Friday, March 24, 2017

Review: Legion Secret Origin #1

Welcome to Legion Secret Origin Fridays, in which I will review the mini-series of the same name which came out at the end of 2011, right around the time the New 52 had kicked off.

Last month I ended my review run on the Threeboot Legion. Prior to that I had done an in depth look at the pre-Zero Hour 5YL run. Neither are 'traditional' Legion of Super-Heroes books. So when I was deciding what I was going to do for the site after the Threeboot, I thought I would try to do something more classic.

Now I doubt that anyone would ever ever ever say that something that came out of the New 52 is 'classic'. But at the same time, this Secret Origin mini-series was written by longtime Legion scribe Paul Levitz. At the time there were two (two!!!) monthly Legion books on the shelves. In the years prior, DC had success with Secret Origin books for Green Lantern, Flash, and Superman. And this mini-series was going to define the Legion for a new age. So why not review it.

It both helps and hurts that I have absolutely no recollection of this series at all. It means I will come in fresh and without any of the preconceived notions of the New 52. It also means it wasn't memorable. And after reading this first issue, I have to say, I don't know if this was the right way to try to introduce a new generation of Legion fans to the book or the characters.

Written by Paul Levitz with lovely art by Chris Batista, Legion Secret Origin runs six issues. Will it reinvigorate or douse the fire of Legion fandom? We shall see.

We start out with a United Planets military squad landing on the planet Anotrom. This is a peaceful mission with a goal of bringing Anotrom into the UP. Levitz does a good job almost immediately bringing us up to speed on the organization and its mission. We know it has been around over 300 years. And we know that alien planets are joining.

But instead of an Eden-like planet, the troops find an abattoir. The citizens have been brutally gunned down. It appears that some wounds were made after they Anotromites were dead. The corpses propped up and used for target practice. And despite the fact that these troops are armored and wielding Liefeldian guns, they are shocked by the violence, something not seen in lifetimes.

They also find odd technology which is able to absorb latent atmospheric energy and then explode. One such device taken for study destroys a UP ship and their leading scientist. It is time to reach out to another genius.

So right off the bat, there is good and bad. Dropping us into this situation definitely grabbed me as a reader. Giving us a taste of exposition and history of the UP without drowning us with an info dump was nice. But it is hard to hear the soldiers talk of the more peaceful time when they look like they themselves are ready to star in Starship Troopers.

That genius the UP is going to use? A very young Brainiac 5 on the computer world of Colu.

This introductory panel of Brainy is perfect. That self-satisfied smirk is perfect for him.

Again, a brief description of Colu is provided via dialogue. So it works.

But is it enough to give a brand new reader an understanding of who these Coluans are?

And then we get perhaps the freshest and newest addition to the Legion history. There is a UP Security Directorate Trinity which is watching everything from the shadows. The members are Zarl Jax from Colu (a genius), Anisa from Naltor (a precog), and Mycroft (a human).

It is clear these three have a unique position in the proceedings and also a fair amount of political power. Throughout the issue we see them looking at the big picture and pulling some strings to control the outcomes of things. They feel like a shadowy cabal of some sort. But they aren't portrayed with any visual cues to make us think they are villains.

Anisa gets a premonition that something involving R.J. Brande will determine the fates of many planets. Brande is known to these three. It is clear they don't necessarily like him.

And then they see what it is that will change destiny. We see the founders rescue Brande from assassins on their flight. We get introductory text boxes of who they are and what their powers are.

But here is the thing I don't know. I know the significance of this moment. I understand the backstory and what it means. But would a new reader? Sure Anisa says it is important. But is it spelled out?

As I said, this Directorate has some pull. They call the Science Police and tell the officers that they are to leave the three 'children' alone. They can dictate to the police what they can and cannot pursue.

And then Mycroft tells Brande that he needs to nurture these young kids because 'fancy correlations' hint at their importance. Brande agrees to do it ... but only if the Directorate gives him space.

It is an interesting wrinkle. I know who Brande is. I get that this is the backroom deal to form the Legion. I like the idea that some other group gave Brande the idea, that is innovative. But I feel like I am bringing a lot of Legion knowledge to the table to understand how big a moment this is.

Meanwhile, Brainy has been brought to Anotrom and accidentally activates another alien device causing it to explode.

Luckily he is wearing his force shield belt, something he calls a family secret.

So this is the 'first time' we see Brainy's famous shield. And I love his smug retorts.

But as the issue rolls along, as much time is spent with the Security Directorate as it does with the heroes.

We see that they really do keep their fingers on the pulse of the galactic news. They see a wormhole has opened up near Anotrom. We learn that a new cruiser is scheduled to be unveiled at the same time. And we see, without much fanfare, that the Legion has been founded. There are Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, And Cosmic Boy in rather spiffy, classic costumes.

I keep bringing up the same story concern but I'll bring it up again. As a long time fan of the Legion I might actually like a story that looks at all the political machinations behind the curtain. But if I have never read a Legion book and this is going to try to get me to be a fan, is all this talking about the characters without any interactions with the characters going to work?

We met Brainiac 5 on Anotrom.

Here we get to meet another future Legionnaire. From that mysterious wormhole emerges Tinya Wazzo, Phantom Girl. Bgztl opened up the wormhole to warn the UP of a threat on the horizon.

There is something wonderful about this scene. Tinya is bright, happy, and cute. She seems much more tactile than Brainy, leaning in and trying to touch the Coluan. And he seems almost overly sensitive to anyone touching him.

For the first time, we see him off kilter a bit. Gone is that proud persona as he backpedals from Tinya. He even triggers another device to explode. Luckily, we see her power of intangibility. This is how we are shown her power.

So in this scene we hear of a threat to the UP, we are introduced to Phantom Girl, she is utterly charming, and we see some of the awkwardness of Brainy. Now this is a great scene for a Secret Origin book.

But instead of building on that, we head back to the Directorate, watching history unfold on monitors. We see Triplicate Girl getting sworn into the Legion. We see the Legion flag.

You know what we haven't seen? An actual scene with with the founders. We haven't heard them talk to each other. We haven't heard the word Legion. We don't know what this group is.

And so the actual decision to found a group call the Legion, the initial formation of the group ... it happens off screen in a book called Legion Secret Origin.

So I think Levitz was trying to get a little too cute with his approach to the book. Rather than tell a straightforward, linear origin tale, he decided to take a slanted route to the story. We are witnessing other people witnessing the origin. For someone like me with three decades of Legion stories under my belt, I liked it. For someone new, I bet it was confusing or boring or both.

And this is no knock on the art. Chris Batista brings a smooth, clean, bright style to this future story. It is really slick. But he isn't given much room to breathe. There are a lot of scenes of people talking.

Maybe this all gets better for everyone.


  1. Starship Troopers wielding Liefeldian guns? Genius.

    You're right. This issue doesn't feel like an origin story that introduces the Legion to new readers. It feels like a story telling the origin from a different point of view, aimed at fans who don't want to get bored reading the same sequence of events they already know.

    Sadly, Levitz might have narrated the origin properly without ripping off the classic story. "Superman: Secret Origin" lacks a scene in where Jor-El and Lara blast their son into space, but you clearly know who Clark Kent is after reading the first issue.

    "You know what we haven't seen? An actual scene with with the founders. We haven't heard them talk to each other. We haven't heard the word Legion. We don't know what this group is."

    Telling detail.

  2. I cannot bear Smug Brainy. They keep writing him as a jerk which is lazy and one-note. Add some dimension to that portrayal and I'm okay but since the RetroBoot it's basically the only Brainy that has shown up.

    Levitz had a great line in Great Darkness where he ponders that Phantom Girl would say "you think too much about things and not enough about people" and his mental reply is "as if one can think to much" It doesn't imply he's a jerk, just a lot on his mind. I hope they don't keep Sheldon-5 (I mean smug Brainy) around.

  3. I really love Chris Batista on the Legion - he had a short run somewhere mid-Abnett & Lanning - and it was great.

    Wonder what he's up to these days . . .

  4. I'm gonna have to dig these out and re-read them. I remember the art as the best part of this series...

  5. Thanks for the comments!
    I'm interested in seeing where this all goes myself.