Why I Stopped Reading the Legion

The Legion used to visit between school days. We had adventures in the future between classes. Then there was the Crisis and I never saw the Legion again.

So apparently there now was a Superboy? Kal-el did start getting his powers at or before puberty? And he did hang out with the LSH in his early days? How many complete retcons does this make now? 5? 6? 7?

The Legion was one of the first books I read starting somewhere before issue 200, and I kept at it through some of the bad times (Legionnaires, anime-art) right through Legion Lost, after which point I just completely lost the plot and was never able to pick it up again.

One of the two biggest problems with superhero comic books is the refusal to let old characters move on. Peter Parker started out as a senior in high school in 1962 and he’s now maybe 25? 28? When Bendis started Ultimate Spider-man, he planned to age parker one year per hundred issues (about eight years of real time) but even that proved to be too fast. Superman was 28 for frickin forever, but now maybe comes in about 35? Batman’s much the same.

The Legion was interesting because, for a while there, they actually grew up, and not all that much slower than their readership did. The early Legion from Adventure Comics I’d place at maybe 13-15, and then a little older as the series progress. The Superboy and the LSH series were maybe college age. Keith Giffen moved the Legion into their mid-20s in a deliberate effort to introduce Jim Shooter’s adult legion; and after the five year gap I think they’re in their early 30s. At that point, though, the creators rebelled and reintroduce a legion of child-aged clones, and the series spiraled down from there.

When Lee, Kirby, and Ditko reinvented the superhero in the early 60s, they did it by focusing as much on the character as on the action and plot. Unfortunately this only went so far. They’d invent the character but then freeze them in time. That may work for a novel, but not for a 40-year+ ongoing series. At Comic-con this year I heard a creator complain that one of the only two significant developments in Peter Parker’s life since being bitten by a radioactive spider, his marriage, was a mistake because it changed the nature of the character. Dude, I have news for you: 40+ years of teen angst and insecurity gets boring. His marriage was one of the few interesting developments in Spider-man lore in the last 20 years. But wouldn’t you know it? J. Michael Straczynski just managed to magically write the Parkers’ marriage out of existence! (at which point I gave up on Spider-man too. I have no interest in revisiting the same tired stories I first read 30 years ago. I mean, really, how many times can Spider-man fight the Enforcers in an amusement park anyway?)

From the mid-eighties to the early 90’s D.C. was actually getting interesting again. Characters were changing and growing up. Perhaps starting with the deaths of Supergirl and Barry Allen in Crisis on Infinite Earths, you began to realize that these folks wouldn’t last forever. John Byrne turned Superman from a cartoon into a character, and eliminated Krypto, Superboy, 17 different colors of Kryptonite, and every other plot device that had been used to cover up 40 years of bad writing. A few years later Batman and Superman both got knocked off at about the same time. Green Arrow died a little earlier. Hal Jordan, who was showing a little gray by then, took a little longer to go, but when he did it was interesting. Most importantly it showed a developing character.

All of this cleared the stage for the next generation: Nightwing, Azrael, the new Green Arrow, Kyle Rayner, Wally West, Steel, the Cyborg Superman, the Eliminator Superman, and more. Some of these worked better than others–I never quite understood the point of Azrael myself–but at least they were new and different. Unfortunately that didn’t last very long.

OK, I suppose I never really expected D.C. to let Superman stay dead or Batman stay crippled; but really, couldn’t Oliver Queen have stayed dead? I mean, he was blown up in a mid-air explosion witnessed by Superman himself, and later seen in heaven for Christ’s sake! If that isn’t enough to keep a character dead, what is? It actually wasn’t completely implausible (by comic book logic) to resurrect Hal Jordan as the new Spectre; but was it really necessary to absolve him of all blame for the Parallax disaster? And then return him to the same old costume, powers, and personality that were played out by 1982?

I’m picking on D.C. here but Marvel’s far from exempt. (Heroes Reborn anyone?) This is what really sucks about mainstream superhero comic books. You know that no matter what happens, it never really matters. Stop reading and come back in ten years, and all the characters will still be there, bashing the same bad guys, and making the same tired quips. It’s just a bad soap opera that doesn’t have to worry about the actors aging.

3 Responses to “Why I Stopped Reading the Legion”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    In some contexts it works, though. Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels progress from Fer-de-Lance in 1934 to A Family Affair in 1974, with the world changing around them appropriately, but Wolfe is always fifty-six and Archie is always in his thirties. Of course, the real difference is that the Wolfe mysteries were the work of a single hand and mind.

  2. AndyT Says:

    J. Michael Straczynski probably changed Peter Parker more than most:

    * he actually started a new job as a teacher, that went on for an extended run getting in the way of the super hero hi-jinx
    * he revealed Peter’s identity to aunt May
    * He spent a lot of time looking into the origin of Spiderman’s powers, asking if the radioactive spider was quite what it seemed.

    Rightly or wrongly he was ordered by Marvel management to write out the wedding and all that stuff in his last issue. He has made it quite clear on the record he disagreed. Not that I mind the new Spiderman story line, it is just you are picking on the wrong writer here.

  3. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    Sometimes when the powers that be act like idiots, a writer needs to walk away. Rick Veitch did back in Swamp Thing 88, and J. Michael Straczynski has a lot more clout than Rick Veitch has ever had.

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