Thursday, October 09, 2008

How I learned to stop worrying and love the 9-Panel Grid:

Although I had been exposed to it at a young age, I never bought the Legion of Super Heroes on a regular basis until the first issue of the 1989 series, the "Five Years Later" era. Previously, I had read random, older issues; or the digest reprints of the Adventure Comics era; or occasional issues depending on the character featured. Legion had never struck me as a book I absolutely had to read every month, before or since. Why did this one strike home with me?
It wasn't the art, at least, not at first. Giffen uses the nine-panel grid page almost exclusively, and some of his only exceptions were title pages to signify a new chapter in the series, like "Five Years Later" or "The Terra Mosiac." Early in the series, there are a couple issues that don't use the 9-panel throughout, usually to signify a flashback (issue #8) or a tonal shift (#11, one of the first Tenzil Kem/Matter Eater Lad issues, the comedy issues between tragedies). I've wanted to scan some art from this series for a while, but out of context, it's hard to get at what's going on.
And there was a ton going on. Set five years after the last issue of the previous Legion series, Earth has left the United Planets, the Legion has disbanded, and several of it's members have been through a lot since then.
Now, of course this was well before the Internet and spoilers and everything else, but there's just a heavy feeling of menace from this series. The future used to be shiny and bright and awesome, and while it wasn't a post-apocalyptic ruin, it was in pretty bad shape now. It's different reading these issues today, since at the time they had...pressure. What happened to these characters? What was going to happen? You didn't know. You had to piece a little bit together each month, and while it was occasionally frustrating, Giffen's Legion was a book that rewarded repeat reading. c
Not to say there weren't problems: there's a Mordru magic reboot and some heavy continuity surgery in the first few issues, and several plot points that hinge on Adventure Comics stories I've still never seen. There are numerous points that are either red herrings, or not returned to for years, which is the downside to having a cast of bazillions.

And there were some heartbreakers in there early: longtime fan favorite Phantom Girl, killed off-panel in the missing five years. (You can argue whether or not it was a refridgerator-stuffing, as her death changes Ultra Boy/Jo Nah quite a bit.) Hedonistic ladykiller Sun Boy, now a sellout traitor. Cosmic Boy, a founder and Legion mainstay, now powerless. Timber Wolf, mutated into the mute beast Furball. Mon-El's most heroic moment...right before he gets all the Superboy references taken out and reworked into Lar Gand, a name that sounds like it was pulled out of a hat.
rBut the upside is, Legion of Super Heroes once again became a book with drama and super-heroics and adventure and science fiction and romance and horror and comedy. It was a big book, containing if not multitudes, a hell of a lot. Even though I've lost and repurchased some of them more than once, I still pull the Five Years Later issues out every so often for an afternoon's read. Giffen wasn't there for the whole thing, but until the next reboot (the "threeboot," I think) it ran about sixty regular issues, or five years. Fitting.

I'm at best a dilettante on Legion matters: there is a ton of great blogging about the Legion, and DC could do a lot worse than listening to them. This post has been in the draft pile for a while, since when I loaded it, I was hoping it would pop up as a nine-panel grid page. Oh, well.


The Fortress Keeper said...

I liked the 5 Years Later Legion as well. It seemed to me like it packed all the bizarre Adventure Comic stuff into a grim 'n' gritty package that, for once at least, actually achieved its goal of emulating more mature science fiction.

A lot of Legion die-hards hate it though.

Sea_of_Green said...

Hmmm, I was never a big Legion fan. Could that be the reason why I was fond of the Giffen run as well?

dmstarz said...

If only we could have more nine panel grids today instead of comic books that take about 30 seconds to read. Sighs.

Siskoid said...

Big fan of 5YL too.

The threeboot though, was after the Zero Hour reboot, which was after 5YL (not technically a reboot, but a retcon, at least after the issue where the Time Trapper is replaced in the timeline by Glorith). Ow my head.

googum said...

Grife! Which one is the Legion on now? Currently, it seems kind of hung up on the seventies Grell/Cockrum version, really.

I would love to have a LSH character like "Continuity King" or "Timestream Lad," someone who's only power is the ability to see changes in the timestream. He or she wouldn't be a major player, and would probably just wander around muttering angrily, but it would be a nod to old stories...