Monday, February 26, 2018

LEGENDS #1 & #2

Plotter: John Ostrander | Scripter: Len Wein | Penciler: John Byrne | Inker: Karl Kesel
Letterer: Steve Haynie | Colorist: Tom Ziuko | Editor: Mike Gold

The Plot: (Issue 1) On the planet Apokolips, the warlord Darkseid makes plans to destroy Earth’s superheroes. On Earth, a monster called Brimstone appears in New York and battles Firestorm, the Nuclear Man. Meanwhile, the Flash knocks out a criminal named Deadshot, then heads to Titans’ Tower to visit with Changeling. Elsewhere, Captain Marvel fights a rampaging Macro Man and inadvertently kills him, while in Washington D.C., Colonel Rick Flag is assigned the leadership of a team called Task Force X. Back in New York, Brimstone catches the attention of the time-traveling Cosmic Boy, who is quickly joined in fighting him by the Justice League of America.

(Issue 2) As the police clean up Macro Man’s remains, anti-superhero crusader G. Gordon Godfrey appears on the scene and begins to sway the populace into an anti-hero sentiment. On Apokolips, Darkseid reveals that Macro Man was actually his henchman Doctor Bedlam, who never died in the first place. Darkseid chats with the visiting Phantom Stranger about the nature of legends. On Earth, the Justice League fights Brimstone but is defeated. Elsewhere, Deadshot is recruited for Task Force X, while in Gotham City, Batman and Robin thwart an armed robbery, but Robin is set upon by a gang of enraged civilians.

In Chicago, the Blue Beetle is accosted as well, while Green Lantern Guy Gardner saves an airliner from crashing, only to be greeted by discontent from people on the ground. At Titans’ Tower, the Flash and Changeling speak with Cosmic Boy, while the villainous Professor Ivo plans revenge elsewhere. In Washington D.C., President Reagan informs Superman that until the anti-hero sentiment passes, he will order all superheroes “grounded”. Meanwhile, in Gotham, the police find Robin’s battered carcass after dispersing the people who had attacked him.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: At this point, the Flash is actually Wally West, with Barry Allen, his predecessor, having perished during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Wally notes that the disease which was killing him every time he used his powers – a condition hinted at many times in the NEW TEEN TITANS issues I reviewed a few years back – was cured during that conflict.

Captain Marvel's alter ego, Billy Batson -- who is, like, twelve or something -- hosts a TV talk show for some inexplicable reason. (I mean, I'm sure there is a reason, but the oddity of a little kid having a serious televised conversation with a grown man goes totally unremarked upon in the story.

This issue features the first appearance of Amanda Waller, head of the Task Force X program (which will soon be assigned the better known nickname of “Suicide Squad”).

Cosmic Boy is a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes from the far-flung thirtieth century. He’s apparently visiting the past as a research project.

The Justice League here consists of Vibe, the Elongated Man, Vixen, Gypsy, Steel, Firestorm, and the Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onzz — the infamous “Justice League Detroit” team.

This version of Robin is Jason Todd, the second Boy Wonder to bear the name.

My Thoughts: So this is where the Pre/Post-CRISIS thing totally confuses me. If one reads the Superman stuff in a vacuum, especially based on THE MAN OF STEEL, one gets the impression that, even as Superman has been around for five years, he’s still relatively new and alone in the superheroic community. But LEGENDS tells another story entirely. Darkseid says he’s been thwarted too many times by Earth’s heroes, and this is apparently just his latest scheme against them. The Teen Titans here are the “New” group, which means enough time has passed for Batman to have had a solo career, then been joined by Dick Grayson as Robin, with Dick coming of age in that identity, serving with the Titans in both their original and “New” incarnations, and adopting the identity of Nightwing. Again... all in the span of five years since Superman first appeared.

(Yes, it’s possible Batman’s career began before Superman’s, but I’m just going off the conventional belief that Superman was the DC Universe’s “first” superhero. And besides, even if Batman did get his start a year or two prior to Superman, it still makes for an incredibly compressed timeline.)

This feels like a case of DC trying to have their cake and eat it too. Much of what I know of the Pre/Post-CRISIS delineation comes from the DC HEROES ROLEPLAYING GAME sourcebooks I had as a kid. I know, for example, that Superman’s story really is a pure reboot here, being told from the ground up by John Byrne. Over the next umpteen issues, we’ll see him meeting various members of his rogues gallery — and many other heroes — for the very first time. I believe George Pérez is doing the same with Wonder Woman. But much of Batman’s existing history remained in place post-CRISIS, I believe because Denny O’Neil, who had written some of Batman’s best-regarded stories, was that series’ editor and wanted his stuff to remain in continuity. As for the JLA — well, according to the new timeline, the “Trinity”, as they were not yet known, were never members (the original lineup consisted of Green Lantern, the Flash, Black Canary, Aquaman, and J’onn J’onzz), but apparently many of their published adventures still happened — just under different, unrevealed circumstances.

It just comes across as sloppy and, to put it crudely, half-assed. DC used CRISIS to clear the decks of unnecessary continuity, presumably in an attempt to streamline their universe. This resulted in new and/or revamped origins for major characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. But at the same time, NEW TEEN TITANS was one of the company’s best sellers, so I don’t think they were willing to just erase that series and group from history and go back to the days of Robin, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, and Aqualad.

We also have the oddity of Barry Allen’s Flash, who — assuming he, too, started out after Superman — spent about five or fewer years in his costume, during which time his sidekick served with two iterations of the Titans and then retired until Barry sacrificed himself against the Anti-Monitor. And Barry was such a beloved legend that, per dialogue, Wally feels he must continue to wear the original costume to honor his mentor. Meaning Barry became that legend in just a few years, and somehow also became beloved and well-known to all the other heroes — again, in just a few years. Wouldn’t this whole thing have made more sense if Barry hadn’t died and was also rebooted from scratch like the other heroes?

Though the one that really puzzles me is the Justice League. If your “big three” are all being totally rebooted (even if one of them is keeping some of the stuff that happened between his origin and the current day), why not just start the JLA, at least, over from scratch? I’m pretty sure the Detroit era wasn’t exactly setting the sales charts ablaze; why not say there had been no Justice League in the world up to now, and use LEGENDS not as an opportunity to revamp the team (as would be done soon in their ongoing series by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis), but as an opportunity to form the team for the very first time? Unless it’s just a case of “The Teen Titans have existed for years, so the JLA must have too,” in which case we come back to the Titans being the one massive holdout in what this reboot could have been if DC had been willing to suck it up and pull the plug on their best-selling title.

Mind you, I really liked NEW TEEN TITANS when I read it, but I just keep coming back to them as the major cause for the discrepancies in the pre/post-CRISIS timelines. And while I’m on that subject—what’s the deal with Wonder Girl? She’s an established member of the Titans at this point, post-CRISIS, as we saw in ACTION COMICS #584 a couple weeks ago. But Wonder Woman will make her public debut in an upcoming issue of LEGENDS! So Wonder Girl existed before Wonder Woman?!

Yeah, I know Donna Troy’s history, both pre- and post-CRISIS, was always a mess, but still — Marv Wolfman and George Pérez had more or less cleaned it up in NEW TEEN TITANS, and now CRISIS throws a huge wrench into it once more. I’m just using this as another example of the fact that keeping the existing NEW TEEN TITANS continuity, coupled with the idea that Superman has been around for only five years, royally screws up the CRISIS relaunch in a way no other title can even come close to replicating. Wipe NEW TEEN TITANS from existence and keep Barry Allen as the Flash, and the post-CRISIS universe would make way, way more sense.

(Alternatively, you could up the amount of time Superman’s been around to ten years, and that could make the New Titans’ existence work too, but then you run into the problem that Superman’s been doing his thing for a decade and has yet to meet a single villain outside of Luthor and Bizarro.)

Anyway, I’m sure DC-philes have debated this stuff for decades, so I’m certainly not the first person to come up with all this stuff. (More likely, I’m the last.) So with that all said, maybe next time I can talk about the actual LEGENDS story!


  1. Legends should have been a lot of firsts. Chief among them: this should've been Darkseid's first attack on Earth.

    I get why they went with it like this: retconning Kirby's work in this time frame, where he was fighting Marvel for his artwork, would've just looked bad. But it would have worked far better for this to be the first time DC Earth faced Darkseid. All that would've taken was removing his role from Crisis on Infinite Earths-which was so slight that removing it wouldn't have changed the story much-and this becomes the first probing strike against Earth. I can't fuss much about them wanting to honor Kirby's work, but the complications this brought to the time line are sizable.

    Another thing worth noting is that this felt very Marvel to me. Heroes being hated and distrusted by the world they protected was, at the time, the X-Men's stock in trade, and it kind of felt forced in this story.

    As for all the continuity hassles DC was causing to themselves because of how they wanted to pick and choose what stayed-or even ignore the reboot-what really makes the choice to keep Batman's continuity as it was pre-Crisis interesting is that we're bearing down on Batman: Year One, which served as more or less a soft reboot of his origins, and with a little tweaking we could've used that to have a streamlined Batman continuity that worked post Crisis. Hell, that could've been a way to keep O'Neill's work in continuity.

    Even though DC picks on him in epic fashion during Legends-and it was deserved at the time-DC really needed an EIC like Jim Shooter in his prime, because Shooter would've sat everyone down and told them to keep their stuff straight.

    It's also worth noting that DC never really stopped bungling reboots because of people keeping pet storylines. The New 52 reboot kept intact Geoff John's run on Green Lantern, and also used a five year period for the activity of superheroes, so Hal Jordan had a pretty damned busy life...and a lot of plot points that spun out of Jordan going evil that came up in Green Lantern should've been erased from the continuity. In short: if you're going to reboot your line, you better have everyone on board.

    1. The (post-)anti-hero sentiment was the set for WATCHMEN and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS too. I would say it's nearly mandatory for a piece like this at this time. Zeitgeist or something.

    2. Jack, I hadn't considered the contextual angle of Kirby v. Marvel at this time, but you're totally right that could be a valid reason for DC not to ret-con his work. Though I agree, this really should have been Darkseid's first campaign against Earth.

      Speaking of Jim Shooter running DC, John Byrne has occasionally said that back in the eighties, he used to suggest Shooter and Dick Giordano should have switched jobs every five years or so, because Shooter was great at getting the trains running on time, while Giordano was great at stepping back and letting creators do whatever they wanted. If they could have hopped companies periodically, Shooter would have regularly cleaned up Giordano's chaos, followed by Giordano then letting things run wild again.

  2. After Man of Steel, this was my second big gateway to DC, this time opening up the cast of characters to new heroes and villains (a lot of whom I'd known from Saturday morning cartoons, true, but still a lot of new ones). That shot of the Justice League was my intro to Martian Manhunter, who remains one of my favourites.

    I also liked Darkseid. I'd seen him in X-Men/Teen Titans and the Legion's Great Darkness Saga (one of my few pre-crisis DC purchases), but artistically I think I like Byrne's depiction the best.

    I agree that the selective nature of the reboot does make the continuity a mess, but as a project to bring in new readers, and lure a few away from Marvel, it certainly did the trick with me.

    -david p.

    1. Yeah, Byrne draws a great Darkseid. He takes the Kirby model, but does it better (in my opinion).

      For me, DC was always SUPER FRIENDS and the Super Powers Collection action figures, so that's where I learned of Darkseid (on both the cartoon and in the toyline) and Martian Manhunter (in the toyline). I think it was several years before I read a comic including either character (aside from the pack-in mini-comics that came with the action figures).

  3. I really need to sit down and read this someday. It's got Darkseid, Byrne art, an All-Star cast, and is a significant continuity event (for at least one continuity), all of which are things I like. I even have a trade collection of it sitting on a shelf...

    The Justice League here consists of Vibe, the Elongated Man, Vixen, Gypsy, Steel, Firestorm, and the Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onzz — the infamous “Justice League Detroit” team.

    All of whom have made recurring appearances - if not been significant, regular cast members for multiple seasons - on several different TV shows over the last six years, because we live in a strange, crazy, awesome world when it comes to multimedia adaptations of superheroes.

    It just comes across as sloppy and, to put it crudely, half-assed.

    I mean, you're not wrong (nor is your "having their cake" comment wrong either). They basically couldn't let go of Teen Titans (and to a lesser extent, Batman), and just mucked everything up from the get-go. As Jack says, it wouldn't be the last time DC did a reboot but failed to kill all their darlings in the process, leading to a mess post-reboot.

    Basically, you can have legacy characters, or you can have a clean continuity reboot, but you can't have both (at least not right away), but that won't stop DC from trying again and again over the next thirty years.

    1. Well, I had the trade on the shelf for a couple years before I finally got to it, so you're not alone.

      I had no idea all the Detroit Leaguers had shown up on the various WB shows! I must admit that I don't actually watch any of them, though I've heard good things.

      "Basically, you can have legacy characters, or you can have a clean continuity reboot, but you can't have both."

      That pretty much sums up my opinion!

  4. Feh, Jesus became a legend in 3 years, movie stars like James Dean and Rudolph Valentino did a small number of years and became legends. So I don't think the measure of legend can be measured by years.
    So, why haven't you read CRISIS yet?
    Dick's years were shortened in the retcon. Instead of becoming Robin at 8, he becomes the Boy Wonder at 13 and became Nightwing at 19.
    Billy Batson's program is a holdover from his comic book.
    According to interviews, Marv Wolfman and George Perez were so involved in the rebootings that they honestly gave no consideration to what it would do to Donna.
    Cosmic Boy's adventures were covered in the COSMIC BOY LS, where he discovers that Superman has no connection to his Superboy whatsoever. This will be covered in SUPERMAN.
    This would be beginning of the end for Justice League Detroit. After surviving Brimstone, Elongated Man quits in an argument with Vibes. Old JLA foe Professor Ivo kills Vibes and Steel, injures Gypsy, but is defeated by Jonzz Jonzz and Vixen, the latter quitting over the violent experience.

    1. I'm not sure why I've never read CRISIS... Wolfman/Perez are a pretty good draw, but for whatever reason the story has never much appealed to me. Aside from Batman and the New Teen Titans, I have little interest in the Pre-CRISIS universe. I'm sure I'll finally check it out someday, though I have no idea when that day will be.

      So if Dick became Robin at 13 and Nightwing at 19, that's fine -- that gives him about six years in the role. But how long was Batman operating before Dick joined him? And if Dick became Nightwing at 19, assuming he left for college when he was 17 or 18, he was Batman's regular partner for about four to five years, and Batman's solo Wayne Foundation Building era only encompassed one or two years?

      I guess it all works. It just seems like the timeline could've been given a bit more room to breathe!

  5. In spite of their flaws, the first two issues of "Legends" were pretty dark. I'm pretty glad I happened upon them.