards is actually Night Girl of Kathoon, whose father - in the time-honored tradition of comics - experimented on her to give her super-powers. Just to head off the geeks who'll no doubt be talking of little else for the next week.

I liked this relaunch of Adventure Comics, despite my slightly wistful tone here. The format itself - a comic split between a main story and a Legion back-up story - has never worked, not once in the entire long history of its use at DC or Marvel; one of the two features always, always ends up being the readers' clamored-for favorite and taking over the title. I'm betting the winner here will be Superboy, and that the Legion will have to do more wandering in the desert of book-less creations before getting a nice new #1 of its own.

I'm just hoping when that nice new #1 comes, it won't contain a retooled origin story! Let's just make that sweet, perfect template on page 23 THE origin of the Legion, shall we?

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