With Keith’s departure, the tone of the book inevitably changed, and depending on one’s taste, that might have been a positive or a negative. I think most people, regardless of taste, would acknowledge that Keith was a stronger plotter than we were, but some people may have felt the book moved in a direction they were happier with. It was certainly made clear to us that a more commercial, more mainstream approach was considered to be what the book needed.
With the loss of Keith’s participation, we suffered an automatic drop in sales. The distributors literally suggested to stores that they cut their Legion orders because Keith was no longer on the book. It was quickly obvious that trying to stimulate a sales boost was an important part of what we needed to do to have a future on the book.
I think by this time we knew our futures were tenuous. As soon as Keith agreed to leave the book, we wondered how secure we were, and as it turned out, our feelings of insecurity were justified. Certain powers at DC made a pitch to Keith that he could make better use of his time concentrating on other projects and Keith agreed, hoping that meant there would be a smooth transition to us as the plotters of the book for a long time to come, but almost immediately word was spread that the Legion was up for grabs and people from around the business started inquiring about the assignment. We quietly pointed out that we had a contract to remain on the book for about another year and the rush to replace us was put on hold. We understood the need to try and boost sales and most of what we did in the coming year reflected our idea of what might be most effective on that score.
We also changed the tone of the book because we knew we didn’t have Keith’s skill set and weren’t going to be able to tell the stories exactly the way he did. We had to rely on the things we could do best and that meant a more traditional approach.
And perhaps most of all, things changed to accommodate the new penciller Stuart Immonen. I vividly remember when incoming Legion editor KC Carlson sent us a stack of samples from about five different artists and asked us which one we liked the most. He and we agreed that Stuart really stood out and was the guy to go with. KC sent him some trial pages (that ended up getting used as part of Legion #49) and he did such a great job with those samples he was in.
Like most artists, Stuart wasn’t interested in the nine-panel grid, so that was mostly retired (brought back periodically when appropriate). I think he and KC also quickly agreed that some kind of new visuals for the group could help and within a couple issues, there were new uniforms that were once again individualistic (gone were the “team jackets”) and were kind of a midway point between traditional spandex uniforms and 30th century “street clothes.”
It turned out Stuart wasn’t too keen on Laurel’s revealing costume and he proposed switching her to an outfit that covered just about everything from her chin down to her toes. Also, his first take on Kono was quite a bit more feminine than was appropriate for the character, and we convinced him and KC to show a little skin on Laurel and give Kono something a little more “macha.”
As for issue #39 itself, there wasn’t a great deal of story, it was mostly reaction and backtracking relating to the destruction of Earth in #38. In a way, it was undermining a very bold creative decision in #38 to tell the whole story in retrospect and with almost no close-up look at the cataclysmic events from the Legion’s perspective. A lot of #39 is taken up by the flashbacks the various characters are enduring as their minds haunt them with what the horrors they recently experienced.
We open during a memorial ceremony being conducted by Jan (Element Lad) commemorating the loss of the roughly 2 billion people who died with the destruction of Earth. The LSHers are so exhausted, they’re zoning out through the memorial and letting their minds wander back to their grim experiences of a few days earlier. Rokk (Cosmic Boy) slips into a dream state where he sees the corpses of Earth walking among them, Laurel flashes back to a disaster during the evacuation where a volcanic eruption causes one of the space arks to crash down on a tower, killing hundreds. Celeste vividly remembers the face of the doomed next person in line who she had to stop from coming on board when it was time for the last evacuation ship to leave. And Brainy has a recurring nightmare where he and the older and younger Element Lads keep trying different strategies to reverse the detonation of the Earth’s core, and every scenario ends in destruction.
There’s a cut-away showing Vi and Ayla trying to deal with their feelings of despondence. They have a pretty pointed little spat that really brings out their personalities. Vi has a pretty dark view of things and doesn’t hesitate to express the hopelessness she’s feeling. Ayla is always in there trying to find the positive in everything and at this moment, Violet just can’t take it. That leads to Vi snapping at Ayla and you can see it really hurts. Vi regrets it immediately and they quickly work to repair the damage. I remember Keith telling us at the time, it was a scene that doesn’t have the slightest sexual content but makes it about as certain as could be that these two women are lovers. And it shows that their relationship is deep and really important to both of them.
We jump back to the surviving dome cities that have re-assembled and are orbiting around the glowing mass of debris where Earth used to be. The cities are currently mostly empty, but there are the many bodies of people who hid during evacuation and were killed by the destruction that occurred inside the domed cities during their bumpy rides out into space.
The young “SW6” Matter-Eater Lad cracks a gallows-humor joke about the corpses and the young Sun Boy flips out and decks Tenzil. We were trying to communicate that, despite his rakishness, Sun Boy was a dedicated Legionnaire who had a very hard time living with any Legion failure, especially on a mission of this magnitude. It’s a very direct reference to the early Legion story in Adventure #318 where the pressures of evacuating a doomed planet pushed Sun Boy into space fatigue and temporary insanity.
One tiny touch to the scene that I personally enjoyed putting in is when Ferro Lad refers to Tenzil as “M-E Lad,” which he also did way back in Adventure #351 (“The Devil’s Dozen”). Since Tenzil and Ferro Lad are two of my favorite characters and that’s one of my favorite stories, that nickname always stuck in my mind and I enjoyed making that little connection in this scene.
We then jump to the part of this issue that Keith penciled where we see our version of Leland McCauley sneering at the sentimentality so many are expressing over the destruction of Earth and the loss of life.
That carries us into a scene that I think may have been started for a separate issue, where we find out that McCauley has been collecting and keeping in suspended animation a grotesque “collection” of beings. The most noteworthy members are the characters who we implied were being kidnapped at the end of #33, the Kid Qunatum issue – R.J. Brande, Cham, the six remaining sentient Protys and Kid Quantum himself.
One of the things we did in this scene was to resolve the big differences between the McCauley of the 1960s, a pretty straightforward corporate baron, with the edgy villainous McCauley of the Levitz era, making the ’60s McCauley the father of the later version of McCauley and giving the younger one a bonkers personality where he’d refer to his father as the son and himself as the father. The younger McCauley rants about his desire to screw up his father's personality as much as his father's neglect over the years has screwed him up.
The older McCauley -- who didn’t really appear to be evil back in the Adventure days, just a pretty amoral businessman -- ends up saving the day by using his expertise in the Omnicom technology (which he invented – they’ve always been referred to as the McCauley Omnicoms) to get a message through his son’s jamming frequencies, letting the Legion know about the son’s “collection.”
The SW6 kids get McCauley's message and Light Lass, Cosmic Boy and Element Lad show up at the McCauley estate on the planet Gallàn and manage to break through McCauley’s copious security defenses and free the members of his “collection.”
McCauley’s funny little alien lawyers manage to talk their way out of any prosecution and everyone heads home, with R.J. Brande voicing his determination to build a new Earth (a relatively modest ambition for Brande, given that he made his fortune “birthing” new stars).
Keith took long enough before he finished his section that his art style completely changed, with the first couple of pages looking very much like the style he started the series with and the last couple looking like what Keith used at about this time in series like the March Hare. That latter style, which I think involved him drawing everything with no pencils, just ink, is pretty “out there” and probably could not have worked over any length of time on a Legion book. It’s pretty jarring here in this issue, but definitely an interesting style that produced fun versions of R.J. Brande and Cham.
We wrap it up with Jo, Kent and Rokk of the older Legion showing up at New Earth. Rokk is still dozing and is stunned awake when he thinks he’s seeing the severed heads of Earth’s dead floating out there in space, but it turns out he’s looking at the floating boulders and other debris the planet’s destruction has left behind.
Rokk finally disperses the images that are haunting him by calling home and saying hi to wife Lydda and their infant son Pol. Focusing on the positives of his family life once again helps Rokk deal with the stresses of his Legion duties.
Another sign that the series has moved on and becoming a little more conventional is the lack of any text page. It’s ironic that Keith almost always gave us a chance to shine in the text pages but once we became the plotters, we pretty consistently turned those pages back over to the artists. I suspect in both cases part of the motivation was to cut down on our workloads. Keith got to skip penciling a couple pages by going with text pages, and we got to reduce the amount of writing we had to do by just scripting those pages instead of filling them completely with text.
It also reflects Keith’s more fertile imagination and ability to tell his stories in a lot of different ways. We just didn’t come up with the kind of the inspired ideas for text pages that Keith regularly hatched.
Also, we may have ODed on the whole notion of text pages because apparently this was shortly after we’d completed all the writing for the “2995” Legion Sourcebook from Mayfair, which consisted of dozens and dozens of text pages, many of which got edited out of that crowded book because we wrote a lot more than could fit. We did manage to come up with some fairly imaginative approaches in that project and we probably just didn’t have the time and energy left to think of cool uses for text pages in the Legion comic itself.
And one more layer to the mix – any pages we reserved for text pages meant less work and pay for our artists. Keith was able to volunteer himself to take that pay cut, but I don’t think we were eager to impose it on the artists we were working with.
The Legion #39 letters page is once again really jam-packed with dozens of names, some pretty newsy notes and a gratifying amount of enthusiasm and positive energy. It’s interesting that I think we were really not very certain what our upcoming storylines were going to be at this time, because there’s a question about when we’d see Mysa again, a perfect opportunity for us to plug the “Mordru Arises” storyline that was just four issues away, and we make no mention of it. Since we were under a very specific mandate to work in plugs for upcoming events and generate as much excitement as possible about future issues, this pretty strongly implies we hadn’t come up with the “Mordru Arises” storyline at the time we did this letters page.
There’s a mention that the launch of the Legionnaires comic was just two months away. For this brief period, we were really cranking out quite a bit of work, continuing on with the Legion mother book, getting Legionnaires launched and I believe trying to keep the Heckler as on schedule as possible in the meantime. It was a huge amount of fun, but we had an ominous feeling that it could all go away pretty quickly, as indeed it did.