Monday, October 25, 2010

The Legacy of "Legends"

DC Universe: Legacies #6 takes the mini-series' ten issue retelling of the history of the DC Universe beyond the multiverse shattering Crisis On Infinite Earths through the events of DC's second major company wide cross-over event, Legends.  Basically, the issue is a Cliff's Notes version of that mini-series, compressing the events of all six issues into a mere few pages.  Some of the dialogue is quoted verbatim from the original. This should surprise no one, as Legacies writer Len Wein wrote that dialogue in the first place, working over a plot by first time DC writer John Ostrander. 
It does seem a little odd to do a recap of Legends that doesn't even mention the main villain of the story, Darkseid.  This is, as I observed in my review of the previous issue, a consequence of the story's Marvels inspired man on the street approach to DC history.  A Metropolis beat cop would have no idea who Darkseid even is, much less that he engineered the wave of anti-hero hysteria that is at the center of Legends. It occurs to me even some of the heroes involved in the story might have been unaware of Darkseid's involvement, as only Superman actually encountered the Lord of Apokolips, and that was in his own titles, not in the Legends mini-seres.
Anyway, I've decided to use Legacies #6's retelling of Legends to talk about my feelings about the original and why it is my least favorite comics work by John Ostrander.  I'm not saying that I don't like it, but that I've never enjoyed it as much as I have most of Ostrander's later work such as Hawkworld, Spectre, The Kents and Suicide Squad, or his pre-DC work for First Comics, like Grimjack. While re-reading Legends a couple of months ago, I realized why this is. 
What I realized is that John Ostrander doesn't write super-hero stories.  Not really, anyway. Sure, his stories have all the trappings of the genre. He writes about characters with colorful costumes, strange powers and weapons, secret identities and slightly silly code names. Yet, at its core, the super-hero genre is fairly black and white. It concerns itself for the most part with a fairly straightforward conflict between good and evil, wherein the heroes are pure of heart and the villains are the blackest evil.
In Ostrander's stories, however, everything, from the characters and their underlying ethics and morals to the situations they find themselves in, are painted in shades of gray.  Likewise, the themes Ostrander deals with generally go deeper than good versus evil.  His stories have dealt with rascism, politics, religion, patriotism, and many more tough themes in a much more mature and thoughtful manner than you'd expect to see in a super-hero comic.  
In contrast, Legends is, as editor Mike Gold emphasizes in his introduction to the trade paperback collection, very much a traditional super-hero story. It is one of Ostrander's few attempts to create a traditonal, black and white, good versus evil, super-hero tale.  As such, it just doesn't quite ring true.  It's as if to write this traditional super-hero story, he's purposely suppressing his tendencies to write more nuanced tales, and the end product suffers as a result, coming off a bit trite and formulaic.
Legends did get Ostrander in the door at DC, and it actually is a fairly enjoyable, diverting read.  Furthermore, it led directly to Suicide Squad and Firestorm.  These two, Firestorm in particular, were head and shoulders above much of the super-hero comics DC was pumping out at the time. They were followed by even greater works such as Hawkworld, and Spectre, which I consider to be the finest thing Ostrander has ever written.
It's a shame that most of John Ostrander's output for DC remains uncollected in trade paperback.  Only Legends, The Kents, and the first four issues of Spectre, plus a more recent Suicide Squad sequel mini-series have been given that treatment so far, as far as I know.  Ostrander's works really deserve to be collected and reprinted and kept in print so that they can continue to entertain people and make them think for years to come.


  1. Nice write-up! While I enjoyed LEGENDS more than you, I whole-heartedly agree with you about Ostrander's FIRESTORM, SUICIDE SQUAD, SPECTRE, and HAWKWORD. All great stuff! I'm also a big fan of his work on MANHUNTER.

    Again, nice write-up!

    The Irredeemable Shag

  2. ...and let us not forget that Legends served as the preamble to the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League!