LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES

Comics Buyer's Guide #999

January 8, 1993 (pp. 26-30)

I have scanned this story in from the original. It offers lots of insights about the new directions the Legion books took in the mid-90s. At this time, the editor was trying to save the book and open it up to new readers with the creation of the Legionnaries title.

Looking to the future

New life and new direction for The Legion of Super-Heroes

By Darwin McPherson

For more than 30 years, the Legion of Super-Heroes, DC's super-hero team set in the 30th century, has long been one of DC's most popular — as well as most frustrating — series. With comics' largest cast of characters and the trappings of speculative fiction, the Legion has attracted perhaps the most loyal and rabid fan following over its long history.

"A lot of folks have tried to figure out what makes the Legion tick," said new Legion editor KC Carlson." Is it the huge roster of characters or the science-fiction aspects or some unknown amalgam of both? As a Legion fan, I've tried to figure it out for years — now it's my job!"

Keith Giffen is another long-time Legion fan who's tried to figure out the reasons for the Legion's success. Giffen has contributed to the Legion, on and off, for more than a decade, beginning with an extremely popular collaboration with long-time Legion writer Paul Levitz. Over the years, Giffen provided dozens of story and character ideas to the series. Three years ago, Giffen took over the series when Levitz elected to retire from Legion scripting after a critically acclaimed run.

Giffen steered the series into totally unfamiliar terrain. The storyline jumped five years further into the future, and the Legionnaire s no longer wore colorful costume s and stopped using super-hero codenames like Cosmic Boy and Lightning Lass. Giffen also introduced a darker tone and new storytelling techniques to the 30th century's greatest heroes. This turned out to be a highly controversial move.

"It was fascinating and frustrating at the same time — which I think was exactly Keith's intention," said Carlson. "It was very obviously an experiment; the new storytelling techniques he developed for the series are evidence of this." Giffen developed a loyal following that applauded the innovations that he introduced. However, the feeling wasn't unanimous.

"The new series really irritated a lot of the old Legion fans — again, probably Keith's intention," the editor said, "although some of the more controversial decisions regarding the series didn't directly stem from Giffen — they were an aspect of continuity changes that occurred outside of the series."

Superboy had been a large part of the old Legion continuity. When the Superboy character was eliminated from the current Superman continuity, the Legion staff had to make appropriate changes in Legion continuity. Unfortunately, the changes were implemented during the early issues of the new series — causing further confusion at a point when the series should have been concentrating on establishing its new changes.

"For a while, the entire series seemed cemented around these continuity changes. As a reader, the series didn't really gel for me until the recent 'Terra Mosaic' storyline," Carlson said.

Now, after issue #38 and the conclusion of the "Terra Mosaic" story, Giffen is moving on to other projects. With his departure, DC has decided to revamp Legion of Super-Heroes and launch a new title called Legionnaires.

Legionnaires features a teenage version of the Legion — with some of its background remaining to be revealed. (The characters might have been cloned by The Dominators and placed in suspended animation. somewhere between Adventure Comics #349 and # 350.)

At this point, they are known as SW6, a reference to The Dominators' genetic experiments.

Legionnaires have been designed to allow readers to pick it up cold. Readers won't have to know any Legion history or even be aware that there is a history.

Evolution, not revolution

"The changes in Legion are more of an evolution than a revolution," Carlson said, "because we're building on what Keith started. One of Keith 's major strengths is the ideas and concepts that he brought to the series. We're taking many of these concepts and turning them into a fresh, user-friendly series.

"There'll be a sense of more traditional storytelling involved. You'll be able to identify the characters and identify who's speaking." In addition, there will be identifiable clothing for all the Legion members."[don't really want to call them costumes, because I don't think they'll be that. They're not exactly uniforms because that implies a sameness to all of them. They'll be in recognizable clothing and color-coded, so you can actually tell the characters apart."

Regarding the art, Carlson said, "We're also eliminating the nine-panel grid that has evolved into a 'look' for the series under Keith's reign. Keith is totally committed to the 'grid' as how he currently tells stories. While a powerful storytelling device, I feel that basing an entire series on the grid is extremely limiting to other artists. With Keith's departure, we felt that now is the time to open it back up and let the artists tell the story in their own way."

Besides the visual makeover, Legion of Super-Heroes is being streamlined in other ways. Tom and Mary Bierbaum, who previously scripted Giffen's plots, join Carlson in revamping the Legion as writers of both Legion titles.

"One criticism that's been aimed at the comic book is that the actual Legion team has taken a back seat to the supporting characters. The SW6 group, the younger version of the Legion, has been very active in the title of late, as has been The Legion of Substitute Heroes. They pretty much carried the storyline throughout the 'Terra Mosaic,'" Carlson said.

Focus on core characters

"We're turning the emphasis back on the Legion characters, the main characters. We're going to be, for the first time in the history of this new series, coming up with a roster of characters. We're going with a core group of characters."

The Bierbaums listed The Legion of Super-Heroes as: Rokk Krinn (the former Cosmic Boy); Vi and Ayla (Shrinking Violet and Light Lass); Tenzil Kem (Matter-Eater Lad); Jo Nah (Ultra Boy); Laurel Gand; Brainiac 5; Kono; Kent. Shakespeare; Celeste; and Mysa (the White Witch).

Two members of the supporting cast join the team — Devlin O'Ryan and Jacques Foccart, the second Invisible Kid. Tom Bierbaum added that the line-up may change further in upcoming stories.

"We have a character named Spider Girl who has been in the Legion storyline for 20, 30 years and she's always been a villain." In recent times, the Bierbaums haven't established her as either villain or hero and have made her more ambiguous.

He continued, "She will be tagging along with the group in the next major storyline and may eventually become a full-fledged member. The jury is still out on what we'll do with her."

Mary Bierbaum said that Drura, the former Infectious Lass, will be "hanging around." She's the wife of Jacques Foccart but probably will not become a full member.

Giffen's last issue as plotter, Legion #38, featured the Earth's destruction, as witnessed and documented by Devlin O'Ryan. Issue #39 dealt with the Legion's efforts to cope with the devastating after math.

Legion # 40 features the first official meeting of the Legion and the SW6 team. The next issue features the kids' first solo adventure and lead s directly into Legionnaires #1. Legion #41 is illustrated in par t by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story.

New artists

Stuart Immonen succeeds Jason Pearson as Legion of Super-Heroes penciller with issue # 39. “It always sounds like hype, but you're going to see the evolution of a really good hot artist here," Carlson said.

"Beginning in issue "#40, the series will be inked by Stuart's buddy, Ron Boyd. The two of them are young and a little raw, but there's a certain dynamic that's really apparent in their work. I think they're going to grow together into a great team.", Immonen came aboard after former Legion Editor Michael Eury saw a "Martian Manhunter " story the artist did for Showcase '93."He liked it enough to give me a fill-in issue," Immonen said,

"Just at this time, [previous penciller] Jason Pearson was leaving Legion. KC Carlson was shown my fill-in issue and liked it enough to offer me the full-time penciller position. So this fill-in issue appears in issue #42, and my first issue, which is actually my second issue, is # 39." Issue #42 features Duo Damsel and is plotted by "official" Legion colorist Tom McCraw with dialogue by the Bierbaums.

"The following issue, #43, will start another long storyline," Carlson said." It'll probably be around six parts. The tentative title of the story is 'Mordru Arises' and will restore the terrible Mordru the Merciless to his former power and ferocity.

"We're going to make him a lot more villainous. He 's doing some nasty things because he's taking on the entire universe. He's raising the dead as his army to take over the universe, which means we'll see the resurrection of a lot of dead Legionnaire characters.

"The other thing we'll be seeing in the 'Mordru Arises' storyline is a major role for Mysa, the former White Witch. She had been kidnapped and abused by Mordru early in the series and will confront him in the current story.

"We'll also see the appearance of a Justice League member. Not a time-traveling. Justice League member, but somebody who's still around in the 30th century. He'll play a minor but pivotal role in the story."

"Mordru Arises" will lead to the 50th issue. Carlson said he hasn't decided how they'll commemorate the event, but he may use it to reveal what happened during the five-year continuity gap between Levitz's Legion of Super-Heroes # 62 and Giffen's new Legion of Super-Heroes #1.

Carlson said he is committed to exploring the topic — if not in Legion #50, perhaps a Special.

"We've only seen bits and pieces and clues of things that turned the 30th century from the bright and shiny future that it was into the dark and grim vision as presented by Keith Giffen," Carlson said. “We will see a lot of what happened during that time. We will finally see some of the fates of some of the missing Legionnaires — most particularly Wildfire, whom a lot of old Legion fans have been clamoring for. Basically, we'll see some very nasty stuff happening. It should answer all the questions Legion fans have regarding that mysterious period in Legion history."

Legionnaires to have different focus

Legionnaires will be considerably different from Legion of Super-Heroes despite their similarities.

"The older title will still be very much aimed at a different audience — an audience looking for less traditional super-heroic action," Tom Bierbaum said. Legion of Super-Heroes will handle super villains and other menaces with more detail and will hinge on intrigue as well as action.

Legionnaires is much more of a traditional super-hero comic book. The Legionnaires wear bright, distinctive costumes designed by Chris Sprouse, have code names, and engage in straightforward adventures.

This new title has the dual mission of being both accessible to new readers and appealing to traditional Legion fans. Carlson and the Bierbaums acknowledge that the Legion's extensive history has deterred readers in the past but said they believe Legionnaires can overcome that problem.

"There will be a certain amount of confusion, undoubtedly, but I think we'll do a pretty good job of keeping it to a minimum," Tom Bierbaum said." The older Legion characters will not appear in the Legionnaires comic book. If you only read Legionnaires, you don't have to know there's another comic book or ever has been another Legion comic book." The single most confusing element of both titles is probably the fact that there are two versions of some characters. The Legion creative team hopes to distinguish them by keeping them apart and emphasizing their differences.

Legionnaires is set on Earth-0 and the team's adventures occur in that general area. The old Legion operates in space from its planetoid home, Talus, and its missions will be more galactic. For the time being, there won't be any crossovers between the titles.

Moreover, with the differences in ages and experiences, many of the "same"· characters aren't very similar, the Bierbaums noted.

"You look at young Element Lad and the old Jan and they don't look that much alike. Certainly, the young Violet and the old Violet are very different. The readers will have a fairly easy time physically telling them apart." Carlson said that, as in the case of Shrinking Violet, "whatever happened to the kids as they grew older is not necessarily going to happen to them again. We're playing around with established relationships, romantic relationships, friendships, and just basic characterization."

Shaking up Legion status quo

"One of the first things that happens in Legionnaires will probably shake up a lot of people," Carlson said. “We' re going to mess around with the relationship between Saturn Girl, Live Wire (formerly Lightning Lad), and Cosmic Boy, the three initial members. We'll play around with their emotions a little bit in the early issues. That may lead to some surprising ends."

On another level, many of the younger versions are changing their code names. For example, Lightning Lad becomes Live Wire and Element Lad becomes Alchemist. Others follow suit, but not everyone changes.

"The kids have awakened in the year 2995 and they see the world has changed. Styles have changed and their names aren't sounding very cool in this era any more," Tom Bierbaum said. “Some of the other kids feel 'Who cares how styles have changed? We're proud of what we've been and we think these names are good.'"

The Bierbaums said they believe a few name changes help give the team a more contemporary feel. They're concerned that some young readers might be dissuaded from the book if there's a strict adherence to the standard of old Adventure Comics episodes.

"We certainly hope we can recapture the fresh, exuberant quality of those early stories and get today's kids as excited as we were when we read The Legion," Tom Bierbaum said, "but for the benefit of those kids — who aren't like we were back then — the hair styles and the code names and the fashions and the depiction of the future has a more contemporary edge. In some cases, it's a little rougher edge."

However, he stressed that Legionnaires has "more of an optimistic sense of the heroes accomplishing something. It really is an attempt to go back to the roots of the Legion."

The fun returns

On the lighter side, Carlson said, "you'll see a lot of the more fun traditions returning in Legionnaires. We'll come back to more of a club atmosphere: kids just having fun, having great adventures.

"We'll see Legion tryouts once again. We'll see a lot of the fun elements from the old series: like the flight rings, hologram communication devices, and things like that. Hopefully, it'll be a real fun comic book for kids and for the old-time Legion fans, as well."

An "old standby" of Legion fandom also returns.

"The Legion leader was always elected by the fans. 'That's a tradition we're returning to in Legionnaires," Carlson said. “The Legionnaires decide a leader for themselves in Legionnaires #1, but. when the next election time rolls around, it’ll be opened up to the fans, to reader s of the title," Legionnaires' first storyline features the return of The Fatal Five, the Legion's most notorious enemies. Carlson said "This is the original Fatal Five — or as many of them as we can get, since a couple of them are dead. But that 's not stopping us, either."

Carlson said he hopes the villain team will become a "semi-regular" part of the comic book.

"They'll recur with a fair amount of regularity throughout the run, not necessarily always as a team. They may show up as solo characters or in different combinations."

The Bierbaum s are also planning a. story where the Legionnaire s "find themselves under attack psychologically. Their personal weaknesses are amplified and used against them. We hope to do an. extended story where we get into psychological warfare against the Legion and find out what the Achilles heels are for these different characters."

Carlson added, "Another character we'll introduce — it's an old name, but it's a new character — is Kid Psycho. He'll be an interesting character who'll be not necessarily a villain, but certainly a menace for the Legion.

"We'll also see the new President of Earth being elected. For the time being, that'll remain a mystery, but the people who are reading Legion right now will start picking up clues on this very soon. It'll be a President who'll cause a lot of problems for the kids."

Sprouse draws the kids — as kids!

Legionnaires is pencilled by Chris Sprouse, who is "totally dedicated to Legionnaires," according to Carlson. “This title has been in development for at least two years in various incarnations. Chris has been dying to get going on it and now he's getting his chance. He's producing some excellent artwork. He's teamed up with Karl Story, who's moving over from The Legion. They're an incredible team.

"The fascinating thing about Chris is that he has tot ally grasped the idea that. The Legionnaires are kids. They're all 14, 15, 16 years old and they actually look like kids.

Sprouse said, "I want to make them as realistically adolescent as possible, I haven't yet seen a teen comic book where the kids look like kids. I'm going to do my part so these kids are teenagers the way I remember teenagers."

Sprouse said he is also trying to give each of the Legionnaires a separate personality. He said, "I'm working more with body language and facial expressions to make each ·one as different as possible."

Sprouse said he likes Live Wire and Inferno (formerly Sun Boy) "because they're jerks 'and they're fun to draw. Cosmic Boy I enjoy. He's hard, but I like the character."

The Bierbaums said, "The artists themselves are a good reason to give them a try. We're really, really impressed and pleased with what Stuart Immonen is doing with Legion so far and Chris Sprouse has been brilliant on Legionnaires."

"I work a lot from Chris's designs," Immonen said. “I think he's a much better designer of futuristic equipment."

Sprouse said, "Stuart' s stuff really inspires me to do better because I think he's a great artist. I want my stuff to be as good as his." While both artists are science-fiction fans, only Sprouse was a Legion follower. Immonen said he learned to appreciate the super team while doing research and reading the Legion Archives volumes (reprinting early Legion stories from Adventure Comics) and "The Great Darkness Saga," perhaps the best of the Levitz/Giffen epics.

The Legion of Super-Heroes has had a long history with many developments. Carlson and the Bierbaums agree that the recent Keith Giffen run was one of the most jarring, yet also one of the most compelling.

Acknowledging that Giffen is irreplaceable as a storyteller, the new creative team is building on of what went before without denying it.

They said that Legion is now accessible to those who found it difficult to follow, and with Legionnaires most of the elements that fans found appealing in the Legion have returned.

So begins another chapter in Legion history.

Legion of Super-Heroes 'is available monthly for $1.75 in DC's New Format. Legionnaires begins its monthly run on Feb. 10. It retails for $1.25 in DC's Standard Format.

©1997 Krause Publications, Inc.