Andy’s Read Pile: DC Legends

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Howdy Gang! It’s your old friend, Andy Larson, back again to give you an insight into some more comic books that you could pick up in the probable ungodly large amounts of free time you have during the self isolated quarantine. If I haven’t mentioned it before, if you aren’t a comic book fan already, this whole COVID thing is a great time to become one as there are some really decent deals out there for savvy consumers that know what to look for.

For example, last month I crowed about the fact that I scored 10 volumes of the excellent hardbound copies of Eaglemoss’ DC Comics Graphic Novel Collection for 4 bucks a piece! These puppies usually go for at least 16 or 17 bucks a pop, and give they are traditionally United Kingdom exclusives, shipping them over to the States can run you a pretty penny.

As such, I wanted to flaunt my recent comic book treasures by highlighting one of the books from this haul every single month until I’m plum out of them. For those of you that read regularly, last month I covered The Golden Age by James Robinson, an mid 1990s attempt to modernize DC Comics cast of Golden Age Heroes including the Justice Society of America.

So what book am I picking from the stack for August of 2020? I’ll give you a hint. It’s an artist that drawn both Fantastic and Uncanny characters during his historic career and one of my top 10 favorite pencilers ever.

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One of the most famous X-men artists of all time, John Byrne, made the jump over from Marvel to DC in the years immediately following DC’s massive company changing event “Crisis on Infinite Earths” in order to head up the reboot of arguably DC’s most important character in Superman. While he was there however he also worked on a variety of additional projects including the first major crossover post Crisis known as simply “Legends”.

The notion of the 1986-1987 crossover was to address the upheaval in the post Crisis universe and create a new status quo for the universe going forward. It’s almost as if this series was the “New 52” of the 1980s establishing a new trajectory for many of the characters that were the hallmarks the former universe as well as bringing into the fold some of the most important “acquisitions” like Blue Beetle and Shazam. As I’ll address in my initial thoughts, as a result of that continuity resetting focus, the series had a number of long lasting effects that still are the impacting the DC universe some 30+ years after it’s publication.

But enough with beating around the bush! Let’s get into the meat and potatos of this 6 issue mini series written by Jon Ostrander and Len Wein with art by the aforementioned legendary John Byrne!

Legends

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10 Cent Synopsis:

In his infinite quest to be “Evil Guy #1” in the DC universe, Darkseid has made a wager with the mystical defender of order, Phantom Stranger, to prove that despite their heroic actions, Earth’s champions such as Superman, Batman, Flash, and the rest actually mean very little to humanity, and that with just a small amount of prompting they will turn on their defenders.

As such, Darkseid sends fellow evil New God, Glorious Godfrey, to Earth under the guise of a political Svengali who makes a variety of highly publicized speeches condemning the actions of “superheroes” and calling them menaces to the public welfare. To back up these claims, Darkseid makes a series of covert attacks on the Earth which result in both Shazam murdering a super villain in defense of the city, and crushing public defeat of the new Justice League of America by a flame based elemental named Brimstone.

Humanity does turn on the superheroes, nearly killing Batman’s new Robin in Jason Todd, and forcing then president Ronald Reagan to reluctantly outlaw all superheroics including those performed by Superman.

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In the end though, Doctor Fate rallies the best of the best to combat Darkseid’s interference in Earthly affairs, and Godfrey is exposed for the fake he is. With the public confidence in DC’s super heroes restored, many of the participates in Legends go on to set up the new Justice League for the protection of Earth.

Oh…and the Suicide Squad is officially formed…that happens too…

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Initial Thoughts

My fellow GotS podcasting co host, Chad Smith, was extremely interested in what I thought of this particular book given some folks have equated it to the DC version of Marvel’s uber important mini series “The Infinity Gauntlet”. When I asked him if he shared that sentiment, he responded by saying “Yeah, but I don’t really like the Infinity Gauntlet either” giving his roundabout grade on both books as something that really isn’t his cup of tea

But like a earwig that embedded itself in my brain after he said it, I couldn’t help but compare this book to that famous story in which Thanos plays God for a bit. Although I will say I don’t see the similarities in terms of plot, I will say at least in first couple issues, I definitely could see similarities in tone, as I thought, the series really read like something that came out of the Marvel’s House of Ideas vs. a traditional DC comic. Maybe it was because it was drawn by one of Marvel’s most famous artists, and had that classic Len Wein dialogue that had permeated so many bronze age books at Marvel.

But I think it had more to do with the fact that the super heroes in this series are painted as such underdogs in the conflict that it makes them more like the Marvel style heroes constantly bombarded with public ridicule and personal angst. This is very much not the DC style with the heroes almost being worshiped as gods that can solve any of humanity’s problems.

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No character is better representative of this approach in Legends than Billy Batson aka Shazam, who goes through the very “Marvel”esque character arc of being a young hero faced with the shame and disgrace of accidentally killing a villain with the caviler use of his amazing powers and yet through internal fortitude and an innate sense of right deciding to perverse in the face of that adversity. It’s no wonder that I’ve said on many occasions that Shazam is one of the few characters that should have ended up at Marvel vs. DC, because he has at his core more in common with the house style of Marvel heroes. I really feel if I haven’t made my case previously, Legends is another in a long line of examples I can give to that point.

But, whether it’s Shazam’s story I just mentioned,  Blue Beetle being hounded by cops for his misunderstood intentions, or an unsure Wally West trying his best to measure up to the shoes of the recently deceased Barry Allen as the Flash, these are DC heroes that are on the losing end more often than not. As a result, they have very human like foibles which make them much more relatable than the type of characters we are used to.

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It also helps that that the Trinity of Supes, Bats, and Wonder Woman are pretty much sidelined until the last chapter, showing that it’s really those folks that make the difference in that impression of the DC universe’s heroes having nigh invulnerability.  Without them, the rest of the universe does seem to have more in common with Marvel in terms of being flawed reflections of ourselves.

But other than that important distinction, I feel like the only other similarity to this book and Infinity Gauntlet is the main villain being Darkseid and his “contest” of sorts to prove the superiority of evil over the Phantom Stranger who supports the forces of good. That seemed very similar to the interactions Thanos has had with Adam Warlock over the years, albeit those two characters are much more linked thanks to the Jim Starlin runs on those books than Darkseid and Stranger, who seemed to be just thrown together a bit.

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Yeah for those of you keeping score at home, this is actually one of the first main DC comic story lines that introduced Darkseid as the big baddie of their new universe. Prior to this, Darkseid and the entire Fourth World which Kirby had created was sort of it’s own thing, not really interacting with the main continuity very much. So for those of you that love or hate the constant bombardment of Darkseid as the arch nemesis of everyone at DC and his appearance in pretty much every story since, you have Legends to thank for bringing that to fore.

Well that and the Super Friends cartoon. Technically I think the seasons where he plays the part of the “boss” baddie predate this particular series by a year or two…

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Fun Facts:

As I might have mentioned in my previous review of a DC Graphic Novel Collection book, that there are additional easter egg like comics included. Now, some of the them make a decent amount of sense as to why they are included, others only a fleeting wisp of a connection.

The bonus comic for Legends is somewhat in the middle, as the character at least appears in one of the issues, but I wouldn’t say he’s a main player at all. Part of me thinks it would be better to include an issue of Shazam or Blue Beetle or best of all Justice League by Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis, with art by Kevin Maguire.

But instead we get the first issue of Firestorm, the blazing headed Atomic man whose first series only ran for 5 issues.

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But Ronnie Reynolds would become a pretty important “B” list superhero in the DC Universe eventually, as after a successful reintroduction in this Legends book, Jon Ostrander took over the relaunched Firestorm series 2 and helped give the character some much needed relevance as the super hero equivalent of a WMD (given the nuclear fears of the mid to late 80s).

Personally, I feel his appearances on the aforementioned Super Friends cartoon, during its final two seasons did more to add to the character’s relevancy as that was the main reason I recognized him as a kid.

In fact, he was such a cool looking character on those cartoons that he was one of the few Kenner Super Powers figures I actually got back in the day (it didn’t hurt that he was somewhat of a peg warmer at the time too).

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Anyways, the first issue of Firestorm included in this collection was written by long time Spider-man author, Gerry Conway, which is why I feel that issue has a very “Marvel” feel to it, similar to what mentioned about Legends overall. Ronnie acts very similar to Peter Parker at times, with his faux confidence masking deep seated teenage uncertainty.

Furthermore, once Ronnie gets the Firestorm powers, he reacts in a similar way to Peter with a youthful exuberance and excitement. It’s no wonder some critics say that Firestorm was just another in a long line of characters wheeled out by DC to try to duplicate the success Spider-man has had with younger audiences, similar to the way Marvel keeps rolling out characters to try and recreate Superman’s undeniable appeal.

Again, I’m not sure why Eaglemoss focused on Firestorm as their bonus feature for this particular tome, but I’m glad to have had a chance to revisit the first issue of his original short lived series.

If you want to read more about that series overall, check out my fellow GotS mate, Rob Stewart, as he wrote an entire article here!

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Final Thoughts:

I think this is another one of these series that is plagued by what I feel like is one of the most common blunders in story telling in general: too many ideas!

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Legends just tries to do too much, and in adding some extra ingredients that could have been easily cut or made into their own series, it ends up shortchanging it’s own main narrative. Maybe part of the point of Legends was to serve as a springboard for some characters and concepts that they weren’t sure would work without first testing them, but in doing that, it really gets in the way of the dramatic heart of the story.

And the biggest and most glaring offender in this regard has to be the introduction of the Suicide Squad. If there was a reason I didn’t mention them in my initial thoughts and saved them until now, it’s because I feel like no other aspect of this series brings the story down in terms of grade than the unnecessary inclusion of this team of government run baddies.

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I’m not saying that the Suicide Squad’s origin story is bad, per say. Actually it’s quite the opposite as I found it rather good what with Captain Boomerang being a complete dirtball and the wonderful interactions between Flagg and Waller during the early days of this experiment of sending convict villains on covert missions. But the issue is, IT DOESN’T FIT HERE!

The entire story line should be its own mini series, not shoehorned into an unfolding morality play about what would happen if the public turned on its superheroes. Mainly because the Suicide Squad AREN’T SUPERHEROES! They are villains so of course the public is going to distrust them. Why is that news?!?

Besides other than their first mission being a battle with Brimstone who had just humiliated the Justice League, there really isn’t much of a connection to the rest of the ongoing story, and as a result, their story just gets in the way.

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Just think what you could have done with Legends if you made the Suicide Squad pages its own book. Both series would have benefited from having more time for additional characterization and drama, instead of having the series split time between the two which are connected only by the thinnest of threads. You could have had more pages with the unsure Flash trying to measure up to his recent mentor’s legacy while at the same time diving further into the moral complexity of having villains do the heroic dirty work as it were. Both ideas win from having them play out separately, so it flabbergasts me as to why the decision was made to smash them both together in the same tale. It’s like peanut butter and pickles. They just don’t fit together.

And I think that’s why I’m giving the book the lower grade. I honestly dug the idea of DC characters acting like Marvel characters for a while. That worked for me as an intriguing direction for these long standing characters in that their stature as heroes is something that needs to be earned and not just taken for granted.

But boy, by jamming all that Suicide Squad stuff into the same story line, it really made the tale feel bloated and lacking in focus.  Seriously, if you separate out all the Suicide Squad stuff, it’s like nearly 3 issues worth of material. Just think what you could have told with Legends if you had 3 more issues to explore the neat idea of a society turning on its defenders.

I mean hell, Batman could have had enough time to actually go back and save Jason Todd from being beaten by angry mob, instead of just running away with Commissioner Gordon.

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Yeah, you heard me.  Batman runs away and leaves his new Robin for dead. That actually  happens in the book. How screwed up is that?!?

Jason Todd should have gotten the hint way back then.

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Andy’s Read Pile Grade: C-

 

 

 

 

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