For fans of the Legion of Super-Heroes, there are few runs on the title more legendary than the 1980s comics by writer Paul Levitz and penciler Keith Giffen.
In December, the legendary creative team reunites with <a href="http://www.newsarama.com/comics/levitz-giffen-legion-annual-100920.html
">Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1</a>, a story written by Levitz with pencils by Giffen that features what editor Brian Cunningham calls an "all-new, all-psycho Emerald Empress."
It isn't the first time the two have created a Legion Annual #1 -- in fact, it's the third. But this time around, the team will tie into the brand new title that was recently launched by Levitz with artist Yildiray Cinar.
In Part 1 of a two-part Legion series on Newsarama, we talked with Levitz, the writer-turned-publisher-turned-writer who currently guides the Legion books, and his collaborator Giffen, as they join forces for December's annual.
Newsarama: Paul, how did this reunion with Keith come about?
Paul Levitz: As soon as Keith heard I was doing some Legion work again, he was an immediate and energetic volunteer. And knowing his fondness for the Emerald Empress, I said, "I'll put her aside for you, and when I'm ready to get to that story, I'll give you a yell."
Nrama: Keith, you mentioned to us last month that you were itching to draw. Was this something you were ready and willing to do?
Keith Giffen: Yeah, I volunteered to pencil the issue, and the next thing I know, I got a call saying, "Hey, you know that story you want to do with Paul?" I said, "Yeah!" "It's a Legion Annual. You want to do it?" And I said, "Sure!"
I'm looking forward to all these projects, but the thing I'm looking forward to is that Legion Annual. It's been what, 20 years? But I tell you, it's almost like going home. The icing on the cake is that it's all about the Emerald Empress, who is my absolute Legion villain.
Nrama: How is it working together again?
Giffen: Oh, we just fell right back into it. We sat down and talked about story points and managed to figure out a threat that the Legion can deal with that has never been done before.
I'm just happy to get a chance to return to the Legion with Paul. We seem to have struck a nerve back then. Let's see if we can strike a nerve again.
Nrama: Keith, you mentioned during our conversation last month that you felt a little awkward about taking over Matthew Clark's duties on and were therefore trying to honor the way he made the characters look. Is there any of that awkwardness going on with the Legion, since you've been away for awhile?
Giffen: No! It's weird, no matter who's ever drawn the Legion in the years since I drew it, I've always thought of the Legion as . On , I'm being cautious, but with the Legion, I'm just kicking out the stops and saying, "OK, let's do it again, Paul. Let's remind them why we were the second best selling title after Teen Titans at DC."
Nrama: Paul, does the annual fit in with what's going on with the main Legion title?
Levitz: I've always been unusually persnickety about stuff like that, where I've tried to make the pieces fit together as carefully as I can. So, assuming that everything gets done on time and ships in its natural order, it should connect fairly neatly in with the other pieces.
It's not so much driving any other story, because the tonality and the opportunity to play with Keith doing the kinds of things he does well makes it logical as a stand-alone. But at a certain point in the next month or two, you'll see a couple Legionnaires going off on vacation, and the next time we see them, they're not having the most fun vacation they possibly could have imagined.
Nrama: When you say, "the kind of things Keith does well," what in particular are you trying to infuse this story with?
Levitz: Part of the fun with Keith, based on the story we worked out together, he's a great world builder. It's one of the things he did wonderfully on the years we were together on the Legion that he hasn't had a lot of opportunity to do in the conventional DC Universe.
Keith is such an imaginative thinker that if you give him a set of concepts to work with.... like years ago when we did Shrinking Violet's planet, where we built a whole world for people who could shrink. It was a kind of cool, different visual. We used to sometimes agree that a particular planet would be envisioned in the style of a particular artist -- not even necessarily a comic book artist. And that would be enough for Keith to go off and design that whole corner of the universe.
So that's what he's doing with the planet where this story takes place. You have a planet that is, on some levels, essentially being possessed. It's going through the spiritual equivalent of organically being "Borged." And I'm very much looking forward to seeing what he does with that.
Giffen: You know how great it is to draw a book and you don't have to reference anything except the costumes?
Nrama: Because it's in the 31st Century and you can make things up?
Giffen: Yes, but you know, it's important to get that right, to make it feel like the future. I used to say that in the 30th Century, if it has wheels, it's wrong. , if you push a button, it's wrong.
Nrama: So you have to modernize it even more since last time you drew it?
Giffen: Yeah, because last time I did it, half of the stuff I was drawing in the Legion, thinking I was so clever back then, You know? So yeah, it does take a certain mindset to say, OK, a thousand years from now.... if you took someone from a thousand years ago and brought him into our current world, he would think we were a world of . It would be beyond his comprehension. It would be like magic to him.
Now, I can't really go in and do that to the Legion of Super-Heroes because readers have to have some kind of base upon to suspend their disbelief. So I'm bound by certain conventions. Like in the book now, they may fly off to wherever they have to go or board a spaceship to get somewhere, even though I'm sure that, by that time, especially since we've established that teleportation exists in the DCU, they would just go through some type of portal. But you have to find a comfortable middle ground where I can feed the reader familiar things before going in and messing with it.
Nrama: Keith, the Legion has changed their look quite a bit since you were drawing them. What do you think of the new look of the team? Are you OK with their costumes?
Giffen: Well, of course, I'm coming in from my perspective, and I can't just redesign costumes. The only thing I will not do is draw them wearing . I think some of them are wearing spats, and that drives me crazy. But other than that, I'm just trying to bring a certain sensibility to their environment. Saturn Girl will look the way she always looks in that comic. I'm not going to go in and make wholesale, sweeping changes when I'm only there for the . But I'm going to have fun.
Nrama: You mentioned that it feels like "coming home." Is it easy for you to pick up on their personalities again after all this time?
Giffen: Yeah. I'm familiar with their characters. They feel completely familiar. Of course, I've had to do a little bit of reading before diving into the Annual. Some of the characters have changed a little, even if it's just some subtle changes in their attitude. That's going to change their body language or the way their faces look. I know Brainiac 5 is not the Brainiac 5 I walked away from years ago. He's a little harsher and more megalomaniacal. He's almost like the Chief from Doom Patrol. But I know this going in.
Nrama: Then to finish up, Keith, we all know you backed away from co-writing because of other commitments. Was this one of those commitments?
Giffen: Now you understand. If it came down to doing the bi-weekly JLI book or going back to doing the 30th Century with Paul? That's not even a contest. There's no contest on where I'm going to go.
I'm hoping that we'll attract a few people who are curious about what these two old fools are doing. I hope we can wow them again. I'm certainly going to try!What other classic teams would you like to return to their book?