Legion of Super-Heroes: What Went Wrong
Legion of Super-Heroes #1-16, Annual #1, Legion of Super-Villains Special, by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Francis Portela, Wayne Faucher, et. al., DC, 2010-2011
Following the reintroduction of the “classic” (and now adult) Legion of Super-Heroes in Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes and Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds, Paul Levitz – who wrote the series briefly in the 1970s and then for most of the 1980s – returned to write a new series with the classic team, picking up from where those stories left off. Now, I wasn’t a fan of Levitz’ second, more celebrated run (he screwed up and killed off many of my favorite characters, which made the book a whole lot of Not Fun for me), but having enjoyed those two recent series, I was curious to see what he’d do here. I was impressed with the practical way he wrote off chunks of earlier continuity and started with the new status quo established by Geoff Johns, and the book was being illustrated by Yildiray Cinar, who I wasn’t familiar with but who has a clean, futuristic look to his art.
Unfortunately, the book never really gelled for me, and it’s been cancelled with #16, to be relaunched as two titles in the DC relaunch next month. What went wrong?
Fundamentally, what went wrong is that – as happened his last time around – Levitz gets too caught up trying to write the book like a soap opera, with lots of little plots running, each getting a small amount of attention in each issue, so it becomes hard to follow what’s going on, and the ultimate pay-off of each plot thread is too diffused to be satisfying. It’s as if the book is being written to minimize the dramatic impact.
Here are the stories Levitz crammed into the 18 issues of the series:
- Earth-Man joins the team (#1-7, 16): The villain of Superman and the Legion, Earth-Man is a Legion reject who became a xenophobic tyrant, and Earthgov forces him on the team for decidedly implausible reasons. His story is I guess supposed to be one of redemption, and he does make the ultimate sacrifice in the end, but sleeping with Shadow Lass and his overall attitude still point him as a bastard, and you never really root for him. This thread was ill-conceived and comes to a pointless resolution.
- The destruction of Titan (#1-5, 7): Saturn Girl’s homeworld is destroyed and her people are scattered across the cosmos. This is the genesis of the main story at the beginning of the series.
- Saturn Girl’s children and kidnapped (#1-4): And she steals a time sphere to pursue them, and ends up finding a cult devoted to Darkseid. (Darkseid is intimated connected to the kids, which would be intriguing if Darkseid were even remotely interesting as a villain. In fact his sell-by date passed over 30 years ago.)
- The mysterious Professor Li (#1-2, 4-5, 7, 11-16): A scientist at the Time Institute, who seems to know something about why Titan was destroyed. We eventually learn where she comes from, but honestly I couldn’t care less. She’s a pointless character with uninteresting mystery behind her.
- The next last Green Lantern (#1-7, 10-16): An entity named Dyogene decides someone other than Sodam Yat needs to become a Green Lantern to carry on the tradition. First it chooses Earth-Man, who rejects it, and then it chooses Mon-El, who accepts it for a while, and then steps down. There was never really any point to all of this, so I don’t see why Levitz bothered.
- The assassins from Durla (#2, 5, 7-10): Some shape-shifting assassins from Chameleon Boy’s homeworld come to Earth to punish the United Planets council for letting R.J. Brande die. This story suffers badly from being chopped up among multiple issues, and the capturing of the assassins and revelation of their identities is sapped of any dramatic impact.
- Saturn Queen and the Legion of Super-Villains (#2-3, LSV special, 11-16): Spurred by the destruction of Titan, Saturn Queen assembles a new Legion of Super-Villains, which dominates the last third of the series. Yes, another LSV arc, yawn. There’s a hint that she’s been used by a greater power to accomplish some mysterious goal, but the revelation of what’s going on is not really interesting. The best part of this arc is Saturn Queen’s imperious behavior, and her ally Lightning Lord chafing at taking orders from her.
- Lightning Lass and Shrinking Violet go on holiday (#6, Annual #1): I guess some fans enjoy seeing the Legion’s lesbian couple, but since their heterosexual relationships of years past were the subjects of two of my favorite Legion stories, I’m not one of them. Still, the Annual, with the return of the Emerald Empress, and a check-in with Sensor Girl’s medieval homeworld, was one of the most entertaining issues of the series.
- Mon-El becomes Legion leader (#8, 10-16): Potentially an interesting story, especially since he and Shadow Lass have broken up and he seems adrift in his life, but it gets subsumed by the LSV storyline, and he becomes a Green Lantern too which additionally dilutes the story. Really a lost opportunity to work with the character, much as the Durlan assassins story was a lost opportunity to work with Chameleon Boy’s character.
- Star Boy returns (#11-16): Having been in a pointless exile in the 20th century for the last few years, Star Boy returns and somehow is a component in revealing the secret of Professor Li. Pretty much everything involving Star Boy and Legionnaires in the 20th century has been a storytelling disaster, and even thought this is a small piece of the series, I’m still scratching my head over why Levitz wasted pages on this. (And why is he wearing the stupid half-mask for much of the story, when he’s back with his friends in the 30th century, who all know who he is?)
So the stories didn’t work in two ways: Some of them were too diffuse, so it was difficult to keep track of what was happening in them, and some of them were too long, like the seemingly-endless throwdown with the Legion of Super-Villains (let’s fight this guy, now let’s fight this guy, now these guys, now these guys, and now let’s have a couple of big battles with everyone). I was not a fan of the Great Darkness Saga which was the keynote story of Levitz’ previous run, but at least it was a focused story in 5 issues, steadily building to its climax. But this series just thrashes around without seemingly knowing what it’s trying to accomplish or where it’s going. It was less than the sum of its parts.
The series also had the annoying gimmick of introducing every single character, every single issue, with their name, homeworld, and powers. It’s a crutch which quickly gets distracting. The Legion has decades of stories without this schtick, and it’s not like characters with names like “Sun Boy” and “Lightning Lass” really need this crutch.
To be sure, the art by the two main pencillers, Cinar and Francis Portela, is terrific, and almost makes the series worth reading by itself. (Cinar is pencilling the upcoming Firestorm series, and I’m going to pick it up mainly because of him.) But the stories, despite having promise, were just very poorly executed. Juggling the Legion’s large cast has chewed up plenty of writers, but keeping it simple and making the stories manageable, or focusing on just a few characters at a time, is usually the key. Levitz seems to have completely lost his touch in this regard, and the end of this series is a good time for me to stop buying the book until a writer whose work I’m more interested in comes on board.