Monday, October 10, 2011

Underrated/Overlooked: Legion Worlds

After being quietly appreciated for the better part of a decade, Legion Lost, the 12-part series by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and a young Olivier Coipel that reinvented the Legion of Super-Heroes for a new century, has in recent years gained a deserved higher profile. Lost presaged a lot of DnA’s later work with bold science fiction in their later Annihilation, Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy stints, placing the relatively optimistic Legion I grew up with and dropping them into a foreign universe with exotic challenges that forced the teenagers to grow up and face unspeakable tragedy and sacrifice. It was a powerful story with aggressive art by Coipel that topped many fans’ “why hasn’t this been collected?” lists until just recently; today, not only can you grab the trade at stores, one of the new series launched by DC bears its name.

DnA would go on to launch a Legion ongoing building on the darker edge and emphasis on character drama they brought to Lost, but first as a bridge, they penned the six-part Legion Worlds, an anthology that explored the 31st century landscape the missing Legionnaires had left behind and what had become of their teammates. The sprawling art team included a mix of untapped talents like Yvel Guichet, Enrique Breccia, Paul Rivoche, Jamie Tolagson and Kilian Plunkett with established names such as Coipel, Darwyn Cooke, Rick Burchett, Duncan Rouleau, Rick Leonardi, Steve Dillon and Mike McKone, plus covers by then up and comer John Cassaday.

It’s a clever storytelling device on DnA’s part as the Legion—and thus the readers—has been away from their universe for over a year (real time) and there’s a lot of ground to cover to set up the new series. They had fun with the vastness of the Legion’s landscape, setting each standalone chapter on a different planet housing one or more members of the scattered team and familiar to fans. As with any series of the format, some stories were not as strong as others—I don’t remember the M’Onel-centric Earth story in the first issue much, though that was mostly a primer for the rest of the series, and recall not investing too much in the Magno/Cosmic Boy spotlight on Braal—but the stuff that stood out did so strongly.

The second issue has Ayla Ranzz, the Legionnaire known as Spark, returning to her home on Winath, with both her twin brother, Live Wire, and erstwhile love interest, Chameleon, among the Lost. It’s the kind of thoughtful, psychological, and slightly creepy story DnA excels at, with Ayla trying to pick up the pieces of her life and finding it hard to do so as something of an outcast in her own home where everybody is born with a twin and “solos” are shunned. Ayla’s older brother, Mekt, a solo himself and formerly the villain Lightning Lord, has also returned, supposedly reformed, somewhat mentally addled and hoping to bond with his sister over their common sense of loss. There’s a mystery plot about natural disasters and whether or not Mekt could be responsible, but the real meat is in the family drama, and the tension Ayla feels both over being adrift and at the possibility her brother may not be as innocent as he claims is palpable.

Issue #4 shifts the action to Xanthu, where Star Boy—one of my favorite post-Zero Hour Legionnaires—has returned home with lover Dreamer and teammate XS in tow to help his world fend off the threat of Robotica, a race of artificial intelligence that has gained sentience and rebelled against the beings they feel have oppressed them. It’s very much a war story, as the heroes face overwhelming odds and basically go on one suicide run after another, but it also shows another side of how much the Legion defined these characters and kept them as well as the universe optimistic and bright; in its absence, people like Star Boy and XS have struggled with their purpose, but keep fighting because it is in some sense all they know and all they have left. Robotica is a new take on a familiar trope—the robots go crazy because we don’t appreciate them enough—done with visual panache by Duncan Rouleau, a master at drawing robots and the like.

Next up the focus falls on Karate Kid, who has journeyed to the isolated and peaceful planet of Steeple, bringing along Ferro for a period of contemplation and prayer as they deal with the loss of the Legion. I’ve always loved Karate Kid in all his various incarnations, and this story highlights all the cool stuff about Val Armorr, as he is the one Legionnaire who seems to have moved on in a healthy way with his strong sense of self and devotion to continued enlightenment; of course he also still gets to kick stuff. A bruiser from Takron-Galtos makes his way to Steeple, and while Val is initially reluctant to raise a hand against him, having devoted his energy to quelling rage and violence, the overmatched Ferro gives it a shot and gets badly injured in the process. Karate Kid is now faced with the dual challenges of facing down the bad guy and also saving his friend’s life; the former he does in a great fight sequence illustrated by Steve Dillon, and the latter forces him to make a powerful choice that adds punch to an already rocking tale.

The finale heads to Rimbor, birth world of the Lost Ultra Boy, and the place his pregnant wife Apparition has chosen to hide from mercenaries hired by her mother. Consistent with its portrayals across Legion history, Rimbor is already a nasty place, filled with gang wars and violence, and a pretty crappy place for a pregnant lady to hang out, even if she can become immaterial at will, but Apparition has made an awesome ally in Timber Wolf, who makes his post-Zero Hour debut here and whom DnA as well as Kilian Plunkett do a great job with. After five issues mostly touching on how much was taken away by Legion Lost, it’s cool to end with the reintroduction of a classic character in a fun way, as DnA make T-Wolf every bit the badass he was in the old days, but add in some charm and a quirky paternal concern for Apparition’s unborn “cub.”

I didn’t actually buy Legion Lost, as I was just getting back into comics at the time and just missed it by a couple months, so when I did decide to track down the modern incarnation of another comic I’d loved as a kid, Legion Worlds was my first exposure. I’ve since gone back and read Lost, but even on its own, World did a fantastic job giving you a tour of a universe both somewhat recognizable and completely altered, moving several pieces in place to ensure you’d be invested in the ongoing series. With the creative talent involved and awesome array of characters that play parts big and small, this is a hidden Legion gem for sure.


EliteManatee said...

I actually preferred the issues that you didn't do write-ups for. I thought the first issue was a really good 'get new readers up-to-speed' device for the 31st century Earth/United Planets setting, as well as a good character study in how lonely M'onel was and how the Legion was the only thing that had much meaning for him.

And I frigging loved the Braal issue. I thought Magno's repurposing of his dedication to Legion to the Science Police was great stuff, and it was awesome seeing that Cos/Invisible Kid/Shrinking Violet were still dedicated to helping people, even if the Legion was gone.

Ben Morse said...

Honestly, it's not that I didn't like those issues, it's just that I don't really distinctly remember them.

Web Design Companies said...

Actually i am in favour of what all issue

EliteManatee said...

Web Design, please expand on your thoughts