Monday, June 22, 2009

Nerve Than a Toothache

On the Legion World boards, intrepid correspondent Exnihil recently announced that he'd be visiting the Wizard World Philadelphia convention, and that he'd ask a question of Dan DiDio at the DC panel if anyone could come up with a good one. He picked this question from intrepid correspondent Fat Cramer:

I would like to know what the criteria would be for the Legion to get its own comic. Fan support? Sales of the Adventure book? Gut feeling? A creator begging to do the book?

and, after the panel, reported the following response:

I did ask Fat Cramer's question, and was told that fan support is essential to bringing the Legion back to the forefront. DiDio likened this period to the post Adventure period, where the Legion played backup to Superboy until enough noise was made to give them their own title. He said that although he always sees the Legion as having a presence in the DCU, this "second feature" status will continue for a period. I followed up, asking how long he anticipated that period being and he said... very discouragingly... "could be a year, could be infinity".

Well then.

Let's first of all get some bookkeeping out of the way. We're assuming for the purposes of this discussion that Exnihil is an accurate reporter. We have to: none of the other convention reports mention this particular question, so there's no independent verification [Edit: actually, there is! A comment on the Legion Omnicom's post about the weekend's cons]. Let's also stipulate that it would be silly for DC to put out any comic book that they didn't think would sell. And let's not completely dismiss the possibility, despite the complete lack of any evidence for it, that DC does in fact have big plans for the Legion but DiDio isn't prepared to talk about them yet.

(Aside: I'm not one of the many who are calling for Dan DiDio to be fired. I don't have the expertise or the information to make a call like that, and I won't pretend that I do. There is almost certainly a lot more to his job than any of us understand. Plus, he's done a lot of stuff right. Wednesday Comics? Great idea!)

Now, a lot of people who will be reading this know a lot more about the social history of the Legion than I do, so if I'm wrong about this I hope they can correct me. But my understanding is that the Legion was turfed out of Adventure back in the day not because of poor fan interest but because of editorial jiggery pokery. (Just like now, in other words.)

Look: sales for the threeboot were reasonably strong. Or, rather, they were reasonably strong until DC shifted its focus to the retroboot Legion and left the threeboot all dressed up with no place to go. Sales for the retroboot-related arcs of JLA, JSA and Action have also been quite good. And Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds has sold very well. So if there's no Legion comic right now (and there isn't), I don't buy it that low sales is the reason.

For that matter, the Legion has been one of DC's reliable-selling titles for basically the last fifty years... and now DiDio wants us to believe that DC doesn't know if the Legion will ever be able to carry their own title again?

It doesn't really make sense, does it? Geoff Johns just spent, what, more than two years of his life putting together the sequence of events that culminates with FC:L3W #5. (Well, two years for the Legion-related stuff, anyway.) And that was all to set up... an eight-page backup in a Kon-El comic?

I hope the audience at this panel had their hip boots on.

But none of this is what annoys me. People who are representing corporations tell us stupid stuff all the time and try to get us to swallow it; it's absolutely par for the course. DC's position on the Legion doesn't make sense? So what else is new.

What bugs me is that DiDio is implying that this is all our fault and that it's up to us to save the Legion. Like, if we don't run out and buy ten copies each of the new Adventure, the Legion will never have their own comic again. Oh no! If only we had been better fans! Matters should never have come to such a pass! Please, Dan, tell us how we can help the Legion! It would actually be quite amusing if it wasn't so obnoxious.

Seriously, I'm not going for it at all. I will not permit Dan DiDio to play hardball with me. It wasn't me who made Legion continuity what it is today, and it wasn't any of you either. Our consciences are clear. It certainly wasn't me who pulled the rug out from under the threeboot and LSH31C. No, for those contributions, you have to look to DiDio and his coworkers and predecessors.

So don't let DiDio snow you. Here are some things that I believe to be facts. I hope you will use them to make the purchasing decisions that seem good to you.

1. We cannot exert our will on DC Comics. They're going to publish exactly what they decide to publish. We can influence them, maybe, if we're vocal enough, but the final decision is always theirs. We can't make them do anything.

2. Voting with your dollar is a poor way of sending a message. If Adventure sells well, is that because of Superboy II or the Legion or Geoff Johns or Francis Manapul or the quality of the comic book? If it sells poorly, is that because of Superboy II or the Legion or Geoff Johns or Francis Manapul or the quality of the comic book? And how can DC tell? Think how silly you would feel if you organized a save-the-Legion campaign where every Legion fan promises to buy ten copies of Adventure, and DC responded by giving Kon-El a second title in addition to Adventure.

3. Writing a letter is a better way of sending a message. A paper letter, not an e-mail; paper letters get more attention. The best letters are legible, clear, civil and concise. DC's mailing address is DC Comics, 1700 Broadway, New York, NY USA 10019.

4. The Legion is one of DC's strongest candidates for what characters can hold down a monthly title. Not top-ten, maybe, but certainly top-twenty. Therefore it is inevitable that DC will try it again at some point, and, given the groundwork that Geoff Johns has been laying down, I see no reason why it couldn't be successful.

I'm not here to tell you to buy Adventure or not. My point is that it's your decision to make for any reason you want, and that you shouldn't let DC scare or browbeat you into it. I didn't decide myself whether I was going to buy it until partway through writing this article. Here's how I decided: I asked myself, "What if the Legion did have an ongoing series, that I was buying, in addition to the backup in Adventure. Would I buy Adventure then?" And my answer was, "Yeah, I probably would. Yes, of course I would. Sure I would! Why wouldn't I?" So I will.

Yes, I'm annoyed at how DC treated the threeboot. Yes, I'm ticked about the deceptive aspects of the retroboot. Yes, I'm irritated about DiDio trying to blame all of DC's problems on me, and I'm hacked off that the Legion doesn't have a regular title of their own. But all of that is details. What I want is interesting comic books, preferably Legion-related, and while Adventure is a poor substitute for a regular Legion comic, that doesn't mean that it isn't of interest as what you might call a supplementary Legion comic. I am willing to exchange money for such a comic book. And if I let these fribbling little disputes get in the way of these transactions, then I won't have the comic books I want. Which is not the way I want this to come out.

Anyway, that's how I'm making my decision. It's none of my business how you're doing it, and it's none of DC's either. And if Dan DiDio doesn't like it, he can go roll his hoop.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was announced at Heroes Con that the back-ups in these co-feature books will be collected separately. If you really want to send a message to DC, wouldn't it be best to wait for the trade and then vote with your dollar that way?

Then DC would know you're willing to put your money where your mouth is. Otherwise, they may think you're just asking for another Legion comic so you pirate it off the internet.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

That's always tricky, though. Enough people who don't buy the comic because they're waiting for the trade, and there won't be a trade or a comic.

Buying-or-not-buying is inarticulate. There's no way around it.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Wndola said...

I like the letter writing campaign... Could we start with a simple message. Just have everyone write "Long Live the Legion" on a pice of Paper and mail it to Didio? Simple stright forward and easay. I think it would be a lot of fun... you could carry it into D.C. Nation by standing up to ask a question and just saying "Long Live the Legion" Regardless of the effect I think a fan campaign would be incredibly fun.

1:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a 40 year old guy who has been collecting Legion comics since I was a kid in the 70's -- since the Earthwar saga to be specific. I will not be buying the new Adventure comics because I'm not a fan of the young generation of super-heroes like Kon-El. Why would I buy a comic when I'm not a fan of the character in the main feature? I could accept Kon-El in the Legion if the whole book was devoted to Legion stories. If you want the Legion to have it's own series, I think the best thing to do is to boycott the Adventure book (unless you are a fan of Kon-El). It's obvious that DC is just using the Legion fanbase to boost the popularity of Superboy.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I think those are both fine plans.

The only problem is this: no matter what you do, unless you explain clearly why you're doing it and what you want to have happen, you're letting DC put their own interpretation on it, and you have no control over what that interpretation is.

Take the idea of boycotting Adventure. Would it not be simple for DC to conclude, from such an action, that nobody wants to read about the Legion?

4:31 PM  
Blogger Dr. Michael J. MacArthur said...

Well put.

But, I would buy Tiny Titans if it had a Li'l Legion "second feature."

5:55 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Now there's a thought.

9:20 PM  
Blogger Brainy Pirate said...

Well said, Matthew!

I especially liked your comment about how the Legion clearly has enough solid characters to hold down a magazine on their own.

But it does make me think -- which characters? I stopped collecting comics when I started college in the 80s, so I missed the two reboots. So for me, the strong Legion characters are the Disco Legion characters. I've never really seen the Legionnaires as teenagers -- by the time I started collection, Garth and Imra were already married, as were Chuck and Luornu (though they weren't seen as much). These are not teen-aged characters -- these are young adults. And I find them more interesting at that age than I do in either the Adventure series or in the reboots.

So this leaves me a question: if we're going by which characters can best hold down a magazine, we may have to ask which VERSION has the characters who can do that.

And at that point, we're going to get a lot of disagreements among fans. I like the Disco Legion, others prefer the Silver-Age or the Threeboot, etc. We're almost a fan base turned against itself....

12:06 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Well, what we're going to get is whatever comes out of FC:L3W, like it or not. I hope that it's been conceived to be as inclusive as possible; almost certainly it will be partially or entirely composed of the retroboot Legion.

To me, the important factors are
a) the quality of the comic book in question,
b) the star power of the creative team (not that this is fair), and
c) the commitment DC shows to the comic book.

All versions of the Legion can support success to roughly the same extent, in the sense that they all participate in the essential qualities of the Legion: a large group of elite superheroes in an optimistic future, who started their superheroic careers as (or who still are!) teenagers, and who represent Superman's legacy. Add diversity and Superboy-mentoring to taste.

No reason why DC can't get that right.

9:40 AM  
Blogger stuorstew said...

These are all good ideas and I certainly have no love for Kon-El but I do think we are jumping the gun a touch.

It is quite possible that the back-up stories might be really good and be leading upto an all-ready planned ongoing series 6 or 12 months down the line and Dan DiDio could not announce it just yet as he would be running the risk of all the Legion fans abandoning Adventure whilst they waited for Volume 5.

I would agree, and would be happy to among the first, writing a polite letter is the best way of trying to get things changed and explain why we are not pleased but should we not wait to actually see the product first?

You never know this time they may know what they are doing!

8:50 AM  
Blogger Murray said...

You never know this time they may know what they are doing!

They may very well know what they are doing. And I suspect that there is a plan for the Legion at some point down the line.

However, just because they know what they are doing, doesn't mean that what they are doing is right.

I mean, they cancelled a book that I read. And they didn't replace it with anything else that interests me. And they aren't publishing Lo3W on anything even remotely close to a reliable schedule. So... since January (is that when the 3boot said goodbye) I've bought one, maybe two Legion books, instead of seven or eight Legion books. Which means that my Legion money is going to DC right now.


5:26 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

lee: I've tried really hard not to jump the gun on anything. Seriously: show me a place where I'm obviously getting way ahead of myself and I'll retract it.

murrfox: Couldn't have said it better myself.

10:50 PM  
Blogger stuorstew said...

@Matthew - Sorry I did not mean to imply you were jumping to conclusions, you have been perfectly reasonable the whole time.

What I was trying to get across was there seems to be a view forming that because Adventure is far from what anybody wants then it is going to be no good and people are rushing to declare that they will not buy the book or making other arrangements to ensure their unhappiness is known.

It is this view that I feel is jumping the gun a bit. Sorry for not making myself clear.

@murrfox - Yes the whole not being able to print Lo3W on a regular basis is very disapointing. But, on the plus side, it has meant that the money I would have used for that and any subsequent stories has been put to good use filling in the gaps in my collection!

9:13 AM  
Blogger Deq Zekker said...

i would have to agree with the first comment. i think it's still a matter of voting with your dollar. look at Supergirl. now that it's selling better (or so i think), there seem to be fewer talks about the book getting cancelled.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Well, if I haven't talked you out of that idea yet, I'm sure one more try at it won't help. I hope whatever happens matches what you want to happen.

9:03 AM  
Blogger Murray said...

Which means that my Legion money is going to DC right now.

Ooops. Poor typing skills. Obviously, I meant to say that my Legion money ISN'T going to DC right now.

Lee said:
But, on the plus side, it has meant that the money I would have used for that and any subsequent stories has been put to good use filling in the gaps in my collection!

That's great for you, of course. I'm doing the same thing. But it's not so great for DC. Assuming that they are missing the money that I'm not sending their way.

I agree that writing a letter is the best way to go. I wrote one to Levitz (and got a nice reply) and one to Didio (and got nothing).

4:41 PM  
Blogger rdb said...

Late to the party as usual. I have long suspected that there is some combo of economics and prejudice working against the Legion. It seems pretty evident that DC's senior editorial folks (DiDio, Carlin) really aren't interested in and/or don't like the Legion. I keep coming back to DiDio's comment about being surprised how similar the different boots were, when he actually READ some of them. Carlin clearly wanted the Legion to have NOTHING to do with Superman. I'm sure it doesn't help that current editors associate the Legion so closely with Giffen (who I am sure is a chore to deal with).

Part of this indifference and prejudice is, I think, an inevitable result of the separation of the Legion from Superman 25 years ago. At the time, that separation marked the Legion coming into it's own, as much as the reboot of Superman, but I think it thrived mainly because you had a successful and iconoclastic creative and editorial team (e.g., Levitz and Berger). But once that team moved on, and the generation that really KNEW the Legion retired or passed away, there was no mechanism to keep the Legion "in the fold" within DC itself. The book became a ghetto, unconnected to DC and championed by a shrinking group of vociferous fans. Even that fan support got fragmented by the boots. As a result, it's easy for DC editorial to view the Legion as permanently damaged goods with a fragmented fan base the totality of which will never except only one version of the property. The fact that DC editorial allowed not one but two reboots at the behest of the creative teams suggests a lack of commitment to, interest in, or understanding of the property.

The economic factor is pure speculation (as was the previous section, for that matter), but I have to wonder if it just costs more to get a creative team to work on a book with such a large cast. I always think of how much Curt Swan hated drawing the Legion. In today's more creator-friendly comic economic environment, I would think Swan's attitude would HAVE to translate into higher production costs in some way. And again, because the book has been cut off from the DCU for much of the last 25 years, the opportunity for cross-promotional crossovers is likewise limited. (Yes, I KNOW Supergirl was in the book for like 2 years, but it's the seeming exception that proves the point -- it was a Supergirl completely disconnected from the present-day DCU whose time in the Legion had NO impact whatsoever on the "real" Supergirl. That's a great way to destroy the cross-promotional opportunities of a character like Supergirl.)

So, what does all this mean? First, it means, as you aptly point out, that DiDio has paid NO attention to how well the Johnsboot has done, saleswise. Perhaps he attributes it to Johns (and Frank and Perez) and not the Legion. Maybe the problems with getting Perez to actually pencil LOTW has reinforced the prejudice/diseconomies that make the book annoying and difficult to produce. Maybe, as Vizzini instructed, you have to go back to the beginning as a back-up in Adventure and re-figure out how to produce a decent-selling book in a way that doesn't exhaust the creative and editorial personnel. Maybe they've decided only Johns can produce a winning Legion title, and this is a stopgap until his schedule is clear enough. I don't know. But after all these years of trying to read the tea leaves, I think there's some combination of factors at work that make the Legion a tougher row to hoe than a current-day DCU title.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

You could be right about all of that. A couple of factors I would set against it:

1. DC has to publish something. Sooner or later, they'll look around for another title to add to their monthly lineup, and the Legion will be the most obvious candidate.

2. There does seem to be some enthusiasm about the Legion among some of DC's more prominent creators. (Not to mention Paul Levitz.) As much of a problem as I've had with Geoff Johns, I've never gotten the sense that he had anything less than genuine affection toward the Legion. Similarly, James Robinson, Alex Ross, and one or two others I can't think of at the moment.

11:15 PM  
Anonymous duck458 said...

I find Didio's comments to be very disingenuous and manipulative. The "noise made" during "the post Adventure period, where the Legion played backup to Superboy until enough noise was made to give them their own title" was an organic movement. Didio's comments seem to indicate that he wants the same kind of fan groundswell to happen again and he will not give the Legion another book until he gets it..."asking how long he anticipated that period being and he said... very discouragingly... "could be a year, could be infinity"."

1:59 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Could be. Seems like a weird kind of thing for him to want, though.

8:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know much abour DiDio ... except that he rattles cages. Isn't that what an editor is supposed to do? The fact everybody talks about him (for good or bad) shows he's doing his job.


I've got every comic since I was 6 years old way back in 1958 when I was immediately hooked by the existence of the LSH in the far future! They are my faves over ANY other comic ... and I've gone along with all the Pocket Universe, 5yr gaps and reboots ... because I'll always prefer the Legion to anything else. Not even any flavour-of-the-month books. So, I'll buy Adventure ... and hope they get a good writer and artist who are willing to stay with the book long-term, cos that's what they need and deserve.

I like Conner ... but the book belongs to the guys and gals (and other species) who join with me in declaring LONG LIVE THE LEGION!!!

5:01 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Okay, but don't tell me; tell them!

I don't know much about DiDio ... except that he rattles cages. Isn't that what an editor is supposed to do? The fact everybody talks about him (for good or bad) shows he's doing his job.

I wouldn't say so. I've done some editing myself. Not on DiDio's level, but for real nonetheless. My understanding is that an editor's job is to help the work be as good/successful as possible, and that injecting his or her own personality into the mix is not part of it.

9:53 PM  

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