Posted by: Graeme McMillan on May 29, 2007
I don’t think that it’s the greatest secret that I love the Legion of Super-Heroes. Besides Green Lantern, I think it’s my favorite superhero high concept (As cool as “It’s an army of teenaged super-heroes! In the future!” is, “He’s a space cop with a magic wishing ring!” is very hard to beat, let’s face it), and you pretty much have to have a heart of whimsiless stone not to find the original 1950s stories featuring the characters charming at the very least. My favorite era of the characters – because everyone who loves the Legion has their own era, I think, usually corresponding to when they first found the characters, just like everyone’s favorite Doctor Who – is easily the last eight or nine years (!) of Paul Levitz’s run on the books, from when Keith Giffen took over on art all the way through him coming back again, after Steve Lightle and Greg LaRoquette (with Mike DeCarlo’s beautiful inks… Man…); it was a run that took the soap operatics – and some of the dialogue tics – of Claremont’s best X-Men and soldered it onto Silver Age DC weirdness to come up with something uniquely fun and confusing and demanding your attention. From there, it was all downhill for me: every subsequent take on the team was interesting but ultimately not as interesting as what’d come before, whether it was Giffen’s byzantine “Five Years Later” storyline or the post-Zero Hour reboot or Abnett and Lanning’s revival after that. The stories all walked the fine line between nostalgia and wanting to seem updated and contemporary, and couldn’t manage to do so and weave exciting stories into the mix as well.
All of which is one way of saying that the Mark Waid and Barry Kitson relaunch of the title a couple of years ago was both an exciting and depressing proposition. Depressing because, well, it’s the second hard reboot of the concept in, what, ten years or so? And exciting because Mark Waid knows his stuff, and loves the concept as much as any fan; even if you’re a tepid Kitson fan like me, at least the book would be readable. And it was; for the first year, it was an amazing book, one of the best superhero books that DC published. Seemingly informed by Joss Whedon both in terms of snarky dialogue and pacing (each issue containing a complete story in and of itself, while also moving a larger plot forward), Waid’s revival succeeded where others had failed by jettisonning both plot nostalgia (Although he does love his easter eggs) and the need to be contemporary in a book that’s meant to be set a thousand years from now. He found the easiest explanation for the quaint nature that’s – I think – essential to the Legion working (that the Legion themselves are nostalgic fanboys in a way) and worked forward from there, and if you bought into that idea, the rest was all tightly-plotted and carried out with humor and tension. The first year of the book (as collected in the first two trades of the series, for those who haven’t read them) is just Very Good superhero work.
And then the second year happened. And with it, 52.
Now, I have no proof that it was really 52 that derailed the book, but something clearly did, and Waid’s involvement with the weekly book that took up everyone’s time much more than they’d intended it to seems like a pretty guilty looking suspect. For whatever reason, though, the second year of the book – which, to cheat, really counts as #14 onwards – blew it. There was a wealth of good stuff, but it was unfocused and the tightness of plotting and pacing from earlier was missing. There were fill-ins on the writing and art side, and plots drifted in and out of the reader’s attention in a way that suggested that similar drifts were happening for those responsible for the book. It was frustrating not just because I wanted the Legion to be better, but because it had just been better, just a few months earlier. When it was announced that Waid and Kitson were leaving the book with this month’s issue, it was depressing but not surprising – You could almost sense that the fight’s gone out of both of them, for whatever reason (A feeling helped by the fact that they missed the penultimate issue of their run, letting a big plot moment be handled by the fill-in team who’re about to take the book over from them).
SUPERGIRL AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #30, on its own, is actually pretty good; there are two swerves here that show that Waid is not only playful with his characters but inventively so, and also that he loves the history of them enough to tribute in unexpected ways (Did anyone really see what happened to Cos coming? Or, for that matter, did anyone think it was out of character that he accepted…?). Taken as a single issue, it’s as much of a love letter to the series as you would’ve wanted Waid to end on; respectful of but not tied down by what has come before in the concept’s, what, 50-year history. But, depressingly, it’s kind of hard to take it entirely on its own – it is the final part of a multi-part storyline, and it fails in that respect – It feels like an epilogue, and that the main battle that was teased in the previous issue has all happened off-panel, which is somewhat disappointing but again, not incredibly surprising given the sway of the last year’s books. Also, it rushes a couple of reveals to longrunning plots that really should’ve been given more space or else abandoned altogether, and in doing so kind of undercuts them entirely. The strongest feeling I had at the end of the issue was one of frustration – that Waid was leaving in the first place, that he hadn’t stuck around a couple of more issues to let the story breathe a little more, and that the final issue of a run that started out so strongly was, ultimately, just Okay.
So it goes. Here’s hoping that someone at DC really does give the book to Christopher Bird; if nothing else, I know that he’s probably a bigger fan of Levitz’s run than I am, so we’d have nostalgia to share.