Mistah J has assured me that from this point forward on “the shelf”, the comics move in a forward direction, and that the backtracking with origin stories that dominated “the shelf” after Crisis was pretty much over. I’m happy to say that at least so far, he’s right (I never doubted he would be. After all, these are his comics and he knows the stories and continuity better than anyone else I know. I tend to defer to him in all things comic-related).
That being said, this collection is still technically a bit of an origin story, albeit of a different nature. In this collection, a 6-part miniseries originally published in 1986, we see the events that transpired that lead to a new version of The Justice League being created, featuring the members shown on the cover of the trade.
Obviously, the basic framework of events which leads to this new Justice League isn’t too hard to guess: a powerful being is bent on overtaking/destroying the planet, and it’s up to our heroes to defeat him. This basic trope has been used countless times across any number of comics publications, but there’s a very basic, fundamental reason for that:
Simply put, our heroes always need a foil in their stories, be it an anti-hero, a begrudging antagonist, or an outright evil-doer. Without such a character, the heroes would just be traipsing along throughout the world using their powers to rescue kittens stuck up trees.
…Not going to lie, I’d probably still read that comic.
What makes this trend so popular then is not the basic outline of the story, but the details. The characterization of both hero and villain, as well as the minutiae of the story, is what makes them worth reading.
In Legends, a handful of popular heroes find themselves pitted against the very people they’ve sworn to protect: angry mobs of concerned citizens calling for the immediate imprisonment of their costumed protectors, all being lead by one fanatical man, G. Gordon Godfrey.
As our heroes face a number of formidable foes, a few meet death while others begin to question the very jobs they’ve taken on:
After believing himself to have caused the death of one of his opponents, young Billy Batson, aka Mr. Marvel, vows to never adopt his superhero alter ego again, lest he be responsible for any more untimely deaths.
All of this is happening with none of the heroes being aware that the true mastermind behind this national uprising is none other than Darkseid, the vile ruler of Apokolips.
I have to admit, I was glad to see that Darkseid made another appearance after the open ending of his last battle with Superman (see previous post). He’s more than a formidable opponent for any group of superheroes, so it only made sense that he should be behind these recent events.
Though we never see Darkseid facing off against the newly-formed Justice League directly, he is watching from afar, convinced that his plan to rid the world of superheroes will succeed.
As expected, our heroes band together, stop G. Gordon Godfrey (who just so happens to be Glorious Godfrey from Apokolips in disguise), and form the Justice League in response to this new threat.
As stories go, this one isn’t majorly convoluted. It’s a basic story which is easy to follow, with no big surprises being thrown at the reader. In theory, this shouldn’t have been a comic I was particularly fond of. With such a simple premise, I would have guessed that this collection might have bored me a bit, or felt too similar to all of the other origin stories I’ve been reading lately.
Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case. I found myself drawn into the story and interested to see how it played out, even though the ending seemed fairly predictable even at the beginning.
My guess as to the reason for that? The inclusion of those small details that can make or break a comic.
One particular reference I picked up paralleled a concept addressed in the last Superman trade I read (and wrote about last time): the concept of warriors versus champions.
Superman is a champion. As is proven in this trade, Mr. Marvel is a champion as well. Both fight for good and the thought of failure is too much to bear for them.
What of the warriors, though?
This comic addresses the warrior side, albeit very quickly.
Batman acknowledges that his inaction may have cost a number of people their lives. Rather than let that thought cloud his vision though, he comments that “that’s going to be hard to live with”, and that’s the last we hear about it. Batman’s struggle is an internal one, and one which he deals with in his own way. It doesn’t get in the way of the task at hand, and we certainly don’t see him consider abandoning his cowl because of one failure. Therein lies the difference between the warriors and the champions. The comic makes it clear that while different, both are successful and quite necessary heroes.
I can’t write about this comic without addressing one very obvious note: Wonder Woman’s extremely brief appearance in this trade.
She’s featured prominently on the collection cover, and she appears on the individual issue covers as well, yet her character doesn’t make an appearance, isn’t even mentioned, until the final issue of this collection.
I’ll give it to the creative team behind the comic: they let her have a pretty grand entrance. Still, she doesn’t appear until page 131 of this trade.
It only has 144 pages.
I mean come on. This is freaking WONDER WOMAN we’re talking about here!
I’m consoling myself with the thought that perhaps her post-Crisis identity hadn’t yet been established in the comics yet (as is hinted at briefly in the issue) and that the writers had to figure out a way to introduce her, since she’s supposed to be new to America. If that’s the case okay, I get it. Still, she could have been brought in before the final battle.
Other than Wonder Woman the only other female superhero we get is Black Canary, aka totally 80’s Barbie, and even she barely gets any panels dedicated to her.
At least Wonder Woman is fully embracing her girl power, quickly putting the abrasive Guy Gardner, aka Green Lantern, in his place:
You tell him, Diana.
Legends easily sets up storylines for countless publications, both for the individual characters as well as the Justice League as a whole. Though brief, this trade serves a very clear purpose in the continuity, reintroducing the Justice League to a post-Crisis readership and setting the stage for what I can only guess will be a pretty epic battle between the League and Darkseid.
Safe to say, I’m intrigued to see how that one plays out.