BTFT: L.E.G.I.O.N. (‘nuff said)

A column article, Bin There Found That by: Chris Wunderlich

DC, L.E.G.I.O.N. #5, 6, 7, 11, 18, 20, 25, 31, 34, 36, 39, 42, 44, 47, 48, 51, 53, 68, 70, written by Keith Giffen, Alan Grant, Barry Kitson, Mark Waid and Tom Peyer, drawn by Barry Kitson, Jim Fern, Robin Smith, Rodney Ramos, Dan Lawlis, Alcantena , Derec Aucoin and Arnie Jorgensen, 1989-1994

So, I read a lot of L.E.G.I.O.N. this week. In fact, I feel like I've read the entire series. I'm missing quite a bit (and I'd already read quite a bit too) but this is essentially the series, from beginning to end. I reviewed the first issue a while back and found it to be a great start to a series with a lot of potential. Good news everyone! This series lives up to that potential!

At issue 5, things are still in their infancy. Vril Dox (clone of Brainiac) has escaped the computer tyrants of Colu (his home planet) and formed L.E.G.I.O.N. (henceforth known as "LEGION", because I hate typing all those periods). This intergalactic police force starts small, comprised of the folks Vril worked with during DC's big Invasion! event, but later grows to include some of DC's forgotten galactic characters.

So let's cover the characters. There's:

Vril Dox, the founder, leader and lead anti-hero of the book. At first he's portrayed as a jerk who manipulates people to get what he wants. As the series progress, we learn he's… a jerk who manipulates people to get what he wants. Honestly, this guy is my favourite anti-hero in comics and the less he changes, the better. He generally means well, wanting peace and justice, but he goes about it in the coldest ways. This guy is an emotionless, stubborn, calculated mastermind and I'm thrilled that he got to be the lead in such a long, awesome series. He's the guy you love to hate!

Garryn Bek is a meek, unpowered police officer who at first seems like something of a waste. He spends a lot of time complaining without asserting himself and between his spineless personality and dated, gravity defying hairdo, he's set-up to be a burden on the series. Fortunately things take interesting turns and Garryn Bek becomes really intriguing. Never a scene-stealer, Bek surprised me by becoming quite relevant in the early books then almost completely disappearing. He's a classic example of a character that doesn't seem to have potential until smart writers proves otherwise.

Stealth is the mysterious, ferocious female. Her powers involve noise-control (hence the name) but they never come into play much—she's around to kick butt. Always with an air of mystery about her, Stealth proves to be one of the coolest characters LEGION has to offer. She's loyal to her fellow LEGIONnaires but still knows when to stand up to Dox. Without spoiling anything—her pregnancy is a highlight of this series. When I think of female characters I can't get enough of, Stealth is right at the top of my list.

Lyrissa Mallor is this century's Shadow Lass. She's the champion of Talok, complete with shadow-manipulating powers, and is the voice of reason amongst LEGION. When Dox is at his jerkiest, Lyrissa is there to tell him. Unfortunately, there isn't too much to say about her, but I won't tell you why. She's a strong, powerful woman that leaves this series much too early.

Strata is a huge Thing-like female. She's actually the heart of the team, growing a strong bond with Stealth and later a romance with fellow huge-Thing-like-character Garv. She's super strong, smashing stuff and beating up people, but she's also the most caring, emotionally driven character on the team. As far as characters with deceiving appearances, there's no better example than Strata.

The Durlan seems to be Dox's only friend. His origins explain why, but in the early issues he remains an enigma. He's a shape-shifter who at first seems to be a big player in LEGION, but like Lyrissa he quickly leaves the series. Not much to say on him, but once we find out what he's all about his early appearances are enriched tenfold. It's a neat trick played by the writers.

Then there's Lobo. Once he pops up, striking a deal with Dox and essentially becoming Dox's not-so-secret weapon, he becomes overused. Yes, the "main man" gets tiring after a while, but the writers luckily know how to use him. When he's Dox's ace in the hole, he's awesome. When he's a bully that takes up most of an issue with his "Yo geek, eat fist!" he's lame. There are a lot of both throughout this series. On a side note, I actually really like his early design. When he gets his beard and chains, I'm not so thrilled.

Phase comes in a little later and is played up as a mysterious stranger. Eventually she becomes LEGION's head diplomat and takes the place of Lyrissa as Dox's foil. She gets more and more interesting with every issue and by mid-series her potential goes farther than I would have expected. At the end of the series we learn her secrets, and though they aren't exactly surprising they are entirely satisfying. If there's one thing to know about LEGION it's that the writers know how to build long story strands without dragging down individual issues. Phase is the perfect example; her story is always in the back of your mind while reading, even if the writer's don't expressly point to her.

Telepath is the weirdest character design, by far. He looks like a slug with an alien head, giant arms where his legs should be and tiny arms to round him out. He's the wimp of the group, but his powers become an important tool. His backstory is neat but contradictory and his geek/bully relationship with Lobo gets old real fast, but he's still fun to read. Telepath gets pushed around way too much, but he's an interesting addition to the book.

Lady Quark (of Crisis on Infinite Earths fame), Captain Comet and Lar Gand (i.e. Mon-El, Valor, etc.) have minor roles on the team but have their special moments. Quark sticks around the longest and becomes the most relevant, proving to be almost as enduring an anti-hero as Dox. Comet seems like an unnecessary addition, but I do love him as a character. Lar Gand comes and goes much too quickly.

About mid-series the cast expands with a bunch of rookies who end of calling themselves R.E.C.R.U.I.T.S. There's a Khund, a robot-guy, Lyrissa's daughter, another huge brute-type character and a few others. At first I didn't really expect them to make an impact on the series, but as the issues go they become just as important as the core LEGION members. I was surprised by how much they grew on me, and if they had their own Titans style spin-off, I'd probably buy it.

So, those are the basic characters. What about the stories, you ask? Well, I hate to ruin anything, so I'll give you some highlights:

  • A trip to Garryn Bek's home planet of Cairn takes a few twists and turns and shows why Dox is so awesome and Lobo is so stupid.
  • The discovery of the Emerald Eye spices things up for a bunch of issues.
  • The evacuation of an entire planet proves why Phase is a great character and deals with the unexpectedly heavy issue of racism. The writers almost go into campy After-school Special territory, but it's handled well and actually has nice impact.
  • Stealth gets pregnant and the effects last the entire series. It's great long term storytelling, but not at the expense of pace. Her whole situation is filled with great concepts, clever turns and a satisfying ending.

Now the writers! Keith Giffen is created with creating the team, but as far as this series is concerned his impact isn't really felt. He sticks around to plot the first bit but quickly takes off and his absence isn't really noticed. Alan Grant, however, rocks the scripts for about half the series (or more!). He plots alongside penciller Barry Kitson and together they do great work. Grant puts clever, believable dialogue in the mouth of every character and keeps the pace just right, planting seeds for larger stories and making every issue count.

When Grant leaves, Kitson takes over all writing duties. For a guy I only ever knew as a penciller, I must say I was impressed. He doesn't miss a beat, picking up Grant's voices perfectly and continuing with the set tone of the book.

In these issues I only have one Mark Waid penned book, but it's decent, and the Tom Peyer series wrap-up is great. There isn't a single poorly-written book in my entire pull. It's rare for a series to remain this consistently well-written over 70 issues!

The art is equally impressive. Barry Kitson draws the majority (and almost all the issues I read here) and his yeoman like work should be recognized. His slightly Kevin Maguire-esque characters, his detailed backgrounds, his solid layouts—this guy does everything right and makes it all very, very easy on the eyes. If you've read anything by him recently you won't be surprised to hear that his work is always great, even his really early stuff!

Above: L.E.G.I.O.N. '89 #5 page 20 by Barry Kitson & Mark McKenna

Jim Fern fills in occasionally and his work is very different. Fern draws with a heavy angle, making the characters almost cartoony. This is much less Kitson's drama and more an action book in Fern's able hands. It's an adjustment, but I really liked his work.

Robin Smith handles "finishes" over Kitson's art during the period where Kitson had scripting duties as well. Honestly, Smith makes Kitson's work look like Kitson's work, so I'm happy. Rodney Ramos also does work like Kitson, but not quite of the same caliber. There's a little too much "Valiant house style" in his work and I'm not fussy on it, but an issue is never ruined.

Above: L.E.G.I.O.N. '93 #48 page 3 by Dan Lawlis

Dan Lawlis does an issue and it looks terrific, following in line with Kitson's set style but going heavier on the ink and thickening the lines considerably. Alcantena's issue is heavy on the detail and looks impressive, but is more Tim Truman than Barry Kitson. Derec Aucoin's work is more modern and curvy, trading detail for perfectly placed lines and great shapes. Arnie Jorgensen's work is… ugly. He seems to take Jim Fern's angular cues and goes too far. I didn't care for his work, but I've seen much worse.

This series has it all: great pacing with well thought-out storylines weaving in and out of shorter story arcs; tight, smart dialogue from a variety of writers who never miss a beat; striking designs and consistently great art from Barry Kitson and a cadre of others; intriguing, enduring characters that rarely, if ever, pop up in other books—I could go on, but I think I've already written more on LEGION than I expected to.

In case you couldn't tell, I highly recommend this series. It's easy to find in bargain bins, it's consistently good (so any issue you find will be fun) and it's a corner of the DC that many of us haven't explored. But you should! And I should go out and find all the pieces I'm missing! I love LEGION!

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