25 July 2016

Revolutionary Reading: An Examination of the Legion of Super-Heroes Threeboot, Part IV: Adult Education

Comic trade paperback, 190 pages
Published 2007 (contents: 2005-07) 

Acquired February 2016
Read May 2016
Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes: Adult Education

Writer: Mark Waid with Tony Bedard and Stuart Moore
Pencils/Layouts: Barry Kitson
Additional Pencils: Adam DeKraker, Ken Lashley, Pat Olliffe, Dale Eaglesham
Inks: Mick Gray, Rob Stull, Rodney Ramos, Greg Parkin, Livesay, Art Thibert
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano, Jared K. Fletcher, Travis Lanham, Phil Balsman
Colors: Nathan Eyring, Richard & Tanya Horie

This collection includes two stories that directly pick up on and work with the idea we've seen throughout the series, that this version of the Legion of Super-Heroes was inspired by the DC Comics publications of the 20th and 21st centuries. Here, the series creators model what we might call the "revolutionary" reading practices they want the readers of their comic to employ.

One is a set of stories within a story, about various versions of the Legion of Super-Heroes that are incompatible with the current one's history. If, like me, you are a little perplexed by how DC Comics characters can be reading DC Comics (including some that they themselves appear in; in Teenage Revolution, we saw the cover of Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 4 #0), an anonymous stranger delivers a helpful piece of advice:
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #15 (script by Stuart Moore, art by Patrick Olliffe & Livesay)

Well, that's me told. Recall, after all, that even though the Legion members memorize what issues DC characters first appeared in, what they really care about are the ideals the superheroes stand for.

This is reiterated in the book's final story, which takes place in the aftermath of Terror Firma's destruction of Legion headquarters (as seen in Death of a Dream). Rescue operations for the Legion followers caught in the blast are underway, and the story features a series of juxtapositions between damaged comic books in the rubble and the rescue operations being carried out in the present. For example, here's the cover of an issue of Batman with Commissioner Gordon and Batman looking at a body paralleled with a Science Police officer and a Legion follower covering up a body:
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #11 (script by Mark Waid, art by Dale Eaglesham & Art Thibert)

There are six or seven of these, providing a visual reminder of how the comics of the past serve as inspiration for the heroes of the future.

But one of the Legion followers fixates on the comic books, embodying what we might call "nostalgic" reading practices. He goes around scooping up and saving the remnants of the comic books. A group of Legion followers notices him and attack him, thinking he's a speculator looking to pick up some rare back issues. He explains his motives as being purer, however:
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #11 (script by Mark Waid, art by Dale Eaglesham & Art Thibert)

The other Legion followers set him straight, however. If what makes the comics important was that they were the Legion's inspiration, then what matters isn't the comics as physical objects, but that members of the Legion carry out the ideals they represent. You don't need the actual, physical comics for them to be important. Chastised, the comic-collecting Legionnaire drops his comic books to the ground and joins in the rescue operations, giving us one last parallelism:
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #11 (script by Mark Waid, art by Dale Eaglesham & Art Thibert)

In this story, Mark Waid models the reading practices that underpinned the "threeboot" as conceived of by him and Barry Kitson. Inspired by the comics of the past, but beholden to their spirit, not their literal details. Continuity and nostalgia doesn't matter, idealism and revolution do. As much as Waid and Kitsons take on the Legion was about a revolution, it was itself revolutionary-- taking an old idea and reworking it for a contemporary context.

Unfortunately, the lessons of this story would go unheard by the readers of DC Comics. But that's something I'll cover when I get to the final volume of Waid and Kitson's run.

No comments:

Post a Comment