Alien Legion, Vol. 1 (1984)

So, Alien Legion.
I’m five issues in and wrestling a bit. There are some great ideas, some strength to the world-building, some complexity to the characters and perspectives–but a bunch of things just keep kind of wiggling in.
I’m addressing them because I feel the need to vent this as I go.

 

  1. A Good Bit of Heinlein-Style Bias (with All Arguments about the Existence Thereof Entangled)
    From the first issue–though, admittedly, I first read it half-asleep and I think ascribed some comments to the wrong characters–there’s a clumsiness to some of the expressions. It sometimes carries a waft of difficulty in expressing an opposing viewpoint. This also comes through in an overbearingly…simplified complexity? The first issue has the Legion constrained by the TGU’s directive to avoid interference with the still-evolving lifeform of the rathrosaurs there (think Prime Directive, I suppose).

     

    They have weaker, “simpler” weaponry, as compared to their standard fare. The government (via the Galactors, iirc) references “Soldiers, but only Legionnaires” to ham-fistedly suggest their utter disdain for our protagonists. This comes up again in the third issue, which also employs a certain level of confusion in plotting/illustration. On the first page, a member of a guerrilla pacifist group, responding to a proposed forcible conscription act seemingly shoots a guard. Then they all spend the rest of the issue emphasizing their non-violent pacifism, never commenting on this. Was it a stun, perhaps? I have literally no idea. I read it two or three times and couldn’t make sense of it.

     

    The corruptions and the perspectives that aren’t militaristic (a spectrum there, to be fair) are pretty poorly portrayed much of the time: Chief Lanx’s local police corruption in the same third issue; the simplistic (and super-Heinlein) notion of military service via Montroc in the fourth issue…so on and so forth. It feels like someone on the cusp of being able to represent viewpoints other than their own, but failing miserably to do so with full respect or acknowledgment of how one could hold that viewpoint.¹ It’s held that these perspectives are the end, final truth–something especially (seemingly) emphasized in Montroc’s internal struggles in the fourth issue.

     

    There’s just enough respect and complexity in these “opposition” characters much–but not all–of the time to avoid being flat-out offensively simple-mindedly dismissive of others,² but it still doesn’t achieve a balance of respect–not to go out of one’s way to suggest that an opposing viewpoint is entirely reasonable, but rather that one can arrive at it without being a cartoonish villain.

  2. Logical Contradictions and Stretches to Serve Those Biases (and Maybe a Bit of Plot)

    Plenty of comments abound about the limitations the refusal to issue HEL-guns saddle the Legion with as they try to remove an un-restricted piratic mining operation from Wedifact IV. But the restriction, honestly, seems illogical even given the reasoning: they want to avoid leaving technological remains or interfering, but a “laser scar”–the most often given reason–doesn’t seem like a meaningful indicator of technology. It’s an interesting idea, but when you’re inserting logic to explain the plot, it has to make sense. This doesn’t make sense. Compressed-gas-propelled darts are still leagues ahead of the rathrosaurs’ technology. Just because the dart decays doesn’t make it different from a laser (which sure as hell doesn’t stick around…).

    This comes up again in the third issue, with the aforementioned pacifistic group’s seeming murder, the convenient flip-flop of governmental perspective on violations and value of the Legion, and the inconsistency in response to internal crimes (it seems as if violently attacking another member of the Legion is taken less seriously by the Legion itself, which seems insane).

  3. The Letters (Thoughts in General)

    The letters pages–one of the lovely benefits of single issues over many/most trades–are an interesting mix. Appropriately, many place Frank Cirocco’s (excellent!) art and character design (with inking from the great Terry Austin, and great colours from Bob Sharen) as the best feature of the book. Often the plotting is held up next, and the writing itself held as “strong” or “good”, but often with far more caveats.Someone brings up the (almost?) universally male composition of the Legion as an odd point. The editors respond that the letter-writer is making assumptions! But, of course, we have profiles in issues 1 and 5 of many members. Every single one says “he” and “his”. Sure, there are assumptions, but the statistical probability given by the first issue’s profiles, all of the dialogue prior to the letter’s publication and so on make it a reasonable (and, to this point, seemingly accurate…) conclusion. This bothers me primarily because of the flipping of points–a dangerous thing to mention, in that I’m wary of some modern incarnations that feel, to me, excessive in choosing to see a response as ignoring or dismissing a problem. This read exactly like that–it was an editor (presumably) writing on behalf of a writer, with no evidence to support the claim, and plenty against it that only further supported the letter writer’s accuracy.

    Perhaps most frustrating was reading a letter from the famous letter-writer (seriously) T.M. Maple. Maple references the hypocrisy of pacifist activists in reference to issue three, calling out events in his native country (take a wild guess from that name!) that were performed rather contemporaneously by “Direct Action”, aka “The Squamish 5“. They were not, so far as I can see, avowed pacifists. Indeed, they rebelled against nonviolence as means of protest, hence the self-applied name “Direct Action”. Maple (real name Jim Burke) applies these events anyway, then goes on to make numerous terrible leaps of logic (Paraphrasing–“If they’re part of the peace movement, it implies the other side is against peace!” and “I’m opposed to any side claiming a monopoly on morality”³) before establishing a last flimsy footnote of declining to express where he falls (it’s obvious, man…).

    I do think I find this clumsy writing fits with my impression of Zelenetz, who took on a smattering of first-volume Moon Knight issues, as well as the entirely misguided and very much cut-short second volume (Fist of Khonshu) in that there are legitimately good and interesting ideas, marred somewhat by questionable execution.


¹Should one think this is unreasonable to expect of “Perspective X”, I submit Nick Spencer’s portrayal of both the Red Skull and the mind-tampered Captain America. These are human and complicated characters who definitely have vile perspectives, but the way they arrived at them and how they justify them is clear and not condescending.

 

²My counter example here might be C.S. Lewis’s portrayal of the Calormenes in The Horse and His Boy. Perpetually referencing fair skin as a glorious and beautiful thing, condemning the dark-skinned, making–for all the (accurate!) claims to its polytheistic and otherwise slightly modified elements–a bunch of not-unsubtle references to Victorian-esque perceptions of the Middle East (turbans! pointy shoes! scimitars!) and then having Aslan say, “Anyone who does a good thing, even if they worship that other guy, they’re actually mine. And anyone who does a bad thing? Yeah they’re ACTUALLY worshiping the Calormene God.” Considering his stances on Islam, I don’t see a way around this that doesn’t involve some serious contortions. For all the this-or-that Calormene character isn’t bad, it comes off more like, “But some of my great friends are ___!” as Aslan’s proclamation definitively seals it as “Aslan=good, Tash=bad”, and anyone who claims otherwise is accidentally saying the exact same thing or secretly/accidentally evil.

 

³It should be noted that no group or movement is ever likely to be devoid of some percentage that represents the bogeyman version of that group or movement. Hesitance to associate on those grounds I find understandable, particularly where there is sufficient popular disagreement as to whether the group/movement has the boundaries some members assert or not. Decrying said entire group/movement as fully and accurately represented by those individual parties, however, is a different and altogether dumber idea.

Starter Kit

Aggressively personalized (but not saturated by my more eccentric tastes), this is my Comic Book Starter Kit.

The assumption is made that you are familiar with the “core works”¹, at least in name, and that almost anything anywhere will recommend them to you if you bring up comics.

Some other caveats:

This is Western-focused. That’s where most of my experience is, and it tends to be what’s at issue in discussions of “comic books”. This doesn’t degrade or dismiss the works of even slightly-less-west Westerners (like Hergé or Goscinny/Uderzo, and so on), nor is it intended to imply a superiority. It’s just that those are not typically considered “comic books” but other forms of what Scott McCloud so succinctly and clearly defined as “sequential art”.

Now, with all that said:

1) Lucifer

Legitimately one of my most recommended titles–even by proxy, as I recommend writer Mike Carey’s Felix “Fix” Castor books a lot, too–Lucifer is an elaboration upon the devil developed by Neil Gaiman in the Sandman (see, that’s how cornerstone that book is). The titular character is not always even the protagonist, nevermind being a hero. He’s cold and cruel but ultimately disinterested in that which does not serve him. He maintains a semblance of sympathy or identification anyway, though, as he seeks to blaze his own path in the universe, unencumbered by the identity and occupations God has set for him. What it has over on books like its “parent” is a pretty absolute focus: while it encompasses a 75-issue comic, a 3-issue miniseries, and a one-shot, it is a clearly defined overarching story–while things like The Sandman can have some problems with meandering off into side-stories and experiments Gaiman found interesting (albeit successfully!).

2) Swamp Thing (“Saga of”/Volume 2, ~20-64)

To my strange and peculiar tastes, this is the crowning achievement of Alan Moore. It sits next to Marvelman/Miracleman comfortably, in his 80s run of respectful reinvention. It, for all its horror, doesn’t have anything as unpleasant as Miracleman‘s climax (about which I will say no more, but it’s filled with graphically violent images–earned and ‘necessary’ to address the story and its point, it should be said, but nonetheless disturbing) and has a significantly larger amount of emotional investment, as well as the genesis of the great John Constantine (whose name can be ‘heard’ pronounced by the demon Etrigan: it’s Constan”tyne” not Constan”teen”)

3) The Maxx

Sam Kieth is a peculiar artist, and a peculiar storyteller. What was advertised at the time (I was about eight, myself) was “a violent new hero”. What was offered was a strange book about a large purple-and-yellow homeless guy who was friends with a social worker, the two of them harassed endlessly by a smugly knowledgeable sorcerer/serial rapist. The latter part isn’t involved overly graphically, nor as a means of conveying “edgy” material, so much as being part of overarching themes. It’s a difficult book to describe without simply giving it all away, but it’s filled with Sam’s unusually wonderful art, aesthetic and ideas.

4) Animal Man (volume 1) 1-26

Grant Morrison’s breakout work, it’s unusual in the extreme and does suffer from some of Morrison’s preachiness, but can be somewhat excused by its well-executed relevance to the main character. It’s definitely in the realms of “required reading”, in any case. It’s another where you’re best off just reading it without knowing too much.

5) Daredevil (Miller/Janson: v1 158-191, 227-233; Bendis/Maleev: v2 26-81)

The first (Miller/Janson) is classic, in all senses. The peak of Miller’s writing (sadly, at the early end of his career…), and perfectly matched with his own pencils or Janson’s, and definitely Janson’s inks. Matt Murdock is absolutely put through hell, and the depths of his dealings with Wilson “The Kingpin” Fisk (who was originally a Spider-Man villain, but lost almost unequivocally to DD at this point). Bendis and Maleev’s is a thematic return to this, with perfect art for the story from Maleev.

6) Justice League ([America|International|Europe])? (1-6, 7-25, 1-36, 26-60; Formerly Known as the Justice League 1-6, JLA Classified 3-9 [“I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League”], now Justice League 3000 1-15, Justice League 3001 1-ongoing)

Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, one known most for comedy, one known most for pathos (though both are capable of either and both) take the Justice League denied its most famous elements (no Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Hal Jordan or John Stewart as Green Lantern, and even Batman only lasts a few odd issues) and turn them into a bumbling, inefficient group of also-rans filled with heart, will, desire, jokes, comedy, and actually a fair bit of oft-unremembered real drama.

7) Planet Hulk (Incredible Hulk v3 92-105, Giant-Size Hulk #1)

Requiring some of the most minimal of background, the Hulk is unwittingly exiled from Earth by its foremost minds and his foremost–seeming–friends (Tony Stark, Reed Richards, et al). Stuck on a hellish planet, Hulk is forced to find his way through the minimalist society that exists there, and is driven by a raging need to take revenge on those responsible.

8) Suicide Risk

Mike Carey has written superhero books for the Big Two, but this was his own creation. And yet…it turns out it just may be something entirely other than a super hero book as it goes on. Another self-contained and clean series by Carey.

9) The Question

Dennis O’Neill is responsible, somewhat more quietly than a lot of the Brits who followed him and were eventually his contemporaries (or writers under his editorship) for a lot of classic works. But his peculiar book with penciler Denys Cowan is an achievement outside the shadow of characters like Batman. Sure, Ditko invented the rather ridiculous Objectivist Question decades earlier, but O’Neill’s unusual take on Vic Sage is more philosophical and interested in the world as it actually functions, and is married to the signature pencils of Cowan.

10) Current ongoings:

Rick Remender’s anything (Black ScienceLowDeadly ClassTokyo Ghost)

DescenderBlack MagickCopperheadManifest DestinyRat QueensRumble

¹SandmanWatchmen especially. Other Moore can be an acquired taste, some moreso than others, but Watchmen is a medium-defining moment.

My Week in Media

Hello!

I’ve been pretty significantly away, having moved across the country to take up a new job and finding a bit of a social life alongside it.

Normal concerns–cataloguing my collections and experiencing them in their given manner (reading, listening, watching, playing)–are also difficult to get around, but a revived digression from social media and the, ahem, milieu it represents has left me hankering to write about things.

Perhaps, too, it’s the largely-unexpected (but hoped for) printing of my letter (chopped down, understandably, from my rambling) in Darth Vader #8. Perhaps it’s the music I’ve been listening to. Most likely, though, I just want to talk about all of these things and don’t know of a better way right now.

For comics, this week was a bit rough: the first half was spent delving into The New Mutants–Claremont and Sal Buscema largely taking the first stabs, with Sienkiewicz appearing alongside Claremont at issue 18 to kick it into overdrive.

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