Monday, May 25, 2009

Ben's Ultimate Legion

A few days back, I blogged about the Ultimate Legion of Super-Heroes feature Andy Serwin and I worked on for Wizard that never came to fruition. While I can't recall or find any record of the dream team we put together, I did come up with my own all-star squad of Legionnaires from across the ages and incarnations.

Speaking of incarnations, here's a quick short-hand glossary to the different eras I pulled from...

-Silver Age: The original team through its first two decades
-Levitz: Paul Levitz's seven-year stint as writer
-Five Years Later: Keith Giffen's dystopian future storyline featuring an older, harder-edged Legion
-Legionnaires: A younger team resembling the originals that showed up for a bit during Five Years Later
-Reboot: The team re-imagined post-Zero Hour
-Legion Lost: A 12-issue maxi-series written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning that stranded a group of Legionnaires in another galaxy
-DnA: Abnett and Lanning's follow-up to Legion Lost
-Threeboot: Mark Waid and Barry Kitson's second attempt at recreating the Legion for the ground up
-L3W: The "adult" version of the Levitz Legion introduced in the Lightning Saga and currently featured in Legion of 3 Worlds

(Apologies in advance for the terrible mish mash of images)

COSMIC BOY (Threeboot)
No doubt some version of Cos is an essential part of any Ultimate Legion, but I find his Levitz incarnation to be too much of an afterthought/wallflower and his Reboot persona to be okay but a bit heavy on the boy scout side. I considered using his hardcore depowered Five Years Later persona, as it's certainly a great exemplar of why he's generally team leader, but settled on Waid's ultimate idealist instead. I dug that Threeboot Cos was willing to go to extremes in order to preserve what he felt was important and also that he came off as more of a teenager than past attempts at Rokk Krinn.

LIVE WIRE (Legion Lost)
As I mentioned a couple weeks back, the post-Zero Hour version of Lightning Lad, aka Live Wire, was one of my favorite characters growing up. He had the devil-may-care psuedo-bad boy vibe working, but he also had a real innocence to him that showed through in his relationships with Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy in particular. Garth Ranzz is also a Legionnaire I feel works better when he skews younger, so I opted not to go with any of the more mature, already settled down Lightning Lads, even though Geoff Johns seems to be steering the adult L3W version back towards these roots. I think most people would agree that Live Wire peaked during Legion Lost when he was more or less backed into the corner of being team leader and rose to the occasion as an incredible hero, so I'd pluck him from there.

I really dig the job Geoff has done in the Action Comics arc (re)introducing the "current" Legion and in L3W in providing balance in Saturn Girl so she's equal parts nurturing and take charge. The reboot and even the Threeboot always seemed to play Imra Ardeen as almost too much of an ice queen, but Levitz always knew how to make her self-assured and competent without having her come off as a bitch. L3W has continued that, but for some reason I like the idea of Saturn Girl being the oldest founder and Gary Frank did a nice job on her redesign, so I'll take it.
Legion of Super-Heroes #3 from the Threeboot is not only one of my favorite Legion stories, but one of my favorite single issue stories of all-time. It's basically the origin of the Threeboot Triplicate Girl, the short version of which is that she comes from a planet where she was at one time the only inhabitant, but she managed to produce enough duplicates of herself to repopulate; feeling lonely since she was still essentially by herself, she and two duplicates came to Earth to join the Legion, but when they tried to go home for a visit, they no longer fit in. It was a beautiful, crushing story that struck as the most unique and inventive take on a character I'd always found hit or miss at best, so she definitely makes my team.

One of the reasons I love the Levitz Legion is that I find it to be one of the most accurate depictions of how high school age kids with super powers would act, cliques and all, and I always saw Ultra Boy and Phantom Girl as the football quarterback and head cheerleader respectively. Having them around sets the Legion apart from a Teen Titans or New Mutants here everybody mostly gets along, so they're a lock (there are other things I like about Ultra Boy, but I'll get into that when I cover him).

You gotta have some form of Chameleon Boy on any true Ultimate Legion because he's such a cornerstone of the team both from a character and visual standpoint. I have a lot of love for the Levitz Cham and by extension the Five Years Later/Legionnaires one, but I always gravitate towards the Reboot version, particularly early on in the run when he was having trouble learning Interlac and was a bit of an outside since most races didn't trust Durlans. Granted that was a relatively short-lived take (he was speaking fluently within a couple years), but I dug the way he started out as very much an other as far as the Legion was concerned and ingratiated himself not by being R.J. Brande's kid or assimilating, but on strength of personality.

JACQUES FOCCART (Five Years Later)
The second Invisible Kid was a breath of fresh air during the Levitz run as he was a true blue good guy with a touch of innocence and awe at the adventures around him who stood in stark contrast to cynics like Wildfire, Timber Wolf and Dawnstar. However, the "I don't belong among these incredible heroes" routine wore a bit thin after awhile, so I give the edge to the badass Five Years Later Jacques Foccart, who was still a decent fellow, but also had the confidence that comes from being President of the United Planets; the fact that he left that job out of boredom to rejoin the Legion makes him even more awesome.

BRAINIAC 5 (Threeboot)
Maybe it's because I grew up reading the more arrogant Reboot Brainiac 5, but the sedate, jovial Silver Age/Levitz Brainy never rang true for me. If you're gonna have a guy whose super power is that he's always the smartest guy in the room, what fun is it not to have him constantly frustrated at the inability of his teammates to keep up with him? The Threeboot Brainiac 5 was arrogant, aloof Brainy dialed up to 11 with a crafty manipulative streak worked in as well; even though he was a good guy at the end of the day, there was that murky gray "he could turn on everybody" thing happening and it made him interesting. It also made his quiet "real" moments with Dream Girl more impactful. Mark Waid just really gets some characters and I think Brainiac 5 is one of them.

INFERNO (Legionnaires)
There's not that much to differentiate the Legionnaires Dirk Morgna from the Levitz or L3W Sun Boys one, except that he's younger, a bit cockier, even more of a ladies man, has a cooler name and his costume is awesome. Actually, that's kinda a lot--Inferno wins.

VIRUS (Five Years Later)
I really liked the Levitz take on Shrinking Violet that emerged post-Great Darkness Saga where she was rescued from being kidnapped by Durlans, during which time Colossal Boy married a Durlan posing as her, and as a result was pissed off at the world and determined to shed her image as a (shrinking violet) by doing everything from becoming a lethal hand-to-hand combat expert to seducing notorious lothario Sun Boy and then discarding him when she was bored. She was the kind of female character who these days would be a cliche, but the difference was she actually had good reason to be that way. Fast forward Five Years Later, and Vi has now become even more hardened by war, plus she has a really nice (and at the time pretty groundbreaking) same-sex romantic relationship with teammate Ayla Ranzz.

ULTRA BOY (Levitz)
I covered the primary reason for why I wanted the Levitz duo of Phantom Girl and Ultra Boy on the team earlier, but Jo Nah's whole "I have all of Superman's powers but can only use them one at a time" is just such a cool conceit that I can't believe was concocted back in the Silver Age (but then again, Legion was always ahead of its time in more ways than one). Honestly, I have a gut preference towards the cockier Reboot or Threeboot Ultra Boys, but like I said, I want that vibe the Levitz one provided in tandem with Phantom Girl, so there you go.

Was never a big fan of the overly spiritual tack Element Lad was taken on Five Year Later or Reboot and the Threeboot Jan Arrah was just a bit of a cipher. However, Levitz seemed to get that if you had a dude with the power to f'ing transmute elements (which is awesome), you put him front and center as one of the driving forces on the team and, yes, you have him be petty and pissed off when his idiot teammates elect the ditzy blond precog who looks good in a silver one-piece to be team leader over him. Levitz Element Lad was awesome.

PULSE (Five Years Later)
Ayla Ranzz is a pretty take her or leave her character for me, but I'd include her on the team because she has interesting relationships with her brother Lighting Lad/Live Wire, her ex-boyfriend Timber Wolf, and, since I want to use the Five Years Later version, her lover, Virus.

DREAM GIRL (Threeboot)
Tough call here, because I think the Levitz Dream Girl, who was sex on wheels but also extremely shrewd and who had a great romance with Star Boy but also couldn't help hitting on anything male, was a slam dunk character who really shook things up. On the other hand, I also loved the Threeboot Dreamy, who seemed like a total space cadet on the surface and then would casually save the day without batting an eyelash because she knew exactly what was going to happen, both of which frustrated her teammates, Brainiac 5 in particular, to no end. I give the Threeboot version the edge just because I find her dynamic with Brainy slightly more interesting than the Dream Girl-Star Boy relationship of yesteryear. On a sidenote, I consider myself actually a a fairly enthusiastic Star Boy fan, but for the life of me, I couldn't justify giving any version of him a spot on this team. Go figure.

KARATE KID (Silver Age)
Val Armorr was an ostensibly normal guy with no real powers who could hold his own with the likes of Superboy because he was good at karate;I'm sorry--good at super karate. Do you really need more of a pitch than that? You know how cool it is to watch Batman mix it up with bad guys way above his weight class when he's on Justice League missions? Karate Kid is like that times 20 because he's in the future and he has three dozen teammates but he's still the baddest dude in the Legion. Another sidenote: I left Princess Projectra/Sensor Girl off the team because she's at her most interesting when Val is dead, and I can't have that on my Ultimate Legion.

It's an overused "twist" not just in comics but in all of fiction that the token dumb guy or girl on a team of heroes turns out to really be smart, or at least smart enough to solve some crucial puzzle that turns the tide in the favor of good. Timber Wolf is just dumb, and refreshingly so. Brin Londo is a great fighter, he's loyal and he has a good heart, but he's somewhat emotionally stunted and intellectually just not that bright; Paul Levitz played up these supposed character faults to set Timber Wolf apart and distinguish him from the rest of the Legion. I thought this was great, as not every super hero needs to be virtuous in every single possible way and it made T-Wolf far more human. Subsequent interpretations of the character always seem to mistake "street smarts" for him needing to be some sort of savant, and that just doesn't grab me; lack of brains didn't prevent Timber Wolf from battling through a planet of evil ninjas to execute Karate Kid's dying wish.

Sometimes a character can coast for years just on a cool design (there are no shortage of characters Jack Kirby created just for shits and giggles that other creators have spent years trying to devise decent backstories on in order to justify using the visuals proving this rule), and Wildfire could have been one of them, but there's much more to Drake Burroughs. First off, being a sentient cloud of anti-energy cursed to live in a suit of armor because you can't reassume human form should provide enough pathos for, oh, ever. But the way Paul Levitz wrote Wildfire as a sawed off jerk with a major chip on his shoulder ensured we didn't have to suffer throug endless "I feel so bad for him" stories; instead, you've got a guy who the other characters can't stand to be around because he's an asshole, but hey, he's seriously got nowhere else to go and he also happens to be uber-powerful and useful in a fight, so I guess he can stay on the team...and get elected leader a bunch of times. That's fucking gold.

Another one who could have gotten by on an awesome Mike Grell design, but again, Levitz lifted Dawnstar above and beyond. You really can't discuss Dawnie without mentioning Wildfire, as she is exactly like him in terms of temperament (short version: she's a bitch), but a complete 180 from him physically as he's a blob of energy and she's a hot chick with wings. It's always oddly heartwarming when the ne'erdowells get together after running hot and cold for years (see Chuck & Blair). It's also just convenient from a plotting standpoint to have somebody with tracking powers on the team, something I'm sure Levitz recognized.

BLOK (Levitz)
There's not really a lot to Blok, but he provides a cool-looking non-humanoid, a decent strongman, the requisite "monster with a heart of gold," and I like both his friendship with Timber Wolf as well as his little crush on the White Witch. The Levitz and L3W versions seem fairly interchangeable, but the former lasted longer, so let's go with that.

Again going back to the high school metaphor, Mysa Nal was both the exchange student who had trouble finding her place, as well as the hippie chick who just didn't get why people were mean. It's a nice dichotomy to have a character who is one of the most powerful Legionnaires also be somebody who is still a bit naive when it comes to the way of people. I chose her L3W incarnation as Johns echoed the Five Years LAter plot point of Mysa enduring imprisonment at Mordru's hands, which I think will serve to toughen her up a bit and also cement her place in the Legion.

If there's one character who embodies the optimistic, enthusiastic, "this is so cool!" appeal of the Legion, it's Polar Boy, and this is something Geoff Johns has clearly picked up on and tapped into in his recent work. In many ways, Polar Boy is one of the best POV characters ever for comic fans, as he was a reject who nonetheless continued to plug away in support of his heroes and eventually was given his just reward of joining their ranks. During some of the Legion's darker days in the waning pre-Reboot years, Polar Boy was shown to be one of the few who still believed in what the team stood for; again, Johns has ridden this beat out and the result is a character who continues to be immensely likeable.

XS (Reboot)
The pre-Reboot Legion never had a speedster in the traditional sense, and I'm always one to support the Flash Family, so it shouldn't be too surprising to see Jenni Ognats on this list (though I've never been crazy about her weird code name). That XS has such strong ties to the present day DCU through her familial ties to the various bearers of the Flash mantle is gravy on an already fun character. On an Ultimate Legion like this one, it would also be interesting to see how young, hyperactive Jenni meshes with more battle-weary vets.

GATES (Reboot)
There were few better original additions to the Reboot Legion than Gates. Whoever came up with the idea for a beaked teleporting insectoid who resents being "drafted" into the Legion because of his heavy socialist leanings deserved a bonus.

On a team that included Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Brainiac 5 and a few dozen other competent and experienced Legionnaires, Kid Quantum ended up being elected leader of the Legion following the Legion Lost debacle and brought a welcome level-headed even keel to the position. To this day, I don't really get how Jazmin Cullen's powers worked, but I enjoyed her Legion tenure as she always seemed cool and self-assured, to the point where it caught many tenured members off-guard and snagged her a nice little romance with Cosmic Boy to boot.

So...what do you think? Pretty huge team, granted, but really not that much bigger than your average Legion lineup. This was a doozy to write, but a lotta fun and I'd like to hear some fellow Legion fans' own Ultimate rosters.


Matthew E said...

Your Legion is as good as anybody's. If it was me I'd try to find room for Shadow Lass and animated-series Bouncing Boy, but to each his own. The only place where I think you actually went wrong is in not finding a spot for some version of Mon-El. I don't think you can do the Legion right without Mon-El.

Ben Morse said...

The Levitz era Mon-El and Shadow Lass were actually on my first list, because I liked their clique with Ultra Boy and Phantom Girl, but I felt like I had too many characters, so I cut them.

I think Bouncing Boy is fine running the Legion Academy or as support staff, but I've never thought of him as an essential main roster guy. To be fair, I've only seen a few eps of the cartoon.

KP said...

The cartoon is actually really good. I enjoyed it far more than almost any animated series that's come out since Justice League ended.

Ben, I really want to comment on your list with some authority, but almost all I know of the Legion comes from the Legion Lost era and a few of those Adventure Comics digests.

Ben Morse said...

I liked what I saw of the cartoon and actually don't really know why I didn't watch it more. Same thing with just about every DC toon since JLU.

Kiel, I wish you still lived around here for many reasons, but one would be so I could loan you my Levitz/Giffen Legion issues.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, everyone re-boot wins for me every time. It's not that I hated Threeboot (well, not right away) and I love the Levitz and up stuff, but I have only ever really enjoyed reading comics when I had two Legion titles to look forward to with numbers in the corners.

Also: Andromeda.

I'm putting this here because it ties into this discussion. This should be a series. said...

This can't really work, I believe like this.