Thursday, November 09, 2006

We Are All a Bunch of Idiots

I'm ashamed. I'm ashamed of me and of you and of everyone else who read Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #16 and didn't notice anything. Don't think I'm letting myself off the hook! Oh, no no no. I wouldn't have noticed it either if I hadn't just been reading it to my three-year-old, which made me go so slow that I had to notice.

I'll approach what I'm talking about this way.

This current version of the Legion is not for everybody. Some of the people who don't like it have been Legion fans in the past, and still consider themselves to be so. And one of the complaints they have about this Legion is that the characters are obnoxious thugs who need a spanking. Well, I know what they're talking about when they say that, but I think there's a lot more evidence that they're superheroes than that they're thugs. Stay with me, though: any argument that the Legionnaires are thugs will necessarily rely heavily on the first five pages of SLOSH #16. You probably remember this part, but I'll recap it anyway:

We meet an ordinary Metropolis resident.

He's angry that the Legion is doing something noisy outside, disrupting the peace and quiet that's the hallmark of a civilized society. So he takes the drastic step of going out to confront them, first putting on the goggles and concealing garments that all self-respecting Metropolites wear in public.

When he gets outside, he finds that a few Legionnaires (Ultra Boy, Chameleon, Shadow Lass, Light Lass) are apprehending a guy who was spying on the Science Police, and they have all the authority they need to do this. He isn't satisfied, though, and rallies his confused neighbours to tell the Legion that they don't like it when young people wear bright costumes this close to their apartment complex. The Legionnaires pass words with them for a while, to get them all riled up (in the midst of which Shadow Lass playfully confiscates the guy's glasses)

and eventually let the citizens win the argument. The Legion picks up their prisoner and quits the field.

Well, that's terrible! Shadow Lass just stole a guy's glasses! How superheroic is that? He didn't do anything wrong!

But! Barry Kitson is generous enough with his time that he sometimes posts on the Legion World message boards. And when one poster noted that when Shady flew away, she didn't have the guy's glasses, he confirmed that that was intentional, and said that Shady did that to make the guy look at them face to face. See? They aren't thugs after all! Shady was just having fun with the guy! The Legion is still full of heroes! Silverale all around!

See, there she goes. No glasses. (Forgive the blurry scan.)

Now, the Legion was good enough to tell us a page later what the point of that whole scene had been: the Legionnaires see it as part of their mission to stir up the 31st century. They provoked those citizens into a) coming out of their homes, b) interacting with each other in person and c) working together to accomplish something (in this case, driving the Legionnaires away). But even with that explanation, we still missed all the subtext in that scene!

Look at the guy, just look at him. He's from Metropolis, his name is Klar, he wears glasses out in public, and he's got that curl on his forehead. Does anyone have any idea who he's supposed to represent? In a comic book, I hasten to add, that, for the first time in its current run, prominently features a Kryptonian character with a blue costume and the old pentagonal S symbol on the cover and in the story?

So when Shady takes his glasses off, it's not because she's being a brat. (I mean, okay, she is a bit of a brat, but that is so far from the point it's not worth mentioning.) It's because it's symbolically inevitable. It's not permissible, symbolically, for Klar to take the (to them) unheard of step of rounding up a posse to run the Legion off without having his glasses taken off. And of course it has to be a Legionnaire who does it, because it's the Legion who's trying to bring all this stuff back to the world. They're trying to get all the Klar Kcents to take their glasses off.

"Gee, Matthew, all that symbolism sounds kind of heavy-handed."

Yeah, you'd think so, but we didn't pick up on it, did we? Maybe it wasn't heavy-handed enough. Maybe Waid and Kitson have to come to our freaking houses and beat us about the head and shoulders with a rolled-up comic book in order for us to get the point.

What a bunch of saps we are. I mean, this is a scene that people argued about! We debated it! And we still all let the interesting stuff go by! Bugs Bunny would call us ultramaroons. To Jeeves, we would be mentally somewhat negligible, to Groo we would be slow of mind and to Nancy Blackett we would be a bunch of galoots. But I think Handy said it best when he said, "You're making us look like jerks! Read a book!" Whatever you call it, it's inexcusable. It's the best-known symbol DC Comics has! Clark Kent taking off his glasses! And it sailed right by us! For months!

Anyway. We will have to do better in the future, if we want to be able to claim that we actually read these comics. A few notes:

1. The Superman-curl seems to be quite the style in Metropolis. Klar's wife has it too, and so does Dav Huntr in LSH #15. But, weird: none of the Legionnaires have it! Why not? Seems like it'd be right up their alley.
2. Legion World poster Tromium did pick up on the resemblance between Klar and Superman, so I guess she's less of an idiot than the rest of us.
3. Legion World poster Sir Tim Drake pointed out that the name of the apartment complex, Eando Towers, is an allusion to Legion creator Otto Binder, who often wrote as Eando Binder with his brother Earl (E-and-O).

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I caught it on the Omnicom back in March.

Something else you missed - in the Silver Age, there was a series called "Superman 2965" (which never crossed over with or even mentioned the Legion even though both were in Metropolis 2965), where the hero's name was Klar Ken T-5477.

Mark Waid is such a Superman geek that he could probably tell you the guy's Social Security Number. Backwards.

12:07 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Oh, so you did. Nice one. But noticing the resemblance is only the first half of this; realizing what it means to the scene is the other half and that's where we all fell down.

8:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Why don't we talk without our disguises on?" is what that means to me...

Watch Mark Waid just start piling that stuff on, now that he knows you're looking out for it!

Jeez, I'm learning a surprising amount of things about the Legion around here, actually...

8:26 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

"Why don't we talk without our disguises on?" is what that means to me...

Right, but if the subtext is that this guy is symbolic of Superman, or at least Clark Kent (I'm not sure where Michael's Klar Ken T-5477 fits into this), then that's where it gets really interesting. Because I take this Klar to be a Metropolis everyman, and the implication is that they're all potentially superheroes, every 31st century resident alike.

Which fits in well with this version's concept of the Legion as a large-scale movement and not just a club of a couple of dozen.

Watch Mark Waid just start piling that stuff on, now that he knows you're looking out for it!

That would be so great.

Jeez, I'm learning a surprising amount of things about the Legion around here, actually...

Cool. But... surprising?

10:31 AM  

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