High adventure, soap opera and sexy young things in trendy outfits, in stories that are continuing to draw more fans each month.
Some might say that you're looking at the generic outline of some kind of Aaron Spelling show.
But for fans of the Legion of Superheroes, DC Comics "Legion" is much more than what's been mentioned- it's something near and dear to their hearts, and has been for 45 years. On the eve of this momentous anniversary, let's face it- Marvel Comics as we know it is only 40 years old, CBR News caught up with series writers' Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, who like the Legionaire Wildfire, spoke to CBR News as one mind about the hit "Dream Crime" story and the future of this acclaimed series.
Some of you might be ready to turn away from the screen at the mere mention of the Legion, known for it's large lineup and for complex stories, but DnA explain that it's not all that difficult. "New readers are often wary of the Legion: it's got a daunting 45 year history and famously one of the largest regular casts of any ongoing comic. However, there's no need for alarm. The Legion can be reduced to a very simple concept - this is a comic about the future of the DC Universe. It's set a thousand years from now at a time when a number of planetary cultures, including Earth have joined together to form the United Planets. Inspired by the great heroes of the contemporary DCU - particularly Superman and the members of the JLA - the Legion of Superheroes has been created to protect this interplanetary culture. All Legion members are young, and come from the member worlds of the UP. Their youthful enthusiasm means that, even in its darkest hours, the Legion is always a positive and upbeat book. There are a lot of characters - it's a Legion after all! - but we always make an effort to give everyone a share of the 'screen time', to make sure everyone is regularly introduced to new readers and to give everyone their own story themes. We doubt it's anything like as hard as people imagine to get into the Legion - just picking up the latest issue should do it, but if a prospective reader was to start collecting from the beginning of 'Dream Crime' (a five issue arc beginning in Legion 19) or alternatively with the double sized issue 25 later this year, these are ideal 'jumping on' points."
And one thing that makes the book fresh for readers, contends DnA, is the size of the cast- there's always a new set of characters spotlighted in each storyarc and every fan can have their "own favorite." "In truth, there are no 'main characters'" explain DnA. "In terms of story, every Legion member (and the two or three none Legionnaire regular characters) is of equal importance, and any one of them can be the focus of a story. However, several characters have achieved prominence. The most obvious would be the three founder members: Cosmic Boy (magnetic powers), Saturn Girl (telepath) and Live Wire (lightning power). They were the first three members of the Legion and thus have certain seniority, though Live Wire was tragically killed during the 'Legion Lost' saga. His death still has ramifications, particularly for Saturn Girl who was his fiancée. Other key characters would be Kid Quantum (quantum manipulation powers), who has recently been elected as Leader of the team; Ultra Boy (Superman type powers, usable one at a time) and Apparition (ghostlike phasing powers), who are the only married couple in the Legion and are going through turbulent times following the birth of their first child; Brainiac (twelfth level intelligence), who is the team's boffin and deliciously cranky; the loveable Chameleon (shape shifter), who is at once very alien and yet very humane. Our handling of these characters - and indeed all the others - is guided most of all by their very evident personalities. When we took the book over every Legionnaire's character was extremely well established by the many talented teams who have worked on the book over the years. Our job was not to define character, but to find ways of letting those definitions shine through. So we've explored interesting new interplays between characters, given others real progression through good events and bad, and generally tried to devise storylines that are driven as much by character as by event."
The current storyline running through "Legion" is entitled "Dream Crime" and it's been compared to the revered Paul Levitz/Keith Giffen work on the previous incarnation of the series decades ago, not only for the characterization and feel, but because of the main villain- the reality altering Universo. "We decided on Universo because, as you say, he's a pretty classic Legion villain and it seemed about time for him to make a reappearance. We've always tried to inject new ideas, characters and threats into the Legion: after 45 years there's a danger that any creative team coming to the Legion will simply recycle all the old stories rather than advancing anything. But it's always great to see old arch-villains return. We try to use them sparingly, to introduce them wherever possible in oblique and hopefully surprising ways, and then try and do things with them that haven't been done before."
One thing that DnA did to surprise fans was the introduction of Batman villain Ra's Al Ghul early in the series run, making fans aware that anything could happen, but when early pages of "Dream Crime" were shown featuring Legion (and DC universe) villain Darkseid, fans never doubted DnA would use him… till Universo threw them all for a loop. "As with our use of Ra's Al Ghul, which was extremely well received, we love putting things into the book to remind the readers that this universe is directly connected to the DCU that forms the backdrop of all other DC books," say DnA. "Yes, Darkseid was a tease, and an homage to the great 'Great Darkness Saga' too, as threats go, he's about as momentous an epic as they come, and this suited the misdirection we needed for 'Dream Crime'."
The first two issues of "Dream Crime" have found a different focus from previous "Legion" issues, with the predominant theme being individuality and the quest, internally and externally, for many characters to the find the strength to be themselves in the face of adversity. "As we said, we try to make this book character driven, and that means focussing on individuals," explain DnA. "The Legion works as a whole and can get involved in some mighty battles, but if every scene features 20 plus Legionnaires slugging it out with intergalactic baddies then it would get pretty monotonous. In essence, the Legion has only ever been as strong as any individual member. Their individual traits - powers, personality, outlook - are what defines them as Legionnaires and are what they bring to the team."
With issue #25, that theme will continue but there will also be more reasons to celebrate- it'll be the Legion's 45th anniversary and according to DnA, their "must read" Legion issue in their four plus years on the franchise. "Our next major storyline begins in issue 25, and is probably the most epic thing we've done. As we said, this year is the 45th anniversary of the Legion, and we'll be reaching our 25th issue of this series (which incidentally means we'll have written over 50 issues in total) and so we thought it was high time we had a bit of a celebration. We're not going to give any of the surprises away, but boy have we got some jaw-droppingly unexpected surprises in store, as well as some real treats for Legion fandom."
Some fans have been complaining about one thing though- they feel as though Saturn Girl and Kid Quantum are taking the too much time away from other characters. It's led some to believe that those two are the favourites of DnA and the duo can't totally deny that. "It's true to say that Saturn Girl and Kid Quantum are particular favourites of ours, but they've only featured a lot recently because of the pivotal roles they've played in stories. Saturn Girl was in many ways the main character in 'Legion Lost', and the repercussions of that adventure need to be played out properly. We guess some people are complaining because they have other favourite characters. We're trying to get everybody a decent share of story time. You may want to consider the important story arcs that we've done featuring Apparition, Ultra Boy, Timber Wolf and Brainiac, not to mention the focus given to other leading characters in the 'Legion Worlds' series."
One character whose time in the spotlight has been well-received in the serpentine Sensor, whose undergone a startling transformation of late and while she may not be like her version in old continuity (Princess Projectra), she's gained more fans of late. "Well, Sensor's another character we've given a prominent role to," say DnA. "When we came onto the book there were several characters crying out for exposure and development. Sensor had been extremely unpopular in many quarters because she was considered no match for the character she replaced. However, we were determined to remain true to the reboot continuity and that meant using Sensor as she was. She was definitely a character we thought we could do things with, but we wanted any changes or developments to come out of story rather than an arbitrary makeover. Ra's Al Ghul's manipulation of Evolution gave us the perfect in and allowed us to literally remake her. The physical changes are probably less important (though we believe her new appearance to be a massive improvement on the old snake) than the changes that have occurred to her personality. She's a stronger, harder character now and that's going to lead to conflict, which of course is the lifeblood of any good story."
But the British writing duo can't find a defense for their lack of scribe time on LeVIathon, formerly Shrinking Violet, and they do try to appease fans with hints of what's to come. "It's a fair cop. Vi is now the only major character we've not done anything with yet, and that's simply because we've been busy working through the ideas that have occurred to us for other characters. Vi was also strongly defined and seemed to need less than, say, Sensor. We couldn't deal with every character at once, so someone was bound to come last. We're story to all Vi fans out there that she's picked the short straw. Rest assured, we are very aware of this and giving Vi something meaty to do is now at the top of our plotting agenda."
And, the most asked question by "Legion" fans is this: are Live Wire and Element Lad, who seemingly both perished in "Legion Lost," gone for good? "You know we can't answer that!" laugh Abnett and Lanning. "Whether the answer was yes or no, it would still spoil things for someone somewhere. What we can say is read issue 25. That issue, double sized, deals with a celebration of the Legion's founding, and spends some time discussing and reflecting on the characters no longer with us. Live Wire, Element Lad…and indeed Monstress will all feature in the issue simply because they're in the thoughts of our characters."
Somewhere in Legion fandom, someone is calling for Tyroc, the Legion's first black character, to return and despite his disco era costume and man-thong, DnA seem happy to oblige. "Who are we to argue? Can we do something with Vi first?" laugh DnA.
And Superboy, once the founding member of Legion when it was established in 1958, will be returning… albeit with muscle shirt, bulging biceps and triceps and a radically different origin. Though he's crossed path with this incarnation of the Legion during the late 90's, the character has been re-envisioned by Geoff Johns in "Teen Titans" and will meet the Legion in issue #25 once more. "Superboy was a fundamental part of pre-boot continuity, and we've been dying for a chance to get him into the book as a nod to the good old days. However, because continuity is different, Superboy's relationship to the Legion is nothing like it was in the early days. We've devised a way of bringing him in as part of the anniversary epic, which is so organic to the story we can't give anything away at this stage. Never the less, issue 25 should bring a real smile to the face of every 'old school' Legion fan."
One of the biggest draws to "Legion" was artist Olivier Coipel, who's currently working with Geoff Johns on Marvel Comics' "Avengers," but new artist Chris Batista is making a splash and winning fans with his smooth art style. "Olivier was fabulous and he did wonderful stuff with the Legion," admit DnA. "It was hard trying to find somebody of that quality as a replacement. Chris is fantastic, mainly because he brings totally different strengths to the book. His sense of design and his attention to detail are absolutely staggering, but the really great thing about working with him is that he's a Legion fan through and through. He's totally into every story, drawing it not just from the point of view of an artist, but as someone wanting to explore and expand the Legion Universe. He feeds back to us as many ideas as we throw at him, and he's constantly going the extra mile in terms of visualisation. Take for instance the depiction of Titan in 'Dream crime'. Many artists would have been content simply to draw an elegant alien world, but with Chris's enthusiasm and cooperation we were able to make it far from generic."
If you're one of those many fans trying to catch up on DnA's previous issues and you're looking for trade paperback collections, you're out of luck- no one knows why DC hasn't printed any yet. "That's a question you should direct to DC," say DnA, shrugging their shoulders in unison. "We're reasonably confident that 'Dream Crime' will be collected."
Fan reaction to the end of the "Robotica" story and the spotlight stories following it have been mixed- somewhat ironic considering that fans were clamouring for less "epic" stories- but DnA aren't deterred by fan criticism. "We try and tell each story as well as we can. Maybe some work better than others. Personally we were very pleased with the 'Robotica' story and also with the 'Revival of the Fittest' two parter. It seemed like a good idea to do a story about a villain after he had been defeated. We're glad 'Dream Crime' has been received so well. It's got a lot going for it: the new style covers and logo, the new regular artist, and it's probably the first story to fully receive the imprint of our new editor, Steve Whacker, so it did feel like we were re-fuelled and starting off afresh once more. Mike McAvennie was a terrific editor who worked with us to produce some stories that we're very, very proud of. We were very lucky that his replacement was just as enthusiastic."
The series has for the most, and most assuredly of late, received positively astounding reviews and recommendations from many respected professionals within the comic book industry, yet sales don't seem to rise. "With so many comics on the market, and with so many of them being of such high quality, it's difficult for the average comic reader to afford them all. We're glad people think 'Legion' is a high quality, accessible series - we think so too - but it really doesn't matter how good we make the stories when it comes to sales. People have to pick it up to realise what they're missing, so it's really a matter of word of mouth recommendation and the support of sites like yours. We're convinced that if people read it they'll see how good it is and come back for more. It's that simple. So if you read 'Legion' and you like it…for God's sake tell someone!"
What's next for "Legion?" The duo aren't known for saying much, but as always, the teasers they do offer are bound to whet the appetite of converted fans. "We've already said a lot about the anniversary epic. We could mention issue 24, which is a gorgeous solo adventure for Umbra, drawn by fan favourite Steve Lightle. We could mention the surprise guest artists who'll be sharing the art chores on 25 with Chris Batista. We could mention the powerful stories that will follow the anniversary epic, which feature the return of the Credo and the destiny of Jo and Tinya's son Cub. We could mention the shocking…oh, no we couldn't."