Legion of Super-Heroes: Enemy Rising
written by Jim Shooter
illustrated by Francis Manapul Livesay
A long time ago, in much simpler times, a teenage boy took over the writing chores for a superhero team comic set 1,000 years in the future. That boy, Jim Shooter, would grow up to be one of the most powerful and famous men in the industry. That team, The Legion of Super-Heroes, would go on to become one of the most popular groups in comics…before being wiped out of existence by a corporate decision in the early ’90s. As the saying goes, they got better (actually, they got revamped and reinvented—more than once—in often confusing and irritating ways).
In 2008, decades after they first parted ways, the Legion and Shooter reunited for a story collected in Enemy Rising. The story’s a bit scattered, starting in medias res as it does, and newcomers to the Legion will find only minimal assistance here (characters’ names, powers, and home planets are identified; the rest you’ll just have to learn through context and dialogue). And while I’m quibbling, I might as well get this out of the way: I wish writers of all futuristic or sci-fi works would realize that made-up swear words just sound silly. There’s just no reason for them. Your characters are speaking perfect 21st-century English otherwise; it makes no sense that only the cursing is different.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get on to the story. It’s fun to see the Legion back in Shooter’s hands. He was the one who gave them each a distinct voice in the first place, the reason the 30th (and, later, the 31st) century truly came alive. It was a decidedly difficult task. The Legion grew to include nearly two dozen members, not to mention an enormous supporting cast and a host of planets to keep track of. That enormous canvas has scared off many writers and artists over the years, not to mention readers, who often gripe that the Legion is difficult to get into because it’s so convoluted and insular. Those complaints aren’t wrong, so it takes a special kind of fan to truly get into the madness. The rewards are deep and wonderful if you choose to make the trip, but you have to want it, definitely. It’ll take a while just to figure out who’s who. (Also, although the book has always been set a millennium in the future, it has always been tied to the modern-day universe of DC Comics; more often than not, this has only caused problems and lent very little to the creative growth of the book.)
Enemy Rising sends our heroes on multiple missions while a more significant danger lurks in the background. Several pressing matters distract the group, most significantly the inner workings of the government and its effect on the team. The Legion has always featured a utopian one-world government for Earth, which in turn is part of the United Planets, but Shooter, as he did when he first wrote the book, takes the time to delve into this further. While it could be tedious to watch a supergroup get mired in political morass, here it’s a fun trip. Watching the team’s leader, Lightning Lad, try to keep his sanity while dealing with bureaucracy gone wild is maddening, clever, and intriguing.
The artwork here is wonderful too. If writing so many characters and maintaining some semblance of reality while depicting so many future worlds is tough for an author, it’s equally so for an artist to make sense of it all. Francis Manapul Livesay does it with finesse.
Enemy Rising has the air of an old friend coming home at long last and receiving a hero’s welcome. For people familiar with the group, it’s a wonderful sight. For those not familiar—well, take a deep breath and dive right in. You’ll find the 31st century a little confusing at first, but it’s a place you’ll enjoy settling into.-- John Hogan