Monday, July 21, 2014

Thousand Miles Single Step Et Cetera Et Cetera

So yeah.

The Legion is set to return in this fall's Justice League United annual, which kicks off the six-issue Infinitus Saga (Jeff Lemire/Neil Edwards/Jay Leisten).

My optimism about this development is limited.

Sure, Lemire's great and all, and apparently is a Legion fan, so we should be well set up to get a story that's better than the Lightning Saga was. But if Lemire has a proper understanding of his job, and why on earth would I think he didn't, then the Infinitus Saga, be it never so awesome, is still going to be a Justice League story. Which, again, is as it should be. But what I want is some Legion of Super-Heroes stories, and so far there aren't any of those on the horizon.

Could the Infinitus Saga lead to a return of the Legion to regular comics? Of course. But it has not done that yet. The goal here is to have a regular Legion comic by a creative team who has an interesting vision for the LSH and the creative chops to put that vision over. And I'm not going to count that chicken until it's out of the shell entirely.

The Infinitus Saga is a guest appearance. That's welcome. It ought to be a good one; that's welcome too. Now what else have you got for us.

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Sunday, June 01, 2014

And If You Tie the Bottom of the Bootstrap to the Top, You Don't Even Have to Pull

It's time we got back to my personal favourite topic: Legion reboots. Try not to disturb the neighbours with your cheers.

As always, I'm against reboots, but I'm often in favour of the comic books that are produced by reboots. Certainly such has been the case with Legion comics over the years. But there's another thing besides good comics that came out of the Legion reboots of 1994 and 2004 and, if you like, 1990. And that other thing is that it made the Legion inevitable.

Do you see what I mean? Rebooting the Legion isn't like rebooting, oh, Wonder Woman, for instance. Rebooting Wonder Woman means you're changing what happened before and what's happening now. Rebooting the Legion means you're changing what's going to happen. Before your reboot, when the future finally got here it would be like this and there would be a Legion of Super-Heroes. But after the reboot, the future would actually be like that and... there would be a Legion of Super-Heroes. One that was different in details from the previous one, sure, but clearly the same kind of thing. In other words, it doesn't matter what you do, in a thousand years the Legion is still going to show up and save us all.

And that's great! I need you to understand how great that is. First, it implies that the things the Legion stands for simply cannot be defeated. We'd all like to believe that, right? That's our optimistic future; without that, we have nothing. Second, it sets up an excellent adversarial relationship with the Time Trapper. The Time Trapper must be sitting there on his rock going, "Christ, what do I have to do to get rid of these kids? I've tried everything and they keep coming back!" It makes him frantic and desperate and gives him the motivation that otherwise he really wouldn't have.

That situation really doesn't apply any more. The idea that the future could hold a number of different possible Legions that were all nevertheless valid has been largely rejected by DC Comics and its readers in favour of the current status, which is that there's only one real Legion and it needs to be preserved against change.

This weekend I reread a comic book that occupies a strange place in this discussion: Superboy's Legion, the two-issue Elseworlds story by Mark Farmer and Alan Davis from 2001.

The premise of Superboy's Legion is that Kal-El's rocket didn't make it to Earth in the 20th century, but floated around in space for a thousand years before R.J. Brande found it. He hatched Kal-El out of it and adopted him, and he grew up to be a good-hearted but spoiled young superhuman who eventually founded a team of young superheroes, the Legion of Super-Heroes. Kal-El, Superboy, does some growing up and leads the team to costly victory against the Fatal Five and the forces of 20th-century villain Lex Luthor. The story is told well and excitingly, and, most noticeably of all, it's gorgeous to look at, because a) Alan Davis is great, and b) Davis's style is perfect for portraying the Legion's youthful exuberance. And the format has the glossy paper with the bright colours and all.*

As an Elseworlds story, and a superhero story, it's perfectly good, but if we think about the implications of the premise for a couple of minutes (something I'm sure Farmer and Davis do not particularly recommend to us) it starts to look a little strange.

We learn in Superboy's Legion that there was, despite the lack of Superman, a great superheroic age of the 20th century, and that it ended badly. Also, the 30th century is a pretty nice place, a future utopia if you will, albeit one with a dark secret or two.

We're familiar with the original-Legion story in which the Legion is founded on the inspiration of Superman. This situation is obviously not exactly like that, but it's comparable. But there's one scene in the second part where Superboy is losing his heart for the fight and Star Boy has to give him a pep talk. And there are references to the Legion being the heirs of the ideals of the great superheroes of the 20th century. Also, humanity managed to make it to the 30th century intact and prosperous without needing Superman to save the world all those times; the only one of his great enemies taken into account is Luthor.

It seems to be an attempt to have the results of Superman's inspiration, all the superheroes present and future, without having had Superman in the first place. Effect without cause. I'm not criticizing Farmer and Davis for this, not at all; I wouldn't expect them to write a story to stand up to the kind of scrutiny I'm giving it. They're playing with what-if and I'm just following threads.

In one sense Superboy's Legion is an example of the reboot spirit: the Legion will come into existence even if there were no historical Superman to inspire them. In another, it reflects the nostalgist urge: Superboy's Legion resembles the Adventure-era Legion in many many ways. The reboot Legion was going strong at the time but the only acknowledgements of its existence are Projectra's race, Chameleon Boy's characterization, and a few figures on the last page.

So that's Superboy's Legion: a good story, and I recommend it, but out of step with the times as Legion stories go. Not because it's too much the same to be different, but because it's too different to be the same.

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* Note: I've got the original printing of this, with the square binding. If you want that, expect to pay a lot of money for it. It's since been reprinted in a single volume, which I assume still looks good enough to do the story justice.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pilot Light

Sorry I haven't posted anything in so long, but it's just been so easy not to. I have the best of intentions about it, honest. And the freaking comic book was around for over fifty years; it's not like we've run out of stuff to talk about.

So what's new? LSH Showcase volume 5 coming out this winter. I won't be getting it as I already have that stuff in Archive form, but if there's ever a volume 6 I'll be all over that. Some kind of JLA/Legion appearance coming up in whatever this Forever Evil nonsense is later this summer.

Quite a while ago I recommended Abnett and Lanning's Hypernaturals as a comic you might like if you liked the Legion. It's over now but Image is publishing one called EGOs which is another futuristic-superhero-team book. It hasn't yet won me over the way Hypernaturals did but it doesn't seem bad either and I'm gonna stick with it for a while.

How are you?

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

I Think It's So Groovy Now That People Are Finally Getting Together

One of the articles I've had in mind for a long time is a look at "The Quiet Darkness", a story from LSHv4 #21-24 (in the Five Years Later era of the Legion). This is that article.

The plot, first: two young girls, Lori and Aria, are on the run on Zuun; a lot of dangerous people are chasing them, including (it seems) Lobo. They want to turn Aria over to Darkseid, who is working with Aria's father, Dr. Francis Campbell, on something called the Gemini Matrix. The Gemini Matrix has something to do with Aria and her twin brother Coda, who's in a tank in Aria's father's lab. Furball, which is what the unrecognizably mutated form of Timber Wolf was known as at the time, help the girls run away from their pursuers, and other Legionnaires get mixed up in the story too: Brainiac 5, who was on Zuun with Furball, and Ultra Boy, Celeste, and Kent Shakespeare, who get called in by Brainy.

In the end, all the characters arrive at Francis's lab, where Aria and Coda combine to form the Gemini Matrix, with mysterious results: Coda and Darkseid disappear, and Aria is transformed into a cosmic being called Gemini.

It's unusually enigmatic for a Legion story, and more so because it's illustrated by Keith Giffen in his 5YL style, and because there was some other stuff going on with the plot in the back pages of the comic. (Al Gordon, the regular inker of this title, wrote this story; regular writers Giffen and Tom and Mary Bierbaum took a back seat but wrote some other short backup-story-sized material that shared these four issues; more on that later.)

So first let's try my favourite trick when figuring out what a story is about: look at the title. Sounds trite, but I'm serious; the title of a story will often tell you a lot about what the thing's about. In this case, "the quiet darkness" is a phrase that seems, like Raymond Chandler's "the big sleep" and "the long goodbye", to refer to death. And there is support for this; at the end of the story, when Darkseid is fading into what seems like nonexistence, he says, "I welcome this darkness--this [em]quiet[/em] darkness." Throughout the story, Darkseid has seemed weary of the 30th century; he hasn't been able to get angry or worked up about anything. It's by far the most civilized Darkseid has ever appeared (right down to his wardrobe), and it seems due to his anachronistic nature.

(Even Darkseid's speech balloons are different. In the famous Great Darkness Saga, Darkseid's word balloons were blocky and blue-coloured. Here, his word balloons are just the same as everyone else's, except that when he says Francis's name, it's sometimes rendered in a different font, the same font that Francis's dead wife Carole speaks in in a dream sequence. Look at it carefully, though; it's not at all clear to me that whether this effect was intentional or just a copy-and-paste artifact. It works if it's intentional, though, because Darkseid's treatment of Francis was the most villainous thing about his appearance in this story. No, I'm wrong; it must be an artifact: his name looks the same when Brainy says it.)

There was a trend with the 5YL Legion for the Legionnaires to be on friendly terms, often, with their former enemies. Some examples are Cosmic Boy's dinner with Mordru, Spider Girl joining the Legion, and Element Lad and Roxxas working out their differences. Their civil interaction with Darkseid in this story is another one.

Darkseid is further softened by the object of his quest: the Gemini Matrix, which is also called the Life Equation Matrix. The suggestion here is that the Anti-Life Equation that Darkseid's been searching for throughout his history is just a smaller part of a comprehensive Life Equation.

During this story, the characters are often juxtaposed with each other in pairs. Aria and Lori are a pair, as are Aria and Coda. Brainiac 5 and Francis are both scientists who were recognized as Brainiac-level on Colu. Francis and Carole are a pair. Lobo and Furball are both wolf-themed hunters who aren't what they appear (Furball is secretly Timber Wolf; Lobo is actually a clone of the original, created by Darkseid for this mission.) This duality is of course symbolized by the name, the Gemini Matrix.

Here's what I think: I think the real "quiet darkness" is loneliness. The characters in this story are often lonely for the counterparts in their identified pairs (even Lobo tries to hold a conversation with a severed head that he comes across). Yet all the characters are also able to resist that loneliness through whatever companions they have; Aria has Lori, and the Legionnaires have each other, for instance. Only Darkseid has no counterpart, and no way of defending against his loneliness, which, given his situation, must be profound.

Throughout the story, Darkseid considers himself above all the mortal characters, who are all stumbling around in the dark, bumping their heads and thinking that everything they hear is a rat. (Count up all those examples.) All the characters are united in this ignorance, guard and child and Legionnaire alike. Darkseid, though, with his godlike knowledge and perspective, is above all that, but this also separates him from everyone else.

This is where the Gemini Matrix comes in: it combines Aria and Coda into some kind of cosmic superhuman, "the step between man and god", but one that's manifested as a grown-up Aria, while Coda is only sort of there but is also sort of dead: in the last panels of the story we see Coda and Darkseid meeting in some cloudy pink realm, walking and chatting together very cordially. I'm aware that this contradicts me a bit: Darkseid's embrace of "the quiet darkness" has solved his loneliness, not exacerbated it. Still, it's clear that what Darkseid has found is not oblivion but companionship.

The backup features parallel this story to a certain extent; Bounty and Laurel Gand end up working with Circe, who was an enemy, just as the Legionnaires in the main story were more or less cooperating with Darkseid. Also, the Gemini Matrix experiment that Francis and Darkseid were pursuing was hinted at in issues #21-23 and revealed in #24, as were the Dominators' twin experiments of B.I.O.N. and the SW6 batch of youthful Legion clones. Plus, the story's theme of loneliness between sundered siblings (Coda and Aria) was echoed in the frantic letters Dream Girl sent to try to reconcile with the White Witch.

There's a lot about "The Quiet Darkness" that suggests it to be a very profound story: the title, the ambiguous ending, and the cast of characters, for instance. I'm not sure it achieved that profundity, but it was an ambitious and interesting attempt. I'd like to think that most Legion stories fit this description.

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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

I Am Interviewed

I'll put together some kind of full post in a little while, but in the meantime, you can head over to A Trout in the Milk where Plok interviews me on the subject of superhero fiction. You know, if you want to.

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