A Complicated and Confusing Future

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By Bob Temuka

It's January 27th, 1993, I've just turned 18 years old and I'm saying goodbye to my big sister at Christchurch Airport. She is going off to Perth, and I'm not going to see her for another few years.

But as soon as she boards the plane, I'm racing back to the airport bookshop, because I'm a complete dork who is more interested in comics than anything else in the world, and I've just stumbled across one of the greatest comic stashes I've ever seen, and my head is starting to fill with a complicated future. A future that is Legion-shaped.

The airport bookshop is selling off a bunch of DC comics from the past few years for a buck each, and I gorge on them. I've never lived in a town with a comic shop, and the few DC titles that showed on local store shelves were always the most bland and generic (and Batman). But this airport bookshop has things like Howard Chaykin and José Luis García-López’s  Twilight, and a small pile of various Armageddon 2001 annuals, and it's the first time I ever buy an issue of Gaiman's Sandman, or Morrison's Doom Patrol.

And it's the first time I ever read an issue of Keith Giffen and Tom and Mary Bierbaum's Legion of Super Heroes, and it’s issue twenty and I have absolutely no idea what is going on. I’m totally, awesomely lost; and I want more.

They say that every comic should act like it’s somebody’s first, and should be easy to get into and accessible and all that jazz, but they don’t always know what they are talking about. Sometimes it’s fun to leap feet first into a convoluted continuity, and try to figure out how things work for yourself.

After all, unless you were there from the beginning, we all do it when we first start reading Daredevil or Fantastic Four or Superman or any other superhero created decades ago. There is already a vast history facing any eight-year old kid picking up their first Spider-Man comic. And while this can usually be ignored, the Giffen/ Bierbaum Legion of Super-Heroes happily wallowed in its huge mudpit of a continuity.

Before I got my hands on Legion of Super Heroes v4 #20, I could maybe name half a dozen Legion members, and had read relatively little of their decades-long adventures. So when I did read that issue, I was gloriously lost. It was just a huge mess of strange characters, some pretty familiar and comfortable, some completely unrecognisable and weird.

This is the early nineties, so there was no internet, or any other available reference material, and it would take me years to get more v4 issues (and more than a decade to complete the series). So it took months before I realized who Salu Digby was and that the bloke blubbing over the horror of war was Cosmic Boy, and the full implications of the events of Venado Bay would not become clear for years.

I didn’t know any of that, that January afternoon long ago, but it didn’t matter. This is the fun part of a new obsession – figuring it all out, piecing it all together, filling in the gaps as best as possible, putting a bit of bloody thought into it.  That kind of obsession for a new and complicated fictional narrative only comes along every couple of years or so, and it doesn’t happen as often as it once did – the last time it really happened was when I fell hard for A Song Of Ice And Fire a couple of years ago. But when I love a comic, I really, really love a comic, even when I can't understand it.

And I did start understanding it, and as each new piece of the jigsaw slowly slotted into place, the emotional resonance of the series grew. Some characters actually had a personality for the first time in 30 years - Phantom Girl wasn’t just a girl who was a phantom, she was somebody who lived in two worlds at once, both literally and metaphorically. And Shrinking Violet wasn’t just a violet who shrunk, she was somebody who had a level of assertiveness that was a direct opposite to her size. And all the hopelessness of the dark series was never enough to extinguish that spark of youthful optimism that the Legion had been founded on.

I would end up following the Legion for years, until I started to choke on Moy cuteness, and I haven’t followed the Legion regularly since, even though I still genuinely care about the characters. It was a little sad to hear they are cancelling the current series, but not that sad. Especially if it means they might try something new with the concept, like Giffen and his chums did, back in the day.

I'm 18 when I start reading the best Legion comics ever, and there will be all sorts of change and upheaval in my own life over the next few years, as I go through all the usual dramas of love, loss and friendship. But this version of the Legion was always there to show me that the world can turn to shit sometimes, but some bonds will never break, even at the end of the world.

This one incomprehensible comic, picked up out of the rack at an airport bookshop, opened a door to a complicated, both literally and metaphorically, but there is never any need to fear the future.

Bob Temuka lives in New Zealand and can't stop writing about comic books at the Tearoom of Despair.