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"Legion of the Damned,"
Legion of Super-Heroes 122-123 & Legionnaires # 79-80

By Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Olivier Coipel
Review by Chaim Mattis Keller

After a very strong start, the Legion's reboot began to lose momentum. It's probably safe to say that this occurred shortly after the Legion's reunion following half the team's sojourn in the twentieth century. After three years of optimistic, accessible stories, and a year featuring familiar guest stars as draws, the Legion team blew it with a fanboyish and nearly incomprehensible 40th-anniversary celebration and followed that up with a six-part Dark Circle story which was at best difficult to follow, and at worst, rambling and uninteresting. Then came a year of aimless stories until someone at DC said, and rightly so, "We need a new Legion team."

Are Abnett and Lanning the ones to do it? Judging from their initial effort, I must say, with a heavy heart, no. "Legion of the Damned" is a standard old Legion plot, and it's one that, despite producing interesting stories, doesn't grab readers.

Actually, it's a combination of two old Legion plots: the "Legion on the Run" plot, seen in two previous Universo stories, and the "Dark Earth" plot, used in the Magic Wars and the Giffen-Beirbaum run on the title. The former element shows that the Legion is a group of heroes that can act without outside support; the latter shows that the Legion can triumph over impossible odds. What both have in common is that it requires sacrificing the cheery tone of the early-post-reboot, and once you've jettisoned that, whom are you trying to draw in? I don't know of anyone who misses the old dark tone of the Giffen-Beirbaum days. I, personally, miss the characterization and adult subplots, the sense of humor, Easter-egg inside jokes and some of the characters, but not that.

The story itself is not inherently bad. Earth is taken over by an alien entity called the Blight, which has possessed some Legionnaires (and other supporting heroes). Other Legionnaires remain free to fight the Blight and help people, but there's little to offer hope. Then, two things happen: one captured Legionnaire escapes (and brings another with her), and several Legionnaires who had been off-planet at the time of the takeover return. Together, this sub-group manages to free Earth from the Blight.

The high points of this story are a good use of the entire Legion universe, some sharp thinking by the characters and the surprisingly original villain. The low point is the depressing atmosphere, which is accurately depicted by Olivier Coipel's artwork. Everything else is decidedly mediocre. DC has announced that the Legion's regular books will be shut down soon, to be followed by a twelve-issue series called "Legion Lost," by the same creative team. I don't know who, other than dedicated Legion fans (including myself) can be expected to buy this; even if that story proves to be exceptional, I can't see it introducing the Legion to a new audience. A better sign for the Legion is probably Dan Jurgens's upcoming Legion-Titans crossover. In all, it's a decent first effort as far as story goes, but doesn't bode well for the goal of increasing the Legion's sales, which is presumably the point of shaking up the creative team in the first place.

My vote: 6 out of 10

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"Stars My Destination"
Starman 48-60

Written by James Robinson
Pencils by David Goyer, Steve Yeowell, Peter Snejbjerg, Keith Champagne (and a few others)
Review by Chaim Mattis Keller

Starman fans had been waiting four years for this story, and, while there was a bit of meandering in it, it certainly didn't disappoint…except in one way, for some.

As predicted as far back as issue # 2, Jack Knight goes into space, looking for his predecessor, Will Payton. What he finds, before he gets there, is an encyclopedia of James Robinson's knowledge of DC lore both obscure and well-known, the sheer amount of which has caused some readers to cry, "Enough!" But the story has indeed reached its conclusion, and looking back, I can't find a single thing that I truly disliked.

Jack's journey (with former Starman Mikaal Tomas) kicks off with a visit to a planet once visited by Swamp Thing, on which he's forced to fight Solomon Grundy. Following that, it's into a time warp, where he meets Star Boy in the thirtieth century and the future self of his friend, the Shade. Next up is my personal favorite issue, a visit to pre-destruction Krypton, where the reader is left wondering just how much influence Jack had on young Jor-El…and by extension, on the creation of Superman. Then back to the present, to Rann, where Jack teams up with Adam Strange in a two-issue tale which sort of sets up the conclusion, in part. The issue following that is a "Times Past" story, focusing on the odd events surrounding the creation of Jack's spaceship. In a jarring transition, issue # 55 brings us to the future, where Jack and Mikaal apparently had an adventure, the exact nature of which is unclear…three conflicting versions (the last of which is absolutely hilarious) of the same story are told, with lots of name-dropping of near-future heroes for the few fans (including myself) who care about such seldom-seen characters. After a one-issue look at what's been happening in Opal City, the story wraps up with four guest-star-studded issues laying out the relationship between the several people who have borne the name Starman.

Whew! Where do I begin a review? High points and low points, I guess. High marks go to James Robinson for his careful attention to the details of the old Starman series featuring Prince Gavyn, and for his thoughtful integration of Will Payton into that super-story. The Krypton issue added new character to pre-destruction Krypton and to Jor-El, also without violating any known continuity. The story brought heroism back into the character of Mikaal Tomas. The Space Cabby issue (#55, mentioned above) was fun and funny…especially the last of the three versions, which does a riff on Jack Kirby. And Will Payton is alive, well and free. John Ostrander and all Hypertime boosters take note: it is very possible to tell a good story while paying careful attention even to the niggling details of continuity.

The only thing that could really be described as a low point is the art from the Snejbjerg-Champagne team, which was excellent from issue # 50-55, but took a nosedive in the final four issues.

And the major disappointment is that Will Payton has not returned to Earth (yet…Robinson, in communication on the DC Comics messgage board has hinted that Will may yet return home). He remains on the planet of Prince Gavyn, trying to decide whether he is truly that old Starman's new incarnation, or if he is really Will Payton, with memories of Gavyn's life implanted in him by Gavyn's old mentor.

My vote: A solid 9 out of 10

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Guns of the Dragon #1-4
Written by Tim Truman
Pencils by Tim Truman
Review by David R. Black

    Looking for a change of pace from the standard superhero fare, I picked up this four issue miniseries during a recent back issue sale at the local comic shop. Written and illustrated by Tim Truman, the series features a lot of action and adventure, with bits of humor interspersed to lighten things up. One of the most interesting aspects of the series is Truman's use of a mixture of DC characters mainly associated with one historical time period.

The story begins in 1927 in China, and it stars an elderly but still kickin' Bat Lash (a cowboy/Western character), Hans von Hammer - the World War I Enemy Ace, the WW2 Japanese villain Kung, a young Chop-Chop (of Blackhawk fame), and the immortal bad guy Vandal Savage. Of the characters Truman created for the series, Biff Bradley is probably a brother of New York City detective Slam Bradley, and Chinese secret agent Miss Fear is reminiscent of the golden age Sensation Comics backup feature "Lady Danger." And lest I forget, beginning in issue 2, the story takes place on Dinosaur Island. For those who don't know, Dinosaur Island is an isle in the Pacific where dinosaurs still flourish, and it played a part in many a fanciful World War 2 tale.

Without giving away too much of the plot, the trio of Bat Lash, Biff Bradley, and von Hammer are hired by General Chiang Kai-Shek, Chinese Nationalist leader, to retrieve two legendary swords from the Isle of Dragons. Kai-Shek tells the trio of a Chinese folk tale which says that the return of the swords, and one "dragon," will make China a powerful nation once more. Kai-Shek wants the power the swords will bring him so he can defeat the threat of Mao Tse Tung's Communist party, remove all foreign influences from China, and unite the country under his control. Bat Lash, Bradley, and von Hammer set out with a boat full of sailors for the Isle of Dragons (really Dinosaur Island), and they aim to find the swords, capture a dinosaur, and return them to Kai-Shek.

In the meantime, two other competing groups have set out to retrieve the swords as well. Miss Fear leads a squadron of Chinese soldiers who want the swords for Mao Tse Tung's communists, and Kung leads a group of Japanese ninjas who want the swords for their own country. And whose side is Vandal Savage on? Or does he represent a fourth group? Needless to say, everything hits the fan when dinosaurs and the three groups of competitors meet.

Truman uses the large cast of characters expertly as the story unfolds. Old age hasn't slowed Bat Lash down a bit. He still cheats at cards and only uses violence as a last resort. The characterization of von Hammer is also right on target, and it's thrilling to see him take on a horde of pterodactyls (flying dinosaurs) without ammunition. My only complaint is that I wish Truman would have made more use of Chop-Chop. Chop-Chop gets in one or two good one-liners (especially in issue 2), but he is relegated to the background most of the time.

I'm no art critic, but I know what I like and what I don't. That said, I liked Truman's art. He did a bang up job on the covers, and the interiors aren't too shabby either. His rendition of von Hammer's plane and various dinosaurs really stand out. Additionally, Truman lets the art speak for itself in certain places where dialogue or captions would have just cluttered the pages. Especially well done in this respect are the scenes aboard the plane in issues 3 and 4. My one complaint about the art is Vandal Savage's portrayal. He looks way too hairy - trim the beard, Vandal! - and the beady little red eyes make him look possessed.

Overall, I enjoyed the series. I think the epilogue could have been expanded a bit more, because it felt a tad rushed, but that doesn't stop me from giving Guns of the Dragon an 8 out of 10.

My vote: 8 out of 10

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David R. Black is Fanzing.com's magazine editor and chief archivist. A big fan of "The Warlord," he has a cat named Shakira and is looking for a girlfriend named Tara....

Letters Editor Chaim Mattis Keller, aka Legion-Reference-File Lad, is a computer programmer who lives in New York City with his wife and four children.

 
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