Thursday, June 13, 2019

Gotta Get Home before the Morning Comes

As you all know and as fate would have it, we're going to be getting a new Legion of Super-Heroes comic this year. If you need to brush up on the details, this link is where you want to go, for an interview with Brian Michael Bendis about what his plans are for the Legion.

I'm very glad about this. I'm glad whether it turns out to be a good comic or a bad one. Obviously I'd rather it be a good one. But I like thinking about the Legion of Super-Heroes, and I like thinking about them as an active entity, not a static one that only exists in back issues. I don't want to just look back on Legion comics; I want to look forward to them! We can always use stories of heroism, and, these days, we can especially use stories of heroism in which people work together and give us hope for the future.

I don't want to spend too much time discussing what's going to be happening; there'll be a lot of that all over the place. I'm more interested in what we can make of the things we have learned.

So let me go through this interview with Bendis to see what jumps out.

First thing I notice is that Bendis really seems to like the Legion. Which is a good sign. There's no substitute for affection for your material. I've never read much of his stuff, but his reputation is not such that I would have pegged him as a likely Legion writer... Still, he's been around long enough to know his stuff, and if he's really into it, then, hey, let's give it a chance.

Bendis seems to be leaning into the large cast. I've seen any number of people spitballing that if they wrote the Legion, they'd pick out seven or eight characters to focus on and have everyone else present but in the background. And I'm sure it must be tempting to handle it just like that.

When citing Legion runs from the past that might be inspirational for this version of the team, Bendis mentions Mike Grell and Keith Giffen... but also Mark Waid. He uses the phrases "from a modern setting" and "from this standpoint of a modern comic reader" and "brand new kinds of sci-fi" and "No homage to Kirby, Moebius, or John Berkey." This reassures me a lot: it suggests that the comic book will not just be about nostalgia.

But then there's this one. "[T]he point of the Legion of Super-Heroes is how it reflects back on the era of the Age of Heroes, right?"

Hmm. Hmmm.

I don't know if it is.

I don't know if it isn't! I'm dubious but not necessarily opposed.

For the longest time, the Legion was mostly isolated from the rest of DC continuity. This had its good and bad aspects. For better or worse, that time seems to be over; it looks like we're getting a Legion that's more tightly bound up with, I don't know, Booster Gold and Terry McGinnis and stuff like that. And I just don't know. I mean, if they do it well, then that's fine, but I can't claim to actually care about Kamandi and Tommy Tomorrow and that.

Bendis also seems to be looking at this as a long-term project. I think this is the correct approach; the Legion famously lends itself to long-form storytelling. I still like done-in-one stories and am frustrated by sixteen-issue mega-arcs, but Legion comics are a ponderous beast and need long runways.

But here he says, "this isn't a criticism of other creators, but over the years, Legion doesn't have the consistency that other books have had." Except if you look at the history, it has had consistency. It's had a lot of long runs, some very long, that were quite consistent in themselves! So I'm really not sure what he's getting at. Does he mean the reboots and relaunches?

Then he talks about the Legion's motivation. "Our Legion is coming together out of what they think is dire necessity. Things are starting to crumble, and they're crumbling fast, and it really feels like it's time for a new Age of Heroes for the first time in a millennium." On the one hand, this doesn't really reflect the Legion's traditional 'optimistic future' setting. On the other, a couple of things: first, in an adventure story, you need to give your heroes something to do. Second, there's still room for optimism here. Third, just the idea that there are still going to be human beings in a thousand years is something that I would call wildly optimistic all by itself. So.

"You're coming into a universe of ideas about self and all the kinds of things that "self" means as far as anywhere on the spectrum. You can think of about religion, or sexuality, or anything that makes a person individual, and apply all these intergalactic ideas to it..." Now that I think is a very threeboot kind of thing to say. And I mean that entirely as a compliment.

Check out Ryan Sook's character designs. The first one I saw was the Saturn Girl one, and I only caught a glimpse of it. My reaction to it was, good, it's very simple; they finally smartened up. Because the Legion takes forever to draw; the artist might as well save himself the trouble of drawing complicated costumes. Runes on the edge of Element Lad's cape? That cool transparent thing Dragonwing wore? An expensive luxury. But then I looked at all the rest of them and they really aren't that simple. They're not too bad, but some of that detail, like all Lightning Lad's strappy things? He's just creating more work for himself. Anyway. I'm not totally sold on the new look. But I said the same thing about the Legion cartoon and ended up really liking how that looked.

My point is this: break's over.

Notes:

- TIL who John Berkey is
- Ryan Sook seems to know his business
- 34. Literally 34, or did he just pick a number out of the air?

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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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