CCI: Legion of Super-Heroes 50th Anniversary

Wed, August 13th, 2008 at 9:31am PDT | Updated: August 13th, 2008 at 9:32am

Comic Books
Ashley MacQuarrie, Contributing Writer
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On sale now, "Legion of Super-Heroes: 1,050 Years of the Future" trade paperback celebrates 50 years of the Legion

Though the panel was advertised as a celebration of 50 years of the Legion of Super-Heroes, in truth Comic-Con International's The Legion of Super-Heroes 50th Anniversary presentation covered only a fraction of that time, ranging from when Mike Grell took over as artist from Dave Cockrum in 1974 to the re-start of the series during DC Comics company-wide Zero Hour event in 1994. Panelists included DC publisher and former Legion writer Paul Levitz, writer-artist Keith Giffen, artist Mike Grell, writer Geoff Johns, artist Colleen Doran, and writers Tom and Mary Beirbaum.

Paul Levitz accepted an inkpot award for Al Plastino, who drew the first Legion story in “Adventure Comics” #247 in 1958. Plastino lives on the East Coast but could not attend the convention. Levitz then asked the panelists for their favorite memories of working on Legion.

Mike Grell talked about taking over for Dave Cockrum, saying he couldn't have done it without Cockrum's sketchbook. He later found out that although Cockrum himself had redesigned nearly all the Legion’s costumes during his tenure, he too needed the sketchbook to keep them all straight.

Keith Giffen said his favorite moment was killing Karate Kid twice. Later, a questioner reminded him that he had actually killed the character three times, referring to "The SW6 batch," a group of younger clones who populated a second Legion comic, "Legionnaires" in the early '90s. This observation prompted Levitz to ask, "Does it count as mass murder if you kill the same person twice?"

"The Great Darkness Saga" is a classic Legion story

Colleen Doran told of how she got her start working on the Legion, saying she had a major crush on Element Lad and while producing fan art for Interlac, the Legion fan club newsletter, when Giffen called and asked her to work for DC. A contractual obligation prevented her from taking on the book as a regular assignment, but she did produce Element Lad solo stories and pin-ups for about 18 years.

Geoff Johns said that he liked the Legion of Substitute Heroes, partly because Polar Boy was short and got kicked out. "I could relate," Johns joked.

Tom Beirbaum mentioned his take on Tenzil Kem (Matter-Eater-Lad), whom he made a Senator. Mary Beirbaum said she wanted to name Laurel Gand "Flying Buttress" after finding the phrase in a dictionary. She was overruled, though, and the character was later called Andromeda.

Levitz reminisced about first discovering the Legion through the “Adventure” issues and about later taking over “Legion of Super-Heroes” when Jim Shooter left. He was supposed to work with Grell, but he too left before Levtitz's first issue. When Levitz returned to the book for a second run, he wrote 100 consecutive issues.

The remainder of the panel was devoted to audience question-and-answer.

Which story do you wish you had done?

Panelist Geoff Johns introduced the Legion to many new readers in "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" (hardcover on sale now)

Levitz and Grell both replied "The Death of Ferro Lad." Giffen said his favorite was Earth War while Doran replied, "Any issue Jimmy Janes drew." Johns and both Beirbaums said they would have liked to have created “The Great Darkness Saga,” with Tom Beirbaum adding the Forgotten Legionnaires stories to his wish list.

What do you love about Legion? Why does it have such longevity and so passionate a fanbase?

Grell answered, "LSH fans are the most loyal and dedicated bar none. The reason is that the book is a great entry point. A young cast, exciting multilayered stories. And your first comic is always a favorite."

Mary Beirbaum agreed, comparing the huge Legion cast to Pokémon and noting there is always at least one character that kids can identify with. Johns said that the depth of the mythology is a draw, while Tom Beirbaum added that the Legion was "Way ahead of its time, dealing with marriage and death years before other comics. It was very radical."

What are you going to do about the loose ends left after the reboot, specifically with XS?

Johns said that XS will play a major part in the upcoming “Final Crisis: Legion Three Worlds” miniseries; adding that artist George Perez "wants to draw every Legionnaire who ever was."

Are we going to see the Subs and Duo Damsel?

On sale August 20, Geoff Johns and George Perez's "Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds" #1

Johns said readers could look forward to Duo Damsel in “Legion of Three Worlds” and "She's now Uno Damsel. But she splits into hundreds. I don't know how I ever got anything done with only three of me."

What character gave you the most trouble?

Giffen replied, "Karate Kid of course" and said that was why he killed him three times. Tom Beirbaum said Dawnstar while Levitz chose Matter Eater Lad. Grell said Colossal Boy's costume gave him trouble and added that the death of Invisible Kid was difficult, explaining, "It was my very first issue." Grell said the editor warned him he would get hate mail since he was replacing a fan favorite artist on a book with fiercely loyal fans, and killing a popular character.

Are all these reboots good for the book?

Gifffen said, "We do it out of fear. Paul's let it be known, you screw with my kids, you hit the street. It's safer to take it in another direction."

In response, Levitz referenced his Eisner win earlier in the weekend, saying, "That was a humanitarian award I got last night, not a mass killer award!"

Over the years, has Paul Levitz ever had to fight to prevent the book being cancelled?

Levitz said he was "lucky enough to never have to. Nobody ever wanted to kill it."

Mark Waid and Barry Kitson rebooted the Legion for a third time with the current "Legion of Super-Heroes" series

We know why the Zero Hour reboot happened, but why Mark Waid and Barry Kitson’s Threeboot?

Levitz said "the nature of the Legion is so complex, that when the book is slipping, the easy answer is to start with a blank page, rather than work with the existing stories." Giffen explained that he implemented a five-year gap when he took over because "I knew what I wanted to do, but didn't want to be the one to dismantle what Paul had done. Moving the story five years forward put a little distance between them."

Why the lack of minority characters in the Legion?

The consensus seemed to be that “the fear of doing it wrong” was a major reason. Grell and Levitz both pointed to the broader context of the political climate of the late 1960s as a reason creators avoided or were prevented from using minority characters. Fear of decreased sales and backlash from both white readers and minorities made DC cautious. “This still exists with supervillains” Giffen said. “Nobody wants to make a black villain who does horrible things and then gets his ass kicked by a white hero.”

Why do some characters get changed a lot, and others don't?

Giffen said simply, "I'd get bored and change things."

Levitz ended the panel by thanking the fans, saying, "We got to play with some really cool toys, and the only reason we got to play with them was because you guys kept saying, 'Please, take them away and do something fun with them.'”

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TAGS:  cci2008, legion of super-heroes, paul levitz, keith giffen, geoff johns

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