Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (2010)

Review by KC Carlson

Those folks who were expecting a big, blow-out, everything-starts-HERE Legion of Super-Heroes #1 don’t know much about Legion history. Traditionally, the Legion thrives on epic-length stories, with big blockbuster events or turning points usually happening at the climax of stories (such as the revelation of Darkseid as the big bad or the death of Karate Kid). While actual issues numbered 1 are rare in Legion history, even those tend to take place in the middle of a story or a continuity.

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 cover

And those thinking that this Legion #1 was going to be about radical changes and wholesale makeovers were also not paying attention. If you are coming in late, pretty much the entire last two decades of Legion lore has been about overwhelming change and reboots and threeboots — some of it mildly successful (and all of them had their hardcore fans), but looked at realistically, the more changes that happened, the more that the core concept of the LSH was weakened. So, more change? No thanks — been there, done that.

And those looking for a great here’s-everything-you-need-to-know jumping on point — well, no. That has virtually never happened in Legion history. Sure, there have been side projects like origin miniseries, or the special seven-issue Who’s Who in the Legion project, or Secret Files, or special text/pin-up features in the comics themselves (or even gaming sourcebooks). But unless you were lucky enough to buy Adventure #247 (the first appearance of the Legion) or Adventure Comics #300 (the beginning of the first LSH series), you had to scramble to catch up. If you want to love the Legion — you gotta work at it. And that means searching out back issues.

Most Legion fans have great stories about amassing their collections, and that’s always been part of the fun of being a Legion fan. (Modern fans have Showcase Presents reprints and — if they can afford it — lots of Archives volumes). It’s often been said that Legion fans can be incredibly obsessive, crazy, obnoxious, geeky, and opinionated — and you know what — they earned it! It’s also been my experience that they are among the most friendly, loyal, gregarious, intelligent, and rewarding people to have known. I think many of them got that way by reading the Legion and the life-lessons imparted there.

This Legion of Super-Heroes #1 has some major weight to it — especially to long-time fans of the series. With this issue, historically significant and long-missed writer Paul Levitz returns to the Legion on a regular basis, following a two-decade absence from the series. (I hear he was very busy doing something else, although I am unclear exactly that was.) Through an incredible series of circumstances, he is able to step back into the Legion storyline at almost the same spot, contunity-wise, that he left it over 20 years ago. That’s pretty history-making in itself.

A Brief History of Time-Spanning Work

When Paul left the Legion in 1989 (with Legion of Super-Heroes #63), long-time Legion artist and kibitzer Keith Giffen returned to the series as plotter and artist, jumping the continuity of the series “five years later”. At the same time, retroactive editorial decisions about DC continuity began to severely affect core Legion stories, leading to all manner of creative frustrations for those on the series, including much re-thinking and re-writing. This ultimately led to years of radical shifts in storylines, characters, and series history and what became known as “reboots” of huge amounts of the series’ background.

Continuing modifications in overall DC universe plotting lead to changing much of continuity back to where it was previously. Writer Geoff Johns realized that these changes would allow for the return of the original LSH continuity (with certain caveats), so he began using the Legion as guest-stars in modern DC titles (The Lightning Saga, which originally ran in Justice League of America and Justice Society of America and Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes from Action Comics). Other LSH characters appeared in Countdown. All this LSH activity lead Johns and George Pérez to undertake the five-part Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, which firmly re-established the current Legion as the same as the original version (more or less), as well as explaining how all the “alternative” Legions from the past 20 years also fit into the current DC Universe. It was DC’s goal to develop a new, ongoing Legion series with Johns writing.

Meanwhile, Paul Levitz was contemplating an eventual return to his writing career, which accelerated when his schedule unexpectedly opened up. Johns graciously stepped aside (after a few LSH stories in the revived Adventure Comics), and so the new Legion series debuts with Levitz as the regular Legion writer (and also of the Legion feature in Adventure Comics, debuting soon). Paul is picking up on many of the concepts that Johns was setting up in his previous LSH appearances, a particular talent of his.

So What’s in THIS Issue?

As first issues go, quite a bit happens, but most of it is setup for what will be paying off in subsequent issues of this probable multi-issue story arc. So I find myself unable to be wholly critical of something that I only have such a small sliver of. I have read every issue of Paul’s previous runs on the series, and I have enjoyed them immensely, which also adds a certain amount of bias going in. Further, knowing Paul’s usual writing style, he very seldom goes for the home run in the first inning — most of his best stories seemingly come out of nowhere and then just slam you. (See the “Great Darkness Saga” or “Conspiracy” story arcs in his previous run.) So, no, this may not be a traditionally great first issue, but there’s more than enough to keep me coming back to see how it develops. Probably my biggest quibble with the way this issue is structured is that a little too much time is spent setting up the various major story points and new characters (most of which don’t involve the Legion — yet), so it seems like the regular Legionnaires themselves are only guests in their own book. But again, knowing how Paul works, I’m guessing that more than a couple of these new characters will end up being Legionnaires before long.

As Paul mentions in his text feature (Yay! A text feature in a DC comic! Paul must have some pull in the offices…), the Legion he is writing is continuing pretty much from where he left off back in 1989 with the inclusion of Johns’ additions. Paul jumps right in, picking up a plot thread from that other story (a famous Levitz trademark), following up on Johns’ Earth Man character from Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes. I wasn’t crazy about this particular character, who initally strikes me as another in-your-face troublemaker like Wildfire or early Wolverine over in X-Men. But I’m interested to see what Paul has up his sleeve for him here, as the character is forced into the Legion’s midst by matters of circumstance, and then that situation is twisted once again.

I’m also not really pleased to see the topic of xenophobia used once again in a Legion story — it’s kind of an overused LSH trope by now — but that might just be my overwhelmingly optimistic desire to think that particular form of hatred might be eradicated a thousand years from now (all recent history, and ancient history for that matter, to the contrary).

I was a little surprised that the entire Legion doesn’t appear in this first issue, until I realized that’s just another of Paul’s unique structuring techniques. In previous Levitz tales, the gathering of the troops was always held off for very special occasions or battles — and always built from a whisper to a crescendo.

It was also a minor shock to see Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad’s twin sons again, mostly because I haven’t thought about them in so long. The last couple of incarnations of the LSH were decidedly younger than where the Levitz version had left off (and Paul had spent substantial time maturing them during his previous run). So that may be something that recent LSH readers may have to adjust to, although not uncomfortably so. Although I have to say that putting the kids in peril is not something I want to see repeated frequently, especially not so close to seeing what’s been going on over in Green Arrow’s neck of the DCU. There’s a darkness creeping over the current DC landscape that seems to revel in shock for the sake of shock, and I’d hate to see it in this new Legion book.

Some things I love: The return of science and science-fiction concepts to the Legion — one of Paul’s specialties. It was great to see the return of the Time Institute, and the discussions about tech, especially with the flight rings, were much appreciated. As previously noted, not all of the Legion is present yet, but Paul managed to slip in a bunch of well-placed cameos (Blok, Mysa, Polar Boy , Bouncing Boy, and Duo Damsel (among others)) during an around-the-cosmos tour of important Legion locations (Sorcerers’ World, Legion Academy, Takron-Galtos). The quick trip down to the Legion’s Memorial Room was a nice touch to provide clues as to where we are in the continuity. And it was a very pleasant surprise to see an old friend — Chief of the Science Police, Gigi Cusimano. I’m curious if Paul has any plans for fellow SP officer Shvaughn Erin in this new series.

It’s not all a trip down memory lane; there’s action, as a very big piece of important Legion geography is destroyed, which should have a big impact on issues to come. That’s not the kind of thing that Paul does lightly, so I’m intrigued by how this will all play out.

I’m also a huge fan of the discussion of “chronicler’s error” that takes place in the text feature. I hope all Legion fans read this, since it pertains to all eras of the Legion.

Things That Make Me Go “Hmmmmm…”

The experiment that the Time Institute is currently working on involves the viewing of the origins of the universe — something that Crisis on Infinite Earth fans know is a very bad thing to do. Metatextually, it’s also a very interesting storytelling choice, as the original Crisis storyline was the beginning of the countless continuity problems for the Legion over the next 25 years. The Crisis led directly into John Byrne’s reboot of Superman continuity, which eliminated the entire Superboy period of Clark Kent’s life from DC continuity. Since the Legion’s origin and inspiration was directly connected to Superboy, and… (Oh, please don’t make me think about all this again! Two words — pocket universe!)

Anyway, it was a really big mess, and Paul was the first one who had to deal with it. But recently, a “Superboy meets the Legion” storyline was restored to DCU continuity, and… well, I don’t really know what that means, but I thought it was an interesting (and brave!) story point. Question: Is the Time Institute looking at the original (real) origin of the universe, or looking at it from the point of view of how the Crisis affected it? (He said, not really wanting to know the answer…)

The artwork, by relative newcomer to American comics Yildiray Cinar, shows lots of promise. (The Turkish artist’s previous DC work was the Ravager back-up series in Teen Titans. Before that, he was the regular artist on Image Comics’ Noble Causes.) In general, Cinar demonstrates some good storytelling chops. The new Legion outfits are largely based on elements of the previous era (1989), but updated and serviceable. All the characters are easily visually identifiable, not always the case with some previous Legion redesigns. I’d like to see more diverse body types for the Legionnaires — more differences with height and build. They shouldn’t all be stereotypically comic book musclebound and stocky. Granted, these versions are no longer teenagers, but there is occasionally a little too much detail in the close-up facial expressions, making them seem older than they are, like Brainy in a couple of shots here.

Hang on for the Ride!

Needless to say, there’s a lot of stuff going on in this new Legion of Super-Heroes series. As noted, it’s probably not a great jumping-on point for absolutely new readers, but then again, the Legion has always demanded much of its fans. If life is like a roller coaster ride, then the Legion of Super-Heroes is one of the biggest, baddest coasters around, filled with inversions, corkscrews, drops, and twisters. The ride occasionally defies gravity, time, and even logic. It’s unique among roller coasters in that it rarely ever stops (it really has no known braking system), so in order to get on the ride, you need a self-propelled running start and a tremendous leap of faith that you’ll be able to both get on board and have time to actually catch your breath. Every once in a while , there will be a little side-coaster — a miniseries or a Secret File — that drops the origins and backgrounds of the Legionnaires. I’m guessing there will be one of these along soon. (I hear that Paul might have some pull in the DC offices…) And, as Paul points out in the text feature, there are a legion of great internet sites dedicated to Legion Lore. So, strap in! With Paul Levitz back as conductor, the Legion (both here and in Adventure Comics) is going to be a very long and enjoyable ride.


8 Responses to “Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (2010)”

  1. Anthony Says:

    I thought the Zero Hour reboot was meant to (at the time) give a “jumping on point” for then-new readers, or so it was advertised at the time since it tossed all previous stories.

    IIRC, Superboy’s been restored to Clark’s childhood, but as just functioning as a Legionnaire, presumably a la the LSH cartoon from a few years back. Which I guess helps restore most of the original Legion stories as well… That, and I always did like (Kal-El) Superboy, having been one of my earliest superhero exposures.

  2. Shawn Hill Says:

    Paul’s script retains the idea that it was Superman who inspired the team, which doesn’t work as well for me as Superboy doing it. But I share KC’s event fatigue in figuring all that out and just want to enjoy Paul back where he belongs!

  3. Dwight Williams Says:

    Fair enough.

    I’m happy with the other versions we’ve been reading over the last two decades having their own Earths to live on (if I understand the situation correctly). Leaves us all with more toys to play with down the line.

  4. Eric Gimlin Says:

    If I recall interviews correctly, the first arc in ADVENTURE is very consciously supposed to be a jumping-on point; while LSH is more the old-time fan book to start. We’ll see how it goes. It’s hard for me to judge the issue on its own merits; I know how Levitz tells stories and he builds so much as he goes that judging an issue #1- or even the first 5-6 issues- is hard to do. I just hope that doesn’t hurt too much for readers who may not be long-term fans.

  5. Johanna Says:

    Oh, so I should have come back with Adventure? That’s good to know. I liked the explanation Mr. Levitz gave in the text piece, that Adventure is going to be background stories, like origins and solo stories and such, while LSH is the going-forward book.

  6. MrJM Says:

    So after 20 years, it looks like I’m going to be collecting a comic book again.

    Long Live the Legion!

    — MrJM

  7. Patrick Says:

    I just bought the first issue, do you have any advice on how I can ”catch up” to understand this series?

  8. Johanna Says:

    The Legion has always had a dedicated online fanbase; I suggest you ask about it on your favorite social network or discussion board. Once you find some fellow fans, they should be able to answer any questions you have.

    If you’re looking for back issues, eBay is easiest these days, I think.

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