Levitz, Zen & The Art Of "Legion Of Super-Heroes"

"Legion Of Super-Heroes," DC Comics' long-running comic book series about super-powered teens fighting for truth and justice in the 31st Century, has never been what could be classified as a simple book.

With a literal cast of hundreds over the course of its fifty-four-year history, even with reboots, threeboots and New 52 relaunches, "LoSH" has remained a series with a rich and complex history, where anything is possible from team shakedowns to the deaths of the Legionnaires themselves.

But with current (and famous classic "LoSH") writer Paul Levitz's recent issues, the "future of the future" as he dubs it is even more uncertain than ever as Mon-El plans to throw Legion leadership open to elections while the alien Dominators scheme to use both Daxamite DNA and Brainiac 5 to further their own nefarious goals in what the writer terms a galactic "Cold War."

With "LoSH" alumni Steve Lightle and Yildiray Cinar stepping into permanent "LoSH" artist Francis Portela's shoes for issue #8, CBR decided to catch up with the universe-trotting Levitz about the ongoing series, including the joys of writing the Dominators, the complexities of the Legion and who Levitz would vote for if he were a Legionnaire!

CBR News: Besides dealing with the Multiverse in "Worlds' Finest," you're continuing to work on the multi-character and multi-world "Legion Of Superheroes." Do you ever take a step back and dream about writing a solo character ongoing?

Paul Levitz: [Laughs] That was part of what I enjoyed about the "Huntress" miniseries a lot -- not that there was no back story, but that the back story was relatively invisible. It was definitely a continuity-light miniseries, a one-person-story and that's the first chance I had to do something like that in a very long time! [Laughs] The nice thing about writing books with a lot of characters in them is it allows you different kinds of character development. When you're writing a book about a single character, you know they're going to be alive at the end of it, and you're pretty well assured they're going to be well because they have to go on to do whatever the next issue is and roll the thing forward. The status quo is much more locked in on most of the single characters. When you're writing a book that's a mob scene, eh, somebody dies, somebody dies, somebody gets injured, somebody falls in love, out of love -- you have more pieces you can work with. That's more reflective of human life because we're going through things in our world all the time.

Speaking of changes, with issue #9 of "LoSH," you're starting a new arc featuring the election of a new leader, the possibility of a Legionnaire leaving and Brainiac 5 and Dream Girl being kidnapped by the Dominators. What can you say about all these dangling threads?

I think it's a great deal of visual fun! [Artist] Francis [Portela's] depiction of the Dominators was so cool that it drew me to make a major story arc largely set on the Dominators' home world and to really extrapolate some of the science fiction concepts and science fiction horror that was implicit in how they looked and how they were behaving. We bit by bit learn about the caste structure of the Dominators, how they make new castes and their bioengineering approach. They've kidnapped Brainiac 5 because they really specifically want him for stuff, and there's the political complexity of [the question of] can they get rescued when you've got essentially a frozen Cold War scenario that might prevent the Legion from charging in.

Is this chance to expand on the Dominators' back story one of the reasons you really wanted to focus these first arcs of the New 52 "LoSH" on them?

When I first threw them in the book and saw what Francis did with them, he just had such a beautiful take on them. The original Dominators story, God, when I was a kid had art by Jim Mooney, who's a wonderfully talented artist, but they were pretty sedate creatures. He tended to draw very humanoid, very nice aliens. Some of the stories that have been done over the years since, I think Todd McFarlane did some work with them back in the "Invasion" days, other talented artists have played with them a little more and had a little more fun with it, but when I saw Francis' it was like, "Oh! Ok! I can imagine what those guys are like. Boy, that's an unfortunate world." I just wanted to dive in, take advantage of it.

In these last couple of issues we've seen different parts of 31st Century Earth with Dragonwing going back to China. The planet seems like it could be classified as an "unfortunate world," too. Do you have more plans for action on Earth and in cities like Metropolis? Is there a parallel comparison going on between our world and the Dominators' planet?

Not in this arc. There will certainly be some parts that are set on Earth and other places, but the bulk of the story takes place within the Dominators' world for four issues. I had a lot of fun playing with future China and raising the issue that the way China is [currently] dealing with its ecological problems that there is going to be a bill that might take a thousand years to pay off, depending on how long they keep doing this. I enjoy planting little things like that within the stories that I do. I don't answer all the questions, but I hopefully get people thinking about them.

On the art side, in issue #8 you have Steve Lightle and Yildiray Cinar coming on -- will this be similar to what you did with Walt Simonson, where it's essentially one big Legion slice-of-life story?

It's a little bit different in structure. What I did to Walt you can only do to someone you've been friendly with for decades, asking, "Could you just drop by and draw thirty of my characters, please?" You have to really know the person's a total pacifist and won't pull their palette knife on you! But it was great to get back together with Steve. We haven't worked together for a couple of decades now, and the story with him is, on some level, a very simple, self-contained story, but it's also really a set-up for what will happen over time when you find out what exactly been stolen from the planet [in the issue]. You'll know that has significant danger for the Legion for the long run.

The story with Yildiray sort of fulfills a promise I had to him that he got a chance to draw his native city of Istanbul in the future. It seems only fair, so he's getting to play with one of his favorite characters, Lightning Lad, in his own city in the future.

"Legion Lost" is crossing over with "Teen Titans" and "Superboy" in May for "The Culling." At this point, how much of an impact do the two Legion books have on each other?

Right now, the Legionnaires in the 31st Century believe their comrades are dead. That's had significant effect on them. There's kind of no middle ground, so if they are really going to be believed dead and they are really going to be lost in the 21st Century, we've got to keep that gap pretty wide. I'd hope there will be some point in time when whoever survives the 21st Century could be back in contact with them, but for now, there are no signs of the return.

Your other "LoSH" miniseries, "Legion: Secret Origin" just finished, and speaking as a fan, it was fun to see Brainiac 5 and the others just starting out. Are there any plans for more looks into the team's past, either in another miniseries or in "Legion Of Super-Heroes?"

None, yet. Some of it, I guess, will depend on what the final sales results were for the arc and what balance of miniseries DC is trying to integrate into the line; I think they do relatively few miniseries these days, so having just gotten one, I don't think we'll be due up for one of the next ones. But it was fun! I had a great time with Phantom Girl in particular. I never really had a chance to explore her as a character, and Chris Batista gave a very distinct visualization to her personality. I think she really came alive in the pages.

Speaking of individual characters, in this last "LoSH" arc, Chemical Kid was seen rapidly losing his confidence. What's going on in his mind right now? Are we going to see his attitude negatively affect the Legion in issue #9 and beyond?

I think you've got a kid there who's really going through the equivalent of having been the valedictorian of his school of a hundred kids in a small town and as a result getting into Princeton. Then, you show up the first day of Princeton and go, "Ohhh, everybody here is smart and cool and some of them have done all this awesome stuff and maybe I'm not so damn special!" That's a very challenging moment in your life, and hopefully that's come through a bit. His confidence is definitely shaken -- we'll see where it goes from there.

We've got Mon-El and Brainiac 5 vying for power and the upcoming Legion elections. When it comes to leadership, what does Mon-El have going for him that Brainiac 5 does not?

Well, I guess if you look at those two personalities, it's kind of an argument for experience and temperament versus raw intelligence. In Mon-El, you have someone who literally watched it all happen for a thousand years from the Phantom Zone. He kind of has a more Zen approach -- well, anyone has a more Zen approach than Brainiac 5. On the other hand, you have Brainiac 5 with his outrageous intelligence and his nervous energy. Those are both useful qualities to have in a leader. It would be nice if they could both be integrated into the same person, but often great qualities are out of balance.

Ok, so if you weren't Paul Levitz the writer but were instead Paul Levitz the Legionnaire, whom would you vote for?

If I was a member of Legion Of Super-Heroes, they'd have to lighten up the requirements for the Legion by an awful lot! [Laughs] You know, the most fun of the elections is when the readers surprise me and pull on somebody who I never would have planned into that role. That gave me great chances to work with characters like Dream Girl and Polar Boy at different points in history. [Ed: The leadership of the Legion used to be determined by reader votes.] So I guess I would try to surprise me and make it someone who would be particularly challenging. There are a number of Legionnaires that are underdeveloped at the moment that we haven't had a lot of chances to do story material with. I might grab one of them; it'd be fun to see what would happen with Invisible Kid. It would be enormous fun to take someone like Ultra Boy who has a great deal of power but not a great deal of emotional leadership demonstrated in recent years, and put him in that kind of situation. Having come off that great arc with Phantom Girl, it would be a hoot to play with her in a role like that, give me an excuse to do all sorts of neat stuff with her. Lots of them would be something different to place them in a different kind of situation than they've been in previously. I haven't had a chance to do much with Element Lad in the most recent run. He's had a very intriguing life, it'd be fun to have an excuse to explore him a little bit more. I can go on and on -- there's a lot of characters! [Laughs] Some of them I've had in that position, so I feel like I've explored the outcome on some level, but it's always fun to examine the ones you really haven't had a chance to work with as much.

Finally, I think one of the big points brought up in your last issues is that the Dominators are playing with Daxamite DNA -- is this plot and the Dominator Cold War dynamic going to be the big conflict of the book for the foreseeable future?

I think they'll definitely still be a part of things for the future of the future, but we're planning something significantly different for the next arc after the Dominators because we want to do toss-ups -- so we'll be talking again when that breaks!

"Legion of Super-Heroes" issue # 8 hits stores April 18.

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