Cuitlamiztli Carter asks:
I suspect your answer to why you love the Legion of Superheroes so much may boil down to “Because it’s great fun” (which is a valid reason for comics). That said, I’m really curious if your affection for them is a “Rex the Wonder Dog” gimmick or a true appreciation of and support for the concept. In other words (or related words), what do you think of the assertion that the concept has reached a “must change or die” point?
I’ve never met, in an offline context, a comic book fan who actually liked the Legion. I know they’re out there, this site demonstrates that, but in conversations I’ve had, the Legion is cited as an example of a ridiculously-dated concept.
Rationales include the fact that characters come from planets where their powers are commonplace (so anyone could fill their role), that their names and powers are often goofy, and their vision of humanity in the future (white, white, white) is grossly out of step with most sci-fi today.
So what is it about the Legion of Superheroes that makes the Internet’s best comic blogger such a devoted fan?
“It’s great fun” is really way down the line for me. Yes, the Legion can be fun, but their appeal for me has always laid in their ability to generate great drama – and, rare in superhero comics, tragedy. Members of the Legion can die – and do – in a way that most other superhero comic characters generally don’t, because the Legion is so isolated from the rest of DC continuity.
Think of a shared superhero universe as something that generates inertia. At the core of the universe, very little will ever change or even bother with the illusion of change: Superman will always be Big Blue, Batman will always mourn his parents, Wolverine will always have claws and be gruff. As you get further and further away from that core, though, you get more and more freedom to do whatever you want. A good example of this is the Planet Hulk storyline, where the only given was that the Hulk would be alive at the end of it and every other character’s fate was unknown, because they were the fringe of the Marvel Universe.
The Legion is only slightly less fringe, because they’re so far displaced from the rest of DC continuity due to the thousand-year-leap. To call what you can do with the franchise “permanent” is something of a misnomer – after all, there will always be the potential for a reboot. But for the purposes of storytelling, nobody in the Legion is safe.1 At various points Legion comics have killed off almost every primary member – or turned them into villains, or driven them insane. That makes the illusion of change in mainstream superhero comics less illusory.
As for the concept being dated, that is silly talk. The idea that anybody from somebody’s respective planet could duplicate their representative hero has been debunked numerous times. Legionnaires are either way above the average member of their race in power ability (Cosmic Boy, for example, is a star athlete in terms of his magnetic ability; Brainiac Five is smarter than every other Coluan by far), members of races that are paranoid, withdrawn or extinct (Element Lad, Chameleon, Mon-El) or actually unique in terms of their powers and are just straight-up traditional superheroes (Ultra Boy, Lightning Lad). Is the Legion at times startlingly over-white? Yes, but this is nothing that cannot be fixed. I personally take the position that any new Legion character should be alien, non-white or both.2
And it is a sci-fi book, or at least a space opera. That gives it a tone mostly unique among superhero comics.3 I think a Legion book done right offers a unique perspective on superheroing. And when it’s done right, it’s better than almost anything out there: the Legion does epic on a scale most comics can never touch. This is a comic book where Mon-El fights the end of time to the death, rewrites history, and then someone else risks their life to rewrite history back the other way, and it’s touching and awe-inspiring and it all happens in two issues.4 Legion was doing what Grant Morrison gets critical acclaim for doing years before Morrison ever did it. That’s why it’s a great book.
- Except probably for Brainiac Five due to his popularity. I am fine with this. [↩]
- The names are probably going to stick, but unless you think “CyberClawz” or the like are dramatically realistic, accept it as a genre convention and move on. [↩]
- Guardians of the Galaxy is a great book, but tonally I think it’s got a lot more in common with Warhammer 40,000 than Legion, which is weird because Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have written for all three properties. [↩]
- Specifically LSH v4 #4-5. [↩]