Friday, September 15, 2006

Legion Lost


It's lost on me. The adoration. The numerous books, websites, fansites and blogs devoted to its existence.

It all just seems so quaint to me how hopped up folks get about something that hasn't even happened.

I just don't get The Legion of Super-Heroes.

Lord knows, I've tried. I've tried to follow it numerous times. The Levitz/Lightle era. The Bierbaums/Giffen years. The Waid/Peyer/Moder years. The Legion Lost/The Legion stuff. The current Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes run.

Three to five issues in and again, I'm gone. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate The Legion. I dig the camaraderie, how every member kind of has a different "thing" that contributes to the collective. I get it. It's "quaint." It's "retro." It's "futuriffic." I just don't understand the love this book receives.


So, I ask you, dear reader... please, make me understand. What makes this Legion train run? What am I missing?

(Shadow Lass/Umbra, I do "get," by the way.)

28 comments:

Big Mike said...

Hey Devon... I can't help you, man. Some people are down with the Legion and some people ain't. It's cool though.

However, if you have the Legion Lost series sitting around, I'll buy it off you. You get taken to the cleaners trying to get legion comics b/c DC hasn't published that many trades of the stuff.

Chris Sims said...

Dear Devon,

Space Lesbians.

Best,
Chris

Tom Foss said...

I don't get why Shadow Lass is wearing a metal codpiece in that picture. Maybe blue skin isn't the only thing that makes her species different.

Bryan-Mitchell said...

The reason why i loved the Legion was the long history of the characters. It is like the X-Men only largely without retcons. Instead of revealing secrets, the Legion characters actually experienced these things.

The characters aged and changed. They got married and had kids. When they died, they actually died. Their actions had consequences. WHen Darkseid caused Daxam to be turned into a giant statue, there were lots of issues that mentioned its being rebuilt. When Braniac 5 used catatonic person in a revenge plot, they put him on trial for murder.

They were in the future so there were all sorts of aliens and gadgets.

There was also the sheer size of the group. As large as it was, there was always a different favorite character for everyone.

They didn't appared in other comics regularly so you didn't have the stupid continuity problems of "Wait, the supervillian just killed the president in the last issue of this other series, so shouldn't these heroes be concerned?"

Of course the reboot removed much of that leaving only the size of the cast and the futuristic setting as the main appeals.

Chris Griswold said...

I've never seen the Legion described as "without retcons." It seems like every time you get used to the team and like them, they get replaced by another version.

Michael said...

There's a cartoon, too, coming next week (Sept. 23rd) on the CW Network (KidsWB!), maybe that'll be your cup o' tea.

I've been a Legion fan since I started reading comics in 1975. I didn't try to be a Legion fan, it just happened. When I started, it was Superboy and the Legion, so there was enough mainstream DCU to mix with the futuristic settings, skimpy costumes, tons of characters, and most of all, a history that wasn't "reset" at the end of the issue like everyone else. You could play in the 30th century and make things happen, not on a scale that you'd see in other comics.

In present-day super-hero comics, the heroes generally don't grow up, get married, have kids, and die (not necessarily in that order). The Legionnaires did, and nobody was expendable.

The future was a happy place to be (Mordru, Fatal Five, Sun-Eaters, and Khunds aside).

If not for the Crisis and DC's giving John Byrne Superman to remake, the Legion as we knew it in the 1980's would probably still be going on. Byrne claims that he went to the higher-ups about how the lack of a Superboy in his new Superman history would impact the Legion, and his concerns were swept aside. That led to the Pocket Universe a couple years later, and then when Giffen and the Bierbaums took over, they soft-rebooted the series to totally remove all Kryptonians and inserted Valor and Andromeda, wiping out or retconning huge chunks of Legion history. That, plus the storylines themselves, led to a slump in sales that the book could never recover from. Then it was hard-rebooted in the wake of Zero Hour, and that lasted 11 years. Sales were actually rising in the last couple of years after the new writing team of Abnett and Lanning took over, but I think DC saw Infinite Crisis as an opportunity to reboot rather than needing a reason.

There aren't that many Legion blogs, though, just mine (the Legion Omnicom) and a couple others linked on my page. But we are fanatical, I'll give you that much.

Matthew E said...

There aren't that many Legion blogs, though, just mine (the Legion Omnicom) and a couple others linked on my page.

This is one of those others, checking in.

The question you ask:

So, I ask you, dear reader... please, make me understand. What makes this Legion train run? What am I missing?

is a very astute one, and it's one I asked myself a number of years ago. And here's the answer I came up with:

I have no freaking idea.

I don't know how many comic book/cartoon creators have been quoted as saying that Legion fans are different, more loyal, more fanatical, than fans of other comic-book properties. A lot. More than I could count. And here's the thing: it's true. It's certainly true of me--I'm different as a Legion fan from how I am as a fan of other stuff. But I don't know why.

Here's my history: I collected comics all through the '80s and into the early '90s, stopping only when DC did something to tick me off so much I abandoned comics altogether. The Legion was just one of many titles I collected, and not always my favourite. But there was one strange thing about it: no matter how many times I stopped reading the Legion, I always started back up again. I could never completely let it go. And when I did quit comics, there were only three I considered sticking with: Groo, Sandman and Legion (then in the middle of the Giffen/Bierbaums 5YL storyline).

Now skip forward about ten years to, mm, must have been the winter of 2002/2003. I was newly married, living near Toronto but commuting to Ottawa for work every week. And all of a sudden nothing would do but that I start collecting Legion comics again. I'm all alone, away from my family, billeted in this sad-ass apartment in freaking Ottawa of all places, and I must have an armful of Legion comics right now, is what happened. (This is about ten issues into the DnA The Legion series. I hadn't even known there had been a reboot. And now I'm not just getting Legion; I'm getting 52 and The All-New Atom and trying a bunch of other stuff every now and then.)

I've concluded that I'm stuck with the Legion forever. I don't even consider dropping it from my pull list, because who am I kidding? If I couldn't stay away from it after ten years, I can't stay away from it period. But I don't know why.

The closest I've come to explaining it is this, which I guess is the kind of thing you're referring to when you say 'camaraderie'. But that's not really an explanation; almost all supergroups have esprit de corps of one type or another; the Legion's may be distinctive but I wouldn't call it unique. What makes the Legion different from, say, the JLA, which I also collected and liked, sometimes more than the Legion, but that I'm not blogging about now?

This isn't helping get at the answer to your question, I know, but I hope it's helping to ask it harder. There is something, I'm convinced, about the Legion that inspires its fans more deeply than do other comics, but I'm at a loss to isolate it. If anybody knows, chime in.

Personally, I think Little Richard said it best when he said, "I don't know what you've got, but it's got me."

Anonymous said...

bryan-mitchell said: The reason why i loved the Legion was the long history of the characters. It is like the X-Men only largely without retcons. Instead of revealing secrets, the Legion characters actually experienced these things.

That's what did it for me. Things happened to these characters (especially prior to the Zero Hour reboot) and those things has lasting impact. Take Shrinking Violet, for instance. She was kidnapped and made prisoner so that Yera (an alien shape-changer) could impersonate her on the team for months. Yera-as-Violet even fell in love with Colossal Boy. (I think they got married!) When Violet came back from that, she was a different person, and it greatly affected her relationship with Colossal Boy (and Yera, naturally). Her character changed because of an event that happened in the comic, and it had a lasting impact.

In contrast, take the X-Men. While Wolverine, say, has had experiences in the comics that have had an impact on him, a lot of his character is shaped by his backstory. The Legion characters don't have much backstory--they have "frontstory"!

The other difference is that these changes stuck. With a comic like the X-Men, which takes place in the here and now, there's a tendency for things to revert to the status quo. (Colossus died, stayed dead for a while, then came back.) With the Legion, taking place in the future and, frankly, starring characters that don't have as much merchandising as the X-Men, the characters can change, and those changes can stick.

That's probably why a lot of people like the Legion--change over time. Change over time is something that only comics and serialized television can do, but most comics and TV series don't do. The Legion did it, which is why some of us like it.

Doctor Polaris said...

Heh. Spend some time in the 31st Century and trust me... You'll get it even *less.*

Anonymous said...

You must think at every "reboot" of Legion, as a different comic. In fact, how it is, so, there are different explaination.
Me too I'm a reader, but not so huge fan of current Legion, sao I tried picking something of "ancient".
The first one was truly a big chunk of Silver Age: a caleidoscope of silly alien races, mysterious powers popping altogether, like in the X-Men Claremont era. In fact, it's so true that Nightcrawler was meant as a legionnaire. It was fresh, cheery as every comic of that era, but something more. Character grew, fought, fell in love, died, get substituted, old characters popped around from here and where. Somewhere along the road, if I remember correctly, and adult Saturn Woman gave birth to her children, an old villain surfaced, and so on. It was a long lasting comic with long lasting characters.

Then, Reboot. The whole question "adult legion"/"SW6 young legion"... that period didn't catch me too.

The "current" legion, well, I really liked it.
The characters are adolescent again, but in the most realistical way possible in a sci-fi contest. What are comics if not the physical embodiement of the "passage rites"? The age in which a young boy or girl discovers to be "different than before", and he/she must use his/her abilities to grow and help the others? Well, nobody gains telepatic or electrical powers, but a lot of adolescent go to high school, get some more friends, grow less and less dependent from family and took off for college and work.
The "new Legion guys" express another facet of growing up: searching for a place of their own. In a society that shelters kids 'till they've full grown up, very similar to us own PTA society that decides what kids should watch, play, study and be of their lives, a bunch of "special" kids rebel. They rebellion is only doing what they feel noble and right, only, without any help from grown ups. And they do quite good. They've got troubles, and they suffer from them. Projectra loses all the world she knew, and resort to friendship, and the first dizziness of the first love, Phantom Girl feels part of no world, Lightning Lad almos snaps from the sheer responsibilities of being a "model" for boys and girls of his age, and turns, matured, to the adult world he rejected asking for respect and aknowledgment, obtaining a new status from Imra's mom as an hero, not as a "rebellious kid". The same Imra lives with apparent pride a sort of shame on her muteness that kept her from bonding with nobody else that LL. Triplicate Girl, an outcast among an entire planet of girls like her, trying to counsel Supergirl, Chameleon Boy, exponent of one of the nasties races in the DCU, part of the Invasion and every naughty plan in the past, talking heartwarmingly with another Titanian on how he can feel racism and knew that if an Earthman wrongs, it's all his fault, if a Titanian or a Durlan fails, their whole race would be disgraced... plus a world perfect in every detail, with a backstory and all.

Legion is a metaphorical story of growing and living. So, long lives Legion and... "Eat this, granpa!"

T Campbell said...

Its genuine optimism about future society.

Dr Obvious said...

I got into Legion with the Waid run, and have stayed on because I thought the writing was good. no more, no less.

Mallet said...

It's weird, we had a guy come in today who only wanted Superboy and the Legion. Any other version was like acid to him.

I, not being a legion fan myself, find this strange.

Fanboy said...

I don't get them either, which is weird since I like team books.

Flidget Jerome said...

It's aaaaaaaall about Brainiac 5.

David C said...

Devon, I'm with you. I've enjoyed some Legion titles off and on over the years, but I've never gotten why they create such a particular fanaticism in some.

For me, the central problem is that, conceptually, the Legion is too silly to take seriously, what with the "Let's entrust our galactic security to teenagers!" and the crazy "club rules" and the Bouncing Boys and whatnot.

But the Legion (and/or its fans and writers) takes itself too *seriously* to have much fun with all the silly stuff.

I can never quite square this circle, so the series ultimately don't work for me.

SallyP said...

My favorite character was Flaccid Lad. Unfortunately he didn't last too long.

Matthew E said...

For me, the central problem is that, conceptually, the Legion is too silly to take seriously, what with the "Let's entrust our galactic security to teenagers!" and the crazy "club rules" and the Bouncing Boys and whatnot.

But the Legion (and/or its fans and writers) takes itself too *seriously* to have much fun with all the silly stuff.


Well, I can tell you that one of the foundations of the current series is that 31st century society isn't "entrusting their galactic security to teenagers". In fact, they don't think much of the Legion at all. (My personal prediction is that one of the long arcs of the series will be the Legion's ascent into a position of such trust, but that's just me.)

As far as the silly stuff is concerned, well... Waid and Kitson are playing most things pretty straight, and Bouncing Boy, Matter-Eater Lad and the Planetary Chance Machine are not in evidence, but the letter columns are fun, LSH #15 was fun, and Micro Lad's origin involves Bizarro-Brainiac enlarging an Earth city to giant size, so it's not like there's no sense of humour at work here at all.

Anonymous said...

The appeal for the first few decades, another commenter had it right: they were the X-Men before the X-Men were the X-Men. A soap opera with a bazillion characters, the kids got married, the kids died, the kids got replaced. This appealed to the young reader.

As an added bonus, it's the FUTURE, which also appealed to the young reader.

To the young GEEK reader, the insane amount of trivia just a few years of LSH history can generate sent people into a cataloging frenzy.

Why does it sell now, after 2 and a half reboots? Because Waid built it on something New Teen Titans had in its prime that later writers kept forgetting: kids want to read about other kids kicking grownups in the ass.

jamawalk said...

i hear you dude. well said.

for me, the ridiculousness of the DCU is only great when is compared to the normalcy of the everyday world.

setting a series in the future like this, where EVERYTHING is ridiculous, lessens the impact and it becomes a muddled mess of stupid.

the only time the Legion ever works for me is when they travel back to the current era. period.

plus, they're so damn heroic. why not a Legion of superheroes that acts like child stars. could be good.

Matthew E said...

Oh, and while I'm here, this:

You get taken to the cleaners trying to get legion comics b/c DC hasn't published that many trades of the stuff.

is no joke. I'm still missing Legion Lost #1 from my collection because the only time I've seen it in a comic shop, it was priced at about a hundred bucks.

Anonymous said...

Its genuine optimism about future society.

The current Legion seems more or less... heck, an oppriment thing. A world in which young boys are girls are not supposed to do anything. Only waiting to grown-up, like the society pre-1950. Then a bunch of kids rebels, they're cool, heroic, super. Like was said in this pages kids want to read about other kids kicking grownups in the ass. The whole meaning of the current Legion is this. Kids kicking grownups in the ass. Screwing up rules, being heroical when they're supposed to be crying sissies or spoiled mommy's pets, and then... grow up.
Well, Projectra who loses all before gaining a spot in the Legion as a superpowered being, Karate Kid trying to be a mentor, almost paternal with Ultra Boy, Lightning Lad who does the unthinkable and "surrenders" to Imra's mom aknowledging that saving the world cannot be only a game, Braniac who faces death as "The problem who even a genious can't solve" (hell, when I was an adolescent... a thing of five-six years, i _never_ thought at death). They started kicking asses, a lot, then they're growing.

Anonymous said...

I think it has been said fairly well. fans of the LSH tend to be that way because of the type of comic it was when they were younger readers. As they grew ,it did too.

The naming conventions may seem silly but every era had it's dated naming conventions. The important thing for LSH fans is that they had a book that was about kids being heroes as opposed to adults.

I don't think there are that many new fans (in the past 5-10 years) who would care if that book just went away. The fans who care arethe ones that have been around for 20+ years.

The JLA, X-Men, Fantastic Four and Avengers can really only chage so much. This isn't to say not at all. It's to say that the LSH benefits from haviing a large cast and characters that can grow independent of liscensing (This may change now).

A lot of people don't "get" the LSH. Do those people "get" the X-men universe, reality hopping fiasco of a universe instead?

I don't see reboots as being a problem anymore either. It's not like DC came in a stole the previous incarnation's comics from your house.

Michael has a fantastic site too if you really want to get into the Legion. He's done all the work for you essentially.

TG

Michael said...

Here's another point of view, from current Legion writer Mark Waid. He was at the West Hollywood Book Fair over the weekend (along with other writers discussing comics), according to this CBR article:

Waid says comic characters are "well enough defined to be interesting and attractive" but not so well defined that the reader can't project his/her own interpretation of the character's personality onto them. He contends that part of the reason "Legion of Superheroes" has been so popular for as long as it has is that the sheer size of the ensemble cast limits the exposure of any one character, making characterization a "collaborative process" in a way that is unique to the comics medium.

Matthew E said...

In other words, he's not going to confirm whether I'm on the right track or not with this.

OldDemon666 said...

"We are family
I got all my sisters with me
We are family
Get up everybody and sing

We are family
I got all my sisters with me
We are family
Get up everybody and sing

Everyone can see we're together
As we walk on by
And we fly just like birds of a feather
I'm not telling no lie

All of the people around us to say
Can we be that close
Just let me state for the record
We're giving love in a family dose, yeah..."

Let's not forget the bros, either... lol

Anonymous said...

I can understand why a current comic reader wouldn't be a fan of the Legion now that all the retcons and tinkering have obliterated all the true Legion lore. I remember at some point in the mid 80s being thrilled upon realizing I knew the name of every member of the LSH, their real names AND their home planets. I loved the way the stories constituted a complete mythology: how the three charter members met and saved the life of R.J. Brande; how Lightning Lad lost and regained his arm; how Mon El created Element 152 which was later used to make Legion flight rings; how Supergirl failed her first attempt to become a Legionnaire; how Wildfire's battle with Omega destroyed the Legion's second headquarters; how Matter-Eater Lad went insane after eating the Miracle Machine... The Legion wasn't just a team, they were almost like a pantheon.

I thought it was great that they weren't rebels. They were good kids (like I was) who drank their milk, ate their vegetables and did their homework (continuing school was part of the Legion Constitution and there was at least one story that showed the Legionnaires taking a science class). Plus they got to save planets which seemed pretty cool.

I got into indy/small press comics and stopped reading LSH just before the "5 Years Later" stories began and I'm kind of glad. I continued to check ot Legion comics, but they just aren't the same and I haven't really followed them. I was into the whole Legion mythos that's been retconned out of existence.

Denise Sudell said...

Hey Devon -- I'm a good bit older than you, I think, which makes a huge difference in why I love the Legion.

I started reading superhero comics during the Silver Age, and was a DC fan practically from birth. Being a girl, I wanted to read about girl characters. But back then there were almost no female heroes in the DCU (Wonder Woman wasn't on my radar screen for some reason -- I think the local candy store where I bought my comics didn't carry hers). And the ones there were . . . well, most of their adventures were pretty lame. Lois Lane was still acting like Lucy Ricardo, scheming her way through storylines and being metaphorically spanked by Superman as he rescued her from whatever predicament her "harebrained antics" had gotten her into. Supergirl was either moping around in an orphanage wishing somebody would adopt her, or moping around on the campus of Stanhope College wishing that she could have a boyfriend, or just generally moping.

The Legion stood out for a very simple reason: it had girl heroes who simply acted like heroes. Sure, they had lame storylines like other Silver Age DC heroes (prime example: Shrinking Violet, Triplicate Girl, and another girl Legionnaire who I can't remember travel back in time to the 20th century, where a pint-sized Violet is lowered into a drainpipe to dramatically rescue . . . one of Lois Lane's lost earrings!). But on the whole, they seemed to endure far less idiocy and soap-opera angst than other female characters in the DCU. And some of their adventures gave me goosebumps, like Saturn Girl's willingness to sacrifice her own life (something she very nearly succeeded in doing) to bring Lightning Lad back from the dead. They managed to capture my imagination in ways that many other characters did not.

I gave up on comics for several decades, but was lured back in the early 90s by the TV show "Lois & Clark" (long story). That was just about the time that Mark Waid was doing his first hard reboot of the Legion -- a perfect time to jump back on the team's bandwagon, as it turned out (about which more later). I got seduced into picking up a LEGIONNAIRES annual by the on-line controversy over killing off Tinya Wazzo (who was then known as Apparition, but who currently appears under her original code name of Phantom Girl -- of course, she got better). I thought the storylines were great: the characters acted like teenagers, falling in love and acting like idiots -- excuse me, like humans with whom I could identify -- while at the same time risking their lives on behalf of their planets, in very believable and sympathetic ways. Jeff Moy's art in particular captured the energy and spirit of the Legionnaires, as well as their youth.

Not only was that an opportune time to get caught up in the ongoing series, but the reboot ended up lowering the value of the pre-Zero Hour issues that were out there, and I was able to pick up huge quantities of back issues for ridiculously low prices (as in 10 cents each). Plus I not only met Legion fans online, but the staff of my LCS included at least one rabid Legion fan, with whom I spent literally hours gossiping over the latest developments in the 30th century. Next thing I knew, I had turned into One Of Them: the kind of Legion fan from whom other comics fans back away slowly.

This lengthy explanation probably doesn't come anywhere near conveying the experience of being a true Legion convert. And I suspect it won't help your understanding at all to hear that I dropped the Legion books soon after the latest reboot. Why? Because Waid's take on the characters this time around simply leaves me cold. These Legionnaires aren't people I'm interested in getting to know, not even the gender-fluid Chameleon (a concept that makes vast amounts of sense, and that I've been waiting for a decade to see someone use with a shape-shifting character). They seem like whiny pains in the ass. (I think the art has a lot to do with my reaction to the characters, but I've been so put off by the whole series that I don't have an issue anywhere nearby that I can look at to try to explain my reasoning.)

I could blather on and on about this subject, but I think I'll stop now. After all, I still need to watch last week's episode of the Legion cartoon series, so I'll be all caught up for the new ep tomorrow morning.