Next week, Paul Levitz returns to the Legion of Super-Heroes, kicking off a new series for the characters he helped define for so many years.
With next week's Legion of Super-Heroes #1, readers will get more stories of the original Legion characters who have been starring in DC series over recent months since Geoff Johns revived the team in Action Comics and later Adventure Comics. The youthful, futuristic team, led by founders Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad and Cosmic Boy, were once DC's premier super-team, particularly when Levitz was writing them in the 1980's.
Levitz, who stepped down from his job as president and publisher of DC Comics in September 2009, is writing both Legion of Super-Heroes and Adventure Comics, which he takes over next month. He is also writing a story arc in Superman/Batman, making him one of DC's more prolific writers after having been nearly absent from comics — outside his administrative role — for years.
As he begins a new era on Legion of Super-Heroes, Levitz spoke to Newsarama about the series and what comes next for the writer-turned-publisher-turned-writer.
Newsarama: Paul, I think what makes the Legion so fun for me as a reader is the combination of dramatic relationships and the futuristic sci-fi stuff. As you look at the series, what elements stand out to you as a writer, and are you going to play up any of those in particular as you begin the series?
Paul Levitz: Well, the thing that the science fiction offers you is to tell your story against a broader canvas. There was a Roger Zelazny character in one of his famous novels, Creatures of Light and Darkness, named the Prince Who Was a Thousand, who was a teleporter who could go to any world he could imagine. And at one point during the book, he muses about whether he really was a teleporter, or whether he was actually creating these worlds as he went there. Because if he could imagine it, he could get there. Had it never existed before?
Science fiction gives you that same kind of opportunity. You can imagine anything remotely plausible and place stories there.
But the harder story is about humanity and about the characters. The first issue of the book involves...
- Destruction of the homeworld of one of the characters;
- The Legionnaires getting forced to accept among them a member that they hate, and who they think hates them and hates much of what they stand for;
- Kidnapping of a loved one;
- Revelations of a relationship that's broken up;
- Interesting characters planted (hopefully) who will grow into being important parts of the Legion mythology, in one case literally growing into himself...
All those things are character-based. And you're really putting through their emotional paces.
Nrama: What did you mean by a character who is literally growing into himself? That he's both literally growing and figuratively growing?
Levitz: Growing into his destiny. There's an absolutely beautiful two-page scene that Yildiray drew taking place on Oa, where the last of the Green Lanterns is in mourning for the Corps, and stuff happens. 'Cause the Guardians have programmed Oa that will set things in motion on Oa long after their time.
Nrama: Those dirty Guardians are always manipulating things, even after they're gone.
Levitz: They're tricky little blue guys.
Nrama: Yeah they are. Do you think this story is something Green Lantern fans in particular will be interested in?
Levitz: Geoff had set up, in his arcs that related to the Legion, what was going on in his mind in he 31st Century with the Green Lantern Corps. Rond Vidar, who had been the Green Lantern of Earth in my stories, actually years ago, got killed. And we met or at least got to know Sodam Yat, who is the Green Lantern from the planet Daxam, where Mon-El comes from, so he's presumably got Superman-type powers.
At this point, with Vidar gone and other things that have happened, Sodam Yat may be the last of the Green Lanterns, or he may not be. And I think for readers that are fascinated by the Green Lantern mythology, they may find that interesting.
We also pick up on things in the first issue that relate back to even the Green Lantern stories that John Broome and Gil Kane had done. That provides the springboard for one of the sequences, one of the subplots, that drives the story in the first issue.
Nrama: You also mentioned "someone they hate joins the team," and I'm assuming that's Earthman, since you've told us before that the government kind of forces him to join the Legion of Super-Heroes. What are the themes you're exploring with that part of the plot as Earthman faces his former foes, and they face the idea of joining with someone they once fought against?
Levitz: You've got a character who was clearly the villain of an important story arc, who did some pretty foul things, but was a hero in his own mind. He had a thorough justification for what he was doing. He was acting for humanity against all the, I guess in his views, the misogynist behaviors of letting all the aliens come on Earth and mix.
A page from Legion of Superheroes #1I think that's a wonderful metaphor for some of the dilemmas we face now, where if we don't solve the problem of getting the different tribes of Earth to live happily together, we're going to not have a future. It's really the challenge of the next generation. So he becomes an interesting challenge. You can't be part of one faction of humanity at the expense of others without risking destroying everything that matters in the world.
Can we take him on a journey, as we surround him by the Legionnaires that will lead him to question his isolated view and change him? Does he remain engulfed by his own hatred? What does that lead him to do within the Legion if that's the case?
And what happens to the Legionnaires in interacting with him? They have a fair amount of reason to hate him. There's a lovely moment in one of the stories where one of the Legionnaires essentially says, "If the other guys weren't watching I would let you die."
You get some nice tension back and forth, and ultimately, if it pays out at the end of the first arc, you have some interesting growth in characters' views of the world.
Nrama: It sounds like he's going to have to do some adjusting, as well as the Legion members.
Levitz: Absolutely. It's not a very happy marriage. When you're offering a guy your membership ring while he's chained and being zapped to have his powers depleted, it's not what you call a seductive induction into the group!
Nrama: We have new characters introduced, we have a tie-in to Green Lantern mythology, we have Earthman showing up, and we have lots of conflict. Is there anything else in the first story arc you want to tell people about?
Levitz: We have some things that harkens back to a lot of stories that I did, stories that a lot of other writers did connecting it, and hopefully those are things that are Easter eggs that people will find and enjoy.
The real interesting stuff, I hope, is the emotional journey of the characters. I think I lucked out completed in Yildiray Cinar, who is a wonderfully talented artist at a perfect moment in his career. He's gotten enormously into several of the character. I love his depictions of Saturn Girl and Brainiac 5 in particular. He's added to their personality by the acting that he's developed for them, the physical motions. I think we'll see him continue to grow that way with many of the others.
Nrama: I know a lot of this story arc relies on what Geoff Johns had done during his Action Comics run, but are you bringing people up to speed on what the Legion is doing?
Levitz: I think, largely, we're asking people to jump on he speeding train, but hopefully we're giving them an easy on-ramp, where it won't be confusing as they jump on, and they can get attached to the characters as they go. We're not attempting to introduce all the Legionnaires instantly to you and have you care about all of them from the first moment, so you get much more involved in the lives of a handful of them in the first issue. The personalities become a little more real and important over time.
Nrama: We've talked before about how you are introducing more than one new character in the first issue. These characters have gotten older, and there does seem to be a lack of diversity, as far as Earth-type ethnicities, so are you gearing the new characters toward age and race diversity?
Levitz: I haven't played so much with bringing in a younger set of characters immediately. The Legionnaires are still relatively young people with their lives at fairly early and interesting stages. There are a couple of married couples in the group, and a couple of seemingly rather settled relationships, although one will be unsettled immediately.
The diversity is more important to me, in part because we're living in a different society than we were when I was writing it 20 years ago. And it's really important to be reflective of all of that. I can't say that I've solved all of it in the first handful of issues, but hopefully it will lead in a set of directions. And I think the Legion as always a bit better on those issues than a lot of other titles.
Nrama: Obviously, the Legion was immensely popular at one time, but it's struggled someone in the last decade or so to find an audience. Why do you think that is, and are you addressing that with this launch of a new volume of adventures?
Levitz: When you look back at the first part of the Legion's history, about 25 or so years that they had their own strip through most of that time, and out of those 25 years, it was a top-selling title for probably 20 of the 25 years.
The second 25 years have been a lot more challenging for them. Part of it is that there are clearly many more titles living in the superhero world. So some of what was distinctive about the Legion when I was a kid, when it was one of the relatively few group books and probably the only one that had dramatic changes in the lives of its members, has been much more commonly available in other fashions. At that point, you've got to be doing it better than everyone else to stay on top of the heap.
A page from Legion of Superheroes #1I think strength of the book has always been the challenge of the book. There's a ton of characters; there's a ton of back-story; you have all these worlds; you have all these powers; you have all these connections; and it's very easy to have a portion of the readership say, "That's complicated. I don't want to go there." And the job of a good writer is to make the story entertaining, then the complications interesting added details, rather than speed bumps.
And that's what I'm hoping to do again.
Nrama: What else are you working on for DC? You've got a Superman/Batman arc coming out this month too, right?
Levitz: Yeah, the Superman/Batman arc is a fun one, built around Lex Luthor's quest for immortality, and that will pay off around Issue #75 with a story that will involve the Legion, so we kind of get a century-spanning dimension to it.
Then we've got Adventure Comics in June. The first story in that title allowed me to pick up on a little story gimmick that Geoff had used in the Superboy story a few months back. He had a little list that Conner was building, analyzing ways he was like Superman and ways he was like Lex.
I stole that visual gimmick, with Geoff's blessing, for a story called "Playing Hookey," which is Superboy's list of things he always wanted to do in Smallville but couldn't, and he's excited about doing them in the 30th Century. I think that's an interesting way to introduce you to the logic of why Superboy wants to be in the 30th Century so much.
I think DC will also announce, next week, a non-comics project that I've been working on for the last few months, but I'm not allowed to talk about it until then.
And ultimately, I hope to be doing some stuff for Vertigo and a variety of other kinds of writing projects. But this has been a kind of full plate.
Nrama: It's got to feel pretty good to get back into writing with such a variety of projects, and by jumping in feet first like this.
Levitz: Writing beats the hell out of budgets and human resources analyses and so many of those things. There are wonderful things about the job I had for so many years; I got to do incredible things there. But there were also things that were just plain work. And getting to play with comic book characters is a pretty fun way to spend your days.