Sunday, January 06, 2008

Legion 37

Jim Shooter, welcome back to the Legion of Super-Heroes.

As many of you probably already know (and probably know more about than I!), Jim Shooter was hired sight unseen to write the Legion of Super-Heroes in 1966 at the age of 14. Weird stuff like that used to happen before the internet. He created Ferro Lad (whose sacrifice is one of the Legion's great recurring legends), Princess Projectra (who became the ultra-fabulous Sensor Girl), and Karate Kid (he's okay-kay-kay, but I still don't like him). After high school, he left the Legion, and went on to, er, some other comic book related stuff.

Now, I know that Jim Shooter has his detractors, particularly as regards the other-than-author aspects of his comics career. But I know none of this (or will pretend to). I think, as a whole, all that is irrelevant to what he brings to table with Legion.

Setting aside the particulars of both author and title, it's quite an amazing thing to have someone come back to write a title they help shaped forty years before. It could herald a return to greatness or a giant step backwards.

Shooter's first (new) issue, LSH 37, has me leaning toward thinking it a return to greatness (and apparently others as well). I'm a Legion fan, but not a Legion zombie. I loved the "Archie Legion", but the 5YL Legion made my head hurt, Legion Lost completely lost me, and Mark Waid's recent LSH simply wasn't working for me (except when Supergirl was around).

So what did I like about Shooter's return in LSH 37?

Lingo. Part of the gloriously geeky appeal of the Legion is that they are world all their own, and they have "Interlac lingo" to go with it. This is a common feature in sci fi, and helps put the LSH in its unique spot somewhere between sci-fi and superheroes. The new Shooter Legion has "Glyco" for "soda pop", which is sensible; "yo-d'lay" as a greeting in a skiing colony (from the yodel "yo de lay hee hoo") is cute. The skiiers using phrases like "avalanche her" and "drift her under" is clever. And swear words and "futureuphemisms" are always a delight! Florg; futzwit; noob-head; snoog. Use them daily.

Consistent characterization. But that I don't mean simply within the issue itself. I mean consistent with both what Waid's done and the Legionnaires' "classic" personae. The haughtiness, but vulnerability, of Projectra. The natural leadership of Saturn Girl. The general incompetence of Lightning Lad. Light Lass's devotion to her brother.

Politics, both inside and outside the Legion. This was always an integral part of the Legion's shtick, and Shooter's continuing it in a much less grating way than Waid's rather immaturely and unrealistically anti-authoritarian version of the Legion. Projectra's statelessness, Garth being in over his head as Leader, the suspension of the transmatter accounts, the lack of authority on the skiing colony... and I can't wait to see who the "pre-approved candidates" are. These things inject sociological realism into a scientifically fantastic world, which always helps ground the story for me.

Humor. I don't recall this being a strength of Shooter's original run (really, how could it be, for a teenager?), but it's certainly there now, and rather subtly so. There are no "HERE'S THE BIG JOKE, FOLKS" kind of moments (the kind I find so grating in many Marvel stories). It's the little things, like "okay-kay-kay", "Mr. under-checker", "dressed this time, I see," and Invisible Kid pantsing somebody. Impulse helped me see that humor and pathos are not incompatible in a title, and are particularly important in a title about young people, and I'm happy to see Shooter bring that touch to the Legion.

Tradition. This is like "consistent characterization", but with other elements of the Legion. Specifically, I liked see the "Duty Roster", which is of course just a spruced up version of the old "Monitor Board". Sure, in "the real world" that could just as easily be on a desk-sized monitor rather than appearing in cinemascope. But this is the Legion, and modern Monitor Board, like the old, needs to be a big ass display for everyone to see, dominating the entire command center.

Patina. By this I mean two things: a Legion that takes advantage of its sci-fi settings with wacky worlds and concepts (like the old Mount Rushmore of Outer Space) but still uses them mostly as a patina that colors very basic and recognizable features of our world and experience. That's rather a mouthful, but the essence of it is "people don't change much and higher tech just means a glossier version of the same things we always do". This is another staple of sci-fi (unless you're Gene Roddenberry, in which case you think technology will breed out of people all greed, ambition, and violence [and please do not hijack the comments on this post into a Roddenberry/Star Trek discussion, thank you very much]). In this issue, I point to Cryogeyser City on Triton, which isn't some essential mining facility or military outpost -- it's just a ski resort with nitrogen snow. That's the kind of "Ice Cream Parlor of Nine Worlds" style fun I look for from the Legion.

Creationism. Gulp! No, no, not "creationism" versus "evolution". "Creationism" is what I call a certain approach to writing a long-standing property. Mere "recidivism" makes a writer afraid or unwilling to make any changes or advances to property's existing mythos; they dance safely but unspectacularly within its existing boundaries. Untrammeled "revisionism" spur a writer to the other extreme, to try to re-define the character, overturn his world, in the hope of revitalizing him. But "creationism" respects where a character is and has traditionally been, but uses it as a starting point for the continued evolution of the myth, not as an end point (like recidivism) or an albatross to be shed (like revisionism). In this comic book sense, "creationism" is evolution.

Anyway, that "creationist" attitude is what marks some of DC's best books today (such as Blue Beetle, Wonder Woman, Dini's Batman, Booster Gold, the All-New Atom, Green Lantern). It was the attitude that created such myths as the Legion to begin with, and Shooter hasn't lost a whit of it in 40 years. New people, places, and plots, all right there in his first issue.

Accessibility. The Legion, like a long-running soap opera, can be difficult to crack open for the uninitiate. Shooter could pander directly to longtime Legion fans like me, but he doesn't. Not only does he include necessary exposition (who has what powers, the minimal background necessary to understand the events in the book, terms and limits of technology used, etc.), he does it fairly naturally. Saturn's telepathy, the Legion's relationship with the UP, Projectra's problem, trans-neptunian objects, transmattering, Star Boy's power, etc., are all explained within the course of predominantly natural dialog. This is very important in a potentially daunting property like the Legion, with its deep and broad mythos. Now would be a good "jumping on" point for the Legion, if you have even the slightest interest or curiosity about DC's premier sci-fi title.


Zundian said...

I whole-heartedly agree.

Our Man Horn said...

Homeboy wrote some great Avengers, too.

kenaustin said...

A most excellent post. I agree with you, also. I am eagerly waiting for the next issue with the hope that this wasn't a fluke.

Crackerbob said...

I've never paid much attention to the Legion, but you've convinced me to give it a try.

toothpick said...

hmmm...i like this breakdown, especially the bit about "creationism" (and it's counterparts).

Gustavo said...

I love the Legion, since I was a kid... and I'm 39 now. I'm not one of those "all that came before was better " types, but the first reboot ( and by this I mean the "earth 247 reboot", for me not 5 years later or Glorith-verse count as actual reboots ) left me sort of cold, and "Legion Lost" basically...lost me ( pun semi-intended ).
I didn't touch the Legion again. I read "The lightning saga", just because, and I'm reading Action and saying "this is not my legion either".
I never tried the Waid reboot. But you actually made me curious about Shooter's new direction. Here's to a Legion that thrills me the way it did when I was 9 and the one that thrilled me when I was 19.

totaltoyz said...

Welcome back
Marvel was your ticket out
Welcome back
To the Distinguished Competition you once dissed about
And I know many folks hated your editin'
Was it a tax audit that made you come back again?
And what could ever lead yuh
Back to the Legion where they need yuh
Well we're glad you need the bucks
Because post-Zero Hour really sucks
Welcome back!
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back!!

MaGnUs said...

Glorious return!!!

K26dp said...

Nice, totaltoyz.

I'm trying very hard to ween off of comics... two kids now, and the budget just could use the break. So I've been dropping books when creators change. I dropped LoSH at the end of Waid/Kitson. It's taking all of my willpower to not pick up Shooter's first issue. I'm hoping it's sold out before next Wednesday.

totaltoyz said...

Homeboy wrote some great Avengers, too.

Oh, no, you di'in't!

Orange said...

I will add a great big "Hellz yah" to the Creationism part. I can whittle down what drives me away from certain books directly either to what you call "revisionism" or "recidivism" (which is one of my favorite terms, oddly enough.)

I know I'm probably preaching to the choir over here, but they're what's keeping me from touching the Ultimate X-men book with a twelve foot pole these days. it started out as Revisionism(wouldn't it be rad if the X-men were totally Ultimatezor?) which worked Okay, considering the intended audience, it was still accessable and vaguely interesting, but now it's got both that and recidivism, so it's serving up lame-ass plots and characters from the 90s only "awesomed" out, which kinda makes me want to puke.

But yeah, comics totally need more "creationism" these days... there need to be the new plotlines and themes that writers of the future will want to revive and revise!

There's also a lot to say for the creation of new characters. It's easy, especially in big cast books, to just dig up an obsolete character and bring them into the main plot, but sometimes you just really need something new! I think the awesomeness of All-New-Atom definately backs that up. Ryan Choi definately takes the grammy for "Best New Artist"

totaltoyz said...

That's the kind of "Ice Cream Parlor of Nine Worlds" style fun I look for from the Legion.

Of course, if our solar system is said to have nine planets in the 31st Century, then one of two things happened. Either Pluto got upgraded to a planet again; or an entirely new planet was discovered, perhaps previously hidden from view by John Byrne's ego.

Jon said...

Never read anything Legion-related before (apart from the recent JLA/JSA thing, which I'm not counting), but this post interested me, so I picked it up today. I need to read it again, but it was interesting enough for me to be pretty certain of picking up the next issue.

Nice timing, I'm about to drop a bunch of books, so need some fresh stuff ;)

dan said...

"Creationism" is good so long as it doesn't violate the basics of the characters. Growth is one thing, arbitrary wholesale change is another. Most of what DC does is change, not growth.

Ironically, the DCU had shown great maturity in the lead up to Infinite Crisis, but DC got scared and abandoned that "creation" in favor of stopping everything altogether (called "OYL") and returning the status quo of the DCU back to pre IC levels. DC kept the change, however (WW, GA, Batman); and only removed the growth.

I've yet to find anything "awesome" or "creationist" about the ill-named "all-new" Atom. It's yet another replacement character, changing the person inside the suit but keeping the rest. Hardly new ground there, and hardly moving the property forward. In fact, it is a regression because the Atom property is now back to the "rookie" stage.

Blue Beetle is not being moved forward either. It has been restarted, from the beginning--but with a borrowed name and color scheme. Everything else about the decades old Blue Beetle franchise was discontinued.

GL, however, is moving forward now that Johns has evolved the villainy of Sinestro. And that didn't happen until Johns re-established the old status quo of Hal Jordan (proving that classic characters do NOT need revamped or replaced).

DC almost moved Wonder Woman forward, but didn't like her new politics and thus abandoned that bit of "creationism" in favor of returning her to her PC self. Maybe the current run is indeed "creationist," but only a safe one. I much prefered the Wonder Woman who was a warrior and finally began acting like one.

totaltoyz said...

GL, however, is moving forward now that Johns has evolved the villainy of Sinestro.

I, for one, am getting a hippy-dippy vibe from this whole "color theory" thing. Every color represents a different emotion; it sounds like a 1968 Jefferson Airplane concept album.

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