Tuesday, 24 February 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (February 2005)

10 YEARS AGO - February 2005
Cover artwork by Barry Kitson.
"And We Are Legion"
By Mark Waid (w); Barry Kitson (p); Mick Gray (i); Chris Blythe (c); Phil Balsman (l) & Stephen Wacker (e)
There was a time when the Legion of Super-Heroes was the Doom Metal of comic books. An outsider's niche within an outsider's world. At a time when any comic fan might be ostracized by the popular kids in high school, the comic fans would ostracize Legion fans. The series was just too weird, too different, there were too many characters and it was all a little too insular. It was also the first DC comic to feature a consistent chronology where the events of one issue spilled over to the next, a storytelling technique that would be capitalized on to much critical acclaim by competitors Marvel Comics. Legion stories were hard sci-fi at a time when the explanation for Superman's powers was that his body reacted differently to Earth's yellow sun than it does near Krypton's own red sun. Yet Legion fandom thrived for decades and across generations, as isolated within their own niche as the Super-Heroes of their beloved Legion were isolated from the rest of the DC universe of characters within their own sliding timeline of 1000 years into its future.

By the late 1980's however, sale were stagnant. The title had been reduced to selling in comic specialty shops alone, no longer sharing market spinner rack space with Batman and Action Comics. Editors devised a plan.

5 Years Later.
The glittering, happy-go-lucky milieu of the Legion of Super-Heroes would give way to a darker vision that  better reflected the mood of the '80's. A new story was developed with many important original elements written out of the team's history in 1989. Set in a gritty, post-apocalyptic "five years later", this new Legion is almost universally despised by Legion fans, to whom the names Tom & Mary Bierbaum (the writers of the series) unfairly bring naught but scorn and evil-eyed mean mugging, if not outright sugar-in-the-gas-tank levels of hatred.

Flash forward to "five years later" in real time, the series was rebooted with issue #62 in late 1994 with the sense of wonder at a hopeful, bright shiny future restored. Although the reboot series was quite good overall and faithful to the original vision of the series, this Legion didn't last, cancelled by issue #125. It was revived in 2001 for 38 issues by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (the writer of the series that inspired the movie Guardians of the Galaxy), which is still my personal favorite "post-5 years later" Legion series, but again failed to find an audience. The niche was growing smaller, there wasn't as much pie to go around to begin with as sales continued to slump across the board, but that didn't mean that the comics publishing giant was willing to give up on this beloved franchise.

Unfortunately, the editors decided to wipe away the entire reboot continuity as well as the original continuity and start all over again from scratch. Fans call it the "threeboot". As a measure of its effectiveness on readers, all you need to know is the five years later story inspires hatred while the threeboot inspires only mockery. There's nothing that can be said about this issue to redeem it for Legion fans. It features some good writing from one of the great masters of the form, Mark Waid who adroitly plays with Legion lore.

Waid does something very interesting in this issue. He makes a comment about how our technology, that which facilitates conversation across distances is encroaching on more intimate interactions, and he does it in an interesting way. We see a conversation taking place, two characters taking to each other's floating head on a glowing screen. As the "camera" zooms out, we start to see word balloons cut off by the page's edge, repeated from elsewhere on the page. First, you think it's some kind of mistake of the printing process. Then we flip the page for the big reveal that both participants are actually speaking to each other through devices while standing back to back in the same room. The scene works on a ridiculous amount of levels.

But no matter how interesting the storytelling was, there was no way fans were going to embrace the second hard reboot of their beloved series in just barely over 10 years. However it was intended to go, this series eventually went the way of all things Legion. It was, like all series that came before it, later wiped from continuity at the whim of editors.

After posting online memes about the latest George W. Bush assault on the English language and trying out the newly rebooted Legion of Super-Heroes comics, the increasingly disaffected youth of the '00's pirated digital copies of this album:

HIGH ON FIRE - Blessed Black Wings
To flashback to 2005, we're going to have to flash forward to 2012. High on Fire was my gateway drug. In early 2012 I started thinking about my old heavy metal favorites from back when I was in high school: Metallica, Pantera, nothing fancy. I wanted to hear them again but I'd pawned off my CD's a decade earlier. So I started watching youtube videos for "Am I Evil?" and "Walk" among others. On the sidebar were a list of suggested videos. High on Fire's "Rumors of War" came up.

High on Fire circa 2005 [Image source]
But let us flashback even further than 2005. I didn't stay with metal after high school because it was becoming increasingly homogeneous. Black metal and death metal is not my thing and never has been, and since that stuff dominated, and because I didn't have access to a resource like the internet to find hidden gems and underground bands, I just stuck with my old favorites and left the new stuff alone. Eventually, my tastes changed, I always preferred heavy music, but 60's and 70's psychedelic rock caught the attentions of my wandering ear and I had moved on.

The "Rumors of War" video came up on youtube and I clicked. I braced myself for phony vocals and blast beats ... but what I heard was a riff. A good, heavy riff, then some intense, but not showy drumming. Add in a crooked tooth and I was blown away.

So, I looked into the band. It turns out they were considered to be part of a heavy metal subgenre called "doom metal", which sounded both ridiculous and awesome at the same time. I read about this so-called "doom metal" and I liked what I was seeing. "A whole genre of music dedicated to sounding like Black Sabbath?" I was ready to dive in.

But I hit a snag. The bands I tried first, Solitude Aeternus, Candlemass and My Dying Bride, just didn't make it for me. I didn't like the vocals. At least I'd found High on Fire. It wouldn't be until I saw a video interview with Phil Anselmo where he talked about Witchfinder General, Trouble and Saint Vitus and I went to the trouble to check those bands out that I had found for my ears the love of their life. It was from that point on that I dedicated myself to finding more of these kinds of bands, both old and brand new.

'Blessed Black Wings' was High on Fire's third album. Though Matt Pike (guitar, vocals, ex-Sleep) and Des Kensel (drums) had still yet to find a solid bass player, this album has that identifiable take-no-prisoners, keep-your-foot-planted-on-their-throats sound that the band is known for. 'Blessed Black Wings' is a particularly raging album even for this band whose music is often compared to something a caveman would make.

Also out this same month was an album from another new band of former members of underground legends, Sleep. Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius's new band OM released their first album, called 'Variations on a Theme' on February 15, 2005. It doesn't get much more opposite to caveman music than this as OM picked up where Sleep left off with three long songs and a cemented-to-the-couch vibe. Both albums are excellent, but each occupies its own respective niche, on opposite sides of the heavy planet (just a subtle plug for you).

But after sassing Dubyuh online, reading DC's attempt at a Legion of Super-Heroes threeboot and illegally downloading 'Blessed Black Wings' it was time for a night out. It was time to hit the multiplex theater and catch Saw .,,

But, I don't want to talk about Saw because also out in the world 10 years ago today was another film, the first in producer Takashige Ichise's J-Horror Theater series, Infection, directed by Masayuki Ochiai. With the success of The Ring and Dark Water, Japanese filmmakers were encouraged to keep a steady buzz going to showcase their weird iconoclasm.

The film is in Japanese with English subtitles and the basically silent trailer that was made for English speaking audiences shows the difficulty of conveying a story with just images. There isn't a comics storyteller alive who can't identify with this struggle. You can watch it here.


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