Quite some time ago, my brother Pat bought a big stack of Legion of Super-Heroes comics on eBay. Pat wasn’t a big comics fan, but occasionally he’d get the urge to read some goofy superhero comics, and he bought these on a lark. He bought a large chunk of the Paul Levitz run from the mid to late eighties. Specifically, the “Baxter paper” (aka volume 3) Legion book that started in 1984. (Remember when we used to all know the name brand of the paper that certain comics were printed on? No? Well, you’re not as old as I am, then.)
At some point, the comics got passed along to me. I had read a lot of earlier Levitz/Giffen Legion comics, including some of the earlier v. 3 issues. So there was some overlap with stuff that was already in my collection. But I’d stopped buying the Legion book in 1985 or 1986, and didn’t follow it regularly while I was in college. I left Pat’s Legion books sitting in a corner of my apartment gathering dust for quite a while. Eventually, I took them and cross-checked them against stuff I already owned, and eliminated the dups, selling those off on eBay. Then, I put the remaining issues at the bottom of my “to be read” stack, where they’ve been ever since.
Well, I finally decided to attack that pile of Legion comics today, and I’m glad I did. It’s bringing back a lot of memories. First, I’m glad to say that these books hold up pretty well, if you go into them with an open mind. Yes, some of the character names are goofy. (“Starfinger,” for instance.) And yes, the look of some of the characters is very 80s. But it’s all part of the charm. Paul Levitz manages to write stories with these characters that treat them with respect, and treat their history with respect, without it all becoming unintentionally funny. (Well, maybe it would be to some people, but not me.) The tone is just right.
The mid to late 80s were a really exciting time in comics. There are house ads for Watchmen and Batman: Year One in the back of these issues. Comic book sales were transitioning from primarily newsstand distribution to primarily direct sales (comic shop) distribution. Printing quality and technology were getting better and better. It’s fun to dip back into this era.
The Legion has gone through a ton of reboots and revisions over the years. I’ve read parts of various new versions, with mixed results, and the original Levitz run remains my favorite. I haven’t yet gotten to the storyline where they try to reconcile Superman’s revised post-Crisis continuity with Legion continuity, and I’m a little worried that it might really derail things. (But, hey, all good things must come to an end.)
Levitz came back for a new run, starting in 2010, and I also recently read the start of that run. Once I finish with the 1980’s stuff, I think I’ll go back and pick up the rest of the recent Levitz run. It’s pretty good, and you can tell that Levitz is enjoying himself. (Given Levitz’ previous position as President/Publisher at DC, I’m pretty sure he’s not doing this new freelance work for the paycheck. Rather, he’s doing it out of love.)