Thursday, September 11, 2014

Strange Visitors from Another Millennium

In his blog, Slay, Monstrobot of the Deep!, snell takes on the subject of the Legion's upcoming appearance in Justice League United. Go read it and come back here.

He's right, of course.

But, you know... Well, for one thing, it's nothing we haven't seen before. The Geoff-Johns-written Legion episode of Smallville had much the same premise. And that turned out to be not so bad. So I don't like it much either, but it's not necessarily a dealbreaker. Let's see how Lemire handles it.

However, it does bring up a point that I don't think we've addressed before--it only just occurred to me!--and I think it's worth keeping in mind whenever we think about the Legion and their comics. It's this: the Legion comes from the future, and that makes them different from us in some ways.

We can break Legion stories down into two categories. The largest category, and the one we're used to, is the one where we are meant to identify with the Legionnaires. They are our protagonists and POV characters, and we have empathy for whatever they're feeling. Jim Shooter and Paul Levitz were the big pioneers in establishing and perfecting this kind of Legion story; they made the Legionnaires more relatable to us.

The other kind of Legion story is the ones where we aren't meant to identify with the Legion. They're strangers! From the future! Who knows what they're up to? What secrets are they hiding, and why are they doing all these weird things? The very first Legion stories were of this kind: Superboy or Supergirl or Lois or Jimmy meets some exotic costumed teenagers who lead them through a bizarre adventure without telling them the whole story (at least until later). The aforementioned Smallville episode was of this kind. The "Lightning Saga", which returned the originalish Legion to DC continuity, was of this kind. And it looks like this upcoming Justice League United story will be of this kind.

(I wonder if we've struck one of the reasons why the threeboot Legion had a hard time connecting with some fans: Waid's characterizations of them made many of the Legionnaires strikingly different from regular modern humans, and also his superheroism-as-a-political/social-movement premise isn't anything we're used to. So this takes us away from the Shooter-Levitz model of getting us to identify with the Legionnaires.)

So I'm with snell: the Legion is miscast as supervillains. But I would also say that they're well-cast as antagonists, even if that's not the kind of Legion story I prefer or you prefer, because it's so easy for them to play the part of "the other".


While we're on the subject, what about this week's Justice League United Annual in which Dawnstar seems to be a future member of the League? Goes along with that straight-to-video thing where Karate Kid and Dawnstar... what do they, become junior Leaguers or something? I don't know.

Anyway, I don't really care for it. And it has nothing to do with the choice of Dawnstar as the character to do this with; if you have to pick a Legionnaire to steal for use in a more popular team, Dawny's probably an excellent choice. I just don't want the Legion stripped down for parts, that's all. I didn't like Star Boy showing up in JSA either.

(Obviously Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, and Mon-El, as present-day characters, are exceptions to this.)

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Anonymous Jim Davis said...

snell's credibility took a hit with this comment:

"They had their own 5 Years Later, before it was trendy. And yes, it was kinda dystopian, but the Legion said, "Hey, we can make this better--let's bring the band back together and fix things!" And they did."

They did? The 5 years later run was one of unrelieved ineffectiveness for the Legion. They couldn't prevent the moon from blowing up, they couldn't prevent the earth from blowing up, and ultimately, couldn't prevent the universe from blowing up.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I'll allow it. They reformed the Legion, fought off the Khunds, defeated Glorith a couple of times, defeated Mordru a couple of times, drove the Dominators off Earth... And of those three things you mentioned, at least two were driven by editorial fiat.

7:04 PM  

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