Last one, I promise. After I wrapped up "Long Live the Legion" last week I realized the history of the Legion of Super-Heroes neatly encapsulates the generic evolution of DC Comics over the last fifty years:
First it has a period of invention in the late 50s and early 60s, at the start of the Silver Age, marked by an inundation of new ideas that compensates for the juvenile ambitions;
then it gradually adopts Marvel-style plotting, characterization, continuing storylines, and even page layouts in the mid-60s;
then it shifts to a focus on soap opera and interpersonal conflict in the 70s, with all the stock character types and hyperintense emotions that typically entailed;
then it develops a wildly successful synthesis combining the best elements of the new post-Claremont Marvel (intricate ongoing storylines, more nuanced and mature characterization) and the old Silver Age DC (tight plotting and pristine, uncluttered art) in the early 80s;
then it attempts to replicate Watchmen and other mature-readers superhero comics in the late 80s and early 90s with ambitious, elliptical storytelling and a cynical worldview--although the initial thrill of innovation gradually gives way to an artistic dead end as the experiment fails to live up to its promise;
then it attempts to reverse or throw out the excesses of the previous years with a back-to-basics retro approach in the mid-90s, although it's often less entertaining than the old stories to which it frequently alludes;
then it briefly rejuvenates itself with a spark of widescreen action in the early 2000s, although like most "mad ideas" comics, the ideas turn out not to be all that mad, just a futuristic gloss on standard, workmanlike superhero plots.
Sometimes the Legion leads these trends (the mid-60s, the early 80s), sometimes it's just a follower, but it's always right in the thick of them. As DC goes, so goes the Legion. Or is that the other way around?
And what does the current Legion tell us about DC Comics today? Just that like Infinite Crisis and its infinite tie-ins, the new Legion of Super-Heroes comes across as a cunningly marketed but ultimately unsatisfying attempt at reinvigoration. It doesn't appear to have learned any of the lessons of previous relaunches and it isn't nearly as much of a break from the past as it thinks it is. But this smug phase won't last forever--the Legion's history reminds us of that.
Every longtime Legion fan has their own alternate timeline, their own pet theory on how to fix its tortured past if they could just turn back the clock. The best changes to the Legion worked by addition, though, not by wholesale erasure; as Abnett and Lanning showed, even the worst periods in Legion history offered something to build on, and the foulest aftertaste disappears with the first good new issue. To that end I offer the world my personal solution for what's ailing the Legion, the easiest way to restore the breadth and diversity and tradition that made it strong without invalidating any of its current texture.
Picture if you will the first issue after Waid and Kitson's run comes to an end. The first page is a starry background in full bleed, galaxies swirling in cosmic grandeur. Above them floats a single caption, in bright bold letters:
FIVE YEARS LATER...