I know I mentioned concentrating on Marvel comics for a while in the deeply depressing aftermath of DC’s “new 52″ offensive (out of which I declare “Batman” and “Aquaman” the winners – which leaves 50 losers), but then last week DC came out with the first issue of a new 6-issue mini-series that either doesn’t conform to its new continuity or does without caring – and either way, I’m fine with the results. It’s “Legion of Super-Heroes: Secret Origin,” and it’s written by one of the two greatest living Legion writers, Paul Levitz (hint as to the other one: he’s really tall), and drawn by another Legion vet in good standing, Chris Batista, and it offers a long, leisurely look at “the real beginnings” of the Legion.
Naturally, when I read that, I clenched up a little. No comic book franchise in history has been ret-conned and re-imagined more often – and often more disastrously – than my beloved Legion, and to make matters worse, I’ve been fond of their ‘traditional’ origin story for a long, long time.
That origin story has been re-worked many times over the decades, but its core narrative always goes something like this: some time in the 30th century, RJ Brande, the galaxy’s richest man, is a passenger on a spaceship. One of the other passengers, a teenage girl named Irma Ardeen from Saturn’s moon Titan, is a highly proficient telepath, and she suddenly blurts out that two of the other passengers are intending to kill Brande. In immediate response, two other teenagers on the flight spring into action to defend the old man: Rokk Krinn from the planet Braal uses his race’s magnetic abilities to seize the would-be assassins’ weapons, and Garth Ranzz of the planet Winath uses his electrical powers (acquired in a freak accident) to blast the assassins themselves. Brande is saved, and in that moment he sees something the galaxy needs: a new band of young heroes to inspire people, much like the legendary Justice League did a thousand years before. With his financial backing, the Legion of Super-Heroes is born and quickly begins recruiting super-powered teens from every planet in the United Federation and beyond. It’s a goofy origin story, but as origin stories go, it’s got a certain charming mixture of fate and serendipity.
The fate part comes from the underlying idea that the world – the galaxy – has waited a long time to get this kind of unselfish heroism back. And the serendipity comes from the fact that all three of those heroic teens were on that spaceship for refreshingly utilitarian reasons: Irma Ardeen – now code-named Saturn Girl – to take up a Police posting, Rokk Krinn – now code-named Cosmic Boy – to escape the planetary depression afflicting his homeworld and find a job, and Garth Ranzz – now codenamed Lightning Lad – to find his long-lost brother. None of them is even dreaming of becoming any kind of superhero.
In this new mini-series, Levitz obviously intends to beef up that origin story and perhaps some of its many unanswered questions, like why the galaxy’s richest man wouldn’t have bodyguards (or for that matter a spaceship) of his own, or how the new Legion could suddenly acquire the approval of the United Federation to act in a peremptorily law-enforcement role, etc. In the course of just this single issue, we get a great many new and much-needed layers to the old Legion mythos – we meet captains and admirals of the UFP’s star-fleets, we need the three members of Earth’s shadowy security directorate, and we get glimpses of an RJ Brande who very much has a private agenda of his own. I was entertained and intrigued throughout, except for the very first instant,, since the issue sports the ugliest cover of any mainstream comic in the year 2011: in the background, Phantom Girl is for some reason falling down through a whole in the air, and in the foreground, there’s a picture of a pouty Justin Bieber dressed like Cosmic Boy.
But one really, really bad cover can’t spoil rich pickings like this – especially when the issue came with the single greatest promotional gimmick of all time: a Legion flight-ring! Now that I finally have one, my only remaining task is to pick a Legion code-name. Some of you may know the, er, code-name I’ve had for most of my life (it even already ends in ‘boy’), but now that I actually have a flight-ring, I’m hoping to upscale to something snazzier. Perhaps Super-Buff Enormous Brain Lad? I’ll keep you posted.