Legion of Super-Heroes #3
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Ryan Sook, Travis Moore, Wade Von Grawbadger and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by DC
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
While the cover of Legion of Super-Heroes #3 might promise a smashing team-up between Damian Wayne and the heroes of the 31st century, writer Brian Michael Bendis gives readers a frustrating reminder not to judge - or necessarily even trust - a book by its cover. It's a shame, because there are some solid subplots going on elsewhere in this book, but only diehards are going to be able to forgive what is essentially a narrative bait-and-switch.
Given Bendis's focus on Jon Kent as the lynchpin of the Legion (and the shape of the 31st century as a whole), the idea of letting Jon's dark opposite Damian ride shotgun for an issue feels like a slam-dunk of a high concept, the kind of story that plays to Bendis's teen-angst strengths. Unfortunately, though, Bendis abandons the premise almost as soon as he introduces it, with Damian passing out almost immediately upon arrival, with only a quick appearance in a crowd shot before being mind-wiped and sent back home in a time bubble. (And the less I say about a particularly distasteful bit about Damian growing up to become a future Hitler, the better.)
Which is a shame, because the other two subplots of this book carry the narrative better than this guest star gimmick. Artists Ryan Sook and Travis Moore are able to have some fun with a battle royale on Rimbor, where Mon-El makes a rash choice that could have some fun consequences down the line. Perhaps the highlight of the book, however, is a psychic interrogation of Mordru, which colorist Jordie Bellaire infuses with some haunting pinks and yellows. To be honest, with proper setup, these subplots could have been enough to anchor this issue, rather than hinging so much on a Robin-centric storyline that doesn’t even appear in this book.
Even Bendis's staunchest supporters might concede that the writer has certain quirks that have defined his writing style - his rapid-fire banter, his decompressed pacing, his tendency to introduce plot points and then forget them (anybody else remember Storm and Daredevil joining the Avengers?) - but this issue veers into something else that can't help but feel a bit cynical. Having Damian on the cover will undoubtedly sell units, but having him sidelined the entire issue feels like a violation of the contract that creators and readers share. Plot misdirects are part and parcel of the comic book reading experience, but it's hard not to view Legion of Super-Heroes #3 as anything other than a massive disappointment.
Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #7
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Steve Lieber and Nathan Fairbairn
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
The Silver Age was a wacky time, and none more so than for Jimmy Olsen, who was subject to all manner of transformations: a giant turtle man, a Bizzaro version of himself and a werewolf, to name just a few. From a creative perspective, the character was malleable enough that as long as the necessary hijinks could be thought up, they could be inflicted on the poor lad. From Jimmy’s perspective however, it’s responsible for the identity crisis he finds himself being diagnosed with in the first vignette of this issue.
As Dr. Lorelei Liu runs down the many potential versions of Jimmy Olsen – including photojournalist, prankster, investigator – artist Steve Lieber maintains a consistent top-down perspective of Jimmy lying down on his therapist’s couch in his panelling, though his appearance shifts with each panel to match the description being given. It’s an example of how versatile an artist like Lieber can be, as well as how Nathan Fairbairn is able to switch up his coloring style to fit, most evident in the switch between the prankster and investigator versions going from young to grizzled and the less defined linework of a sweater-vest and bowtie to the crumpled overcoat, stubble and furrowed brow.
The page as scripted by Matt Fraction works almost like a newspaper strip in how it builds to a punchline, though an additional panel that follows shows he’s not just doing this for the purpose of a joke. The vignette style of the series, that sees it make defined shifts in scene, situation and tone throughout, allows for a madcap energy and screwball comedy’s pace that asks readers to keep up. By making these issues as varied as they can possibly be, it allows the series to be everything a Jimmy Olsen comic could be, all at once - sort of a hyper-distillation of the character.
Fraction has always played with structure in his books - an early issue of Casanova had him telling three individual tales that all came together by the end, much like this series has let threads join up - and there’s multiple issues of Hawkeye where the non-linear storytelling required the audience to fit the timeline together. Considering how long it’s been since Fraction stepped away from Marvel, it’s been a treat to have him back writing a Big Two book, bringing his level of ambition to DC and a series that’s a welcome fit for it.
While this issue marks the start of the maxiseries’ second half, it works reasonably well as a standalone issue that communicates the charms and quirks of Jimmy Olsen, both the character and the series. The introduction we got to Fraction, Lieber, Fairbairn, and Clayton Cowles’ run in last year’s Leviathan Strikes one-shot makes itself relevant once more by crashing into another aspect of the story this issue, though this is just one piece of a comic that also contains a Peanuts homage, the story of how Jimmy ended up working for The Daily Planet, and a knowing meta joke about the series’ design and format. It’s still recommended to start with the first issue, though it is an effective glimpse into the series’ storytelling style should anyone want to sample.
Of course, what allows the series to navigate a varying level of time periods and styles as well as it does is the fact that Lieber is just as capable of shifting between these with aplomb. The therapy session switching is his work on the series in microcosm, the changing expressions of his lead character and matching body language show what a nuanced cartoonist he is. The pages built around homaging Charles Schulz’s strips see Lieber making use of far thicker linework compared to the rest of the series, while Fairbairn opts to use make his colors a tad brighter. Despite this shift in aesthetic style, the more rounded character designs retain the level of emotion you find in the rest of the book, with a more youthful energy having been baked into their composition.
As easy as it is to whiz through reading the issue, it invites returning for a re-read in order to home in on the finer details like the preceding six have. Not knowing where the story will zig and zag to on the page turn is exciting. That versatility and potential to be different is such a strong fit for a character like Jimmy, to take a look at the DC Universe from a different angle. These qualities are true of the series’ creative team as well. That’s what makes them as great a match as they are; Jimmy might be having an identity crisis, but Fraction, Lieber, Fairbairn and Cowles know exactly who he, and what this book, is.