Best Shots Reviews: LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #1, BATMAN #82

Batman #82
Credit: DC
Credit: DC

Legion of Super-Heroes #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Ryan Sook, Wade Von Grawbadger and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

The 31st Century gets off to a lackluster start in the debut of Legion of Super-Heroes #1. Though gorgeously rendered and laid out by the art team of Ryan Sook, inker Wade Von Grawbadger, and colorist Jordie Bellaire, the script for this debut lacks the same youthful spark and energy one would expect from a such a high-profile return. Yet even with this stellar artwork and the return of these fan-favorite characters, the Legion falls prey to many of writer Brian Michael Bendis’s less wonderful storytelling tics.

Staring with what works about this debut, it looks drop-dead beautiful. Though we have gotten glimpses of Ryan Sook’s take on the future in the Millennium two-parter, seeing it fully is truly a sight to behold. Strengthened by the intricate inking of Wade Von Grawbdager, a long-time collaborator of Bendis, and rich colors of Jordie Bellaire, the 31st Century has rarely looked better than it does with Sook at the helm.

Breaking up the pages in vast, detailed splash pages, the art team almost overwhelms the reader with futuristic imagery. We get a bird’s eye view of New Earth, now separated into interconnected biomes. We see the dark and dangerous streets of Planet Gotham. And we are giving a soaring flyby of the Legion Headquarters, which stretches throughout an entire planet populated with gleaming tech-spires and cool, eye-catching buildings. For all the issue’s faults, it's really great to see it leaning into the epic scope allowed to a team when they take on the Legion.

Better still, Sook takes real care with the characters as well. Making the mob of characters that make up the Legion both feel real and have a distinct visual identity is no easy task, but Sook, Von Grawbadger, and Bellaire put in a great effort here to do both. Largely, they succeed. The action is always quite clear, including the LoSH’s trademark “group-flight” place to place. Every character displays a wide range of expressions. And finally, everybody looks distinct. The script installs a bit of “cheat” in this regard as the Legion HQ provides a handy holo display card next to every Legionnaire to eliminate confusion (borrowed from Matt Fraction's Uncanny X-Men run). But even without it, Sook and the rest of the art team really thrive with the ensemble, blocking them neatly and energetically across their gleaming sets and backdrops.

Unfortunately, the script just seems a whole lot of the same stuff. Frontloaded with action and packed in the middle with rote exposition and table setting, Brian Michael Bendis feels like he’s floating through the future on autopilot, overstuffing the book with bland banter and plodding momentum. He hits on some interesting elements, for sure - for example the first arc seems to be centered around Aquaman’s trident, which is somehow survived into the future and still connected to the galaxy’s missing oceans. Meanwhile, some of the jokes pop, such as Saturn Girl’s frustration at making a comprehensive (and interactive) orientation presentation that no one ever sits through, and a clever phrasing jab about the “Original” Batman.

But it all reads so rote and lifeless. Jon gives us a fun audience surrogate, but it never feels like any of it much matters. Which is a real bummer for the return of a pillar of the DCU that has been largely out of play for nearly five years. We know that Bendis can handle a large cast, but we also know that sometimes “big” arcs fall flat and characters slip through the cracks on his teams. And while it’s great to see some of the C-list Legionnaires get a return to the spotlight, we all know what happened to Storm and Daredevil once they were called to the “big leagues” of the Avengers and New Avengers. I would hate for the Legion of Super-Heroes to come back to bombastic fanfare and then end up being largely empty.

So while it looks beautiful the return of the Legion of Super-Heroes reads pretty thin. All the elements are there and it truly does look fantastic, but there is no spark behind the flight rings. At least right now at the opening. I really want the future to be bright for the Legion, and hopefully in later issues, it will get there again.

Credit: DC

Batman #82
Written by Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

As Tom King’s Batman reaches its conclusion, its entered a sort of workmanlike pacing that looks to pull it towards the end. In a strange way, that’s working more for the book than so many arcs have, and it proves that King has the ability to deliver on superhero punch-’em-ups when he wants to. Mikel Janin’s work is invigorated by the speed of King’s script, and he gives us some of the better layouts and expression work that we’ve seen across this partnership. Still something holds this issue back, and it might be how much it doesn’t feel like the plan.

There’s been an unrelenting sadness in King’s approach to Batman that has left readers split on his run. That’s understandable - Batman is a character who can take on a lot of different interpretations and approaches, and they aren’t all going to work for everyone. However, King feels more like he’s trying to split the difference in his approach to the character here between what he wants and what readers expect. This issue’s features its fair share of badass “I’m Batman” moments, but those feel odd juxtaposed with King’s chatty Bat/Cat dynamic. It’s not that you can’t have both, but King doesn’t balance them incredibly well here. And his Bane seems like he’s had to take a step back to allow King to give us those big Batman moments. That’s what further leads me to believe that this development in “City of Bane” has strayed from the original plan.

Thankfully, though, this is mostly one big fight, and Mikel Janin delivers some of the most crowd-pleasing artwork I’ve seen in a while. Janin has always been an artist adept at portraying the human body, and he really gets to lean into that here as a couple of shirtless dudes punch, kick and flip around each other for more than a few pages. With that focus on good anatomy, the fight choreography feels like it has more weight - the big hits feels more like big hits. And the characters needing to be almost constantly in motion and displaying emotion keeps Janin from overly posing his figures. Jordie Bellaire keeps the colors fairly consistent throughout, utilizing a palette that calls back to past arcs in this run without distracting from the action at hand. I particularly like how the cutbacks to Thomas Wayne provide relief from the main scenes sandy coloration.

It feels kind of crazy that we’ve spent 82 issues with Tom King’s Batman. He’s taken us through retcons and explorations of Bruce Wayne that readers may not have expected. We’ve gotten an extended dream sequence and a failed marriage. But as we get towards the end, issues like this feel less like the end of the journey we were on and more just like an ending. There’s an odd lack of finality here even as we are so close and I wonder how they’ll bring it home. Batman #82 is a decently crafted comic, but not one that speaks as directly to the approach of its writer’s past work.

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