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Author Topic: Are Legionnaires "disposable?"  (Read 6765 times)
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JulianPerez
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« on: October 20, 2006, 01:18:08 AM »

Paul Levitz, who wrote the Legion for twelve years, once famously said that there are so many Legionnaires, that the are, in his own tragic choice of words, "disposable:" an awful lot of Legionnaires died.

The Silver Age Legion under Ed Hamilton and Jim Shooter had Lightning Lad bite the big one...and later on, so did Ferro Lad, and the first Proty sacrificed himself to bring LL back to life. Computo killed one of Triplicate Girl's bodies, making her Duo Damsel.

We've got to remember that someone dying in a comic book at this time is a truly rare thing. FOUR deaths in a team is pretty astonishing. The only other death I can think of off the top of my head at this time is Professor X in the original X-MEN series, before it was revealed that his death was "actually" the death of a lookalike imposter named Changeling.

Moving past the Silver Age, ERG-1 also died in his first appearance in that famous Cary Bates story.

Who was it that lied and called the Legion "the Archies in space?" Because boy, were they wrong. There's a real undercurrent of death in this entire book.

Paul certainly proved this to be the case in his lengthy tenure; the most notable casualty was Karate Kid during the story involving the colossal Legion of Super-Villains led by Nemesis Kid (who himself died in that story, defeated by Projectra).

Legionnaires - and this is in the SILVER AGE  here, people - are more likely to lose their powers (as Bouncing Boy did), get limbs blown off (Lightning Lad), get expelled from the team (as Ultra Boy, Superboy, Supergirl, Star Boy and Dream Girl all were at one point or another), and even get fat, as Matter Eater Lad did.

Paul's choice of words was really, really tragic (and you'd better believe the obsessive Legion fandom erupted in a massive spitstorm). But still, is Paul right? Legion history seems to say yes, but I'm not sure.

I suppose it would be...MORE...fair to say that some Legionnaires are disposable and others are not.

For instance, the Legion Founders shouldn't die - they, and characters that joined so early on they have become essential to the Legion identity, like Superboy, Brainiac 5, Mon-El, Chameleon Boy, and Ultra Boy.

And then there are characters that have received stories that so define them it would not be worth it to kill them off: for instance, after Roy Thomas's Legion issues I would never want to see anything happen to Blok, or anything to happen to Levitz's "smart blonde" Dream Girl.

But there are some Legionnaires I can't find it in me to really care about or like, and if they died it would be shocking but not trigger righteous indignation: Colossal Boy never really had that interesting a personality, and Star Boy never got anything to do. I can't think of any capacity, except for the "Fatal Five" story where she was first introduced, where Shadow Lass really played a significant role. She can die too.
« Last Edit: October 20, 2006, 01:25:01 AM by JulianPerez » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: October 20, 2006, 07:01:39 AM »

The entire Doom Patrol died in the last issue of their original run -- that was rather shocking for its time.  Granted, many came back in later incarnations (even Rita Farr in the often-maligned John Byrne version), but their first heroic sacrifice is still remembered by fans.

Even though she had earlier resigned, Supergirl's death during the Crisis deeply affected the Legion, especially poor Brainy.  In fact, Supergirl's memorial statue remained at Legion headquarters long after she was officially "forgotten" by DC.   Wink

And as for "Founders" and other "Essential" Legionnaires, remember that DC mandated that the Legion commit the "unthinkable" DEATH of SUPERBOY.   Shocked  Granted, this Superboy was a retconned "Pocket Universe" replacement, but it was still traumatic witnessing his end.

Of course, the ENTIRE "Five Year Gap" AND "Batch SW6" Legions (plus the whole 30th Century) became "disposable" during Zero Hour.  And so was the "Zero Hour Reboot" Legion that replaced them, leading to the LATEST reboot...   Angry  No wonder many Legion fans have difficulty accepting the current version -- they're now CONDITIONED to EXPECT that the Legion will once more be gutted and rehashed in another five years or so.  If that's the case, why make the emotional committment?   Huh?
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davidelliott
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« Reply #2 on: October 20, 2006, 08:16:02 AM »

The LSH ceased to exist, like the rest of my beloved DCU suring Crisis on Infinite Earths...

Everything else is a pale imitation
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nightwing
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« Reply #3 on: October 20, 2006, 02:30:42 PM »

Actually, I see this as a strength of the Legion.  It's a team book, so yes it is possible to kill off some heroes without violating the premise or ruining the strip.  That's not really possible with the JLA, a group of top-tier heroes who can't be seriously harmed without hurting their own ongoing books.  In fact, despite their oppressively huge numbers, even the X-Men have had a hard time making deaths "stick" over the years, and in my opinion that's hurt the title hugely.  The Legion was introduced as a team of equals and for me, while this or that member might be more appealing than the one next to him/her, the group was the important thing.  Members could be killed, and they would STAY dead, which after all is the way to do it.  Deaths were handled seriously, they had impact and they were not casually undone.  And since the reader knew anything was possible, and on any given mission someone might not come home, real suspense and drama was created as in few other books.

I think this is a key to the Legion's popularity.  Much has been made of the teen romance angle and whatnot, but this was a book that made a bunch of young people into the most respected, powerful heroes of their universe, and that's pretty empowering to young readers.  Even the Teen Titans were at best a Junior version of the JLA and their very existence a reminder of their older, more powerful counterparts.  But the LSH was IT...the best and the brightest of their era.  And part of maintaining that prestige was giving them formidable, serious, often terrifyingly lethal opponents.  While the Titans were trying to close the generation gap in Hatton Corners, the Legion was battling the Sun Eater to decide the fate of the solar system.  You can't face the likes of Mordru, the Fatal Five and Universo without being ready to die in battle.  And if it's not a possibility, then you've just got a group of, what, 350 superheroes flying around rescuing kittens from trees.  The Legion was for me like the real-life Foreign Legion...an outfit to join when you're seeking exotic adventure, but one where you're likely as not to end up massacred.



« Last Edit: October 20, 2006, 02:33:33 PM by nightwing » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: October 22, 2006, 04:42:31 AM »

Definitely none of the cute girls like Shadow Lass should go but the idea of characters in jeopardy is a powerful one.  I would be more compelled to have a Legionaire killed on aesthetic grounds and Star Boy's beard and black star costume is number one on the list.

I think the recent Milligan/Allred X-Factor (X-Force? whatever) used the premise of a military style team of heroes who often died combined with the idea of a superhero team run as a profit-making corporation/media monster.  Taking the "dying Legionaire"-genre to the nth degree.  Wasn't Sudicide Squad the same idea as well?


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Aldous
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« Reply #5 on: October 22, 2006, 07:34:38 AM »

Quote
Are Legionnaires "disposable?"

The question attempts to give a weight to American comics they don't deserve.

Anyone who dies can come back anytime. Most have.

This thread, however, puts me in mind of the "ensemble cast" theory regarding American TV shows. Maybe it all started with "Hill Street Blues"; there may be earlier examples. (That show was very popular here.) Apart from one or two key characters (for the sake of continuity), everyone is equally important, equally expendable, much like real life. No matter how much you believe you or a loved one deserves to live, the world as we know it can snatch them away. The rest of us just carry on. The type of comic Americans do incredibly well is the old Superman format: a limited cast of characters who have a new adventure every month, who never age, who never get sick (for long), who never evolve very much... The central cast merely finishes one adventure this week, and starts a new adventure next week.

Apart from anomalies (usually Marvel, as in "Captain Marvel") the American comic creators can't do "death" and should just steer clear of the subject.

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« Reply #6 on: October 22, 2006, 10:07:58 AM »

As Aldous points out, death is rarely (if ever) permanent in mainstream comics, but I imagine that it served a purpose in the LSH: it made the members more "real" in the eyes of the reader. It was probably easier for the teenaged reader who was their target audience to identify with them if they were shown to be mortal, accident-prone and tragic. It would flatter the reader's sense of teenage angst.

I think the recent Milligan/Allred X-Factor (X-Force? whatever) used the premise of a military style team of heroes who often died combined with the idea of a superhero team run as a profit-making corporation/media monster.  Taking the "dying Legionaire"-genre to the nth degree.
X-Factor, I think. The recent Deadgirl series (which I guiltily enjoyed; I always feel slightly ashamed at liking Allred's stuff so much) even showed how several of the team members had not only died, but gone to hell.
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #7 on: October 22, 2006, 08:49:07 PM »

Quote from: nightwing
Even the Teen Titans were at best a Junior version of the JLA and their very existence a reminder of their older, more powerful counterparts.  But the LSH was IT...the best and the brightest of their era.  And part of maintaining that prestige was giving them formidable, serious, often terrifyingly lethal opponents.  While the Titans were trying to close the generation gap in Hatton Corners, the Legion was battling the Sun Eater to decide the fate of the solar system. 

Interesting observation; the Legion were really big-shots that got all the plum missions. Actually in terms of raw power and superior numbers, the Legion may be the most powerful team in the history of comics.

There's a tendency to see the Legion as an extension of the Kirby/Simon "Kid Gang" concept, and if this was ever true (and I don't think it was), it was only very, very early on in the Ed Hamilton days: when the Legion they solved the theft of the Quintile Crystal that powers Metropolis's fusion powersphere...from there on they were officially big shots with official approval. The Legion certainly had a phenomenal amount of prestige and gravitas: during the Sun-Eater story, it was revealed that they were entrusted with the Key to the entire UP fleet's defenses, and we learn in another story that the Legion's fleet of cruisers have A-1 priority in any spaceport in the galaxy. People are always trying to join the Legion...and why not? It's a ticket to prestige and adventure.

Quote from: nightwing
The Legion was for me like the real-life Foreign Legion...an outfit to join when you're seeking exotic adventure, but one where you're likely as not to end up massacred.

Ha ha ha! Interesting point. Boy, it sure felt that way: the fact that bad things happened to the characters was not only something that could happen, but DID.

Quote from: nightwing
I think this is a key to the Legion's popularity.  Much has been made of the teen romance angle and whatnot, but this was a book that made a bunch of young people into the most respected, powerful heroes of their universe, and that's pretty empowering to young readers.

Interesting, and I agree entirely.

That's a factor that's been extremely overrated, I think, because the only time that the Legionnaires were explicitly TEENS was during the Shooter years when they fought terminally unhip mind-controlled grownups.

There's a belief I just don't agree with at all: because characters start out at a certain age, they should remain in that certain age forever. I for one think arresting the development of a character is a terrible idea because they should be allowed to develop and change, and this is exciting to watch unfold "on camera."

One of the most illegitimate complaints in the world is people whining because Spider-Man is now in his thirties and so on when "he should" be a young college or high school kid. Just because Spider-Man started out a high school kid does not necessarily mean he should remain that way. Nor does it even mean the character's identity is compromised: if my sister got married and pregnant, she doesn't stop being my sister.

A friend of mine once argued that the fact that the Legionnaires and X-Men and Teen Titans, as well as characters like Supergirl, the Vision, and Hawkeye, developed before our eyes, really is a credit not just to the writers but also to something that really rewards long-term and fan readers: watching characters gradually grow and change.

The Avengers and the Justice League never really got any older, but we watched the X-Men and Legionnaires grow up.

This brings me to my next point:

Quote from: Aldous
The question attempts to give a weight to American comics they don't deserve.

Anyone who dies can come back anytime. Most have.

Perhaps this is true for some characters and books, but it is misunderstanding a few things that are unique to the Legion, X-Men, and Teen Titans, and the reason they have such a strong fandom: the idea that because their lives are four-dimensional and change and are REAL, in other words, the reader understands the permanence of something like a pregnancy...or a death.

This is why something like the return of Jean Gray...even though the explanation was very interesting...was the story that provoked more collective outrage and anger than any other I have ever seen, INCLUDING Emerald Twilight. I've talked to people that have refused to even read Marvel comics again because they brought back Marvel Girl. The reason this story pissed so many people off is because it violated a part of what made reading X-Men up until that point so unique: that anything could happen, and as a consequence of that, they would not find some cheesy way to go back to the status quo.

(On a side note, I must say, I have always been fervently against the Superman marriage, but Busiek and Johns have changed my mind on the entire topic because of how warm and interesting in recent times they have made it, not devolving into absurd cliches like Lois wondering if - of all people - SUPERMAN might be unfaithful. Busiek and Johns have made the marriage work and I'm all in favor of it. Spider-Man should be allowed to get older, and Superman should be allowed to get married: it would be leaving him a batchelor indefinitely that would be unfair to the character.)

Quote from: Aldous
Apart from anomalies (usually Marvel, as in "Captain Marvel") the American comic creators can't do "death" and should just steer clear of the subject.

I don't agree...while there have been lots of pointless shock value deaths, there are enough good examples that I can see the merit in death as a part of drama in a superhero book. The all-time best example would be GIANT SIZED AVENGERS #2 (1974) by Steve Englehart, featuring the death of the Swordsman. He was a loser that never caught a break, and finally he jumped in the path of a ray gun blast meant for a woman that didn't love him and rejected him.

His last words were "I'm just one of those guys that just...doesn't count."

The last panel ended with the Avengers carrying his body mournfully and saying "Every Avenger counts, Swordsman. Every one."

Further proof that Englehart was one of the most influential comics writers, there was a similar death during (I believe) the Gruenwald CAPTAIN AMERICA, where the Porcupine, a small-time enemy, trips and falls on his quills. Captain America gets to him. "It's too late, Cap...I was born a loser and now I'll die a loser too."

Cap grins and says, "No, you won't die one, I swear it."

Later, we see the Porcupine's statue, built by Captain America. It says: HERE LIES THE PORCUPINE: HONORED FOE OF THE AVENGERS.

Quote from: Aldous
The type of comic Americans do incredibly well is the old Superman format: a limited cast of characters who have a new adventure every month, who never age, who never get sick (for long), who never evolve very much... The central cast merely finishes one adventure this week, and starts a new adventure next week.

I don't know about that at all. As much as I loved the great Steve Gerber's seventies run on METAL MEN and their battles against Chemo and the Plutonium Man, what kept me reading the book were the recurring subplots, because I wanted to see what happens in the lives of the characters, whom I like: Platinum's sexually aggressive new personality, Will Magnus recovering from madness, the Metal Men finding jobs despite being robots...
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