Friday, June 18, 2010

Legion

Comics:
Legion of Superheroes: An Eye for an Eye, written by Paul Levitz with Keith Giffen, illustrated by Keith Giffen, Steve Lightle and Larry Mahlstedt (1984-85; collected 2008): The Legion of Superheroes (LSH) were (and are) a thirtieth-century group of super-powered teenagers from a broad assortment of planets who made their debut in a Superboy story in Adventure Comics in the late 1950's.

When DC Comics reorganized its multiverse of superheroic Earths into a single universe during and after the Crisis crossover event, no major DC title suffered more than the Legion of Superheroes (LSH). Why? Primarily because Superman had no longer been Superboy as a teenager, and Supergirl simply never existed. As Superboy joined the LSH in their very first appearance and appeared in most of their major adventures, this presented something of a problem, as did the elimination of Supergirl from continuity.

This book collects the first six issues of the LSH's first 'direct-only' title, which premiered in 1984 as a result of the LSH reaching new heights of popularity under Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen and LSH uber-inker Larry Mahlstedt. The newsstand LSH title, in existence for more than a decade, ran new stories during the first year of the new title's existence before switching over to reprints of the direct title. In the direct title, things started off with a five-issue storyline pitting the LSH against its opposite number, the Legion of Supervillains. It's probably the second-best multiissue 'epic' storyline of the entire Levitz/Giffen era of the LSH, trailing only the 'Great Darkness Saga' in my estimation. Superheroics abound, along with nice bits of characterization and a couple of truly iconic LSH covers.

One of the fundamental weirdnesses of the Legion books of this time is that Giffen, whose popularity as an artist helped make the LSH a candidate for the direct/newsstand experiment, would leave the book as full artist by issue 3 and as designer/plotter/consultant a few issues later, though he would return a few years down the road. Young artist Steve Lightle stepped in and soon proved to be an able replacement, but it really does seem at times that what was supposed to happen with the direct book never quite happened. The Crisis, and a late 1980's shift towards 'grim and gritty' superheroes, were both coming, and neither would benefit the Legion. Years of retcons and reboots would follow -- indeed, until this day -- to deal with the issues arising from Superboy and Supergirl's elimination from continuity and much-later restoration.

At the time of this book, though, these things were still the future. I do wish DC had started this (relatively) new reprint series at the dawn of the first Levitz/Giffen era, though, and not at its twilight. That was when I first started collecting LSH, so I'm biased, but I'd also say that the whole run -- including this volume, which really acts as a 'conclusion' for that great collaboration -- represents, along with late 1970's/early 1980's Claremont/Byrne X-Men and the (mostly) contemporaneous Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans, the peak of superhero teams for the entire decade, and maybe for the entire history of that sub-sub-genre. Highly recommended.



Legion of Superheroes: The More Things Change, written by Paul Levitz, illustrated by Keith Giffen, Steve Lightle, Ernie Colon, Mike Machlan, Mike DeCarlo and Larry Mahlstedt (1985; collected 2008): The second reprint collection of the LSH direct-only title is a bit more low-key than the first, primarily because it consists of standalone and two-part stories and not a multi-issue epic. Standouts include the revelation of where the menacing Sun-Eater came from, and LSH member Timber Wolf's mission to fulfill the last wishes of deceased Legion member Karate Kid (who predated the Ralph Macchio character by about twenty years).

Superboy also makes what I believe is his last (or possibly second-last) appearance in 'classic' Legion continuity prior to the Crisis and John Byrne's Man of Steel Superman reboot, which would change him from a young Superman to the inhabitant of a pocket universe created by one of the Legion's oldest and most dangerous foes in an attempt to create a super-powered nemesis for the Legion. It's all now a lot like reading the end of an era that no one knew was the end of an era at the time -- enjoyable but slightly sad. Highly recommended.

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