Tuesday, July 29, 2008

SDCC08: Legion's 50th Anniversary panel

This was the big one, two full pages of notes to write up. Deep breath....

The Legion 50th Anniversary panel featured Paul Levitz, Mike Grell, Keith Giffen, Colleen Doran, Geoff Johns, and Tom & Mary Bierbaum. It was a packed house in a pretty large room. Paul began the panel by accepting an Inkpot award on behalf of Al Plastino, artist on the Adventure 247 story. Plastino still lives in New York but couldn't make it to San Diego.

Levitz asked each of the panelists for their fondest Legion memories:

  • Grell's fondest was when Joe Orlando called him to ask if he minded being recommended to draw the Legion. Dave Cockrum had just left and the book needed an artist. He said that doing the art was a nightmare at first but he was grateful to have Cockrum's sketchbook so he knew how to draw the characters. He said that it was just recently that he noticed that Shrinking Violet's costume, as originally designed by Cockrum, had an "S" and "V" on it in the black curly designs. Nobody else admitted to realizing that either.
  • Giffen's fondest was, he said, killing Karate Kid twice. Someone from the audience reminded him that he killed Karate Kid three times (Keith had forgotten about the SW6 one), and his face lit up.
  • Doran started out in the Interlac fanzine, doing fan fic and artwork. Giffen asked her if she would audition to be the new artist, but sadly she couldn't due to other commitments that in retrospect she shouldn't have taken. Her first issue was the tabloid wedding of Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, and she said she went ape-shit over the Legion. As is commonly known, she had a huge crush on Element Lad to the point where if there was a pinup or solo story featuring him, DC went to her for the art for something like 18 years.
  • Johns grew up with the Adventure stories, and had a fondness for Polar Boy since he was short and could relate. Levitz's run got him hooked on the Legion and influenced his writing.
  • Tom Bierbaum's best memory was getting the chance to work on the book, and giving a personality to Matter-Eater Lad. He said that when he came on, Giffen had a story arc for Tenzil, but liked Tom's take on the character better.
  • Mary Bierbaum met Tom through Interlac and have been married for 26 years. She loved to hear Tom and Keith do dialog over the phone. She talked about Laurel Gand, how the character needed a name and so they looked in the dictionary. She wanted "Flying Buttress" but was overruled.
  • Levitz remembered falling in love with the coverless Adventure issues he found at the barber shop, and putting together his own collection. After The Comic Reader zine, he started working at DC and started on the Karate Kid title, but Carmine Infantino (DC's publisher at the time) pulled it away from him because he didn't know how to write, as Paul put it. When Jim Shooter left the second time, Levitz took it over and looked forward to working with Mike Grell; his first issue would be the Dawnstar issue, but then Grell left the book, leaving only the designs and the cover. On his second run later, he was determined to do it right, and wanted to do 100 issues straight (he went over: between LSH v2, LSH v3, Tales, and Annuals, he did around 110 issues).

Q&A time from the audience.

Q: Of all the stories you did NOT work on, what did you like the best?
A: Levitz said the whole Ferro Lad story arc. Grell said the same. Giffen chose Earthwar, which he said showed the Legion for the first time really realizing their potential. Doran said any Jimmy Janes issue. Johns and the Bierbaums chose the Great Darkness Saga, with Tom also choosing the two-part story from Adventure 350-351 where Superboy and Supergirl had to leave.

Q: What about the Legion do you love, and why does it have such a passionate fanbase?
A: Grell said the Legion has the most loyal fans in the entire comics industry. He thinks it's a great entry-level book, actually, because it features a whole team of young heroes with exciting stories. Johns argued the depth of the mythology, while Tom Bierbaum offered that back then it was the first of the new super-teams and the first real team book. Levitz said it was the ability to change (not just to die). Mary Bierbaum suggested that with such a large group, it was great for someone who loves a lot of characters and there's always someone that the reader can identify with.

Q: A new Legion fan, who started with the Waid/Kitson reboot, picked up the back issues and was unsatisfied with how the post-Zero Hour Legion finished off with a non-ending.
A: Johns said to read Legion of Three Worlds. XS is a main character, and Perez draws all three Legions.

Q: Will we see more of the Legion Subs?
A: Johns kind of sidestepped that one, but said that (he paused at this point, and said "what the hell, I'll spoil it here") he had big plans for Luornu (who he suggested be called "Una Damsel"): "I don't know how I got anything done with just three of me". She will be called Duplicate Damsel and can multiply into many, not just three.

Q: What or who did you have the most trouble with?
A: Giffen said "you can see where this is going for me." Tom Bierbaum had problems with the Dawnstar/Bounty character. Grell had troubles drawing Colossal Boy's costume with all of the buckles. The hardest to draw was his first issue, the death of Invisible Kid. He told the audience how he talked with the editor, who told him that not only was he going to kill off a popular character, but he was probably going to get hate mail for it. He did. Levitz's hardest one was Matter-Eater Lad (I would have thought he'd say Tyroc).

Q: The questioner said he was so angry with DC after Zero Hour for killing off the Legion that he stopped reading comics. He thanked Geoff for bringing them back.
A: You're welcome.

Q: We've seen a lot of reboots for the Legion. Is constant refresh good?
A: (unfortunately I was either writing or not hearing him, so I didn't get the answer to the question; I'll leave it here in case anyone else remembers the answer from Keith Giffen.)

Q: Has Levitz ever had to overrule someone who was planning to cancel the book?
A: No, there has never been a moment at DC when they were seriously planning to get rid of the book.

Q: Why did the "threeboot" take place?
A: Levitz said that the nature of the Legion is so complex that when they get a new creative team, it's an easy answer to just reboot and wipe the slate clean. Giffen offered his take on the Five Year Gap, saying that he did it that way so that it was far enough down the road from what Levitz did that they wouldn't have to dismantle the future that Levitz had built up for years.

Q: What story would you like to erase?
A: Before answering, Levitz noted to the crowd that two people who should have been there - E. Nelson Bridwell and Dave Cockrum, both deceased - were good to the fans and helped to make the Legion what it is. In answer to the question, Levitz replied with one he's said before, the story in which he tried to have them explain the prolonged life story. Giffen said he probably shouldn't have blown up the Earth. Doran wished she had been a better artist at the time she worked on the books. Johns, who hasn't been a Legion writer for very long, said that he was not intimidated by the depth of Legion history, but he wants to show those who don't know the Legion, just what makes them special. Tom Bierbaum said that they probably overextended themselves in writing the two Annuals, rewriting Ultra Boy's and Valor's histories. He said their reach exceeded their grasp and it kind of got out of hand. Mary wished that the "white event" (which led to the Glorithverse mini-reboot) hadn't had to happen.

Q: How did the lack of minorities in the Legion affect fandom?
A: Levitz and Grell both said that you had to consider what the industry was like at the time, looking at it in broader context as to why there were no minorities. Grell said that there was a nervousness in the industry, they were worried that they wouldn't do it right. He gave as an example, "The Rookie Who Betrayed the Legion" (Superboy 207), in which a Science Police rookie makes some bad choices but does good in the end. Dvron was originally going to be a black man, but editor Murray Boltinoff said that they couldn't do that because the story would show a black man in a negative light. He told Grell that they were planning a black Legionnaire to debut shortly anyway. Boltinoff told Grell to redraw all the faces to be white, but Grell deliberately left some black features. He still got hate mail, stuff like "that's a brother painted pink". He repeated the story he had given at his other panel about Tyroc's origin and costume and why there were no blacks in the 30th century, that he felt it was very racist and that it was like the old "send them back to Africa, keep America white" mentality. He designed Tyroc's outfit purposely like that in protest.

Q: Any plans for a Legion movie?
A: Levitz said there are no plans, but who knows what might happen.

Q: Did anyone see the cartoon?
A: Apparently only Doran did, she thought it was cute.

Q: There are lots of Legionnaires after all the reboots. Why do some go through different iterations while some tend to stay the same?
A: Giffen said it's really the writer and artist's prerogative. Johns added that sometimes a character, such as Timber Wolf (specifically mentioned by the questioner) has powers specific to his personality.

Q: What's the divergence point for the "Lightning Saga" Legion we saw in Action Comics?
A: Johns, writing Legion of Three Worlds, said that it's around the Crisis (which would be v3 #18) or so.

Q: Any plans for more Archives or a reprint of That Damned Tabloid?
A: No Archive plans for now, they're getting to the point where the individual back issues would be the same price as the book.

That wrapped up the hour-long program. Levitz concluded the panel by saying that they all are grateful to have gotten to play in the sandbox with some really cool toys, and the passion of the fans which allows them to play in the sandbox in the first place is unmatched.

(Here's the Comic Mix report)


Greybird said...

Thank you for making such a detailed, informed-by-the-past, and perceptive recounting of the Legion panel. And for your pictures! Between the two, I almost felt like I was there.

I'm again sorry if my making too much of a dialogue out of my earlier comments (on Grell) ended up delaying this posting. Or if, more generally, I'm commenting more than you would prefer.

Bill D. said...

Enlighten a relative newbie... how did That Damned Tabloid gain its reputation of That Damned Tabloid in the first place?

Michael said...

Greybird: Don't worry about it. Either I wasn't getting my point across or you just disagreed with me, so no big deal.

Bill: It was called "That Damned Tabloid" when I got into Legion fandom on the internet in the mid-90s, probably due to how difficult it was to find in decent condition (or at all) due to the size of the tabloid.

Anonymous said...

Bit of a clarification/elaboration on my stuff. At the start of the panel, Giffen mentioned killing Karate Kid "twice" a couple of times. When I got up to the question mike as the next to last questioner, I first pointed out that he'd killed him three times; "the SW6 batch".

Giffen thought for a moment, then with apparent glee, went "You're right!"

Paul then mentioned this was why he hated being on the Pro team the last two years in the Pro/Fan trivia match; I and the other fans remember stuff like that. : -)

Anyway, my question started as asking how the killed off Karate Kid could still have been alive as part of the Lightning Saga/Johns Adult Legion version. Geoff mentioned the lightning rod Brainy still has, but otherwise didn't give a firm answer. I then asked where the Johns Legion diverged from the Levitz-Giffen Legion, since obviously the v4 Legion experiences weren't part of their timeline. At that point, he gave the "Post-Crisis" answer, and I didn't feel there was time or opportunity to try to nail it down any further (i.e. you've got both an alive KK and Sensor Girl, but SG only happened because of KK's death...).

Richard said...

Michael, in Legion fandom we were already referring to All-New Collector's Edition C-55, featuring the wedding of Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, as "TFT" within weeks of its publication in 1978. I assure you the F did not stand for "Fine" or "Fantastic" -- presumably the adjective was changed to "Damned" to avoid offending those of delicate sensibilities in these more genteel times, but Legion fans at that time were a coarse bunch who swore like longshoremen. And the name had nothing to do with its size or collectibility, but rather a general consensus among contemporary fans that the story was illogical, implausible, and poorly executed. Not the fault of the creative team (Paul Levitz has been pretty clear that it was produced under extreme deadline pressure) but at the time, we all considered it something best ignored.

Anonymous said...

DC has a podcast of the panel online:


Anonymous said...

Heh. No wonder Colleen Doran drew that Terra Mosaic issue which focused on Jan Arrah and Shvaugh Erin reverting back to Sean Erin.

And I remember "Flying Buttress" being overruled in the Omnicom section of one of those issues. Same article which had Tenzil wanting to rename himself "Mastication Mort".

Anonymous said...

Tom, actually while he mentioned the Lightning Rod in the Lightning Saga, he also mentioned when it was used to bring Lightning Lad back to life. I think he was saying they brought Karate Kid back from the dead the same way they brought Lightning Lad back.

Anonymous said...

I remember a character called Flying Buttress once in the Dial H for Heroes Adventure Run.

Michael said...

Here's the Flying Buttress from Dial H, created by Steve Mattson (who went on to be a DC colorist and writer of stuff like Superboy & The Ravers).

by Jim MacQuarrie said...

Here's the answer to the question about all those reboots...

KG: We do it out of fear. Paul's let it be known, you screw with my kids, you hit the street. It's safer to take it in another direction.

PL: That was a humanitarian award I got last night, not a mass killer award.

dbutler16 said...

OK, I have a dumb question. what is the "prolonged life" story that Levitz is talking about?

Michael said...

Superboy & The Legion #235. https://dc.fandom.com/wiki/Superboy_and_the_Legion_of_Super-Heroes_Vol_1_235