Instant Trauma: “Legion of Super Heroes #17”


Instant trauma often forces us into recognizing the prolonged trauma we’ve been heir too, all this time. There’s almost no way to read Phantom Girl’s throwaway line of “You know me…nothing hurts a phantom…”, a throwaway line that comes on the heels of ten panels of gut-wrenching panic and dread, ten panels of fear for the well-being of her compatriots in the wake of their star-cruiser crash, and not feel in some way as if we’ve already been implicated in the deeper dread of that glibness.

This isn’t the gnawing paralysis of survivor’s guilt that Phantom Girl is experiencing. Because simply put, she hasn’t survived. She’s been in trauma her entire life, a trauma uniquely entwined with the very nature of her superpowers–she’s been intangible to the world around her.

If anything, issue #17 opens with a kind of “instant trauma” not just for Phantom Girl, but for readers as well. We’ve never seen the powerhouse storytellers of Keith Giffen and Paul Levitz together on the Legion of Super Heroes. At least, we’ve never seen that before now…

For his incredibly long run on Legion of Super Heroes, Paul Levitz has always found a way to lead us back to the inscription for the libretto of Handel’s Messiahcannae majora, we must sing of greater things. Almost every scene, almost every interaction between characters would end in the simple conclusion that the ideals established a thousand years prior, during the first age of superheroes, were ideals worth preserving. That simple plea that honor and self-sacrifice and the impulse to band together to save lives, are ideals worth answering a call to.

Under Paul Levitz, Legion of Super Heroes became a kind of map of the future we could hold in our hands–we, the eight year-olds and 10 year-olds who were reading at the time of Paul’s original run, and we the kids who came to the book later, came to the book in any generation after. Because if 1,000 years on from today, fictive kids could still inspired by the original superhero revolution, what kind of world could we build, kids in the real world, inspired by these profound superhero fictions? Legion of Super Heroes has always been about the rich promise of the secret struggle of American life–that something new, and good, can stand the test of time.

Paul Levitz always managed to guide us into the promise of Legion, the idea of its wrestling with ideals. A handful of years after Paul’s run ended, Keith Giffen would craft a very different story kind with the Legion. Imagine a universe wherein the United Planets, a stalwart defender of species rights and self-determination, simply entered into economic and political collapse. Imagine thousands of splinter groups all wrapped into hundreds of internecine conflicts the galaxy over. Keith envisioned the kind of update for the world of the Legion, that might have occurred in the real world, in the wake of the debt crisis. And in doing so, took new readers and longtime fans alike on a ride into a new kind of Legion story–social realism. The bricks and mortar of Keith’s Legion were actual bricks and mortar; the story of the social systems that encapsulate us all. And in telling these stories of the Legion, Keith shaped in us the powerful idea that the Legion is something we can grow older with, as we grow into ourselves.

Instant trauma often forces us into recognizing the prolonged trauma that we’ve been heir to, all this time. And the “trauma” for longtime readers has perhaps been living within the limiting belief that choices need to be made–that first Paul and then Keith’s vision of the Legion needs to be read, and that somehow the two should remain separated. Issue #17 is a step in an entirely different direction–a plea for the idea of the Legion itself, that by banding together, we’re greater than the sum of our parts, a plea for two modes of classic Legion storytelling, to coexist for the first time.

Please enjoy our exclusive preview of Legion of Super Heroes #17, releasing this Wednesday…