Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Legion (v2) 1979-1981


We have come to the end of the Gerry Conway-Joe Staton-Steve Ditko-Jimmy Janes-Roy Thomas run on The Legion of Super-Heroes (v2) and before we set this series aside, we thought we would do one last look back....

The first and most important thing that must be said about this series is that it was the first time that the Legion ever had their own on-going series. Before this they were a feature in Adventure Comics, then in Superboy, then in Superboy and the Legion, and then....suddenly, as of Legion of Super-Heroes #259 they were "in a comic all their own at last."

Relatedly, they got their own logo for the very first time. The aslant title made its debut on the cover of LSH #259. It lasted as long as Gerry Conway did; he plotted the final stories in this run, but was not the writer of credit. The logo, similarly, disappeared from #280, replaced by the more dramatic version that stayed on the title until its last issue, #354 (Dec 1987). This aslant logo is the most visual representative of this era.  

This "era" lasted two years exactly, 25 issues from #259 (Jan 1980) thru #283 (Jan 1982).  

During this run the Legion had only one leader, Lightning Lad, who had been elected in Superboy/Legion #247. He eventually stepped down in LSH #287. This means Lightning Lad served a span of 41 issues, one of the team's longest in "real" time. As a comparison, his successor, Dream Girl, was elected in LSH #291 but was replaced by Element Lad in LSH #306, a span of only 15 issues. 
Based on Lightning Lad's term, this was one of the more eventful "years" in Legion membership, as Superboy quit (LSH #259), followed quickly by Tyroc (#265). However, Duo Damsel and Bouncing Boy returned to active membership (#267) and the Legion inducted Blok (#272). Ultra Boy died (twice) but then got better. And Reflecto sort of kind of joined, but really the less said about him the better. 
Speaking of "less," several members were AWOL for long stretches of time. Element Lad appeared in a background scene in LSH #254, then did not re-appear until LSH #266. Worse yet, Dream Girl appeared in only two of the 25 issues (#262 and #268, if you're curious). And oddest of all, Shrinking Violet started out fighting the Fatal Five in #270, then disappeared from the action in #271
On the other hand, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, and Wildfire appeared in nearly every issue, with attendance records of 21 for Mr. and Mrs. Ranzz and 19 for Wildfire. 

During these 25 issues the Legion fought some of their greatest foes: the Fatal Five, Pulsar Stargrave, Mordru, Grimbor, and the Time Trapper. Unfortunately, most of these incredibly evil and dangerous individuals were taken care of in the most outlandish ways. And when the Legion wasn't facing these legitimate threats, they were fighting off a Darth Vader wannabe, an angry genie, space pirates, and race relations. It was not a good time for the bad guys. 
It started off okay, though. The series began with the Legion facing a financial deficit, so they broke up into teams to raise money (with their benefactor, RJ Brande) and to rebuild their head-quarters. These sub-plots only lasted a few issues, however. Where initially they had seemed like pieces within some cosmic whole, within six months the stories seemed dis-jointed and unconnected. For example, Chameleon Boy's parentage was revealed in the Secrets of the Legion mini-series that appeared at this time, but...was never mentioned or followed-up in this series AT ALL. 

The answer to why this happened seems obvious. Over a span of 25 issues, there were two editors, six writers, and no less than ten artists! The series started with Jack C. Harris as editor, then changed to Mike W. Barr after #277. Gerry Conway started the run, then was supported by guest writers JM DeMatteis (#264 and #268) and Paul Kupperberg (#267). Roy Thomas came in and worked from Gerry's plot from #277, then once Gerry was off the book Paul Levitz came back and worked with Roy. Then Paul took over completely with #284. We all know how that worked out. 
As for the art, only one artistic team managed to do three issues in a row during this time: Jimmy Janes & Dave Hunt stayed together for the Tyroc saga, #s 263-265. Believe it or not, one artistic team only managed to get TWO issues in a row: Janes and inker Frank Chiaramonte were together for #s 269-270. They teamed up again, but never consecutively. Besides these two "runs," there was a different penciller and inker team in EVERY issue.

The aforementioned Secrets of the Legion min-series might have had something to do with this, as it was also drawn by Janes & Chiaramonte and ran concurrently with the monthly title. But if that is the case, it's like we sacrificed the main series for the mini-series. Not the right priority, is it? Besides Jimmy Janes the other pencillers at this time were Joe Staton (who started the run), Jim Sherman, John Calnan, Ric Estrada, Steve Ditko, and Howard Bender. 

Beautiful covers were provided by Dick Giordano, Rich Buckler, George Perez, Jim Sherman, Dave Cockrum, and in some of his only Legion work, the great Jim Aparo.  
So, what to make of this two year run as a whole? It definitely had a few quality peaks (Jim Sherman's return in #262 comes immediately to mind) and a few dramatic scenes that are hard to forget (the reveal of Superboy as Reflecto at the end of #280, for instance). Still, besides these two peaks the plains did seem to go on far too long. Jimmy Janes was a totally average artist with almost no "future" artistic sense. He should not have been given this book. Issues such as #272 and #282 are just dull, dull, dull. Steve Ditko was also competent, but it was clear he was simply picking up the pay-check and had no real love for the characters or the concepts. 
The Fatal Five give up without a fight. HUH!?!?! 
The dramatic low-point of this series is a three-way tie between the Legion's defeat of the Fatal Five (#271), of Mordru (#276), and of the Time Trapper (#283)....all in ONE panel scenes! Even if you can forgive everything else, these three incidents are just unforgivable. 
The house falls on Mordru. The End.
(They say that his distant cousin is the Wicked Witch of the East) 

A plot device so bad even the characters themselves don't believe it. 
In the end these three incidents are indicative of what is wrong with this run. Even with different artists and different writers, the fans are willing to forgive Ultra Boy hugging Light Lass instead of Phantom Girl. They're willing to forgive someone mis-spelling Bgtzl (or is it Bgztl?) But to toss "our heroes" against threats from their continuity that are no longer worth the price of admission....that shows an inherent misunderstanding of the series' concepts, or a blatant disregard for them. Either way, it doesn't make for good story-telling.

Anybody else out there agree, or disagree, with me about this run? Let us hear from you in the comments section!


14 comments:

  1. Will you review the missing issues between die Great Darkness Saga and the Baxter Series or die I muss something?

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  2. The "Tales" era will be covered soon! Watch the skies!

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  3. God these were the real bottom issues of the Legion and its never been this bad since .

    Jimmy Janes was the WORST ARTIST EVER !!!!!!!!!!!

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  4. Funny those comments come in succession: this era had a certain charm that stories like Exile or Omen and Prophet entirely lacked, so not the low point by any means. And that logo is still the best legion logo. Remember it as the logo on the first Legion Digest, which is probably the single most perfect LSH product ever produced.

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  5. And ultimately, without this 2 year stretch the rest that everyone loves so much may not have followed. DC was promoting the book internally, kids were picking it up in sufficient numbers to keep in going.

    Was it the best? No. Did it have a few stinkers? For sure, but man I remember wanting to see what was going to happen next. I don't remember hating Janes as much as many of you.

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    1. I agree with you, somewhat. At the time I had no idea what heights the Legion could reach, so I was happy with what we were getting. Still, although I liked the Janes-Patterson art I just felt that Conway-Thomas were not made for the Legion. I had no enthusiasm for them or JCH at all. When Mike W. Barr came on, I hoped for better stuff.

      We have one more non-Giffen story to cover, and then we'll get to the post-Great Darkness pre-Baxter era. Keep reading!

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  6. OK, someone has to stick up for Jimmy Janes.

    My first issue of Legion (and, possibly, the first comic I ever got) was S/LSH 235, and I was hooked. I cut my teeth on Jim Sherman and Mike Nasser. A few back issues got me Mike Grell. The art was stunning.

    And then Joe Staton came along and cartoonified the living hell out of everything. Followed by the even cartoonier Steve Ditko.

    So, in contrast, Jimmy Janes was a refreshing taste of normality and, yes, mediocrity. He wasn't a Sherman, a Nasser, or a Grell, but he was far better than Staton and Ditko.

    Looking back (or, alternately, from this perspective, ahead), the next great artist on Legion was Pat Broderick, who had my respect from Micronauts and Firestorm. I thought his work on Legion was brilliant, and I was thrilled when he came aboard. And then Giffen came along, and I thought I was in heaven: Giffen and Broderick, splitting the work! One on the main story, one on the backup!

    As brilliant as Giffen was on Legion, I still think that Broderick was a lost opportunity. His Legion had a wonderful and distinct appearance and vitality, and we should have more.

    But back to Janes. No, he wasn't great. But he was passable, and a hell of an improvement over Staton and Ditko.

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    1. Janes was horrible !!!!!

      Please name some other notable work he has done ?

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  7. "Janes was horrible !!!!!

    Please name some other notable work he has done ?"

    Beg pardon, but what the blooming heck does his other work have to do with evaluating his work on Legion?

    Ditko's work on Spider-Man and Doctor Strange was groundbreaking. His work on Legion, 20 years later, was terrible.

    Joe Staton found the perfect outlet for his style on E-Man. His work on Legion (and Green Lantern) were terrible.

    Janes followed a series of bad artistic matches with utterly unexceptional artwork -- which was an improvement. He was succeeded by Pat Broderick, who was a great improvement, and then Keith Giffen, who was an even greater improvement. (For a while, at least.)

    Janes started the recovery from Staton and Ditko. The Legion had the Golden Age of Cockrum/Grell/Sherman/Nasser, then the Dark Ages of Staton and Ditko. Janes started the turnaround to the Next Golden Age. He kept me on as a reader (despite the horrid writing) until the Great Ones came on.

    Staton actually chased me off Green Lantern, and nearly drove me away from the Legion. Janes saved me as a reader, and I am grateful for that.

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    1. Good points. I agree with you completely. Not great, but better than some of the other options.

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  8. Janes was horrible in his legion art and I'm asking what other work did he do ?

    He didn't improve the title with his work and didn't do anything of note !

    He was the bottom of this title !

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    1. As far as I know he retired from comics after his time in the Legion.

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  9. I can't let the last posting on this entry be a such a hate-fest about Jimmy Janes. True, his art on this series wasn't as memorable as such luminaries as Grell, Cockrum, Giffen, Swan, Sherman et. al., but he at least kept the home fires burning - competently, if not beautifully.

    My understanding is that he started out as a production artist in the 70s at DC, then after a brief pause, was assigned the Legion. Much of his career was in animation (and on series which you may well have liked), which was liklier considerably more lucrative than comics. Series he worked on, primarily as a storyboard artist, included Batman the Animated Series, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Extreme Ghostbusters, GI Joe, Robocop, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Karate Kid and Sherlock Holmes in the 22 Century. (Check out his IMDB page at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1645640/ )

    Although he is not my favourite either, I do have a soft spot for him. Grell was my first Legion artist, but Janes was the artist when I started reading the Legion regularly. It's a credit to the concept that despite lackluster story and art, I was nonetheless an instant fan.

    I do have a couple pages of his original art that I picked up about 15 or 20 years ago, including the Tyroc origin page from "Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes" - which is surprisingly detailed.

    So, Jimmy Janes, you may not have been a superstar on the Legion, but you kept the trains running on time and certainly made your own mark, and for that I thank you!

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  10. I loved Jimmy Janes as a kid, as I posted in another thread. No, he wasn't a Cockrum or an Adams, but he helped shape my love for the Legion in a big way.

    Everyone has his or her preference when it comes to art. There is no 'right' or 'wrong', due to all things creative being purely subjective. One person's appreciation is another person's dislike.

    For those asking for (or demanding) more of Janes' work, I used a little thing called 'Google', and came across this:

    http://diversionsofthegroovykind.blogspot.com/2010/07/famous-first-fridays-mockingbird.html

    Enjoy, and Long Live the Legion! :Þ

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