Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Legion of Super-Heroes: A Critical Perspective

I've convinced the powers-that-be at that they really need to publish a book of scholarly essays about The Legion of Super-Heroes. I pitched them my idea for the book, and they thought it would be a great tie-in for next year's 50th Anniversary of the Legion. Ideally, it would be a book that Legion fans would love, and it would be a book that the casual comic book reader (or the pop culture scholar) could pick up to learn about the fascinating depth of the Legion. So, here we are. I'll be contributing some chapters (as I spend the bulk of my writing time this year working on a sequel to Grant Morrison: The Early Years), but mostly I'll be coordinating the project and editing the book.

I'm really excited about the idea of looking at the various eras of the Legion from some kind of critical perspective. I'd like the book to cover the entire history of the Legion using various approaches and critical lenses. It will make a really cool book--and that's why I need you! I need contributions from writers! I've got a few people on board already, and I've begun to post a few inquiries, but I still need about a dozen more writers to flesh out this ambitious and exciting project.

Here are some details: The book would be published in time to premiere at next year's New York Comic-Con, which means I'd need the first wave of submissions to arrive this summer. I will work with anyone who wants to contribute something, and if your essay is selected for publication (and if you write something I need and work with my feedback, you're pretty much guaranteed publication), you will receive a pro-rated royalty fee for each copy of the book sold. Basically, as I've explained to a few people who've contacted me already, you'll get about a nickel per copy sold (assuming your essay is somewhere around 10 manuscript pages or so). If we sold 1,000 copies, you'd make about 50 bucks (500 bucks if we sold 10,000 copies, for those of you who don't have a fancy calculator to do the math). But you wouldn't be doing it for the money anyway. You'd be doing it because you love the Legion and have something smart to say about the series.

So if you're interested, e-mail me! Put the word "Legion" in the title. Send me an informal proposal telling me what you'd like to write about and what sort of approach you'd like to take (the final essays should be about 3,000-10,000 words in length, by the way, but your proposal should just be a paragraph). I'll give you some feedback and a deadline and then we can make this book happen!

Just to give you some ideas, a few writers are already at work on some things, like:

"Edmund Hamilton as Progenitor of 'Event' Comics"--A close analysis of "The Death of Lightning Lad."

"The Legion: A Sartorial Approach"--A study of Dave Cockrum's contribution to the look of the 30th Century.

"The Art of the Legion"--An analysis of the way various artists have provided different narrative approaches to the Legion.

"Generational Politics in the Waid Threeboot"--An application of the Strauss and Howe generation theory to Waid's Threeboot.

And here are some topics in need of writers--let me know if you want to do one of these:

"Gender Identity in the TMK Legion"--An exploration of transexuality and homosexuality after the 5-year gap.

"Love and Death in the American 30th Century"--An examination of the soap opera aspects of the series, using a thematic approach.

"Shooter's Marvelization of a Universe"--An analysis of Shooter's adoption of Lee and Kirby techniques within the context of his initial run on the Legion.

"Apocalyptic Images from Tomorrow"--A close look at the way the Legion has depicted disaster and apocalypse, provided in the context of literary and cultural history.

"The Inevitable Dystopia"--The way utopian idealism gave way to dystopia in the pre-boot Legion and what that says about society.

"Robert Altman, Paul Levitz and Teenagers from the Future"--An analysis of Levitz's use of characterization and structure, which, he claims, was inspired by the films of Robert Altman.

And if none of that inspires you to write, give me your own ideas!

When I posted my call for ideas at the Barbelith board, one of the members, Papers, came up with a bunch of great topics for inclusion in the book. He can't write all of these essays, so if you're interested in any of the ideas he describes below, contact me:

"Redemption of the Legionnaires"--While Superman had more of a personal code against killing, the Legion had it hardwired into their constitution, and consequently murder/redemption cycles feature heavily in their stories. The big two examples I can think of would be Star Boy murdering an attacker and being expelled (to return as 'Sir Prize') and the TMK Legion's Venado Bay backstory, with Shrinking Violet unwilling to accept her own redemption for events taking place during war-time, especially as they had to do with her former teammate, Cosmic Boy.

"Is the Legion an example of rescue fiction?"--For the bulk of the canon, the Legion has always been presented as a sanctioned law-enforcement group rather than vigilantes (with some exceptions, like the Legion on the run story in the TMK series or various "Universo turns Earth against them" recyclings). Furthermore, almost seventy-five percent of the time they're shown in sweepingly epic settings, saving the day from natural disasters and apocalypses - routinely saving U.P. citizens. Legion squads are sent out to investigate space stations and planets in distress. They were always presented - at least preboot - as being very much involved in rescue and repair after the fact as much as they fought super-villains.

"Genre-bending Legionnaires"--Examination of stories which directly merged other genres of fiction with science-fiction and superheroics. Start off general with a discussion of utopian fiction and super-heroes being blended, move into a discussion of its soap opera elements, and then explore more specific alternates - I'm thinking of the Magic Wars and the Mordru-led alternate dimension from TMK, the "Who Shot Laurel Kent?" annual which used detective fiction tropes and is probably one of my all-time favourite comics books, even beyond the Legion canon as a whole.

"Animation & the other Super-Heroes"--Watching the new cartoon, I'm struck by how boring it is to watch Superman or Lightning Lad use their powers when the comparatively weaker and often ridiculed Triplicate Girl and Bouncing Boy are absolutely STUNNING when seen in animated form. One migh talk about how there's always been a disparity and tension in the Legion (with its much-touted but often ignored "no power duplication" rule) between the bricks (Mon-El, Superboy, Supergirl, Blok, Ultra-Boy) and those "weaker" members who are nevertheless more interesting-looking.

"Secret Identities in the Legion"--Typically, the Legion didn't engage in (a) masks, and (b) secret identities; their names and codenames were publically known and tabloid fodder (think about that wistful Element Lad spotlight Sean Erin read as a wee boy before taking the profem) -- only the result is that the secret identities stand out and become significant. The Legion has a history of unknown members, like that time Supergirl flew through a red kryptonite cloud and ended up thinking she was somebody completely different, and ran around in a lead-lined mask. Star Boy & Dream Girl left for various reasons and returned as Sir Prize and Miss Terrious. Jan Arrah joined as Mystery Lad before swapping out to be in his Element. Discussion could be had of the unfortunate secret identities like Ultra-Boy showing up calling himself Reflecto while being a disembodied presence possessing Superboy. Projectra appearing as Sensor Girl with terribly ill-defined powers. Saturn Girl would be a touchstone for this piece as her telepathy made her privy to a lot of secrets that she had to keep (Element Lad, Sensor Girl)and those she had to reveal (Jo-as-Reflecto). Secret identities are significant to the Legion becaus they are an abnormality, a break from the typical compared to Superman and Clark's constant rigamarole with Lois or Green Lantern's romantic discombulations with Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris. The issue of masks as well, signified chiefly by Sensor Girl (Was she Supergirl? A Supergirl robot? Saturn Queen? Someone else) and Ferro Lad (in a world of wild aliens his face was apparently too horrible to be gazed upon) - masks were an uncommon occurrence and led to other Legionnaires lounging around playing holographic D&D, trying to figure out who someone is. Someone they're supposed to trust.

Thanks, Papers! And Mario, from Barbelith, came up with this idea, which me may or may not expand into an essay:

"The Homogenization of the Future"--Because, with very few exceptions, the 30th-century is often written as basically the 20th century with spaceships.

That's SIXTEEN possible chapters in the book already (some of which are already in progress, but most still need writers). And none of the topics above deal with the Zero Hour reboot, an era which could stand some scrutiny.

So, please let me know which topic(s) you'd like to write about ASAP, so we can make this book an essential part of every reader's library.


Tony said...

dear sir,

i love this idea. I would love the chance to be a part of it.

Tim Callahan said...

E-mail me, Tony! Let me know what you'd like to write.

Sara said...

Dear Mr. Callahan,

I would love to write an essay for your book on the Legion, particularly on the utopian aspects and the Braziliaesque architecture.I've been a fan on and off since the Plunder Ploy of the Fatal Five. I work as a journalist and have written essays for the critical sci-fi zine Some Fantastic.If you still need people to contribute, please contact me.


Anonymous said...

I'm having trouble w/ blog. My email is


Anonymous said...

This sounds wonderful!
I want to read it....even write for it..
if I knew how to write objectively and
correctly.......I could
yammer on about the Zero Hour reboot..
as it is my favorite..
mainly because of the Brainiac 5...
[favorite fictional character of all time]
and watching his social and emotional
developement over 10 years of time.
Then there is the ending of the era...
just rhyme or reason...
how does that effect fans?
There is the thing where DC like to make
homosexual characters straight...which seems
to happen with Legion reboots.
Then there is what I have been pondering
lately..something my script teacher said:
"There can be only one main character..."
The Legion can have so many members,
many could develope in to main characters
or have interesting lives to watch...Does having
so many stronger characters
cause the story to suffer?
Or I might just be seeing things....
sorry I yammered.
If you want someone to draw stuff,
I might beable to help..

Have fun-


Anonymous said...

sorry me again-
I was pondering...
There is anothering aspect to the Legion...
there seems to be a character for everybody..
bound to find someone who interest you...
Then there is Bart, Impulse....
I don't know....

ok, yeah, I should stop now...


((Ray)) said...

Legion has such a fascinating history. There's so much to be written, so much mythology and context and fifty years of stories. A very unique comic in a genre that honestly is usually pretty redundant. Superhero vs. supervillain for the nth time. But Legion was epic!

(hmmm. I wish I had something unique to say about Braniac 5 and Superboy and Winathian culture and the success versus failings of continuity heavy storytelling and perpetual reboots and utopian futures and time travel physics and whatever else.)

This book will no doubt have endless brillaint commentary. Maybe even open up some new routes of thinking, take them further into the future

"Let's go Legionnaires!"