LEGION & Relaunches: PAUL LEVITZ Talks DCnU Revamp & LSH


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As a DC Comics executive for the last few decades, Paul Levitz has been through quite a few comic book relaunches.

This time around, after leaving his job as publisher in 2009, Levitz is one of the writers behind the relaunch, as he comes back to Legion of Super-Heroes in September with a new #1.

The Legion of Super-Heroes is a team of super-powered youths who live in the 31st Century. They exist in the future of the DC Universe, and they're inspired by the history of Superman and other superheroes to fight on the side of good.

Levitz has long been renowned for his work on the Legion, from his legendary work on the characters in the '80s as well as his current run on the book with artist Yilderay Cinar.

But the current Legion comic will change in September as several members of the team are thrown back in time, launching a new spin-off series called, Legion Lost. Meanwhile, the rest of the heroes stay in the 31st Century in the regular Legion of Super-Heroes comic by Levitz and Francis Portella.

Newsarama talked with Levitz to find out more about the comic's changes and to see what he thinks of the relaunch.

Newsarama: Paul, to start off, does your Legion of Super-Heroes and the Legion Lost go together, yet stand-alone for readers who only read one of them?

Paul Levitz: That's the idea. It's taking the old crew and spinning them into two different directions. Over time, a logical set of connections should develop from all of that, as we put the pieces together. But it's two books with two different missions and circumstances.

Nrama: The Legion has experienced a lot of reboots, so the fear when this initiative was announced was that we'd see yet another version of the Legion. That fear was alleviated we saw the line-up, but are these books rebooting the Legion at all? Or is this the same group of characters you've been writing this last year?

Levitz: Hopefully there will be some tonal changes. In something like this, the most feared use of the term "reboot" when you come near a book like Legion is, "Oh my God! Is all the mythology changing? Is Sensor Girl a snake now?" (Not that that was a bad idea, but it was a radical idea.) And each time it got rebooted, there was that kind of change where, what you knew before is wrong. People worry about that in a book like the Legion where there's so much historical context.

I hope what will be different with this will be a little bit different tone than we've had recently, and this is a different mix of characters, obviously, because we've lost (literally) a significant group of the core of the team. That should change the dynamic a bit.

We're also going to see some characters who have not previously been on the team in important roles.

I think the tease piece that's already out showed one of the academy kids acting as a Legionnaire, Dragonwing. But she's not the only new face.

I think, with some luck, we'll reveal things about the history of the Legion, about the way the universe works in the 31st Century, that were not part of the mythology before, but don't necessarily contradict the mythology that people are used to. They just reveal aspects of it that we haven't touched before.

Nrama: The cover shows Ultra Boy, Dragonwing and Chameleon Boy, but who is the armored character in the back?

Levitz: That's not a Legion character. You'll see in the first storyline why he's there. One of the things that we haven't touched on enormously, in at least the current run of the Legion, is the broad mix of how the universe is constructed between the different empires and political groups. The more military part of how all of that works and the first story arc here will at least touch some of that, so that's Francis' version of what a 31st Century soldier looks like, and will show up in the first storyline.

Nrama: The Legion comics were grouped with other "young" characters. Is that driving the approach to these characters and the young members who will be part of it?

Levitz: Yeah, we're going to try to have, with the Academy kids and the mix of characters that we show, a little more of the classic "Legionnaires as young people" theme. We'll have a little less emphasis on the characters whose lives have gone on to more complicated, older stages. That doesn't mean we won't see them again, but we'll move the spotlight a little.

And in that process, I think you'll get a chance to play with some different emotional beats and bits than I've had over the last 16 issues of arc. With this age group, you can have rebellion, you can have self-discovery... their life is at a different stage and different things matter to them.

Nrama: You mentioned tonal changes. What's the new tone of this comic?

Levitz: We've gotten some feedback during our run so far. And Dan and Jim spent some significant time thinking about the line, and figuring out how they want to make this move. And they gave some reactions, and we tried to make some adjustments based on that. That includes the mix of characters we're working with, and it also includes Jim spending some time looking at Francis' designs and character designs and tweaking them. And that's a wonderful opportunity for an artist like Francis, who has never had the opportunity for that kind of feedback from an artist of Jim's caliber at DC before. We've had very few artist/editors in the last generation, and none of Jim's kind of strength, as one of the most successful superhero artists of his generation, who could pick up the pencil and go over a guy's stuff.

Nrama: Is there an effort with this #1 to give people a jumping-on point for new readers?

Levitz: We're writing it to make sure it's an easy place for new readers to come in. You know, I just had a new #1 not even a year-and-a-half ago. The difference this time is that last time I had 38 pages to work with and the Legion hadn't been around for awhile, so I felt an obligation to the core Legion readership to give a taste of how big the world was, how big the cast was, while still focusing in on a few of the guys for the emotional parts of the first story.

This time, we focus on a small number of the characters so new readers will feel comfortable with them and their world, and so long-time readers will be introduced to this group. We also give Francis a chance to show his stuff, which hopefully will be attractive to a different group than Yilderay. I'm hoping we keep people who like Yilderay's version, but attract some new people who like the way the book looks now.

Nrama: It's pretty notable that this franchise is getting two comics in the relaunch. Is it believed that these characters have something that really differentiates them from the rest of the DCU and therefore deserves a couple different titles?

Levitz: Well, the characters they brought to the 21st Century include a number of aliens that are very distinct from what the 21st Century DC Universe has available to it. And it has Wildfire, who's a very different type of character with powers and origin and everything. These are things that they didn't easily have in the DCU. It's not like you're inventing seven new characters and trying to make the world care about them. You're bringing some pre-sold audience in the process. So I think that's part of the motivation there. I know we've been talking about bringing some of the Legionnaires to the 21st Century for a while. It's always been an interesting story idea that a lot of us have touched upon. It should be cool.

Nrama: What are your thoughts on the relaunch overall?

Levitz: I'm happy to be involved. I'm thrilled that I was put on Legion again, and allowed to stay with the characters I love in the process. I thank the guys for that vote of confidence.

The idea, as a number of people have commented, is something we had talked about after Crisis on Infinite Earths. At the time, it was a very different business and there was a very different business model. We were still in the last days of the newsstand and really the first days of the direct market paying the rent for comics. Graphic novels didn't exist in any meaningful fashion. So it didn't seem like a feasible idea. But it was a very appealing concept.

The guys have done a fair amount of planning this time, at least from what I can see. They're trying very hard to use this to address not just creative issues of the DCU and re-arranging assignments and writers and artists to get a good balance, but they're trying to use it to get a good jump on the schedules and make things smoother on that front.

I hope it's a wonderful success and creates the noise that will attract a new group of people to try things.

Nrama: Is it hard in your position to not compare it to something that's been done before? Or is the business different enough now that the rules are changed?

Levitz: Yeah, that's it. This isn't "before." That's the thing about any of these things. You're existing in this moment in time. We've never had the ability to create a digital product that in theory could be accessible to anyone who had literally a moment's curiosity. We never had the ability to command the level of press attention that exists for this relaunch. We never had the same set of resources available to us that are available now. All of those things affect the dynamic.

You have to think in the world that you're living in, and assess it according to that. Ideas exist from the beginning of time, on some level, but they're only relevant when it gets there. There's a wonderful book somewhere, and I forget the title, that traces many of the great inventions and establishes that the idea of the automobile is a great idea, but in order for there to be an automobile, we had to have gotten to the internal combustion engine, we had to get to the ability to refine petroleum, and if we hadn't had each of those steps, you could have dreamed the automobile, but it wouldn't work. You have Da Vinci dreaming of flight and drawing the personal flyer that technology didn't remotely permit for another, what, 600? But somebody could look at that drawing 600 years later and say, OK, put a jetpack on the guy's back and maybe we can pull this off.

In coming back to writing after 20 years of not doing it regularly, I realized even writing has to change in the era of Google. When you introduce something in the course of a conversation of your characters, if it's something the reader isn't familiar with, but it doesn't block or stop the story, if the reader's curious, they can find out literally everything they want to know about it in about three minutes. That's totally different from what the world was when last I was writing Legion of Super-Heroes. Does it make writing better? Worse? I don't know. But it makes it different. I had a throwaway line in my first Legion book, the last run, about Maslow's hierarchy and I would never have dared do that when I was writing in the old days.

So hopefully, in that same fashion, the writers and artists who are doing this are looking at this and saying, "Look, it's 2011, and we know who our potential audience is now. We know what they have access to, we know what they're interested in. How do we make this all more interesting to them? More inviting for them?"

I'm just a guy rowing in one of the rows of the galley on that, but I hope I'm doing my part to move the ship along.

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