Now in Hardcover: Legion Lost
writing by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning
art by Olivier Coipel, Pascal Alixe
DC Comics, 2011
In the publishing history of a title as venerable as DC Comics’ “Legion of Super-Heroes,” which premiered in 1958, there are bound to be peaks and valleys. Creative teams come and go, and even the ones who stay don’t always bring their best work to fruition. And for most of those fifty-something years, there’s been the added x-factor of formatting: even the best writer can only do so much in an eight-page backup feature, or in a bi-monthly title in which an editor has instructed said writer not to have stories continue from one issue to the next. While modern comics fandom was still in its childhood, it was forced to accept often childish things. Once it became adult, it had money – and so it began to call the shots.
The Legion was an inspired idea from the start, mainly for its elasticity. In the future a thousand years hence, a trio of super-powered teenagers from different planets spontaneously band together to save the life of a sweet old man being threatened by armed goons. The sweet old man turns out to be the richest person in the galaxy, and he has the idea to market that trio as super-heroes for a new millennium: the Legion of Super-Heroes. Gradually, the roster of the team expands to dozens of characters from dozens of worlds, each one brandishing a different code-name and a different set of superpowers. These disparate young heroes have one thing in common: the Legion itself, which becomes their home and, for most of them, the only camaraderie they’ve ever known.
A long list of comics’ best writers and artists have worked on the various incarnations of the Legion since it premiered, and as noted, there have been heydays and lulls. “Legion” fans (rightly accounted the most dementedly loyal sub-group of comics fans anywhere in the known universe) are a vocal and opinionated lot, and they haven’t been shy about ranking their favorite incarnations/adventures of the team over the decades. Certain stories – one thinks of the Earth-Krypton War, the Super-Stalag of Space, and of course the Great Darkness Saga – always show up near the top of such lists, and in more recent years, this has been true of “Legion Lost,” a 12-issue mini-series originally published in 2000 and 2001. After ten years, DC Comics has finally reprinted this mini-series in a solid hardcover.
The story is a touch convoluted, but then, most Legion stories are. Following a terrifying, near-disastrous attack on 31st century Earth, a splinter-group of Legionnaires fall through a distortion in the fabric of reality and find themselves incalculably far away from home – in space and perhaps in time as well. The splinter group consists of ten young heroes: Chameleon Boy (you’ll pardon my obsolescence, I trust: character code-names have changed and re-changed over the decades – I was imprinted on these names long before this mini-series’ creators were born), who can alter his shape at will, Lightning Lad, who can hurl bolts of lightning, Saturn Girl, who’s a powerful telepath, Brainiac 5, who’s super-intelligent, Ultra Boy, who has a variety of super-powers (strength, invulnerability, flight, etc) that he can only use one at a time, Shadow Lass, who controls a dark-energy force, Wildfire, an energy-being encased in a containment suit, Monstress, a super-strong young giantess, Element Lad, who can transmute any substance into any other substance, and Kid Quantum, who can control quantum particles. When these heroes awaken in this strange new galaxy, they find themselves right in the middle of a crisis: Element Lad is missing, and it seems like every new race they meet wants them dead.
They do find some allies, however, and during the course of their adventures (as noted, format still dictates quite a bit – this was a monthly comic book, after all, and each month’s issue had to have some bang for its buck), the young heroes find themselves tested as never before. They’re cut off from the rest of their team and from the 31st century world of the United Federation of Planets, where they’re known and respected (and supported) as heroes. Despite the brilliance of their resident genius Brainiac 5, they’re not at all certain they’ll ever see home again – and all this causes their basic faith in the Legion itself to falter. “We’re really lost, aren’t we?” Monstress asks Saturn Girl at one point. “We’ll find our way back,” she assures her, but that’s not what Monstress was talking about:
I didn’t mean just geographically. Everything we value, everything we believe in … I don’t think any of it will matter in this horrid place.
“We’re Legion,” Saturn Girl reminds her. “Those values matter all the while we remember that.” But in Abnett’s taut and intelligent scripting, Saturn Girl is hiding a secret of her own, and its revelation – a hum-dinger of a shocking moment, for readers who didn’t see it coming – very nearly breaks what little spirit was left in the splinter-group. As the central plot gears up, those fractures grow so wide they threaten to engulf the team entirely, as Wildfire notes to himself toward the book’s climax:
It’s not that we’re more outnumbered or outgunned than we’ve ever been. That never mattered before. It’s that we’re not a team anymore. We’ve come apart. We’re just a bunch of frightened people, struggling to stay afloat. Not a whole. Not a Legion. Somewhere, we may be counted as super-heroes, but out here, we’re just a bunch of lost kids with funky powers and abilities. We have big hearts, good intentions – we’re still brave by any standards you’d care to measure us … but we’ve become a bunch of loose, rattling elements, without the unity that being the Legion of Super-Heroes used to give us. And that, plain and true, is why we’re really lost.
Abnett and his frequent co-author Andy Lanning write all these collected issues, with artwork being done by Olivier Coipel (a present-day fan favorite here finding his first great style) and Pascal Alixe (masterfully importing visual elements reminiscent of early Bill Sienkowicz). And despite the competing demands of putting out a monthly mini-series, these issues come together with far more cohesion than most so-called graphic novels whose original components were filed under deadline, months apart. Our valiant heroes doubt themselves, fight amongst each other, band together, encounter heartbreak and death, and still manage – in a last-minute bit of business worthy of Dumas – to save the day. Legion fans should rejoice at having one of the all-time great stories now definitively collected.