Thursday, May 05, 2005

LEGION OF SUPER HEROES #5

This latest reboot of the Legion has thus far been a joyous ride, full of sharp dialogue and novel tweaks on characters with almost no missteps and very few "I kinda wish Waid hadn't gone that route" moments.

If there has been a fault, it has been an unnecessary emphasis on the Adults Just Don't Understand theme. Waid's been painting with a very broad brush here and as someone who is now probably closer to the age of the Legionnaire's parents than I am to the Legionnaires themselves, I have an instinctive resentment of the implication that I became rigidly uncreative and conformist once I turned twenty-five. Freedom is not a perquisite of youth and we don't lose our joie de vivre once we start having to pay utility bills and taxes (okay, maybe we do, but you know what I mean). You can write a story about teenagers coming of age and learning responsibility without alienating the grown-up readers and Waid, for all of his clearly adult cleverness in this title, isn't quite pulling it off.

There has to be more to justify yet another reboot of the Legion than just too many viewings of Children of the Corn and perhaps what is frustrating is that Waid has in fact laid the groundwork for it -- the United Planets network is a utopia with a very high price. That the only ones who are mindful of that cost are teenagers bothers me because Big Brother scares grown-ups, too. But instead of as a center of resistance or a collection of concerned parties, Waid has been looking at the Legion headquarters and its everpresent gathering of followers as a sort of Woodstock (1969 version), full of youth hungry for new experiences and the Legionnaires themselves as rock stars -- through Jimi and Janis, we shall see a brighter future. It feels so very... oversimplified. And not just because Jimi and Janis didn't end up actually shaping the future.

There should be a far more sinister overtone to this systemic lassitude created by a necessarily false sense of security -- certainly if all it takes is one bored Coluan to disable the universal tracking system and one enterprising teenaged hacker to piggyback the central database. Waid has given us tastes, but only if you know to read into things. Those panels back in LSH #2 (what's going to be the acronym for this volume?) that had everyone so confused with the two people talking to each other over the network even though they were within arm's reach -- very few readers grasped the significance even after Waid explained things in an interview. Our Legionnaires are protected from the pervasive, invasive Network by Brainy's machinations and it's too easy to forget to appreciate how oppressive such a system is when it is so easy to avoid.

I realize that I have spent the last three paragraphs teeing off on a series that has largely brought me nothing but giddy joy -- I'll take an entire issue of Brainy and Cos snarking at each other. Or Brainy with anyone, really. And I suspect the reason for the outburst is that this issue was the first that didn't knock my socks off. Which isn't to say that I didn't like the issue, but that after four fantastic books, this one... wasn't at that level.

As I've mentioned, I came to the Legion through the Levitz-era material (and largely skipped the post-boot stuff), so I'm not really surprised that the issue to first take the edge off my enthusiasm features Garth and Imra -- nothing slowed a Levitz story like a focus on Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl. While Waid has given them a bit more character (Okay, so Levitz's Garth was so flat he only had a dimension and a half), they still lack the animating spark some of the other characters have gotten -- after what Waid did to (bland, whiny) Cosmic Boy, I had higher hopes.

Instead, after a laughably stock conflict between the well-intentioned-but-slow-and-naive UP Representitives and the reactionary-and-moustache-twirlingly-evil Science Police head and then the Sympathetic Undercover UP Rep, we get further evidence for why Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad will never be as interesting as Phoenix and Cyclops. Mostly because Garth, no matter who writes him, is apparently never going to be an equal partner in that relationship, let alone get to wear the pants once or twice a week. Also, Cyke knows more field commands than "take point!".

There was a lot that made me uncomfy here, hypocrisy that seemed to go unnoticed. The ethical quicksand of Imra's mental manipulation of the little band of fighters got flagged, but never addressed -- and now that the ends seem to have justified the means, I'm not sure it will be. And then came the "do as we say, not as we do" moment. Imra brought up the Legion's own "error" in judgment in not properly serving as a role model; they know at what point sacrificing pragmatism to idealism becomes suicide, but not everyone who follows them does. So, until they correct that failing and send out the proper message, they should do the critical thinking for others without even giving their audience a chance to prove themselves capable of understanding. Before the telepathic tweaking, Garth and Imra lied and withheld information from their followers. Which, if I recall correctly, is precisely what they are rebelling against the UP for doing and what they went to Dream Girl's homeworld of Naltor to undo. The only character within the story to have any qualms about any of this is Brin Londo, whose objections are somewhat undercut by his lone wolf status -- and quick disappearance into the portal while saying something about Projectra.

This issue wasn't all raised hackles, however. The B-plot, featuring Jo (Ultra Boy) and Tasmia (Shadow Lass) -- and is this the first issue where Waid is actually using real names? -- was fun. Jo, introduced in unforgettable fashion back in the Triplicate Girl issue, has his tomcat ways further established (why was he near Tasmia's bed to set it on fire?) but gets a real shot of complexity added with not only his rivalry with Val (Karate Kid), but his fear of vulnerability. And this Tasmia is just grand.

Bottom line: a good, but not great issue so long as you don't look too closely.

1 Comments:

Blogger Brad Curran said...

I had the same reaction to this issue, at least in the sense that it was the first one to not knock my socks off. I didn't catch all of the moral implications of Saturn Girl manipulating the rag tag band of followers like you did. I did get that feeling, between the solicitation text for the next issue and the fact that Saturn Girl admitted they'd screwed up, that Waid may have something up his sleeve with the generational conflict besides "adults are always wrong." Maybe I'm just being overly optimistic.

Fri May 13, 10:27:00 PM EDT  

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