Thursday, September 22, 2022

Mark Waid on writing "Valor" and the Legion's "End of an Era"

Prior to covering this week's episode of the podcast, which looked at the finale of the 5YL Legion in LSH v4 #61, I asked Mark Waid if he could answer some questions and share some stories about writing the Legion during this period in 1993-94. He was gracious enough to answer, and even told me some things I had never heard before. Thanks, Mark!

Omnicom: The first of the Legion books you started on was Valor with #11, which according to the solicitations was the “Beginning an exciting new direction for VALOR that will ultimately lead to a major shake-up in the DC Universe.” That issue came out when the Bierbaums were still writing both LSH (then on #47) and Legionnaires (then on #7), and was on sale a year before Zero Hour. Your first issue as regular writer wrapped up the plots from the previous team. How much did you know at the time about what DC was planning for the future of the DCU in the form of Zero Hour? How much direction were you given on the title?

Waid: At first, in the Valor days, the outcomes of Zero Hour were held close to the vest, though it helped enormously that Legion editor KC Carlson was also the editor of ZH--so he could at least set up guard rails for me, and I'm sure the solicits were from his keyboard, not mine, so he could say with some authority what I didn't at the time know.

Once we got to End of an Era, we knew the outcome of ZH, so we knew where we were going.

Omnicom: The Bierbaums were off of the LSH book with issue 50 and Tom McCraw took over as writer. Do you recall at what point you started working together to plot out the future of the Legion books?

Waid: I want to say about four months before the first chapter of End of an Era came out? It's hard to remember after all this time, but that would make sense.

Omnicom: The Bierbaums stayed on the Legionnaires book up through #15, and by that time Valor had finished up DOA – the 20th century version of the character was dead, and the SW6 version was now starring – while Tom’s LSH book was wrapping up the Legion on the Run story. It’s clear (in retrospect) that things were moving towards something big, and Kurt Busiek joined the writing team. Can you talk about the writing process bringing together three books which up until that time had not been involved with each other?

Waid: Well, Tom, KC and I were friends as well as workmates, so the process was easy--and bringing Kurt in was to help me out because I couldn't juggle all my pieces of End of an Era and hit my other deadlines. I didn't have a whole lot of personal communication with Kurt in the process (though we, too, were friends)--mostly, he was just springing off the outline that Tom and I had crafted--but it was nonetheless a seamless process as I recall.

Omnicom: Somewhere in there is the infamous “it’s broken and we can’t fix it!” plotting session. Can you go through what you, Tom, Kurt, and KC Carlson & Mike McAvennie (and whoever else) went through in figuring out how to try to fix and then end the series? Were you given any story beats to hit or avoid other than to make sure that things matched up with the Zero Hour title? Was that decision yours (collectively) or was there a mandate from above to end with a Legion reboot?

Waid: Oh, there was far more than one "how do we fix this?" plotting session. KC, Tom and I spent countless hours across several weekends in Tom's studio throwing ideas around. And as I have said repeatedly, even though hardcore Legion fans don't want to believe me, the amount of energy we spent trying to figure out some way to salvage existing LSH continuity could move the Pyramid at Giza. Remember, all of us were die-hard Legion fans. Tom and I were both long-time members of Interlac, the Legion fan group. I knew more about the Legion at that point than probably anyone else in the world save maybe Paul Levitz--I was the one who created the famous Legion Index covering all of Legion history in excruciating detail. We loved the Legion. We didn't want to bury history. But at the same time, no matter how many plotting paths we went down in order to salvage it, they all became just too Byzantine, and I distinctly recall pointing out late in the game that it felt like we were trying to build a house on shifting sand. The Superman office had already dictated that there were to be none, zero, no ties between the LSH and the Superman mythos, and other DC editorial offices were following suit, stripping us of mention of the Green Lantern Corps and the Thanagarians, both of which had played a role in LSH history. And we had no idea what we'd be stripped of next. Every attempt to simply replace verboten characters with other characters took us to places that would be more confusing than edifying to non-hardcore LSH readers. No one was campaigning for a reboot. It wasn't a goal; it was a necessary evil that we all then tried to make the best of.

Omnicom: I became a member of online fandom on Compuserve during Zero Hour, right before LSH #61 (the finale) came out, and I recall a discussion of that two-page spread at the end where we see vignettes of various points in Legion history. Can you talk about that? If I remember correctly, you had asked fandom what to put there (without telling them what you were going to do).

Waid: I did reach out to my fellow Legion fans, but the obvious choices were obvious--Ferro Lad, the cover of Adventure 312, and so forth. The only image I can take personal credit for is the image of Luornu crawling through Superboy's secret tunnel in Smallville; it resonated (and still resonates) with me in a hugely emotional way, being the perfect condensation in one image of writer Jim Shooter's skill at characterization, the moment that we really got hit hard with the intensity of her crush on Superboy and the tragedy of knowing they'd never be together. I knew that image would resonate with the hardcore fans--a few years earlier, in 1992, I'd been at a Legion fan gathering where someone had put together a slide show commemorating the Legionnaires who'd died in battle, and when that image of Luornu came up, the entire room gasped a melancholy gasp. It was a beautiful and moving moment.

I was surprised to hear Mark say that "other DC editorial offices were following suit, stripping us of mention of the Green Lantern Corps and the Thanagarians", that's something I had never heard before. The Superman office, yes, but not Green Lantern or even the Thanagarians.

1 comment:

Mike S. said...

I can see where it was coming from: the LSH had mostly established that the GLC and Thanangarian police were pretty similar to their pre-Crisis 20th century incarnations. (Give or take the ban on Lanterns visiting Earth.) With the Corps being blown up and Hawkworld grimngritting up Thanagar, they presumably didn't want to telegraph an endgame.

Which isn't to say I like it. (It reminds me of the Silver Age siloing that led to Superman and Batman JLA appearances being rationed.)

I suspect Waid was right that the classic Legion was past saving by that point. I wonder if it would have been better to put them on a bus for a while and wait for better times rather than reboot. But no way to know that now.