…the Legion of Super-Heroes, post cancellation?

Our host Nathan graciously invited me to share my thoughts about How to Fix the Legion of Super-Heroes as part of the discussion following this article. In case you don’t know me, I regularly hold forth on the Legion over at Legion Abstract, but I’ve never specifically answered this question before. It takes on added weight, though, now that the comic book has actually been cancelled (which happened after I finished the first draft of this article) as of August.

But you know the real problem with the Legion?

It’s not broken.

There’s nothing to fix.

Okay, good article! Thanks, Nathan! See you ’round! That was easy!

Or perhaps I will elaborate. See, here’s the thing. With most superhero teams, we have some idea of the rules for how to tell good stories about those teams. For instance: in a Justice League comic, we want a membership that includes at least some of DC’s most famous and powerful heroes, working together against a large-scale threat. Well, DC’s writers have, over the years, developed some highly identifiable rules for how to get the Legion right:

1. The Legion is a group of superheroes.
2. There are many Legionnaires.
3. Being a Legionnaire is a special thing.
4. Legionnaires don’t all have overwhelming superpowers, but combine their more modest talents through teamwork to be effective.
5. The Legionnaires started their heroic careers as teenagers.
6. The Legion lives in the distant future.
7. The future setting of the Legion is an optimistic one, and so is the Legion’s outlook.
8. The future setting of the Legion is one in which space travel is common and there is abundant life on other planets.
9. The Legionnaires were the best friends of Clark Kent when he was a teenager, and helped him learn how to be a superhero.
10. Either directly or indirectly, the Legion represents the legacy of Superman ten centuries in the future.
11. The Legionnaires are the champions of diversity, and against xenophobia, in their society.
12. In Legion comics, characters can experience permanent change.

It’s hard to mess up this recipe, and in fact there aren’t a lot of examples of Legion comics where it did get messed up. The incumbent Legion writer is Paul Levitz, who knows how to get the Legion right arguably better than anybody else does, and who might be the most beloved of all Legion writers (unless Jim Shooter is).

So everything must be fine! Right? But no. Because:

1. While Levitz is indisputably competent at writing the Legion, most of his recent output has lacked what one might call the fire (with the exception of the last few issues, which benefited from the contributions of another guy who knows how to get the Legion right, Keith Giffen). It just hasn’t been all that interesting.
2. There’s a perception among comics fans that Legion comics are, because of the large cast and long, convoluted continuity, impenetrable to new readers.
3. Sales are low.

The fix for 1. is easy to describe, but difficult to accomplish in practice: replace Levitz with another writer, one who is good, has some star power, and who has something to say about the Legion. The fix for 2. is very tricky, because, while it’s true that there is a lot of convoluted continuity in the Legion’s past (which we don’t need to go into here!), in practice that continuity does not get in the way or make the comic books hard to read. In particular, Paul Levitz has bent over backwards to make this version of the Legion extremely new-reader-friendly. He provided a lot of introductory material, back in Adventure Comics before it was cancelled, and in the Legion: Secret Origins miniseries. He’s shaved down the cast of characters a little bit. He’s provided some new Legionnaires to act as viewpoint characters for new readers. But the perception remains.

It would be nice to believe that, if DC could solve problems 1. and 2., that problem 3. would go away along with them. I don’t know if it’s true, though. I don’t know if there are enough people out there who want to read about the Legion of Super-Heroes.

A few years ago, the prescription would have been obvious. Remember the period of time from, I’m going to say, about 2000 through 2006, when Legion comics featured the reboot, or “post-Zero-Hour”, Legion, and then after that the threeboot, or “Waid-and-Kitson” Legion? Many fans spoke loud and clear: they wanted the original Legion back. They didn’t love these new versions the way they loved the ones they had grown up with. If DC wanted to make a big success out of the Legion, they would have to bring back the version of the team that Paul Levitz wrote about back in the ’80s.

And DC brought them back (or, at least, they brought back a version that was close enough to the ’80s version that most readers accepted them as such). And, eventually, Paul Levitz stepped down as publisher to write the comic again. The nostalgic faction of fans had been given exactly what they wanted.

Except, once they saw it, it turned out they didn’t want it that much, and DC eventually pulled the plug on the title. So where do you go from there? You’re not gonna get many old readers back by bringing in the reboot and threeboot Legions, I know that much (Some, yes, some of us would love it; I’d love it). And it won’t attract new readers either.

Is it, then, time for DC to give up on the Legion?

I’m going to say “no”, and here’s why.

First, DC doesn’t have so many properties that are as potentially successful as the Legion that they can afford to let one lie fallow.

Second, the Legion is a big property. We’re talking about an entire setting, with about a hundred notable characters, that have been featured in half a century’s worth of stories. That’s too much intellectual property to basically abandon.

Third, and this is one that I’m not sure about, but it sounds plausible, the word “superhero” appears in the title, and DC needs to publish something at least every now and then with the word “superhero” in the title in order to hang on to their (jointly held with Marvel) trademark on the word “superhero”. I have heard that this is true; I do not know that it is true.

Fine, then, we’ll save it.

(I’ve seen the idea in more than one place that the Legion needs some time off. That DC should just leave it alone for a few years, so when they bring it back, the new version will get a real fresh start and the audience won’t bring the baggage of the previous series to it. I can see the sense of this. But… I for one don’t need to take a break, and if the Legion was gone for a few years I would miss them like hell. That’s just me, though.)

There is, of course, one simple fix that would solve everything immediately. We could just turn the whole enterprise over to Art Baltazar and Franco. (For that matter, Christopher Bird has his own thoughts on what should be done, and we could do worse than to give him a shot.) Or maybe we could move the Legion franchise from regular DC to Vertigo; I could see that working.

Whichever lucky writer gets tagged in to make this comic book work, they’d be well advised to follow these constraints.

1. This is in part a science fiction comic book. It’s not just superhero space opera. Science fiction elements are both appropriate and welcome in Legion comics.

2. The Legion roster needs to be both large and diverse. Male and female Legionnaires, Legionnaires of any and every race, Legionnaires who are straight and gay and everything else, Legionnaires who are human and humanoid and nonhuman and noncorporeal and artificial. There’s no excuse for not doing this; it’s a basic necessity of the premise of the Legion.

3. Now, you don’t have to put all these characters in the spotlight. Pick maybe four or five Legionnaires to focus on, and have the others be supporting or walk-on characters. Background. This is not the way Legion comics have been done in the past, and some longtime fans may be ticked off about it, but in the interests of accessibility I think it’s the way to go.

4. I think it’d also be advisable to provide some kind of inflection point in the story, so that what comes after is clearly distinguishable from what came before. (The way Giffen and the Bierbaums separated off their Five Years Later run.) Not a reboot, you understand, just a clear boundary.

5. As it happens, I have an idea for this inflection point. This is just what I’d do, you understand; any other writer might have a different scheme. My idea is the advent of the megaverse. The megaverse is all parallel dimensions existing as one. So the Legion’s future merges with all the other possible futures of the DC universe into one big future, one which contains dozens of versions of the Legion itself, some new and some old. So, all previous continuity is true, whether it’s contradictory or not, and the potential cast of characters is huge (but see points 2 and 3).

6. Superboy (or Superman) and Supergirl should play a real but limited role in this comic book. That connection to Superboy is important to a lot of readers, and it’s also one that works well for the Legion, in small doses. (Making Bart Allen a Legionnaire is also not a bad idea. Plus I’d love it if you could use Jordana Gardner, the Teen Lantern, from that one issue of the cartoon-tie-in comic Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century.)

7. Accessibility to new readers is going to be the most important thing, so all of this continuity that’s available to us should be strongly strongly deemphasized. No dwelling on the past; no revisiting previous plotlines; no nostalgia. You can keep old fans happy by portraying the characters well and giving them good stories to be in.

8. Again, to aid accessibility, for the first year or two of this new Legion era, all of the stories will be done-in-one. No huge arcs to make it hard for fans to jump on. Each individual issue will be a complete Legion of Super-Heroes story. This does not preclude subplots that build over several issues, but a reader should be able to pick up any comic book and read it without needing a previous comic to explain what’s going on, and enjoy it, and…

9. DC should make it crystal-pepsi-clear to everyone in the world that this comic book is new-reader-friendly. The cover of the first issue should be nothing but a big caption that says, “You Don’t Need to Have Ever Read A Legion Comic in Your Life to be Able to Understand This One”, or something along those lines. And maybe use that same sentence as a banner on all future covers, and at the top and bottom of every page of every comic. With luck, the message will get through to at least some of the readers.

10. There are ways DC could help support this new Legion comic. They could
a) release one of their direct-to-DVD features starring the Legion
b) give them their own TV show again (the previous TV version of the Legion being an acceptable proof-of-concept)
c) have a big crossover event where the characters from other DC titles are unexpectedly flung into the 31st-century megaverse and interact with the Legion.
In all of these cases, of course, you’d have to use basically the same version of the Legion that you’re using in the main Legion comic. It’d just be confusing otherwise, and against the spirit of the enterprise. And, of course, you have to make it good; there’s no substitute for that.

And let’s not ignore the art. The Legion has usually had excellent artists over the years. But some have been more successful than others at portraying the future, and only a few have really been able to put across their own vision of what the future looks like (I’m thinking of Dave Cockrum, Keith Giffen, Barry Kitson, and maybe Olivier Coipel). It would be strongly advisable to find another artist who could do that, and if the artist is already famous, and has an existing fan following, so much the better.

I guess what I’m really saying is this. DC doesn’t need to fix the Legion. What they need to do is stop fixing it and start selling it.

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…Cable’s origin?

Figure 00_prophetcable1

Rob Liefeld had originally planned for Cable to be a traveller from thousands of years in the future who journeyed back to our time to combat specific menaces that threatened the future of the Marvel Universe, intending Kang the Conqueror as chief among these threats.  To support this Rob reveals, in Prophet/Cable #1, that Prophet was originally intended to be a police officer from the future sent by Kang, a warlord in his era, to bring back Cable.  While this never came to be, here’s my attempt to increase his importance in the wider Marvel Universe… but with a twist;)

In Chris Claremont’s End of Greys tale the Shi’ar, in an effort to prevent the manifestation of the Phoenix through her descendants, decide to end Rachel Grey’s line by having their Death Commandos slay the entire Grey family (cf. Uncanny X-Men #467-468).

Figure 01_Uncanny X-Men V1 468 - 11

In Uncanny X-Men #468, Rachel wonders why the Shi’ar missed Cable when he’s her carries the genes of her mother’s clone.

Figure 02_Uncanny X-Men V1 468 - 21

We know the Shi’ar have technology far exceeding anything even Mr. Sinister would possess in determining Cable’s lineage, and yet they choose not to involve him in their purge.

Figure 03_Cable V1 06

This would seem to put an end to the erroneous argument that Cable is the offspring of Jean Grey’s clone…

Figure 04_mother of Nathan Summers, Madelyne Pryor_Uncanny X-Men V1 241

…and goes along with his creator Rob Liefeld’s own hope “that one day, the Askani aspect will be revealed as a dream, a hoax or an imaginary story and that Cable’s true identity will be revealed” (Robservations XI: The Secret Origin of Cable)

Interestingly Chris Claremont also contended on Comixfan that it was never his intention for Rachel to evolve into “Mother Askani”!

Figure 05_Rachel as Mother Askani_Cable V1 23

So here I am again with a solution, this time for how the Askani aspect of Cable’s origin can be revealed as inaccurate.

Figure 06_Soldier X 08

I’d do this by firstly suggesting that young Nathan Christopher Summers and Cable are not the same being.

Figure 07_Nathan Summers of Earth-161

Okay then!

Endgame” did happen, and I felt I should make it work, so in line with Fabian et. al., I’d retain the account that young Nathan Christopher Summers was infected by Apocalypse because the Celestial caretaker had been advised that the infant would somehow prevent his ascension.

Figure 08_Nathan infected by Apocalypse

Hence Askani appears on the scene and offers to take him through time to cure him of the infection.

Figure 09_Askani takes Nathan to cure

However, in line with Claremont’s contention that Askani might not have been intended to be from 4000 AD, I’d instead reveal Cable was from the alternate world, Warlord’s Earth, where Nathaniel Richards dwelt.

Figure 10_What If v2 39 p10

I say alternate world because in X-Factor #67 on page 6, the world that Apocalypse rules (and Askani hails from) is referred to as “Sidereal scantime.” So it’s a SIDE REALITY, as Other Earth is.

Figure 11_X-Factor 67_Sidereal

I’d further reveal the Askani Sisterhood as a future version of the matriarchal society of the Eyrie on Warlord’s Earth, as shown by John Byrne in Fantastic Four #273.

Figure 12_Eyriennes from Fantastic Four 273

Upon being cured of his techno-organic infection, I’d propose the Askani placed him in the care of this timeline’s Richards clan who are descendants of this timeline’s Franklin Richards and Rachel Grey.

Nathan Christopher Summers is hence raised as a Richards to protect his identity from Clan Akkaba’s spies who will stop at nothing to kill him since he is destined to become Apocalypse’s greatest enemy.

2eb4gnt

Young Nathan is then secretly trained in the use of his powers, in much the same way 1A trained Magnus the Robot Fighter (but perhaps still ignorant of his true identity).

Figure 13_1A training Magnus the Robot Fighter

Upon discovering the truth, he embraces his destiny, and travels back in time to become Rama-Tut with the aim of preventing the High Lord from becoming “all-powerful”.

Figure 14_FF273_Kang

Unfortunately, in an ironic twist, the Fantastic Four return to the same period…

Figure 15_Fantastic Four's arrival in ancient Egypt_Fantastic Four V1 19

…and it is their interference…

Figure 16_Rama-Tut's defeat_Fantastic Four V1 19

…that prevents Rama-Tut from stopping Apocalypse before he begins his meteoric rise to power.

Figure 17_Apocalypse rise to power in Egypt

As for Cable’s true identity, around the same time as his introduction there was another character in the Marvel Universe having similar features.

That is, Nathaniel Richards Senior – Reed’s father.

Figure 18_Fantastic Four V1 375 - 45

In addition, Cable regularly used the Askani curse-phrase “stab his eyes”…

Figure 20_Cable Blood-Metal 02 - 28

…and when Nathaniel was reintroduced during Tom De Falco’s run on Fantastic Four he was teaching Franklin curses including “Stab my eyes”…

Figure 21_Fantastic Force 09 - 16

….which seemed to imply that the reality he raised his grandson in was one where the Askani held sway.

This could further resolve why Cable’s first name is Nathan.

But fret not!  I’m not suggesting this is because he is Nathan Richards Senior…

…rather that he is the unnamed son from Nathaniel Richards Senior’s marriage to Cassandra, Warlord of Otherworld.

Figure 22_Fantastic Four V1 272 - 21

Figure 22_Fantastic Four V1 272 - 22

While completely out there, look at the similarities in their armour; that worn by Cable during New Mutants #90…

Figure 23_New Mutants v1 90

…and moreso during the Sabotage X-Over in X-Force #3…

Figure 24_X-Force v1 03 - 09

…and Spider-Man #16…

Figure 25_Spider-Man V1 16 - 12Figure 26_Spider-Man V1 16 - 13

Figure 27_Spider-Man V1 16 - 16-17

…was almost identical to Nathaniel Richards Senior’s psi-armour worn during flashbacks in Fantastic Four #390 (p. 10)…

Figure 25_Fantastic Four V1 390 - 11

…and #393 (p. 4).

Figure 29_Fantastic Four V1 393 - 04

I would posit that Cable’s armour was meant to be psi-armour rather than generic (which could be used in concert with his telekinesis to absorb Juggernaut impacts), and this is the reason it looked so similar to that worn by Richards.

This would further explain why, as stated in Cable’s costume specifications in his Marvel Universe Master Edition #3 entry, the various suits of body armour he wore were of “unknown composition”.

Figure 25

Furthermore, the armour worn by Reed Richards during his “battle-in-time” with Dr. Doom during Fantastic Four #352 was extremely similar to that worn by Nathaniel and Cable.

Fantastic Four V1 352 - 12

So Cable wears this trademark armour due to his being the son and heir of Nathaniel Richards Senior and a time-traveller like his father, since that would appear to be the function of that worn by both Nathaniel and Reed; and claims affiliation with Cyclops and Nathan Summers as a cover story.

Why?

Maybe Nathaniel Senior discovers the destiny of young Nathan Christopher Summers, and raises his and Cassandra’s unnamed son to travel to Earth-616 and begin involving himself in missions that would eventually suggest to Apocalypse that he was in fact young Nate.

In this way they could prevent Apocalypse from realising what the Richards Clan were really up to.  That is, training Nathan Summers to go back in time and prevent his rise as Rama-Tut.

I feel the revelation of Cable being a Richards would also fulfil Rob Liefeld’s plan of his being a technologically advanced time-traveller with a strong science background (since science certainly runs in the Richards family).

This is why Reed’s father, at times, appears enigmatic and his occasional machinations seem opposed to the Fantastic Four.  Nathaniel Sr. can’t reveal the truth to them for fear that Apocalypse may discover the truth.  That and he is still miffed at their interference in preventing Rama-Tut from putting a stop to Apocalypse.

As mentioned above Claremont’s End of Greys storyline puts an end to the argument that Cable is the offspring of Jean Grey’s clone.

In addition, it is more likely, as I suggest, that Cable hails from an alternate earth, rather than the far flung future of 4000 AD. Cable can still be a time-traveller and travel from Earth-6311 to Earth-616, as time machines have previously been proven to be able to access both realities.

It is further doubtful that Cable travelled from this future to our present, since after Pryde’s Time-Switch, the Hierarchy set in motion appropriate counter-measures installing Ahab and his Sentinels and Hounds at the temporal Nexus to prevent any further time travel from the future back to the modern era…

Figure 29

…so Cable would have been prevented from travelling from the future to our era prior to 1990.

While one could argue that Bishop had done the same, this was only after Claremont had Ahab defeated and Cable had arrived in our era prior to this.

If we maintain Cable was a alternity traveller, this further supports my theory that he did not come from the 4000 AD, but rather the period of Warlord’s Earth that Nathaniel Richards Sr. had settled in (hence my positing above that he is Nathaniel’s other unnamed son, by way of Cassandra).

All that’s left to figure out now is how Cable knew the Master of the Hounds, Ahab in Uncanny X-Men Annual #14 (and no I don’t believe the two were originally intended to be the same character and here is my reason why).

Postscript: What would make this whole scenario perfect for me is for the Shi’ar to eventually make an attempt on one of the incarnations of Nathaniel Richards Jr., whether that be Rama-Tut, Kang or Immortus.