Monday, February 05, 2007

The Legion Manifesto, Part 1

I've got a lot of thoughts swirling around about what the Legion's all about, about the different versions of the Legion, about the reboots, about the virtues and flaws of the current version, about what needs to be done with the Legion. I could put them all into one big post, but it'd take forever to write, and who knows how long that would take? So I'll do it in pieces.

Ever hear the phrase, 'the Matter of Britain'? It refers to Arthurian legend. I like the sound of it, like, if you're going to get at the root of Britain, you have to somehow resolve all the King Arthur stories. Well, in that spirit, I present the Legion Question and the Legion Problem.

The Legion Question is this: What are the essential characteristics of the Legion of Super-Heroes? In other words, how do we know if the Legion we're reading about is consistent with the spirit of the history of Legion comics? Can we say that this or that era of the Legion can be called a real Legion or not?

This question has been addressed many times, and there actually does seem to be some consensus about the answer. I'm not going to link to all the sources I'm getting this from (there was an article on Howling Curmudgeons, and there was another guy who had a recent article...), but I'll say that this is only my attempt at a representative list, much of which I wouldn't have come up with on my own, and it's not intended to be definitive. The Legion Question is still open.

These are some features of the Legion that are seen by many comic fans as essential:

1. The Legion is a group of superheroes.
2. The Legionnaires started their heroic careers as teenagers. [Edited: I originally had 'the Legionnaires are teenagers' here, but a few people on the Legion World boards objected, citing the late Levitz era, the Adult Legion, and the 5YL stories as evidence that you could have perfectly good Legion stories where they're not teenagers. So, you know. Okay by me.]
3. The Legion lives in the distant future.
4. The future setting of the Legion is an optimistic one, and so is the Legion’s outlook.
5. There are many Legionnaires.
6. Being a Legionnaire is a special thing.
7. In Legion comics, characters can experience permanent change.
8. Either directly or indirectly, the Legion represents the legacy of Superman ten centuries in the future.
9. The future setting of the Legion is one in which space travel is common, and there is abundant life on other planets.
10. Legionnaires don’t all have overwhelming superpowers, but combine their more modest talents through teamwork to be effective.

So that's a start on the Legion Answer (if you will). If we check the Waid-and-Kitson Threeboot Legion against this list, by the way, we can get an idea how well they qualify as a valid Legion. There's some discussion possible about 4, and 6 isn't really strongly established (yet?), but the rest looks like it's all there (although I know there are those who would dispute 1).

The Legion Problem is this: DC has published several different versions of the Legion. They're all different from each other, and they all have their fans. But DC is only publishing one version of the Legion right now, leaving fans unsatisfied. What is the solution to this situation?

And, boy, are there ever a lot of opinions about this one.

There are a lot of people, a lot of people, who would like to completely chuck the current version of the Legion and go back to the original. And when they say 'the original', some of them mean the Legion as it existed right before Zero Hour, and some of them mean the Legion as it existed right after the Magic Wars, and some of them mean the Legion as it existed before Crisis on Infinite Earths, and I know of one guy who thinks the Legion went completely and permanently to hell when Paul Levitz started writing the book. There are some people whose only attachment is to the reboot Legion. There are some whose only attachment is to the threeboot Legion. There are some who think all versions should be sort of blended together. There are some who think the Legion needs another reboot, to an entirely new version.

I've thought about it a lot, and this is what I've come to believe. All the people who read JSA and see Starman and Dawnstar's arm, and who see Infectious Lass in Tales of the Unexpected, and say, "DC's finally going to bring back the REAL Legion and get rid of the snotty punks in the current title," give me a pain. Not only because they misevaluate the threeboot Legion, but especially because they think their desires as fans to have the original Legion back trump the desires of the fans of the threeboot Legion to keep reading about them. The only good solution to the Legion Problem is one that benefits everyone.

And the mix-‘em-all-up-into-one-big-Legion solution isn’t much better. It sounds good, but the problem is that these Legions are all unseparable from their settings. By mixing them all together, they’d be cut off from their own pasts and supporting characters. It’d be like another reboot.

Fortunately, DC has provided us with a solution. If the multiverse really is coming back, then it should be easy for DC to provide us with an Earth-Original-Legion and an Earth-Reboot-Legion to go along with our current Earth-Threeboot-Legion*. Yes, they’d have to do some handwaving to explain away Zero Hour and all that malarkey, but that’s okay. We don’t need a good reason, we just need a reason. It can all be sorted out. (For that matter, we don’t really need the multiverse to do this. The Legion exists in the future, after all. What’s wrong with just having different possible futures?)

That’s my solution to the Legion Problem: we’ll have all three Legions back. The new purpose of this blog (not the only purpose, just the newest one) is to act as an advocate for this solution. DC got us to care about three Legion continuities, and has abandoned two of them. This is a) not good customer relations, and b) easily reversible. I don’t even mean that each of these Legion versions should have their own comic books; that’d be a bit much. (Although I’d buy them.) Just that they’d be there, in continuity, available to have stories told about them.

Let’s face it, it’s not like DC ever wanted what they have now. If you had gone up to the Legion writers and editors and other DC higher-ups in… let’s say 1983, and described to them what would happen to Legion continuity over the next twenty years and change, and said, “Is that what you want to happen?” they’d laugh you out of the building. Nobody wanted this. Nobody prefers it, not even the people like me who like the threeboot. And maybe DC has plans to do just what I’m proposing here. If they do, great. But just in case they don’t, here’s the Legion Manifesto:

I call upon DC Comics to return all three versions of the Legion to active continuity. It will please your fans, it will give your creators more possibilities to work with, and it doesn’t cost you anything to do so.

Who’s with me?

I’ll have more to say on these topics later (see where it says ‘Part 1’ up there?), but for now I’ll sign off with:

Long Live the Legions.

----

*I toyed with the idea that we might want to keep the original Legion separate from the Five Years Later Legion, because they’re so different and because so many Legion fans were appalled at 5YL. But, no; let’s not complicate things any more than we have to. All the stories happened, should be the principle we apply, and most of the damage done to the Legion as Zero Hour started approaching could be fixed by a talented and motivated writer.

See also: The Legion Manifesto, Part 2: Cheaper Than Therapy

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17 Comments:

Anonymous ede said...

I definitely agree with the multiverse solution as the best.

I'd be be sure to acknowledge at least the following published continuities as existing: 1) The Silver Age/Adult Legion continuity; 2) The Bronze Age/Levitz era continuity ending at the Magic Wars (complete with "pocket universe" Superboy); 3) The 5YL Glorithverse Legion (no Superboy + Valor instead on Mon-El); 4) The post-Zero Hour Legion; 5) The threeboot Legion; 6) Superboy's Legion. Once you've got the multiverse, though, you can pretty much tell stories about any version you like.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Reboot said...

> There are some people whose only attachment is to the reboot Legion.

*puts hand up*

The fact is though, I don't see how a Earth-2, -3 (-4, -5, -6...) actually helps matters. The LSH brand is not strong enough to support three, four or six LSH books as you admit, and the "main" LSH is always going to get the most focus in team-ups. A nominal "they (the post-ZH team) are out there" still left me wanting to (**figuratively speaking, I hasten to point out**) stick a stiletto in someone's chest, but their outright erasure in Infinite Crisis didn't affect me. They were Gone anyway by that point (and I'd long given up on DC anyway, between that and other things).

And I'm not interested in buying a "threeboot" book just to get a guest appearance. To pick an example, Marvel Team-Up v3 #15-18 (and #25) left a "classic" Speedball in the MK2099 future as part of a team with plenty of stories that could be told, but which came about in a low-selling and soon-after cancelled title, meaning the group is never likely to be mentioned again. This nominal "Speedball still exists" point did nothing to restore anyone's faith given the whole Penance thing.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

ede: That's a lot of continuities. But, I guess, why not?

reboot: It's a point, but I'd rather have a character I like languishing in obscurity than forbidden from use altogether, which has been the case up until now. Because you never know. Imagine the difference between being a Detective Chimp fan three years ago, and being one now.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Gordon said...

I like the idea of a multiversal Legion (especially since, in "classic" DC continuity, only Earth-1 had a Legion).

However, why not do it with rotating arcs in a single book? Have some kind of story where Brainiac 5 discovers multiple earths...and then take it from there.

(This way, you avoid massive Legion crossovers, and whatever Legion you enjoy - it's there!)

7:46 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Well, I'd like it...

9:17 AM  
Blogger Reboot said...

> It's a point, but I'd rather have a character I like languishing in obscurity than forbidden from use altogether, which has been the case up until now. Because you never know. Imagine the difference between being a Detective Chimp fan three years ago, and being one now.

Differences:
1) You didn't have a high-profile and pretty different Inspector Chimp around written by a guy who had vocally said he hated Detective Chimp.

2) DCU. You're asking for Detective Chimp when Inspector Chimp is the DCU version, and Detective Chimp is off to the side with no real book to star in other than Inspector Chimp's.

> However, why not do it with rotating arcs in a single book? Have some kind of story where Brainiac 5 discovers multiple earths...and then take it from there.
> (This way, you avoid massive Legion crossovers, and whatever Legion you enjoy - it's there!)

And name me... oh... three genuine anthologies which have succeeded in the past ten years. Let alone spinoffs of 30k (selling) books.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Okay, forget Detective Chimp. How about the Justice Society? The JSA went through several decades in which they weren't being published regularly. They mostly just appeared as guests in the title of their replacements, the JLA. But now look at them.

There's no perfect solution. Comic book continuity doesn't allow perfect solutions, especially when there have been as many convolutions as the Legion has had. But allowing all three continuities to exist will at least allow DC to please almost all of the people a lot of the time, which is better than the current situation, which pleases some of the people all of the time and some of the people none of the time. (And the threeboot Legion isn't necessarily going to be the 'main' Legion forever...)

But if you've got a better idea, it's got a receptive audience in these comments.

(Did Mark Waid ever say he hated some previous version of the Legion? I missed it, if he did.)

12:22 PM  
Blogger Reboot said...

> Okay, forget Detective Chimp. How about the Justice Society? The JSA went through several decades in which they weren't being published regularly. They mostly just appeared as guests in the title of their replacements, the JLA. But now look at them.

Yep, mostly either killed off and replaced or stuck in Retro Mode :p

Seriously, again, which was the last team to "graduate" that way? And if the JLA had been a rebooted JSA rather than that crucial change of initial, I don't think that twenty-year stint of guest appearances would have gone anywhere even in more favourable market conditions.

> There's no perfect solution. Comic book continuity doesn't allow perfect solutions, especially when there have been as many convolutions as the Legion has had.

THIS, I agree with wholeheartedly.

> But allowing all three continuities to exist will at least allow DC to please almost all of the people a lot of the time, which is better than the current situation, which pleases some of the people all of the time and some of the people none of the time.

Again though, I don't see how it actually changes anything. Okay, fine, they "exist", but what does that change? If the writer wants them to, they can "exist" regardless (see JSofA right now, of course, for an example). And in my head, "my" Legion exists anyway, having adventures in my daydreams, which isn't affected by what DC says or doesn't say.

> (And the threeboot Legion isn't necessarily going to be the 'main' Legion forever...)

True, but it's more likely to go "fourboot" than back to preboot or postboot...

> But if you've got a better idea, it's got a receptive audience in these comments.

I don't, honestly. There is no solution which will satisfy everyone and succeed commercially (hell, there's no solution which will satisfy everyone full stop...)

Thing is though, while Hypertime Was Go, you HAD that declaration that "they all exist" (I think Kingdom might even have had some pre-ZH LSH shots to hammer that home). Did that satisfy you then?

> (Did Mark Waid ever say he hated some previous version of the Legion? I missed it, if he did.)

He certainly made comments about the time of the "threeboot" announcement that suggested he wasn't happy with the postboot Legion. I haven't read the stuff in a few years, however..

8:08 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I don't see how it actually changes anything. Okay, fine, they "exist", but what does that change? If the writer wants them to, they can "exist" regardless (see JSofA right now, of course, for an example).

I really don't know about that. I picked up an attitude from DC around the time of the threeboot that was like, "That's not the Legion anymore. This is the Legion over here, period." If they can exist regardless, I want proof of it. Part of it is this weird Silver Age love affair that DC seems to have with the Legion... when they're doing anything Legion-related, they always seem to reset to about 1968 or something. The JSA (and Tales of the Unexpected) stuff seems to suggest that they're expanding to include the Levitz era too, but I'm worried that the reboot Legion is going to be ignored completely. And there's no good reason for that to happen. I want DC to admit in a comic book that all versions of the Legion are fair game for in-continuity storytelling. (And that one panel of Infinite Crisis isn't going to do it.)

And in my head, "my" Legion exists anyway, having adventures in my daydreams, which isn't affected by what DC says or doesn't say.

I'll have more to say about that in the second part of this little effort.

it's more likely to go "fourboot" than back to preboot or postboot...

I think Monica Geller said it best when she said, "Are you trying to hurt me? Do you want to see me cry?"

Thing is though, while Hypertime Was Go, you HAD that declaration that "they all exist" (I think Kingdom might even have had some pre-ZH LSH shots to hammer that home). Did that satisfy you then?

I didn't come back to comics until about issue 10 of The Legion, so I missed a lot of that era. As I recall, though, it sort of theoretically satisfied me. As in, I could see it being a basis for a solution that satisfied me. But my ideas about continuity and reboots and stuff were a lot less fully formed, so I wouldn't really have been thinking about it in those terms anyway.

I guess the point we're homing in on saying is that it's one thing to say that all versions of the Legion are in continuity somewhere, but it's worthless without actual stories featuring those other Legions. Which is true. But a) one thing at a time, and b) I'm not sure what the best way is of getting stories out about three or four or five or six different Legions. I'm sure it can't be done regularly. But there must be some way of doing something.

9:41 AM  
Blogger H said...

I like the idea that all continuities are available, just for the possibility of a return story to the 5YL Legion. But commercially one has to be selected as the ongoing one and the rest are just guest starring possibilities.

Of course, it raises a problem of confusing the heck out of newer readers, but I think that threat is always over-rated. As long as a story is well-written, the introduction of alternate versions of main characters is an intriguing thing to a reader, not a reason to avoid the story.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

commercially one has to be selected as the ongoing one and the rest are just guest starring possibilities

I think that's probably true. Although, I could see a title like 'LSH Classified' or something that feels free to tell Legion stories from any era of any version. After all, JLA Classified had some stories about the Detroit League. But, yes, there would still have to be one primary Legion. (Not necessarily the threeboot Legion, either.)

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Who’s with me?"


*raises hand*

I am.

They should have 3 titles to cover the 3 Legions...
I would be very happy to read: Legion 247

Especially if they start it were they left off...
Shikari finding the Legion in Infinite Crisis 6.

There have got to be writers
and artist willing to do it....
^_^ i would...if I worked for them...

-NDCoggshall

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to see a proper resolution to the LSH too.

My idea: The LSH picks up from LSH V1 #300. Brainiac 5 continues his studies of the parallel universes using the viewer from that issue. It could be a back up story in every issue like the old days. The focus of the stories would be the reboots that occurred after v1. It would be a way to keep the other boots in their own continuity and valid at the same time. It could be used as a way to do yearly crossovers like the old JLA/JSA events. But this time with the LSH. It would also allow writers to excercise more creative freedom with the LSH universes that are out of mainstream continuity. Similar to how Earth 2 was handled pre crisis.

I have been reading the LSH since the mid 70s when I was a little kid. I like all the LSH reboots. They all have added new dimensions to the characters and setting. I consider v1 a default starting point, but not more valid than the other reboots.

- Lauren

11:55 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

NDCoggshall and Lauren: Your comments perfectly illustrate what I mean when I say that there is no shortage of opinions about what ought to be done with the Legion. There are so many good ideas out there (including yours) (and why not? Quality source material!) that it's impossible to choose from them. So I say just open it all up and let the chips fall where they may.

3:03 PM  
Blogger RavenScholar said...

Yes. This.

11:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading all these comments brought home to me how pointless I find the multiverse.
I think people are overthinking the whole matter of continuity. There are only two rules on the subject that I follow:
1)If a comic was published,it happened.
2)where and when that comic happened in the timeline is for the reader to decide.
Simple.What's canon is up to you. If you change your mind,what's to stop you? Message boards may get less rancorous,but that's a price I'm willing to pay.
Only comic book fans seem to feel the need to knit everything together. I doubt there's a Laurel & Hardy fan who tries to squeeze all their adventures into one coherent timeline. Legion fans in particular seem to treat their comics the same way collectors of coins,stamps,or baseball cards treat their items,as things to be catagorized.Me,I just want a comic entertaining enough to justify my buying that comic.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I think one reason people do it is because comics, especially Legion comics, provide the illusion that the continuity does fit together comprehensibly. And it is kind of fun.

9:30 PM  

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