Friday, September 14, 2012

Platypus Thoughts: Long Live The Legion

To say the Legion of Super-Heroes has continuity troubles would be an understatement and I could attribute their woes to two things: Crisis on Infinite Earths and its dedicated fanbase. Ever since the Crisis rebooted the DC Universe, the Legion has had to make several retcons, revamps, and reboots to fit into that universe but every attempt was akin to nailing a square peg into a circular hole. Pre-Crisis, the Legion’s history was simple, they were a team of teenage superheroes (eight years before the Teen Titans) from the 30th century who were inspired by the example set Superboy to fight injustice across the galaxy. John Byrne’s 1986 Man of Steel reboot of the Superman mythos eliminated Superboy and had Superman begin his career as an adult and thus created the first continuity snarl that would unravel the Legion of Super-Heroes eight years later.

If Superman was never Superboy, then who inspired the Legion founders (Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl) to band together? Moreover, how did Mon-El come to become a member of the Legion if he never met Superman? Paul Levitz attempted to rectify they paradox by having Superboy come from a “pocket universe” and long time Legion foe, the Time Trapper, would redirect Superboy and the Legion between the universes each time they went backwards or forwards in time. Superboy died at the Trapper’s hands in “The Greatest Hero of Them All” (Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 3 #38.) However, the funeral scene reveals another snarl. 

(Notice the statue on the left.)

Apparently, the pre-Crisis Supergirl was still a member of the Legion despite her erasure from existence after the Crisis but this paradox would go unaddressed for a couple more years still. Paul Levitz’s second tenure on the Legion ended in 1989 and Superman editor, Mike Carlin, ordered the removal of every Superman reference in the Legion of Super-Heroes, which addressed the problem of Supergirl. Artist/Plotter Keith Giffen and the Bierbaums would “reboot” the Legion by replacing Superboy with Mon-El as the inspiration of the team (albeit under the new moniker of “Valor”) and replaced Supergirl with another Daxamite, Laurel Gand. Valor is apparently a messianic figure in the 30th century of this new timeline because he seeded several worlds with metahuman captives of the Dominators that would later become members of the United Planets.

I have to admit that I never warmed up to the fourth volume (otherwise known as “Five Years Later”) of the Legion. The gritty Blade Runner-esque dystopia never appealed to me, and it stripped away the shining futuristic technology and the colorful uniforms and codenames that made the Legion so entertaining to read. Instead of a utopian future where the Legionnaires gallivant across the galaxy, fighting the Fatal Five, the United Planets’ economy collapsed, the Legion disbanded, and Earth is under the covert control of the Dominators. Far from the wonders I have read from Adventure Comics toe Levitz’s run. The Legionnaires discarded the staple codenames and uniforms in favor of a more “realistic setting.”

However, there was at least one light in murky grittiness of “Five Years Later” and the reason for this lengthy and meandering exposition: Batch SW6. With 1993’s Legion of Super-Heroes (vol. 4) #41 the Bierbaums brought back some of that magic back with the highly underrated Legionnaires series…

To be continued…

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