18 July 2016

Revolutionary Reading: An Examination of the Legion of Super-Heroes Threeboot, Part III: Strange Visitor From Another Century

Comic trade paperback, 137 pages
Published 2006 (contents: 2005-06) 

Acquired February 2016
Read May 2016
Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes: Strange Visitor From Another Century

Writer: Mark Waid
Pencillers: Barry Kitson, Adam DeKraker, Ken Lashley, Art Thibert, Amanda Conner
Inkers: Mick Gray, Drew Geraci, Barry Kitson, Rodney Ramos
Colorist: Nathan Eyring
Letterers: Phil Balsman, Travis Lanham

One of the clearest explanations of the Mark Waid/Barry Kitson Legion of Super-Heroes is found in the back of this book, where the Legionnaires answer mail from readers of the comic in character. This approach to the old tradition of the lettercol is a delight, and it allows the characters to sort of step outside themselves and describe the premise of the book directly to the reader:
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #6 (art by Barry Kitson)

The Legion stands for color, against sterility, as embodied in the virtues of the heroes of the past.

Their virtues are put to the test in this volume, though, which depicts one of the few direct conflicts between the Legion and the society they seek to change. When a group of Legionnaires takes down a terrorist disguised as a Science Police officer outside the home of a guy called Klar who embodies the society they're trying to reform. Klar's wife considers him not "fully clothed" when he's wearing shirt and pants but not hood and goggles, and Klar communicates with his neighbors via screen. He complains the Legionnaires lack "decorum" and "traipse out of doors like savages"!

Here we see something of the dark side of the Legion, as they bully him, stealing his goggles, and mocking his age. This riles up Klar, who comes back with his neighbors to argue with the Legion, who only mock him further:
from Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #16 (art by Barry Kitson & Mick Gray)

There's some irony here, of course: the Legion has inspired Klar and other social conservatives to interact face-to-face for apparently the first time ever, and Klar's declaration that there is strength in numbers is exactly how the Legion took down Terror Firma in the previous volume. Their revolution has inspired another social movement, yet Klar doesn't recognize that he's abandoning his principles to ostensibly fight for them. Is he becoming a superhero himself? (That's what Matthew from Legion Abstract posits in this nice reading of the scene.)

This is probably the most direct conflict we see between the Legion and society, and on one level, it's pretty harmless-- the Legion shouts out some ageist insults and goes on its way. No real violence is required for them to change society.

That said, it's important to know there's been a major status quo change by this point. The events of the previous volume have shown the United Planets 1) that the Legion of Super-Heroes isn't going anywhere and 2) that the Legion has been successful whereas they have not. So the U.P. changes tactics, and gives the Legion official standing. What happens when they revolutionaries become the establishment? Well, this conflict shows that it actually makes them bullies to a certain extent. The Legionnaires flaunt their newfound authority to intimidate Klar (like I said, they steal his goggles).

It's one thing to punch up, but it's another to punch down, and the Legion is only starting to come to grips with what it means to go from underdogs to establishment, and how you much reorient your attitude appropriately. They're not exactly living up to the virtues of their role models in this sequence, even if they are making the world more colorful, and I'm glad that Kitson and Waid explore that here.

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