Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Legends of the World's Finest by Walt Simonson & Daniel Brereton

Note: I didn't plan to read this book and have the review land on Halloween -- that was purely random. But it's nice when things work out so appropriately, isn't it? 

There are books where you wonder why anyone ever thought they were a good idea -- how they could possibly have come into existence. A fully-painted series of comic books in which a sweaty-looking Superman and Batman trade dreams as part of the schemes of an undead Scottish laird to beat a random female demon would fall into that category for a whole lot of people.

But, once you realize that comics not uncommonly come into existence because the then-hot artist had a list of things he really wanted to draw, it starts to make more sense. Legends of the World's Finest, the book in question, has introductions from both writer Walt Simonson and painter Daniel Brereton in which both of them pretend this was a good or at least plausible idea to begin with. (In their defense, it was 1993, when the spandex-dudes industry was teetering on an unsustainable peak of grimacing, variant covers, belt pouches, bad art, and speculator hype. A lot of things looked like good ideas at the time from inside the industry. And Brereton, unlike some artists of that era, was hot because he paints creepy, gorgeous art, so the demon-plot at least was driven by his obvious strengths.)

This Legends is also from long enough ago that it feels more like the wordy comics of the '70s and '80s than the more stripped-down style of the last twenty years -- everyone here yammers on a lot, and the narrative voice gets into the action, too, telling us things we can clearly see in the panels repeatedly. I'm too lazy to look up whether the "real" Superman was officially dead or alive when Legends was published -- it was right in the middle of that foofaraw, when first he was dead, then he was four other people, and then he suddenly wasn't dead and wasn't any of them, either -- but it's from that era of comics, when the Big Two companies were throwing everything they could think of at the wall, with the Image founders doing the same with even less likely things, and nearly everything was sticking.

For a while, at least. The wall wised up before too long, and a hell of a lot of things suddenly stopped sticking very soon after this. And a lot of projects that worked well enough in the inflationary era look silly and ridiculous afterwards.

Again, which brings us back to Legends. It is silly. I won't say that it's actually ridiculous, but it and ridiculous are close enough neighbors to share a snow-blower this winter. It has Batman and Superman act wildly out of character on purpose, but doesn't manage to wring any humor, or much drama, out of that. It manages to feel much longer than its hundred-and-fifty-ish pages. For a presumably out-of-continuity Prestige Format series, it's remarkably mired in the dull continuity of the era. (Superman thinks about his last encounter with Blaze, the female demon! It features the character sensation of never, the who-ever-cared-about-her Silver Banshee!)

There are a lot of big elements here that just don't come off as big. The world is nearly destroyed, yet again, but it's ho-hum. There's way too much talking, none of it in words that are surprising or interesting. And it teaches the great superhero lesson that evil people can never change, so you should never ever help anyone who asks.

Everyone has probably forgotten this even existed. They were pretty much right to do so. But the Brereton art is still quite impressive, especially if you want to see a sweaty, bodybuilder-esque Superman lurching around. That's the most positive thing I can say about it.

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