Thursday, February 05, 2009

Comics! Legion of Three Worlds!

Even before the first issue of Legion of Three Worlds came out, five years ago, I knew it was essentially unbloggable for a non-fan audience. It's a six-part mini-series written by fanboy favorite Geoff Johns and drawn by living legend George Perez, and it brings together many different incarnations of extremely long-time fan favorite superteam, the Legion of Super-Heroes; it travels across space and time, it's got a demented villain (an alternate version of Superboy, here as elsewhere portrayed as having about ten times the power such an alternate version would have, with no explanation given), it's got tons and tons of inside details decipherable only to those few basement-dwelling virginal nerdwoks who've been slavishly following every detail of Legion lore for the last twenty years, and it's all building toward some kind of mystic-cosmic-speed forcic mega-climax of a type DC Comics really should avoid for the next couple of decades.

In other words, despite Johns' admittedly considerable talents as a comics writer, and despite boasting some of Perez's most energetic artwork in weeks, Legion of Three Worlds is comprehensible to about three people on Earth - and Johns and Perez aren't two of them. I don't know who those three people are, but I'm in no hurry to meet them.

This demented Superboy - called Superboy Prime - is an all-purpose psycho who runs rampant in the 31st century, the time period of the Legion of Super-Heroes. He assembles almost all of the Legion's worst super-foes, and they proceed to wreak general havoc. Superman travels from the 21st century to help, and he brings along two entire Legions from two separate alternate realities. There follows an awful lot of hyper-detailed fight panels like this one:

A visual delight to fans, yes, but not much of it makes any sense. And there's a good reason for that: DC Comics has allowed the continuity of the Legion to degenerate into a state nothing short of madness. In other titles, a total ground-up overhaul is a momentous occasion, something writers and editors ponder long and hard, something that's executed with at least some degree of foresight and dedication, something that takes root and developes to at least some of its potential.

Not so the Legion. Since writer/artist Keith Giffen rebooted the title thirty years ago - in an inspired 30-issue run that ranks as one of the greatest in the Legion's long history (and which is still, to DC's shame, uncollected into any format) - the Legion has been unmade and remade half a dozen times, and each time virtually all of its forty-odd characters underwent major changes in costume, powers, origin, etc. There was a clone Legion; there was an adult Legion; there was a dystopian Legion; there was a youth-movement Legion ... and none of these versions was allowed either to live to its full potential or to be quietly swept under the rug. Instead, each of them was violently and dramatically un-created in some ever-vaguer cosmic calamity. Zero Hour. Four different Crises. Various Invasions. I think Legion even got retooled during the last Mutant Massacre.

To say the least, this isn't how a company should treat one of its oldest, best intellectual properties, much less one with the, er, devoted fan-following of the Legion. This back-to-the-drawing-board crap should have been halted a long time ago, and DC - preferrably after listening to lots and lots of the aforementioned fans - should have picked one version of the Legion and stuck with it. They should still do that.

And according to my young friend Elmo, they might yet. Apparently, Johns has condescended to give the Legion yet another revamp - and given his popularity with fans, it's bound to be hyped all over the comics world. Which means it might have a chance of actually sticking around for a year or two. In which case, I have my own humble suggestion as to what that revamp should be. See how this concept grabs you:

It's Earth of the 31st century. Mankind has tamed fantastic technology and spread to worlds throughout the galaxy, but there is still evil everywhere, and it's been a thousand years since the last Age of Heroes (the time of the legendary Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.). On a routine business trip, billionaire industrialist (and history buff) R. J. Brande is the victim of an attempted kidnapping. He's saved by three teenagers - Garth Ranzz of Winath (who possesses the ability to throw around electrical discharges), Rokk Krinn of Braal (who possesses the magnetic ability to control metal), and Irma Ardeen of Titan (who's a powerful telepath) - who just happen to be in the vicinity. Their actions give him a great idea: why not band them together as the nucleus of a super-team, to jump-start a whole new Age of Heroes? And so the Legion of Super-Heroes is born, quickly expanding as more and more super-powered young people flock to its banner. Cut to their various adventures in the 31st century. Perhaps mix in a time-travelling Superman or Superboy. Perhaps kill off a member every four or five years, in some big storyline. Turn no member into a giant friggin snake. Let the whole thing run for ... oh, let's say forty years.

I'd buy it. Hell, I already have, for about forty years.

I'm hoping I'll get the chance again, and it's really quite annoying that whether or not I have the opportunity will entirely rely on one overworked (and undercommitted) hot-ticket writer and what he decides to do or not do. It should rely on DC Comics knowing enough not to fix something that isn't broken.

And in the meantime, there's the world-class confusion-bomb that is the finale of Legion of Three Worlds to look forward to/dread. I'll keep you posted when it comes out, in about two years.

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