Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Legionnaires: Chameleon Girl

Chameleon Girl, aka Yera Allon of Durla. Created by Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen.

Yera--I'm going to call her Yera--spent most of her history not as a Legionnaire but as a supporting character. She was a spy who infiltrated the Legion of Super-Heroes in disguise as Shrinking Violet. In this capacity she fell in love with, and married, Colossal Boy, and they remained married even after Yera had been revealed as a spy and the real Violet rescued.

Yera was an actress of some renown; she used her Durlan shapeshifting abilities as part of her acting career. It was strongly implied that she wasn't as adept a combat shapeshifter as Chameleon Boy, but it's possible that her skill at imitating specific individuals was greater.

Original Legion continuity ended with Yera and Colossal Boy still married and Yera not a superhero, but in the retroboot she volunteered to become Chameleon Girl, Legionnaire, for a dangerous mission when Chameleon Boy was unavailable. Later, she and Colossal Boy's marriage broke up, and Yera was stranded in the 21st century as part of the Legion Lost series.

I liked Yera best as a supporting character. She was great: a Durlan actress who had priorities of her own that had nothing to do with the Legion, but who was married to a Legionnaire? It was good stuff. Just the sort of supporting cast that any superhero title needs. As such I think it was short-sighted for Geoff Johns to turn her into just another superhero in the retroboot; exactly the kind of unsubtle pandering retcons that characterized Johns's contributions to the retroboot. If and when the Legion returns to comics, I certainly would like to see Yera come back with them... but I hope she gets to be herself.

Let's use this as Yera's big moment: she defeats one of Darkseid's Servants of Darkness more or less all by herself! And we didn't even know it was her!

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Monday, September 17, 2018

The Legionnaires: Dream Boy

Dream Boy, aka Rol Purtha of Naltor, created by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson.

Dream Boy was one of the few Legionnaires introduced in the threeboot era. He was a Naltorean precognitive who joined the Legion as a sort of replacement for Dream Girl, who had been killed shortly previous. The Legion didn't entirely trust him not to be a spy, and, in fact, he may have been, although he actually did keep faith with the Legion during his entire tenure with the team. Like Dream Girl, he could see the future, although he wasn't as good at it as she was, and he also didn't seem to have her combat training.

I don't tend to identify with characters much, but something about Dream Boy did connect with me. I think it was how he was part of the team... but he wasn't really part of the team, and they moved on without him pretty much as soon as they could. (After Mark Waid left the title, subsequent threeboot writers Bedard, Shooter, and Thyme didn't feel the need to keep the character around, and discarded him with no ceremony at all.) But he was an interesting guy who had some appeal during his short time on the page (although not to the point of preferring him over any version of Dream Girl), and I'd like to read more comics about him someday.

(How long has it been since I reread the threeboot? I should go back to it one of these days...)

Sunday, September 09, 2018

The Legionnaires: Blok

Blok of Dryad. Created by Gerry Conway and Joe Staton.

Here's Blok, who was one of my favourites. Still is, I guess.

Blok's a rock creature from a destroyed planet. His powers are, obviously, strength and toughness... but also, sometimes, subtly, the ability to communicate with stone, the ability to absorb energy, and hypernaturally increased mass. (All of which are cool and could stand to be explored a little.)

There have been a few hiccups in Blok's characterization over the years, but for the most part he's been portrayed as a reflective, thoughtful sort of person, who struggles with understanding human(oid) culture, and whose reactions are always a step behind them. He formed a crush on the White Witch, and this seems to have evolved into some sort of relationship in which the two are devoted to each other in an unclear kind of way.

Paul Levitz decided that Blok was kind of a history buff and got a lot of mileage out of having him watching old Legion holo-tapes; useful for flashback stories. This fits in with Blok's origin: he was a child refugee from a planet destroyed by cataclysm, and was brainwashed by the Dark Man into blaming the Legion of Super-Heroes for this, and joined the Dark Man's Legion of Super-Assassins. He eventually thought better of this and became a Legionnaire. So: he thought about the past, learned things from it, and improved his life thereby. Why wouldn't he keep studying the past? Makes perfect sense.

Blok would continue to explore his own nature, including the various physical metamorphoses he went through, but his story was cut short in the 5YL era when Roxxas murdered him. His death was rolled back in the retroboot, but we haven't seen a lot of Blok since then; mostly, he quit the Legion when the White Witch did.

Blok's a great Legionnaire when the writer really engages with him and thinks about how to use him. Also he's good for comic relief.

I'd like to read some more comics about Blok.

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Sunday, April 01, 2018

Retcons, the Way They're Supposed to Work

Some thoughts on the animated Legion.

You may recall that the final issue of Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century featured the revelation that the whole animated continuity didn't actually "happen" but was one of original-Legion Brainiac 5's simulations. The idea was, the three founders were going to go back in time and meet Superboy for the first time, and Brainy came up with this simulation to get a sense of how this could play out, whether it was safe or not. (My review is here; note that writer Jack Briglio, who is an excellent fellow, visited the comments to basically confirm this interpretation.)

It's kind of a cool idea. Sort of gets in the way of future crossovers between the original/reboot/threeboot Legions and the animated Legion, but if we're honest with ourselves we can admit that that was never going to happen anyway.

But what I want to talk about is, the story also implies that Brainy had a considerable amount of knowledge of future events right from the beginning of original-Legion continuity. Consider:

- he saw the Sun-Eater story play out with the Fatal Five's betrayal and Ferro Lad's sacrifice
- he knew that Timber Wolf was Brin Londo
- he saw a bunch of Legion rejects organize themselves as the Legion of Substitute Heroes

...and so on. Now, some of that stuff doesn't really get in our way. The thing with the Subs, for instance; it's not a problem that has to be solved, so Brainy is not to be faulted for not investigating just what the rejects all get up to. So it's fine for the Subs to exist for so long in original-Legion continuity without the LSH knowing they're there. When they finally did reveal themselves, I imagine Brainy would be like, "What? We're doing this now? All right. Where's the kid with the spikes?"

The Sun-Eater story is more problematic, and, to me, it's only saved by the fact that Brainiac 5 doesn't appear in the original comics story. There are lives at stake here, after all. Brainy must have beat himself up afterwards for not having contingency plans around for what if the Sun-Eater showed up in real life; Ferro Lad might still be alive! Still, not everything in animated continuity happened in real life, and Brainy is a busy guy, so I can't criticize him too much for it.

But there's one place where it helps us!

You remember in the famous "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" story in Action Comics where Brainy tells Polar Boy and Wildfire that Saturn Girl used to screen out some applicants for reasons other than their powers? (She can't have been reliably good at it; look at all the troublemakers who got past her.) Why didn't she screen out Nemesis Kid? Guy was an evil traitor, working with the Khunds. She couldn't spot that?

Well, maybe she couldn't, because of Nemesis Kid's powers... but maybe Nemesis Kid had Brainy speaking up for him, saying something like, I saw this guy in one of my simulations, and he turns out to be a good Legionnaire. I know, I know... the LSH31C writers were eventually going to have him betray the animated Legion just like every other Nemesis Kid. But they never got around to it, and it's better this way. Makes all the sense in the world.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Thoughts on the Legion episode of Supergirl

The first thing is this: the title of the show is Supergirl, and, properly, that's who this episode was about. It's not a Legion show; it's a Supergirl show.

(Is it any good? Enh; it's fine. These Arrowverse shows aren't that great in general. They're serviceable, and we're fond of the characters, and that's been good enough so far.)

That said, it is a Legiony kind of spot for them to be in: they're being compelled by the logic of time travel to act in some antisuperheroic way, but they do the right thing in the end. Like in the Infinitus story in Justice League Whatchamathing. So that's fine. And there are some details mentioned that prove that the writers have read at least one Legion comic in their lives.

The problem is that the Legionnaires don't really do anything. Brainy makes some small talk in Supergirl's mind and pilots a Legion cruiser. Saturn Girl throws some weights around telekinetically. Mon-El gets encased in ice. That's about it. Really, what are they there for? Maybe the story's going somewhere that can get some use out of them, but it isn't there now.

As far as the individual portrayals of the Legionnaires... I haven't been a fan of this Mon-El depiction, but maybe they're building him into something more like the character we know rather than making him like that right off the bat. That would be okay. Saturn Girl... they don't seem to be getting anything out of her. If all they want is a love interest for Mon-El, why not use Shadow Lass? Or really anybody? This character doesn't seem to be telepathic, doesn't look like Saturn Girl, doesn't wear a pink costume, isn't a hardass... in what sense is she Saturn Girl? This is not a knock on the actress, by the way, who seems fine. It's just that she doesn't have a part to play.

Brainiac 5, on the other hand, I kind of like. I didn't have high hopes when I saw what he was going to look like, but he won me over. Resembles the animated Brainy more than any of the other versions. In particular he doesn't have the arrogance of the reboot, threeboot, and retroboot Brainys, which I think is a good choice. Those who were hoping that his appearance on this show would lead to a Kara-Brainy romance are bound to be disappointed, though, because a) I don't see this show making a guy who looks like this Brainy a romantic lead, and b) Silver-Age-comics Kara might have gone for the nonthreatening dreamers like Brainy or Jerro the merboy, but contemporary-TV Kara prefers buff men of action like James Olsen or Mon-El. Notice how far Winn got with her in Season 1? (It's to Kara's credit that she wasn't interested in him, actually; he was acting like quite the creeper for a couple of episodes there.)

I'm watching the show anyway, so if there's anything else for me to comment on with regards to the Legion, I will. But I hold to my opinion that what the Legion needs is either a regular comic book of their own, or an animated series of their own. Random guest appearances do not allow the team to appear to their full potential as superhero characters, especially when they're appearing in something where someone else is clearly the main character. It needs to be an ongoing series to highlight the large cast, and it needs to be a comic book or cartoon so that you don't have to skimp on special effects, fake your way through the no-win situation of trying to portray superhero costumes in real life, or have a small regular cast that must appear in X number of episodes. Things like this Supergirl episode are all very well if you just like seeing the Legion anywhere at all and don't mind that it's not actually a good Legion story, but I'd like to watch or read a good Legion story.

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