Thursday, March 24, 2011
Comics! Timber Wolf in the Legion!
In yesterday's stack of comics was "Legion of Super-Heroes" #11, written by the legendary Paul Levitz and drawn by someone (something?) called Daniel HDR. It's called "False Start," and it's one of the early chapters in what's promising to be an epic return of the Legion of Super-Villains (only a promise, at this point - DC could always decide to fire Levitz precipitously in mid-story, or else he himself could decide to get himself fired in mid-story), and as you can tell from the cover, the centerpiece of the issue is a fight between the solar-powered Sun Emperor and the super-feral Legionnaire Timber Wolf.
So: the sort of thing that'll be incomprehensible to outsiders and catnip to Legion fans, who've loved Timber Wolf since his original appearance forty years ago (he was doing the whole savage-good-guy-with-claws-who-heals-real-fast a long time before Wolverine showed up over at Marvel). The match is also drastically uneven on its face: Sun Emperor is a 'big' villain, and typically in Legion history 'big' villains are fought by many team mates acting in concert. When that doesn't happen - when a writer intentionally sends out a hero alone against a villain who outclasses him - it tends to bode ill for the hero (one thinks of Chemical King, the original Invisible Kid, the original Karate Kid), so when I saw that wonderful cover, I wondered if Levitz was going to start off this big Legion of Super-Villains story with first blood going to the bad guys.
The mis-match comes from the fact that Timber Wolf isn't a 'big' Legionnaire. He's one of those above-the-middle superheroes without whom no team can function and be interesting (over at Marvel, think of how the Vision held the Avengers together for so many issues), but he's never been a Legion heavy-hitter on the level of Mon-el or Ultra Boy or Element Lad. Timber Wolf his mid-range super strength and agility, and he's got a bad temper. None of that should prevent a villain like Sun Emperor from melting his eyes and ending the fight in about five seconds.
But Levitz is a canny writer (and here he's very ably assisted by the pencils of this mysterious Daniel HDR-bot - this is some very good artwork, and it shows every sign of becoming fan-favorite classic stuff in about five more years of steady pencilling), and Timber Wolf is too popular with Legion fanatics to simply kill - this issue has something else in mind: reclaiming the character a bit. Timber Wolf faces off against Sun Emperor in Japan and simply refuses to let the fact that he's getting char-broiled stop him from beating the stuffing out of his foe (who has, I belatedly realized as I was reading, only normal human strength underneath all those flames). Levitz' scripting always has a curiously enjoyable bare-bones quality about it - in his "Legion," the universe is a tough place where bad things happen, and the good guys are always understaffed and overcommitted - and he enjoys a little poking around inside his readers' preconceptions, as when he has a defiant Timber Wolf object when Sun Emperor calls him an "animal" (always a touchy spot with this particular Legionnaire). "I'm not an animal," he says, "I'm human" - but he says it while he's charging, fangs bared, wild-eyed, whole head on fire, playfully subverting the moment.
This issue isn't meant to be big shakes - we're still in classic Levitz-style 'prelude' issues as his big storyline gears up - but even so it has half a dozen sub-plots percolating along, so there's something for virtually every picky Legion fan, and a real treat at the center for Timber Wolf fans. And the rest of us (what can I say? It's tough to get excited about 'feral' characters when you were one for the first third of your life) can take pleasure in the feel of a big story playing out so confidently - and in the HDR-bot's really good artwork (especially the fun background characters, in time-honored Steve Rude fasion).