Saturday, September 19, 2015

To Pay Peter

When DC decides to use the Legion of Super-Heroes for something or other these days, they tend to default to the 1980s-era Legion as written by Paul Levitz in his second run on the title. This makes a certain amount of sense, as Legion comics from that era are both critically respected and commercially successful. Another factor, probably, is that this was the last run of Legion comics before DC started tampering with continuity, which certainly put a lot of fans off.

How many such quasi-Levitz2 Legions have there been recently? Let's list them just for fun. There's
- the retroboot Legion, first introduced by Geoff Johns and Brad Meltzer in "The Lightning Saga" and appearing in many DC comics leading up to the new52
- the version of the Legion who appeared in the Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes crossover
- the new52 Legion
- the version of the Legion who appeared in "The Infinitus Saga" in Justice League United
- the version of the Legion who appeared in Convergence: Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes

Now you can argue that some of these are the same. I dunno. It's all very vague. They're all sorta similar, and there are reasons to think they're the same, and there are things you can point at that suggest that maybe they're not... Anyway. The point is, DC tends to look at the Levitz2 Legion as, how shall I put it... as what the Legion should be like.*

That's not an inevitable stance to take, but the part I want to focus on here is how these creators want to use Levitz's Legion but they don't seem to want to live with the things Levitz actually did with that Legion. See, one of the things that's not often appreciated about Levitz is that he liked shaking things up. He did so in a relatively understated way, but he made some big changes. And those changes have largely not been adopted by those who came after him. Let's list some of the ones that haven't caught on.

- the introduction of Jacques Foccart, Invisible Kid II. This change has been used by most (all?) writers who reset to the second Levitz run, but the reboot and threeboot writers both opted for Lyle Norg instead. Why? No, seriously, why? (Interestingly, the animated Legion did give Jacques a quick cameo, but not Lyle.)
- the restoration of Timber Wolf's human face. I mention this because Paul Levitz was the last Legion writer who agreed with me that Timber Wolf was a regular human guy with, like, super-acrobatics powers, and not a werewolf or whatever.
- the retirement of Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, and Cosmic Boy from the Legion. Didn't take!
- the transformation of Princess Projectra into Sensor Girl. Actually everybody seemed to like this one; it caught on all over the place.
- the breaking up of Timber Wolf and Light Lass as a couple, and the subsequent relationship between Lightning Lass and Shrinking Violet. Like a lot of these changes, this was preserved into the 5YL era by Levitz's protege Keith Giffen, but Johns tried to walk it back in Action Comics and Stuart Moore did the same in his Convergence series.
- the revelation that Validus is the transformed, time-displaced son of Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad, and his subsequent restoration as Garridan Ranzz. You all noticed Validus there in Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, right?
- the introduction of nonhuman Legionnaires Tellus and Quislet, plus Polar Boy and Magnetic Kid. This one's mixed: Tellus did get some screen time recently (looking more humanoid than Steve Lightle ever drew him), but Levitz himself has gotten rid of Quislet twice now. Polar Boy is a Legionnaire in good standing, but when's the last time we saw Magnetic Kid?
- the breaking up of Star Boy and Dream Girl as a couple, and Star Boy's resignation from the Legion.
- the disbanding of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, and its eventual replacement by a new group of Subs led by Cosmic Boy.
- the death of Mon-El directly after his marriage to Shadow Lass.

Now, having said all that. It is certainly true that the comic book writers of today must be allowed to write comics their own way without being constrained by what Paul Levitz did thirty years ago. One hundred percent. BUT (1) that implies that the comic book writers of today also should not be constrained by what Paul Levitz's predecessors did more than thirty years ago. Don't kid me.

There's a BUT (2), which is that DC has historically underrepresented nonwhite characters, LGBTQ characters, and (important not from an audience-effect standpoint, but only from a science fiction standpoint) nonhuman characters in the Legion, and if a Legion writer does something to improve that situation, subsequent Legion writers should not roll back that change.

This is a consideration for all comics, but it's particularly important for the Legion of Super-Heroes, because the Legion is all about diversity, and has a cast of characters large enough to be able to accommodate such diversity with ease.

Anyway, this brings us back to Timber Wolf, Lightning Lass, and Shrinking Violet. It is a fact that Levitz and later Giffen and the Bierbaums and much later Levitz again showed Ayla and Vi as lovers in Legion comics. It is also a fact that this was done implicitly and with plausible deniability, out of what I can only call cowardice on the part of someone I don't know enough to identify. But it was done nevertheless, and it is wrong to undo it. Geoff Johns was wrong, and Stuart Moore was wrong, and the reboot, threeboot, and animated writers didn't exactly cover themselves with glory either. Paul Levitz may not have done a whole lot to make the Legion more diverse**, but what he did do shouldn't be rolled back.


* To be sure, there are exceptions. Grant Morrison has used a reboot-like Legion in his Action Comics run, and Convergence: Blue Beetle used a Legion which was more like the SW6 batch than anything else.

** Although in his third run on the book he did quite a bit more: introduced nonwhite human Legionnaires (and supporting characters) in Chemical Kid, Dragonwing, Glorith, Harmonia, Otaki, and Mwindaji and introduced a same-sex relationship between minor characters Jed Rikane and Gravity Kid. If only he had brought in more nonhumanoid Legionnaires, and kept XS around! Oh well; it's all ashes in the wind now.

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