Time Trappers: Abnett & Lanning talk 'Legion' & help new fans get up to speed

Mon, March 18th, 2002 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

Send This to a Friend

Separate multiple email address with commas.

You must state your name.

You must enter your email address.

[Legion #8]
Legion #8
Since their 1999 commandeering of DC Comics' "Legion of Superheroes" franchise, DnA (the acronym for writing duo Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning) have turned around an ailing set of characters and set them back upon the road to greatness they once traversed in the past. DnA boldly brought both the "Legionnaires" and "Legion of Superheroes" series to an end, continuing the story in the 12 part maxi-series "Legion Lost" and then the 6 part mini-series "Legion Worlds." In 2001, DnA began a new ongoing series and "The Legion #1" was released in October 2001, continuing the plot threads built over the last two years and adding some shocking surprises. Their work has met with acclaim from all sorts of fans and professionals, while also earning a Harvey Award nomination of "Best New Series" for their newest series, "The Legion." It should also be noted that "Legion" was one of the few superhero comic books to earn any kind of nomination in this year's Harvey awards. But if you're one of the unlucky fans who hasn't had a chance to read "Legion" or are unsure of the concept, both Abnett and Lanning are quick to help explain the series to even the newest comic book fan, taking time out of their busy schedules to talk with CBR News

"The core concept of the series is that it's superhero sci-fi," Abnett told CBR News. "For something more detailed, try this:...a thousand years from now, an intergalactic culture known as the United Planets is protected from various threats by a large team of meta-powered young people called the Legion. Their membership is drawn from all the worlds in the UP, and the Legionnaires either exhibit unique powers (ie Invisible Kid or Ultra Boy) or (and this is more usual) a power based on one of the natural abilities of their homeworld, common to their people but 'superhuman' to others (ie Chameleon who comes from a planet of shapeshifters, Cosmic Boy who comes from a world where everyone has magnetic powers). Part of the fun derives from a sense of tradition - Legion was first published nearly forty five years ago as an off-shoot of the Superman comic, hence a slightly retro, Pulp-era feel to some of if (especially names....Invisible Kid, Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl) which we try to retain, though we've also worked hard to make it genuinely 'sci-fi' again. The other aspect of tradition is that Legion is set in the future of the DC Comics Universe, so that is to say it represents (sometimes reflecting clearly) the future of all the main DC superhero comics. The Legion itself was inspired by the noble memory of the great heroes of the past...Superman, JLA etc."

"There are lots of main characters...this is a big team," adds Lanning. "If it takes a team the size of the current JLA to protect present day Earth, imagine what you'd need to look after a multi-planet society. This could be seen as a downside, especially for newer readers, as there's a lot of characters to keep up with, but we've made sure everyone is clearly identified and distinct. The Legion itself is such a simple concept, it's a surprisingly easy book to pick up and follow. We've concentrated to begin with on a core team of about nine, but as we've picked up momentum, others are coming in."

The concept sounds exciting, but how do you know that you'll enjoy the series? Abnett and Lanning feel that the series has a broad appeal but single out some groups of readers who are especially likely to enjoy "Legion." "Readers who like epic scale sci-fi that nevertheless maintains a strong hold on individual characters too will enjoy our work," contends Lanning. "As will people who like team books like 'X-Men' or 'JLA.' Or people who like the DCU. Or readers who like to be kept on their toes." Abnett quickly jumps in and adds, " Or readers who like great art."

The Legion's past is full of acclaimed stories, from the "Great Darkness Saga" to the controversial "TMK" years, which one might assume puts more pressure on Abnett and Lanning to live up to the work of their predecessors. "We just do the stuff we'd like to read," says Abnett of any pressure on him or Lanning. "That seems to be working right now." Lanning agrees with Abnett, saying that the duo respects the past Legion stories and that on some level, they do influence the current run. "The older stories are always there, part of the tradition. "

Arguably one of the most exciting and well-received moments of DnA's work on the Legion occurred in "Legion Worlds #6," when the writing duo reintroduced the original feral berserker, Timber Wolf. Since the Legion's history - dating back to the 1950's - was erased and restarted as a result of DC's "Zero Hour" event in 1994, fan-favorite Brin Londo (aka Timber Wolf) has not graced the pages of this Legion's various series since that time. Once the advance cover for "Legion Worlds #6" hit the Internet, fans began to discuss how they wanted to see Brin portrayed, which incarnation in previous continuity was best and how he'd figure into the original storyline. Suffice it to say, most fan's fear were laid to rest when they read the issue and DnA's excitement for the character parallels the feeling of many fans. "The readers seem to be really happy to see him back. Remember, the original Timber Wolf was Wolverine before Logan was a cub," explains Abnett of Brin's historical significance. "But the new one isn't a Wolvie-clone. He's not a hard-bitten veteran with a dark past and skeletons in his closet. He's not (yet?) a Legion member, but he's got caught up in the story because of association with other Legionnaires. The Legionnaire Ultra Boy comes from a seedy world called Rimbor where he was a member of a street gang (in fact, his costume isn't a super hero costume, it's his gang colors), and Timber Wolf is a member of a rival gang. We haven't yet said where Wolf's 'powers' come from. But he's a noble guy with a strong sense of honor, and maybe sees his link to the Legion as a means of getting out of the criminal underworld he comes from."

Lanning also adds that just because Brin was a Legionnaire in previous incarnations of the team, it doesn't mean that things will work out perfectly and says, "Brin's a little rougher and 'nastier' than most Legion members. A loose cannon. They may not approve of his methods." Referencing Brin's meeting with Legionnaire Tinya Wazzo, Lanning adds, "His gang connection is going to cause problems because he's become a buddy of Ultra Boy's wife." Further whetting the appetites of Legion fans, Abnett adds: "I think he's also funny. He's got a good wit and he takes life as it comes. We'll see him and Apparition (Tinya, Ultra Boy's wife) in issue 9, which is all about them. And then...lots more!"

However, Timber Wolf is not the only character whom readers wish to return in the pages of "Legion." Two favorites, Sun Boy and the kind-hearted warrior Blok, consistently rank among the top requests of Legion fans in regards to characters who 'should' return to the Legion. However, after asking DnA about the possible return of these characters, one learns that these two are not about to divulge any of their secret plans. "Maybe," concedes Abnett. "We like to keep some surprises up our sleeves." Never missing an opportunity to make readers laugh, Lanning innocently asks, "Maybe we should combine them into a character called Sunblok?" and Abnett facetiously exclaims "I'm sold!"

Another highly debated character is the illusion casting snake - yes, an alien snake Legionnaire - named Sensor. However, it isn't the inclusion of a wholly alien creature that bothers many fans; it is the fact that she is the revamped version of the classic Princess Projectra humanoid character and hasn't retained many of her previous qualities, including her appearance. "Ah, Sensor," says Lanning, with his voice indicating that this is a subject he's given a lot of thought. "The thing with her is this: it seemed a great idea that some of the Legion members would be genuine aliens rather than humans or humanoids. This isn't Star Trek where aliens simply have to be actors with prosthetic foreheads. So, Sensor is a snake. But she is also a revised version of an old character who was a hot humanoid female and some older fans just can't reconcile the change." Abnett also asks that fans approach Sensor with an open mind and that they remember just how much they hated Monstess, the mighty female character who wasn't popular before DnA developed her and then killed her in "Legion Lost," resulting in many fans mourning her loss. "We took the book on after this redesign had been made, and so we simply stuck by it," explains Abnett. "There seems little point in trying to do over stuff that has already been done over. Much more interesting is the idea of making something out of a less-popular character. Take Monstress. When we took over "Legion," Monstress was deeply unpopular. We'd regularly get letters and posts demanding we bump her off. We actually liked her, and through 'Legion Lost' we did our best to make her an appealing, interesting character. When she died, tragically, at the end of 'Lost,' people were suddenly upset!" Lanning also adds that, "Sensor hasn't had much room to shine yet, but her role in the new Legion is going to be interesting, logical and vital."

[Legion #7]
Legion #7
One of the most exciting concepts introduced in "The Legion" is Legion World, which lives up to it's name: it is an artificially constructed planet that doubles as both a Legion HQ and place for alien races to mix together in harmony, working towards a greater understanding of each other. The concept is ripe with potential for intrigue, both political and action-based, which raises the question of how much readers will see this potential explore within each 22 page issue of "The Legion." Are DnA worried that they won't be able to balance the superheroics with all the facets of Legion World? "Uh, I'm worrying now that you bring it up," laughs Lanning. Abnett, on a more serious note, adds, "With a team dynamic this big and stories (not all but some) of epic size, there's going to be intrigue and political (with a small 'p') stuff going on all the time anyway. It's a soap-opera dynamic, really. So rather than that being a potential flaw of the book, it's part of its basic strength. In fact I don't think the Legion has been big enough until now (there's been a sense of an over-filled club house). Legion World gives them room at least...literally and metaphorically."

"The Legion" not only boasts creative additions like Legion World, but it is also the first time that DnA have written an ongoing Legion series since their debut on the franchise. However, if readers worry that the change in format might affect the duo's writing tempo, in terms of characterization or pacing for example, the writers assure them that such fears are misplaced. "Legion is now running pretty much the way we tried to establish it," explains Lanning. "A constant movement of main plot supported by economical but telling individual character threads. We just got nominated for a Harvey, so we must be doing something right."

That "something right" would seem to include making the series accessible, as orders on each of "Legion" have remained consistent, with some slight gains reported on pre-orders of the latest issue. Abnett and Lanning aren't worried that fans who're unfamiliar with the past Legion work will feel lost when reading the new series or lack an emotional connection to the characters. "I think issue one was a great place to start for anyone," says Abnett. "It tells you everything you need to know...or at least it sets up the concepts and perhaps makes you want to know more. I think it's as reader-friendly as any book around, certainly any team book." Lanning agrees with his writing buddy, adding that, "Maybe it'll send new readers back to the back issues...not to fill in gaps, but to flesh out stuff that's referred to. Really, the best jump-on point is always the latest issue."

They've also been able to end each issue of "The Legion" with a shocking cliffhanger, whether it be the possible death of some Legionnaires or the true identity of a central villain. While some people may think that DnA are trying to create some kind of short-term "shock value" with these cliffhangers, the writers deny the validity of that criticism. "This is a dynamic, action-based book, fast-paced, exciting," explains Lanning. "Thrills, spills and 'shocks' are the dramatic punctuation of that kind of story-telling. The point, the consequence, the punch line, the hook...otherwise it's just action followed by action followed by action..." Abnett nods in agreement and with a grin, he says, "It seems strange for an adventure comic to be criticized for being too thrilling. My favorite comics have always been the ones which keep me turning the page and buying the next issue to find out what's going to happen next. The shocks and surprises have to make complete sense of course, but if they make sense and you STILL didn't see them coming, that's got to be good, hasn't it?"

If you haven't been reading "The Legion" or you don't read DC's early solicitations, this paragraph may spoil one of the most shocking moments in DnA's Legion run. The Legion's antagonist, Leland McCauley, assumed control of Earthgov shortly after a group of Legionnaires were presumed dead, though in reality they were alive as chronicled in "Legion Lost," and he has been a thorn in the Legion's side since then. But few, if any, readers expected that McCauley was actually not McCauley and the last page of "Legion #3" came as a shock. It turns out that R'as Al Ghul, one of Batman's arch-nemises, has been posing as the Earthgov President for some time and has plans to radically alter life on Earth. "Everyone loved it. People have usually guessed who the hidden villain is going to be," says an ecstatic Lanning. "Not this time...and by making it a big player like Ra's, it had power too." Abnett also contends that choosing a popular 21st century villain like R'as can also be seen as a tip of the hat to the Legion's past. "Acknowledging the link with the 'past' DCU is a strength, I think. It makes it feel like the 'real' future rather than something that has nothing to do with current continuity."

But "McCauley" isn't the only subplot affecting the Legion. They've also got to deal with the menacing Robotica, a high tech alien force that is slowly following the universe; teammates Ferro and Karate Kid are lost in another dimension, for at least another few years; forces in the "Lost" universe have formed a parochial, racist group called the Credo; and McCauley's right hand man Venge has been shown to have a few of his own secrets. But is this too much for a new reader to handle all at once? "Space is big, the UP is big, the team is big," answers Abnett. "There HAS to be a lot going on. I dont think it will confuse readers. I think it's..." Lanning says "...textured?" but Abnett completes his statement by saying, "I was going to say 'rich'." Another subplot, revisited slightly in "Legion #4 & #5" is the idea that Legionnaires Live Wire and Element Lad may not be dead, despite strong indications in "Legion Lost #12" to the contrary. "Can't and won't say they'll be returning or not, but there is more of that story to play out," teases Abnett. "Certainly, if Garth came back from the dead just like that (in typical superhero fashion) it would lessen the impact of the 'Lost' story."

Readers have undoubtedly seen a change in pacing and focus with "The Legion" when compared to DnA's previous Legion work: this series seems more action packed and fast paced, as opposed to the methodical character studies in each issue of "Legion Lost." But if the series seems a bit too light on characterization for new readers, Lanning says that this is all a part of the plan and adds, "The series will be a mix of main story arcs and personal threads, a balance. We just wanted to get things off to a flying start." And while Abnett admits that the team will get "pretty big," Lanning reminds readers that each character will be fleshed out and developed as a unique, interesting facet of the Legion team. "The team will get big as Dan says, but never unmanageable. The focus will zoom in and out from group to smaller group to individual and back as the stories demand."

One of the highlights of DnA's Legion run has been the art by Olivier Coipel, interviewed earlier exclusively with CBR, whose unique stylings have raised a lot of eyebrows among fandom. "Olivier's getting better and better," says Lanning, who also inks the work of the artist he praises. "I don't know if our relationship has evolved as such. We just don't ever fear he's going to fail to deliver." But Coipel isn't an artist who can currently produce 12 comic books a year, leaving DnA to find fill in artists for the times when Coipel is running a bit late. Originally Mike McKone, artist of Marvel Comic's "Exiles," was tapped to be the fill-in artist but "Legion #5" featured Peter Snejbjerg instead. "Mike was unavailable at the time," explains Abnett of McKone's absence. "Peter's work, with its expressive characters, tangible atmosphere and superb use of solid blacks, is great. I worked with him before (on 'Lords of Misrule') and I'm a fan. He was ideal for the Kwai-space story." Lanning reveals that Snejbjerg is not the only artist lined up to do guest illustrations on "The Legion" and adds, "We have some other interesting people lined up for the occasional fill-in."

Eyebrows have also been raised at the perceived "sexualizing" of the Legion, at least visually, and to some this is epitomized by heroine Spark changing her clothes on panel in "Legion #3." While nothing indecent was shown, a handful of readers have expressed the feeling that the Legion females are a bit too scantily clad, especially when looking at Umbra and Kid Quantum's costumes. "Actually, that was just something Olivier drew because he realized Spark was yet to get in costume," explains Abnett. "So it was far more smart continuity keeping by Oli than it was gratuitous cheesecake." Lanning also poses a question to those who have a problem with the visual depiction of the female Legionnaires: "Everyone's in skin-tight suits, why pick on the girls?"

Overall, Lanning and Abnett are extremely happy with their work on "Legion" and the sales show that they are connecting with their audience. "We've added to sales," says Abnett. "The book's in fine shape." So with a book getting so much acclaim and rising in sales, why aren't there any tradepaperback collections of their early Legion work? "There now seems to be a good chance," admits Lanning. "It's all to do with sales and positive fan response." But Abnett cautions fans that this doesn't mean we'll necessarily see a slew of Legion merchandise in the future: "No idea, I'm afraid. You'd have to ask DC." Lanning once again jumps in, adding that the duo is extremely happy with DC's support for their efforts. "They've always been hugely supportive. Editorially, we've had great support from Mike [McAvennie, 'Legion' editor], and from Mike Carlin. Paul Levitz [considered by many to be the greatest 'Legion' writer ever] was also very kind and open when we had an inspirational chat with him. I think the support commercially is increasing too now. Promotion has always been with us, and they're getting behind us even more now the book's taking off."

Lanning says that future issues of "Legion" are "gonna be great: a lot of foreshadowing clues are there" and Abnett adds, "For the reasons we've already given, we hate to give stuff away." The duo also have special messages to send to their fans, in addition to their thanks for the overwhelming support from Legion fandom:

Dan: Same time next month!


Andy: Bring a friend!

 
CBR News