Wednesday, June 8

Adventure Comics #526 (7/11)

This is the first Legion of Super-Heroes comic that I'm chronicling in my new blog. It's something that's dear to my heart. The Legion has consistently, from my childhood, been my favorite comic book – through thick and thin, good times and bad. In its classic conception, it was the story of a group of teen-age heroes from many worlds united a thousand years in the future who had come back in time and recruited their inspiration, Superboy (the classic “Superman when he was a boy”) into their ranks. That first happened in Adventure Comics #247, way back in 1958. From then on, Superboy spent a good bit of time traveling to the future, having adventures with the Legion. I have a full collection of original stories since 1967 when Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes was the main feature in Adventure Comics; I have reprints of everything before that. I remember being heartbroken when, ca. 1969 suddenly they were unceremoniously ripped from the pages of Adventure and relegated to the back of Action Comics for several years, then to the back of Superboy. Legion fandom was vociferous even then, however, and eventually was rewarded about 1973 when the Legion took over Superboy, which was eventually formally renamed Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes – then renamed simply Legion of Super-Heroes.

I'm not going to bore you with all the details after that, but by the 1980s it was one of the two most popular series being published by DC Comics, when it was being written by perhaps its greatest writer for an extended period, Paul Levitz. Then the great “redefinition” of DC in the wake of 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, specifically of Superman, played havoc with the history of the Legion. There was no longer a Superboy, therefore no inspiration for the Legion, and things got worse. Attempts to repeatedly “fix” the continuity just seemed to make things worse until finally, in the mid 1990's, with Zero Hour, a “fresh start” was made – what's often called the “Reboot Legion.” It did okay, supporting two concurrent titles for half a decade, then just one for a few more years until someone had the bright idea of rebooting the story yet again, creating the “Threeboot Legion.”  I like a lot of what Mark Waid does, but sorry this wasn't one of them.  Some radical changes were made to the concept of the Legion, and it never really caught on. Throughout all this, the rationale for the changes was that the history/continuity of the Legion was too complex for new readers – not entirely untrue, but more a consequence of repeated and ill-considered “fixes” than anything else.

Recently, however, Geoff Johns did what he does best, managing an in-story reconciliation of multiple and contradictory histories/continuities in a masterful miniseries entitled Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds (tangentially part of the Final Crisis event of a couple years ago). It turns out that all the former Legions existed, and are part of a larger multiversal “meta-continuity.” They came together and saved the universe (of course), and there was even swapping of a couple members here and there, but fundamentally from that point on we've had a “tweaked” version of the “original” Legion, often dubbed the “Retroboot Legion.” And when the title was subsequently revived, Paul Levitz returned, after over twenty years, to “his” series, and all was well. Sometimes you can go home again. Sometimes you can recapture the magic.

I've been with them all the way. Even during the 1990s and graduate school where the two Legion titles were all I got. The “Reboot” is sometimes derisively called the “Archie Legion” because of the re-emphasis on young heroes (after the originals had grown into adults before being wiped from history). The “Threeboot” really went too heavily (in my opinion) into generational conflict (“Eat it, Grandpa!” was for all intents and purposes their battle cry). Whatever problems I might have had with specific aspects of each current incarnation, I remained with it throughout, and enjoyed aspects of each version. But I always remembered wistfully “my” Legion, the “real” Legion from the 1960s-1980s. For all intents and purposes it has been back. (And luckily, per today's announcement regarding the DC relaunch, it looks like it will stay, with Levitz still at the helm.)

For the past several months, there have been two Legion series once again, in their own title and here in the revived Adventure Comics. The most recent story arc in Adventure has dealt with the Legion Academy, where prospective members are trained.

Two stories in this issue:

“First Hints”

This is the end of a multipart “Legion Academy” story that is really more of a postscript than anything else. Typically well-written – Levitz is the master. It is somewhat unusual for him in that it is not a self-contained story – more of a postscript to the story arc, but with portents of things to come. That's one thing Levitz has always done – kept some kind of narrative going to bring you back even when, more typically, his issues were “done-in-ones.” I have wondered if maybe this odd little epilogue may in some way be a consequence of what he had planned back before DC did the across-the-board standardization of price (“Holding the Line at $2.99”) and page-count – until a few months ago the Legion titles were the longer 30-page-count for $3.99 before suddenly being cut back to 20 pages. It doubtless required some rewriting and restructuring. And Levitz always seemed to me to be more comfortable and even to excel in the longer format, as was standard during his heyday in the 1980s.  I can relate - I much prefer lecturing in 75-minute periods rather than fifty-minute periods; in the latter I feel like I'm barely getting going and it's time to go!  Who knows?


Here we see another type of story that Levitz has always done equally well – short character pieces focussing on a single Legionnaire. This time it's XS, who has a unique history with Levitz's Legion – namely that she was not one of his Legionnaires back in the day. XS was a character created early in the “Reboot” period without any corresponding previous character, but who was brought across to the “Retroboot” Legion during Legion of Three Worlds. She was one of the more popular of the “Reboot” characters, also having ties with the Flash family of speedsters (literally – she's Barry Allen's granddaughter). Anyway, this short story addresses somewhat an issue that resulted from her incorporation into the “Retroboot” Legion – Jenni Ognats (her real name) is somewhat younger than her teammates. This obviously is in the back of her mind when she arguably overreacts to being invited “to come to the Legion Academy.” “ButIalreadywasaLegionairre?!” she protests. Even though it's (ostensibly) to get up to speed (ouch) on this Legion's foes as well as to teach cadets, she wants no part of it and speeds away – continuing her own personal quest to learn more about her heritage. And of course encountering a mystery – in the form of some kind of vision that obviously is a portent of things to come – some scenes identifiable as being from her own life, others not so much. I'm trusting that all of this will be followed up in months to come, before and after September.

A nice touch in this "backup" story is that the art is by Jeffrey and Philip Moy - two of the main artists from the "Reboot" era whence came XS.  "Well played, sir.  Well played."


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