Monday, October 6, 2014

My Life Long Love of the Legion

Hello everyone and welcome to my introductory post as a member of the Legion of Super-Bloggers.

For those who don't know me, my name is Anj and I run Supergirl Comic Box Commentary, a blog devoted to Supergirl and by extension Superman, the Super-family, and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Given the association between the super-cousins and the Legion, it felt appropriate for me to look in at the Legion over on that site.

But the truth is, even without the connection, I would probably have covered the Legion on my blog because I have had a life long love of the Legion. I have been collecting comics for nearly 4 decades and the Legion has almost always been there.

I read at an early age and my parents fueled my love of reading by feeding me comic books. My first memories of comics are of summers, going to yard sales and flea markets, and buying stacks of comics for pennies.  The comic that I regard as my first comic was Superboy and The Legion of Super-Heroes #211. And what an introduction to the Legion. Element Lad, tracking the Trommite genocidal murderer Roxxas, and almost killing him if not for a Chemical King step-in. Crazy!

But this issue whet my appetite such that I looked for more Legion books everywhere I went. When my grandparents slipped me a quarter I would head to the spinner racks and try to get more. The Bates/Grell era was my Baptism.

And for a young kid, the Legion was soooo cool. They lived in a clubhouse. They were basically kids but adults respected them and they saved the world. In the later days of elementary school, I saw the allure of the Legion Ladies. But most of all, I loved that they were Legion. There were so many of them with such diverse powers. As a geeky kid it was great that there was a super-hero whose only power was intelligence! There was someone on the team because she could make things weightless; someone else was in because of karate! It seemed like a team of heroes I would want to be on ... and if I played my cards right could be on!

When I was entering junior high, the book seemed to mature when the dream team of Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen took over the book. The storylines became more complex. There were suddenly subplots that carried over months. Levitz and Giffen were able to juggle a cast that numbered in the scores but no character felt shorted. The look of the book was smooth and beautiful.

I was starting to think that comics were something more than a kid's dalliance. I was starting to feel that comics were not only something cool but also a serious medium. And this deeper, more mature take on the Legion was perfect.
I know everyone talks about "The Great Darkness Saga" and that is probably the beginning of this era. But for me the high water mark for this time was the storyline that came to fruition in Legion of Super-Heroes #306 that floored me. For months Shrinking Violet wasn't Shrinking Violet! She was a Durlan spy! The clues had been there for months, overlooked. This was shocking.

In high school, I suddenly considered myself a serious comic collector and the book morphed as well. Now they were a direct market book, on heavy Baxter paper, and again was growing creatively. Legionnaires died. Super-villains died. The history of the Legion was shaken by the Crisis. They seemed older, less teenager and more young adult. And even the loss of Keith Giffen didn't slow things down as Steve Lightle and Greg LaRocque continued the fantastic art.

It was around this time that I became the quintessential stereotypical Legion fan. I had been reading for a decade. I knew planets of origin and constitution clauses. I began reading reprints of old stories, seeing the death of Ferro Lad and Adult Legion stories for the first time.

It was almost like the high point of the Roman Empire. The Legion had grown ... maybe too much.

It may have been that fans like me had made the 'old' Legion inaccessible with our reliance on arcane facts and the book's unwieldy cast. It was also the late 80's and early 90's. Suddenly comics became grim and gritty. Heroes had feet of clay. Costumes had jackets and lots of pockets. And something shiny and beautiful like the Legion needed to adapt.

The 'Five Year Later' run, spearheaded by the returning Keith Giffen, was markedly different than any other incarnation of the team. And despite the grungy look and the darker tones, there was something optimistic simmering under the surface.

I was in college, reading independent books and Vertigo stuff. And this darker take on the Legion fit nicely with my current 'more mature' reading habits. I basically abandoned super-hero books for a bit ... other than the Legion.
However, once Zero Hour rebooted the Legion again, I left.

I was an adult fan. I was reading all sorts of books ... Vertigo stuff certainly. But I also craved the easy escapism of super-heroes again. Maybe the grind of adult life made me crave some fun, some optimism, some joy. And DC just didn't seem to know what to do with the Legion. So I stayed away.

Then Mark Waid and Barry Kitson instituted "The Threeboot." It was a fresh start. It had young Legionnaires, living in a clubhouse, doing good in the world. It had a whiff of the earlier simpler stories that made it feel familiar but they were modern stories. It is classic Waid and it drew me back. It didn't hurt that a year and a half in he added Supergirl to the mix, rehabilitating her from the brat Joe Kelly was writing in her solo title.

And since the Threeboot I have been there. I read the Jim Shooter ending to this series. I read new Levitz Legion stuff which seemed like pale echoes of his more classic tales. I even read Legion Lost.

The Legion has had its moments. It has had its ups and downs. But at its core, it is a tale of good over evil, of youthful exuberance triumphing over cultural inertia, of optimism leading to a glittering future.

And for that I love them.

1 comment:

  1. Great essay, Anj! And I'm not just saying that because our experiences are parallel..!