Back To The Future: Mark Waid talks "Legion of Super-Heroes"

This December, everyone's favorite "Legion" of teens from the future are going to be seeing big changes and that doesn't just mean adding the "of Super-Heroes" back to their name.

Under the guidance of writer Mark Waid ("Empire," "Fantastic Four," "Superman: Birthright") and artist Barry Kitson ("Empire," "JLA: Year One"), DC Comics is bringing back "Legion of Super-Heroes" in a big way. With the new vision of the Legion ready to hit fans in a few weeks, Waid took some time to speak to CBR News about the series and address this big question: is this a reboot or reinterpretation of past events?

"Well, as readers of the 'Titans/Legion Special' now know, it has no ties to previous continuity," explains Waid. "At DC's request, we're taking the same approach with the Legion that Julie Schwartz took with the Golden Age heroes to revive them for the Silver Age, which is to say to boil the concepts down to their essence and recraft them as if they were being invented fresh today. We know that's going to make us some enemies among hardcore Legion fans, but it wasn't a decision made cavalierly or without great respect for what has come before. It's just that the Legionnaires are such great characters that we want them to have every fighting chance in today's marketplace to spark the same kind of interest and loyalty that it did when we were kids."

Though Waid & Co are putting a new spin on the classic team, the writer says he's aware that the Legion is a unique entity in the world of super-Heroes and explains what he feels has made the team so special in his mind. "First, that they're young idealists in a utopian, rather than a cliché-dystopian, future. That immediately makes the book about futurism and optimism. Beyond that, our basic take is that, a thousand years from now, a team of teenagers--all from vastly different worlds and all with different super-powers--have banded together to form an intergalactic 'Knights of the Round Table.' As the Legion of Super-Heroes, they earn a reputation as fearless explorers and adventurers, fighting for justice and tolerance while learning from--and learning to tolerate--each other. What makes this different from other comic super-teams is that the Legionnaires are agents of chaos in a utopian society--rebels who fight against the status quo rather than with it. It's sentient nature to settle into complacency. The early 31st century is a very conservative time, where inertia is the stagnating antithesis of the pioneering spirit and navel-gazing has replaced outreach. The Legion is a bunch of teenagers in a monochromatic, monodull society who are, if you will, the 'Society for Creative Anachronism' of the 31st century--kids who celebrate the bright costumes, capes, goofy names and sense of personal heroism that were embodied by the 'ancient super-heroes' of the 21st century."

As a special treat to fans, and in some ways a throw back to storytelling of old, "Legion of Super-Heroes" will feature 30 page stories- as opposed to the standard 22 page length- and while there's debate from fans on whether or not to use those pages for 8 page character spotlights, Waid says he'll be appeasing fans on both sides of the debate. "We have the flexibility to do whatever's best to serve the story--or stories, as the case may be. Right now, plans call for book-lengthers for the immediate future, but that doesn't mean we can't take some space here and again to do 'spotlight' stories on individual Legionnaires."

In the long history of the Legion, there've been many different takes on the Legion, but two in particular seem to resonate the most with fans. First, there's the "Levitz Era," in which writer Paul Levitz took the Legion to the top of the sales chart and mixed classic superheroics with soap opera. Then there's the "5YL" era, in which Keith Giffen, along with Tom and Mary Bierbaum infused the Legion with much darker tones (to which Abnett and Lanning's "Legion" run has been compared at times) that drew as much acclaim as it did scorn. Both takes have become revered for their own reasons and with Waid set to reinvent the Legion again (as he played a major role in rebooting the team in 1993), one has to ask- what's the "perfect" Legion balance?

"I don't know if we've found the 'perfect' balance, but on the whole, I'd say that Barry and I always by trying to remember that the more real these individual teenagers seem, the wider the range that gives us," he explains. "In other words, they're not simplistic and one-dimensional enough to be an 'Archie Legion,' [a derogatory term used by some to describe Waid's reboot efforts in 1993] but neither are any of them (well, okay, maybe Ultra Boy) intense and brooding enough to where they're unpleasantly dark. It's a tough tightrope to walk, I admit--the struggle with the first issue in particular came in making the team accomplished and likeable while at the same time not perfect and perfectly meshing."

Every time a superhero is rebooted, there's always worry from fans that their favorite characters will be neglected, omitted or, even worse in the eyes of some, changed beyond recognition. Ever the affable diplomat, Waid says "No one's been ruled out, so far as I remember" and says that fans shouldn't worry too much about their favorites being "destroyed."

Both Kitson and Waid have made statements that they plan to "Re-imagine" many favorites, with fan speculation ranging from different origins to different powers for their favorite characters. Though changing the planet of origin for Live Wire, for example, may seem trivial, Waid knows that it matters to Legion fans and explains, "Our default impulse is 'do no harm' in terms of what longtime fans already expect from the characters, but our secondary creative impulse is always to ask, 'If we were creating this character from scratch, would we be writing him/her this way, or should we be exploring other ideas?' Triplicate Girl is the best example of this so far--but you'll have to read issue three to see what our take on her is."

As with any Legion fan, Waid has his definite favorites and says they'll be in the spotlight, but promises it won't be at the expense of others. "Cos and Brainy are two of my favorites, both in the past and now. Originally, our intent was to leave Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl out of the book altogether for a while, hinting occasionally that they were off doing something else that would be revealed near the end of year one--but Cos is just too magnetic a character (ar, ar) to not inveigle himself into the stories.

"As far as the others go, we're sort of 'moving the camera around'--spending our first few issues spotlighting and building individual Legionnaires and small groups. Issue two, for instance, features several Legionnaires, but concentrates primarily on Brainy and Dream Girl. Issue four focuses on Invisible Kid and how he relates to some of the other kids on the team. None of them are 'solo stories,' but neither are any of 'em 18-character punch-ups. At least, not yet."

Waid has made a point of saying that one of his goals with the all-new, all-different "Legion of Super-Heroes" was to bring the characters back to their teen roots, though many fans of Levtiz's work and more recent work feel that the teen era of the Legion has been done to death. Others hope that the Legion do age, as they did in their classic adventures, and that the teen age isn't permanent for the new team. "I suppose if we live long enough, sure," says Waid of whether or not we'll see his Legion as adults. "The primary reason for taking them back to their teen roots is because we're not stupid enough to break something that isn't broken. That's the original concept, and clearly they got it right when they created the team."

Something else that came with the team, at least a few years after their creation, was the expansion of the team to include enough members to truly call the teens a "legion." On the surface, the sheer amount of characters would seem to impede creating serious threats or conflicts for a team with dozens of superpowers between the members. Waid contends that the best source of conflict is, "Each other. I don't mean in a hand-to-hand combat way, I mean in an 'okay, here's a dilemma that's going to split the team down the middle' way. The Legion's never more boring than when they're attacking a problem as an 18-member groupmind, and we're working very hard to maintain the awareness among readers that these guys are radically different from one another in culture, in belief, in upbringing. Barry and I can both say that we're not as interested at first in having a Sun-Eater show up as we are watching the Legionnaires deal with smaller, more personal threats. That said, we're headed towards interstellar war on a cosmic scale, and soon, so it's not like we're not willing to turn up the heat."

Don't expect to see another version of the Fatal Five or Computo in this Legion's rogues gallery as Waid isn't spending time trying to re-interpret any of the classic times. "Seriously, no plans. New. New, new, new."

Over the years, the Legion has dealt with themes of tolerance and diversity to the corruption of power and growing into adulthood. This series will tackle those themes and, as Waid explained, "At its core, how difficult--and how rewarding--it is to connect with others like you and with the world around you. A lot of these kids have some commonality, but others--despite their humanoid appearances, we're trying to always bear in mind that having, say, Brainiac 5, Element Lad and Chameleon together is like trying to build an effective fighting force out of a magnolia tree, a sugar cube and a Cumulus cloud. They're not just from different towns, they're from different planets."

For this project Waid is reunited with artist Barry Kitson and while it's no secret that he and Waid collaborate well together, evident on such acclaimed work as "Empire" or "JLA: Year One," the writer says that some people don't realize how much Kitson's presence not only improves the art, but the stories as well. "Because we work so well together. Because he's a terrific, imaginative artist and a good

storyteller who can keep me honest by asking all the right questions about the plots. Because he's suicidal enough to be willing to draw 30 pages a month. All these reasons and more."

There are some long-term plans for "Legion of Super-Heroes" and Waid is happy to offer up some teasers for the future of the series. "We're building a tapestry with the characters. Each of the first few issues can stand on its own, but as we get further into the series, we'll start to see individual threads all growing in surprising ways and leading towards a year-end epic."

Oh, and the moment that made Waid a hardcore Legion fan? "I became a fan of the Legion in 1967, my friend, with the Death of Ferro Lad, and, no, I never dreamed I'd be someday putting words in Phantom Girl's mouth."

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