Legends, one of DC’s major event series from the mid-80s, is back in a new 30th Anniversary Edition.
Coming on the heels of the landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths, Legends was a key step in establishing the post-Crisis order for the DC Universe. The plot had Darkseid attempt to take over Earth by destroying its faith in its superheroes. He staged a couple of high profile incidents to put costumed adventurers in a bad light. Then he dispatched Glorious Godfrey to pose as an anti-hero crusader and use his powers to stir up violent sentiment against them. A group of heroes gathered in Washington, DC for a climactic showdown that featured the Warhounds and Parademons of Apokolips.
Legends came from a tandem of well-known writers: John Ostrander plotted it, while Len Wein handled the dialogue. The story had some interesting beats. Ostrander zeroed in on the then-new phenomenon of multimedia pundit celebrities. He also incorporated the eternal human impulse to tear down heroes. It was a solid psychological grounding that added some interest to the superhero beats.
But the action was almost secondary to Legends. The primary purpose was to unify the post-Crisis DC Universe and really kickstart it as a relaunched shared world. That meant dramatizing how characters like Doctor Fate, Blue Beetle and Captain Marvel, previously separated into their own worlds, had been integrated into the main DCU. It also showcased the new status quos for major characters like Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Flash. During the course of the story, new versions of the Justice League and Suicide Squad debuted, including the first appearance of Amanda Waller. Legends gave spotlights to fan favorites like Superman, Batman, Black Canary, Martian Manhunter and Changeling to help anchor all the new elements. And while he was in more of a “background general” mode, the series was another high visibility step in the ascension of Darkseid to the top of DC’s villains list.
Legends bears all the storytelling hallmarks of its era. Its pages were strewn with bombastic narrative boxes that spelled out every detail. Characters were quite wordy, pushing exposition-laden dialogue that narrated all their actions and personal data. The story had lots of recaps of the action from earlier issues, at least several pages devoted to what had already been shown. Scene transitions weren’t always smooth and some really ham-fisted dialogue was used to move action forward at points. The sentimental climax can come off as cloying. Those elements are part of the era. A modern reader needs to meet them on their own terms to be able to appreciate the story.
The high profile team of John Byrne and Karl Kesel handled the art for Legends. Byrne was at his mid-80s peak. His style was evolving into the more mannered approach he’d emphasize in the ’90s, but still maintained the essence of his late ‘70s/early ’80s work that made him a fan favorite. The layouts were fairly conventional, but they worked for the story and kept the action humming along. Byrne was especially adept at drawing some of the more dramatic characters. His Superman remains an iconic take on the hero and he gave strong renderings of the likes of Captain Marvel, Darkseid and Doctor Fate. Fans can only cringe at the terrible ’80s costume of Black Canary, but that was hardly Byrne’s fault. Kesel was a good collaborator, his inks meshing well with Byrne’s line work to produce a clean, crisp presentation.
Legends is an interesting artifact of its time. It’s been overshadowed by other series over the years, but it’s a crucial moment from DC’s post-Crisis direction with elements still relevant to DC’s line.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on June 3, 2016.