I want Chameleon, Mon El, Cosmic Boy, Triplicate Girl–and about twenty-five others–fighting super villainy in the 31st Century, on my TV, in retina-scorching resolution.
But I don’t want it now, with AMC’s genius The Walking Dead still in its stride. Not now, with Marvel Studios’ multi-phase Avengers saga cresting ever higher in theaters. No, I want the parti-colored Legion to swoop in, flight rings raised, when hack critics are once more bemoaning comic books’ supposed limits.
“Whoa–settle down there, skip! This is the best time ever to be a comic fan.”
Hate to say it, but Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are not what I want. They’re being produced by networks that are enslaved to advertisers, who enforce operation of the “Who’s Watching Right Now” model. This idea, that “ratings” matter more than long-term DVD sales and toothpaste conglomerates should dictate anything about my viewing, is like a mammoth with a million spears in its ass, limping for the shade where it can die.
Arrow and Agents are mini versions of summer blockbusters. No thank you. I want a show, preferably from HBO, that in ten years’ time uses (by then) cheaper special effects to offer visceral Game of Thrones-style thrills. Hell, I also want Deadwood-style linguistic effervescence. And a byzantine plot that haunts your waking hours after the fact, like The Wire. Oh, and throw in the riveting characterization and set design of Mad Men.
The Walking Dead is a brilliant forerunner for the Legion not because they’re both comics, but because of how its success blossomed. For decades, zombies on film shuffled, then ran, just about everywhere. And they always finished eating the cast in under three hours. It took writer/creator Robert Kirkman to show us another, more sophisticated vision, that used comics’ extended format to plumb new dramatic depths.
Likewise, the superhero worlds presented in comics are tough to properly realize, even in the span of several films. There’s complexity, politics, and character nuance that movies don’t allow for. On the small screen, hushed, rewarding moments can build for months–like when the barn doors open on The Walking Dead–and push the story, regardless of genre, toward transcendence.
But I know I’ve got to wait. Another pattern evident is this: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, exceeding all expectation in its scope and lavishness, whetted cross-generational appetites for mature fantasy programming. Eight to ten years later, convincing special effects are affordable to a premium cable network, and we’ve got Game of Thrones. I think that time-frame lends itself to a Legion TV show.
As it is, Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica showcased much of what might be needed (incredible space travel, planetary descents, etc). And Legion would primarily be a drama, with expensive CGI action and sets garnishing character-based stories. If and when Hollywood superhero films get too big and dumb to sustain themselves, serious television will be the best option. But what would The Legion, with five seasons (ten episodes each), look like?
Season One: it comes together slowly, from disparate corners of the settled galaxy. The United Planets maintains balance, the Science Police run Earth, and the wealthy R. J. Brande is on a business trip. Before Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad (as civilian teens) save him from an assassin, we get glimpses of their back-stories on their respective homeworlds. We also see planets like Caarg, Rimbor and Daxam, where more key Legionnaires come from. To start, Chameleon is the only member who appears non-human. Unraveling the Brande murder plot takes up most of Season One, as does the official establishment of the Legion as a peacekeeping organization with fluid membership. But we’re also introduced to characters who clearly aren’t heroes, like Emerald Empress, Tharok, and the rest of the Fatal Five. We should also meet Klingon stand-ins, the Khunds.
Season Two: the emergence of the Fatal Five as a swift, multi-planet terrorist group has the public calling the purpose of the Legion into question. This is where we invoke the 21st Century as a golden age of superheroes (and an epic montage can show the “Big Seven” Justice League in action without needing specific actors). While politics on Earth and within the United Planets turn toxic, the Legion is reluctantly allowed to expand and deal with the Fatal Five. But something even worse simmers in dark cosmic backwaters. We should also now meet the eery and awful Dominators, caste-worshiping aliens with designs on all of civilized space. Then, a cliffhanger revealing razed planets.
Season Three: The Great Darkness saga, in which cosmic despot Darkseid enslaves an entire race of super-people (the Daxamites) and establishes widespread misery. The show by now should fold its own dozen plot threads into the basic outline of the brilliant Paul Levitz/Keith Giffen story. The Legion wins in the end, but they’re used up, forced to disband and leave civilized space to the Khunds and Dominators.
Season Four: five years later, settled space is ruled by the Dominators. In general, there’s a shallow, sickly taint to life, marked by rampant consumerism and a return to superstition. The Legionnaires are back on their respective worlds, some getting back to normal life, others wishing they could do something. On the Sorcerer’s World, we meet a cranky though charismatic ruler named Mordru. He also wants the Dominators ousted, but for his own reasons. He watches carefully as Legionniares drift back together, this time to work as a guerrilla force against fascist overlords. Mordru seeks an alliance and helps get the Dominators off of Earth. Then, when the Legion finds out that Earth’s core has been damaged by the aliens’ secret tinkering, Mordru stands by and does nothing. Cliffhanger: three cities fall into sinkholes.
Season Five: the Legion scrambles to get cities under domes and into orbit before the Earth explodes. By mid-season, they’ve done so, and the unthinkable happens. Now, all that remains of the “mother planet” floats as a constellation of bubble cities. As Mordru expands his reach, gobbling up territories, a hooded figure called the Time Trapper arrives. He scolds Mordru for altering billions of fates–before destroying him– and then sets his gaze upon the Legion. Mon El leads a group of Legionnaires to fight this new villain to the death, and the show ends with their “sacrifice.”
Which, of course, would pave the way for Legion Lost.
Make it happen, DC.