20 February 2017

Return to the Threeboot: A Review of Legion of Super-Heroes: Enemy Manifest

Yours truly has a commentary up on the Torchwood 10th anniversary special over at USF this weekend. Every Torchwood character you loved, plus ones you didn't even remember!

Comic hardcover, 141 pages
Published 2009 (contents: 2008-09) 

Acquired and read September 2016
Legion of Super-Heroes: Enemy Manifest

Writer: Jim Shooter
Pencillers: Francis Manapul with Rick Leonardi and Ramon Bachs
Inkers: Livesay with Dan Green and Mark McKenna
Colorists: JD Smith
Letterer: Steve Wands

It's not like the Legion of Super-Heroes run of Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul, and Livesay is terrible or anything. It's a competently made superhero comic book. But it just doesn't hold a candle to what Mark Waid and Barry Kitson did before it. Waid and Kitson's run felt like it was bursting with ideas-- too many ideas, sometimes, because the title often felt like it wasn't giving all the ideas the focus they deserved. Shooter and company don't really capitalize on any of these ideas (the backstories ascribed to Sun Boy, Element Lad, Triplicate Girl, and Phantom Girl are never brought up), and many of them they outright contradict (Brainiac 5 says time travel isn't possible even though he arranged for Supergirl to travel to the past in The Quest For Cosmic Boy, and he gave her a message designed to save the life of his ancestor according to R.E.B.E.L.S.; the massive camp of Legion followers that defined the tone of the Waid/Kitson stories never turn up in this story, and then all of a sudden tons of superpowered underagers are auditioning for the United Planets Young Heroes, which doesn't really make any sense to me at all*). Shooter does at least remember that the Legion used to read 20th-century DC comics in this volume; Phantom Girl reads Princess Projectra an issue of Action Comics about the original Brainiac.

I wasn't always won over by the Legion's new uniforms either, especially given they were supposedly designed by some twelve-year-old kid. Apparently a twelve year old who loves cleavage and side panels.
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #46 (art by Francis Manapul and Livesay & Mark McKenna)

As I read more superhero comics, my growing hypothesis is that you can get away with this kind of thing if what you do is the same level of interesting (or, even better, more interesting) than what you supplant, but Shooter and co. fail this test. This volume sees Princess Projectra suddenly become a villain, and then moves into weird freaky-deaky incomprehensible mind stuff as she battles Brainiac inside his own mind-- the plotline alternates between farfetched and banal. The big overarching story that's driven this whole run, about mysterious aliens being deposited from across the universe, who are then followed by a whole planet, never really has the hooks to be interesting. It's a bunch of faceless goons, which is one of the least interesting kind of comic book villains. There's also some relationship melodrama, but because these characters don't really feel like the Waid/Kitson characters, it's difficult for me to invest in who Saturn Girl should be in love with. (Plus, Saturn Girl is portrayed as a bit of a sad sack, not the strong version of her I loved in the classic days of the Legion or in Abnett and Lanning's Legion Lost.) And I don't really care for M'rissey, the Legion's "business manager" who solves all the main characters' problems for them.†

Shooter's version of Saturn Girl sort of rapidly alternates between unlikable hard-as-nails invasive telepath, and unlikable spineless sobber.
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #46 (art by Francis Manapul and Livesay & Mark McKenna)

Francis Manapul is a decent artist, but still developing-- I like the later work I've seen from him on The Flash a lot more than this very anime style. And the way the script but especially the art insists on sexualizing these underage characters is a little uncomfortable. Like, there's nothing wrong with the Legionnaires being sexy, but here it mostly comes across as crude.

I know Invisible Kid was one of the younger Legionnaires, but I didn't think he was meant to be eight.
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #50 (art by Ramon Bachs & Livesay)

Shooter's run was curtailed; the last issue here resolves many things far too easily (the massive threat of the past dozen issues is defeated with nine seconds of hacking from Brainiac) and leaves others entirely unaddressed (we never learn what happened to Cosmic Boy or the other Legionnaires who traveled through the time portals to the 41st century). If I had invested in the ongoing stories of this era, I'd be angry, but as it was, I was just kind of relieved. I am angry that the "threeboot" was dumped in favor of the "deboot," however, probably the most retrograde and harmful move in the long history of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and one that I would argue that leads directly to the fact that it's no longer published today, for the first time in five decades.

* Like, wouldn't people like this already be in the Legion? And surely they wouldn't want to work for the man!
† Actually, isn't a bit weird that Shooter introduces a slew of new Legionnaires here but ignores the new ones introduced by Waid and Kitson, like Dream Boy? I never really got the point of Gazelle.

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