Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Comics again! Intolerable provocation!

Well, yes, yes, we know: we just five minutes ago officially signed over comics-related matters to our distant colleague Gianni over at The Latest Issue – and we meant it, we meant it. But this week, the provocation has been so extravagant, so pin-pointed to our particular obsessions here at Stevereads that even our worst enemy (that would be Desmond Tutu, for self-evident reasons) would have to forgive us for leaping into the fray one last time. The provocation comes in pure, undiluted form, in the latest issue of Action Comics, issue #858.

Why, the mere cover is provocation enough: Superman, flying over an obviously futuristic city, his right fist thrust forward showing … you guessed it … a Legion flight ring. A legion flight ring, ladies and gentlemen! We are awe-inspiring here at Stevereads, yes, but we are still but flesh and blood. We rose to the bait.

And hoo boy, what bait! In this particular issue, Chapter 1 of “Alien World,” written by Geoff Johns and drawn in an oddly inimitable style by Gary Frank, Clark Kent is being chewed out by Perry White in the offices of the Daily Planet when he super-hears Metropolis citizens in panic at the onslaught of Superman’s old arch-enemy Brainiac, this time suited up in the form of a giant robot. Of course Kent excuses himself and flies off to belt the malefactor.

But there’s a twist this time around – the robot turns out to be not Brainiac but the tool of Brainiac-5, which is the exact point when some brown-nosing intern at Stevereads stopped reading and raced up the spiral staircase to our office, bursting through the doors and interrupting an impromptu meeting we were taking with Jacques Barzun, all to blurt out “the Legion! They’re talking about the Legion!”

We took the issue and read it right through on the spot, after which (as soon as we fired the hapless intern for reading funny books on our time) we apologetically dismissed Jacques (it went hard with him – he’s no doubt rightfully worried about how many meetings he’s got left in him – but some things come first) and sat down to compose our thoughts.

The key moment comes once Superman has disabled the giant robot and learned it’s being piloted by Brainiac-5: Superman asks, “who are you?” and Brainiac-5 answers “I am one of your friends” and zaps him with some kind of energy discharge, which triggers a flashback to the first moment young boy Clark Kent met Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, and Cosmic Boy, who’d traveled back in time to greet the legendary Superman before he became a legend. The energy-discharge sequence clearly indicates Superman had somehow repressed or forgotten this encounter, and many more such encounters. Superman says: “Of course, the Legion used to visit me between school days. We had adventures in the future between classes … then I moved to metropolis, there was the crisis, and I never saw the Legion again.”

All of which is interesting in a ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ sort of way, but it begs the essential question.

Gianni himself might phrase that question thus: What the frak?

A little background for the uninitiated: the ‘crisis’ referred to here is that gigantic disorganized mess of a comics event, Crisis on Infinite Earths. It was an effort on DC Comics’ part to prune the bewildering profusion of backstory it had accumulated in nearly fifty years of comics storytelling. There had cropped up, in the course of those years, a very near infinite number of alternate-earths, alternate dimensions, and the ultimate goal of Crisis was to pair that down to one and one only. And in that single new reality, Superman had revealed himself to the world as a full-grown adult. He’d never put on the costume earlier – there had been no Superboy.

That invalidated the Legion. Its founding members – the aforementioned Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, and Cosmic Boy – had taken as their central inspiration to form their club in the first place the adventures of the most famous super-teen of them all, Superboy. No Superboy, no Legion.

Or maybe not. Legion writers post-Crisis took the natural step: they posited that the Legion had taken its inspiration not from Superboy but from Superman and all the heroes of the second millennium. Fans of the Legion could still have their valiant team of future heroes, they’d just have to do without the whole ‘Superboy and’ prefix. Speaking as one of those fans (and as the proud possessor of about 300 comic books devoted to the adventures of a character DC Comics now said never existed), we took what we could get, and we weren’t disappointed: some of the best Legion runs in the team’s entire history (a very long and very convoluted history about which our old friend Locke is entirely correct: only a very, shall we say, special cadre of comics fans know). No Superboy, true, but we got our Legion and it was still great.

And that’s the way it was, as Uncle Walter used to say, despite various flirtations (the most attractive of which was also the briefest, when the Superboy clone was mysteriously transported to the future and donned the costume to fight alongside the team), until the present moment.

The present moment when, it appears, the powers that be at DC Comics have decided that official DC continuity (and it doesn’t get any more official than Action Comics, the most venerable of all venerable comics titles) now encompasses the fact that young Clark Kent often traveled to the future to have adventures with the Legion of Super-Heroes.

The real Legion of Super-Heroes, as Frank’s glorious two-page spread in the middle of the issue demonstrates in heartbreaking magnificence: there they all are – Triplicate Girl, not one of whom is a saucy tart, Princess Projectra, who’s not a great big snake, Timber Wolf, who’s not an enormous bear-like creature … there’s no Blok, no Dawnstar, no Wildfire, no Tyroc; but there’s Star Boy (not insane), there’s Colossal Boy (growing big, not small), there’s Brainiac-5 (organic, not mechanical) and everybody else … Shadow Lass, Mon-el, Chameleon Boy, Invisible Boy, Element Lad, Dream Girl, Phantom Girl, Ultra Boy, Karate Kid … even Bouncing Boy and Matter-Eater Lad.

That two-page spread broke our heart here at Stevereads.

As some of you may know, we consider the current run of the Legion extremely dismaying. The team is a conglomerate of disaffected punks who hate adults on spec and yearn to rule the cosmos. The team-members all hate each other and conspire against each other, and there hasn’t been a single ‘Long Live the Legion’ moment in almost two years. Even in the past, even when Keith Giffens’ legendary run on the series introduced a more dystopian element, there was still ample room for the particular kind of heroism that the Legion has always embodied; not so now, and we sense that the dissatisfaction this engenders is more widespread than the powers that be at DC might at first be willing to acknowledge.

Or perhaps not. After all, more ‘traditional’ incarnations of the Legion have been cropping up all over the line of DC comics in the last two or three years, not the least of which has been the hit Cartoon Network series which so completely foreshadows this current Action Comics development that we can’t help but think they are two prongs of the same prongy-thing. Despite the continued crabgrass-tenacious life of the current incarnation of the Legion, there’s obviously a group, a voice a bloc, who yearn for a return to the real Legion, the one more or less embodied in Frank’s two-page spread (not ‘exactly,’ as some of you might expect of our reactionary selves here at Stevereads – we’re not frozen in time, after all! Dawnstar is a great idea, Blok not so much; Quislet is a disaster, but Gates is a perfect addition; Tyroc screams, so to speak, for redress, but a bold, courageous, black, female Kid Quantum is perfection realized). We here at Stevereads whole-heartedly second such a group, such a movement, such a dream.

The basic scenario is simplicity itself: young Clark Kent, long before he became Superman and moved to Metropolis, traveled through time to the future in order to share adventures with the 31st century’s enormous group of super-teens, the Legion of Super-Heroes. Since he can’t very well have these adventures while wearing a cardigan sweater-vest, perhaps his new teammates give him a uniform to wear while he’s with them – and perhaps, knowing the great future that awaits him, they pattern that uniform after the famous garb of the Man of Steel.

The key to all of this, it goes without saying, is Saturn Girl. Each time young Clark is returned to his own era, the memories of his time in the future must be blocked by Saturn Girl’s telepathic powers, to reveal no trace of the future and no hint of the great destiny awaiting him. And presto – just like that, an ongoing Legion title is possible.

The only obstacle is the current ongoing Legion title, which has done significant damage to the basic continuity of Legion mythology. In its current incarnation, the Legion is not a valiant band of adventurers but a sour, cynical gang of adult-hating little jerkwads – heroism is entirely absent, for the first time in the Legion’s long history. There are other harms (characters are out of character, powers are stupidly skewed, etc), but this is the worst of them. In an interview in the latest Wizard magazine, legendary Legion writer Jim Shooter – who’s returning to the title in a month – makes it as clear as he diplomatically can that he dislikes all of these changes, but he states his intention to be a good team player and not do anything about them. And it’s doubtful how much he could do even if he wanted to – giant (in all senses of the word) though he is, Shooter is two or three decades past the point where he was a ‘hot’ writer, the kind of writer who can move into a title and make wholesale changes. Comic-geeks of today don’t know him from Adam, and comics industry honchos know that, and more’s the pity: in one issue, Shooter could undo all the damage this awful run has wrought (we here at Stevereads suggest the ‘Dynasty’ escape-clause: it was all a dream! Or, rather, a telepathically induced delusionary episode on somebody’s part – preferably an adult, given the anti-adult tone of the whole run … our nominee would be Phantom Girl’s termagant mother), and then he’d be free to forge a new era of Legion greatness, an era that tells the essential Legion story: that into a weary, orderly future world there erupted the bright smiles and dazzling colors of a new age of super-heroes, a thing unseen in over a thousand years.

We’re not picky, and Shooter (New Universe notwithstanding) is a writer we trust – certainly he’s a Legion writer we trust, as amazing an advent as if Paul Levitz himself had been induced to return to the fold – any scenario he comes up with will be fine by us, we yearn so deeply to read great Legion stories again.

The point of all this is that somebody somewhere – multiple somebodies, by the looks of it – wants the Legion, the real Legion, back in a monthly comics forum. We here at Stevereads are most certainly among that yearning group, and if this latest issue of Action Comics is any indication, we’re not alone by a long shot. We want our Legion back, not some variant but the real thing, the thing so handily illustrated in that two-page spread in this current issue of Action Comics.

Our Legion back. We here at Stevereads entirely support that.


Gianni said...

So wait... Now you're ADMITTING that Jim Shooter IS taking over the Legion? How times change...

Kevin Caron said...

Steve, you are spot on, point for point, word for word, throughout that entire post.

Except the implied dig on the New Universe. But I'll let that slide.

Insert 'Kickers, Inc' joke here.

Carter said...

Hi, Steve--

Gotta admit--I haven't read a comic book in quite a while, but I know real passion when I see it. And it's a fine thing.

Anyhow, I know no other way to get in touch with you, so let me thank you here, profusely, for putting a link to The Internet Review of Books in your list. We need all the help we can get. If you can enlist Superman in our cause, we'll be forever grateful.

Carter Jefferson, Editor
The Internet Review of Books

steve said...

Carter Jefferson, ladies and gentlemen! If you haven't toodled on over to the Internet Review of Books site, why not do so now, and give yourselves a treat?

Then come back here for more scolding and mockery!