Building A Better Tomorrow
by Nicolas Juzda
Why do I love the Legion of Super-Heroes comics published between 1994 and 1999, the "Postboot" years? Why do I think that they are among the best comics produced in the past decade (indeed, I feel that during that period, Legion of Super-Heroes and Legionnaires were the two best ongoing series to be published monthly)? And why do I argue that these comics are upholding the long and proud tradition of quality LSH comics?
The Legion is not my favorite comic book title; it probably ranks around third. But unlike the two top contenders, The New Teen Titans and Marvel's The Fantastic Four, the Legion has been a great read consistently throughout its many decades. While the Titans and FF are hit or miss depending upon the creative team, I have enjoyed Siegel's Legion, Shooter's Legion, Starlin's Legion, Levitz's Legion, TMK's Legion, the Postboot Legion, DnA's Legion, and more. My run of the title is continuous for over two decades (I used to like to say I owned it from Earthwar to End of an Era, but now I own a longer run than that).
And I can say without hesitation that the Postboot era is my favorite.
Although I still haven't gotten around to saying why, have I? That's because it's so hard to explain.
Perhaps I can begin by addressing some criticisms of the Postboot. First, the accusations that the book became the "Archie Legion". What does this mean?
Does it mean that the book's protagonists were de-aged? Yes, they were, but the LSH were originally teenagers. This was a key element of the title for the first several decades of the team's existence, and only in the later years of Paul Levitz's run did it stop being true. It's hardly fair to blame the book for being true to the original concept of the Legion.
Or does this accusation mean that the LSH suddenly focussed on romantic issues? Well, the Legion series was practically built on romance. From Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl to Wildfire and Dawnstar, couples are present everywhere in LSH history.
Come to think, I like Archie Comics. More than that, I approve of Archie Comics. They've got single issue stories, attempts to appeal to a younger audience and females that actually (gasp!) successfully manage to get said readers, and an ability to keep a single format fresh for decades without relying increasingly upon self-referential nostalgia.
DC could do a lot worse than to put out Archie Comics.
So, yes, the LSH and Legionnaires did in the Postboot years put out comics that, unlike in the immediately preceding period, didn't require you to have been a fan for decades with a fetish for Legion trivia. You could actually (horrors!) understand what was going on in any given issue, and often as not got a full story for your money. I hear female readers liked the book (I know at least one personally), and maybe kids did too. All those damnable Archie Comics sins were present.
Then there is that classic double bind, the accusations that the Postboot was either (a) ripping off old stories, or (b) deviating too much from the past. Well, I think that the LSH reboot was the first time comic books managed what several cartoon adaptations have (Batman: The Animated Series, for one): to take the best of the past and present it with a fresh approach.
What the Postboot team usually did when retelling an old story was to examine a classic idea from a new angle. So Live Wire lost an arm, as Lightning Lad had, but it was blown off by his own brother Mekt instead of (brace yourself for Silver Age silliness) The Super-Moby Dick of Space. Keep the tragedy, dump the cosmic whale. Best of the old, with a modern approach.
Trom is slaughtered, again. The Fatal Five is gathered to fight the Sun Eater, again. C.O.M.P.U.T.O. goes after one third of Triad, again. But it's not the same old thing. Now we've got genocidal Daxamites, political conspiracies, possession and infiltration... everything old is new again.
Which isn't to say that the Postboot was just rehashing the old with new twists. There were plenty of all-new tales. The White Triangle was an original creation, as was the Team 20 storyline. The Composite Man and Mantis Morlo shared little more than the name of their previous incarnations. Who lived and who died was certainly different.
This was because a large part of that entire old-but-new philosophy was the Legion comics themselves. The "old" was a team of super-powered teenagers in the 30th century; the "new" was the adventures they went through.
People have also moaned that the series was too upbeat. Well, call me crazy, but I believe that depressing dystopic futures aren't the only way to go. This complaint annoys me when Star Trek detractors use it as well. Yes, you can tell good stories about dark futures. But sometimes a little hope is good too. Not "one shining light amidst a galaxy of gloom" hope, but hope that the Legion is safeguarding the sort of world you'd want your (great-great-great...great-grand) kids growing up in. Sometimes, you have to believe that the future will be better than the present, because otherwise what's the point?
Which is not to say that there wasn't still room for drama and tragedy. Legionnaires died. Worlds were threatened, and not always saved. Corruption reared its ugly head. The team could be set against one another. But always, in the end, good triumphed.
And yes, Jeckie's a snake now. Deal with it, folks. I have LSH issues from twenty years ago with letter columns begging for non-humanoid members. I also have seen people demanding the return of every pre-boot LSHer ever as soon as possible, including Chemical King and Tyroc for crying out loud. So they tried killing two birds with one stone. Maybe it didn't work, but they tried. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if they had attempted to use the rebooted Jeckie to address another criticism: that the LSH lacked non-white members... Would I be seeing similar complaints then?
Before everyone starts to think that I feel the Postboot LSH could do no wrong, I should note that there is one area where I feel the Postboot creative team dropped the ball, and that's the lack of gay members. That I will admit is an error that needs to be rectified.
So, have I explained why I love the Postboot LSH yet? No, I haven't. Let me try again.
There is an old DC Sampler ad for the LSH that showed various scenes from the book, and over them the logos of DC books with generic titles (Action, Romance, Mystery in Space, etc.). The idea was that the LSH had everything you could want in a comic.
Well, the Postboot LSH has great characters. It has cosmic scope. It has personal conflicts. It has romance. It has mystery. It has comedy. It has marriages and deaths. It has everything you could want in a comic book.
Could I possibly be a little less vague? Sure.
Great characters: sarcastic Brainiac Five, communist propaganda spouting Gates, ice-witch Saturn Girl, shy Violet (until she comes out of her shell), dutiful Cosmic Boy (maybe too dutiful...), roguish Ultra Boy, rebellious Apparition, spiritual Element Lad, etc. No matter what type of character you like, the Postboot's got them. And please don't think that these characters are easily boiled down into the one adjective I've used. They are quite well realized, and many grow and change as the series progresses.
Cosmic Scope: Earth nearly razed by insane Daxamites, the Anomaly threatening all of creation, Mordru (the most powerful magician ever) blowing up planets, the nearly omnipotent Emerald Eye possessing the entire team, etc. etc.
Personal conflicts: Andromeda and Brainy debate racism, the team questions Cosmic Boy's betrayal of Live Wire, Spark berates Saturn Girl for abandoning her love for Live Wire, etc. etc.
Romance: Saturn Girl and Live Wire, Ultra Boy and Apparition, Triad and Chuck, etc. etc.
Mystery: Who is the thief Element Lad is chasing? What is up with Cosmic Boy's leadership? Is there something fishy at the UP's highest levels? Who is Spark's secret admirer?
Comedy: Tenzil Kem's cheap laughs, Brainy's dry wit, the most inaccurate Metal Men statues of all time, etc. etc.
Marriages and deaths: Just trust me. I wouldn't want to spoil any surprises.
Why do I love the Postboot Legion?
It has characters who I care about. It has stories I get involved in. It has dialogue that feels real. And Jeff Moy's art on Legionnaires is gorgeous.
Why do I love the Postboot Legion?
Just go read some for yourself and find out.
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This piece is © 2001 by Nicolas Juzda.
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