Monday, February 05, 2007

The Legion Manifesto, Part 1

I've got a lot of thoughts swirling around about what the Legion's all about, about the different versions of the Legion, about the reboots, about the virtues and flaws of the current version, about what needs to be done with the Legion. I could put them all into one big post, but it'd take forever to write, and who knows how long that would take? So I'll do it in pieces.

Ever hear the phrase, 'the Matter of Britain'? It refers to Arthurian legend. I like the sound of it, like, if you're going to get at the root of Britain, you have to somehow resolve all the King Arthur stories. Well, in that spirit, I present the Legion Question and the Legion Problem.

The Legion Question is this: What are the essential characteristics of the Legion of Super-Heroes? In other words, how do we know if the Legion we're reading about is consistent with the spirit of the history of Legion comics? Can we say that this or that era of the Legion can be called a real Legion or not?

This question has been addressed many times, and there actually does seem to be some consensus about the answer. I'm not going to link to all the sources I'm getting this from (there was an article on Howling Curmudgeons, and there was another guy who had a recent article...), but I'll say that this is only my attempt at a representative list, much of which I wouldn't have come up with on my own, and it's not intended to be definitive. The Legion Question is still open.

These are some features of the Legion that are seen by many comic fans as essential:

1. The Legion is a group of superheroes.
2. The Legionnaires started their heroic careers as teenagers. [Edited: I originally had 'the Legionnaires are teenagers' here, but a few people on the Legion World boards objected, citing the late Levitz era, the Adult Legion, and the 5YL stories as evidence that you could have perfectly good Legion stories where they're not teenagers. So, you know. Okay by me.]
3. The Legion lives in the distant future.
4. The future setting of the Legion is an optimistic one, and so is the Legion’s outlook.
5. There are many Legionnaires.
6. Being a Legionnaire is a special thing.
7. In Legion comics, characters can experience permanent change.
8. Either directly or indirectly, the Legion represents the legacy of Superman ten centuries in the future.
9. The future setting of the Legion is one in which space travel is common, and there is abundant life on other planets.
10. Legionnaires don’t all have overwhelming superpowers, but combine their more modest talents through teamwork to be effective.

So that's a start on the Legion Answer (if you will). If we check the Waid-and-Kitson Threeboot Legion against this list, by the way, we can get an idea how well they qualify as a valid Legion. There's some discussion possible about 4, and 6 isn't really strongly established (yet?), but the rest looks like it's all there (although I know there are those who would dispute 1).

The Legion Problem is this: DC has published several different versions of the Legion. They're all different from each other, and they all have their fans. But DC is only publishing one version of the Legion right now, leaving fans unsatisfied. What is the solution to this situation?

And, boy, are there ever a lot of opinions about this one.

There are a lot of people, a lot of people, who would like to completely chuck the current version of the Legion and go back to the original. And when they say 'the original', some of them mean the Legion as it existed right before Zero Hour, and some of them mean the Legion as it existed right after the Magic Wars, and some of them mean the Legion as it existed before Crisis on Infinite Earths, and I know of one guy who thinks the Legion went completely and permanently to hell when Paul Levitz started writing the book. There are some people whose only attachment is to the reboot Legion. There are some whose only attachment is to the threeboot Legion. There are some who think all versions should be sort of blended together. There are some who think the Legion needs another reboot, to an entirely new version.

I've thought about it a lot, and this is what I've come to believe. All the people who read JSA and see Starman and Dawnstar's arm, and who see Infectious Lass in Tales of the Unexpected, and say, "DC's finally going to bring back the REAL Legion and get rid of the snotty punks in the current title," give me a pain. Not only because they misevaluate the threeboot Legion, but especially because they think their desires as fans to have the original Legion back trump the desires of the fans of the threeboot Legion to keep reading about them. The only good solution to the Legion Problem is one that benefits everyone.

And the mix-‘em-all-up-into-one-big-Legion solution isn’t much better. It sounds good, but the problem is that these Legions are all unseparable from their settings. By mixing them all together, they’d be cut off from their own pasts and supporting characters. It’d be like another reboot.

Fortunately, DC has provided us with a solution. If the multiverse really is coming back, then it should be easy for DC to provide us with an Earth-Original-Legion and an Earth-Reboot-Legion to go along with our current Earth-Threeboot-Legion*. Yes, they’d have to do some handwaving to explain away Zero Hour and all that malarkey, but that’s okay. We don’t need a good reason, we just need a reason. It can all be sorted out. (For that matter, we don’t really need the multiverse to do this. The Legion exists in the future, after all. What’s wrong with just having different possible futures?)

That’s my solution to the Legion Problem: we’ll have all three Legions back. The new purpose of this blog (not the only purpose, just the newest one) is to act as an advocate for this solution. DC got us to care about three Legion continuities, and has abandoned two of them. This is a) not good customer relations, and b) easily reversible. I don’t even mean that each of these Legion versions should have their own comic books; that’d be a bit much. (Although I’d buy them.) Just that they’d be there, in continuity, available to have stories told about them.

Let’s face it, it’s not like DC ever wanted what they have now. If you had gone up to the Legion writers and editors and other DC higher-ups in… let’s say 1983, and described to them what would happen to Legion continuity over the next twenty years and change, and said, “Is that what you want to happen?” they’d laugh you out of the building. Nobody wanted this. Nobody prefers it, not even the people like me who like the threeboot. And maybe DC has plans to do just what I’m proposing here. If they do, great. But just in case they don’t, here’s the Legion Manifesto:

I call upon DC Comics to return all three versions of the Legion to active continuity. It will please your fans, it will give your creators more possibilities to work with, and it doesn’t cost you anything to do so.

Who’s with me?

I’ll have more to say on these topics later (see where it says ‘Part 1’ up there?), but for now I’ll sign off with:

Long Live the Legions.


*I toyed with the idea that we might want to keep the original Legion separate from the Five Years Later Legion, because they’re so different and because so many Legion fans were appalled at 5YL. But, no; let’s not complicate things any more than we have to. All the stories happened, should be the principle we apply, and most of the damage done to the Legion as Zero Hour started approaching could be fixed by a talented and motivated writer.

See also: The Legion Manifesto, Part 2: Cheaper Than Therapy

Labels: , ,