Legion of Super-Heroes #23 came out last week ... the end of the Legion.
There certainly have been blips and pauses in the Legion's history, some months without stories of this storied team. But somehow this one seems more final. In a New 52 world painted only grimy and gritty, an optimistic future and a team like the Legion seems out of place. Even some creators have talked about the Leigion as if it were toxic, Keith Giffen swearing that JLA3K will be nothing like the Legion and there won't be visits to Braal (as if the planet's name is a dirty word).
That's right, a darker and grimmer JLA3K will take the place of the Legion.
Perhaps what is sadder is that this title tried to become rougher, filling the last story with meaningless death and destruction, trying to shove the square peg of the Legion into the round hole of the New 52. As a result, this last Legion story is about as un-Legion as you can get. It truly saddens me that this issue is the headstone for the franchise because there is no optimism, no team spirit, no love in this issue. And for those Legion fans who have stuck it out, we at least deserved that. Instead we got death, despair, and disbanding.
Sure there are some familiar beats and one major continuity wrinkle but the thing that stuck out for me was some of the dialogue here. There are plenty of lines that sound like they could be coming from writer Paul Levitz or even long time readers, lamenting what has happened to this team and, metatextually, this book.
The art here is by one of my favorites Kevin Maguire and he brings his usual panache of facial expression and clean lines. I wonder if he got this gig because he was originally named as the artist for JLA3K before the title was considered too dark for him.
This book ended. The Legion are basically in comic limbo right now. And I didn't even get a 'Long Live the Legion!' Enough intro. On to the book.
The book starts on Shanghalla, the floating cemetery for heroes. Polar Boy and Invisible Kid are mourning Sun Boy, whose head was crushed in a crash and whose body was eaten by aliens. Dream Girl is mourning the passing of her beloved Star Boy, who was killed by falling debris while the team tried to escape Earth.
Do either of those deaths sound heroic? Or maybe asking differently, did those characters deserve a 'better' death?
But it was Dream Girl's line that stuck out to me ... words I have thought and word I bet Levitz said himself. In her worst nightmares, she never foretold a future as desolate as this one. I hear you Nura. I do. Because this is about as dark a Legion I have read outside of the 5YL series (which I know I liked).
We then head to Earth which appears to simply be a pile of rubble. Maybe the 31st century has a bunch of Wall-E's to cube it all up.
As much as I thought the deaths of Star Boy and Sun Boy were meaningless, I think the loss of Phantom Girl seems cruel. Phantom Girl had just been elected Legion Leader when this storyline erupted. At the time I thought it was a great pick. Tinya is level-headed and a veteran. This would be her chance to shine.
Instead, the last memory we have of her is crying, completely hysterical, as she takes a one way trip back to Bgztl. And Ultra Boy, her long-time love, has to hold on to hope that she is alive somewhere. As it is, Colossal Boy thinks that Yera is dead because she was part of the Legion Lost gang, still marooned in present time, yet another sad ending for those characters.
In the meantime, Brainiac 5 has a plan to bring it all back together. This seems to be motivated out of guilt as we learn it is original Brainiac tech that made Tharok so formidable. When he complains that Shadow Lass is taking Mon-El away to help him heal (yet another lousy ending for an esteemed Legionnaire, ripped to pieces and in a coma), Luornu puts him in his place. He isn't the leader so he should stop acting like it.
There has always been history between these two. And Brainiac does seem to have a knack for unleashing horrors onto the universe - Computo and Omega included. So I like that she has the guts to confront him ngrily but then has that anguished look in the last panel - classic Maguire. If any Legionnaire has improved in the recent years, it's Luornu. She is tough!
I also think that Maguire cues you in on which clone this is of Luornu by the number of holes in her boot.
Sifting through the rubble of the destroyed Legion headquarters, Bouncing Boy finds Superman's shirt, one that has been speared. At first I thought it might be from the famous death duel with Doomsday, explaining why they formed the Legion in a Superboy-less New 52. But more on this later.
Ahat did strike me was Brainy's line, again which I think is some meta-textual jab by Levitz. Why do we have to worry about an irrelevant past ... that being DC's present. He's right. This current DCU feels irrelevant. And the gritty present seems like poor soil to grow something like the Legion from.
As if things weren't bad enough, Science Police officer Gigi Cusimano arrives to say the United Planets are disbanding the Legion. That's that.
This is the last page of the story proper. No rallying cry to stay together and fight evil. No 'you can't kill an idea; Long Live The Legion!"
The last page is Cusimano telling a distraught Element Lad that the Legion is over, as she walks amidst what remains of their headquarters.
Is this really the ending this book, this team, this franchise deserved?
Does even this book have to end downbeat, bleak as the door closes on it?
Levitz does give us some epilogues to roll through our heads.
First is Nura, feeling out of place on Naltor.
Again, is she speaking for Levitz or me when she says the whole thing feels like a bad dream.
And then the curveball.Dou Damsel and Bouncing Boy talk about how maybe on other universes the Legion is doing better. That maybe everything is brighter and more hopeful. After all, in this universe, Superman was killed by Steppenwolf!
Wait a second ....
That means that in this New 52, the Legion is set in Earth 2's future.
It seems wrong that the Legion can't exist as the primary future for DC's main Earth any longer. Of course, this opens the door for JLA3K to be written on a blank slate with no worries of Legion continuity.
But this opens up some cans of worms. The Legion's continuity has seemed to be unaffected by most timeline-altering events like Crisis, Infinite Crisis, and the New 52. But this puts in a big wrinkle. How do we corroborate past stories? Or do we not?
Does this mean Brainiac 5 had a crush on the Earth 2 Supergirl, now Power Girl? Does this mean the Legion Lost characters not only went back in time but jumped Earths as well? They definitely were on the prime Earth.
I still think it feels wrong, like a slap in the face that this team which has been around for 5 decades isn't worthy of the future's top billing any more.
At least Levitz ends it with the original three, relaxing on Winath.
But again he waxes philosophical, wondering if this timeline is the only one or if the Legion lives elsewhere, in other universes and other dreams. I would hate to think that this is the end of the characters. In my mind, this is so poor an ending, I might try to forget all this happened.
I bet Levitz also thinks about other places and worlds where the Legion can remain a team for good in a bright and positive future land.
As I said, this isn't the first time the Legion has been shelved. The Baxter series ended with the Magic Wars storyline, opening the door for the more dystopian Five Years Later run. The stories are similar in tone. In this arc, technology stops working because magic takes over, leaving the galaxy in ruins even after the enemy is vanquished. But look at the end page of that series, the Legionnaires together, proud and strong, reunited and ready to still fight the never-ending battle. This is a far cry from a small Element Lad trudging through garbage.
And so a chapter of my comic life comes to an end. My guess is the Legion characters are going to be considered too toxic to touch for a while. Heck. maybe there will be a true Five Years Later. Maybe in 2018, someone at DC will realize that there is a whole team of characters with great history and depth collecting dust, a team worth another chance.
Look, I wholly admit that this book, while under Levitz, has been pretty stale for the last several years. But I don't think the characters need to be completely shelved.
And I certainly think they deserved much better than this.