School's in session and the Legion of Super-Heroes just got a new professor of art studies. Artist Phil Jimenez joins "Adventure Comics" as the ongoing penciler beginning with February's issue #523, which launches a brand new arc that opens the doors to the Legion Academy.
The Legion of Super-Heroes first formed as a future-based super-powered club dedicated to Superman, considered history's greatest hero to the 31st century teens. The youngsters all hailed from various planets from across the galaxy and banded together to uphold the moral and heroic code Superman set forth centuries ago. The three founding members, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy, even journeyed back in time to meet their hero, happening upon a young Clark Kent and inspiring his own superheroic deeds as he eventually would theirs for an ouroboros of fourth-dimensional proportions.
Currently, the galactic team features in two titles at DC Comics—"Adventure Comics" and the eponymous "Legion of Super-Heroes"—both penned by writer Paul Levitz. The former DC publisher previously guided the Legion as the ongoing writer on the team's title for over a decade during the late '70s and throughout the '80s, and returned to the team last year. Jimenez worked with Levitz before on "Legion" #6, which introduced the reopened Legion Academy and its newest batch of recruits. With his new exclusive contract, Jimenez looks to continue classes at the Academy with Levitz, and spoke with CBR News about guiding the potential future Legion members on their path to heroism.
"Despite the fact that Marvel Comics and their staff were incredibly good to me, we had a hard time finding a project that was appropriate for me," Jimenez told CBR News of his decision to sign exclusively with DC. "I just naturally gravitate to the DC Comics characters and my sense of this business is that I'm so fortunate to sit at home drawing comics of all things and if I'm going to do it for a living, I should work on characters that I like in worlds that I have a really good time with. Also, my exclusivity comes with perks, like really good insurance."
It comes with much more than that for the artist, as well—namely, the opportunity to work on a title and with characters that he grew up reading as a fan. "['Legion of Super-Heroes'] was actually one of the two comics that got me into DC Comics when I was a teenager," admitted the artist. "I was a really old school Legion fan. I know for some people the Legion is the post-'Zero Hour' Legion or the 'Lost' Legion or even Mark Waid's Legion, but my allegiance is the Legion Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen worked on back in the '80s—from the 'Great Darkness Saga' and beyond."
Jimenez said that the creative vision of Levitz, Giffen and the others who worked on the title appealed to him as a fan and drew him into the future world. He both enjoyed and appreciated a setting where a teen's greatest aspiration was to not only become a hero but also become a hero that didn't act like "young punks" or "rebels" and who people saw as true potential saviors of the universe. Jimenez also cited their take on the future itself as a huge draw, both creatively and artistically.
"It was one of the few books where I actually felt like I was in the future as opposed to an alien planet, if that makes any sense at all," he explained. "It was a world that seemed vaguely similar and absolutely familiar, but it definitely seemed like the future. It was such a uniquely realized vision of the 31st century."
Now Jimenez gets the chance to add his own unique mark onto that future every month in "Adventure Comics," especially with a host of new characters that make up the latest class of the Legion Academy, a concept from the old days of Legion comics whereby current members teach potential candidates in the use and control of their powers. "Probably my favorite to draw is Dragonwing, mostly because she's so complicated. Although my colorist hates her because of that," laughed Jimenez. "But I like each of them because they're fairly distinct. I like each of them because none of them looks like the other. Each one comes from a different sensibility. Dragonwing, her design came from fashion. The new magician character, she's a mix of Amethyst and Starfire and all these other alien race ideas. Gravity Kid's costume was absolutely inspired by the Mike Grell teen costumes of the '70s. Chemical Kid was a much more superhero-y costume. The idea is that each of their costumes says something about them was important to me."
However, as much as the artist said he enjoys drawing all of the new students, one in particular serves as a bit of a teacher's pet for him. "One of the characters that is the least memorable for many is Variable Lad, the big, purple-headed alien," Jimenez said. "He doesn't really do much early on, but I like him because I feel like he's the quiet kid in class who everyone sort of ignores, but has a power and personality that will surprise everyone later on. That's not a story hint. I just like characters who are a little less bombastic in the beginning and who are background characters that come forward at an important moment."
Although he doesn't really get the chance to delve into the veteran Legion members during his first arc, Jimenez said that he would eventually love the opportunity to draw the Legion proper—especially a certain dream girl. "My favorite Legionnaire of all time was the pre-Crisis Dream Girl because she was fantastic," revealed Jimenez. "I always loved that the sexiest Legionnaire was also one of the smartest. I came onto the book right around the time she was elected leader, so she had a real time to shine. I think many of our favorite characters often have to do with the time in which we encountered them. I love Dream Girl. I love Sensor Girl. I was a big fan of Shadow Lass. I'm not a big fan of her Earth-Man thing happening right now—Paul—but there's definitely a cast and crew of Legionnaires that I'd love to tackle. Primarily women."
"I don't believe there's a stronger roster of female characters in any other book out there," Jimenez added. "Except for Chris Claremont's run on the X-Men early in the '80s, the Legion has incredibly potent strong, sexy, smart female characters. They're one of the big draws to the book to me."
As fans of the Legion know, when it comes to potential members, there exists a certain lovable group of misfits that never quite made the cut. Jimenez said that although it ultimately comes down to Levitz's plans, when it comes to the Legion of Substitute Heroes he would "happily draw Infectious Lass in every issue that I possibly could."
"What I remember most fondly about the Legion of Substitute Heroes is that hilarious special from back in the '80s, which I reread constantly because I can't get over how funny it is," he said. "I'm a big fan of funny in comics. I'm sad that more people are not. The Substitute Heroes I think would be a fantastic title, like a one-shot, every couple of years or more often. I definitely feel like there's room for it. The beautiful thing about a group of characters like the Substitute Heroes, which in and of itself is so delightfully absurd, is that you can play that and love it. If you have this one thing on the side who are lighter and not as heavy and who can go on funny adventures, how hilarious is that? It's awesome. But I'm not sure how many readers, fans or even creators are interested in seeing that."
While it might take some time before a storyline requires the Legion needs to call in the Subs, Jimenez revealed a number of story points coming up that give the Legion and the members of the Academy more than enough problems of their own to take care of. "As we've seen from 'Adventure Comics' and 'Legion of Three Worlds' and Paul's run, the universe is not what it used to be. So, neither are the applicants of the Legion Academy. They're a little bit rougher, a little more entitled. That said, I don't want you to think they're anti-heroes because I'm anti-anti-heroes," he said. "You get to see a couple different planets, which I'm happy about. We really expand on the teacher characters. If you're really into Wolverine and Batman, I'm always afraid of dropping the name Bouncing Boy, but that guy is cool—far more than I ever expected. That character has a really good spirit and he ends up being a lot of fun to draw. We return to the Sorcerer's World for a while. And I don't want to spoil it, but one of the new characters has a very mysterious name that harkens back to some of the Legion's greatest enemies. So, we'll see what and how that name pans out.
"One thing I will say about Legion Academy, this may be a decent way for non-Legion fan to get into the Legion Universe because they cast is smaller and the cast is new. The art is very pretty and the color is gorgeous. So, this might be a helpful gateway into the Legion proper for people worried about the Legion's cast size and its scope. That was one of my goals. I wanted to do a book that hopefully combines the best of all things."