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From A Library: Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes

Action Comics #858–863 by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank

There are certain writers of a large stature in the comic book field who I don’t really understand why they are so popular and I don’t really like the work of theirs I have read. One such writer is Jeph Loeb – I’m disappointed that he’s doing an arc on Season 8 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and I didn’t even bother talking about The Long Halloween because I didn’t like it so much) – and the other is Geoff Johns. It’s irrational because I haven’t read very much of his work but maybe it’s just first impressions.

So, it was a strange twist that I actually wanted to read this collection. The reasons for this:
1. I had read good reviews of Johns’ story
2. I like Gary Frank’s art
3. I like the Legion of Super-Heroes and was told that they were treated well in this story

The LSH nearly changed my comic book fanboy history – rather than Uncanny X-Men #201 starting me on this journey, I might have become an LSH fan after buying a couple of issues of the book while on a summer holiday in my early teens. The idea of a team of lots of heroes with lots of powers and lots of different backgrounds was obviously very appealing to a young chap interested in superheroes like me and, even though I didn’t become one of the die-hard Legion fans, I did always keep a soft spot for them (particularly the Keith Giffen ‘Five Years Later’ iteration). So I had to read this book.

Johns comes up with a good concept and a good thematic link – in the future, someone who was rejected from the LSH (Kirt Niedrich, calling himself Earth Man, and leading his Justice League) usurps the idea of Superman, saying he was not an alien but a human who hated all aliens, meaning the members of the LSH who are aliens have to leave and the human members are ‘race traitors’. The link to Superman is that he was rejected as a teenager (according to Johns’ version).

Superman is brought into the future by Braniac 5; however, the Earth’s sun has been turned red, so he is powerless. Nice twist and allows the other Legionnaires to step up with their powers, as well as allowing for Superman to wear a Legion ring. Johns’ is obviously a fan because he fills the story with lots of details from Legion history in nice touches. This is also a big story because the threat is of sufficient scale – if this Justice League isn’t handled then the rest of the United Planets will go to war with Earth.

On the art front, Gary Frank does a good job – he’s a good superhero artist, with dynamic poses and good differentiating all the members of the Legion. Superman looks suitably heroic and everything is clear, something that can be tricky with such a large cast (although everyone is distinguished with a nice ident theme). The only problem with Frank’s art is the look on women’s faces sometimes – the grimaces that should be smiles and the strange ‘dead eye’ look, which makes them look a bit demented. He likes to sexy the women’s costumes – the first time we see Dawnstar in the first issue, with her boob window costume, it took me two looks at the panel to realise that she was actually saying something in the panel, and his versions of Shadow Lass and Phantom Girl are more sexed up than I remember – but it seems to be unfortunately the way of modern comics.

I really enjoyed this book – Johns knows the characters and puts them in a great story that is true to the history of the Legion while tweaking and updating them and making them a genuine concern for current comic books. The connection to Superman is very nicely played too, and the way he interacts with them suggests years of history, which is a nice touch (and seemed to ignore the ridiculously complicated continuity developed for the LSH when they decided they Superboy did not exist and the LSH were not inspired by him). I may not have enjoyed previous Johns’ work but I dug the hell out of this; I may have to reassess my opinion. Highly recommended.

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