First, let’s get a few things clear. I like Len Wein and have enjoyed many of his stories over the years. I’ve enjoyed many DC Comics titles over the years and continue to do so. And I have been a fan of several retcons that have, in my opinion, made a character stronger or simplified some confusing, contradictory storylines. I’m not some guy who trolls the internet or comic book stores with the deliberate intent of finding things to complain about. Frankly, I just don’t have that kind of time.
But sometimes there’s something in a comic that bugs me. Usually, venting to a friend for a minute and a half and moving on takes care of this. But when it becomes a consistent problem on multiple levels and seems inexplicable to me… Well, here we are. I’m talking about the limited series DC Universe Legacies. This series was billed as an overview of the history of DC’s superheroes, starting with the Golden Age of comics that gave us the Crimson Avenger, the Sandman and eventually the Justice Society of America. For new readers, it would be an easy who’s who to the DC Universe and would get them to stop worrying that they couldn’t understand certain crossovers without knowing their history. And for old readers who occasionally got confused, this would put things in context and clarify a few points.
Great idea. I was very excited, as I’m always looking for great things to recommend to new readers. But what was advertised is not what I got. Instead, each issue has becoming increasingly riddled with errors, contradictions, and way-too-long recaps of very famous stories that are readily available in trade and didn’t really need extensive recapping. I understand spending a few pages recapping the Crisis on Infinite Earths story because that was an epic tale that spanned all of DC Comics and events in it have been re-written a few times. But in issue #7 alone, we have 9 pages dedicated to recreating scenes from Death of Superman. 9 whole pages when we only have about 22 pages for the main story and then a few pages for the back-up stories. And are we being shown new scenes during these recaps? Things to explain questions fans might have had at the time? No. It’s literally just the same stuff from the original story, with only the presence of our narrator added so he can be a witness.
Why spend so many pages just re-drawing scenes from a story that gained national attention when it came out and that can be found as a trade in most comic book stores? I understand that you want to get readers interested in what happened to Superman, but just give us a page or two look into the story at most and then add a footnote saying: “If you want to see these events in more detail, read DEATH OF SUPERMAN tpb.”
That’s not the only example of this occurring. In issue #8, a full 9 pages are dedicated to the stories World Without a Superman and Reign of the Supermen. In that same issue, 3 pages recreate scenes from Batman: Knight’s End and 5 pages recreate scenes from Emerald Twilight, the story of Hal Jordan’s fall from grace as a Green Lantern. Again, all of these are available in trade and are given no extra, special story details. And for those events that the narrator could not have witnessed firsthand, I’m amazed at how well-informed he is. Even Superman and most of Earth’s heroes didn’t know that Hal had gone nuts until weeks later when Kyle showed up, but our narrator describes his battle with Sinestro at the center of the universe, a battle that had no witnesses save for the Green Lantern called Kilowog and the Gaurdians of the Universe, as if there were a detailed news bulletin about the whole thing.
The narrator Paul is also pretty flat in general. Any scene that takes place with his family tends to involve a discussion about the lives of superheroes or about a criminal he knew back from when he was a kid. His plot twists are predictable and I have no idea how he feels about life or what interests he has beyond discussing people in costumes. So rather than a framing device who is actively engaging us and lets us know what it feels like to be a person in a world of superheroes, such as the character Phil Sheldon in Marvels, he just becomes this guy who eats up pages that could be used to discuss more history.
Even his wife Peg seems disinterested in him and the story in general. Our narrator is understandably excited when a new generation of superheroes begins appearing and his wife just brushes these news reports off. If she, who lives in this world of super-villains, evil sorcerers and alien invaders, can’t find any interest in superheroes and their history, why should we? It undermines the purpose of the series.
And it’s not just about wasted space in a comic that was supposed to tell us about the DCU as a whole and not just focus on the three DC heroes who get their own live-action films. Some of these recaps are actually misleading. As mentioned before, issue #8 recaps Knight’s End. For those not familiar, that story involved Bruce Wayne returning to take the mantle of Batman back from Jean-Paul Valley AKA Azrael, who had becoming increasingly violent and erratic during his time as the new Dark Knight. According to the issue #8 recap, the famous Batman vs. Azbat battle ended with Jean-Paul accidentally setting himself on fire and then falling into the river, never to be seen in that costume again.
Except we DID see him again in that costume. About 30 seconds later, in full view of many witnesses, he came back onto the scene and had a vicious battle with the hero Nightwing. Only later that night, on the grounds of Wayne Manor, was Azbat defeated. And even after that, he was seen wearing that armor AGAIN years later during the Bruce Wayne Fugitive storyline. So our narrator is either terribly misinformed or his age is causing his memory to fudge many facts.
Let’s talk about more fudged facts. We’re told that the first and second Flash, Jay Garrick and Barry Allen, first met in-person when they ran into each other at “a construction site midway between Central and Keystone Cities.” Interesting. First problem: Grant Morrison did a much better Post-Crisis story of their first meeting, a story which played heavily into certain Flash stories by later writers, including Mark Waid and Geoff Johns. It was also referenced during Flash: Secret Files & Origins, published just last year.
Second problem: a construction site cannot exist midway between Central City and Keystone City. Want to know why? Because the twin cities are separated by a river. This has been referenced in countless Flash comics ever since the mid-1980s and was shown again in the aforementioned Flash: Secret Files & Origins. That’s where I scanned the picture above. See? River. No place for a building construction site. It’s a simple mistake and should’ve been easy to spot and fix.
Another first meeting that is inaccurately recapped is between teenage Clark Kent and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Although the story we’re given about this meeting is pretty cute and funny, it’s terribly confusing if you aren’t familiar with the various versions of the Legion. And what’s more, it’s in complete contradiction to how these events were shown in various Superman and Legion comics published in the past three years, comics which were meant to establish the new canon. So if you’re confusing new readers and making old readers wonder what’s going on, what the point?
We’re told that after the Justice Society of America retired, people looked to the past and in one year there were prime time western shows displaying the adventures of Pow-Wow Smith, Matt Savage, Tomahawk, Nighthawk and others. These were actual, living heroes who operated during the Wild West in the DC Universe. But the way they’re portrayed in this comic, several readers I talked to who had never heard of the characters before assumed that these were fictional shows within the DCU, especially since narrator Paul says that these shows were pure escapism and doesn’t mention how historically accurate they may have been.
And how about when we’re told about the Charlton heroes (heroes who originally belonged to Charlton Comics before they were aquired by DC)? We see a group-shot of the Question, Nightshade, Judomaster, Peacemaker, Captain Atom, Thunderbolt and the Blue Beetle. Cool picture. But two things. First, Captain Atom is drawn with a costume that he has never worn since he was integrated into the DCU. His continuity has been pretty consistent since 1987 and the costume seen here was, as far as DC history has been concerned for over 20 years, just something a few PR guys cooked up when they wanted to invent a false past for the Captain so people would think he’d been a superhero for much longer than was true.
Second problem is Judomaster’s presence. Judomaster was a Charlton character, yes, but he was a World War II hero. He was not a contemporary of the other characters seen here. It’s true he later showed up during the Crisis, but that was due to time anomalies. He wasn’t just hanging around before that story occurred. It’s true that he eventually showed up alive and well in modern times and became a superhero again, but that wasn’t until 1999 in the mini-series L.A.W. During that story, he revealed that he’d spent the last several decades living in the mystical city of Nanda Parbat. So he wouldn’t have been fighting in Hub City or Chicago when the Question and the second Blue Beetle first arrived on the scene.
The comic’s timeline is weird all over the place. We’re told that John Stewart became a Green Lantern some time after the Crisis on Infinite Earths and days after Barbara Gordon is crippled, despite the fact that John Stewart actually had dozens of adventures as a Green Lantern before the Crisis began and was pretty involved with the events of that story. In fact, we see him in the recap of the Crisis, two full issues before we’re told he made his debut years later. So now the comic is contradicting itself!
It’s pretty weird that DC Universe Legacies #8 shows Bruce Wayne getting crippled in Knightfall the night before Doomsday is spotted in the Mid-West, ready to kill Superman. I mean, Batman attended Superman’s funeral, helped answer letters asking Superman for help days later, and was still wearing a black armband in honor of Superman when Knightfall began weeks later. It’s even weirder to see that Bruce Wayne is succeeded by his apprentice Jean-Paul Valley as Batman, who then defeats the villain Bane soon before Superman is finally seemingly killed by Doomsday. You see, if you actually read Knightfall, you’ll see that several nights pass between when Jean-Paul becomes Batman and when he fights Bane, yet the Death of Superman shows that Superman’s battle with Doomsday takes place only over several hours. Even the writers of Doctor Who, aided by Grant Morrison and Mark Waid, would be hard-pressed to explain this anomalous timelines!
There are more examples of these kinds of timeline errors and anomalies but the one that stands out the most? Our narrator Paul describes the birth of his daughter Diana as occurring months to maybe a year after Superman’s debut, naming her after Wonder Woman who has appeared only days earlier. Days after Superman’s battle in Reign of the Supermen, this daughter Diana graduates high school. So about 18 years have passed in-between? So Lois and Jimmy Olsen would’ve aged 18 years during that time too, but we can see from their scenes that this is not the case. Likewise, we see that Dick Grayson is operating as Robin at about age 13 or 14 when young Diana is only about a year old. Later, Diana is middle-school age at least around the time that Dick is 18 or 19 and takes on his Nightwing identity. Is this girl aging twice as quickly as the rest of the world? Where’s a Time Lord when you need one?
Do I need to go on? By themselves, any single of these errors could be shrugged off if the rest of the series was solid. But it’s not. And for a story that was supposed to be a welcome mat to new readers of DC Comics, it’s a shame to see it become something I tell people to avoid lest they get confused and frustrated later.
Alan Kistler writes the comic book history/fashion column Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. He is an actor and freelance writer living in New York who has been recognized by Warner Bros. Films and major media/news outlets as a comic book historian. He is also the creator/host of the web-show “Crazy Sexy Geeks: The Series.” He knows entirely too much about the history of comics, Star Trek, Doctor Who, time travel, and vampires that don’t sparkle.