For something that wasn’t our first choice, it sure turned out well.
The Legion of Super-Heroes first appeared in 1958, in a story starring Superboy (Superman as a teenager). Though they couldn’t possibly have known it, writer Otter Binder and artist Al Plastino premiered, in one throwaway 12-pager, a thirtieth-century super-group that would gradually become a mainstay of the DC Universe over hundreds of stories, eventually starring in one of DC’s best-selling titles.
And I have read every one of those stories multple times. I bow to no one in my deep-cut knowledge of LSH history, nor in my love fore the Legion. For nearly thirty years, they enjoyed a tight continuity that I (and others) tracked carefully and lovingly, and if you’re ever rummaging around in the dusty back-issue bins of a comics shop and come across THE OFFICIAL INDEX TO THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, I wrote that. If you find DC’s WHO’S WHO IN THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, I wrote that and edited it. Those are my bona fides.
So you’ll forgive me when I say it hit me extra hard in 1986 when, after nearly thirty carefully curated years, DC blew up Legion continuity in a spectacular fashion.
It wasn’t done maliciously, or even directly. It came about because Legion continuity was so inextricably linked to Superboy and Superman continuity, and in the summer of 1986, writer/artist John Byrne “rebooted” Superman’s history so that none of the pieces that made up Legion history existed anymore. Suddenly, there was no Superboy, no Supergirl or her romance with Brainiac 5, no Super-Pets, no young Luthor, no Mon-El…the Superman books may have looked and read better than they had in years, but the collateral damage left the Legion a mess.
Legendary LSH writer Paul Levitz tried to do triage, but his patient was at death’s door. The spark of life was gone. A couple of years later, when I inherited the editorship of the Legion book, writers Keith Giffen and Tom and Mary Bierbaum and I tried a soft reboot, rewriting Legion history using new characters as “stand-ins” for the Superman family, but even as we did that, we encountered more turbulence. Other superheroes’ backstories were being adjusted as well. Hawkmen in the 30th Century? Retroactively erased. I’m not complaining; the late 1980s were a creatively tumultuous time for DC Comics, but that’s a good thing. No one can argue that a streamlined continuity for the DC heroes resulted in some of the best books on the market. Still, we Legion hard cores missed Elastic Lad all the same.
Jump forward a few years to 1994, DC was then publishing two Legion books a month – LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES and LEGIONNAIRES – but by that time, continuity patch had been slapped over continuity patch to the point where no one could keep track of Legion history, trust me. New editor KC Carlson tried, to the point of hiring me to co-write the books with colorist (and LSH fan) Tom McCraw, and with a line-wide event series called ZERO HOUR coming fast down the pike, we were told it would give us a one-time-only, get-out-of-continuity-jail-free card. We still couldn’t have a Superboy or a Supergirl, but we could “fix” whatever else we liked.
I am not kidding when I say that KC, Tom and I took this opportunity more seriously than you can imagine. We wanted to regain the magic of the Legion’s broad history. We had marathon phone sessions, we had hours-long meetings in KC’s office, we argued and smiled and screamed and fought and hugged it out for weeks. And everything culminated in a weekend spend, in entirely, in Tom’s basement like some marathon college D&D session except instead of fighting beholders and gelatinous cubes, we were brainstorming new origins for Sir Prize and Miss Terious and Rond Vidar and Dev-Em and other characters you almost certainly don’t know because they don’t exist anymore.
For hours and hours, we’d come up with these elaborate retcons (“retroactive continuities”) that would, without fail, eventually collapse under their own weight. We kept inventing “salvage scenarios” and then realizing hours later we were just putting a hat on a hat (a.k.a. overwriting to the point of needless complexity). I distinctly remember saying at one point, “You can’t build a house on shifting sand,” and you’ll have to take my word for it that what happened next was neither capricious nor done with anything short fo deep exasperation and deep love.
If we couldn’t build our house on shifting sand, we realized…why not just build a solid foundation from scratch?
Once we committed to a full reboot of the franchise, we really started to get excited about possibilities. We could start fresh, as if the Legion had never before existed, and show it’s origins, make it friendly to new readers and a book anyone could enjoy because they’d be coming in on the ground floor with us. We’d intermingle classic Legion stories, retold, with brand-new adventures. We’d treat LEGIONNAIRES and LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES as if they were one book coming out twice a month, half drawn by Stuart Immonen and half drawn by Jeff Moy (both of whom we were lucky to have). Sometimes Tom would plot and I would write dialogue,sometime’s we’d swap, and very quickly we brought writer Tom Peyer in to help us out – Peyer, who eventually went on to write nearly as many Legion stories as anyone ever.
We worked to mix some never-before-seen Legionnaires (such as XS and Kid Quantum) amid the “reinvented” stalwarts like Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl. We gave new twists to some familiar Legion tropes even as we created new bits of business. And we had a blast. I think our love fore the Legion showed through, and I don’t know that I’ve ever had a more exciting, fulfilling job in comics. I thank C Comics for putting this work back in print. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.
Los Angeles, 2016