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June 02, 2016


Matthew E

The only thing about this I really disagree with is that Giffen holds Legion comics in contempt. My reading of his Legion comics is that he has a tremendous amount of affection and understanding for the LSH... but Giffen is also a guy who is willing to try new stuff without counting the cost, and making sure that the toys are all neatly back in the box for the next kid who comes along has never been his priority.

One of the things Legion fans counted as a strength of the title over the years is that, unlike DC's other long-running titles, Legion comics could have permanent change in them. And that's what Levitz and Giffen gave us, in the late '80s and early '90s. Maybe we just didn't know as much about what the limitations were of that capacity for change. But I'm not sorry they tried, as a lot of those comics were both very good and very powerful.

Anyway. I didn't care for the end of v3 much myself. I thought #50 was great but there wasn't much that was great after that. But if Levitz is out of ideas, he's out of ideas; there's no malice or carelessness in that. And there have been so many great Legion stories since then that, well, why wouldn't I keep caring about them?


Giffen has done many Legion comics that I loved, including the first year and change of volume 4. (Although I'm rereading those right now, and they definitely read differently coming after v3.) The end of v3 feels like a low point, though, where Giffen seems to have lost interest in the type of straight-ahead superhero adventure that Levitz is still writing. Factor in that Levitz is running out of steam, too, and these are some very dispiriting issues. You're right, though, "contempt" is probably better reserved for some of Giffen's later contributions, including the abbreviated New 52 issues that seem to have killed the book.

Thanks for writing, Matthew.

Greg Morrow

Giffen catapulted the Legion into the highest echelon of superhero comics. His subsequent interactions with the title have inevitably resulted in its diminishment. In my opinion, of course.

To commit the sin of quoting myself, "A lot of people I don't understand at all came to the LSH fresh with v4 and loved it."

I would be interested in how reading v4 after v3 has changed your assessment of the series.

BK Munn

The noise that Giffen was making in superhero comics coincided with the onset of my complete disinterest in them, for the most part. I didn't read any Legion comics as a kid outside of a few Superman or Superboy tie-ins. I feel that for myself, as for most fans of superhero comics, the Legion, post-1960s, was this separate thing from "comics that mattered" --a sort of aside-from-continuity, literal pocket universe, in a stupid future subculture that was largely unrelated to what was happening to Daredevil this month, etc. Add to this the fact that post-1985 or so my tastes were decidedly indy/arty, Giffen to me was only ever the guy who plagiarized Munoz, and not the virtuoso artist behind "The Great Darkness Saga."

Ironically, I started going back and casually collecting the old Curt Swan et al Legion comics in the 90s and into the early 2000s, and I while I was giving myself a nerdcore education in Silver Age camp sci-fi, I was still blissfully unaware of the goings-on in the then-current DCU. Never tempted to dive back into modern LSH fandom. It still amuses me that there is a hard-core, continuity-obsessed fanbase for the Legion that cares about respecting these characters (including past characterizations, romantic subplots, etc) and whose grail is the ever-elusive prospect of good writing and art teams staying with any iteration of the product, in the hopes for some renaissance or "return to greatness." The book was never great. The 60s comics were charming, and fun, and sometimes beautiful and ground-breaking in their own way. But most any attempt to take the foundation of these children's comics and build an artful science fiction universe on top of them is going to give us a kitsch fanfic, at best. Especially if is done under the demands of the monthly marketplace in the classic work-for-hire assembly line fashion. It would take an exceptional talent to make something of these toys.

That being said, when I read the later Giffen Legion, especially the vol 4 "5-years-later" issues, older me finds a lot that is fascinating. What is sometimes called Giffen's Watchmen is a very weird book, at least artistically. It looks nothing like a mainstream superhero comic of the day. Page after 9-panel page of drawings of rocks, planets, machines, unconnected word balloons, shadows, extreme close-ups. etc. No heroic poses, sexy costumes or multi-page balletic fight scenes. No attempt to really mimic a Moore/Gibbons or Miller aesthetic, beyond a few formal appropriations and gimmicks. Ugly, lumpy jagged art. A goofy, post-apocalyptic, cyber-punky soap opera epic, with call-backs and fan-service galore that nevertheless shits all over the legacy of the Silver Age artists and writers I adore. I think I love it!


"The book was never great. The 60s comics were charming, and fun, and sometimes beautiful and ground-breaking in their own way."

That sounds like four aspects of greatness right there. Maybe not greatness as defined by current (post-1985 or so) standards for superhero comics, but that might be a point in its favor. Taken on their own terms, as 1960s kids comics, they far surpass the modest (if not downright mercenary) expectations for their genre and medium to deliver some highly entertaining stories - which is all they ever promised. A few other points in their long history (most notably the early 1980s Levitz/Giffen stuff) can say the same. This is generally the best you can hope for with a corporate-owned comic that will be published more or less in perpetuity whether the company can line up the talent or not. Reading these comics is a bit like panning for gold; you have to sift through a lot of dirt to find the bits you can use. The Legion had a particular knack for providing lots of bits that its readers wanted to hold on to. I see that as both a sign of its success and the source of some of its problems down the road, but not cause for disdain.

I find Giffen's volume 4 work fascinating as well, though as I reread it now I can see all sorts of problems that weren't as apparent to me at the time. Some of these come with the benefit of hindsight, knowing what it would build up to (or not build up to), but the art and design that seemed so affecting then don't look quite so groundbreaking anymore. I don't mean that they've been dulled by the familiarity that comes with influence or repetition; I mean that the book was never as groundbreaking as it wants us to believe. The multi-page fight scenes and grim-n-gritty appropriations are all there, they just aren't told with an appropriate or sufficiently varied visual vocabulary to pull off the desired effects. (Miller and Gibbons knew when to open up their grids.) And given Giffen's obsession with thongs and asses, the book might even qualify for some sexy costumes and bad-girl poses - at least in the artist's own mind. Rereading these books now, it's clear just how much the Image artists (particularly Liefeld) took from Giffen's character design, which makes it somewhat harder to claim volume 4 as some kind of outsider artwork standing apart from the superhero genre.

Maybe that's for the best. Of all the arguments that were made for volume 4, then and now, this type of freaking-out-the-geeks genre anxiety has most worn out its welcome. I don't have any particular desire to define my reading in opposition to some largely hypothetical group of fans and I don't see much merit in arguments that do. The book stands or falls on its own qualities.

BK Munn

Yeah, half the time I have no idea what is happening and because it's 30 yrs later I don't really feel too bad. Just enjoyed looking at a visually unusual "mainstream" book.

Jones, one of the Jones boys

I missed out on the legion when i was into superheroes as a kid, but haveread a bunch since, and i like giffen's turn to unintelligibility, at least what ive read of it in the trade "the curse". Dunno where that fits exactly in the timeline here.

I like that it doesn't have any thematic fit with thescript, as if they'd made an avengers movie with cinematography by chris doyle circa in the mood for love and storyboards by yuichi Yokoyama. I like that it erases the human element in the midst of action; i see links there with toth, or some of kirby's wonkier 70s material. (not that giffen is in their league). Thats more interesting to me than, say, Mike Grell's c-grade adamsism or steve "I'm obbviously just here for the paycheck" ditko phoning it in

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