Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Maybe You Guys Should Start Carrying Maps Around

I am, more and more, coming to the conclusion that Legion Lost (well, really, Legion Lost as the centrepiece of a much larger story) was one of the absolute zeniths of Legion storytelling. There are lots of aspects to it that we can discuss: in the upcoming (soon, I am led to understand!) book Teenagers From the Future, there are analyses of the theme of evolution in Legion Lost (that one's by me), and of Legion Lost as compared to Heart of Darkness.

But what I want to talk about here is how Legion Lost is rooted in an earlier Legion story.

As Legion of Super-Heroes volume 3 (the Baxter series) started, five Legionnaires disappeared mysteriously: Chameleon Boy, Shrinking Violet, Element Lad, Ultra Boy and Phantom Girl. They were held captive on a dimensionally-shifted Orando during the "LSV war" in which the Legion of Super-Villains conquered the planet as part of a plan to kill the entire Legion of Super-Heroes. At the end of this storyline, Karate Kid is dead, Queen Projectra intends to remain on Orando, and Lightning Lass is making her way home by a different route... but the five missing Legionnaires are stranded in interdimensional limbo.

They inexplicably find a planet in this strange place, and go to it to see if it helps them get home. And it does! There's a portal right there that they can use. Only one problem: this planet is a factory for making Sun-Eaters. If the Legionnaires go home, the Sun-Eaters will eventually be unleashed on somebody. If they blow the place up, the portal's destroyed too and they can't go home. They eventually find a way around that, destroy the dangerous stuff and head through the portal and go home.

So here are the parallels so far:

1. Both stories are about a group of Legionnaires, apparently irretrievably lost through involuntary dimensional travel.
2. Both stories were unusually prominent in Legion comics at the time: in LSH v3's companion comic book, Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes, the remaining Legionnaires couldn't talk about anything but the missing five and where they might be and how to find them. And, of course, Legion Lost was the heart of Abnett and Lanning's complete reenergizing of the reboot Legion. Both stories happened after a long-running Legion title (or two!) had come to an end.
3. Chameleon Boy/Chameleon, Shrinking Violet/LeViathan, Element Lad, Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl/Apparition and Lightning Lass/Spark featured prominently in both stories.
4. In both stories, the Legionnaires have a choice between going home through a portal or staying lost to deal with some dangerous menace (in the case of Legion Lost, this happens when the Legion first encounters the giant space pyramid that contains the Omniphagos and its portal-prison), and in both cases they choose to fight the danger.
5. After both stories, the Legionnaires end up returning to the place they were lost in, either because a Controller wants them to take the place of the weapons they destroyed and fight the warworld of Tyrraz (LSH v3 #19-20), or because they need the help of Shikari's people, the Kwai. (These issues are post-Crisis... are they still in continuity for Geoff Johns's Legion? No reason why they shouldn't be...)

To me, that's a pretty good basis for comparison. I don't know if Abnett and Lanning read the early v3 issues, but it's certainly plausible that they did. And it's like them to take old Legion ideas and invest them with new nuances and meanings and ideas; that's more or less what happened with Shikari and Dawnstar. So I was fairly satisfied that Levitz's story had provided partial inspiration for Legion Lost... but then I found additional confirmation.

One of the aspects of Legion Lost that wasn't paralleled in the pages of LSH v3 was the character of Singularity, the great hero of a planet that the lost Legionnaires come upon. Singularity is a Superman-type, and he tries to protect his populous, prosperous society from, among other monsters and threats, the Legion. Turns out that this society didn't need Singularity anymore, so they set up some hallucinations for him on an empty planet, to give him something to do with the rest of his life.

But there is actually a loose analogue to this guy in the story of the missing Legionnaires. I didn't remember this until I reread the comics in preparation for writing this, but the five Legionnaires didn't go straight home through the portal in the Sun-Eater factory. They made a stop first in the pages of DC Comics Presents #80, a comic book I had never read. So I looked it up online, and found this summary. If you don't feel like clicking on the link, it's a story about the Legionnaires coming across a little experiment set up by Brainiac: a model of Metropolis populated by Superman robots. Brainiac used it to test ways of fighting Superman. So, to our list of five parallels above, we can add a sixth:

6. In both stories, the Legionnaires encounter a fake city inhabited by a hostile Superman figure (or more than one).

So that pretty much cinched it for me.

The point of this is not that Abnett and Lanning are copycats. They're anything but. The main issue in Levitz's story of the missing Legionnaires--well, other than all that business with Orando and the LSV--was the issue of whether the Legionnaires should go home and let someone else worry about the Sun-Eaters, or do the right thing and lose their way home. It made for a nice little superhero story. Legion Lost was much more ambitious:

1. Where the crux of the missing-Legionnaires story was the issue of going-home-versus-responsibility, Legion Lost disposes of this issue fairly quickly and with little debate.
2. The characters in Legion Lost are much more remotely lost, physically, than those in Levitz's story. They didn't just fall off the Limbo Highway between the Earth-1 universe and Orando's new location; they're so far away that one needs new concepts of distance to process it.
3. The characters in Legion Lost are psychologically lost too. They don't really know if they're still Legionnaires. They don't trust each other, they can't trust the things they see around them, their technology doesn't work, and they don't know what they should do. They don't even know which of them are there! (They find Wildfire and meet Shikari, they think they're found by Cosmic Boy and Violet and Spark, it turns out Apparition isn't really there, they find Element Lad and kinda wish they hadn't, they lose Live Wire and Monstress.)
4. Levitz's Legion doesn't fall apart when the five go missing; Abnett and Lanning's Legion does.
5. Levitz's Legion faces an entirely external enemy; Abnett and Lanning's Legion's opposition turns out to be largely internal (in the person of Element Lad).

I should mention that those LSH v3 issues are coming back into print via TPB collection, uh, soon. But now that I've said all this, I have a request:

Please tell me I'm not the first person to notice all this.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant post!!!

11:15 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...


8:23 AM  
Blogger Bill D. said...

You're reminding me that I really need to get my act together and complete my run of Legion Lost already (I still need issues 8-12).

11:39 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

And why isn't it in trade?!

12:07 PM  
Blogger odditycollector said...

I am, more and more, coming to the conclusion that Legion Lost (well, really, Legion Lost as the centrepiece of a much larger story) was one of the absolute zeniths of storytelling.

Fixed that for you. ;)

2:16 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Oh, look: a new limb that has not yet seen my footprints. Shall I go out on it or not?

4:15 PM  

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