Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 175 (7/28) -- Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Vol. 11

Back in the '90s, when I was the one buying comics for the SF Book Club, I only very rarely abused my position. (Every reviewer or reprinter knows about those abuses -- there's something you really want personally, so you pretend that you want it professionally, and then it wanders home with you before too long.) In fact, the only thing I can remember blatantly asking for that had no chance of getting into the club -- and I think I made that clear, after the first volume -- were the first ten DC Archives editions reprinting the early years of the Legion of Super-Heroes comic.

I hadn't entirely soured on superheroics then -- and it didn't hurt that the Legion had just come off a great series of runs, from the Paul Levitz/Keith Giffen era in the '80s through the Birnbaums in the early '90s, which I'd read partially at the time and partially in retrospect -- so I would eat up the Archives volumes, which reprinted much sillier templated superheroics from a much simpler era. (I also suspect there's some crossover between Legion fans and readers of big fat fantasy, in a common love for sheer volume of characters, complications, and coincidence.)

In any case: I knew that the Legion stories of the '60s and early '70s were more fun than good, but I was happy enough to read them. Eventually, though, things changed: I wasn't buying comics anymore, and my main contact at DC moved on to other things. DC published two more Archives, and I bought one of them (this one, Vol. 11) but never bothered to get Vol. 12. And as I wandered away from contemporary superheroics -- it didn't help that the Legion was aggressively rebooted and dumbed down several times in this period -- so Vol. 11 slipped lower and lower in the piles of books that I planned to read "someday."

But then Book-A-Day came, and I dug deeper in those stacks -- that's one of the reasons I do this; to make myself read the books that pile up -- and so I finally got to the collected Legion stories from July 1974 to October 1975. They're still silly stories, though, at this point, the Legion was in the middle of a string of stories sexing them up (and making them more popular along the way) with a lot of peekaboo costumes for the female characters and more explicit stories about dating and heartbreak among these teenage crime-fighters.

These are mostly stories written by Cary Bates, with a few seeing Jim Shooter return to the Legion, and they're as overwritten and wordy as the Legion ever was, particularly since many of these issues had two shorter stories, meaning even more plot and dialogue had to be crammed in. On the art side, these are all from a young Mike Grell, who had a pretty strong dynamic post-Neal Adams style at this point (though he got even better later on).

This kind of thing is either a guilty pleasure or pure nostalgia; I didn't read anything like this as a kid, so it was entirely the former for me. Until Levitz turned them into actual human beings, a few years later, Legion stories are interesting in the way DC Silver Age stories are: they're big, and garish, and strange, more like fever dreams than reports of events that could have ever happened to real people.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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