Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Legion Five Years Later


It was the late Eighties.

Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns had changed the landscape of comics and super-heroes. Things needed to be grim and gritty. There couldn't be simply the light of Good and the dark of Evil. There needed to be shades of gray. Heroes could kill. Villains could have sympathetic back stories. And costumes needed to have pockets, pouches, and jackets.

The shiny paradise of the future as seen in prior Legion of Super-Heroes stories seemed outdated, antiquated, anachronistic. And DC knew it.

So in September 1989, a new Legion of Super-Heroes #1 was published. The stories in this book took place 5 years after the last published Legion book, the tumultuous "Magic Wars" which ended the Baxter series. As a result, this is called the 5YL Legion, the 5 Year Later book.

I went into the book with some trepidation. Sure I was a surly, more mature, self-proclaimed brilliant college student reading Vertigo and independent books. I was all about shades of gray then and a Legion book like that seemed fresh and innovative. That said, the power of the Legion was its optimism, its feelings of family, its bright take on the future. Could there be a dark Legion book?

Could there be a book where the Legion was disbanded. That the Dominators controlled Earth. That Vi and Rokk fought each other in an interplanetary war? That Blok was doomed to die? That Wildfire was powering the sun? That Dawnstar had her wings ripped off and was a bounty hunter?  That Mon-El and Superboy and Supergirl never existed but a new character could be a satisfactory mash-up?

It didn't help that 4 issues into the series, DC decided to completely blow up the timeline, shaking things up even more.

Add to that a murkier, inkier Keith Giffen art and a strict 9 panel page layout, a stark difference from the fine-lined beauty of Grell, early Giffen, Lightle, and LaRocque.

This was a bold Legion experiment.

Now this book has plenty of detractors and haters. It's darker tone was shunned by many seasoned Legion fans.

But I LOVED it!

Giffen showed throughout this series that the idea of the Legion was bigger than the team itself. That the Legion, as a concept, represented the good times, the bright future, the optimism. And that theme made this book feel different, more powerful, more important.

I will be reviewing these issues on this site and hope that I can convey the power and glory of this series. 

7 comments:

  1. What a remarkable run this was - stylistically brilliant & challenging. Perhaps the best thing about this iteration of the Legion was that the characters were allowed to evolve and change.

    I'd had minimal exposure to the Legion throughout the 80s, mainly through an annual I'd picked up from a spinner rack in a Walden Books (LSH Annual #3, 1984) and their appearances in Crisis & Who's Who. When the 1990 looseleaf Who's Who came out, I could barely recognize this Jo Nah who used to be Ultra Boy and Rokk Krinn, this grizzled 30-something that had apparently been Cosmic Boy. Also, what the heck was going on with Timber Wolf?! Furball?! I was fascinated with these characters - they were allowed to grow up, a rare thing in mainstream comics.

    I followed them in their series off & on and was dissatisfied with the way their title fizzled out (though the final issue of the concluding arc, 'End of an Era was sensational) - but after completing my collection of the 5YL run a couple of years ago and binge-reading the entire run, I come to realize what a great body of work it is by Giffen/Bierbaums/Pearson/Sprouse/Gordon/McCraw etc.

    I'm looking forward to the individual reviews to come!

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  2. I can't wait to see how Anj meets the challenge, myself.

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  3. Hopefully I am up to it!

    It won't be easy ... but nothing about this comic was easy. Dying is easy. Creating good comics is hard. And reviewing them should be hard too.

    I volunteered for the challenge ... that is how much I love this run.

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  4. I've recently spent many hours flipping through and scanning all of the issues of the 5YL run (LSH #s 1-61, Annuals 1-5, Legionnaires #s 1-18) in an effort to update their entry on www.comicbookdb.com. I added all then-current Legionnaires, villains & supporting cast as characters different from those in the original continuity (Brad Meltzer & Geoff Johns pretty much established that), creating many new character profile pages and filling in a few bios. Though I did this work with issues in hand, I can't claim complete infallibility, so if anyone has the time or interest to have a look, it's in us Legion-nerds' best interest to keep this great resource as accurate as possible!

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  5. Anj, I am along for the ride with you. I, too, loved the 5YL run. The overall tone of the run implied that its readers had an already working knowledge of the Legion, and if they didn't...what's wrong with them? The strict 9-panel frames of artwork that you had to look at for an extra second or two to see what was really happening enhanced the aura and mystique of these characters, who were often depicted out of uniform or in a new get-up. The 5YL run actually got me reading Legion retroactively!

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  6. I don't really know how to feel about this period of Legion history. After drifting in and out of the Legion since I first bought #245, this run turned me into a diehard fan of Legion past, present, and future. When it came out I loved it, but I also think I spent the last half of the run trying to convince myself I still loved it. When I reread it a few years ago, I still loved the first year, loved the second year a little less, and by the time the third year ended I decided I didn't need to read any more. I'm going to try rereading it again with your nommentary to see if I can't get back to a happier middle ground.

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  7. I hate hate HATED the 5 years later period of the Legion. I also don't think the Legion has every really recovered from that (and all the reboots).

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