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Author Topic: Roy Thomas's 1981 Legion tales: too good, too brief  (Read 7606 times)
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JulianPerez
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« on: October 09, 2006, 05:26:33 AM »

For my money, it's a crying shame that a Superman fan as big as Roy Thomas never got a lengthy Superman "run." He did an issue here and there, notably the often seen "Fortress of Fear," but unlike his fellow Marvel alums like Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, never got a lengthy, sustained run.

Which is a shame, because of how fantastic his brief story in LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES in 1981.  

Roy Thomas's unique skills as a writer, and his unique perspective, was really brought to bear on this particular Legion story. Several interesting additions he made:

One chapter involves the Legionnaires blasted through to the 20th Century.

Roy Thomas characterized Lightning Lad (then, the leader of the Legion of Super-Heroes) very well: unlike other Legion leaders, he had Lightning Lad be a very people-centered leader as opposed to a strategy-centered leader. For instance, he had Lightning Lad assemble the strike team to go to the 20th Century to learn the fate of Ultra Boy. He left out Phantom Girl, who naturally wanted to know the fate of the man he loves. "I don't care if you are Legion leader, you're not leaving me behind!" To which Lightning Lad responds "Actually Phantom Girl, I never figured we would. But it hand to be YOUR decision, not MINE." Also, Lightning Lad refused to allow the Legionnaires to open fire on 20th Century troops, because "that's not the way to win friends."

Roy Thomas's characterization of Blok as being a sensitive, emotionally perceptive young man (as Wildfire says, "You may be a teenage rock being - but you don't have a HEART made of stone!") to be honest, I prefer this Thomas take to his Levitz-era characterization, where Blok knows nothing about humans, humanity, or human behavior and has to stop and ask what words mean. I can't imagine somebody like Thomas's Blok breaking things because he doesn't know his own strength, which the Levitz Blok did all the time - Roy Thomas played him as far too smart for that.

I guess if you want, it may be possible to reconcile the two characterizations: Blok is always trying to know more about humanity (as he is in Levitz) but he is unaware of, how much he knows at an intuitive level, far more than even humans themselves know (as was his Thomas characterization).

It was also interesting to see how Thomas so very well defined how the people of the 30th Century look at the people of the 20th Century. Sure, their attitudes come from the ever-haughty Dawnstar, but in the book, there's a sense she's saying what everyone else is thinking with a line like "the people of this age are savages playing with deadly toys."

Thomas as always, demonstrated his incredible and wide knowledge: for instance, a big plot point is that after 1963 or so, most atomic testing was done underground. Thomas's knowledge of comics history also is shown by the fact he has an appearance by Reflecto. Reflecto's only previous appearance (!) was as a statue of a Dead Legionnaire in the Adult Legion Story (which was also how Shadow Lass first showed up, and Chemical King).

Likewise, Thomas's palpable love of history, period-tales, and of nostalgia is on display in these issues, in little details like the fact the television in the Kent home is in black and white.

What is most interesting about these issues is how "Marvel-style" the book feels; a very strange thing for LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES. The story is driven by the the feelings and motivations of the characters, instead of having them be reactive out of a sense of duty to things going on around them. The story is driven by Grimbor the Chainsman's desire for revenge at the death of his wife and Phantom Girl's desire to learn about the fate of her beloved Ultra Boy. We even get a very touching moment between Colossal Boy and his mother, the President of Earth. Further, even though there's a one page cameo by Batman, because in a Martin Pasko story in BRAVE AND THE BOLD he was teaming up with the Legion. It was a little one panel appearance, but little things like this go a long way to give interconnectivity and to make the world feel more real.

Roy Thomas also returned Superboy to the Legion.

Ever since that godawful Conway story in LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #259 (1980) where Superboy returned to his own time (and his own magazine). It wasn't so much that it was done, but HOW it was done; at the end, where everybody's crying and wishing Superboy goodbye...Good Heavens, what a load of sentimental hooey!

The problem is that Superboy is a much more significant character to the Legion than I think, Conway and others believe: Superboy is our "point of view" character; not just a cypher who asks "what's that," he's the point of identification with the audience, what John the Savage is to Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD, or what Fry is to FUTURAMA.

Superboy is also significant to Legion history and identity. Legion started off as a Superboy spin-off, after all; the book is very much in the Superman Family along with Supergirl and World of Krypton. Further, Superboy is also something of the "star" of the book: he gets top billing and attention in a way not comparable to anybody since, well, BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS, or perhaps the current popularity of Wolverine in the X-Men.

He's all these things rolled into ONE. So Superboy's contribution to the Legion can't be underestimated. And why Roy Thomas's decision to bring him back into the book was a wise one.
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #1 on: October 09, 2006, 06:32:35 AM »

I forgot to mention penciler Jim Janes's art, which complimented Roy's story at least in LEGION #280. It's such a little thing, but he does better hair than anybody except Jim Aparo. I should bring my copy to my barber, turn the page to Lightning Lad's cut, and say "give me the 'Lightning Lad,' please."

And Saturn Girl...hubba-hubba! You know, I forgot she was supposed to be the Legion "It Girl." I even dig the "Farrah" hair.
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« Reply #2 on: October 09, 2006, 07:35:02 AM »

Julian I appreciate these reviews of (to me) obscure Bronze Age comics.

Keep em coming!
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Johnny Nevada
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« Reply #3 on: October 10, 2006, 01:04:58 AM »

I have most of this storyline, as well....

>>Thomas as always, demonstrated his incredible and wide knowledge: for instance, a big plot point is that after 1963 or so, most atomic testing was done underground.<<

Yep... all the more reason for that general to get upset (the story presumably takes place in the mid-to-late 60's, per the era Superboy was set in in his 80's stories...).

>>
Likewise, Thomas's palpable love of history, period-tales, and of nostalgia is on display in these issues, in little details like the fact the television in the Kent home is in black and white. <<

In the 80's Superboy comic series, the Kents apparently upgraded to a color TV (wonder if Superboy built 'em a color set? :-) )... though of course, the broadcast itself in the Legion story could've just been *in* black and white (IIRC newscasts took longer to switch to color vs. primetime programming in the 60's, not to mention TV stations in smaller cities---though presumably Smallville gets its TV from a bigger nearby city which probaby would've made the color-broadcasting-equipment switch early...).

Yeah, the nostalgia aspect's what makes Superboy entertaining...
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« Reply #4 on: October 11, 2006, 12:44:05 PM »

Just read a Paul Levitz/Keith Giffen issue (302?) recounting Star Boy's career with Curt Swan art on the flashbacks --a really nice nostalgic tone (similar to issue 300).  Yeah, I know it was really a fill-in issue covering the regular Legion election combining with a case of Giffen meeting the "dreaded deadline doom" and needing a more reliable and professional fill-in, but I still enjoyed it.  

I also enjoyed some of the artistic Giffen twists (who's idea, I wonder?) including having Star Boy talk to Wildfire --essentially a monologue graphically depicted by having Star Boy's dace reflected in Wildfire's faceplate.
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« Reply #5 on: October 11, 2006, 01:09:33 PM »

Nothing sez hubba hubba Saturn Girl like John Forte's. I still have a major crush on her.  Pathetic, much?
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #6 on: October 11, 2006, 07:39:29 PM »

Quote from: "TELLE"
I also enjoyed some of the artistic Giffen twists (who's idea, I wonder?) including having Star Boy talk to Wildfire --essentially a monologue graphically depicted by having Star Boy's dace reflected in Wildfire's faceplate.


I wonder who was the first to do this? Because in the Busiek/Perez Avengers, George Perez's favorite way of showing things was reflected on Iron Man's armor. This was especially effective in the AVENGERS/SQUADRON SUPREME mini, where you had three panels that had a fist flying at Iron Man. That Perez is an extraordinary visual storyteller!

Some artists strike me as being easy to duplicate and others hard to duplicate. Neal Adams is one...I can't think of a really good Adams imitator offhand. There was an issue of SUPREME set in outer space, which was Veitch doing this hyper-realistic, trippy, thick-lined style...I didn't know it was supposed to be an Adams homage until somebody told me - it didn't LOOK like Adams.

On the other hand, Curt Swan strikes me as being someone that a good imitator can copy fairy well.

Quote from: "Johnny Nevada"
In the 80's Superboy comic series, the Kents apparently upgraded to a color TV (wonder if Superboy built 'em a color set?  )... though of course, the broadcast itself in the Legion story could've just been *in* black and white (IIRC newscasts took longer to switch to color vs. primetime programming in the 60's


Huh! Did not know this. Like they say, the more you know...

Quote from: "Klar Ken T5477"
Nothing sez hubba hubba Saturn Girl like John Forte's. I still have a major crush on her. Pathetic, much?


Nah, pathetic would be making a "Women in Prison" movie with zombies in the 2000's.

I mean, you'd have to be crazy to do something like that, right? Cheesy
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« Reply #7 on: October 12, 2006, 01:49:44 AM »

Quote from: "Johnny Nevada"
In the 80's Superboy comic series, the Kents apparently upgraded to a color TV (wonder if Superboy built 'em a color set?  )... though of course, the broadcast itself in the Legion story could've just been *in* black and white (IIRC newscasts took longer to switch to color vs. primetime programming in the 60's


>>Huh! Did not know this. Like they say, the more you know...

The switch from black and white to color by TV networks/stations wasn't instantaneous---most shows eventually moved over to color during the 1960's, with primetime shows being the first ones to make the switch (and NBC particularly pushing color TV as the "living color" network---hence their peacock logo). From a Google search, starting in fall of 1966, all three networks' primetime lineups were all in color, though a few shows in other timeslots (daytime shows, etc.) took until the fall of 1967 to finally make the switch.

Said switch to color, much like the current move to HDTV, also was dependant on local stations installing color transmitting equipment---smaller cities / stations with lower budgets probably took longer to switch than ones in bigger cities...

Newscasts, particularly local newscasts, probably varied in how fast they moved to color... the "CBS Evening News" apparently moved to color in 1966 (per IMDB.com). From what I can find via Google, a lot of local news stations still used black and white film for shooting footage in the field until the late 60's/early 70's...

And to top it all off, color TV sets didn't start outselling black and white ones until the early 70's (about 15 years after modern color TV broadcast standards were officially set in the mid-50's... which might be a hint to the FCC that HDTV isn't going to be switched over to in one fell swoop as they seem to insist it will be via a 2009 analog cut-off date, but I digress...).

So all in all (and to get vaguely back on-topic), guess that newscast could've just been in black and white, or the Kents soon after that Legion tale bought a new color TV (or had their super-son make one for them)... ;-)
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