Thursday, January 14, 2010

On the latest chapter in a thousand year long tale

You ever see that cut scene from Pulp Fiction where Mia Wallace talks about "Beatles people and Elvis people"? People like Elvis, and people like the Beatles, and some people like both, but NOBODY likes them both the same. It's a great scene.

I think that can easily be applied to X-Men and Legion (and/or Teen Titans), and to a larger degree, to DC and Marvel. People really are either DC People or Marvel People. For a long time the primary difference was optimism vs pessimism. DC was primarily a nice place to be - heroes were treated as such, evil was punished, and in the far-flung future, people generally got along as well as people can do. Marvel, OTOH, was where heroes were mistrusted, even by each other, and people had more "real" problems. Yeah, the two sides have grown more similar, as the cynical spies always say in espionage movies, but there's still the perception that it's what the two companies represent, and the desire of its most dedicated readers that it's where they will eventually return.

Well, DC has made a series of announcements this week, all tied to the new bi-weekly series Brightest Day, that suggest that DC may just be tiptoeing back to that happier place and time. New books and creative directions include:

Keith Giffen returning to the Justice League International, as well as taking over the reins of Booster Gold with former JLI collaborator J.M. DeMatteis

Gail Simone would be returning to Birds of Prey

Both Justice League and The Flash would carry the "Brightest Day" trade dress, and their stories connect to the over-arcing plot of the main mini.

This is in addition to the War of the Supermen and return of Bruce Wayne plotlines that had already been talked about.

But so far the news that had me the mst hopeful was the announcement that Paul Levitz would be writing TWO Legion titles - A continuing story in Adventure Comics and a NEW eponymous Legion of Super-Heroes book.

I read lots of Marvel and other titles, but I'm still a "DC Person" to the core. I liked Teen Titans (I still...try to), but I LOVED (add sparkles and shimmery letters to that) the Legion. Maybe it's that I was already a sci-fi fan, maybe it's cause they were a younger team, young like I was at the time, maybe it's because some amazing people wrote some of those early stories, people like Otto Binder, Edmond Hamilton... but Legion was just the best. And it stayed the best, right up until the Byrne-reboot, and it REALLY wasn't his fault, really. But after that...well, you ever try to patch a hole in the wall? First you have to make the hole bigger to hold the plaster, then you realize the paint doesn't quite match, and now one wall is a different color than the others, and before you know it, you're buying a new house.

So seeing a Legion that's as close to the one I loved come back, and then telling me that it's going to be written by the guy co-responsible for one of the book's classic runs, a guy who has the same fire in his belly about the book that I do, well that's just awesome.

Because believe me, the Legion is the kind of book you really do have to LOVE to do really really well. Dozens of characters, just as many home planets, alien races, not to mention a thousand years of future history to keep track of. It's true of most comic characters, but it's even more so with the legion. You can't look out the window and see what you're writing about - it's totally new. Yes, the people will deal with the same things - good vs. evil, love and hate, chunky or plain, but visually, everything has to be made up. Yes, for a long time the Legion Shuttles looked a lot like the Enterprise, but hey, the flying "7734" cameras in the Superman books right now look exactly like the flying sub from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; that's almost tradition.

To say the Legion has had a spotty record since the Great Reboot Saga is an understatement. Each new attempt to fix (read: "change") things raised the hackles of numerous old fans, and none ever drew enough new fans to take up the slack. And alas, "go back to what worked" was never an accetable option, so they just kept trying new things. Eventually Mark Waid and Barry Kitson literally started from scratch and brought us a whole new Legion story, one where the Legion wasn't a group that fought evil as much as it was a youth movement. And while Legion fans stayed away in droves, it was a DAMN fine book. Great dialogue, strong plots, really a new concept, presented well. But with each issue, in the back of your mind, there was still that nagging thought... "Imagine how good this book would be if it were the REAL Legion!"

They brought in Supergirl, and sales picked up. And that hung a lampshade on what a lot of people had been saying all along - the Legion is a great book, but that connection to the Superman mythos is crucial. Now, at the time she was appearing in Legion, Supergirl was also appearing in her own book, acting COMPLETELY differently from how she was acting in Legion (i.e., like a total bitch, as opposed to the pretty damn good way she was getting used in Legion) and people got so insistent for an explanation as to how this could be that they couldn't see the forest through the logs in their eyes. So Mark left the book (and has had no small words for the people who spoke against it, and quite rightly) and they replaced him with...

Jim Shooter.

Now, this was not just a surprise, this was a drop-dead-from-a-heart-attack shock. There were people at DC who allegedly said they'd walk if Shooter ever came though the door. Well, nobody walked, but there he was at the Baltimore Comic-Con, smiling and shaking hands and talking about the 16-part story he'd got ready for the book.

This was Namath coming back to the Jets. This was Hogan coming back to the WWE. This was the guy that took the Legion and almost single-handedly, using the creations of those giants of comics and sci-fi and built the future almost by himself. I couldn't believe our luck. Surely this was a guy who could take the book by the horns and drag it back to glory.

Yeah, right.

Almost as soon as that happened, The Lightning Saga began in JLA. This was the "real" Legion that people were waiting for, or at least the closest we could get. Immediately, people "knew" (read:"assumed") that the Real legion was coming back, and the LoSH title became a Dead Book Walking. People didn't want to bother following a book thay "Knew" was gonna be cancelled in favor of the real thing any time now. And like Waid's run, those people missed out on some damn fine work.

The end was not pleasant. There are a number of versions of what happened out there, and most of the come from Jim Shooter himself because the other parties refused to comment. All we know for sure is that DC wanted to end the book with issue #50, likely to make sure there'd be no confusion with the upcoming "Legion of 3 Worlds" story. This was several issues short of the 16-part plot Jim had planned. Jim either wouldn't or couldn't cut the story short, and the last issue, credited to the house pseudonym "Justin Thyme", was a slap-dash deal only slightly more acceptable than if someone had just written "He rode off into the west and everything was okay" in the back cover of issue 49.

Don't get me wrong - the work Geoff Johns has done to bring the leion back has been nothing short of spectacular. He's done what he does best - take a decade plus of bad choices and hasty revamps and woven them into a coherent explanation that will leave long-time fans if not happy ever after, at least reasonably so, while setting a new start point for new fans to hop on. But I still wonder what shooter could have done had DC not already chosen to switch horses.

So the questions arose - would Geoff be writing new Legion stories? Where would they appear? Which of the new set of Legionnaires that he set up would appear? We started to see new Legion stories in the re-started Adventure Comics, and all seemed well with the world. But as Legion fans know, it's always darkest before it gets even darker. Geoff wasn't going to stay on Adventure, and wouldn't be writing Legion. So cast adrift again, we all wondered who would pick up the baton.

Paul Levitz stepped down from his position as President of DC Comics, following the creation of the new DC Entertainment. And in his farewell/resignation letter, he spoke of a desire to write again, and a cryptic comment about an eye toward the future.




Yeah. Dan announced that the new writer of Legion would be Paul Levitz. Possibly the one guy more responsible for its success than Shooter. It's been a few months since that announcement, but as of this week, we found out we'd get TWO books. All of a sudden it was the 80's again, with Levitz in charge of two Legion titles. There's even been talks of Keith Giffen drawing something.

Maybe...just maybe...we legion fans might get a happy end to our tale. We shall see.

No news yet on Dan Jurgens' new assignment now that he's leaving Booster Gold, and nothing yet on my beloved T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, but I live in hope.  Stay Tuned.

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