Monday, July 21, 2008

More Legion of Superheroes Minutiae!

I spent a great deal of my last few posts talking about Legion of Superheroes minutiae. And I've decided that I'm just going to continue that.

In the 1980's, DC decided to end all their current superhero titles and have them start over from scratch. They wanted to streamline the characters so they weren't as complex or confusing to readers. This was all fine and good for the most part, except when it came to the Legion of Superheroes-- because for whatever reason, they decided not to reboot that title. Maybe they figured that since it took place in the 30th century it was far enough removed from the rest of DC continuity to really make much of a difference. I don't know the full story on that one. However, I do know that this created major problems in reconciling Legion continuity with that of the newly rebooted DC universe.

Namely, the Superboy problem.

Originally, the Legion of Superheroes only existed because the legend of Superman inspired them to don costumes and use their superpowers for good a thousand years later. All fine and good, really. You don't see too many teenagers these days acting out the great deeds of King Arthur or Amir Hamza. However, the time traveling youngsters couldn't leave well enough alone. Rather than simply being inspired by Superman, they had to travel back to the past when he was a boy and play practical jokes on him.

But he was a good sport and eventually became a member of the superhero club of the future.
the way the way Superboy's existence in the Legion was explained was that the Time Trapper intentionally misdirected all of the Legion's trips to the past into a "Pocket Earth" that he created. So, essentially, every time the Legion thought they were traveling into the past, they were really just going to an alternate dimension.

Ultimately, this reconfiguration resulted in the exile of the Legion of Superheroes from mainstream DC continuity. The regular stories continued a couple of years after the Crisis, albeit with a new version of the Pocket Earth Superboy that was swiftly killed to avoid further confusion.

When the new Legion appeared in 1989, it took place 5 years after the last Legion storyline, "The Magic Wars". The 30th century was a completely different place as a result of the Magic Wars. It was similar to the Dark Ages, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Technology and progress were stagnant, the evil Dominator aliens were able to use the period of instability in order to take control of Earth, and the Legion of Superheroes had disbanded. Essentially, the 30th century was now a dystopia where the virtue and heroism of the Legion had no place.

This reversal of fortune led to a new kind of storytelling for the Legion. The five years between the Magic Wars and the opening of the new title were never clearly defined. It was a mysterious period that was alluded to every once in awhile, often through supplementary meta-narratives, in the form of news articles about the Legionnaires and other characters (similar to the extras in the Watchmen). Like this one, about the planet Daxam (which they were trying to establish as a Krypton analog to replace the presence of Superman and Supergirl):

However, the majority of the five year gap was never completely explained. This added an extra level of tension and suspense to the stories--especially because it took awhile for certain characters to reemerge in the new timeline--and to see how the ones who did appear had changed.

The core characters at this point were Cosmic Boy (Rokk Krinn), Chameleon Boy (Reep Daggle), Shrinking Violet (Salu Digby), Lighning Lass (Ayla Ranzz), Brainiac 5 (Querl Dox), Ultra Boy (Jo Nah), Brin Londo (Timber Wolf) and Laurel Gand (this version's Supergirl replacement). There were a few other new characters like Celeste MacCauley (a private investigator from Earth) and Kono (a yellow skinned, blue haired space pirate). Other Legionnaires made cameo appearances or occasionally had an issue devoted to them, but for the most part the main storyline primarily focused on the above mentioned characters. Shrinking Violet, who was now a scarfaced, one legged lesbian in a relationship with Lightning Lass. (One of my favorite Legion couples of all time, incidentally.)

Originally, Lar Gand was Mon-El, one of Superboy's distant relatives from the planet Krypton who was trapped in the Phantom Zone for a thousand years. (Incidentally, most incarnations of this character tend to stay true to the thousand year trial in the Phantom Zone. It's part of his mythos, which I think is totally cool.)

Anyway, in the Five Year Later Legion, Lar Gand became the Superboy figure in the Legion's past, because in order for them to shoo away the impact that Superboy had on the foundation of
the Legion, they had to talk up Lar Gand's accomplishments.

Essentially, the transmogrified him into the backbone of the Legion. Reading, through this stuff now, I don't really understand what DC was thinking at the time. I mean, I read this stuff because I love it--but if they launched a comic now with this kind of narrative format, I'd be totally pissed off.

Then again, most of the Five Year Later Legion was supposed to be mysterious and terrifying.

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