Monday, April 17, 2017

Broken Ladder

There's a pattern I noticed recently that I've never seen any comment on. This pattern is for Legion of Super-Heroes comics (and related materials) to increase in quality as time goes on.

Let's break it down by decade. Obviously the '50s were better than the '40s, since the Legion didn't exist at all in the '40s. Just as obviously, the '60s were better than the '50s, since there were only two short Legion stories in the '50s. Meanwhile, the '60s had the famous Adventure Comics run, in which most of the key concepts and characters of the Legion franchise were created. Jim Shooter took over as the primary writer in 1966 and helped modernize DC Comics's storytelling as he did so.

But the 1970s was even better! There was a little publishing hiccup at the start, sure, but young up-and-coming creators like Shooter, Cary Bates, Paul Levitz, Dave Cockrum, Mike Grell, and Jim Sherman brought more sophisticated stories to the Legion than we had ever seen before. Plus, Karate Kid got his own title for a while there; the Legion's first spinoff. And the Legion got to share the title of the comic book with Superboy; they hadn't had that in the '60s.

But the 1980s was even better! The Legion got the title all to themselves, and Paul Levitz returned as writer. Paul Levitz's second run as Legion writer is one of the most highly-regarded in comics' history, and justly so. The '80s brought us the Great Darkness Saga, the deluxe Baxter format, and more spinoffs: Cosmic Boy, Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes, Legionnaires 3, and Who's Who in the Legion of Super-Heroes.

But the 1990s was even better! The Five Years Later era had the most powerful stories the Legion has ever seen, before or since. That was brought to an end by a reboot, unfortunately, but the new reboot Legion neatly sidestepped some of the common dysfunctions of the era and gave us years of bright, fun comics that updated many of the characters and stories of the Silver Age. Plus: Valor! L.E.G.I.O.N.! Timber Wolf! Legends of the Legion! Legion: Science Police! Superboy's Legion! Not only that, but the Legion made their first TV appearance on an episode of Superman: The Animated Series.

But the 2000s was even better! Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning took over and gave us five years of some of the best Legion comics ever created, perhaps as good as the Five Years Later era. When a reboot shut that down, Mark Waid picked up the baton for thirty issues of the best-conceived version of the Legion we had seen; finally, the team made sense in a way they never really had before. Meanwhile, the Legion got their own cartoon for two seasons, and the cartoon had its own spinoff comic; both were good with occasional gusts to great. Meanwhile meanwhile, DC introduced yet another version of the Legion, the retroboot Legion, to appeal to those fans who missed the original Legion and had never warmed to the reboot or threeboot. This had its problems but was very well-received, and it culminated in the magnificent crowdpleaser Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds limited series. In addition to all of this, the '00s also brought us Titans/Legion: Universe Ablaze, appearances on Smallville and Justice League Unlimited, and any number of Legion-related toys. We blogged! We podcasted!

But the 2010s was... pretty poor, actually. DC didn't seem to know what to do with the Legion after FC:L3W, and futzed around with it in this title and that one before bringing back Paul Levitz for another kick at the can. Levitz was unable to summon the old magic, and after a while the comic book was cancelled, and it remains cancelled years later. We've had insufficiently-interesting limited series like Legion: Secret Origin and a crossover with Star Trek, and DC occasionally gives the LSH a guest appearance here or there, or hints that they're going to have a big appearance in this title or that TV show but then doesn't follow through on it. Even worse, there was Legion Lost v2.

I write this in the spring of 2017. It's not too late for DC to make the 2010s a better decade for Legion fans than the 2000s were... but they'd better hurry, and they'd better come up with something pretty damn awesome, if that's their intention. Unfortunately, I don't think that's their intention, and I don't think they could accomplish it if it was. But, hey: crossover issues with Bugs Bunny and Batman '66! That's what we've wanted all along, right?

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, your post made me unexpectedly sad; so many good memories with the Legion, and I'm even a relative newcomer. My dream right now is for some sort of Legion anthology which would include stories from the different eras/versions of the team (or even new ones), but I know that's not gonna happen. Since DC continues to be an absolute mess, the most optimistic thought I can come up with is that hopefully the next decade will be better. Dan DiDio can't stay around forever, right?

5:16 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I don't feel confident in any predictions. Noplace to go but out on a limb.

8:34 AM  

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