It's been almost four years since the writing team of Andy Lanning & Dan Abnett pitched their "Legion of Superheroes" story to DC Comics, taking the low-selling series and turning it into a critically acclaimed hit with fans. While it may not be ruling the sales charts yet, DnA's (the acronym for Abnett & Lanning) "Legion" is steadily gaining new readers each month and October 2002 marks one of their most ambitious efforts yet- a one-issue battle royale with the biggest superhero team in comic books for only $2.50 (U.S)! That's right, "Legion #12" will feature the Legion of Superheroes (the Legion) VS. the Justice League of America (the JLA) in all out brawl that both writers promise CBR News will be very exciting, with sensational art by Olivier Coipel and won't hurt your wallet.
"What can I say, British men just don't disappoint," laughs Lanning.
For those new to "Legion" or the decades old Legion of Superheroes, Abnett & Lanning are more than happy to try and summarize the core concept behind the series. "Rrrrrrright, start with the easy ones, eh? We'll try to encapsulate 40 years of continuity in a sentence or two, not a problem! Legion is set in the DCU of the 31st century and focuses on the adventures of the Legion of Superheroes, a large team of super powered youngsters from the many worlds of the United Planets who have banded together fulfill the ideals of the legendary heroes of the 21st century. In our new series, titled simply, 'The Legion,' a large chunk of the team that was cast away in deep space has returned to Earth to rebuild the disbanded Legion from the ground up and face a multitude of serious threats and conspiracies. It's a book with a strong mix of hard SF and dynamic super-hero action. The current state of play finds the Legion at the forefront of a war to prevent the United Planets falling to the relentless, implacable forces of the machine culture, Robotica.
"Legion is the premiere sci-fi super-hero comic. Period. We have to make sure that blend works and lasts."
DnA explain that the battle with the JLA isn't just some promotional stunt- it really is conducive to the overall Robotica story and helps to flesh out the characters involved in the battle. "The Legion style themselves after the classic 21st century heroes, so this was a great opportunity to do a little compare and contrast. We also thought it would be quite unexpected and also fulfill one of Olivier's ambitions, to draw the JLA!"
It's also DnA's genuine belief that the combination of Coipel's innate desire to draw the JLA, mixed with the writing duo's sheer passion for this story have created an issue of "Legion" that epitomizes the best of the series, making it a great jumping on point for new readers and a great treat for long time fans. "Obviously, the opportunity of witnessing some of our favorite Legionnaires square off against some of DC's most powerful icons is a must see! M'onel vs. Superman, The Flash v XS, Wonder Woman v Ultra Boy! For Legion Fans this is a dream come true and for readers unfamiliar with the Legion, what better way to learn about them than by way of the familiar faces of the JLA!"
With the appearance of the JLA and the recent battle with Batman foe R'as Al Ghul, some may wonder if the Legion has too many ties to the current DC Universe, but DnA dismiss such criticisms. "No. It has to have connections to the 21st century. The 21st century is its history, The legacy of the Legion grows out of that and it would be ludicrous of us to ignore, even exploit that rich vein of continuity!"
But it's not only the JLA guest appearance that has Lanning and Abnett excited, as the former explains; the whole Robotica story is a dream come true. "It's a big story alright and one that we'd laid the ground work for a long time ago ('Legionnaires #78!') and it was part of our original pitch some 4 years ago now! It's also a chance to see the Legion back together again in an official capacity again. But, as far as stories go...you ain't seen nothing yet! There is obviously more to come from the Demon's Head and his involvement with the Legion is yet to be fully resolved. 'Legion' is an ongoing book with a complex ongoing continuity, storylines will interweave in many different ways. It's not all cut and dried and over and done with!"
But some believe that DnA need to slow down the pace of their stories, allowing for some time in between the huge story arcs, and DnA are ready to address that concern. "Although we're staunch believers in quieter issues to advance personal storylines and provide dramatic counterpoints to big stories we don't want the momentum to slow down. These stories ran together perfectly one having direct implications on the other and can be taken as one whole larger story with distinct chapters and resolutions. Several one or two stand alone issues will be coming up in the next six months or so, there have been at least two stand alone issues so far as well!"
The not-so-hidden secret of DnA's success on "Legion" has been their attention to characterization and one of their favorites has been Kid Quantum, who they explain was so endearing because no one else seemed to do anything with her. "When we took over the book, Kid Q was appealing because she was one of the characters who had been least developed. There was a lot of mileage there. Then we saw the way Olivier rendered her... he really gave her a great, strong personality. We wanted newer characters like Kid Q to have as much going for them as the classic core characters of the Legion."
There have also been hints that fan-favorite Timber Wolf will play a larger role in upcoming issues and DnA hint at that, while revealing the future of some other characters too. "You'll see how that happens in the Robotica arc...and immediately afterwards. Vi is about to get a lot more spotlight...and new characters are on the way. As for a possible teen Green Lantern - no comment."
One of the more prominent characters in the DnA Legion has been Lar Gand, AKA M'onel and the futuristic equivalent of Superman. But this is a character who is responsible for seeding many alien planets during the 20th century under the guise of "Valor" before entering the Phantom Zone for a thousand years and his almost Jesus-like status has been toyed around with in the series, though DnA say his secret won't be revealed to the universe quite yet. They also say that Lar will be showing his full range of abilities quite soon in ways that many fans may not have imagined. "He can be hard to contain because of his powers, but he's been hurt in action a lot so far because he's been at the forefront," explain DnA. "Mon's got a major role to play in the next big arc and we're going to show people that he's a really unique character. Lar Gand differs from Superman [who he's compared to frequently] insomuch as he's carrying the weight of 1000 years worth of memories and feelings around with him. And to cap it, finds himself revered as some sort of Messianic figure to many in the universe he inhabits. This adds a brooding, melancholic aura to the character that gives his Superman-like heroism a bitter sweet edge that we'd like to explore more fully in upcoming stories."
Lest things in the Legion's world be all about fisticuffs, there's also the problem of Saturn Girl and Ultra Boy's stolen kiss, a story that DnA says isn't over yet. "How Tinya and Brin figure into this should be obvious...and as for how it will play out, we couldn't possibly give that away. Except there'll be tears before bedtime."
So is it hard for Abnett and Lanning to balance all the action of "Legion" with all the drama that is inherent with such well-developed characters? It can be, admits Abnett. "Only because of the number of characters, it can sometimes be a stretch to make sure we keep up with everybody without pushing the main story out. We think we've got the mix about right."
That mix will include an upcoming story arc that is a combination of current event politics, including the debate over racial tolerance, and classic superhero action stories, featuring the return of a popular character from "Legion Lost," in the form of the Credo (last seen in "Legion #5"). The group is dedicated towards genetic purification of space and their mission conflicts with that of the Legion, which DnA reveal will draw the two forces into a cataclysmic conflict. "With permanent links now open to the Kwai Galaxy, it was about time a story line derived from there. This is indeed a big one for the second year, drawing from the Progeny/Progenitor story line in 'Legion Lost,' a backlash against that, in fact. We feel that given the current political situation in the world today, what better time to explore the subjects like racial/religious hatred, intolerance and revenge. This isn't controversy for controversy's sake, but, given the organic nature of the Credo story, a natural, dramatic and relevant way for the story to progress."
But that second year won't include artist Olivier Coipel, at least not for long- he'll be leaving the series to work on Marvel Comics' "The Avengers." "We've been lucky to work with Olivier for as long as we have and wish him well," says Lanning. "We're sure this won't be the last time all three of us share a strap line." When asked about the new artist on the series, neither writer can comment and offers up the inoffensive, "Can't comment yet."
One of the biggest demands of Legion fans new and old is for trade paperback collections of DnA's Legion material and while it hasn't appeared yet, both writers have faith it'll come sooner or later. "We would obviously be delighted as and when DC decide to collect some of our Legion work," says Abnett diplomatically.
Till that time comes, DnA say that they are more than happy to bask in the joy and positive energy surrounding the series right now. "We've been very pleased with the strength and volume of positive response, both from the fans and from critical circles. 'Wizard' [the comic industry trade magazine] has been particularly enthusiastic. The general good response has led to consistently steady sales, which have recently started to go up yet again for us."
So what's next for the Legion? "Look out for a two issue Timber Wolf story in which he stands alone against the Fatal Five, an Umbra story following her back to her home world, and a major, major story arc which features the return of a classic Legion villain," teases Lanning.
With all the excitement over "Legion," DnA have to hurry back to writing the series, but have some serious words of gratitude for their fans. "We'd like to say a heart felt thank you to all the fans who've supported and encouraged us over the last few years and promise that, along with our new artist, we're committed to providing more stories to intrigue, surprise and enthrall you in the issues to come!"