11 September 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part XI: Legends: The Collection

Comic trade paperback, 145 pages
Published 1993 (contents: 1986-87)
Borrowed from the library
Read August 2013
Legends: The Collection

Plot: John Ostrander
Script: Len Wein
Pencils: John Byrne
Inks: Karl Kesel
Letters: Steve Haynie
Colors: Tom Ziuko, Carl Gafford

I don't intend to read every post-Crisis crossover DC Comics did-- that would keep me here all night-- but I thought I might dip into a few that had ties to the Crisis in some ways. Legends was the first crossover after Crisis on Infinite Earths, and it did much to establish the new setup: among other things, Legends introduces the new Captain Marvel, disbands the Justice League Detroit, and sets the stage for the Justice League International.

The story was edited by Mike Gold-- who also edited the Mike Grell Green Arrow, Action Comics Weekly, and other great DC productions of the late 1980s-- and he provides a very thorough introduction about where he and the other creators were coming from with the story, which I wish collected editions did more of these days. (Legends seems to be a very early trade paperback-- you can tell because they feel compelled to give it a "The Collection" subtitle!) Gold opines that "Stories need to be about something... The issue of how superheroes would be treated in our society was one that intrigued both of us [Gold and Ostrander]--Paul Levitz handled it brilliantly in his 'Last Days of The Justice Society' story eight years earlier. How had our culture changed from the McCarthyesque setting of Paul's story? In the middle of the Reagan Administration, we felt not, and we wanted to experiment with this issue in Legends."

Hence, Legends sees Darkseid deciding that those pesky superheroes from Earth have stymied the goals of Apokolips too much, and that he will destroy them by destroying their place in human society. This is an interesting, even great idea, but its execution in Legends leaves much to be desired. Darkseid does a few things:
  1. sends his minion Glorious Godfrey to Earth as a pundit called G. Gordon Godfrey. Godfrey makes a number of public appearances on Earth, using his gold tongue to turn the American people against superheoes-- though it's not really clear what his argument is.
  2. sends a monster after Captain Marvel, and makes it look like Captain Marvel killed it. This makes Billy Batson quit being Captain Marvel, but no one else ever even mentions it, and I have a hard time imagining the American public being mad about it anyway.
  3. sends another monster which destroys the Justice League Detroit.
  4. sends another monster which kills a member of the Suicide Squad-- a bunch of villains!
  5. turns people into robotic hellhounds or something... I didn't really understand this part of the plan.
It's not quite clear how this is meant to work, but all of a sudden public sentiment has reached the point where President Reagan has ordered all superheroes to stand down. If Darkseid had actually tricked the heroes into doing something seemingly malevolent, I could get this, but he doesn't. In fact, he mostly attacks the Earth as the heroes come to the planet's defense. There's perhaps something to be said about how the superhero myth destroys the agency of individual human beings, or about how it's a short step from superheroism to tyranny (as we see in The Superman Chronicles, Volume One, Watchmen, Superman: Red Son, and many other stories), but those arguments aren't made here.

The problem is that that makes the resolution lackluster. If one of those arguments had been made more clearly, then the ending could have see the heroes stepping up and revealing them to be untrue-- with the superheroes' examples empowering ordinary humans, for example. Instead, it just becomes a superhuman blowout, with the heroes beating up Darkseid's forces, and Glorious Godfrey defeating himself when he foolishly attempts to wear the helmet of Doctor Fate. Oh, everyone likes heroes after all suddenly! The end.

The place this does work is with a little girl that Billy befriends, who never stops believing in Captain Marvel, and shows up to confront Godfrey at the climax. That was nice, but I think it could've been exploited to show the themes of the story a bit more strongly. As it is, most of Legends is a bunch of fight scenes that don't really matter to the story, intercut with an interminable conversation between Darkseid and the Phantom Stranger, where Darkseid says, "Heroes suck" and the Phantom Stranger says, "No they don't" ad nauseam, like a poorly-done latter-day God and Satan in the Book of Job.

Thumbs up, though, to John Byrne and Karl Kesel on art. Byrne's bright, bold linework is really suited to a story about unabashed heroism-- lots of square jaws and grim determination. He obviously draws a good Superman, but I particularly loved his Captain Marvel. On the other hand, his Darkseid always seems to be squeezed into the corners of panels-- he should be dominating them!

No comments:

Post a Comment