Friday, January 15, 2016

My Legion Lost Years - A Semi-Lifelong Love

Fourteen months ago I posted my first article on this blog discussing my lifelong love of the Legion.

There was a lot to cover as I am getting up in years and have been reading comics now for nearly 4 decades. And I consider the Legion to be my first comic. In fact, whether it is true or not, I consider Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #211 to be my first comic.

I won't rehash my origins. Suffice it to say that the Legion, as a property and as a concept, seemed to grow as I grew. So the Bates/Grell stuff was perfect for a wide eyed kid looking at a teenage super-team forming a club and saving the world.

And when I was in my early teens, the Legion was something more complex. These were the glory years of Levitz and Giffen. This was a team book firing on all cylinders. The cast was large but everyone had a role to play. There were short storylines and long form plots that percolated for years.

I was also entering the first 'serious collector' period of my life, bagging books, buying titles monthly rather than by randomly picking a cover off the rack, and I began memorizing all the Legion history I could.

When I was a surlier older teen, entering college, I was veering away from 'simple' comics and heading towards Vertigo, First Comics, and other more 'mature' books. And the Legion grew with me there too.

The 5 Year Later book came out and was just what I was looking for in comics at that time. This was a dense, literary experience. It leaned on history. It was a dystopia. But there was this undercurrent of optimism, that the Legion was something bigger.

I won't regurgitate all the gushing I did during my reviews. But this was a special book for me. It was a perfect storm; it was the ultimate mature superhero book, dealing with heavy topics, was creatively daring, and made me a better comic reader as I had to digest the issues thoughtfully and critically.

It was a lightning bolt of a series filled with powerful moments.

In a time when Punisher was mowing people down and heroes had feet of clay, Jan saying they can't kill Roxxas just resonated, a comic moment that has stuck with me for over 25 years.

But as Robert Frost so famously said, 'nothing gold can stay'.

The book seemed to lose it's creative focus. The nuances of the storytelling, the complexities of the plot, the need to infer things all seemed to go away.

And then Zero Hour happened and Rokk was the Time Trapper.

For the first time, I felt that the comic had taken a step back from me. While the characters and books had grown with me before, the last year of the 5YL and the subsequent reboot seemed simpler and redundant. The 5YL book was a walk through the Louvre. Rokk as the Time Trapper? That was paint by numbers.

If I had a lifelong love of the Legion, this moment was my break-up. It wasn't you Legion. It was me.

And so, for the first time since I became a 'serious collector', I dropped the Legion.  It was August 1994.

I lost all touch with the characters. I have read snippets of things on line. Jeckie was a snake. Laurel became a militant nun. But even in this day and age when information is a click away, I have never sought out the history of this time.

In fact, it was only when putting this post together that I saw that this title went on for 5 more years after Zero Hour. Incredible!

FIVE YEARS LATER, it was cancelled.

And then there was a Legion Lost series with what looks like a powerhouse team of Abnett, Lanning, and Coipel.

But I didn't buy it. And I have no idea what happened in this series either. Did it continue from that past title? Was it new?

I was away from the Legion for ten years.

Ten years!!

Can I call it a lifelong love if I walked away for a decade?

But there was something about the beginning of the Five Year Later run that continued to haunt me. It was so good for me. Would I ever go back to the property? Was I doomed to be disappointed?

Well a funny thing happened. I changed as a reader!

When I first read 5YL I was 19, in college, big for my britches and ready to be challenged.
When I left 5YL I was 24, halfway through medical school, broke and exhausted. There wasn't room for a book like the Legion had become.

When I was 35, I was starting to look at comics differently. As much as I loved dense reads like Vertigo and indies, I was also looking for escapism. I was morphing back into that wide-eyed kid that read the Bates/Grell stuff. I was an adult, a dad, a working man. What I needed comics to do for me was take me somewhere else for a few minutes, to inspire me and entertain me, and let me imagine for a moment that I was flying in the skies shooting hand beams.

As Shag might say, I was looking for some joy.

Around that time a 'new' Legion was coming out. It was going to be written by Mark Waid, a creator whose work I loved, who I trusted to put out a quality comic. It was drawn by Barry Kitson, an artist who wowed be on Superman and (please don't laugh) Azrael. It might not be the deep dive of the 5YL book but it had to be better than 'Rokk is the Time Trapper.' Plus, I wouldn't mind some 'simple' super-heroics. I wanted to escape.

And frankly, I missed the characters. It had been a lifelong love before the bitter breakup. I was ready for a new start with the Legion and, from some sort of cosmic rebirth, the Legion were ready for a new start too.

Can you go home again?

The answer is yes.

So say goodbye to Anj's 5YL Fridays.
And say hello to Anj's 3Boot Fridays.


  1. I look forward to your three boot Friday's. I really enjoyed your 5 year later Friday's. I was pleasantly surprised by your brief history of reading Legion. I consider issue #210 as Matt first comic (probably apocryphally). I could relate to your shifting life and fandom phases. And I smiled when you referenced Barry Kitson's work on Azrael--one of the true unappreciated gems of 90s comics. Can't wait for next week!

  2. And I have no idea what happened in this series either. Did it continue from that past title? Was it new?

    It did continue from the past title. The Reboot Legion had two distinct phases, and the Abnett-and-Lanning phase was the second one. I'm fond of the first phase, which was charming but nonthreatening, but the second phase was basically as good as Legion comics have ever been and I heartily recommend the entire reboot period to your attention.

  3. Thanks for the comments!
    Did the Abnett/Lanning stuff get collected in trade?

    1. A lot of it was. The LSHv4 and Legionnaires series were both brought to an end by Abnett and Lanning in two stories that spread across both titles: "Legion of the Damned" and "Widening Rifts". "Legion of the Damned" has been collected; "Widening Rifts" has not, and it's super rare and expensive to track down. (It may be on Comixology.)

      Then it leads into the first Legion Lost limited series, which has been collected, and Legion Worlds, which _I think_ has been collected. Then you go into the ongoing series The Legion, which... I think some of it has been collected? I know that one of the later stories from that series, "Foundations", was collected, but that's not the best part of the run. Anyway, that ran for about 38 issues, and is worth following to the end, even the issues after Abnett and Lanning left.

      Then the reboot was put to bed with a crossover with the Teen Titans; the last thing was a Titans/Legion special that had a little preview thing for the threeboot at the end of it. All worth reading.

      I should say that as good as the Abnett/Lanning stuff is, it helps to have read the reboot stuff that comes before it, so you're familiar with the newer characters and the current takes on the older characters. In their first story, "Legion of the Damned", there's one panel that just kills me, every time, and it gets a lot of its weight because we just know these people so well. But if you start with it? Maybe not.

  4. Legion Lost was collected in Trade, Legion of the Damned was part of a "showcase" special and a later arc was collected in Legion: Foundations.

  5. Anj, I never realised you'd missed the Archie Legion and what followed. Matthew is spot on, the DnA stuff was just wonderful (and yes, heartbreaking). Search it all out. And I'd also say, grab the Archie Legion. Every issue. It may not be our Legion, but it certainly honours it, with imaginative stories by talented creators. And I think you'll love such new characters as Kinetix and Monstress.

    There is NO excuse, though, for Snekkie.

    1. The snake suffered from really terrible characterization. I do think DnA managed to fix her too. Still, better than what the Bierbaum's did to Projectra (i.e. bring back Orando and pretend Sensor Girl never happened)

    2. Yeah, I dunno. DnA "fixed" her by giving her breasts and hips, which makes basically no sense. But perish forfend there be a female superhero character who isn't sexy. (Notice they got Monstress off the team too.)

    3. I was thinking that they fixed her personality to make it more aggressive and less "grandmotherly" and explaining why it changed. I hadn't thought about the "sexy-fication" of the character until now. Good point.

      I will say that I liked that they gave her real arms instead of those ridiculous robot arms that she used. If the creators insist on a snake then they should have gone with it instead of copping out and giving her robot arms right away (totally "humanizing" her right away)

  6. I agree that "grandmotherly" was one of the two personalities they had for female Legionnaires before DnA, and Sensor had it. But I was cool with the robot arms.

  7. Superboy & The Legion of Super - Heroes # 211 was a great story which provided some actual depth to Element Lad and explored the natural need for vengeance a real person would feel for the murder of their family and genocide of their race !

    The emotional conflict of his peoples philosophical morals and the Legions own code against killing was tearing Jan apart and prevented him from going postal !

    He did actually pull the trigger in the end however but quickly was remorseful . Chemical King who was rarely used ended up saving the day .

    The Cockrum / Grell artwork carried the nonsensical Carey Bates stories nine out of ten times . This story was the exception and made it a great issue !