THIS WEEK: Writer Brian Michael Bendis combines his two team titles for Justice League vs. The Legion of Super-Heroes, a new six-part miniseries. Plus, every other comic released features the Bat-family!
Note: This piece contains spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdicts.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Scott Godlewski
Colorist: Ryan Cody
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Justice League vs. the Legion of Super-Heroes #1 arrives this week, essentially kicking off tje endgame for writer Brian Michael Bendis’ time on both eponymous franchises. Looking ahead six months or so, Bendis is currently only slated to co-write the follow-up to Naomi at DC, a book aptly titled Naomi Season 2. All of that is to say, this new miniseries is a big one, also tasked as it is with blending the publisher’s most prominent superhero team with its most niche superhero team.
The choice that stands out the most to me within this first issue is one that has been teased in other Bendis comics. It is the series’ referencing of The Great Darkness Saga, quite possibly both the best and most fondly-remembered Legion of Super-Heroes story. First published in 1982, it’s a rare Legion comic that has remained in print continuously. It was written by a very young Paul Levitz with art by Keith Giffen and Larry Mahlstedt, and it’s certainly my personal favorite Legion story. The Levitz-Giffen run is a real gem, with the writer doing a great job of blending Ursula K. Le Guin-esque deep space anthropology with teen superhero drama, all powered by striking Giffen artwork that still holds up well by the standards of today, even brandishing a strong influence on the current era of cosmic superhero visuals, in my opinion.
Anyway, the point is by referencing that story, this series is inherently taking a pretty big swing. So far, all it is is an effective way to build anticipation for the rest of the book, at least for those of us familiar with the original story. Although, I bet for the unfamiliar the phrase great darkness is still pretty ominous; it may work well for both groups. And, indeed, this is maybe Bendis’ best issue of the Legion of Super-Heroes to date. His run with the title so far has been disjointed, broken up first by his departure from helming the Superman family of comics, next by the line-wide Future State event that consumed DC Comics at this time last year, and third by the slow relaunching of all the DC Comics titles.
In that first set of books, I always felt like whatever Bendis had planned got started with the first arc, and then was scuttled, leading to a pair of issues that saw some of the biggest names in superhero comics do a page each. Those comics were fun, but the run felt a bit fragmented for having them in there. There’s almost a re-centering that takes place in this book, using the new Gold Lantern character as a reader entry point into the world.
Past that, the rest of the Bendis hallmarks are there: the pithy dialogue, the massive spreads of rapid-fire banter, and the continuity referencing superhero in jokes. Letterer Dave Sharpe does a really impressive job on one two-page spread in particular, leading the eye through a chaotic meeting of the two teams where everyone is talking at once. Folks that don’t tend to enjoy that sort of Bendis comic, however, likely won’t be won over here (or probably ever at this point, to be fair), but I liked it okay. And while I missed Ryan Sook’s work, I thought Scott Godlewski and Ryan Cody put out strong art in this book, overall.
Still, not a whole lot happens in this first issue. We are re-introduced to the new iteration of the Legion, the great darkness is referenced, and a mysterious occurrence mashes the two teams together. My biggest qualm with this one is that there’s not much clarity over what’s happening or why, and that extends to a scene-by-scene level. Like, this book opens with a the Legion fighting a giant monster that we don’t ever even see in full, and as a result, I don’t know what it’s trying to do to the Legion or what they’re doing in return to stop it. This sort of over-packed, disorienting lack of clarity has been a problem throughout this run, and while it’s fun to see these two big teams coming together, I’m kind of skeptical that more characters will make the proceedings in Justice League vs. the Legion of Super-Heroes feel any less overstuffed or jumbled.
But we shall see! The continued teasing of the great darkness — plus my long-time love for these characters and appreciation for big swings by Bendis — is enough to keep me coming back.
- My favorite DC comic this week was actually Batman Urban Legends #11, which featured three really memorable stories. This monthly Gotham anthology has really been a delight, with nearly every issue featuring a great mix of stories that push forward overarching plot threads for the Bat-family with smaller, mostly self-contained stories. This month we get a Batman and Zatana team-up from Vita Ayala and Nikola Čižmešija (with Nick Filardi and Steve Wands), a fantastic story from the seasoned indie comics team of Ram V. and Anand Radhakrishnan (with John Pearson and Aditya Bidikar), and the always-welcome Ace the Bat-dog appearance, in a surprisingly poignant story by Mark Russell and Karl Mostert (with Trish Mulvihll and, again, Wands). So yeah, great Bat-anthology again this month, one that you can mostly pick-up outside the other Bat-titles and enjoy.
- In other Bat-comics (and the entire rest of the week fits that bill), I continue to enjoy Shadow of the Bat, the weekly story currently playing out in Detective Comics. There’s a lot to like about this one — the interesting take on Arkham, the new status quo for Arkham, and the way the book focuses on Gotham characters who aren’t Batman — but what I’m liking the most is the artwork. Ivan Reis is always leveling up, evolving his work to fit each new character he works on at DC (and he’s done a lot), and he’s inked here by Danny Miki and colored by Brad Anderson. The color work is an especially good fit with Reis’ lines, and I hope we see more of this pairing, inside or outside Gotham city limits.
- Oh hey, a Mother Panic reference in Future State Gotham #9! Plus also, a back-up story from Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko! All good things.
- I Am Batman #5 was a little disjointed, compiling work from Christian Duce, Juan Ferreyra, and Laura Braga. I like all those artists, but even so, I’d rather just have one here. But hey, this issue was the most consequential yet for the series, with a development at the end that’s pretty excellent.
- Finally, The Joker #11 continues to tell a story that blends its titular villain with Texas Chainsaw Massacre with Jim and Barbara Gordon remaining our heroes. It just works, and this might be my favorite Batman comic, overall.
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