DC Comics’ Legion Of Super-Heroes began life in the late ’50s in the Silver Age pages of “Adventure Comics” as a group of 30th century teenagers inspired by Superboy to form a super hero club. Growing in popularity over the ’60s the group began to headline “Adventure Comics,” eventually branching out into their own solo title, aptly named “Legion of Super-Heroes.”
After two years in the New 52, the long-running adventures of the Legion are coming to a close. It was announced in May that “Legion Of Super-Heroes” would be cancelled with August’s issue #23, along with “Demon Knights” and “Dial H.” But while the news came as a blow to modern Legion fans, as ex-DC President and longtime Legion writer Paul Levitz pointed out the Legion has always come back “in one form or another.”
Levitz first wrote “Legion” back in the 1970s, working with artist James Sherman to write one of the Legion’s most ambitious stories at that time, the galactic “Earthwar” arc. His next turn on the futuristic super team came in the ’80s where he worked alongside artist Keith Giffen, famously writing “The Great Darkness Saga” that helped define the Legion at that time. Levitz would then return to the series shortly before the 2011 DC relaunch and continued writing through the New 52, first with artist Francis Portela and then with artist Kevin Maguire.
Looking ahead to the end of the comic and back to his previous turns with the characters, Levtiz spoke with Comic Book Resources about “Legion,” his time on the series and why he doesn’t think he’ll be coming back a fourth go ’round with the futuristic teens.
CBR News: Let’s talk about “Legion,” which we know is ending in August. Since this isn’t your first rodeo with these characters, how did it feel to come back to the characters in the New 52 versus the first time you tackled “Legion of Super-Heroes?”
Paul Levitz: Well this is the third time because my first run was ’76 to ’78 and then I came back on it from about ’80 to ’85. It was weird but kind of wonderful as I was coming back to writing for the first time in almost, what, sixteen years? So to be able to come back and start with characters that were old friends in so many ways was a very nice feeling. And its sad to say goodbye to them in this fashion, but I really had so much fun working with them for so long it’s time to let other people get a chance to do something fresh with them, whatever that next incarnation will be. I’m sure there will be one at some point.
Especially since we restarted the whole DC Universe with the New 52, how do you look at the Legion now versus when you first started writing them decades ago? Have the characters changed, or has your perspective on them changed a great deal?
I think both of those things are true, but the biggest change is the audience. When I began writing “Legion” in the ’70s the universal assumption was that comics were for kids and maybe “Legion” was for slightly brighter kids, a hair older kids than some of the other titles in the DC lineup at the time, and certainly was perceived to have a larger fan base. But there was no assumption at that time that there was likely to be anybody thirty years-old reading “Legion” and people in their twenties reading it were looked at with a little bit of suspicion. Now you have an audience for the books that includes, based on the people I’ve met at conventions who talk about reading it, young kids who discovered it fresh which is wonderful and people who are in their fifties and sixties to everything in between. That’s a very different world.
Working on the New 52 version, did you keep that in mind, that you were trying to write for the older fans and those in their 20s and 30s who are now the ones primarily buying comics?
It was part of what you try to pay attention to. The other part is even for the younger people we’re living in a different time that the heroes emerged. When I began writing comics long before the era of the Internet, now if you’re writing a story and you include a reference to something that is unfamiliar people can take two seconds, Google it, and there it is. So you have a little more courage putting in references to more unusual places, more unusual pieces of history, scientific theories and I think that’s coming to the work a little bit too.
What was the biggest challenge wrapping up the book for August, sending off both the universe and ending the series altogether?
It’s coming at the end of a massive storyline that Keith [Giffen] and I started and both had some influence on but there were a lot of missing pieces to be wrapped up. Hopefully, if I’ve done my job right, there’s some stuff in the final issue that will make the long-term fans smile and make the people who came in with that story smile.
When you first began on this incarnation you also wrote a standalone miniseries, “Legion: Secret Origins.” While the ongoing ends in Augustm would you want to come back and do more miniseries like that where we explore individual characters or points in Legion history?
I think I’ve probably written as many “Legion” stories as anyone ought to write of any one character over the years! I wouldn’t run from it if the guys came down the hall and said, “Can you do this?” It’s an honorable pile of paper — but it’s time enough to do some other stuff.
What would that other stuff entail? Would you want to take on different properties at DC, or would you want to do something entirely outside the realm of superheroes or do a creator-owned work?
Sure, I mean the last “creator-owned” project I did was in 1978 with Steve Ditko before the term creator-owned came into the language of comics particularly. It would certainly be interesting to go back and do something like that at that point. I have some book projects I’m working on now that will be part of the game but who knows where comics stuff and the rest of it will lead? I’m enjoying doing a mixture of writing and teaching right now and we’ll see where the balance goes.
Looking back at your three eras on the book, is there a “Legion” story — either one you had a hand in or one by another writer — that you feel really cuts to the heart of who these characters are and what’s compelling about “Legion of Super-Heroes?”
There’s some great stories from my childhood that were both Jim [Shooter’s]: the “Fatal Five” story that Feral Lad died in, which was just a great heroic moment, and the “Adult Legion” story right after that. It looked ahead in an unusual fashion for the time about what could happen to all the characters going forward and those were both really wonderful pieces of work.
Out of my own material I certainly bow to the general audience in thinking “Great Darkness” was my favorite. I’m very fond of the Universo four-parter that I did and certainly the arc with Sensor Girl, I think both were strong stories. And the very first arc from the Baxter book, “An Eye For An Eye” with the death of Karate Kid, that had some very special moments in it.
Is there anything you’re really glad you had the opportunity to write an ending to, or revisit from threads you started years ago?
I had a couple of moments in the last issue that made me smile and hopefully will make some of the long-time readers smile. Even if it was as simple as getting the Science Police motto in the last issue for two seconds, we’ll see who responds to what piece of it. I tried for some nice moments; Kevin [Maguire’s] art is due at any moment and I’m looking forward to seeing that, he’s been doing wonderful, emotional work.
You can’t wrap up as diverse a universe as Legion tying everything up neatly, but I tried to pull a bunch of my loose threads together, and hopefully did!
“Legion of Super-Heroes” ends with issue #23, on sale August 21.