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June 25, 2012

Comics I Read In Series Form In The 1980s: Legion Of Super-Heroes


Legion Of Super-Heroes is another comic that predates -- maybe entirely -- my shopping in comics stores. The one flash of memory I have of purchasing an issue of LOSH during this era is at a drug store one summer, at a place that carried may eight to ten comic books at a time. As I've probably made nauseatingly clear by this point, the mode by which I was buying a lot of comics at this time and then into my first regular comics-shop experience was getting my favorites and then spending the money I had left up to a set amount on books that looked interesting or that I'd heard about. I wasn't locked into buying habits. The thing is, I'm not sure if today's fundamental market strategy of "getting the kid that buys one comic with his favorite character to buy eight with that character" would have kept me in comics for as long. There was something that was very useful about not being tied into one set of purchases in terms of extending how long I wanted to do this. If I hadn't been encouraged in that subtle way to migrate, and the market hadn't also been really good at putting out series that kind of met me at my point of interest as a I grew older (not a direct, linear relationship, but close), I doubt I'd be reading comics today except maybe the occasional talked-about graphic novel and the even-more-infrequent nostalgia buy.

A couple of things I remember about Legion Of Super-Heroes. One is that it seemed very exciting even though I had no interest in the Legion beyond what I was reading. I did not find new or freshened-up permutations of my favorite characters to be a hook, because I had no favorite characters. I did not have a fangasm when Darkseid arrived on the scene (um, spoiler alert?) because I did not read too many comics when I was a younger kid that had Darkseid in them. So reading this comic was like turning on whatever the latest teen TV soap or police procedural or three-camera sitcom might be and recognizing all the basic types and storyline strategies and getting to enjoy them without having bought in, if that makes any sense. For me the strength -- and this is really my second memory -- was in the sturdy, old-fashioned things like there were a lot of superpowered folks with neat skillsets and costumes performing superpowered feats and doing so in a story that generated drama between them and between the group and other folks. Things like the fact the fans voted on the team leader were to me clever flourishes, and I could enjoy them that way. They weren't the point. The weight of where this story stood in the constellation of all the other Legion stories I was better off not feeling at all; ditto any expectations I might project on such characters. As both of those things became what felt like more of a presence in the book I was reading, I grew bored and eventually left. I've read some Legion comics since then, off and on over the years as free copies have fallen into my lap, and they always seem divorced from those basic strengths and either needlessly high-concept or dreadfully insular or a response to the basic set-up without a strong establishment of the basic set-up. That's the comic that always, always reads to me the most like what I imagine fan fiction to be.

At the time, though, this did the trick, and helped pass that half-hour on a summer day between when you ate lunch and when you were allowed to swim again, and provided some basic superhero-ing thrills in an easy-to-parse manner. In my mind's eye I can see these comic books with that wonderful curve on the corner spine that says it's been opened a bunch. I also enjoyed a brief run later on with Keith Giffen's art at this almost abstract point where it was hard to tell what the hell was going on, like everything was being depicted from the point of view of someone who could barely open their eyes. Of course, I sort of enjoyed those because they seemed willfully obtuse rather than as objects themselves. Today I love the idea of this superhero team that's been hugged to death by its fans much more than I want to spend additional time reading their adventures. It used to be that you were expected to get in and then get out on superhero comics; now it seems unkind to say you're done with anything. But I think I'm done with the Legion Of Super-Heroes.
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