In order to belay any simmering suspicions that I loathe and resent super-hero comics I look at a comic filled to the brim with them. A whole mess o’ super-heroes, a veritable Legion in fact! SUPERBOY'S LEGION by Davis, Farmer, Horie, Horie & Prentice
Anyway, this… DC COMICS PRESENTS: SUPERBOY’S LEGION #1 Art by Alan Davis & Mark Farmer Written by Mark Farmer Lettered by Pat Prentice Coloured by Richard & Tanya Horie Legion of Super-Heroes created by Al Plastino & Otto Binder Superboy created by Joe Shuster & Jerry Siegel DC Comics, £2.99 (Comixology) (2001)
I don’t know if it’s because I’ve never been a big joiner(1) but the Legion of Super-Heroes has always left me cold reading-wise. They always seemed like a bunch of stiffs, basically. Running around the place with their simple-minded names(2) and, worst of all, sitting in judgement over their peers like some frightful clench of Prefects(3). And then there’s Superboy, like the kid from the council estate who got a scholarship to The Good School and now has to jump through the hoops of his “betters” before they’ll let him join The Debating Society. Super Class Traitor more like. His only weakness is kryptonite. And peer pressure. Ugh, who’d want to join that bunch of joyless inverts anyway? Jumped up chumps, every man Jack of them. Legion of Supercilious Bores. So, no I don’t know how to “fix”(4) the Legion of Super-Heroes(5). Anyway, the failure to love them is of course mine(6), because I am a maladjusted misanthrope with a chip on each shoulder(7) rather than the well-adjusted, thrusting young shaver the concept is designed to appeal to. And yet I bought this comic(8). Was I looking for something to trash in order to temporarily quiet my raging personal insecurities via the belittling of other more talented people’s work?(9) No, because I don’t do that(10), not on purpose anyway(11). No, I was looking for an Alan Davis comic(12). Because I like Alan Davis comics, but do I like Alan Davis Legion of Superheroes comics?
Yes. It’s GOOD!
NEXT TIME: I recall a gypsy woman, silver spangles in her eyes. Actually, scratch that, I’ll probably just look at some COMICS!!!
Just kidding, of course there’s more(13)! Think of this as one of those post credit sequences that are so popular today(14). It’s not just an Alan Davis Legion of Super-Heroes comic though, more precisely it’s an Alan Davis and Mark Farmer Legion of Super-Heroes comic. While Mark Farmer predictably enough continues his robust, decades long, and largely unsung support on Alan Davis’ classically joyful art, here he also scripts. This is clearly his “Shining Time”(15). Second fiddle’s an honourable role, but here Farmer steadies his nerves, clears his throat and takes centre stage (16). He doesn’t disappoint either. Farmer’s script eschews grandstanding and pandering, being a thing of efficiency, event and momentum which despite its space-spanning scope and cavalcade of characters retains focus and clarity throughout. There’s plenty of exposition but it all slips past smoothly thanks to the art’s creamy cheeriness, which jollies things along even when people are saying things in a less flamboyantly discursive way than the is the apparent modern preference(17). The strength of the writing is easily missed, as it’s the kind of ‘invisible’ writing that would rather tell a tale well than draw attention to itself (or its author), still what no one can miss is the level of affection for the Legion herein. But which Legion?
Because, even more precisely, SUPERBOY’S LEGION is an Alan Davis and Mark Farmer Elseworlds Legion of Super-Heroes comic originally published in 2001 as two-issues. DC hasn’t done Elseworlds for a bit, so quick recap for the chap at the back: these are stories where familiar characters are presented in a new way, usually heavily imprinted with the DNA of an atypical genre. So in one story Steampunk Batman might fight Jack The Ripper, in another Superman might have landed in Wales and wondered what to do with himself, in yet another Aquaman might be a PI with the power to talk to his own arse, or perhaps Wonder Woman sells hot dogs in Central Park by day and sleeps fitfully at night, or what have you(18). Much of the fun comes from recognising the deviations from the accepted norm and the little thrill of uncertainty this lends the narrative(19).
Alas, I got none of that entry level fun as I am basically unversed in the Legion of Super-Heroes(20) and, anyway, they keep dicking about with it(21). Proper Legion of Super-Heroes fans will thus get a lot more out of this than me(22). But I got plenty as it was. Because what I got was a rock solid exercise in Old School Super-Heroics. The set-up is that Superboy’s rocket is found in the 30th Century instead of the 20th Century, and he is adopted by a fabulously wealthy grump, R J Brande, rather than a folksy farmer and his wife. It’s a future of cleanliness and conformity(23) monitored by the Science Police and dependent upon the Universo supercomputer(24).
Superboy is a typical young lad on the cusp of adulthood, chafing against both the restrictions of the Science Police, who are always on at him for the property damage his larks incur, and his dad who wants him to settle down a bit. The book opens with Superboy buying two Future Ice Creams(25) to patch things up with his dad but the Science Police get all shirty, and in a fit of pique Superboy flies off and bumps into a Green Lantern who he helps fight a right bunch of Khunds(26). Inspired by the example of the Green Lantern Corps, who pick up the space sector slack of the Science Police but are undermanned, Superboy decides to form his own team. Space being a frisky place he immediately aids a luxury space cruiser being mounted by a blister beast and ends the encounter with two new team mates who take the names Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy(27). Televised try-outs ensue so we get the classic image of the three sat behind a desk in judgement as new peculiarly powered members gravitate to the trio, like peculiarly powered iron filings to three judgemental magnets. Then the plot proper kicks in with an asteroid to be averted, internal squabbles, the Fatal Five proving their name’s no lie and a special guest 20th Century villain with universal enslavement on his mind. Gosh, what capers ensue!
Thrilling capers they are, to be sure. And delivered with an enviable level of clarity and zest. Surprising no one who has ever read anything by the team, Davis & Farmer’s art is a quiet masterclass in large scale super-heroic storytelling but also excels at the quieter stuff. From Space battles and inter-dimensional wing-dings to smaller moments when a smile says all that needs to be said, this team spins a magical yarn as colourful as Superboy's speed trail flattened to fractals like a sparkling sherbet space trail. Yeah, sherbet. You know, for kids. GOOD!
The Irritating Footnote Section:
(1) i.e. joiner as in joining groups, rather than as in joining pieces of wood. I mean, I’m crap at that too but that’s not what I’m on about.
(2) Bouncing Boy! He’s a boy who bounces! Matter-Eating Lad! He’s a lad who eats matter! Flaming Anus Lass! She…that’s right.
(3)Yes, a clench of prefects. See also: A colon of Politicians. A shit of bankers. A Cameron of tax evaders. A PM of lies. Etc. Etc.
(4) Judging by comic book site comments this is a subject which taxes the minds of more middle aged men than is strictly seemly. The relative merits of “guest beers”, smirking at the casual racism of Jeremy Clarkson, wearing a caramel coloured leather blouson with the sleeves rolled up, and giving a chuff about how to “fix” the Legion of Super-Heroes are, apparently, to the menopausal male as pianos were to Liberace.
(5) Unless it’s like you “fix” a cat, in which case I’ll bring the bricks.
(7) “Chips on my shoulder/More As I grow older...”, 'Chips on My Shoulder' by Soft Cell taken from the LP 'Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret' (1981).
(8) In fact a “digital file”. Did you know that the first recorded digital files can be found on cave walls in Indonesia and date back 40,000 years. Remarkable.
(9) Yes, this is the only reason people don’t like something. Clearly.
(10) Trust me, I have read some real crappers and refrained from banging on about them. That HELLBREAK for e.g. was a load of refried beans with all the character and depth of a 1980s 8-Bit arcade game, but with all the charm and intelligence left out. There was at least one whole page in the second issue (hey, I gave it a chance) devoted to a guy smoking silently while stood next to a jeep. I cannot be doing with that kind of Bendisian page wastage. But also, around then the artist was legitimately bemoaning the fact that he barely made enough coin to, well, play a 1980s 8-Bit arcade game. So, you know, since the art was the best bit and I wish him no ill, I didn’t feel like adding insult to injury. Christ, my big heart, it beats for the entire world! HELLBREAK is still going so I hear. Had I intervened, who knows? Such is the scary Amy Irving in The Fury-like power of my critical voice.
(11) DKIII: TMR, however, see, is an absolute botch job for which everyone involved should look as guilty as a startled masturbator. Great Hera, if any book should be good it’s this thing. It’s DC’s Big Ticket Book of 2016, supported by all the marketing muscle and sales inflating methods available, and it’s even by people who have done good work previously on occasion, and yet it’s ineptitude is so great and unwavering in its consistency that it’s tempting to suggest it’s most entertaining display is of its contempt for the audience. And the Talent involved in DKIII:TMR will not be short of coin, you betcha. So, yeah, I’ll be nailing that one to the wall as long as it deserves it. I mean, there are bad comics and then there’s just flat out taking the piss.
(12) Alan Davis the UK comic artist of CAPTAIN BRITAIN fame, not Alan Davies the tousle haired and reliably unthreatening UK comedian.
(13) Brevity being the soul of wit, I am of course possessed of little of it. So, wiping the tears of self-satisfied laughter from my eyes I shall continue…
(14) Insert dismissive remark about people choosing of their own free to sit in the dark for fifteen minutes to catch a glimpse of Thanos’ ring. Then run.
(15) Thomas And The Magic Railroad (2000).
(16) Unfortunately comics is(are?) a visual medium and Alan Davis’ (and, ironically, Mark Farmer’s) art is a pretty visually arresting thing. So Mark Farmer’s moment in the spotlight can’t help but be a bit a bit like when Ernie Wise comes out on his own, but everyone’s really looking at Eric Morecambe walking across the background in his mac with his little carry case. Still, better Ernie Wise than Tommy Cannon, eh? Small mercies, Mark. Small mercies, son.
(17) I mean, I think it’s fair enough, personally. Exposition, that is. At work I don’t mumble and stutter, and lurch disconcertingly into BOLD without cause in a kind of flamboyantly exaggerated distortion of human speech patterns. That sort of jibber jabber has nothing whatsoever to do with realism and everything to do with paying writers by the page. Exposition isn’t the sin, clumsy exposition is. There’s no such sin on these pages.
(18) Basically Elseworlds then are like a lot of Grant Morrison’s cape work, particularly that typified by his MULTIVERSITY “project”. But, regrettably, Elseworlds are usually done by lesser talents who haven’t the wit to limit themselves to waving slightly different versions of B’wana Beast about while an intimidatingly intelligent coterie of fandom maintain they have gleaned the Face of The Returned Christ in such skeletal concepts. No, these Elseworld schmucks instead are reduced by the paucity of their talent to attaching these rejigged characters to such jejune concepts as stories. The poor fools. They should have done a metafictional Mobius loop which on closer (i.e. any) inspection was just fancy window dressing adorning an attack on narrative devices Alan Moore (Boo! Rapey! Boo! Rapey rapey Boo Boo! Etc.) stopped using twenty years ago. That Frank Quitely’s good though. He did an Elseworlds with Alan Grant(?) where Batman went to Scotland. Actually it might not have been an Elseworlds, I don’t think Batman going to Scotland is enough of a paradigm shift to merit an Elseworlds label. There has to be a bit more to it than that. Scotland has its quirks but not enough for an Elseworlds, I think. Hmmm, I’m kind of drifting lazily away from any point whatsoever here aren’t I? Which, funnily enough, is what happened to the Elseworlds stuff in the end.
(19) e.g. in SUPERMAN: BOOGIE NIGHTS (by Brian Wood and Frank Cho) Jimmy Olsen chokes to death on his own balls.
(20) When I rashly accepted Brian Hibbs’ generous (and no doubt in hindsight much regretted by Old “Two Shops” Hibbs) offer to ruin everything he had worked for on this site he asked me to suggest a Legionnaire so I could have an icon next to my name. I didn’t have a clue. I’m sure he thought I was prevaricating (which I was; I am made of Fear) but (also) really I didn’t know what he was on about. I can’t even remember whose icon I ended up with. Is there a Ball Breaking Lad? Bad Taste Boy? Who am I? Who is the fictional construct to which my virtual identity has been attached? And I thought I was in an existential crisis when I was fourteen!
(21) Sorry, I mean “fixing” it. See (4) and (5).
(22) A big old Legion of Super-Heroes chubby, pulsing like a beached fish gasping for breath. Unless they are so deep in senescence(4) that it’s just a flicker of a twitch.
(23) It’s a future that’s creepily free of wear and tear in that special way which suggests somewhere out of sight there are planets full of stooped and hollow eyed thralls doing all the proper graft its upkeep requires.
(24) I know, we can all see where this is going, right? If you are going to build a supercomputer don’t cut corners and be sure to develop a super-virus checker, or have a big OFF switch. Did no one heed Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)!?!
(25) Solar Swirl, natch.
(26) That’s a pretty dodgy pun to slip into a kids comic. Kudos!
(27) Yes, it is awfully convenient. You’re going to have to go with a lot of stuff like that. Just relax and let it happen. It's called - COMICS!!!