One of the reasons I think the Waid/Kitson threeboot version of the Legion was fatally flawed from the outset is that its concept of making the Legion an oppositional force was wholly at odds with the core Legion concept, which tends to be utopian and status-quo defending rather than revolutionary and game-changing. Sure, you could argue that the revolutionary nature of the Legion was heroic in and of itself since they were rebelling against a stagnant society which needed them, but Waid started sabotaging this practically from the first issue by writing numerous Legionnaires’ characters as dilettantes, thugs or cynics. More realistic, maybe, but it’s the type of realism I think is somewhat misplaced in my comic book about teenaged superheroes in the far future.
Worse is that in practice, the revolutionary concept only really has one story hook to go with it, which is “Legion versus entrenched authority.” Comic creators of all stripes have come back to this trope again and again and largely without exception the stories are subpar. (Example of an exception which proves the rule: the v4 Earthwar saga, wherein the Legion fought entrenched authority that was corrupt and evil, namely the Dominion which had quietly taken over the Earth. That is fine. Of course then about twenty issues later we had the “outlaw Legion” arc, which sucked so hard it created its own portable vacuum.) The Legion, from my perspective, is interesting when they fight supervillains – the concept is primarily one with its roots in space opera and traditional superheroics, and I don’t think it lends itself well to stories attempting to deconstruct social politics in this regard. (In others, it can excel.)
Truthfully, I think a large part of the fondness for Geoff Johns’ “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Paul Levitz Legion” exists because the current Legion seems so fundamentally detached from the traditional superheroics typically associated with the team. Jim Shooter’s run has largely been marked by a vivid feeling of jumping through hoops to give the new conceptualization of the team lip service, resulting in the joyless vaguely-superheroic process stories that I loathe combined with soap-opera plotting.
But the answer to all of this is simple. It is painfully simple.
Shove the series forward a year.
After all, back during the “One Year Later” event post-Infinite Crisis (which almost entirely backfired, but that’s not really relevant here), the Legion was unique in that it didn’t advance a year, presumably because Waid didn’t want to bother and because in a series a thousand years apart from the rest of DC continuity there wasn’t any need. But a one-year gap gives a writer carte blanche to change the social status of the Legion as he sees fit, because in a superheroic universe a hell of a lot can happen in a year’s time.
What’s more, the one year leap creates a jump-on point for new readers, if handled correctly, and stimulates excitement among older readers. Legion fans may now debate the merits of the Keith Giffen v4 “five year gap” Legion, where Giffen (and Tom and Mary Bierbaum) shoved the series forward five years, but when they debate it they’re arguing about the execution of the story and whether the plotting and characterization were good or bad. I’ve never seen anybody suggest that the five year gap wasn’t a good idea in and of itself. Creating an instant in media res situation for all readers is exciting, and with proper followup can become epic.
Imagine, the first page of a new issue. A starfield on inky black, with thick white text covering the page, not unlike a still version of the scrolling text in Star Wars movies.
It is one year since [insert events of previous storyline here.]
The Legion of Super-Heroes is stretched to its breaking point. The Controller Virus decimated the Science Police in every major star system, and now the newly-named Science Pirates attack interstellar shipping routes with every passing cycle. Sensing weakness, criminals and outlaws now attack throughout the United Planets constantly. Only the Legion stands between them and the starvation of every outlying frontier colony on the Rimward Fringe, thanks to a desperate United Planets giving them full enforcement authority.
Other problems abound. The Khund, silent for centuries, renew the operation of their warfactories. Scientists report an increase in inexplicable gravitic anomolies. The genius race of Coluans faces near-extinction in the face of the Lemnos Plague, even with Titanian medipaths working around the clock for a cure. Orandian refugees cluster on Earth, demanding recognition and planetary allotment as the independent nation of New Orando. Rumours swirl that the Robotican Front has finally built the M.E.S.S.I.A.H. which will free them from organic bondage.
And Brainiac Five has been missing for seven months.