DC Comics is currently in the middle of a big readership-grabbing multi-issue crossover event called “Trinity War,” and that big event is going to blend into the next, something called “Forever Evil” that will feature another mini-series and some collectible, gimmicky covers. The company’s successful reboot of its entire line of comics, its “New 52″ lineup, continues to barrel along, apparently pleasing current fans and making new ones.
Old DC readers might notice a much less noisy event that also took place this week, and to some of us, that event will seem much more stark and important than any publicity hooplas the company’s corporate owners could dream up.
This is the week The Legion ended.
That’s The Legion of Super-Heroes, one of DC’s longest-running franchises, which has taken various titles and formats over the last five decades in order to chronicle the adventures of a sprawling team of teenage superheroes a thousand years in the future. The rampant continuity-altering festival of “The New 52” left the Legion and its extensive background relatively untouched, even while it was dramatically revamping just about every other well-known DC character, turning Superman into an emotionless a-hole visiting alien, turning Wonder Woman into a banal and bloodthirsty demi-goddess, and changing the alternate-reality of “Earth 2,” where the superheroes of the World War II era grew old and mentored a new generation of heroes, into a realm where a new crop of heroes had to take over, because a super-villain succeeded in killing Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman.
In this “New 52,” the Legion was still the Legion: a big, idealistic team of friends spread too thin in a galaxy teeming with chaos and villainy. At the outset of the new continuity, the team had undergone a tragedy: a small squad of its members had disappeared and were feared dead – unbeknownst to their 31st century teammates, they were actually stranded in the 21st century, dealing with the likes of Superman and Batman and trying to figure out how to get back home. For a great moment there, fans were getting two Legion titles every month, and best of all, they were being written by Paul Levitz, one of the greatest Legion-creators of all time.
It was an uneven run, and right at its end, Levitz began orchestrating one of his signature enormous, epic storylines – this one involving the villainous Fatal Five, who figure out a way to disrupt the basic power source of all 31st century technology, effectively bringing galactic civilization to its knees and throwing the Legion into scrambling chaos. It becomes of their most desperate and bloody battles, and although they emerged – last month – victorious, they did so in the rubble of Earth, with several of their members dead or maimed.
This current issue, #23, is the last of the series. For the first time in a long time, there’ll now be no Legion comic coming out from DC every month. This issue’s cover, showing the team’s resident super-genius Brainiac-5 sitting slumped, holding his head in his hands, could easily function as a visual shorthand for Levitz himself, sitting in the disheveled chaos of his creations. That chaos is also reflected in the fact that the book has had four or five different artists in four or five different issues – concluding here with some of the best work the usually-irritating artist Kevin Maguire.
In the issue, as the Legion is picking up the pieces and Brainiac-5 is trying frantically to come up with a ‘master plan’ to put the galaxy (and the team itself) back on its feet when they get a rude awakening: the government of Earth has decided to disband the Legion immediately.
It doesn’t make any sense, but it happens anyway, and Levitz winds up the issue with a series of epilogues showing various team members coming to terms with the fact that the Legion has ended with a whimper and not a bang. And in almost all of those epilogues, the characters allude to other realities, alternate realities where perhaps the team still flourishes. And in one of those epilogues, Levitz goes a bit further: he has a character allude to the fact that … a super-villain a long time ago killed Superman!
So: this entire version of the Legion was the Earth-2 version all along? Despite the fact that its lost splinter-team was clearly on Earth-1? So long-time fans are left with an empty bag, naturally wondering what about the Legion of Earth-1? This wasn’t actually just the last issue of the Legion – it was a colossal imposture of the whole concept. It’s bizarrely disappointing that such a gesture would come from someone as central to Legion lore as Paul Levitz, but at least long-time fans have his earlier masterpieces to console them.
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