Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Way Back When--LEGION OF NIGHT (1991)

If Reese's Peanut Butter Cups taught us anything, it's that two great tastes taste great together. Mind you, his has nothing to do with the following analysis of Legion of Night, it's just an attempt to have a witty lead-in.

Steve Gerber is emblematic of a certain time at Marvel Comics, one in which, even in the bog-standard superhero books, it was more than possible to get away with stories that were weird, completely in their own world, and on occasion, oddly personal. I have (with tongue ever so slightly in cheek) called this the Magical Cocaine Unicorn Party era, as the mythologising of this period, like the early 1970's period of film making in Hollywood, is lionized as a moment when geniuses were allowed to roam free and then the corporations came in and Ruined It For Everyone.

This is, of course, largely nonsense, as both periods, however creative, are more distinguished by rampant self-indulgence more than anything, and a body of work perhaps best justified as being done in-between bong hits or something. Nevertheless, of the writers working back then, Gerber's work is as close to fulfilling the promise of the times than anything else.

Whilce Portacio
, on the other hand, is emblematic of another time , a time when artists were in ascendancy at Marvel and their every whim was catered to. Mind you, this still didn't stop Portacio and a number of other hot artists from breaking away to form Image Comics a bit later, which forever excoriated them as money-grubbing primadonnas who left the welcoming arms of Marvel to do their own thing and get a bigger slice of the pie. No, seriously--this is what people were saying.

Thankfully, before all this happened, Gerber and Portacio collaborated on the two-issue miniseries LEGION OF NIGHT, and I'm rather glad they did, because it's certainly a singular piece of work, both for the artist, the writer, and the company itself. In many ways, well before the advent of Marvel's MAX imprint, it's almost a Vertigo book.

It's also going to be damned hard to review, as it's rather . . .elliptical. Let me demonstrate by trying to summarise it. Nominally, the story is this--a cult resurrects Fin Fang Foom (or a demon posing as him, because heaven knows, Fin Fang Foom's reputation must be preserved), who then proceeds to . . .suck the world into his dream, and the world will end if he's awake and also he has to get this girl pregnant, and the nominal "hero" of the book gets shot, stabbed, and takes a header out of a 30-story building and spends the rest of the story being not dead and also turning into Omen, who is the leader of the Legion and generally drives the story forward.

It's . . .very confusing.

Nevertheless, if one is willing to get into the spirit of it, there's an intriguing story here, full of familiar things for the longtime Marvel reader (even moreso if you're a Gerber fan--the Legion is largely made up of supporting characters from various books he's worked on) lover of satire (Gerber has few good things to say on the subject of cults) and the aficionado of generally weird stuff (More than once, the reader is subjected to some very odd and disturbing images, not least Baby Fin Fang Foom) it's helped immeasurably by Portacio's art, which is in full Jim Lee-by-way-of-Bill-Sinkiewicz mode, which gives the whole thing exactly the right kind of edge.

I can't exactly recommend it--it's more a curio than something You Must Read. But it's an interesting, strange artefact of several different times, possessing none of what usually distinguishes either creator's output, and it's certainly not the kind of thing one would expect the parent company to publish, mired as it was in the apex of its "play it safe" days, but perhaps, paradoxically, because of all of these things it's worth seeking out.

Certainly, there's nothing like it before or since.


Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Marvel does this sort of thing on very rare occasions - Jonathan Lethem's OMEGA THE UNKNOWN comes to mind as well, in the sense that you wouldn't normally expect such a conservative company to put out something that'd look more at home at Vertigo or one of the smaller companies.

Kazekage said...

True--I was kind of surprised that the revision of OMEGA was allowed to see print the way it did, as it'd hard to imagine a book that offbeat in the post-Jemas era.

In the past, they'd usually carve it up into a barely-coherent one-shot or cram it into a special link and just shove it out on the stands. SOVIET SUPER-SOLDIERS was like that.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Probably had something to do with the novelist connection - once again, a Real Writer steps in to save the day!

Kazekage said...

I guess they'd have done anything for his pedigree on a Marvel book, hm?

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

The sad thing is, the reaction would've been somewhat justified if any of those novelists had actually delivered. And I can't think of a single one who came through in the end.

Kazekage said...

You know, I can't either. When the hottest writing prospect for me is Jeff Parker (who came to comics through comics, of all things) and not a single one of these novelists/TV writers/etc. have excited me in the least, it probably means something.