Sunday, July 29, 2007

Continuity Notes: Glorithverse and Five Years Later

Continued from here.

Paul Levitz wrapped up his long and triumphant tenure as Legion writer in 1989. The comic book was cancelled, in order to restart it a few months later with a new creative team (Keith Giffen, Tom and Mary Bierbaum) and a new direction. The first page of the new series was nothing more than the words 'Five Years Later' on a dark background, and a lot had occurred in the five in-story years since the end of Levitz's series: the Legion had disbanded, the United Planets was in economic trouble, Earthgov was corrupt and riddled with Dominators... But what I want to point out is that there hadn't been any continuity shifts. LSH4 #1 existed in the same continuity, exactly, as LSH3 #63. The continuity tweak came a bit later.

See, the pocket universe retcon wasn't good enough for somebody. I don't know who at DC had their briefs in a bunch about it--it may be common knowledge for all I can tell, but I've never heard--but it seems that it was intolerable that the Legion have any memories of Superboy. Never mind that they were remembering a Superboy who was entirely fabricated by the Time Trapper, and never mind that that Superboy wasn't around any more. Nothing would do but that the Legion's history get torqued even more, to correspond with DC's new pravda that not only was there no Superboy, but there never had been a Superboy. Not even a little bit.

On the one hand, Levitz's pocket universe had made this a little easier for Giffen and the Bierbaums to accomplish. On the other hand, they were still staring at the core problem: how do you have a legion of superheroes who were inspired by Superboy if there is no Superboy? It doesn't make any sense. So here's what they came up with:

In Levitz's series, Mon-El had died of the injuries he suffered in the battle that killed the Time Trapper. Five Years Later, he and the Trapper both revived: Mon was too tough to die entirely, and he was (more or less) a product of the Trapper's pocket universe, so the Trapper used him as a vessel to keep himself alive too. The Trapper wanted to use Mon-El to bring himself back to full power, so he could keep doing what he had always done. He revealed that his time manipulations (involving R.J. Brande, among others) had led to the Legion's creation in the first place, and that this was all to keep Mordru from conquering everything forever, and he was counting on Mon-El to therefore be on his side.

Mon wasn't having any of it, though, and destroyed the Trapper. When this happened, all of the Trapper's creations likewise perished, including the pocket universe and all his other manipulations. 30th-century reality then snapped back to its 'default state', to the timeline that would have happened if the Trapper had never interfered and the Legion never been created. The resulting reality is what's often called the Mordruverse, in which Mordru did indeed conquer everything. Problem is, Mordru a) remembered the previous state of things, and b) has a big mouth. He couldn't stop bragging to his harem about how he came out ahead of the Time Trapper and the Legion. One of his wives, Glorith, was not only listening carefully, but was also working with a resistance movement, and had some time-manipulation powers of her own (Glorith actually had a pre-COIE existence as one of the Time Trapper's flunkies). So Glorith took the scraps of information she had and cast a magic spell to try to duplicate the Trapper's manipulations and reinstate the previous reality.

And it didn't entirely work. What she got was a reality, the Glorithverse (because she cast herself in the role of the Time Trapper), in which there was a Legion, and Mordru didn't rule the universe, but there was no Superboy and no Supergirl. Instead, the Legion had been inspired by the 20th-century hero Valor (which was Mon-El's new name... well, they couldn't keep calling him Mon-El, could they? That's a Kryptonian name!), who had... well, the whole Valor/Mon-El mess deserves its own Continuity Notes entry. Instead of Supergirl, this reality had a Legionnaire named Andromeda, who was really Valor's relative Laurel Gand.

The idea is that Legion history was still mostly intact, but with Valor in for Superboy and Andromeda in for Supergirl, and everything else adjusted to fit that. This was a more violent change to continuity than the pocket universe retcon had been, but it's probably the best they could have done under the circumstances. (The famous Legion Help File actually goes through and figures out just how all the old Legion stories have to be changed to account for this. I personally would find no joy in exploring these details, especially since DC seems to have abandoned this whole reality anyway.)

Some points about this continuity adjustment and on this era of the Legion in general:
- the continuity change should be considered separately from all of the other new and controversial stuff that Giffen and the Bierbaums were up to

- a lot of what we know about the Five Year Gap comes, not from comic books, but from a role-playing games supplement the Bierbaums wrote for Mayfair Games, called 2995: The Legion of Super-Heroes Sourcebook. I’m gonna have to try to get a copy someday. Although most of the information seems to be available online

- the Five Years Later period of the Legion is much darker than Legion storytelling had ever been before. The art is often murky and the writers often don’t tell you things you’d like to know. So it can be kind of hard to follow. Because of all this, this period is sometimes regarded as completely separate from the Levitz run that preceded it, even to the point of calling it a complete reboot (which is not strictly correct, but feels like it)

- the Legion creators were trying to get all mature and experimental with this comic book. Which meant, to a great extent, that they borrowed some tricks from Watchmen. Nine-panel grid, backstory presented in the form of fake ads and textpages and stuff, storytelling that left things implicit rather than explicit… I’m always glad to see people try stuff, but not everyone liked it

- it put Mon-El under a bigger spotlight than the character could really handle. I mean, I like Mon-El a lot, but he's not a superstar and you can't make a superstar out of him

- it led to the creation of a couple of excellent characters in Andromeda and (although it's more complicated than I make it sound) Kid Quantum, in addition to all the other good characters who showed up in this run

- the whole Mordruverse/Glorithverse exercise was unnecessary, pointless and misguided. What would have been wrong with just saying to Legion creators that they weren't allowed to mention Superboy anymore? Just don't talk about him! You don't have to go back and revise anything! But oh no. It's not enough to pull up the crops; you have to salt the earth too. (An imperfect analogy. Because DC certainly didn't prevent future Superboy/Legion stories. Just a couple of years after this retcon, DC staged its 'Death of Superman' event, which resulted in the creation of a new character: Superboy! Who went on to join the Legion! And then just this year, we found out that actual Superman had some adventures with the Legion in his youth! I think Bill James said it best when he said, "Jesus, these people will drive you crazy sometimes.")

Perhaps no-one will object if I use this space to revisit the discussion surrounding the 2x+unboot Legion, aka the Lightning Saga Legion. The relevance is this: the Five Years Later Legion is one of the main reasons why the 2x+unboot Legion isn’t the original Legion. I didn’t know we needed any reasons, but apparently we do.

See, the appearance of the 2x+unboot Legion has been hailed all around as ‘the return of the original Legion’. And my position on that is complicated:
- I know damn well that they aren’t the original Legion.
- But it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing that says they have to be the original Legion; I’ve become fond of many Legions that aren’t original.
- I hate it when people get stuff wrong. Whether it matters or not.
- But it’s not my job to correct them. Plus, I don’t want to be That Guy.
- So, much as it bugs one part of me, I don’t say anything when people say it’s the original Legion. Unless they invite comment, or something.
- But when someone from DC, like, oh, say, Geoff Johns, who of all people ought to know better, calls them the original Legion, as he sorta did on the ComicBloc forums a while ago, that gets my back up. And I did respond to that.

The differences between the history of the 2x+unboot Legion and the original Legion are many. Some are major, and some are minor; some reach way back into early Legion history, some are more recent. But they’re there. True, some of the differences that date back the earliest are the most minor; Dream Girl’s link to the Dreaming, for instance. It’s enough to qualify the 2x+unbooters as a rebooted version, if only from a nitpicker’s point of view, but fortunately there’s more that we can say.

The most recent changes are things like Karate Kid’s resurrection. Let’s walk through just why this can’t have happened to the original Legion:
- Karate Kid died in the first arc of the 3rd series of LSH, the Baxter series. We know that he wasn’t alive during the rest of the Baxter series. We have no information that he was alive during the Five Year Gap. We can be pretty sure he wasn’t alive during the first part of the Five Years Later series, and we know he was dead during the arc where Mordru causes corpses to rise up and attack everything, because he was one of them. And we didn’t see him alive before End of an Era. So if he came back to life, where was he?
- The 2x+unboot Karate Kid said he had been saved from death by ‘the big three’, which presumably means Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy. If they had a time-travel adventure to bring him back, when was it? In the few issues between Val’s death and Garth, Rokk and Imra retiring from the Legion? If so, then where was Karate Kid after that? It’s not likely it was after that, since we know pretty much what all three of them were up to during all that time, and having Legion-style adventures wasn’t part of it for some very good reasons. Rokk and Imra did return at different times to active duty, but Garth never did.

The most sensible explanation for the 2x+unboot Legion is this: you take an alternate version of the original Legion, almost exactly the same but not quite, and then make some more changes to them in the immediate post-Crisis on Infinite Earths era. Because the most striking thing about them is that they’re very reminiscent of the Levitz era. That’s about how old they are; the costumes are about right; the roster is about right. It’s the simplest explanation, and it’s the one I subscribe to. And, I point out, such a Legion can’t be accurately described as the original Legion. Because the original Legion is the Legion that 5YL happened to, and 5YL obviously never happened to the 2x+unboot Legion.

I’ve encountered the theory that the 2x+unboot Legion is really the original Legion, post-End of an Era; that the Legion just happened to go through whatever changes were necessary to turn the late-5YL-era Legion into the 2x+unboot Legion. To those of us who’ve read the 5YL stories, this is ridiculous. It’s like saying that you can unscramble an egg by putting it in the freezer.

Oh, if you were determined to force such a theory to work, you could; you could start at End of an Era and say, well, the older Legionnaires time-merged with their SW6 clones, and then some extra characters disappeared, and others reappeared, and… But why would we go through such an exercise, when there’s a simpler explanation available to us? (The one I gave two paragraphs up, I mean.)

It’s weird. I posted in that Geoff Johns thread on ComicBloc, to object to his use of the word ‘original’, and I couldn’t believe the arguments I got. The people I was disputing with were not prepared to entertain the notion that this Legion wasn’t the original Legion, and if they had to mangle facts and common sense to stick to that, then that’s what they’d do. But why? Why not just say, “Okay, they aren’t the originals, I don’t care, they’re close enough for me, go away”? I’d accept that; perfectly sensible response. But oh no. Geoff Johns said that it’s the original Legion, and that’s all there is to it. I don’t get it.

That’s another argument: DC owns the characters, so DC gets to do what they want with them; if DC says they’re the originals then they’re the originals. My response: yes, DC owns them, DC can do whatever they want with them, no problem. But DC doesn’t own the word ‘original’ and doesn’t get to define its meaning. The original Legion is the Legion that appeared in the original comics that I paid original money for back in the original 1980s.

Another line of discussion about this that I’d like to pursue is that of DC’s intent with these Legions. I think it’s an important one, too. See, another argument is this: the post-Crisis Legion wasn’t original, because it had the pocket universe reboot. And the Glorithverse Legion was even less original, because of all the stuff with Valor instead of Superboy. So how can I call the Glorithverse Legion original but not the 2x+unboot Legion?

It’s a good argument, and here’s my answer for it. First, it’s true that you could put forth a scenario where, after COIE, the Legion’s history matches that of the 2x+unboot Legion. And you could say that all of the original Legion’s history after COIE happened to some other version of the Legion, and the 2x+unboot Legion is the real original team. But that itself is a retcon, and a big one.

Second, it’s obvious to me, from how Levitz and Giffen and the Bierbaums treated the pocket universe retcon and the Glorithverse retcon, that they were trying to preserve as much of the Legion’s history as possible in the face of stringent editorial demands. They couldn’t keep everything the same, but they obviously tried to keep as many things the same as possible. The post-COIE and Glorithverse Legions were clearly intended to be basically the same entity as the original Legion.

The 2x+unboot Legion is a different story. They were introduced in a five-part JLA/JSA crossover. Because of the size of these groups, because of the limited number of Legionnaires in the story, and because those Legionnaires spent the whole story either amnesiac or secretive, we don’t actually find out a lot about this Legion in those few issues. And what are the things we do find out? Ways in which they’re different from the original Legion. Lots of them. Many of those differences were not at all necessary for the plot of the story; Starman’s implication that Night Girl became a Legionnaire, for instance. What can we conclude but that Johns and Meltzer were trying as hard as they could to establish that this Legion was different from the original?

So I’m confused when it comes to DC’s intent. In the story, it looks like they’re trying to tell us that the 2x+unboot Legion is not the original Legion. In their public communications, it looks like they’re trying to tell us that the 2x+unboot Legion is the original Legion. What’s up?

My theory: what’s up is that we’ve discovered an interaction between DC’s artistic and commercial motivations. Commercially, DC wants to try to make some money by selling the original Legion to the public. Very fine; more power to them. So why don’t they do just that? Because, artistically, they don’t want the original Legion just as it was; they want to put their own spin on it. Also very fine; more power to them. How to compromise? They make the changes and pretend that they didn’t. And that’s where they lose me.

It’s one of the curses of our age: that companies or politicians or whoever can say the most ridiculous things in public and expect to be taken seriously. It doesn’t matter if their public positions can be refuted, because a) hardly anybody’s listening, b) probably nobody will challenge them on it, and c) there aren’t going to be any consequences anyway. The only important thing is to have a public position that sounds like you want it to sound, while you do whatever you want in private.

You might think, then, that I fancy myself some kind of crusading journalist, out to blow the lid off of one of the biggest scandals of our time. Nah. I’m just trying to clear things up for people who are into Legion continuity. DC doesn’t care what I’m saying, for a very good reason: I’m a hardcore comics fan and as such am almost completely irrelevant to their bottom line. So are you, probably.

Have you ever come across this idea? DC believes that they have two (for the purpose of this discussion) kinds of fans: the hardcore fans who go to conventions and read or write comic-book blogs and argue about Legion continuity and stuff, and the regular mainstream fan, who doesn’t. And of the two kinds of fans, the second group is much, much larger, doesn’t communicate with the first group, and doesn’t worry about the same things. And I have a hunch that DC is right about this.

So whatever I have to say about DC’s representation of this Legion as original is no big thing to them, because DC’s main audience isn’t going to read it and doesn’t care. DC knows which side its bread is buttered on, and it isn’t my side. All right; whatever. I just want to make a point of saying that I don’t appreciate DC trying to snow-job me with the word ‘original’. It’s dishonest and insulting. (And while I’m at it I might as well say that I would like to see the real original Legion come back someplace in the multiverse. Maybe they survived End of an Era with no permanent effects, shook off that Legion-on-the-Run malaise, sorted out their membership with the SW6 group… I’d like to see it. Could be some good stories there.)

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