Future Imperfect


Hey, it’s that retro future! And that other retro future!

Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes, DC Comics/IDW Publishing, 2012.

By Sam Hurwitt

A couple weeks ago I gave my Star Trek/Doctor Who review the heading “STAR TREK SATURDAY,” but I had mixed feelings about that, because I knew I wasn’t really going to make a habit of reviewing Star Trek comics, or episodes for that matter. I do, however, dearly love crossovers—not the big crossover “events” you often see in comics where the stories of the individual series are interrupted by some big world-shaking thing that you need to read 37 comics to be able to follow at all, but self-contained crossovers between franchises that would never meet under normal circumstances, usually because they’re owned by different companies. Lord knows they’re done poorly more often than they’re done well—but that’s true of almost any artistic endeavor, really, and when they’re done well they’re awesome.

In my first Trek/Who writeup I mentioned another recent Star Trek crossover comic book, this time between the original series crew (that’s TOS to aficionados) and DC Comics’ guardians of a future of intergalactic harmony, the Legion of Super-Heroes. I’d flipped through a few issues of that six-issue miniseries in the stores while the series was running, attracted by the idea of it as well as some terrific covers by different artists, but the few pages I read always seemed to dissuade me from buying the comic, even when I was inclined to. There just wasn’t much happening in any given issue, and what was happening wasn’t very interesting. Still, my love of this kind of stuff—and of both franchises—persuaded me to pick up the hardcover collection when it came out, even though 25 bucks ain’t cheap. (I bought it at a discount, but still.)

See how cool that looks? This one’s by Phil Jimenez.

The team-up seems at once like a natural pairing and one that wouldn’t work at all. Both series come from more or less the same era. The Legion was introduced in 1958, in a Superboy story in Adventure Comics #247. A team of teenage superheroes from the 30th century (now changed to the 31st in order to keep things 1000 years in the future without aging the characters), they recruited Superboy (that is, Superman as a teenager when he was still living in Smallville) to join their adventures through time travel on a regular basis. (And not once did he peek to find out about his own future, because superconscientiousness is apparently one of his superpowers.) All the Legionnaires come from different planets and all of them have superpowers, some innate to their race and some gained through freak accidents.

The original Star Trek, of course, aired on television from 1966 to 1969. It’s set in a 23rd century where Earth has solved all its problems and joined with other civilized planets in a United Federation of Planets, and the Starship Enterprise is tasked with seeing what else is out there—“to seek out new life and new civilizations.” The Legion’s 31st century Earth is also largely at peace and is similarly part of a galactic federation called the United Planets.

A coproduction of DC Comics and IDW Publishing, the comic company that currently holds the Star Trek license in addition to a lot of other franchises from movies and TV, Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes is written by Chris Roberson, author of the delightful Vertigo comic iZombie and the entertaining Fables spinoff Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love. The artist is Jeffrey Moy, who’s worked with the Legion characters before in Legionnaires, one of many reboots, and on some Star Trek: Voyager comics back when DC held the license through its Wildstorm imprint.

Oh, indubitably.

Unfortunately, Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes is boring. Just really, really dull. The few action sequences are pretty lackluster, and all the character moments are really, really bland. Legion supergenius Brainiac 5 and Vulcan science officer Mr. Spock having a nerd-off? Could be fun, but it falls flat. Same with Captain Kirk flirting with Shadow Lass and her shutting him down, or with Dr. McCoy harrumphing at Brainy’s green blood. All the jokes are fall to the level of “I see what you did there” without actually being funny—and some of them, like Sulu protesting that he’s not anything like his rapey Mirror universe counterpart, take a lot of rereading to even see what he did there.

Can’t blame a guy for trying. And trying, and trying, and…

Both series also use time travel a lot, so the idea of the two groups meeting isn’t all that far-fetched. It’s inevitably going to be a mismatch, however, because the Enterprise crew doesn’t really have any superhuman abilities. To put them on some level of seeming parity, when anyone in the Legion uses their superpowers it’s on the level of a parlor trick, the way a D&D character might pull a particular potion out of her bag of holding to solve a particular problem, while everyone else waits their turn.

Like I say, there’s kind of a lot of them. And this is in just one era of the Legion.

Unlike most superhero teams, the Legion might have 30 or so members at a time, so the six heroes shown in this comic are essentially an away mission, on their way back to the 31st century from some unnamed adventure in their time bubble when they get “caught in an eddy in the timestream” and wind up on an earth that’s distinctly not their own. The Enterprise crew is similarly just a landing party beamed down to Earth for a bit of R&R—too bad for you, rest of the crew!

Yeah, so this is who we’ve got. And first they’ve got to fight, because that’s how these team-ups start.

Or maybe not, because the Earth they beam down to is a totalitarian state, the seat of a mighty galactic empire. And yeah, it’s a lot like the one they encountered in the “Mirror, Mirror” episode of the original series, and they say as much, but no, this is a different dystopian parallel universe in which something pretty similar happened, only it happened a long, long time ago, changing the course of history before history even began. And neither group has the option of simply going back to their own timeline, because this new one has completely replaced both of their timelines. They have to fix this one in order for theirs to even exist again.

See, they’re like Fatal Five, but one’s a Gorn, and one’s from Orion, and…oh, never mind.

Also, sadly, we don’t meet any evil versions of anyone we know from the Star Trek or Legion series—neither the alternate versions of the heroes themselves nor any of their teammates or loved ones. It would be a lot more interesting if we did. The closest we get to that is seeing a version of the Legion’s enemies the Fatal Five that’s made up of alien races seen in the original Star Trek series, but with the weapons and superpowers of the Fatal Five. There’s also some imperial officer who seems to be DC’s space adventurer from the 1950s Tommy Tomorrow, but that’s more of a throwaway gag than anything else.

See, you got your Coluan/Vulcan hybrids, your Andorians, your evil Tommy Tomorrow…

Half the galaxy has been conquered by earth and is part of an empire called the Imperial Planets. The empire’s Starfleet-like ships are manned by a combination of alien races from the Legion and Trek universes—Coluans, Andorians, Talokians—and we see Space Rangers attacking Durlans, Klingons battling the nearly identical Khunds, and Controllers, um, debating with Organians. All in all, it’s a dark mirror image of the Trek 23rd century, merged willy-nilly with elements of the Legion’s 30th century, especially its more plentiful and visually distinctive alien races.

And yeah, the Khunds have always basically been Klingon ripoffs.

Mind you, this single timeline merging alternate futures merges only those two universes—you’re not going to be seeing Buck Rogers characters running around—but that’s a pretty standard restriction for these kinds of intercompany crossovers, even when it doesn’t necessarily make sense from an in-story perspective.

I’m not going to worry too much about spoilers here. I won’t give away how the situation is resolved (it’s a good bet that everybody dies and that’s the last we’ll be hearing of either the Legion or the Starship Enterprise), but I can’t really talk about the story much without discussing who’s behind the rewriting of history, which is only revealed midway through the series.

In short, it’s Vandal Savage, DC Comics’ immortal caveman who was many of the great conquerors and dictators of history, and the power behind the throne for many others. He’s now going by his original caveman name, Vandar. Roberson has the clever idea of making him the same guy as Flint from the TOS episode “Requiem for Methuselah,” a more peaceful immortal being (originally not quite so old, hailing from ancient Mesopotamia) who had moved on over the centuries from a great conqueror to being many of the great artists and sages of history. Both groups immediately recognize him, even though he looks just like Savage and not at all like Flint.

Seriously, Kirk’s recognition powers are positively supernatural.

Moy’s figures are a bit stiff, though his art is attractive enough and he captures the various alien races pretty well. His Trek characters look enough like their onscreen counterparts that you can totally see the resemblance if you already know who you’re looking at, but not enough that you can always tell people apart just by looking at their faces—and if they’re in disguise, who’s who has to be very clear from context. That comes up when it’s revealed that Vandal Savage imprisoned a supremely powerful, reality-altering being, essentially a genie in a bottle, to fix reality to be exactly the way he wanted it. There are only a couple of entities in the Star Trek universe that it could reasonably be, and it’s a safe bet that it’s going to be someone from that side of the fence because Savage is a DC guy (Flint doesn’t count, because nobody really remembers him), but even when you’re pretty sure who it’s going to be, when he finally shows up you’re still not sure because it doesn’t look much like him at all.

I don’t mean shadowy stuff like this, of course. That doesn’t count.

There’s really only one awesome moment in the entire series, and it’s a visual thing. Vandar tells the heroes that they’re not the first time-travelers to try to restore the timeline to a better world, and then he shows his collection of time machines that those travelers had used to get there. It’s an Easter egg bonanza, because nothing in that room is just made up for this comic—every single thing is reference, a few of them to Star Trek episodes, a couple of them to other DC comics, and the rest of them to various other movies and TV shows. How many of them can you identify?

I think my favorite one is tucked under that platform.

And you know what? I’ll take it. It’s not nearly enough for me to recommend the book, and I don’t, but one awesome moment, one reason for me to take it off the shelf and show that page to someone, is enough for me to rationalize spending money on it, at least after the fact. I’m not sorry I picked it up, but for anyone less obsessive about these things than I am, I’d say give it a miss.

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