The New Legion World: Barry Kitson talks "Legion of Super-Heroes"

Mon, December 27th, 2004 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

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Design sketches by Barry Kitson.
Mention the words "Legion of Super-Heroes" to just about any fan and you're sure to get an opinion on DC Comics' premiere teen team. Whether the fan is a diehard Legionnaire or merely intimidated by the sheer cast size, there's no denying that the Legion is a tremendous force in the superhero world. Creators from Jeph Loeb to Jim Lee to Phil Jimenez all want to work with the team; the book was one of DC's best sellers throughout the Eighties and the fanbase remains one of the most vocal & dedicated. The Legion will be getting a fresh start on December 29th, as writer Mark Waid and artist Barry Kitson (whose previous collaborations on "JLA: Year One" and "Empire" earned much acclaim) promise to take the team to new heights. Having spoken with Waid recently, CBR News caught up with Kitson to discuss the highlights of this series and exactly how he became attached to the book.

"It was a culmination of many things," explained Kitson by phone from his home in England. "When I was a very little boy, my favorite book was Legion and so I've always loved the characters and the opportunity to work with Mark again was another big plus. Also, I had such a good time when I did the 'L.E.G.I.O.N' book- I really enjoyed having a regular book to stay on for a long time and a chance to shape it. That was basically how this opportunity to work on Legion became so desirable- it was a chance to make something all our own."

Like many Legion fans, Kitson explains that he became hooked from a young age by a very simple aspect of the team. "I became a fan when I was seven or eight years old and back then just the fact there were so many superheroes and they were all in one book- something as simple as that made me a fan. As time has passed, things have changed, but I've always liked that the Legion is unique, not just to DC, but to superhero teams in general, being a futuristic team full of so much sci-fi stuff. The world is all its own, meaning you can do a lot of stuff and you're unconstrained by the continuity of the rest of the DC Universe. We've taken the position that basically it's not our problem if things happen in our future that skew with the DCU- it's the DCU's problem to mesh with our future [laughs]. Everything about the book just appeals to me. I like the soap opera aspects, the whole kind of range of characters to play with and the sci-fi."

It's been over 40 years since the Legion made their debut and the series has been home to some of the most phenomenal artists in the industry, from Curt Swan, Dave Cockrum & Mike Grell, Neal Adams (on covers) & Chris Sprouse to Keith Giffen & rising superstar Olivier Coipel. Those are not all easy names to follow and while there is a tradition of greatness to follow, Kitson says he only worries about doing the best he can because, to him, that's all he can do. "It's the only way you can approach it. Obviously, there's pressure working on any big character and I've drawn Superman & Batman, so you don't get much bigger than that really [laughs]. I think, in our case, it's less intimidating because I got to redesign everything so chances are there will be fewer comparisons made. This is our version so it's much harder to be directly compared to the previous incarnations."

Speaking of the redesigns- which can be seen through the various sketches that Kitson has provided to CBR News- there's been a mostly positive response to the new look of the Legion, as it draws upon past versions and adds a modern spin. It's worth noting that Star Boy's redesign seems to have elicited the most positive feedback, despite initial concerns from some regarding the fact that always aryan Star Boy is now black skinned. "As far as the costumes went, the major concern was to make everyone look individual," explained Kitson of the design sense. "What I tried to do, and in the whole ethos of what we're doing, is tried to find something at the core of the characters and work on that. We did the whole test- making each character recognizable by their silhouette [seen in a teaser image released by DC earlier in the year]. It's all been a culmination of looking at what the core of the characters has been over the years and then making them look like superheroes, part of the big ethos again is that they want to be superheroes so we wanted them to look like superheroes rather than anything else. There were a lot of fun things we brought in such as the fact that I don't think we're too far away from a time where the images on people's clothing will be able to change, so there are things on the costume that will change, such as the starfield on Star Boy's costumes that'll give a different view of space every so often. The sun on Sun Boy's chest actually glows.

"In terms of the buildings and the external world, it was part of trying to make the world look clean and bright, attractive, yet a little bit cold and foreboding. As far as the designs of the buildings go, we looked at modern architecture and the curves coming into design, so I made sure very few of the buildings have straight lines. Desaturated coloring is one of the things that came into play- the basic buildings are kind of pastel and we want it to contrast with the Legion who are bright, bold and making a statement."

If design sense for a non-existent future that fans cling to almost religiously wasn't daunting enough, the Legion of Super-Heroes is famous (or infamous) for its large cast that lives up to its namesake. "The hardest part is getting to know them well enough," said Kitson, who is familiar with large groups of characters from his time on "JLA: Year One." "Especially when you're starting from scratch, because it takes a while to get to know how people's body language translates to their reactions on the page. The chance to get enough pages with character is restricted right now, but with the extra pages [each issue is 30 story pages long, instead of the standard 22] I think I'm there now. Hopefully people won't notice the bits where I look back and say 'Oh no' [laughs]."

There's been a lot of fan support for Kitson and Waid from the online readership, something Kitson attributes to being honest with fans, but there's still been some turned off by the idea of "another" reboot. When asked about the biggest misconceptions of the series, Kitson answers, "I honestly can't answer that [laughs]. I've come across small misconceptions and dealt with those by being honest. I mean, some people thought we were going to make the characters eleven years old! Their ages range from about fourteen into their early twenties. I think the long-time fans know we're doing this all out of love for the characters. To take on the Legion solely as a career move would probably not be that sensible [laughs]. Over the years people have said that anyone working on this book has to be slightly insane and maybe the core of that insanity is that you've got to love the book."

With the additional page count mentioned earlier, Kitson has a bit more of a workload than most artists on a single monthly book. Artist Leonard Kirk is providing fill in art for issue #4, but Kitson says he'll be on top of it all from hereon in. "I'm hoping we'll never have a fill in artist again. I mean, Leonard's great, but we started off with the mad idea that I'd be able to ink as well, but we learned our lesson fairly quickly. I think now with Mick Gray inking and Art Thibert working with us, we've come up with a way to avoid fill-ins as long as we can.

"Another part of the situation was that we [Kitson & Waid] spent an insanely long time designing the future, laying down three or four years of story ideas, using lead time we could have been getting ahead. It's going to pay off and we'll have a better book for it. By the time we get to issue #12, I'm hoping everyone will be psyched and will see that it isn't all just random idiocy."

The collaborations between Waid & Kitson are seen as highlights in the careers of both creators and Kitson explained why he thinks the two have such a great synergy. "I think we focus on a very strong sense of storytelling and beyond that we have a sort of old couple relationship," laughs Kitson. "It sometimes seems we don't initially agree on anything and we throw ideas back & forth between each other until we come up with something we're both happy with. That process makes things work and makes us work harder, because we have strong views we share with each other. Mark is very open about providing me outlines to let me get input and allowing comments back & forth so we can keep messing with storytelling right to the point where it goes to the printer. We come up with the basic plot together and Mark will write it. Sometimes it won't bear much resemblance to the one we discussed, as he'll have had a better idea and then I in yet more ideas. Over and over. Then I draw the thumbnails of the pages for Mark to look at and discuss. Next I'll draw up the pages which Mark will dialogue and we could go back & forth again, but I think 100% of the time Mark nails it perfectly"

Speaking briefly to CBR News, Waid said he couldn't be happier to work with Kitson on chronicling the tales of the greatest teens from the future. "Barry and I have such a great working relationship because he brings a depth of thought to the work that's refreshing. If there are things about the stories he questions, he questions them openly and as a true collaborator and--because he's, frankly, better read and probably smarter than I am, anyway--that alchemy invariably makes the stories better and stronger and the characters richer. Plus, the boy can draw."

Providing all goes according to plan, expect both creators to be on the book for a long time, said Kitson. "We're very much in for the long term providing DC doesn't decide we're doing something silly [laughs]. As far as Mark and I are concerned, we want to see our plans through, all three years and my favorite times have been on books I can mold. I love interacting with the fans and getting to know them. I've also never worked on a book where the company and fans have been so supportive- it means a lot to me."

With the book on stands in a just a few days, Kitson offers a few final words for potential buyers. "The only thing I can honestly give you as a teaser, for long time readers, don't expect to know what will happen. We're not re-telling old stories. If you like super-heroes, the book is full of them. They're all good characters. We've got a unique setting, a big scope and interesting take on superheroes. And it'll be fun. I like the idea of a bunch of teenagers with super powers; there's the soap opera; I think they look great [laughs]. Getting into Legion is getting to pick your favorites, love 'em and hate 'em, so it's a microcosm of life [laughs]. You'll never know what to expect, because we're making the rules so we can break them. If you like fun comics, if you like super heroes and you like big cosmic adventures, try 'Legion of Super-Heroes!'"

 
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