Legion of Superheroes #40
Legion of Superheroes #40, ‘Enemy Rising Part 1: Headlong into Darkness’
Author: Jim Shooter
Artist: Francis Manapul
Colorist: JD Smith
Letterer: Steve Wands
The Legion of Superheroes really embodies everything that DC has been trying to achieve with their re-instated multiversal approach. Legion is packed with vibrant characters and fantastical adventures across the 31st Century cosmos. This issue opens with the latter, but majors in the former, and with Legion veteran Jim Shooter at the helm, that’s not a bad thing. There’s a wealth of characters in the Legion of Superheroes, and I use that word very deliberately. While it’s near-impossible to remember every character’s name and abilities (though names like ‘Shadow Lass’ and ‘Lightning Lad’ do help), Shooter deftly handles each character pitch-perfectly and switches between them with ease and purpose. You may forget the names again when you put the book down, but you won’t soon forget the personalities that crackle and smolder through each line of dialogue. Shooter’s familiarity with his cast is apparent; they are his personal playground. Not in a self-indulgent way, like Brad Meltzer’s love-letter to the Justice League; more like an artisan who knows his tools.
The Legion of Superheroes were never really on my radar until Geoff Johns re-introduced them, first in the ‘Lightning Saga’, then in his work on Action Comics. Now, between this and Action, the Legion are far and away one of DC’s most fertile properties. And if it’s one thing I’ve learned from Action, it’s that a good Legion tale benefits from crisp, clean artwork, and artist Francis Manapul has this in spades. Whether he’s depicting physical or emotional action, Manapul has the details spot-on.
As I hinted earlier, the story begins with the takedown of a rampaging alien on Talok VIII. This scene had me hooked within the first few pages – Shadow Lass provided the action, while Brainiac 5 brought the humour (surprisingly) – and strapped me in for the ride to come. The contrast between the interplanetary scope of the story and the close-knit relationships between these teenage superheroes is interesting to say the least. This issue focuses mainly on Lightning Lad’s struggles as a leader. It really is quite masterful, the way the writer reins in the story to create an engaging teen-superhero-space-soap-opera. Even though this issue is a little light on action, it’s certainly not light on humour, charm, or drama, and I can’t help but feel that it’s building towards something far bigger. For now, Shooter is quite happy to mine the depths of his rich cast, so that we can familiarise ourselves as he has. The great thing is that all of the character sketches really serve the story, and don’t feel contrived in the least. Shooter’s approach means that we actually will care when the time finally comes to throw the Legion in harm’s way.
A great deal of the humour in Legion comes from Shooter’s extrapolation of a litigation-mad society. If you think it’s ridiculous now, wait until you see what Lightning Lad and Princess Projectra have to deal with 100 years later. The rest of the humour is sourced in the team’s domestic arguments – Brainiac’s freaking out about an impending alien invasion while the rest of the team bickers about the ethics of mind control. Enter Lightning Lad, the star of this particular tale, who swoops in and takes control, then chills to a cup of coffee.
The multiverse was made for stories like these. The Legion really has come a long way in recent times. The goofy camp of yesteryear is all but gone, but the humorous and endearing team dynamic remains. I can’t help but think that a story like this would not have been possible in the 90s or even the gritty-and-grounded 80s. If you enjoyed Johns’ run on Action Comics, then I highly recommend you pick up Jim Shooter’s entire run.