The one word that comes to mind in describing DC Universe Legacies #1 is derivative. It basically abides by the formulaic dictums established for this genre, hitting most of the notes laid down by such works as Marvels, Kingdom Come, and the New Frontier. Fortunately its a good formula and Len Wien is a decent scribe so the end product is enjoyable enough even if the reader is plagued with an acute awareness that the story is not breaking any new ground.
The main feature exclusively follows two street-wise kids, Paulie and Jimmy, circa 1930’s suicide slum who work grunt labour for various crime syndicates. Jimmy displays a pretty amoral temperament while Paulie is much more kind-hearted. When the early superheros begin appearing, dubbed mystery men, Jimmy does not take kindly to their involvement in breaking up the crime syndicates that employ him, who in his mind provide the only opportunities for kids like Paulie and himself. Paulie, on the other hand, is inspired by their bravery and higher ideals. The story climaxes with The Atom and Sandman telling the kids that they find themselves at a crossroads, they can continue down the path they find themselves on or they can discover their own heroism and go on the straight and narrow.
The back up feature consist of two reporters investigating the scenes where various crime fighters (Dr Fate, The Spectre, and Zatara) have been spotted. Putting together fragmented and conflicted anecdotal accounts they attempt to recreate the circumstances of the event. The twist is that because these events occur before Superheroes have become common place the reporters are higly skeptical of the supernatural activity described by witnesses. In the course of their investigation they attempt to find clues as to what could reasonably explain the accounts.
There are interesting ideas in this issue even if the writing fails to communicate them in the most exciting manner. The juxtapositions of children protagonist in the main story with the journalist in the back-up is a good technique to show the different reactions to onset of the superhero era. While the journalists find the stories hard to believe (explaining them away as mass-hysteria) Paulie is young enough to accept them as part of his world but old enough to still find their heroics awe-inspiring. Both these stories are propped by relegating superheroes to incidental figures. However, I could easily see this becoming more of a hindrance as the story progresses into the silver age.
There is a campy feeling that pervades the work, which I applaud. Len Wein tries to recreate the experiences of those stories and what made them appealing to the kids that read them. I am not sure how succesful it is in its actual fidelity but it’s certainly conveys what I imagine made those stories appealing to that audience. In any case, it is a more interesting project than trying rewriting the history of the DC universe through the lens of modern sensibilities regarding psychological realism.
For my concluding thoughts I would like to sympathize with those who are disappointed with this story. This book was definitely sold as the story that would set the tone for the history of DCU for the foreseeable future. At this juncture it seems more likely that it will be an insular piece that very few creators will take elements from, if any. My advice is that fans manage their expectations. This is the first issue and it could easily still become the definitive work that it was expected to be. If not, I am sure it will still be a pleasant enough story.
Final Verdict: C+