Monday, November 19, 2007

Space Wuxtry

I have been requested to provide my take on what an Earth-2 Legion would be like.

It's actually kind of a tough question. The first difficulty is, what's Earth-2?

Some chronology:

1944: First appearance of Superboy
Jun. 1951: Captain Comet, an obviously Earth-1 character, makes his debut.
Oct. 1956: Debut of Barry Allen, the Flash of Earth-1. Unofficial but widely accepted start of the Silver Age.
Apr. 1958: First Legion of Super-Heroes story.
Feb. 1960: First Justice League story.
Sept. 1961: 'Flash of Two Worlds' story establishes Earth-1 and Earth-2 as distinct from each other.
Aug. 1963: First JLA/JSA crossover.
1969 (JLA #73): First appearance of Kal-L, the Earth-2 Superman, as a distinct character from Kal-El of Earth-1

What I'm trying to get at here is this. Just when exactly did the Superman stories DC was publishing stop being Earth-2 stories and start being Earth-1 stories? It's the sort of thing that can only be decided retroactively. After all, nobody had any idea about Earth-2 until late 1961, at which point Superboy had been appearing in comics for almost two decades, and the Legion for a couple of years. So it's perfectly defensible to say that the Silver Age Legion is the Earth-2 Legion, because as far as anyone could tell, there was only one Earth at the time, and it was just as much 2 as 1.

But that's what we mathematicians like to call 'the trivial answer'.

Here's another question. What do we know about the future of Earth-Two? I just checked wikipedia, and all it had to tell me is that there was no Legion in Earth-2's future. (Although it did say some other stuff about the present. Quebec independent? Atlantis raised? Huh.) Seriously: if anyone ever revealed anything about Earth-2's future, I missed it.

(Note: there was an issue of either Legion of Super-Heroes volume 4 or Legionnaires that reimagined the Legion as a Golden Age team. I'm not bothering to look up which one it was because I know nothing about it anyway other than that it existed. My expeditions into the Back Issue Mines have not yet surrendered this treasure to me. But my impression is that it was pretty cool.)

So let's come at this another way.

The Legion, as it was created in 1958, was set in a Tomorrowland kind of future just like the Jetsons were. The Legion was an artifact of the High. Clean-cut teenagers, working together to defend a rational, scientific status quo? Wait twenty years before introducing that concept and you'd never get it off the ground. A Legion conceived in an Awakening would be a strange thing indeed (although I suspect Cockrum and Grell accurately imagined what it would look like).

But it also wouldn't have worked any better if they had done it twenty years earlier. And that's what we're talking about here: a Crisis-era Legion. Earth-2 may not have a future, (or, really, much of a present) but it very definitely has a past, and that past covers the relatively small time-period from 1938 to 1950. Give or take. And, during that time, people's ideas of the future were quite different from what they were in the '50s. For one thing, they were worried that there was even going to be a future. I'm thinking of George Orwell in particular. I'm not an Orwell expert, but I have the impression that one reason he embraced socialism is that he, like many others, was convinced that either fascism or communism was going to sweep the world, and he had seen to much of fascism in the Spanish Civil War to be comfortable with that outcome, so he picked the other one. Imagine thinking that way, though: you have to choose between two types of totalitarianism, because one of them is inevitably going to eat liberal democracy. My idea is that that's the kind of future they were looking forward to in the '40s.

Let's keep that in mind when putting together this Legion. Here are the elements we'd have:
- instead of a bright shiny stable future with food pills and Planetary Chance Machines and pens that write upside down, we'd have a chaotic, collapsing society where Vandal Savage's hordes are nibbling at the edges of the ancient, decadent Degaton Empire (where Vaclav Degaton VI is secretly the Ultra-Humanite...); the Legionnaires could be young adults of the Empire, chafing under Vaclav VI's tyranny, and searching for the one thing that can turn the tide against Savage: Professor Zodiak's Philosopher's Stone. Maybe. I don't want to go too far with this, loading the 2940s down with all kinds of 1940s lore; the Earth-1 Legion had very few ties to the 20th century DCU that didn't go through Superman.
- there ought to still be a way of keeping the Legionnaires as teenagers. What if they were cadets at some kind of military academy who got drafted into some kind of time-science program? They wouldn't all have powers, and the ones that did wouldn't have single-use powers like the Earth-1 Legionnaires. Most of them would be from Earth, but there could be some nonhuman ones from around the solar system. There could be a Saturn Girl, for instance; she could be used almost as is.
- this way we could still have Superboy being recruited from the 20th century.
- Superboy would be our viewpoint character: when first recruited, he'd help the Legion fight petty crime in the Degaton Empire, and then eventually work up to battling Savage's forces, and the Ice Fiends of Pluto. But the whole time they'd be getting closer to the idea of trying to establish some kind of freedom for humans that acts as a viable third choice between the Kang of Vandal Savage and the Kodos of the Degaton Empire. In this case, the Legion is learning a thing or two about liberty from Superboy.
- no Brainiac 5, as Brainiac is clearly an Earth-1 character (he was created by Legion creator Otto Binder, a couple of months after Binder created the Legion. How 'bout that?). No Mon-El, either, but how about using Halk Kar?
- when imagining the composition of this Legion, think of World War II movies. We'd need a strong leader, a nerdy guy, a guy from Brooklyn, a cowboy, an Italian guy, a black guy... expand that in a sensible way to bring in people from elsewhere on the Earth, and then one from the moon, one from Mars... No reason not to make about half of these characters female, of course.
- no flight rings. Nothing that flashy.
- maybe there could be something where Superboy uses his embryonic journalistic talents to get the Legion to start up a free press... they'd be like a futuristic Newsboy Legion! I think that actually works, a little!

Anyway, that's what I came up with.

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