Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Review: 'Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes' by Sequart
There's a nice sort of universality about superheroes. Sure, they tend to skew toward male adolescent science fiction power fantasies, but they're solely that only if you're close-minded. Superhero comics have historically spanned many genres, from sci-fi to fantasy to western to crime and beyond. They've also crossed generations and have remained, to some extent and at least tangentially, relatively relatable. Part of that is the ability to adapt, to mean different things to different eras; there are almost as many variations on Batman as there are issues published.
DC Comics' Legion of Super-Heroes is a very special superhero book. Set a thousand years in the future, it embodies the best and worst of superhero comics: it wholly embraces code names and costumes; familiar tropes like time travel and heroes-turned-villains (and vice versa) abound; it has a seemingly endless cast of characters and spinoff titles; its history and continuity are dense, absurd, and confusing, even by comic book standards.
And it's great.
Legion of Super-Heroes is the superhero book. It's quietly been in the background, playing second (or third or fourth) fiddle to the likes of Batman and Superman, but it's racked up hundreds of issues and stuck around for over 50 years. From clubhouse to teenage rebellion, the Legion has done what superheroes do best - adapted - and Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes from the Sequart Research & Literary Organization has an astounding collection of essays documenting every step of the Legion's storied history.
The essays in Teenagers from the Future are authored by over a dozen writers from various backgrounds, but they all have two things in common: they're fans of the Legion, and they all tackle and interesting aspects of the comic. The quote by longtime Legion author Keith Giffen of "exhausting" barely does the book justice (in a good way). Learn about the role of women in the Legion. Or maybe you want to read up on the often arbitrary internal logic of the group (and, by extension, the series). Peruse the architecture and fashion of the 30th century. See how race plays out. It's all there, and it's all excellent.
I'm hesitant to single out any individual essay, but quite honestly it's best to look at them as a whole anyway. Each essay is strengthened by the context in which they're read. For example, Matthew Elmslie's "Generational Theory and the Waid Threeboot" (yeah, yeah, I know I said I wouldn't single one out...) is a great read, but it's even more informational when you consider the previous iterations of the Legion and compare. You can easily think of these various aspects only in terms of their real world relevance - for example, how have the roles of teens changed from the '60s to today, and how is this reflected in the comic? How did social norms determine the female Legionnaires' roles (or conversely, how those norms were bucked)? - but then to compare and contrast with the other incarnations of what is ostensibly the same group gives you a better picture of the evolution of the series, the genre, the medium, and, at large, society as a whole. And that's where the fun really kicks in.
Teenagers from the Future is a few years old, having been released in 2008, but it's hardly outdated. Sure, you won't get the latter end of the Threeboot or the new books launched with DC's recent New 52, but that's fine. If anything, the Legion teaches us that legacies are enduring, that we should always be looking to the future but not be afraid to remember the past. So read Teenagers from the Future. Read the old Legion of Super-Heroes books. Read the new titles. Compare, contrast, debate. It's a lot, sure, but it's well worth it.
Besides, you've got a thousand years to catch up.
Posted by Colin Lalley