Sunday, September 06, 2020

By Popular Demand

 So I made a big show about how I was going to write an article that blew the lid off of ambiguous character points in the fourboot Legion, and a couple of people have said, ooo, can't wait for this!, and guess what. It's going to be a bit of an anticlimax, because I have been beaten to the punch.

One must assume that most people reading this blog are also familiar with the Legion of Substitute Podcasters podcast, which has been discussing Legion comics weekly for well over a decade now. (I've been a guest several times, and am due to appear again to discuss a Legion issue that's very important to me in a week or so.) Anyway, in their most recent podcast, they said just about everything I was going to say, give or take (they also attached it to Brainiac 5's exposition at the end of LSHv8 #5, which hadn't occurred to me). So, nice job by them; I'll go over the case myself and see if there's anything useful I can add.

The problem is this. We don't know a lot about this Legion yet, and some of what we do know seems contradictory. Let's go over some of the uncertainties about these characters:

- is Mon-El from Daxam or New Krypton?

- is Invisible Kid really Lyle Norg or Jacques Foccart?

- have Ferro Lad and Computo been Legionnaires the whole time, or did they only show up partway through?

- what's the deal with Ayla Ranzz? Is she Lightning Lass or Light Lass or both or what?

- is Soultaker a thing or not?

There may be more; please let me know in the comments.

One obvious explanation for all this is that writer Brian Michael Bendis and editor Brian Cunningham have been sloppy about the details. And, really, from our point of view we can't say for sure that that's <em>not</em> the case. Although some of these details seem like they're too big to get wrong. So how about we assume that these are not just careless mistakes and see where that takes us.

If they aren't mistakes then they're on purpose. The obvious question is, why are they on purpose.

Toward the end of issue #5, Brainy says... well, he says a whole lot of things. You should go back and reread it. But one possible implication of it is that 30th-century reality is always fluctuating based on 21st-century reality, and that this is a permanent state rather than something that can be wrapped up in one six-issue arc.

It's neither necessary nor automatic to conclude that the hazy details around our characters is a consequence of what Brainy is talking about. He does say, for instance, that the reality abnormalities are at the edges of their galactic, which, presumably, is not where the Legion is. So maybe Brainy's explanation has nothing to do with the Legionnaires themselves. But it is suggestive.

Either way, I wonder if Bendis is giving us a situation in which the membership of the Legion is not a known and defined thing, but a loose and fluid haze that ebbs and flows with the tides of reality. If so, then in <em>LSH: Millennium</em>, Invisible Kid really was Lyle Norg... but now, he's not; he's Jacques Foccart. Mon-El really did used to be from Daxam, but now he's not; he's from New Krypton. Ferro Lad wasn't a Legionnaire in the early issues, but now he's always been a Legionnaire.

There are two aspects I want to talk about in relation to this: premise and expectations.

I'm on record as saying that I'm primarily a fan of the Legion as a whole and only secondarily of the individual Legionnaires. And I think that is still true. The idea of the Legion is a great and shining one and it will keep me coming back. The individual Legionnaires are intriguing and colourful figures, but often underdeveloped or even rudimentary; I like them but, outside of their team context, my interest in them is limited. I understand that I may be in the minority in how I construe my fandom but I do think that my description is accurate, and this may be why some Legion fans are often frustrated, because they want more out of the characters and they just aren't getting it.

But at least in previous versions <em>there were characters</em>. Some were just also-rans, sadly, but some were extremely well-developed. Brainiac 5, Saturn Girl, Wildfire. To the extent that Bendis is giving us a Legion that just has, in general, <em>some Legionnaires</em> in it, I think that's a mistake. I'd be a Legion fan no matter what the membership was, but I do want it to have a membership. To say that any or all of these characters doesn't matter enough to even decide who they are or whether they're on the team does not help me care about this comic book. It tells me it's not worth caring about.

That's premise. Now expectations. Brainy's exposition freely discussed the often-rebooted nature of Legion continuity (well, and overall DC continuity too). I kind of got the idea that Bendis was trying to express the idea that the reboots are, or are <em>now</em> anyway, part of the basic premise of the Legion. I would resist this notion.

I think we also heard it from Geoff Johns at one point. I seem to recall some kind of suggestion that the following logic was at work:

1. Some fans really like the Legion of Super-Heroes.

2. The Legion of Super-Heroes gets rebooted all the time.

3. Therefore, some fans really like how the Legion of Super-Heroes gets rebooted all the time.

I may be going way out on a limb here. I don't have anything I can point to about how DC is trying to force ephemeral continuity on the Legion because they think that's what we want. In fact, I think such is probably overstating the case. But I do want to make it clear that it is the opposite of true, that nobody likes reboots, and that we wish they would stop.

Which brings me back around to the current Legion. If Bendis is being cute with us about Light Lass, that's fine, it'll get sorted out. If Bendis's position is that it doesn't matter if there's Light Lass or not, that's not fine. I don't want to read about characters that don't matter.


I will end this article by noting that something similar to this vague-continuity situation happened in the pages of Jeff Lemire's "Infinitus Saga" storyline in <em>Justice League United</em>, when Legionnaires from the SW6 and reboot Legions appeared alongside the retroboot Legion. But nothing really came of that.

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Blogger Matthew E said...

Having trouble with these changes to Blogger.

11:49 AM  
Anonymous Ian said...

Thank you for the podcast referral. I have never listened to Legion of Substitute Podcasters before but having listened to the episode covering LOSHv8 #8, I'll likely make it a regular stop. Enjoyed that a good deal.

Also I'll commiserate with adapting to Blogger's recent changes.

To the matter at hand, the No-Prizing of Bendis's Legion of Super-Heroes. Full disclosure: I take Braniac's scene in #5 to be a non-specific acknowledgement that the Legion is historically an appendage to the larger DCU; as well as some insight into an approach on the Legion. Some people try to reinforce the connection with main DC continuity and some try to distance the Legion from the DCU's everlasting now. This scene would make clear the connection with main DC continuity and would vaguely portend ramifications to the Legion at some point. I would not prefer that Bendis embrace these historic interruption as traditional occurrences. I think it would be disastrous if the Legion writer venerated periodic reboots like the old JSA/JLA team-ups used to be treated.

My reading of that scene is that of a flashback that stands, to me, to offer the raison d'etre for retrieving Jon Kent from the past in the first place. It strikes me as mission statement type stuff (in an issue of Legion history being framed by Jon Kent's orientation experience). It does not read, to me, as an explanation for the use of purposeful inconsistencies in internal logic. Some of the more egregious examples of these inconsistencies can be explained away largely by a lack of knowledge revealed to the reader.

Some things are, of course, simply being forshadowed. For instance, Luornu just about reveals Mon's secret to Superboy in #3, pg. 19. Garth remarks in #6, pg. 15 that Mon had expressed to Garth that he "thought Superboy was going to be a pain in the ass". Bendis has said on Twitter that the Fritchman tags are for the Legion, not the reader (but he encourages reader participation nonetheless). The Legionnaires are able to turn them off and though we haven't seen it likely edit them. Mon-El obviously has a complicated relationship with his lineage and appears to feel "shown-up" by the presence of his celebrated ancestor in the 31st Century. An understandable motive for some of the mystery/inconsistency with his backstory and how he would choose to represent it. Just one example.

11:56 PM  
Anonymous Ian said...

Several other factors challenge the reader. Besides an unfolding story to contend with, sometimes the information is being relayed in a non-linear fashion (Jon Kent's orientation in #4-5 or Reep's recounting of things in #8). Also who is privy to what and when is another axis to evaluate. And finally Bendis is telling a story, so there is a natural process of revelation built-in.

But then there are also, natually, mistakes. In #1 we are introduced to "Frichtman tags". Later in the series it changes to "Fritchman tags". Prior to #8, Cosmic Boy has already left the Legion and doesn't return until he's summoned back by Braniac and yet Cosmic Boy can be found in the group shot of Heaven when Crav attacks and can clearly be seen being repelled by Crav when Wildfire takes his shot on pg. 9. These are errors. That's okay. It happens. And I would wager the Legion is a tougher book than most to keep these things straight.

The tricky part is which is which. I appreciate the unifying theory being offered by the podcaster but I'm not sure I accept it completely. DC has been experiencing severe organizational changes of late. It has been widely reported that Brian Cunningham, the editor of this book, was one of the staff that was let go a month ago. Coupled with some variability with art chores that has finally resulted in the "Bendis's rolodex" stopgap measure and it bolsters less the case that everything is meticulously planned and purposed.

My hope is undaunted though. I enjoy this book and with each successive read I glean more about characters and events thus far. I am energized but what is to come. I think a silver lining is that this falls under Bendis's helm. He is a steady hand and the Legion is lucky to have someone of his acumen and talent advocating and wanting to bring the Legion back to regular circulation.

Very much anticipating the next issue and that's about the best anybody could hope for, you ask me.

11:57 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Yeah. I mean, it’s a hypothesis. By its nature we can’t resolve it ourselves; we can only argue the details and.await further data.

I guess I should be calling them “Fritchman tags”; they’re named after Matt Fraction’s birth name and I guess it was misspelled initially.

6:43 AM  
Anonymous Hal Shipman said...

Count me as one who was not aware of the podcast and would have rather read your thoughts here. I despise most podcasts, but will give this one a shot.

The idea of extremely fluid continuity bugs me. I'll write it off to mistakes and chaos at the moment. I hope, hope, hope it will settle down, but man, there are a LOT in the first 8 issues (+ assorted appearances).

The ties to and dependencies on the 20th century are problematic for me (though I get the motivation from a cross-marketing perspective) because it creates boxes around continuity. Especially the idea that things carry through for 1,000 years. That's what bugged me about Invasion! back in the day, in another direction. All of the Legion races we were now to understand pretty much did not change at all over 1,000 years. That's a LONG ass time.

Podcast ho, with fingers crossed...

6:41 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I like a lot of podcasts, but LoSP is the one I've been listening to for the longest. Anyway, you did read my thoughts here; I typed 'em all up.

The ties to the current day DCU is something... I don't agree with it either, but it's a point I'm willing to negotiate. I don't think it's a violation of what the LSH is all about.

6:48 PM  
Anonymous Ian said...

"they’re named after Matt Fraction’s birth name"

I don't know about this yet. (i know Matt Fraction's birth name but.) I am going to have to track down that story. I don't associate Fraction with the Legion other than...he did an essay for TFTF but no Legion. Fascinating. Any links are appreciated.

The hypothesis is charming btw, don't get me wrong. I am among the few that still likes/doesn't mind/(trying to read the room) The Superboy-Prime Punch as a device to explain inconsistencies/errors retroactively during the period of 1986-2006 of DC publishing. I would rather a fictional explanation than a business explanation any day, to be truthful.

Comicbooks have been a part of my life since the late 70s but it's only in the last 15 years that I've dabbled in DC's neck of the woods. Started out a Marvel fan. Which leads me to why, in part, I made a switch. DC always seems to come up with some grand (multiversal) reason for why they want to rejigger a line, say. Or reboot somebody/something. I respect the art of the No-Prize: the fake award given out by Marvel Comics to readers who originally spotted continuity errors in the comics and wrote in with plausible apologia for said errors as misconstrued purposeful mysteries yet to be uncovered.

The Legion have been the victims/benefactors? of the metaphorical rock plunged into the pond so many times; the ripples presenting creative challenges for those who work on the fringe. If the DCU line is a spiral galaxy, the Legion is most certainly one of the spiral arms. And it would seem convenient to me, as a Legion writer, to fixate on this dynamic of constant upheaval sent from the "present". I'm now curious about the history of the Legion and its writers. Has someone demonstrably tried to make a go of writing a Legion series that dealt with this issue of temporality and its consequences? Is this a novel approach? My Legion knowledge is exhausted at this point. Any input is welcome.

7:32 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I think the Fraction thing was mentioned on another LoSP episode!

I don't think there has been much of an effort to explore on-page the effects of continuity alterations on the Legion. (Although I'm going to plunge into the topic in future months in my Time Travel Nexus articles.) And, really, it's probably for the best; I'd rather have Legion stories about sci-fi superhero stuff than about why Legion stories are the way they are. Maybe Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds is as close as we've come?

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Ian said...

Thanks for the tip! A new world has been opened up with Legion of Substitute Podcasters.

I have set myself anew upon your prolificness in this field.

Questions will abound. Prepare yourself.

"And, really, it's probably for the best; I'd rather have Legion stories about sci-fi superhero stuff than about why Legion stories are the way they are."

I think you've put the finest point on it here. Completely agree.

7:57 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Thanks; I forgot to put the link in there.


8:21 PM  
Blogger Hal Shipman said...

"I typed 'em all up." Ahh, I misunderstood. Sorry.

I have found that the few podcasts I like are professionally produced, usually by radio professionals, with tight tight editing and pacing (Nerdette/Nerdette Recaps being my favorite). 2 hours and 40 minutes for one issue of the Legion? Holy Mother of Mercy. I tried, man, I tried. Obviously, this is just a taste/YMMV thing.

BUT, in all of this discussion, finding your articles in Time Travel Nexus was fantastic. I blew through all of them in one sitting and look forward to more. You have a great unique angle and focus with those. Thanks.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Oh well; that's why they make chocolate and vanilla.

Glad you like the Time Travel Nexus articles. I'm enjoying them, and, strangely, not running out of stuff to write about! Whoever would have thought that time travel would be a complex topic.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Hal Shipman said...

A few thoughts along the lines of picking and choosing elements of the past:

Colossal Boy - while that was a cute joke in Threeboot, his power is shrinking at which the bottom range just happens to be a human male? Okay, then if he's just choosing that size and he can go smaller, what's the value of Shrinking Violet, then?

Brainiac 5 - I was super-happy about the emotional intelligence idea. I'm not sure where the Brainy as a arrogant jerk thing started in the original run (it seemed to ebb and flow), but when it became the dominant thing in Reboot and Threeeboot, that seemed like a cheat with the writers not getting how to write what they imagined as super-smart. There does seem to be some backpedaling on it, a bit, but...

Ferro Lad - Shooter told me the story at lunch once back in the 90's. The way he told it then, he was always intended to die, but he started liking the character and got the "black under the mask" idea and pitched keeping him. But his hands were colored "white" from his first appearance, so you already have shown his race, haven't you? It felt like rewriting history. So, the hands implying the race again is interesting.

10:06 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I think Gim can only shrink down to regular human male size. I could see how it could make sense.

Original Brainy was never exactly *arrogant*... maybe conceited about his intelligence at times, but more awkward than anything else, and frequently friendly, warm, and wise. Animated-series Brainy was largely the same.

There are enough Black superheroes in general, and in the Legion in particular, that I don't think it's a crucial point whether Ferro Lad is Black or not; I'm interested, and will keep an eye on it, but I don't think there's anything riding on it. I do want to see evidence of more than the relatively minor and ambiguous detail of the colouring of a strip around his wrists before I conclude that the matter has been resolved.

10:18 PM  

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