Sunday, January 09, 2011

Just finished reading the new collection of Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga, which collects the first issues of Paul Levitz's epic run on the comic (and coincidentally, the first issues I ever read.) Probably gonna blog about it on a more personal level soon, but in the meantime, here's the review I posted at Goodreads and about it:

Purely by coincidence, the first issues of the Legion of Super-Heroes I read as a kid were the first ones Paul Levitz wrote as he began his epic run on the book. The reasons I was hooked then are still the same reasons these stories deserve to be kept in print in this deluxe edition: they are fantastic super-hero stories. Working with artist Keith Giffen and others, Levitz crafted stories that still feel as fresh and exciting today as they did 25 years ago.

Levitz juggles a massive cast (25 regular characters, plus many more supporting players) and decades of continuity without ever making the reader feel confused or lost. He always gives the reader just enough information to follow the story, while making it clear that he is building on years of history, not ignoring them or dumbing anything down. He gives each character a distinctive voice, and shows them in situations that demonstrates who they are and what they can do. The stories are a bit more caption-heavy than is in vogue in modern comics, but otherwise, these could have been written today.

The story loses a little in the collecting, by not forcing the reader to wait a month between chapters, pacing out the reveals slowly. It still works fine as a single piece, not feeling overly episodic (which, by its nature, it is). By including not only the issues of the Great Darkness story proper, but also collecting the stories leading up to and out of the story, readers get a sense of how Levitz foreshadowed the big epic. We also get a clearer sense of how he weaved multiple stories in and out of the book, giving all the members of his huge cast a chance to shine.

Keith Giffen also shows incredible growth over the course of the series. His early issues show the kind of Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon future the book had previously used as a backdrop, which felt kind of dated. Once he finds his feet, however, he really transforms the setting into something that feels sleek and futuristic, even today. He never stops tweaking and redesigning things to make them feel fresh and new and genuinely different from 20th century superhero stories.

Between the Levitz/Giffen Legion and Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans, I became a huge DC superhero fan. I loved the adventures, but what kept me coming back were the character stories. They grew and developed from issue to issue, and the stories became about much more than superheroes punching supervillains. I loved these stories just as much as I did the first time around, and I hope this is just the start to a comprehensive reprinting of Paul Levitz's Legion work.

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