Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Happy Birthday, Paul Levitz!

Happy Birthday, Paul Levitz! 

Today is the birthday of extraordinary Legion writer Paul Levitz, born on this date in 1956.

Paul's first Legion story was in Superboy/Legion #225 (March 1977). It was noteworthy for being the issue after Jim Shooter and Mike Grell had both left the title. It was not an auspicious beginning, as many fans were against new artist Jim Sherman and many also preferred the established writing style of Jim Shooter....Levitz had Mon-El *slap* Superboy in this story, for crying out loud!

A few issues later Levitz murdered Chemical King. Some of us have never gotten over it.

A few issues after that Superboy officially became Superboy And The Legion AND it became a Giant Sized monthly. After a few more deadline hiccups, Levitz wrote The Earthwar Saga, one of the best Legion stories up to that time. Then he left the title in 1979.

He came back in 1981. With Pat Broderick, and then Keith Giffen, he brought the Legion to its greatest pinnacle in entertainment and sales history. For one fantastic year he was responsible for TWO Legion titles being published simultaneously, an unheralded accomplishment! (NOW we can't even get one book...!)

Paul left the title in 1989, but then came back again for three years to write versions in 2010 to 2013.

During his ten-plus years combined tenure on the Legion, Paul Levitz wrote more than 100 Legion stories. Here are some of OUR favorite Levitz moments or memories. Feel free to add yours in the comments...!

From Shagg....
Paul Levitz gave us Dawnstar, the White Witch, a revamped Lighting Lass, and Sensor Girl as new female Legionnaires. Thank you, Mr. Levitz....because they are all HOT!!

From Bilingual Boy ...
I gotta say, the greatest achievement to me during Paul Levitz' long tenure on the book was the "Who is Sensor Girl?" mystery. I had never been so engrossed by a story-line before or since. To find out later that the original plot was based on her actually being Supergirl just impresses the hell out of me. We got a great mystery, a great story-arc, and a revamped great character. That's a triple home-run as far as I'm concerned. When I met the man at a convention a few years ago, I had him sign THESE issues.

From Bits Boy ...

The Baxter run of the Legion promised so much when it was introduced, and while ultimately the series produced some good and bad stories, it couldn’t have kicked off in a more enjoyable fashion. Paul’s grand five-issue arc featuring the grand showdown between the Legion and the Super-Villains was well-handled and scripted, with our heroes fighting back from desperation, and at the sacrifice of a noble member. Along the way we see several female Legionnaires demonstrate a resolve and heroism rarely seen in previous adventures, notably Dream Girl, Violet, Light Lass, and of course, a regal Projectra determined to seek retribution for the loss of her consort. A clash between two groups with such large memberships could have resulted in a convoluted mess, but Paul crafted it in such a way that nothing seemed too rushed or ridiculous, with several heroes and villains all having their own little moments of characterization. The death of Karate Kid was slammed by many fans, but in such a battle of numbers, loss of life on either side would not have been unrealistic. If not Val, then perhaps some other Legionnaire would have been the victim. With glorious art by Giffen and Lightle, the story was a Legion lover’s dream, pitting all the members against all the Super-Villains, with a few new members thrown in. Lightle embellishes the arc with several full-page spreads of the heroes and villains fighting it out.

From Myk-El...
For me, the highlight of Paul Levitz' tenure was not the Great Darkness Saga, but Legion Annual # 1. Keep in mind that annuals were not as common in 1982 as they are today. So getting 40 plus pages of story for the bargain price of $1 was a real treat.

And what a story?! Svaughn Erin, a character that Levitz created for the Earthwar Saga, returns as the Legion's new Science Police Liaison Officer. As Element Lad shows her around the newly renovated headquarters, we get the first hints of what would become a fan-favorite Legion couple. Then, there's Computo, the iconic villain who possesses the comatose body of young Danielle Foccart. It's a sci-fi version of The Exorcist, with Brainiac Five playing the role of Father Merrin! And of course, who could forget the introduction of Jacques Foccart, the new Invisible Kid?

Where the story really shines, though, are in those moments when Levitz pulls back from the action in order to give us a sense of the bigger picture. He gives us a sense of how the Science Police, and Earthgov, and the news media, and even the general public respond to the Legion's activities. The scene with Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel was especially poignant, given her history with Computo.

That is why I am so grateful to Paul Levitz. He never forgot the big picture, never forgot that characters, even ones as great as the Legionnaires, don't exist in a vacuum. His commitment to world-building, to making the 30th century a living, breathing, and fully-formed fictional universe, inspires me both as a reader and a writer.

And lastly, from Anj....
When others discuss Levitz's impact on the Legion, many go to the Great Darkness Saga or the Baxter series LSV opening arc or the death of Superboy or maybe even the Sensor Girl mystery as the high points. And all of those are great, no doubt.

But for me, I want to talk about just how deep Levitz dove into the Legion mythos over his time on the book. And more importantly, despite the huge roster, Levitz was able to check in on everyone now and then and keep the readers interested and invested.

Nothing says that more to me than Legion (v2) numbers 303-305. The first issue completes an adventure where a small group of Legionnaires (including Supergirl ... yes I am biased) fight the Emerald Empress. This was a side mission, not necessary to the main plots. He followed this to a story dedicated to looking at the Legion Academy and all the applicants we had seen in the background. Call it a rest issue or a pause but I knew about and peripherally cared about Laurel Kent, Lamprey, and Power Boy. And then we get the third issue, revealing that Shrinking Violet was a Durlan imposter. The real Vi had been kidnapped and held in stasis. That was the culmination of a minor plot running through the book for a while, a plot that when revealed could be traced through clues in prior issues (how did Vi know about Durlan fighting skills?).

The Legion themselves numbered 20 plus strong. There were love interests, science police friends, rogues, and acedemy students. And yet somehow Levitz kept all those balls in the air. And as a reader I drank it in, wanting to drown in this universe.

Happy Birthday Mr. Levitz! Thanks for creating this universe that I escaped to.

Happy Birthday, Paul Levitz, and Thank You! 

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