Monday, March 18, 2013

LSH Reread, Intermission

I'll be skipping ahead twenty-plus years when my LSH Reread resumes on Saturday. Why such a gap? Well, because I feel like sharing, here's my take on the long, strange recent history of Legion of-Super Heroes and how I've occasionally interacted with it. The book's classic period (as I define it, written by Paul Levitz) ended in 1989, and there was a three month gap in publishing. When it resumed, things were very, very different.

Late 1989: Legion of-Super Heroes Vol. 4 # 1 is released. The story is set five years after the previous issue, with the team disbanded and the United Planets disintegrating under the weight of a galactic recession. Renewed hostilities from alien races and supervillains prompt some members of the team to reassemble without funding or government authorization.

Meanwhile, in the 20th Century, interoffice politics at DC Comics has a lot of pipsqueaks acting like they're all blood and thunder, and middle management fiefdoms are carved out under the guise of "creative freedom." The Superman editorial office is having an ongoing conniption fit about anybody else using their character, possibly because there's a horrible live-action Saturday morning Superboy TV show on the air, which everybody reading this blog post either never heard of before or had forgotten, and the comic book people are embarrassed that such a dumb show is being watched by twenty or thirty times as many people as buy their funnybooks. Despite the fact that Legion of-Super Heroes is a spin-off from Superboy, it's decreed that something has to be done to completely separate LSH from Superman, because that's THEIR character and NOBODY ELSE CAN SHARE HIM.

So, within six months of launching this book and confusing the daylights out of everybody reading it as to what the heck is happening and where did the bright, shiny, optimistic and colorful future go, there's suddenly a massive time paradox and history is rewritten and there never was a Superboy and that guy who hung out with our heroes all that time was some other superhero that you never heard of.

1990-1993: Worse, the creators of this dreary, unhappy fiction - principally Keith Giffen, Al Gordon, and Tom & Mary Bierbaum - decide that the rewritten history has given them the opportunity to make striking, often very unpopular, and, from my perspective, unbelievably stupid retcons to the old history. Since I wasn't reading the book at this time, I had no specific take on it, but remember the general feeling among comic fans that it had become a dark, depressing and generally tedious sci-fi soap opera. When I did start acquiring back issues, this proved to be true. It's just an awful, awful book.

1993: Among the new retcons, however, is the revelation that a couple of decades previously, the entire team had briefly been captured by aliens, cloned, and stuck in cryogenic sleep. Suddenly there are two versions of the team: the grim-n-gritty squinty old bunch, and the costumed, bright-eyed teenagers. The teens get their own spin-off book, Legionnaires, which is, sensibly, cut off from the main title, and tells its own stories without making readers pick up both books. Promotion for it brings me back in to buy the new book regularly, enjoying the terrific art and designs by Chris Sprouse. What happened to my once-beloved Legion of-Super Heroes looks ugly and stupid, but for about a year and a month, I am enjoying Legionnaires a heck of a lot.

1994: I get bored and, around issue # 14, quit paying attention to Legionnaires. Issues keep piling up on my to-read stack.

Meanwhile, in the 20th Century, DC Comics decided to fiddle and fumble with their continuity again. This time, it was called Zero Hour, and its architect, writer-artist Dan Jurgens, wanted to revise and revamp all the backstory and history of all the characters again. Since, in 1993-94, I was pretty much only buying Legionnaires and 2000 AD and about six comics published by Vertigo, I had no idea what was going to happen in Legion of-Super Heroes and Legionnaires, and missed it completely.

See, what they decided to do was a six-part crossover between those two titles and a third, Valor. These concluded with the - holy shit - destruction of their entire timeline and replacement with a brand-spanking new one, overwriting EVERYTHING that came before. So, in early 1995, here's what I finally read when I sat down to my ignored pile of about eight issues of Legionnaires: two parts of a crossover (parts 1 and 4 of 6) that doesn't include the finale, a "# 0" relaunch issue which is part two of a two-parter set in a brand-spanking new continuity, and then every other issue of an ongoing storyline.

Prior to the relaunch, Legion of-Super Heroes and Legionnaires were kept as separate as possible. Now, it was effectively one long story being published twice a month, with different art teams. Honestly, if you're going to revamp, start completely from scratch and relaunch, that's probably the sensible way to do it. If, on the other hand, you had become bored with the book, thought that relaunches were silly, and no longer wished to pay for every other episode of a story, it's a good time to drop the book.

1994-2000: The relaunch, refered to on Wikipedia as the Post-Zero Hour Reboot, is pretty successful. It runs across two titles for something like 130 issues before pausing for a retool.

1997: I get really nostalgic and homesick for my Legion and give it another try. I like it a lot!! I collect most of the run as back issues and place regular orders for both titles. I checked the other day and I'm missing just one of these issues - Legionnaires # 37. I'm going to stop by a few comic shops that still sell back issues and see whether they have a copy of it, and start rereading them in the spring. Fans of this era take heart: I'm looking forward to it.

2000: The real world gets really heavy on me and I move to Atlanta. I stop buying many of my regular titles, and take the cancellation of both Legion of-Super Heroes and Legionnaires with issue # 125 and # 81 as call to jump off those. The art on the books has, for years, been entertaining and fun, with Jason Armstrong, Scott Kolins, and especially Jeffrey Moy turning out some fantastic work. Toward the end, however, some guy named Oliver Coipel has been drawing the book with broken pens and spilled ink and it looks completely hideous anyway.

2000-2004: Now with Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning as writers, DC publishes a 12-issue series called Legion Lost, followed by a six-issue series called Legion Worlds, and finaly a 38-issue monthly series called The Legion that continue the story from where I left off. Part of me is intrigued that there are 56 episodes of this Legion that I never read.

Meanwhile, in the 20th Century, Geoff Johns ruins everything that he touches. I honestly don't know what is with this writer, but there isn't anybody whose comics I'd rather read less than his. He's bloodthirsty, needlessly brutal, and beholden to some idealized view of the funnybooks of his youth, and his stuff just isn't worth my time to read. Evidently, he got enough pull at DC to spearhead an end to the 1994-2004 Legion, and wrapped up their story in the pages of his Teen Titans book. I think that's the book that got Young Justice, which my young son was enjoying, canceled. Then I started reading him Teen Titans and had to stop because it was too bloodthirsty and needlessly violent for elementary schoolage kids to read. That ass.

ANYWAY, in 2005, they rang the gong and started again and there was a new, THIRD Legion of-Super Heroes written by Mark Waid and drawn by Barry Kitson and what the hell do they expect out of people who were trying to follow characters that they loved?

2007: DC introduces a fourth Legion of-Super Heroes. This one is a lot like the one that we remembered, except their history only goes up to the election of Polar Boy as leader of the team in vol. 3 # 36, and then it does not have the Death of Superboy and crossover with Action Comics and Superman, because there was no "Crisis on Infinite Earths" in this version. Most of what followed in the last two years of the title, and was covered in my Reread, still mostly happened. Mon-El was very badly injured, Quislet's ship was destroyed, the Empress and Magnetic Kid died, and then there are some mysterious wilderness months. Then there's this strange story called "The Lightning Saga," a five-parter co-written by Geoff Johns and Brad Meltzer that ran in both Justice League of America and Justice Society of America. I have read this, but only once, and no longer have the issues nor the desire to see them.

2008: The fourth LSH appears next in a six-part story in Action Comics, again written by Johns, entitled "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes." This introduces a new villain, Kirt Niedrich, who is devoted to racial purity and insists that the claim that good ol' American Kansas-born Superman is actually some sorta last son of Krypton is a dirty alien lie. I glimpsed at a collected edition of this in a comic shop a couple of months ago and decided against giving DC any of my money. Nice artwork by Gary Frank, though.

2008: Johns writes the ultimate "all the action figures in one bathtub" story. It's called "Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds" and features the 1994-2004 LSH (version 2) along with the 2005-2008 LSH (version 3) and the 1958-1994 / 2007-2008 LSH (version 1/4) all teaming up to fight every supervillain ever. This I've read. It's like watching every single car on the highway all crashing into each other and everybody dying while some kid next to you is all wide-eyed hopping from foot to foot shouting "It's totally bitchin', man!!" It is horrible.

2008-2009: Veteran writer Jim Shooter, who began his career forty years earlier writing these comics, comes back to write the last thirteen issues of the 2005 series and the final appearances of the third LSH. These I've read. They're actually pretty good.

2009-2010: Starting in the May issue of the resurrected Adventure Comics (numbered both # 1 and, reflecting its original history, # 504), there's a 22-page story of the most recent dude who is called Superboy (he's Conner Kent, the black T-shirt guy who was usually having fun in Young Justice) and an eight-page Legion of-Super Heroes backup. This is written by Johns and drawn by Clayton Henry and continues for four issues. In Adventure # 8 / 511 through # 11 / 514, there's another, longer storyline called "Last Stand on New Krypton" written by Sterling Gates and James Robinson. I haven't read these.

2010: Our long national nightmare has finally ended. Starting with Legion of-Super Heroes volume SIX # 1 and Adventure # 515, Paul Levitz returns to put a stop to all this nonsense and start telling the first consistently readable Legion stories in many years. These are set after "The Magic Wars." In the intermission, our heroes experienced "The Lightning Saga," the Kirt Niedrich story, then "3 Worlds," then the backups in Adventure, then "Last Stand on New Krypton." And what happens next is...

Back in a few days.


Jim Purcell said...

Two things. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's Legion Lost is one of the finest maxi-series ever produced. But get used to Oliver Coipel, because A) He doesn't go away, and B) frankly I love his style of this period to death. And that includes is 'Legion of the Damned' lead in that you seem to have taken an aversion too. He definitely likes to throw on the 'grit' but I think it really makes this period shine.

Second thing, Mark Waid's 'Threeboot' Legion (the 2005 team) is bloody fantastic. Or at least the first 14 or so issues are, then it sort of loses its focus, until finally pittering out when the next relaunch happened. But those first 14 issues are pure distilled Legion awesome. Just think of it as an Elseworld take on the Legion and you are good to go.

G.G. said...

Thanks for the input! When I start the next chunk of Reread, I'm only planning to go through # 125 / # 81, in part because I really don't want to invest in the 56 more back issues to continue the story, nor give DC Comics any sales of collected editions. But who knows? After spending most of this year with the '94 Legion, I may be too in love with them to let go!

I also enjoy Dan Abnett's work for 2000 AD a heck of a lot, even Sinister Dexter, which he ran into the ground. Kingdom, Insurrection, and Grey Area are all very good series. My only memories of the seven or eight LSH issues that he did at the end are negative, but I only read them once, 13 years ago, and they've been collecting dust in a longbox ever since. Hopefully they are better than I recall!

Dale Houston said...

I highly recommend the Waid/Kitson threeboot issues. One of my all-time favorite funnybooks.