Thursday, February 19, 2009

Good ideas

Last fall, I had a couple of posts here in which we discussed some of the bad ideas in the last 50 years of the Legion. How about this time we talk about the good ideas?

What would you consider to have been a good decision, either at the time or in retrospect, with regard to the Legion? Here are some of mine, in rough chronological order:

  • Having Jerry Siegel and Edmond Hamilton write stories in the early 60s. Hamilton brought a strong science-fiction background to the series, while Siegel brought the Superman/20th century aspects to the series. They brought the 30th century alive.
  • Having Jim Shooter take over from them. Shooter Marvelized the Legion in the mid-60s, when much of the DC line was still stuck in the late 50s/early 60s. Shooter brought the characters alive.
  • Having Dave Cockrum take over the art chores in the early 70s when the series was floundering as a backup strip. Along with writer Cary Bates (moreso than E. Nelson Bridwell), they updated the look of the 30th century and made the Legion popular enough to support its own book again. Then when Mike Grell followed on the art and Jim Shooter shared the writing, they brought Legion fandom alive.
  • Having Paul Levitz on his first run. Despite the classic Earthwar story, he felt he wasn't as good enough a writer as he could be, and took some time off. In retrospect, this was a big deal in that it let him figure out what to do better the next time around. And boy, was it better the next time around.
  • Having Keith Giffen as artist (the first time). He and Levitz were on fire for their run together (Omen and Prophet excepted), and their synergy gave the series new life. At their height, the book was the second-best selling title that DC had in the mid-80s (behind Teen Titans). They Claremont-ized the Legion, in the good sense of characterization and plotlines. Levitz kept it up for several years after Giffen left.
  • In retrospect, although I didn't think so at the time, once we accepted the reality of the post-Zero Hour reboot, having the storylines diverge from what we had seen before that made the series somewhat fresh and exciting. New characters like XS and Gates, and new storylines that didn't synch up with anything we had seen before.
  • Again in retrospect, the Abnett/Lanning/Coipiel "Legion of the Damned" turned sales around and for the first time in many, many years sales began to go up. People started liking the Legion.
  • Having Mark Waid writing the new version of the Legion. Yes, it wasn't such a great idea in the first place, but if you're launching a new book, having some A-list names doesn't hurt.

What kind of things would you consider as good (and lucky counts as good here)?


Ricardo said...

I think the concept of the 5 year gap just brilliant. Some may not like the execution (I love it), but it was an exciting look and a tremendous concept behind the story. Never DC went so bold with a book still in continuity.

Eric Schultheis said...

Best idea ever: positive can-do teen superheroes in a positive idealistic future that we all want to live in. Seems simple in hindsight so why do most of the reboots not get it. Hamilton, Shooter, and others showed that you could have dark, downbeat story arcs within this positive future if you want. Great idea Mr. Siegel -- mind if Mr. Roddenberry borrows this positive outlook for a TV show he's working on?

Michael X. MacArthur said...

Not only was the 5-year-gap "brilliant", but the nine-panel-per-page grid made every nuance of every panel important and worth more than just a glance. God bless Keith Giffen.

peter vandeneng said...

every time i see a watchmen trailer, i think of how the consistent use THERE of the nine-panel grid made the pages practically into storyboards from the get-go.

and i think about keith (and jason pearson, who REALLY GOT IT.) and smile to myself. said...

I would add the contribution Curt Swan made. For me it was his artwork that made the 30th Century come alive in ways that Forte, Mortimer and other Silver Age artists could not.

Meerkatdon said...

Means of identifying the Legionnaires for new readers. Early stories gave the Legionnaires nameplates (sometimes giving name and powers); later there was the "roll call" at the beginning of each story. More recently, Geoff Johns has used floating text boxes giving name, planet of origin, and powers.

In any case, I think all these devices help new readers orient themselves among a cast that can be large and confusing.

ted said...

Also, having simple descriptive names helped orient new readers right away. Not hard to guess what "Lightning Lad" does compared to "Livewire."

Anonymous said...

On another general note, having a fairly effective spectrum of relationships. There are a lot of great Legion romances, as well as friendships/family ties, and that drew in female readers like me (though it wasn't the only aspect that I like, of course). But Levitz also deserved some credit for breaking up a few of the old romances to keep things lively.

Jim Davis said...

One of the better moves made was ending the stranglehold that Shooter's adult Legion story had had over the series for 15 years or so - done very memorably in LSH #300.

Jonathan Miller said...

"Bits of Legionnaire Business" where (Unlike it's previous Bizarro counterpart, I think) Weisinger and his writers actually paid attention to what their young readers had to say. While EC (for example) had had letters pages with lots of reader/editor interaction, had there been another example of an editor actually asking the readers to suggest new characters, plots, etc. and then actually see some of those suggestions in the strip itself? Along the same lines, the reader election of Legion leader. Getting readers involved is what distinguished Legion fandom from comics readers in general and is probably at least part of why we're still talking about it today!

Matthew E said...

1. The reboot notion of having the Legion be champions of diversity. It's a good fit for the team, it makes them stand out (even more), and it's admirable.
2. The animated-series notion of having the Legion be Superman's mentors in the field of caped derring-do.

I don't think either of these ideas needs a lot of defence, but Geoff Johns does seem to agree with me.

Anonymous said...

So far Lo3W hs been a VERY good idea... Will it last for two more issues?

Pat said...

The key for me was that the Legion was never static; right from the very beginning they had events like Lightning Lad's death, or Bouncing Boy losing his powers or the revived LL losing one arm. This is very much unlike the other DC comics of the time.

I also liked the fact that kids could write in with a hero suggestion and see their creation appear as a prospective legion member. In a way, you could argue this was an outgrowth of Adventure being an early title with a letters column.

Jim Drew said...

Also, having simple descriptive names helped orient new readers right away. Not hard to guess what "Lightning Lad" does compared to "Livewire."

Um, yeah. Because "Saturn Girl" and "Ultra Boy" are sooooo descriptive. (And "Livewire" is arguably better than 2nd generation Legion codenames like "Tyroc" and "Dawnstar".)

But I do take and generally agree with your point.

ted said...

The topic is "good ideas." Not "universally applied good ideas."

Snarkiness on both our parts aside, I would argue that Dawnstar and Wildfire are fairly descriptive of personalities. Just like 3rd generation hero XS.

And Tyroc just never could get a break. But at least he did not have a gold shirt and a tiara. :)

royiskeen said...

Having a series set in the future so it wasn't tied to current continuity was a great idea, as it created a lot of freedom for the writers' and artists' creativity. Stories weren't tied to whatever else was going on in DC titles, though they could reference them. That was an inspired concept that allowed the creative space for innovative storytelling and ideas.