Monday, June 12, 2017

Action Comics #864 Review/Recap

Action Comics #864 (2008)
Title: Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes
Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Joe Prado
Inker: Jon Sibal
Colorist: David Curiel
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Editor: Matt Idelson
Assistant Editor: Nachie Castro
Cover Artist: Kevin Maguire
Reviewer: Jude Deluca, a.k.a. Sarcasm Kid

I have what you’d call a love/hate relationship with Geoff Johns’ writing. Well, it’s more hate than love at this point.

Things I love: Stars and STRIPE, the variety in the different Lantern corps, Bette Kane as Batwoman, that he actually tried to do something with Duela Dent, the One Year Gap Titans, Cyclone, Darla Dudley, Rainbow Girl in the Subs, the Legion rejects he brought back, and Action Comics #864.

Things I hate: Um, actually…

I don’t wish to use this as another excuse to rant about my dislike of Geoff Johns in gross detail. I’d prefer to sum it up by saying that over the years the glaringly racist, homophobic, juvenile, patriarchal, and misogynistic elements of his writing took a toll on me around the time “Brightest Day” began and which only grew worse with the birth of the New 52. I started to hate seeing his name associated with any projects for DC, especially those concerning the Titans, the Legion, and Wonder Woman, and I would rest better knowing he had no further involvement at DC.

That said, Action Comics #864 still holds a very important place within my heart and remains one of my favorite comics for a number of reasons I’ll divulge in this review/recap.



For those that don’t remember, #864 served as an epilogue to “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes,” where Johns and Gary Frank established a new Legion continuity meant to serve as the “original” Legion which Superman supposedly hadn’t seen since the first Crisis. This issue was a breather that also presented further foreshadowing for “Legion of 3 Worlds” and revealed the true mastermind behind the Justice League of Earth’s rise to power. Joe Prado took over pencils for the issue, which is another important factor in my love for it.

I’m gonna be honest, you’re gonna be hearing me gush a lot about how much I love Garth Ranzz, but I’m also gonna try to and offer an explanation (based on my own views and observations) as to how this Garth, who was supposed to be the calmer original deal, became so angry and loud. This isn’t a perfect issue though, especially concerning Johns’ take on Starboy’s mental health which goes totally in line with "The mentally ill are hilarious" stereotypes and just made Thom sound like a watered down version of Deadpool.

The narrator for this issue remains mysterious up until the last page, making references to the previous arcs in “Action Comics,” and alluding to possible future events which may never happen now thanks to “Flashpoint” (you really do suck, Barry). Whoever this person is knows a great deal about Superman, implying a very vast choke hold on Clark’s life. Maybe not “choke hold” but more of an observer, I guess. This places the narrator on a higher level than most of Clark’s other villains, yet the narration boxes color Clark as more of a secondary objective. It all ultimately relates to Clark’s connection to the Legion more than Clark himself. The narrator refers to past attempts to get rid of “The Boy of Steel,” but these “Never last.” “The Boy of Steel” means this is less about Superman and more about Superboy, and as we all know, Clark’s past as Superboy was the Legion’s main inspiration.

The title for this issue is “Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes,” and sure enough the first page has Batman arriving to the Fortress of Solitude. The narration mentions “The Day Batman Died” among the future occurrences, and for DC readers at the time, it seemed like this was referring to Grant Morrison’s “Batman RIP” event that was building for a couple of years. As Batman enters the Fortress, he overhears what sounds like Superman having a conversation with someone else about amusing anecdotes from Clark’s past in the Legion. Sure enough, the next two pages are a full page splash of Clark with Lightning Lad, relaxing near the Fortress’s animal habitat and laughing about old times (although technically the misadventures mentioned never happened in any published Legion comic). I recognize at this point I sound more matter-of-fact than I planned, so I’ll be showing a more informal and personal style as I really dig into the heart of the issue.

(I’m lucky enough to say I own both these pages. I acquired these as a gift from Joe Prado a few years ago. I have the best. Friends. EVAH.)

So here’s Batman, immediately arriving as a third wheel and managing to make his observations sound like disapproval in a way that would make Sailor Uranus’s obsession with THE MISSION sound tame. “Sounds like you’re having fun,” he says. “Regressing with old friends,” he muses. What you can’t help but imagine Bruce thinking is “You’re laughing. Why are you laughing. There’s no time for laughing. There’s only JUSTICE. My parents used to laugh and now they’re DEAD.”

Garth meets Batman and is totally unimpressed, while Clark is telling Garth to behave. Garth’s reaction is like someone casually shopping at Hot Topic and being thoroughly unmoved with how hard the store tries to be edgy. Look at the contrast in their body language, Bruce being all rigid while Clark and Garth are relaxed. Looking at Bruce and Garth in the first two pages is all you really need to know about this story, because it’s less about cryptic foreshadowing and more about Bruce and Garth fighting over Clark’s attention like Veronica and Betty fighting over Archie. Bruce being the Veronica with Garth the Betty mixed with some Cheryl Blossom.

The second and third panels alone in this issue are perhaps one of the greatest moments to ever occur in recent comics. Garth extends his hand to Bruce (it always bugs me how the colorist briefly made Garth’s glove look fingerless), and mentions exploring the Batcave in the 31st Century. Bruce goes to shake Garth’s hand… and then Garth takes it back and leaves Bruce hanging.

(Garth, you glorious, redheaded mess)

Just, the way Bruce’s hand just stays there, and that brief, subdued “what the fuck” look on his face as Garth gestures to Clark. I honestly have no idea if Garth did this on purpose or not, but the result remains the same. Garth Ranzz burned, he BURNED the Batman, and he got away with it. Garth makes it clear throughout the issue he doesn’t particularly care about Bruce or his reputation, but even for a time traveler there’s a sense that he just does not understand what makes Bruce so intimidating and fails to see what is so threatening about him. You can see this as Garth simply being snarky and messing with Bruce or just by plain accident, but even Garth fails to recognize how significant this is. Bruce isn’t used to stuff like this from people besides the Robins and Batgirls, and that’s like kids messing with their dad. This is a moment that destroys all that mystery and cult of personality Bruce tends to so thoroughly and religiously. Sure you have moments like when Hal Jordan punched him or Guy Gardner mooned him, but those come in clear defiance from knowing Bruce for a number of years. They recognize Bruce being dark and threatening and dangerous and react against it. Garth has only really met Bruce for five minutes and he simply doesn’t care, so Garth’s acting like an ass doesn’t come from the same place as Hal and Guy. God only knows how much effort Bruce would put into making sure no one ever found out because he would NOT hear the end of it.

As Garth regales Clark with more recollections of juvenile delinquency IN THE FUTURE, Bruce tries to make himself look like the adult (the adult dressed like a giant bat) in the room by insisting he needs to speak to Clark in private. Garth says he fought bad guys with Clark before Robin was born (which, you know, again, before Robin was born IN THE FUTURE) so anything Bruce has to say to Clark he can say to Garth. Clark asks Garth to give them a minute. Garth’s response? To openly sulk about how Batman’s totally not cool.

(Also Ferro Lad, you know, your teammate who sacrificed his life to save the universe?)

With Garth out of the room, Bruce starts giving Clark the third degree about the Legion. He refers back to “The Lightning Saga” when a group of Legionnaires traveled to the present in what was going to be a suicide mission, lying to the JLA and the JSA as well as Clark. Even when he points out their actions did bring Wally West and his family back to the DCU, they left without explaining their actions. And for childhood friends of Superman, Bruce wants to know why.

As Clark explains to Bruce what Earth-Man’s Reich did to 31st Century Earth, the narration describes Bruce and Garth as being total opposites. Bruce all stoic and composed, Garth being emotionally volatile. A moment to pause to talk about this. To the best to my understanding, Legion fans weren’t happy with Johns’ take on Garth because this was another character retcon. The original Lightning Lad from the Pre-Crisis Legion era avoided the “Angry Redhead” stereotypes, as did his sister. Fans felt this version of Garth acted more like the SW6 version of Live Wire from the Glorithverse Legion. To put in perspective, THAT Garth had to be the worst out of all the different versions of Lightning Lad, even more so than Proty-Garth, because at least Proty-Garth wasn’t a violent, judgmental, bullying, juvenile ASS.



I think I remember some article Johns did about his take on the Legion founders where he said he viewed Garth like Clint Barton or Hal Jordan. And just, UGH. Like Johns didn’t worship Hal Jordan (who can rot in hell along with the Spectre for what they did to Linda Danvers) enough as it was without his trying to make other characters like him.

However, I think I can come up with a reasonable explanation for why Johnsboot Garth was so angry for a while without pulling stuff out of thin air. I’ve long since believed this attitude problem was the result of stress building up from the beginning of Earth-Man’s coup. Think about it. The Legion is forced underground after everything they’ve spent years building and fighting for is torn down overnight. They’re called terrorists who have been working to undermine Earth’s government since they were teenagers and that they SOMEHOW convinced all of Earth that Superman was an alien (WHICH IS THE STUPIDEST IDEA I’VE EVER HEARD OF for a number of reasons), friends of the Legion are executed and the Legionnaires are driven underground. Not to mention Garth and Imra had to send their boys to Winath, so there’s also the fear of never seeing them again hanging over their heads along with everything else.  You can disagree with me as you wish, but it’s easier for me to consider Garth’s anger problems and Imra’s passiveness were the result of the stress of the ongoing situation from being forced underground. And while I’m happy Paul Levitz was able to restore their happy marriage, I do wish there’d been some time to explore Garth and Imra dealing with their respective issues and acknowledging their changes in behavior. But DC’s not exactly known for their portrayals of mental health soooo…

The conversation between Bruce and Clark steers towards discussion of the Butterfly Effect and the dangers of the future changing. Bruce tells Clark he’s met at least three different Legions in the last few years. The next page is a continuity extravaganza as Bruce recalls…


The Pre-Crisis Legion fighting the JLA and the JSA during their battle with Mordru in “Justice League of America” #148.

The Reboot Legion showing up during “Final Night.”

The Threeboot Legion when he was thrown into the future looking for the Book of Destiny in “Brave and the Bold” #5.

Clark points out they’ve met alternate universe doppelgangers plenty of times, but Bruce continues to be the skeptic and point out “Not from the future.” Is there even a difference Bruce? Clark briefly describes the fabled “Legion of 3 Worlds” case that never got a story on its own, but realizes Bruce has more of a reason to be here than just discussing alternate Earth theories. Bruce wonders if Garth knew what Bruce was going to find in Gotham, which is why they came back to the present at this moment.

Also here’s some more of Garth sulking about how Batman’s totally not hella.

We then cut to two bodies in an alleyway in Gotham City. Two bodies wearing flight rings, left by our narrator to let Superman know they’re dead and to undermine what’s left of the Legion’s morale. The bodies? Karate Kid and one of Triplicate Girl’s triplicates (dubbed “Una”).

For those who don’t remember, Karate Kid stayed behind in the present after “The Lightning Saga,” but was joined by Una. Supposedly this was because Val was infected with the Morticoccous Virus and was trying to find a cure before it killed him. Well, DC killed him again. You have to understand this all occurred during “Countdown to Final Crisis,” which eventually began to pride itself on how incomprehensible and pointless it was to the DCU as a whole. Not only did Val succumb to the virus on Earth-51 and accidentally doom the population, but Una was eaten alive by rats in the process. If I recall correctly, this was written by Keith Giffen and is probably the third time he’s killed Val off (third if we count SW6 Karate Kid’s death). Of course, it would’ve been nice had they told us just how Val was brought back to life after his first death, but that’s DC for you.

Bruce and Clark briefly analyze the scene. Una’s ring is in her hand, not on her finger. The cause of death is different for both, but they didn’t die in Gotham. The virus in Val’s system is dead. Unfortunately, Garth proves he has the WORST timing, when he shows up, electricity blazing, demanding to know who killed Val and Una. The police fire at Garth assuming he’s the Electrocutioner (one of the guys who’d be responsible for Lian Harper’s death in “Cry for Justice), and Garth fires back. Now this is a moment I figure we weren’t supposed to sympathize with Garth, but it’s hard not to. Bruce tells Garth he’s attacking police, to which Garth says he’s not fond of the police lately, especially the human police. This comic came out in 2008. In the 9+ years since then, how many reports have we seen about police brutality and people murdered and killed in police custody? With alarming frequency. Not to mention that the Science Police essentially became complicit in the xenophobic hate mongering Earth-Man and his neo Nazi club perpetuated for God can only imagine how long.

We then reach what is pretty much the high point of the conflict between Bruce and Garth in this issue. Garth reveals he followed Bruce and Clark when he picked up signals sent by Val and Una’s flight rings, and wasn’t going to just wait in the Fortress knowing two more Legionnaires were in the present. But when Bruce asks what he’s doing “here,” he means in the 21st Century, and tells Garth to leave. Bruce explains he doesn’t like time travelers because they think they know everything, that the past is a theme park and they get to see their favorite characters on display. And, as Garth adds, their least favorite.

This is another thing about Johns’ trends. When it comes to Batman, and I admit this isn’t a new technique, he tends to portray Bruce as an uber-control freak. Domineering and judgmental, needing to have the last word in everything when he’s not making the characters who question him look like idiots. Not for the sake of making Bruce seem like a threat, but usually for the sake of making him seem like an asshole that needs to be knocked down a peg. He’s essentially the Alpha Bitch of the Justice League. Now in this situation, part of what Bruce is saying feels slightly valid, but two things about it irk me.

A: I can’t help but feel Bruce is uncomfortable with the mere presence of Garth because he represents the wild card factor. Bruce is all about contingencies and back-up plans, taking care of every loose end before it happens and being prepared for everything. Garth being here is in defiance to all that, because he reminds Bruce that he can’t possibly know everything. He can’t know the future where Garth is from, and that idea terrifies and unnerves him.

B: Bruce’s scorn at the idea that time travelers can go back and meet their favorite heroes like going to a theme park feels a particularly pointed insult towards Garth and the Legion’s friendship with Clark. They went back in time and met Clark because he was their hero when they were kids, doing exactly what Bruce is mocking them for. And yet at the same time, the Legionnaires helped Clark become a better person and they helped each other become the heroes they are now. Without the Legion, there may not have been a Superman. Without Superboy, the Legion probably wouldn’t have survived as long as they did. For as much of a point as Bruce may have, it feels more like he’s just trying to be hurtful.

Clark gets between Bruce and Garth, who asks if Bruce even cares that Val and Una were Clark’s friends. Clark ignores that and tells him you don’t just attack police officers and that this isn’t the 31st Century. As Garth tells him that what they need to do is get on the case and figure out who murdered Val and Una before the trail gets cold, the flight rings start to beep. Clark realizes there’s only one other person (that he knows of) with a flight ring in the 21st Century: Thom Kallor, formerly Star Boy, currently Starman.

Now this is one of the trickier parts of the issue that has NOT aged well. For a few years, Johns included Thom in “Justice Society of America” as the new Starman. His appearance was based on Thom’s “Kingdom Come” incarnation, and as we found out, the Starman from “Kingdom Come” and the Pre-Crisis Starman were one and in the same, having been shunted to that Earth by accident. Unfortunately, Johns turned Thom into a plot device by retconning him into a schizophrenic, to protect the future knowledge passed onto him by Dream Girl. Of course Johns went the route of having Thom acting loopy and ridiculous as a result of his illness while eating like a pig and spouting out stuff about the fourth wall, saying Thom didn’t act that way before because 31st Century medicine was more advanced. The whole thing reeks of the “Mentally ill people are funny” stereotypes and it just makes me cringe now instead of laugh.

Clark, Garth, and Bruce head to the mental hospital in Opal City where Thom’s living. Garth calls it a nuthouse and Bruce mentions that the mentally challenged are clearly still discriminated against in the future, to which Garth replies “Lots of people are discriminated against.” No, just, just no, Garth.

The narrator pops up again and recaps how Thom contains prophetic knowledge from Dream Girl, but isn’t really worried about his presence. Thom has finished drawing dozens if not hundreds of purple stick figures on the wall of his room. Hmmmm… anyway, Thom throws out more foreshadowing and Garth is concerned that, with Thom’s mental state as it is he could end up like Val and Una. But Thom says not to worry, although regarding Karate Kid he mentions sometimes the dead stay dead. *Cue aside glance ala The Office*

Actually, I need to stop again for a sec. During a discussion with my friend Alec on Thom's handling, he made me realize Garth technically had a point about allowing Thom to stay in the 21st Century. For as much as Clark would like to believe Thom should make his own choices despite his illness, in this state Thom's a danger to himself and nearly everybody around him. When agitated he's known to lose control of his gravity altering powers, and he caused a lot of destruction at the JSA's Brownstone. In "The Lightning Saga" he just waltzed into Arkham and nearly got himself killed by Dr. Destiny's manifestation of Kenz Nuhor (the guy he killed in self defense). Then in "Adventure Comics" he caused major property damage to a bowling alley before making a bowling ball as heavy as inertron. He threw it through the wall and through someone's car. He could've killed someone! I don't know, it just, I really think Johns did not know what he was doing when he made Thom schizophrenic. At the very least, someone in the JSA should've been monitoring Thom. It's not that hard to grasp considering how many members they had on the roster.

Thom tells Bruce whoever put the bodies in the alley did so because he doesn’t “like” Bruce and is saying goodbye to him, and because he wants to make his presence known to Clark and the Legion. This someone’s going to start a Legion War. And then Thom starts mentioning things that he’s gonna do in “Justice Society,” like call himself Danny Blaine. Thom uses his powers to detach the wall with the drawings so Superman can keep it in the Fortress, and the narrator blithely comments the 21st Century’s about to become one giant nuthouse.

Back at the Fortress, Val and Una’s bodies have been set up in crystal coffins to be brought back to the future, and the narrator acknowledges that Clark is feeling scared. And it’s a feeling not even Lex Luthor can cause. Bruce and Garth both realize whoever did this did so in order to unnerve and rattle them. Clark tells Garth that if the Legion needs him he’s there, but Garth tells Clark not to worry. And this is the part I love about the issue.

Garth stops Clark and tells him he and the Legion know about the craziness going on in Clark’s life, which is why they were hesitant to get him involved with the Earth-Man debacle. He’s helped them now, and now it’s time Clark got back to focusing on his life in the present. Then, Garth says to Bruce that he knows this time and place isn’t where he’s from, and apologizes for getting on Bruce’s nerves. But he doesn’t apologize for getting upset about Val and Una.

The part where Garth mentions that part about Bruce “Getting loud” reads to me like this is Garth giving Bruce a warning about what’s coming his way, that Bruce is going to “die” soon and so he should show the people he’s close to that he cares before it’s too late. I mean, Garth clearly does not like Bruce, and the sentiment is shared, and Garth has been a bit of an ass but he still goes out of his way to warn as best he can without fucking up the timeline that something bad might be heading Bruce’s way. Before Garth leaves, he takes the opportunity to tell Clark he was glad they got to spend time together in a way they haven’t done since they were kids, and this calls back to what I mentioned before in the issue’s middle point. Clark thinks the Legion taught him a lot of things, but Clark also taught the Legion a lot of things too. They helped shaped each other. Garth even says he considers Clark to be more like a brother than Mekt (Lightning Lord) ever was.

After giving Clark a new flight ring (with a “rip cord” feature that can bring Clark to the future in case of an emergency), Garth wonders how Bruce might’ve turned out if the Legion picked him up as well. Bruce whispers to himself,  “I don’t.” With Garth gone, Bruce expresses disbelief that Clark ever got in trouble when he was a kid. Clark mentions that in the history books, Bruce and Clark are referred to as “The World’s Finest.” The narrator helpfully points out Bruce is barely remembered in the future. As Batman leaves, the narrator bids goodbye, and says hello to Superman, his “Blind spot in time.” And if he can’t erase him…


He’ll corrupt everything he stands for.

So there we have it, as I’m sure most Legion fans would’ve picked up already, the narrator was the Time Trapper. The Trapper had been noticeably absent from Legion comics since the Reboot Legion era. As best to my knowledge, he never encountered the Threeboot Legion which I think was part of Mark Waid’s efforts not to include preexisting Legion villains in his run, but I could be wrong.

So the Trapper is revealed as the true mastermind behind not only Earth-Man’s coup, but why Superman hasn’t been in contact with the Legion for so long. He at one point refers to confusing the Legion with “pocket dimensions,” an allusion towards the Pocket Universe Superboy DC created to fill the void made by the Crisis and “Man of Steel” in their first attempt to change the Legion’s history. Originally, the Trapper said he made the Pocket Earth so the Legion would come into existence. Now he’s saying he created it to make the Legion forget the real Superboy.

The final page has the Trapper looking at visions of the 21st Century’s future: an abandoned Batman cowl, Brainiac, what may be Gog or Magog fighting Starman, Karate Kid’s dead body, and the JLE. The bottom narration box says the story will be continued in “Legion of 3 Worlds,” but the next issue will be about Toyman.

Couple of other things:
  • As much as I complain about Johns, I admit I like that he avoided having the scenario between Clark, Bruce and Garth escalate to Clark having to explain to both he’s not going to choose either over the other. The whole “old friend vs new friend” cliché. And I like that Garth didn’t need Clark to make him apologize to Bruce for the way he was acting, and apologizes of his own volition so it might actually mean something.
  • We kind of DO know how Bruce would’ve turned out because there was a story from the Silver Age that covered EXACTLY THAT. It was an Imaginary Story where Ma and Pa Kent took in Bruce after his parents were killed. So not only were Batman and Superman brothers in this story, but Batman was a Legionnaire alongside Superman. It was in “World’s Finest” #172.
  • The tidbits about Clark and Garth’s youthful misadventures isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility considering the amount of hijinks Clark got into as a boy and a man during the Silver Age.
  • I just I, I love Joe Prado’s take on Garth in this issue. Like SO. FREAKING. MUCH. That hair and that face and the scruff and those arms just oooooooh! I wanna grab that face and never let go! I know that sounds shallow, but honestly, Joe's rendition of Garth had a profound effect on me, and I consider this to be THE look for Garth. I also like the contrast between having Garth with long hair to Imra with short hair. The art's kind of rough in some areas, but I would love to write a story about Garth and have Joe do the pencils.
  • I own two copies of this issue, both autographed. One’s pretty worn out by how much I’ve read it, and I also have the 100 Page Spectacular reprint.

7 comments:

  1. A bit of correction here. In World's Finest #172, the young Bruce was adopted by the Kents in an "Imaginary Tale". But, there's nothing in the story that Batboy (as he called himself at the start of his career alongside Superboy) was ever a member of the Legion, honorary or otherwise. It's only at the END of the story, when they are adults, that Superman takes Batman to the 30th Century to join the Adult Legion (from Adventure Comics #354) to help his brother overcome a trauma. So there's still no way of knowing how the Legion would have shaped a young Bruce.

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    1. Interesting.
      Those Imaginary Stories could get pretty trippy.
      I'll try to hunt that issue down.

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    2. Best way is to track down a copy of "DC's Greatest Imaginary Stories" TPB. That's where I read it. Trust me, you'll like it.

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  2. I hadn't known about this story-- interesting how it bridges SUPERMAN AND THE LEGION to LEGION OF 3 WORLDS. Thanks for the write-up.

    You are correct that the Time Trapper did not appear in the threeboot era.

    I don't remember Karate Kid and Una's deaths playing into 3 WORLDS at all. Am I misremembering?

    The idea that Thom would become Starman in the present day was introduced by James Robinson in his STARMAN run, right? I don't remember if he had a mental illness there or not.

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  3. Their deaths didn't but it was mentioned when Chuck and Lu showed up and Lu could now make endless duplicates of herself (referring to Una's death).

    Well technically Mark Waid and Alex Ross did it first in Kingdom Come when they made Thom "Starman VIII." Robinson just carried it over. And no, he never had a mental illness.

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    1. I mean their deaths didn't have much impact on the story.

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