It’s a new day for Brian Michael Bendis and Ryan Sook’s Legion of Super-Heroes. Issue #7 brings a new arc, and ideally a chance for the team to recover from the first storyline’s inconsistency. Stephen Byrne joins as the guest artist for the issue, while Wade Von Grawbadger and Jordie Bellaire return on inks and colors respectively.
This is an interesting spot for the book — solicits for issues #8 and #9 promise a bold two-part storyline titled “The Trial of the Legion of Super-Heroes” featuring a Legion of around 40 super-artists. It’s a massive celebration that I’m personally quite excited for. Issue #7 is a sort of breather before we get to this big two-parter. This is something often seen in Paul Levitz’ work on the title: an issue where we can slow down, get some character spotlights and interpersonal drama, and of course elect a new Legion leader before the next big storyline. Unfortunately, this issue is dominated by the same issues the first arc had, and this new day feels the same as yesterday.
In my previous reviews, I’ve described the pacing and decompression problems that plagued the first arc. Not only are they still present in issue #7, but they are particularly pronounced here. This issue is intended to be an opportunity for us to get away from the action and closer to these characters. With this new continuity, it was decided to begin the book with a team of over 30 Legionnaires. This is a decision that, while bold, I defended because it put us right into the Legion at its height. However, the first arc failed to properly introduce many of these team members. Taking a break from the action to do a character and drama focused issue could tackle this problem head on, but it is once again poorly paced and light on content.
We barely get into the heads of a handful of Legionnaire before an election plot is squeezed in at the end. This is compounded by an opening scene that takes far longer than it should and accomplishes very little. I’ve defended much of Bendis’ DC work despite the decompression issues present because I’ve found his ideas so engaging. With Legion however, it’s becoming increasingly evident that Bendis is trying to use a skillset he doesn’t have. He’s trying to mimic the work of Levitz without the strengths and tools of his work.
One of Levitz’ key pieces was the backup story at the end of each issue. These backup stories allowed him to expand on one or two Legionnaires away from the dense main plot. Levitz also continued Legion tradition by making election issues cornerstones of the run. Legion elections go back to the Silver Age, and the politics surrounding them have made them fan favorite moments. Legion elections are a BIG DEAL and deeply important to the team’s history. Alongside the backup stories, they helped flesh out the large Legionnaire cast.
Bendis doesn’t have any backups and flopped his first election issue. He desperately wants to capture the magic of the Levitz era of the book, but is incapable of reaching his level of dense plots or polished pacing. And that’s not to say I feel he’s a poor fit for the book — Bendis has engaging ideas and a long history of finding voices for young characters. He brought in recap pages done by individual Legionnaires to help readers get to know them. While not a replacement for backups, it’s a great choice. I fully believe he can write a great Legion of Super-Heroes book, and I have seen moments of that throughout these seven issues, but I have also seen him fail to consistently deliver satisfying stories.
This issue does succeed as a more intimate character piece visually. Stephen Byrne pencils most of the issue (with Ryan Sook only doing page 1) and he’s a great fit as a fill-in artist. Byrne’s characters are much more expressive and warm than Sook and some of the artists we’ve seen on the book. As most of the issue is spent with characters in conversation, his work shines in a way that many other artists wouldn’t.
There’s a scene in particular with much of the Legion gathered in their cafeteria “Heaven” that really stands out. Not only does the food look both futuristic and good, but it’s just a great scene of the Legion all together; everyone’s so natural and relaxed in a way we don’t get to see in the big fight spreads. The body language is distinctly different than what we would see from the other artists and I feel it’s quite effective.
Von Grawbadger and Bellaire ink and color the entire issue, as they have with most issues thus far, and they are excellent as usual. Despite the different feel to Byrne’s art, everything feels consistent to the other artists we’ve seen. Bellaire’s colors in particular continue to shine. The Legionnaire uniforms continue to look super bright and distinct against backgrounds. While the pacing continues to have issues, the art continues to be a strong point for the series.
I continue to be disappointed in the ways Legion of Super-Heroes struggles. Not just because the book has problems, but because they’re problems I believe could be fixed easily. The book needs to stop imitating Levitz and instead refocus around the skills of the current creators. Tidy up the pacing, tighten up the script, and the book could improve in quality significantly. This isn’t a broken book, it’s a sloppy one. Unfortunately, I can’t say I expect the book to change course. I remain excited for the Trial of the Legion two-parter, but at this point it’s mostly all for the art. Ultimately, I can’t say I have much faith in the story’s actual quality anymore.