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Legion Cubed

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They first appeared 50 years ago, in April 1958’s Adventure Comics #247. The Legion of Super-Heroes were, at the time, only three super powered teenagers from a thousand years in the future who came back to pay tribute to their idol, Superboy. 

Many concepts like the Legion were introduced in the pages of the Superman titles, none of them caught on like this superhero club from the future. But catch on they did. The team became an enduring part of the DC mythos, helping to create the legend around such creators as Jim Shooter, Dave Cockrum, Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen, and crossed over to the world of cartoons and, soon, primetime television.

The era between 1958 and 1985 became a period of unexpected growth. The Legion proved popular enough that what was supposed to be a one-off appearance became a series of guest appearances. The guest appearances led to the team getting its own feature in Adventure Comics which ran seven years. After their run in Adventure ended, they took over the back-up story spot in Action Comics and then in Superboy.

The Legion’s popularity grew while in Superboy to such a point that they went from being in the back-up story to being co-stars of the book—which was renamed Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes—to eventually forcing Superboy out entirely and taking over the book by themselves.

Perhaps the highest point of Legion popularity was during the early 1980s. The team of Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen brought the Legion to new heights, and the title became second to only The New Teen Titans in terms of quality and popularity. It was so popular that it joined the former in becoming part of the “Baxter” experiment, where DC created a second ongoing title of its most popular titles on higher quality paper.

But events at DC were about to throw a monkey wrench into the forward progress of the Legion franchise. And the name of this monkey wrench was Crisis on Infinite Earths.

That miniseries ushered in an era of reboots to the companies biggest characters. One of the major reboots was John Byrne’s reinterpretation of Superman. In Byrne’s revamped Superman origin, he never had any adventures as a kid. He was never Superboy. Add to that the fact that Supergirl—a member of the Legion herself—never existed in post Crisis continuity, and you have some major changes to continuity.

This was problematic for the writers of the Legion of Super-Heroes. An important part of the mythos of the team is that they were inspired by Superboy’s example to create the Legion. Without Superboy, they really had no reason to exist. And Supergirl also was an important part of the team. DC getting rid of Superboy and Supergirl left a big problem for the Legion creators to deal with.

The creators tried to fix this by saying that the Legion’s Superboy still existed in a “pocket universe”. Then they retroactively replaced Superboy as inspiration with Valor, a revamped version of Legion mainstay Mon-El. Supergirl was replaced by a character named Andromeda.

All these explanations were confusing to the fans, and the Legion’s popularity suffered. This brought about even more “new directions” and all out revamps, which added to the confusion, causing the Legion’s continuity to be an even bigger mess.

The latest version of the Legion, which stars on the current Legion of Super-Heroes title, was supposed to be the last and definitive version of the Legion. However, the events of Infinite Crisis have resulted in another version of the Legion to exist.

This version appeared in the “Lightning Saga” crossover in Justice League of America and Justice Society of America and is very similar to the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths version of the characters. It turns out that Superman, while never calling himself Superboy, did have some adventures with the Legion of his Earth. The other Legion that has its own series is apparently a Legion from an alternate Earth.

Confused? How can you not be? But hopefully, tomorrow’s Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds will help clear up all this just a little bit. However, the title hints there is a Legion of a third Earth that will be introduced which might add to the confusion. But we have to trust that Geoff Johns and George Perez, a superstar tandem if there ever was one, will explain it all to us and give the Legion a boost to the popularity it once had.

Also out this week:

Amazing Spider-Man #568:

Wow, Marvel is trying to wring as much cash out of this “Brand New Day” event as possible. If publishing Amazing Spider-Man three times a month isn’t enough, they are forcing a litany of specials and annuals on us as well. But even that isn’t enough because they are attacking us with a “summer blockbuster” which features characters that will try to bring old school Spidey fans back to the fold.

I think having an attention grabbing event less than one year after an attention grabbing reboot reeks of desperation. And while I’m intrigued by the new status quo in the Green Goblin/Spider-Man relationship (Gobby being a hero, Spidey a villain in the public’s eyes) I have never been impressed enough in Venom to be remotely interested in an Anti-Venom. But John Romita Jr. being back is a great thing.

Dan Slott & Mark Waid (W), John Romita Jr. & Adi Granov (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

The Flash #243:

Remember when Tom Peyer was announced as the new ongoing writer on The Flash a few months ago? I guess by ongoing they meant, out by issue #243, because Peyer’s run ends here, perhaps permanently. Next month features the start of an “epic” by Alan Burnett that my sense of foreboding tells me might be the beginning of the end of the Wally West Flash.

After all, Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver are set to reintroduce the Barry Allen Flash in a high profile miniseries, which means Wally as Flash has just become expendable. I hope I’m wrong and Wally sticks around—he is one of my favorite DC characters—but I’m not optimistic. I also hope that if there is a reboot that DC gives it more of a chance to catch on than they did the last couple, because they are running out of Flashes to bring back.

Tom Peyer (W), Freddie E. Williams II (A), DC Comics, $2.99.  Ongoing Series.

Punisher #61:

Wow, Marvel really didn’t waste time getting this issue out, did they? Garth Ennis’ last issue hasn’t even been on the stands a week and already his replacement gets up to bat. Come on, Marvel! Let me have my period of mourning! I need some time to adjust! Give me three weeks at least!

But no, the new guard comes in immediately. Gregg Hurwitz might be, as Marvel puts it, one “of the hottest writers in crime fiction,” but he’s all but unknown in the world of comic books. He’s replacing one of comicdom’s best writers after a long, character-defining run on the title. That’s like having two strikes against him. I wish him the best of luck.  

Gregg Hurwitz (W), Laurence Campbell (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99.  Ongoing Series.

Air #1:

Air travel in the post-9/11 world has become a discomforting experience. What once was in danger of becoming common place is now greeted with fear and trepidation. Frequent flyers sit in their seats with some sense of unease, never knowing if their flight is about to be hijacked and used as a weapon.

This series, at least the first part of it, plays into this paranoia. The characters are common in today’s air travel—the conflicted airline employee, the suspicious passenger, the wannabe vigilante who is ready for anything. My question is this. Will the series be a thorough examination of the reality of this paranoid mindset? Or just use it to give the narrative a dramatic push? I’d be interested in reading about the former, not so much about the latter.  

G. Willow Wilson (W), M.K. Perker (A), DC/Vertigo Comics, $2.99.  Ongoing Series.

Ret Romanne #1:

Big Brother is watching you! Or at least on the Off World Base of Untopia he is. There, every move is monitored, every resident watched and every action noted. The idea is to give the residents a sense of security. But what if the person with his hand on the switches has it in for you? What if the person who is supposed to keep you secure uses all the assets at his disposal to destroy you?

Ret Romanne believes that this is what happened to him. He believes that the head of the “Destinies Designed Corporation” sabotaged his last test flight, causing the accident that causes him to burn to this day. He also believes the Corporation is responsible for the destruction of his relationship as well. Is he right? And if he is, what can he do about it?

Alan Brooks (W/A), Bluewater Productions, $3.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

X-Factor Special: Layla Miller:

When we last left Layla Miller, she was trapped in the dystopian future that the X-Man Bishop hailed from. She appeared to sacrifice her life so one of Jamie Madrox’s duplicates could travel back to the present and save a newborn mutant’s life. But is she really dead? And if not, what has she been doing all this time? This special will answer both those questions.

Layla Miller is a testament to Peter David’s skill in characterization. She was a fairly throwaway character—a plot device, really—in the House of M miniseries. I really wasn’t looking forward to seeing her again. But in David’s hands, she became one of the most intriguing characters in X-Factor. She went from being a character I could care less about to being the star of a one-shot that tops my “must buy” list.

Peter David (W), Valentine De Landro (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. One-Shot.

###

William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also is the comic review editor for PopMatters and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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