Friday, February 6, 2015

Paul Levitz's Reboot Legion Stories

If Legion of Super-Heroes fans were asked to name the professional or creator most closely associated with the team of future teenage peacekeepers, there's a good chance Paul Levitz would top the list.

Levitz began writing the team's adventures as a young pro in the late 70s, and came back for an amazing 7 year run beginning in 1982.  Levitz's unprecedented time on the title defined the Legion for the 1980's and beyond, as it is still considered the last classic era of the team.  Levitz's forte during his tenure was a keen sense of pacing, where plot & sub-plot threads, like the very best soap operas, could last years.  Going hand in hand with his mastery of sub-plot, was Levitz's firm handle on the characterization of each member of such a large group.  Each character had at least a distinct, if not well-rounded personality - no longer would a costume or hairdo be the only way to differentiate between the members of this very large cast.  This era of the Legion has not been forgotten by today's creators - it seems that anytime they incorporate the Legion in comics DC currently publishes, they're building on the concepts & characters established by Levitz & his artistic collaborators 30+ years ago.

What have slipped through the cracks, to some degree, are 2 excellent short stories Levitz penned a decade after he ended his classic run.  The Legion that Levitz writes in these stories is not the team on which he had spent so much time in the past.  This group was a younger Legion from a time when the concept had been 'rebooted' beginning in Legion of Super-Heroes #0 (1994)

In Legion of Super-Heroes #100 (Jan. 1998), Levitz gets to once again play on his strengths, writing the first chapter in a very promising cosmic plot, with some nice character moments.  Gorgeously illustrated by Walt Simonson (who drew so many characters for DC, but I think this may have been his only work on The Legion) and Bob Wiacek, this 12 page tale begins with the discovery, by Andromeda (a former Legionnaire with Supergirl-type powers), of a strange, gigantic anomaly in a remote part of the galaxy.  Seeking penitence in this part of space for some nasty things she'd done in the not-too-distant past, Andromeda is drawn to this geometric phenomenon and upon entering this colorful black hole, and despite its 'welcome,' she succumbs to its power.

At Legion HQ on Earth, a group of Legionnaires including Invisible Kid, XS, Gates and Brainiac 5 (who of all the characters Levitz worked on it the Legion's previous incarnation was probably the most changed by the reboot - the original Brainiac, while, perhaps slightly distant, still comported himself with a degree of friendliness toward his teammates; the current Brainiac, brilliant but cantankerous, could barely muster a sense of civility toward those whose minds he found inferior) is surprised to find a large image of Andromeda materialize in their midst.  The image seems not to notice the group gathered there at all, and in a very Princess-Leia-to-Obi-Won-You're-My-Only-Hope moment, calls for M'Onel, another Legionnaire with similar super powers to her own, stating 'I have found the fires of creation, and they call YOUR name.'

'Help me, M'Onel, you're my only hope.'
After a quick, inconclusive analysis by an annoyed Brainiac 5, M'Onel arrives on the scene and with his curiosity piqued, agrees to accompany the Andromeda-vision whence it came.  M'Onel had been given a tracking device, and Brainiac (the sequence with Legionnaires in awe of M'Onel, while Brainy calls him an 'idiot' is classic 'new' Brainy - Levitz nailed this character here) volunteers to take a team to investigate the deepening mystery of the space anomaly, and the now missing Andromeda & M'Onel.

A new adventure for M'Onel; a new annoyance to Brainiac 5
The last page, beautifully designed by Simonson, is a mix of dread and wonder, as Brainiac finishes his thoughts regarding the nature of a force which could humble as powerful a being as Andromeda, while the anomaly itself speaks ambiguously of a joining of MAN and WOMAN and CREATION - 'This time it shall be RIGHT.'

Who? What? Where? When is . . . The Anomaly?!
For what is a fantastic first chapter in a promising new epic, this story ended up being a very interesting set-up to, ultimately, a bit of a let down.  The rest of the story, played out over the next several issues of Legion and companion title, Legionnaires (written by other hands), did not explore, at least to my satisfaction, the nature of this awesome anomaly and its purpose, and seemed to result only in new looks for Andromeda and Brainiac 5.


The 2nd story Levitz wrote in the 'reboot era,' is an offbeat tale from Legends of the DC Universe 80-Page Giant #2 (Jan. 2000), with fantastic art by Stuart Immonen and George Freeman.  The story begins with a newly uncovered ancient artifact, which turns out to be a book, 'The Story of Superman: A Children's Story' by Lois Lane. We then drop in on several of the Legionnaires as children or at a younger, impressionable age.  Each is either being told the story of a young alien orphan, found by two loving Earth farmers, and brought up with the ideals of truth, justice & 'The American Way.'

Good night, Jenni
The story ends up putting a very interesting spin on the inspiration for the Legionnaires.  Brainiac 5 again shines in the most amusing vignette, finding comfort and peace in his dreams only when it's suggested that the ancient hero Superman's disappearance could be explained as his giving up 'in disgust at human stupidity.'

The young Brainiac 5 finds comfort in a 9 panel grid, and in Man's imperfection
The art by Immonen & Freeman is especially interesting, as each page attempts to ape the artistic style of Legion artists past & present: the 9-panel grids of Keith Giffen; the XS page is done in a cartoony, animated style; Saturn Girl page recalls the elongated stylized figures of Lee Moder; and the clean realism of Immonen's own work on the title.

An early lesson in heroism for Imra Ardeen (the future Saturn Girl); Immonen & Freeman doing Moder?
An unusual Legion story - this was reprinted in the 50th anniversary collection, Legion of Super-Heroes: 1,050 Years in the Future.

These two stories are great, and a bit unexpected from a writer who, it could be assumed, had said all he had wanted to say about the Legion.  Despite this blip of excellence, it would be more than another 10 years before Levitz revisited the Legion.

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