Taking the Long Way Home
Legion Lost finds a group of intrepid 30th Century adventurers misplaced in time and space, somewhere “outside” their own universe. This excursion follows upon the “Widening Rifts” story arc that closed the now-defunct regular titles Legion of Super-Heroes and Legionnaires. But, hardly is it a frivolous romp in an attempt to restore the Legion of Super-Heroes to its former greatness, Legion Lost gives its characters a new foundation and understanding of their roles as “heroes,” as painful as that function may truly be.
What was Legion of Super-Heroes exactly? A 40-year-old conundrum. More specifically, the Legion of Super-Heroes (LSH) first appeared as a plot device in a Superboy story in Adventure Comics #247, published in 1958. Three super-powered teenagers from the far-flung future (Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad) induct Superboy into their Legion, whose formation was, in fact, inspired by the yesteryear exploits of the Boy of Steel. Since then, the LSH has grown exponentially into a pop cultural phenomenon with one of most committed (and vocal) fan followings in all of comics.
However, the eighties and the nineties would not be kind to the LSH. With both Crisis on Infinite Earths and Zero Hour, the two reality-altering maxi-series brought the DC Universe back to year zero, gave a clean slate, and jump-started it again. The greatest impact was felt in the LSH, since all of its previous stories were rendered null and void and the LSH was “rebooted.” One unfortunate effect of the reboot for LSH was that the book basically had to refashion and retell old stories. Thus, the relevance of the book was lost, leaving the LSH floundering between establishing its “new” position in the scheme of things and being tied to stories already of the past. It was clear that another shake up was be required.
Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, the British creative team best known for their work on Resurrection Man and Body Doubles, would in their short tenure change the entire tone of the series. With their “Legion of the Damned” and “Widening Rifts” story arcs, the two creators imbued the books with a sense of danger and heightened the drama of the moribund proceedings.
Which nicely leads us back to Legion Lost. A demoralised, frightened and edgy group of Legionnaires Saturn Girl, Live Wire, Ultra Boy, Chameleon, Umbra, Monstress, Kid Quantum, Brainiac 5.1, Apparition find themselves far away from home in a strange universe. Worse, this universe is dominated by the Progeny, genocidal creatures who do not think twice about carrying out their creator, the Progenitor’s, wishes: namely, to delete those who are considered variant to the Progenitor’s will. One of these variants, Shikari , is instrumental in re-awakening the Legionnaires, and they find immediate purpose in assisting Shikari and her people in fending off the evil Progeny. That and, of course, finding a way home.
Three specific qualities make the LSH a compelling read, as evidenced here:
Characterisation. The cornerstone of superior heroic fiction is brought into sharp relief. Utilizing a familiar plot device (Lost in Space, Star Trek: Voyager), the writers put our heroes through the wringer while carefully recording the results. The misfortune and sense of loss experienced by the team immediately draws the sympathy from the reader. With the the Legionnaires’ dilemma providing grist for the mill, Abnett and Lanning do a fine job letting each Legionnaire find their own space. Although the series takes some time for this to happen, by the halfway mark, each character comes across distinctive and, yes, even special. From the palpable tension between engaged couple Live Wire and Saturn Girl to the enduring bond between the married Ultra Boy and Apparition; from the disturbed and fragile psyche of Umbra to the frustrated helplessness of Brainiac 5.1; from the ever-perky disposition of Monstress to the fiery independent streak of Shikari the writers slowly but surely flesh out these characters and plant them squarely into the readers’ hearts.
Plot Twists. Once past the halfway mark, the story pay-offs come quick and fast. From Saturn Girl’s psionic manipulations of her team-mates to the revelation that their late colleague Element Lad is the “evil” Progenitor, the writers were able to generate anticipation with each succeeding chapter of the tale no mean feat considering modern comics common “maintain the status quo” style of storytelling. More than that, as more information is divulged, the tragedy of Legion Lost comes into painful focus. The realization that the death, pain, and suffering witnessed by the Legionnaires were brought about not by a maniacal super-villain but by one of their very own, is a psychological and demoralising blow. And, the actions taken to resolve the disastrous circumstances are certain to leave permanent scars, both mentally and physically. Often in super-hero comics, decisions are made without consequences; in Legion Lost there are no easy, quick-fix, deus ex machina resolutions. Whether long-time or new Legion fans, the readers are challenged by Abnett and Lanning to inject “reality” into the events, and thus a sense of empathy, respect and understanding for the decisions and actions taken by the characters.
Emotional impact. Love it or hate it, one will not be able to ignore the dramatic and controversial conclusion of the series. With its surprises and its determination to make a statement, Legion Lost proclaims that, if nothing else, the Legionnaires are ultimately soldiers…. And we all know what a good soldier does.
Innocence lost? Perhaps, but it makes for undeniably sublime heroic fiction.