THIS WEEK: Legion of Super-Heroes #3 is the big thing Bendis’ time at DC has been building to all along. Plus, checking in on wacky Jimmy Olsen!
Note: the reviews below contain 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 verdict.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Ryan Sook and Travis Moore
Inkers: Wade Von Grawbadger and Travis Moore
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: Troy Peteri
After Brian Michael Bendis jumped to DC Comics to take over Superman, there was quite a bit of talk about all the big things he had planned. The talk came from Bendis, and DC leadership, and other DC writers, and even close Bendis associates like Greg Rucka who visited him in the hospital after he fell ill between the announcement and his debut. The line became, basically, Bendis has some big plans and he told me about them and they are really something. Now, comics folks are typically hyperbolic (and arguably none more so than Bendis, who has an uncanny knack for delivering promotional lines repeatedly at peak enthusiasm). Everything is amazing and huge and unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. It’s part of the Big 2 creatives job to market via exaggeration.
Still, since Bendis’ first short-story at the tail end of Action Comics #1000, I’ve wondered which of these plans were the biggest of ones that basically anyone who’d ever been to Burbank was describing as just the most exciting thing ever. Was it Rogol Zaar re-contextualizing Superman as a refugee escaping genocide rather than an environmental inevitability? Was it Leviathan clearing the board of big cults and shadowy spy agencies? Was it the re-emergence of the half dozen or so fan-favorite characters that make up Young Justice? What, I wondered, was the thing Bendis had been pitching in private that was generating so much buzz.
Well, while reading Legion of Super-Heroes #3 this week, it occurred to me that I now have the answer. Bendis’ big thing was always the Legion. This comic is what the majority of his work at DC over the past 18 months or so has been about. This is the grandiose story he was building to when he started that Action Comics short. The advent of Rogol Zaar was an impetus for creating the Legion. Jon leaving his family to have his own space adventures was to age him up so he could be one of the Legion, and so on down the line. And you know what? I for one think the hype was justified.
I’ve written in this space before that I’m a fan of what Bendis has done at DC. I think that the Superman title has been especially strong, telling a long and cosmically epic story with a consistent art team that has just touched on so many parts of the character’s mythos while still feeling new and independent from excessive nostalgia. I liked the early issues of Action Comics quite a bit, and I’ve enjoyed jumping around the multiverse in Young Justice. I also appreciate that Bendis got close friends Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, and Rucka to pen fantastic runs on Aquaman, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane, respectively. Plus, he’s brought on his frequent artists collaborators too, including Alex Maleev, Michael Gaydos, and David Marquez.
It’s all been good for DC. But this book just feels like the absolute perfect fit for Bendis. He gets to go nuts with his quippiest dialogue, without risk of it feeling repetitive or unnatural because this is a team of like 30 future teens, and of course they talk fast and odd. At the same time, he gets to play the long game as he is wont to do without having to worry about muffing up past continuity, because this is a future timeline and everything is inherently kind of squishy (Doomsday Clock saw to that).
One of Bendis’ long-time strengths has also been his ability to fit artists with his ideas, and there is perhaps no better superhero artist in the game than Ryan Sook. Sook’s issue of Action Comics has been the highlight of that series under Bendis, and he’s been even better drawing Legion of Super-Heroes, no small task given the amount of characters (and panels) on every page, as well as the full cast redesigns that this update required. Sook is joined in this issue by Travis Moore, and it’s a credit to both artists that the issue reads relatively seamlessly. They compliment each other well.
The thing I think I like the most, however, about Bendis writing Legion of Super-Heroes is it gives him full access to the entirety of the DC mythos while enabling him to do new things with it all, again owing to this being set in the future. That much is on full display in this third issue, wherein Bendis does things like incorporate Aquaman’s trident and play just a little bit in that world (dip a toe in that water, if you will), while at the same time playing to Damian Wayne’s militaristic approach to heroics as a potential reality-altering threat (one that just may be the reason Superboy has been recruited to the future in the first place)…all while writing pithy one-liners and panel jokes.
Overall, three issues in Legion of Super-Heroes is expertly straddling a familiar line for this franchise, with part of the book feeling like the highest of high-concept sci-fi while the other feels like a classic teen adventure story that has entertaining throughout as its core mission. Bendis and his collaborators had to move a lot of parts to get to this book. There was no Legion in DC Rebirth, and there hadn’t been a book for some time, not since a fairly classic version of the Legion was seen during the New 52. Bendis steadily and patiently worked to change that, as if how can I write the Legion was his operative question all along, and I sure am enjoying the answer to it.
- Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #7 is maybe the best issue of that book since the debut. I’m just loving this series, which is unlike anything else DC Comics is putting out right now (possibly ever). Creators Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber (colored by Nathan Fairbairn) careen wildly through space and time, following Jimmy, alternate Jimmys, and past Olsens past through a series of clever set-ups, punchlines, and sight gags. Readers expecting a normal linear structure and three-act installments might be befuddled, but you can get that literally anywhere else from any other Big 2 book. There is, however, only one comic like this one.
- The recently released 2019 direct market sales figures reveal something I’d suspected throughout last year — DC Black Label is a big success. The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage are a great example as to why. Basically, rather than try to entice big name creators to sign-on to continuity-beholden monthly books that fit into some wider shared universe tapestry, the publisher has given some of the industry’s best artists and writers carte blanche to do what they will with its characters. This comic is a story by Jeff Lemire, Denys Cowan, and Bill Sienkiewicz about The Question re-incarnating through time. There’s no way to make it work in the larger context of the main superhero publishing line, but the freedom provided by this Black Label branding is really enabling interesting storytelling. I’m really excited to see the projects and creators (Cliff Chiang!) this imprint has coming up.
- Low Low Woods #2 was a stellar sophomore issue for what I’d probably rank as the best of the Hill House Comics, which have all been excellent so far. The attention to detail and the realness of the characters, combined with the inspired art by Dani, has really elevated this comic.
- Finally, if anyone needs me I’ll be recovering from Batman’s Grave #4, because the way Bryan Hitch drew that Warren Ellis script, I could feel every last punch and kick as if it were happening to me.
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