Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pierre vs The Great Darkness Saga

Editor’s Note: Today Pierre presents a review of the Deluxe Edition of the Great Darkness Saga and shows how it reveals lazy storytelling is in new DC 52 Justice League. Warning: If you haven’t read the original story, there will be some spoilers in his review. - Jim

I can't say that I am a fan of the Legion of Super-Heroes comic book series. I bought the occasional LoSH comics here and there, but I never bought their comic on a monthly basis.

I first discovered the LoSH in some treasury edition showing the wedding of Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, and damn how that was a great comic. It had action, intrigue, and was filled with over a score of super-heroes for you to discover.

This was my first Legion comic, and although I only knew Superboy, I had no problem understanding who the main characters were, as there was a nifty Who's Who at the end of the comic. Damn how I loved that comic.

Then the next time I saw the LoSH (at least some of them) was in the pages of the Karate Kid comic which featured the Legion’s master martial artist stranded in our own time.

There were also some Legion short stories as a back-up feature in Kamandi. Those were some cute tales, although the story with Karate Kid and Nemesis Kid joining the Legion was kind of spoiled for me from reading the Karate Kid comic.

Then I finally got a LoSH comic, the first issues were a 3 parter which told how R.J. Brande started the Legion. It seems those stories were from a comic called Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes. And then the series continued with what was issue 284 of the Legion comic. But somehow I ended up missing a bunch of issues until I got the last 2 issues of The Great Darkness Saga (TGDS) by Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen.

In Canada, the LoSH comic was merged with the New Teen Titans comic, and that is how I got to read the end of TGDS, as the second half of the Legion of Super-Heroes/New Teen Titans comic. Talk about a Fan-tastic combo!

 And although I missed most of the TGDS story, I was still able to understand what was going on. However, I always regretted that I had missed the beginning of the saga. So imagine my delight when over a decade later, I got my hands on TGDS TPB, and at last I was able to read the whole story…or so I thought. It was incomplete in a number of ways which I discovered when I recently got the Deluxe Edition of TGDS.

The Deluxe Edition starts about half a dozen issues before the TPB, and ends a couple of issues after the TPB. Although it is missing the story The Curse that was at the end of the TPB that seems to be setting up a possible sequel to that story. I recall a story that was called The Quiet Darkness Saga. Forgive an ignorant fool, but, was that a sequel to "the Great Darkness Saga"? (Editor's Note: Not really. Written by Al Gordon, it is viewed more as a thematic sequel.)

Also there are some pages that are not quite as I remember them. In issue 291, there is a short story called Leaders and Lovers that is not drawn quite like what I remember. It almost looks like they redrew those pages for the TPB.

About 3 decades later, it is easy to see why this remained one of the defining moments of the Legion. It was an Epic tale that felt BIG and important at the time - but it did not start as such. It started slowly but surely with Bouncing Boy reminiscent of his fallen comrades. Then the tale continues with Timber Wolf who wants to undergo a procedure to look more human. Not sure why, I loved Timber Wolf's look, but I would not be surprised if this was done in an attempt to distinguish him from a certain mutant from the Great White North who was starting to be popular at the time. ;)

And from there, it keeps on building, very slowly. Through the adventures of the Legion, we get some nice character moments, but we also get the bits and pieces that would lead to TGDS as they are slowly put into place.

The first minions are put into play, and then the mystery of this mysterious enemy that is pulling the strings from the shadow, until we get the great reveal: The master of the great darkness is Darkseid!

During my original reading of the story, I had not yet read the New Gods, so I was unfamiliar with Darkseid. Yet, while this was my first encounter with him, Levitz still was able to convey a great sense of epic evil in the character such that even a newbie like myself understood what a dire menace he was. You really got the impression that the Legion were in way over their head. Ultimately, it took no less than the entire Legion, and a whole planet of Supermen (Daxamites) just to make him retreat.

Since that was MY introduction to Darkseid, I cannot help but think of the GDS every time I see the character. This results in the unfortunate comparison to any story he is in and the GDS.

That is probably why when I saw what was done with him in the pages of the NU 52 Justice League, I could not help but feel how it diminishes this once great character. Nothing in that Justice League story makes us feel that Darkseid is any threat.

Geoff Johns tried to use the DCU's biggest badass (as the kids would say) to make the League look formidable, but it’s just not that easy. Simply putting all the toys on the table does not make a great story. In those NU 52 JLA’s we aren’t really shown why Darkseid is a credible menace. Compared to our memory of a Darkseid from BEFORE the NU 52, this incarnation of the character comes across weak and damaged.

Darkseid was made into this HUGE threat in the LoSH. He was made into a galactic level threat. But not out of thin air, through his actions. He made a clone of Superman, a clone of a Guardian of the Universe, and others to test the might of the Legion. Then he took control of Daxam and arranged for the planet to be under a sun yellow, turning them into a whole planet of Supermen.

He was established as a galactic level threat before the reveal of his identity was even made.

But how was he revealed in the NU 52 Justice League? When he had done nothing more than send in random Parademons to attack the Justice League. They completely diluted the character. He was there just to get his ass kicked and show how badass the League was supposed to be. Johns relies too much on our own memories of who Darkseid is to create drama in the story without ever taking the time to properly establish the character as a true cosmic threat.

DC was too busy wasting splash pages with the Justice League fighting each other and acting like immature teenagers to try and properly establish Darkseid as some sort of a threat.

So, as fun as it was to reread the GDS, it had the unfortunate side-effect of reminding me how sorry most comics are today.

And it is not just with DC, the same thing is true with Marvel. Take the Sentry for example, they were so busy telling us that he had the power of a million exploding suns (whatever that means) but they never showed him doing anything important. (Editor’s Note: Not until way late in the game.)

To modern comic’s writers, I would say this: Show. Don't Tell.

When Wolverine first started, no one was saying how badass/cool he was. He was just Wolverine, and through his actions,. the readers decided that he was badass, that he was cool. And only then did they start describing him as the best there is at what he does, but what he does best isn't very nice.

TGDS is a great example of a multi-issue storyline that is masterfully told. If you don't already own a copy of it in some form, then I highly recommend the Deluxe Edition. DC has put a lot of love and care into this edition. The colors look impressive with the higher grade paper and hard bound cover.

In my opinion, this is one of the best mainstream comic stories ever told. It can hold its own against Jim Shooter’s Korvac Saga (from the Avengers), Claremont and Byrne’s Dark Phoenix Saga and Wolfman and Perez’s The Judas Contract.

Until next time.

- Pierre


Howard said...

A really great insight into presenting characters and storytelling.

Jim Shelley said...

Funny thing about this Deluxe Edition - for years people would ask Paul Levitz about the possibility of a better collected edition (or a reprinting) of the The Great Darkness Saga, but as recently as 2002 on Newsarama, he said there was not enough interest to justify sales.

Yet, when this collection was finally published, the first editions quickly sold out on Amazon. Currently there are only 7 left of the newer edition on Amazon (as of this writing.)

Paul Levitz also had some wacky notions about Digital comics. He was great LSH writer, but not much of a business prognosticator.

cash_gorman said...

Ah memories. I remember talking to a friend, we were casting about for the next "big" artist and series. Somehow we decided on Keith Giffen, he had only been on the Legion for a few months. So, I went to the comic store and picked up a few of the back issues and was off. The Great Darkness Saga was just starting at the time.

No computers or access to solicitations in months in advance, only two or three people to discuss comics with, the mystery of the Big Bad was slow anticipatory. Even having grown up reading JLA/JSA crossovers, this felt epic and big as it spanned planets and dozens of heroes. Mon-el being taken out in the beginning. Calling in various reservists. Great stuff.

It also helped that Darkseid wasn't over-used as a punching bag at that point. My familiarity at that point with the New Gods and Darkseid was mainly through the post-Kirby stories. DC's continuity was so departmentalized back then, you rarely had villains switching heroes and such. It's all to say, I didn't see the reveal coming though it made sense.

And after all that build-up, it's not like they trotted out Mxyptlk, Mongul, or Krona, but someone that actually had the chops to live up to the reputation they were building. Suddenly felt that the Legion really were outnumbered.

They earned a lot of good will with that series, I continued with Legion for years, and when I stopped due to finances around the time Giffen came back with his "new" style, my brother piked up with the Lightle and Laroque years. Stopped somewhere short of when Giffen came back again and did the "adult" Legion, killing of Blok among others.

MattComix said...

Wow. Now I want to scrounge around ebay to find that Treasury Edition. I adored those as a kid. I still have a couple of Spidey ones and the Cap' Bicentennial by Kirby.

The Legion of Superheroes has had some awesome artists in it's history but it is something that I tend to love more in concept than in execution. Specifically, the notion that Superman's generation of heroes and their deeds eventually leads to this brighter future and a legion of young people from across the galaxy become inspired to act by looking back upon Superman's example when that future is threatened.

I completely agree with you about the amount of time in Nu52 Justice League devoted to the characters acting like spoiled and snarky teenagers. It doesn't even do anything to humanize them so much as it facilitate more hero vs. hero. Fighting evil seems to almost be a secondary priority to clanging the egos together like a toddler does pots and pans.

Do modern comic fans need to have the love of of their favorite hero constantly validated by his/her ability to beat up on someone else's favorite? It's not a never ending battle so much as a never ending game of My Dad can beat up your Dad.


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