Saturday, April 14, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #104: Legion of Super-Heroes: The More Things Change by Paul Levitz and Steve Lightle

There was a point when I was a medium-serious Legion of Super-Heroes fan. I was particularly enthusiastic about the Bierbaum/Giffen series -- that might be when I got into it, or maybe just before that -- but I tracked down the whole long run written by Paul Levitz (back in the days when I read and bought a lot of pamphlet comics) and read it through, luxuriating in the superhero soap-opera and the very, very soft SF.

Remembering that, I grabbed this book when I saw it cheaply. Was the stuff I enjoyed in my early twenties still good? (Well, I don't think I ever had any illusions that the Levitz run was other than decent superhero fluff, even at the time. But I did think it was consistently good for superhero fluff.)

The More Things Change is very middle: it's the second trade paperback collecting the 1985 re-launch of the main Legion series, when DC realized they could print stories on nicer, more-expensive paper for the comic-shop market and reprint it later in the crappy format for plebeians at newsstands. Back in 1985, a re-launch like that didn't necessarily have to shake up the whole world, and it didn't -- Levitz kept on writing the Legion, as he'd been doing for a number of years already, and I don't think even the art team changed substantially.

(By the way, the definitive Levitz-era story is of course The Great Darkness Saga, from 1982. I wrote about it in the middle of a monthly round-up a few years back.)

This book collects issues 7-13 of that 1985 Legion series, mostly penciled by Steve Lightle with several others contributing some pencil art or inking. Legion sometimes got more distinctive artists -- Keith Giffen has a few pages here, and he did a lot more at other times -- but this chunk is very much the mid-80s generic superhero comics look. This is definitely Big Two assembly-line comics: the point was to get another issue out at the same time every month, keep making money, and provide more or less the same thing each time.

And the "thing" for Legion was a mixture of mild teenage angst (less obvious than the obvious contemporary comparison, Chris Claremont's X-Men), vaguely political drama among the Legion itself and the larger world, and a succession of nasty people to fight and defeat (generally pretty easily). The string of stories here shows that mixture at its height -- the fighting-villains stuff is pretty minor, having to fight for page-space with everyone's love problems, choosing-a-leader problems, considering-recruiting-more-members-problems, and older-members-retiring problems.

But that's what the Levitz Legion was about: it was a superhero comic almost entirely swallowed by the non-superheroing aspects of their lives. They still wore wildly infeasible costumes, sure, and they did make sure to call each other by both code names and real names all the time, and they even used their powers (explaining how they worked along the way), but that didn't feel like the most important thing about the Legion.

And the '80s were the very talkiest era of all time in commercial comics, which comes through here. Levitz wasn't as enthusiastic about captions as some of his peers, but his people certainly talk a lot -- but, again, they do need to explain their powers and everyone's multiple names several times an issue, so there's a lot of dialogue to get in.

This is not one of the great comics of all time. It's a decent chunk of a decent run of a better-than-average comic of its time. That time is over thirty years ago now, and there have been tons of equally good comics, and plenty of better ones, before and since. I suspect the main reasons for a book like this are nostalgia and really, intense loyalty to the particular superhero IP. But there are worse reasons for a book to exist, so...why not?

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