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gnaw on fence

It's OK, I'm a Senator

Legion Recollections by Tom Bierbaum

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Legion #1 Recollections, Legion #2 Recollections
gnaw on fence

            LEGION LORE/LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #1: I think this one issue had the most planning and deliberation of any comic we ever worked on, and in a positive sense. We had other stories that were re-done and re-done because of dissatisfaction on the part of the editor, but this one was labored over because we were all about as enthusiastic as could be about launching this new take on the Legion universe.

            Keith and we spent several hours on the phone mapping out his plans for the universe and what had happened in the five-year gap, so that he and we felt like we knew where we were going and could write something that would tie together over the long haul. I understand that Keith and our inker Al Gordon did the same thing and Keith gave Al a lot of input on the series and on the direction certain characters took.  I've heard a few times from people who went back and re-read a couple years worth of these Legion issues in one or two sittings and were very impressed with how many things tied together, and that was no accident.

            The opening page of issue #1, "Five Years Later," is interesting because Keith intended that as not only important information, but the name of the opening story of the series, which extended into, I think, the middle of #12. And I think that same star field (done by Al Gordon) was used for later similar title pages later in the run and it seems like I've heard it's been used by other comics or in non-Legion promotional pieces as well.

            Page 2 of this issue was a late addition. There was a feeling that the story was too confusing if you just got dropped into the original page 2 (what ended up being Page 3 in the published comic), so it was decided to do a page of Legion background and history. I guess this was for people who'd never read the Legion before and didn't know what the group's background was. It may have helped a little on that front, though I remember at least one confused reader thinking it meant we'd killed of Lightning Lad during the five-year gap because we made reference to the original death of Lightning Lad in that recap page. I guess this was one of our ongoing tensions with a segment of the Legion readership, if you didn't know that Lightning Lad was killed and brought back in early Legion history, we couldn't worry about making that elementary bit of Legion history clear, but I think there were people who'd picked up the Legion in the previous four or five years who didn't care much about what happened 20 years earlier and found our attachment and relative focus on early Legion history to be off-putting. In any event, I kind of wish they hadn't inserted that history page because it drags the opening on a little too long. The rhythm of two pages worth of vidscreen zapping felt right to me and three pages seemed like too much.

            Boy, I've got to say, seeing Dirk as a sell-out spokesman for a corrupt government and Rokk dealing with the rubble of post-war Braal really resonates today, given current domestic and global developments.  This happens to me throughout the run of the book -- a lot of the themes we addressed in this run of the Legion involved issues and choices our culture has wrestled with in the 15-20 years since these stories were published.

            I remember our poor editor, Mark Waid, getting questioned by us about every little edit he made on this issue. We labored over every word and really didn't want to change a thing. I hope over the years we became a little easier to work with. I remember in particular, the page that shows Shrinking Violet, Salu. We had her saying "ass" a couple times and that was right out. Mark also had us add info at the top of the page to clarify a little what was going on in the scene.

Oh, the one little disagreement we had that I think to this day we were right about was that we had Loomis refer to Cham as that "Durlan Don Quixote" and Mark felt that was too "Earth/20th-century".  I felt then and now that Don Quixote has already stood the test of time enough that I have no problem with him being a symbol within the galaxy's human culture a thousand years in the future.

            It was really interesting to write the text pages during this run of the Legion. I don't know if it worked the same way for a lot of readers, but to us, it really gave the universe a feeling of authenticity to see these documents representing different voices and points of view and giving some real insight into who to believe and who not to believe in this universe. And boy, after 10 years as a reporter for the Orange County News and Variety, it was really an enjoyable change of pace to write a news story where I could make everything up.

            Overall, I can see how people both thought this was a very confusing comic and also a very good comic. It's very challenging but it's also really exciting to see the Legion universe thrown up in the air so radically and with such ambition. Sure makes me wish there were an alternate universe where Keith could have kept up the pencilling and told his story uninterrupted over, say four years or so. Also makes me think they ought to get Keith to take a year and do, say, a 10-issue mini-series that tells this kind of Legion story. Then, if the public cares, give him another year to do another 10-issue series to continue his story, and so on, for as long as Keith and the readers are happy with it. A much simpler and reasonable goal would be to simply reprint the stories in bound volumes, dropping out the fill-in issues and other extraneous material so the main storyline could be told in one volume as seamlessly as possible.

            One thing I wish we had done a long time ago was go through these comics pretty carefully and identify all the subtle references to various apa members and fandom friends. There were enough and they were so subtle that it's next to impossible to identify them all now so many years later. The big one in this issue is "Venado Bay," with Venado coming from the address of an Interlac member back then. I honestly can't find any other inside references in this issue. Maybe we weren't really in the swing of things yet, because within an issue or two we'd have certainly made this sort of reference with the names in the #1 text pages, but I don't think there's anything of note in these text pages.

            LEGION LORE/LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #2: I can see that we really got into the swing of inside references by issue #2. In the opening text page, Tinya's wedding gown is designed by "Arn Strikl," a reference to Arnie Starkey and Strick, who at that time had a series of zines in Interlac featuring their clothing designs for various Legionnaires. The real treasure trove of inside references in this isue comes on page 20 with a list of anti-Earthgov "subversives" that includes "Feliz Alana" (WAPAn Joe Filice's daughter Alana Filice), Leemac Allen (WAPAn David McLallen), Hass An (Interlacker Hassan Yusuf), Cat Anestopoulo (the literal name of an Interlacker of that era), Suzi Apzynski (Joe Filice's wife, whose actual last name I'd badly misspell if I tried here), D. Spengler Bonita (Dee Spengler, sister of WAPAn Grace Spengler) and Ard Bensam (Interlacker Richard Bensam). They messed up this panel, by the way, it was supposed to in some way highlight the names Brek Bannin (Polar Boy) and Ral Benem (Chlorophyll Kid), showing that the only "subversives" that Shvaughn was actually in contact with were various ex-Legionnaires and ex-Subs.  Circe was hoping to find evidence that Shvaughn was actively involved with anti-Earthgov subversion, but all the list showed was the obvious fact that Shvaughn knew certain Legion-related people who were now labeled subversives.  (Shvaughn was, in fact, secretly involved in the resistance movement but wasn't going to be caught openly associating with other known subversives.  Circe was going to have to work a lot harder than that to nail Shvaughn.)

            A scene is set on a spaceship/intergalactic traveling hotel on Page 12 that's called the Hotel Woodmere, which was named for the Stamford, Conn. home of several Interlac members, a house that was known as "Yohet Manor," which had the street address of 97 Woodmere. The course of the mobile hotel took it past the already established planet Vanvlack IV (a world named in earlier Legion days after Interlacker Mercy Van Vlack) and we added its largest moon "Miranda," named for the title character of a naughty strip Mercy has drawn for many years.

            There were a lot of fun touches to this issue. The oblivious Khund on Page 3 who has an entertainingly poor grasp of English/Interlac, and the two robotic Khundish assassins who were modeled in personality after Alphonse and Gaston, the "Goofy Gophers" of Warner Bros. cartoon fame ("Oh dear, oh dear!" "Your head seems to be aflame." "Excuse me, excuse me, but I must put this out.").

            We were definitely establishing the various "curses" in the speech patterns of the different planets. We probably did better with Rimbor than any other planet, with exclamations such as "Sweet Liberty!" and "Bloody Grife!"  I have mixed emotions when I see in Legion comics that followed us that "Grife" became kind of an all-purpose swear word when we used it exclusively for people from Rimbor.

            LSH #2 was also pretty interesting because Keith immediately worked Mary's character, Kono, into a key role. Some people saw her as an intended replacement for Tinya, but that was never our intention. Mary thought of an interesting power that happened to have some similarities to Tinya's and I think Keith just coincidentally put her on Rimbor  as a shady Sklarian pirate-type, she was a natural for Jo's band of smugglers. And her uppity feminist point of view worked well with Jo, a very formidable male but also someone who had no trouble getting along with very assertive women.  When Mary came up with Kono, I don't think we had the slightest hint that she'd be teamed initially with Jo.

            The apparent death of Tinya (Phantom Girl) that was revealed in this issue was planned all along to be a switch of her and the R.J. Brande Durlan in L.E.G.I.O.N., though I don't think Keith had a real plan for why the two of them would switch places. That's one of the reasons we worked so hard to preserve the Ultra Boy story in our first Legion annual -- it explained pretty nicely why those two particular characters were switched in time  Tinya was taken away to punish Jo for frustrating the plans of Glorith and Brande was brought into the future by Glorith to assemble the Legion of Super-Heroes as a counter-balance that would weaken Mordru and stop his otherwise inevitable ascension to galactic dominance. And at the time we originally hatched the story, it was the Time Trapper who was responsible for these machinations rather than Glorith, but that was all prior to the events of LSH #4 (which I'll get into in my recollections of Legion #4).  

That was one thing we really liked to do -- look at pieces of the Legion universe for which motives hadn't yet been established and see if we could come up with motives that really made sense.  People can debate whether our ideas made things better or worse, but the two big examples were us figuring out why Brande and Tinya were traded in time by the Time Trapper/Glorith and why the Time Trapper created the Pocket Universe and manufactured an realm that had a Superboy that otherwise never actually existed.