When Phil Jimenez started on Adventure Comics, he brought a love for the Legion of Super-Heroes and a knack for new character design for the comic's focus on the young heroes of the Legion Academy.
The artist, who has worked on high-profile projects like Amazing Spider-Man and Infinite Crisis, is getting to work on one of his favorite superhero teams as he begins a new exclusive contract at DC Comics. His first assignment was illustrating a back-up story for Legion of Super-Heroes #6, introducing the new Legion Academy to current continuity and giving them a whole new set of characters and futuristic costumes.
The idea of a "Legion Academy" isn't an entirely new concept, having been introduced in Adventure Comics #371 in 1968. But the former students usually stayed in the background, while the new crew of Academy students is starring in its own story, with Paul Levitz writing and Jimenez on art, beginning with February's Adventure Comics #523Now that the new characters by Jimenez have been introduced to the future world of the Legion, Newsarama talked with the artist to find out more about his designs. Newsarama: Phil, how involved were you in the creation of the new Legion Academy?
Phil Jimenez: When I received the script for Legion #6, there were several characters in the new Legion Academy, but they were essentially just names and powers, with a few suggestions for backgrounds. I had the opportunity to run with them, because they were new. I changed their backgrounds a little bit as well.
Nrama: How did you approach their costumes and overall design? Was it more about giving them a modern spin, or honoring the established look of the Legion? Or was it both?
Jimenez: A little bit of both. I tend to be really inspired by fashion, particularly European fashion, couture fashion. I think in designing costumes, particularly for the future, two things occurred: First, I used the costume sensibility that existed previously, the one established by Mike Grell and later elaborated on and transformed by Keith Giffen. Then I used fashion to sort of tweak the costumes to make them look, I'd like to say, a little bit more "hip."
Nrama: The style seems a little more defined in Adventure Comics.
Jimenez: We refined them a little in Adventure Comics. We tried to really use color effects to enhance them even further than they were in the first issue of their appearance, where they were colored a little more traditionally.
Nrama: Dragonwing has a look that really stands out. Is that cape made of plastic?
Jimenez: It is. She's one of my favorites to draw. Her costume is an amalgam of a couple of ideas. She was definitely pulled from fashion sources. I wanted to give her a clear plastic cape, not unlike one of the characters from Blade Runner, the only that Joanna Cassidy plays.
In my head, in order to elaborate on that idea, I thought I wanted there to be something digital on the cape. And so the idea was that this plastic cape was not simply there for covering but it was also decoration, like all clothing is, and the dragon was supposed to be this other digital display that constantly moves throughout the fold of the plastic fabric.
We’re still trying to perfect that in color. I think we got closer in Adventure #523, because the interesting fact about plastic is what makes it look like plastic is the way it catches and reflects light, and so I had a lot of conversations with the colorist about that. And then we’re trying to treat her color a little bit. I added specific color palettes for each character, and so hopefully will see more of those tweaks in the issues themselves.
Nrama: So when you came up with the designs for the new characters, you had specific colors assigned to each of them?
Jimenez: Oh, yeah. That’s a design thing. If I have a certain amount of characters, I want to be very, very careful that there aren’t too many with the same color palette and that the colors themselves bring out some quality of the character. So with a character like Dragonwing, you have some really wonderful imagery.
When I was designing Dragonwing, I was looking at Asian dragons, and there was one specific image where I just loved the color palette, which was sort of rich red blue and green, and I said, oh, that’s it. Those are her colors. And her hair is sort of crazy, spiky hair, but I wanted it to be much more vibrantly red, so she would always pop in a crowd. But yes, I always design teams and costumes thinking about their color palette.
Nrama: Then you have Gravity Kid, whose costume looks a little bit like a throwback costume. Was that the idea behind it?
Jimenez: His costume is absolutely a throwback. The character himself is a huge fan of and student of the Legion. So he's really book smart about the Legion. He might know a lot about Wildfire’s powers or Dream Girl’s battle skills, but he might not be able to tell you anything about them personally.
The sensibility of his costume was inspired by the older, sexier Mike Grell costumes. And so he’s the one that kind of wears the sort of open shirt, skin tight. I wanted something sexy and proud of it, partly because he works out for that body and partly because, well, this is something the Legion would have worn, you know, back in 2487. Think of how, in current day, the ‘80s are coming back in modern fashion, and imagine him wanting to look like that era of the Legion.
Nrama: Chemical Kid's costume looks very futuristic, but really superheroic.
Jimenez: In my head, that's the most traditional costume. But you're right that he's got a costume that seems to have fabrics you would only see in the future. He’s the rich kid, and I wanted a costume whose fabrics represented this. So each aspect of the fabric is something really exclusive in the 31st century. I’m not sure that comes across so easily, but that’s still something we’re trying to perfect. And he has digital sunglasses that he wears all the time, and he’s kind of obnoxious about them. So Chemical Kid’s costume is really, I’d say, kind of traditional. The cut is also – I guess there’s a bit of that Neo Matrix look in that the cape comes not from the shoulders, but from his waist.
Nrama: And then we have Variable Lad, who's more alien-looking than the rest.
Jimenez: Yeah. Variable Lad is my throwback to a supporting character from the Legion. His name was Dr. Gym’ll. And when we were designing these characters, I wanted someone that was not just totally new. I always liked Dr. Gym’ll. I thought he was kind of funny, and I thought, oh, what if this Variable Lad was just, you know, is a favorite of the Legion doctor because he’s a good kid and he has this power. And so in designing him, I made him kind of like a taller, leaner version of that character, and knowing that his color is purple, I wanted to use colors that would really play off of that, which is why he’s in white and yellow.
Further, he’s probably the most insecure on the team, at least in my head. And so I wanted the colors to reflect that. And so that led to the white and yellow, just because it generally subconsciously suggests a certain amount of fear. He’s not a fighting character. He’s not a wuss, but he definitely is the most – what would I say? He’s the least confident of them, and I wanted the costume on some level to represent that.
Nrama: Are there any of the supporting characters that really stand out to you, with the way you designed them?
Jimenez: There are old time Legion characters, like Duplicate Girl and her husband Bouncing Boy, who are teachers at the Academy. And we get to play with them a lot. I’ve really, really grown to like them, especially a character like Bouncing Boy who is kind of absurd, but when you draw him and really play with him, he’s actually a really terrific mentor character. Part of it is because he does seem so absurd and yet he’s so even-keeled.We’re also going to address a little bit of what happened with the other Academy members, including Power Boy, and Lamprey, and Nightwind, and they actually have interesting stories, because they’ve been with the Academy for years and they’re finally starting to realize they’re probably never going to be Legionnaires.
I think people can relate to being in school and having things you've always wanted to do, and then you realize it’s probably not going to happen. You’re not going to get that dream job. What do you do and where do you focus those energies? What happens to kids who dream about being Legion superheroes and they realize they never will be Legion superheroes? When you have to adjust your dreams, how do you do that? Where do you begin?
Nrama: I had talked to Paul a little bit about the run, and from what I understand, there’s a lot of mysteries behind these characters, and we’ll find out more and more. I assume you’re privy to all of those. How involved are you in developing these characters as we find out more and more about them?
Jimenez: I guess it depends. Paul started with a list of characters with names and home worlds. I designed their look, and then I gave them backgrounds in my head so that I could draw them, so I could get an acting out on them as we reintroduce them.
And then when I presented the background ideas to Paul, he liked most of them. So I was actually really happy because, of course, this is, you know, Paul Levitz, who’s the Legion guy. I was concerned about what Paul would say. I felt like I was sort of playing in his universe, but he allowed me to create backgrounds for them and he ran with that. That actually made me really even more excited.
The idea that Chemical Kid was the rich kid, like, he found a lot of story potential in that, so a lot of our first Adventure run together is about Chemical Kid and his family, and where that money comes from, and some stuff like that.
He also liked the idea that Dragonwing was a bit of a mystery character, and I saw her being like an East Village girl who’s definitely, like, she’s a rebel, but not a villain, and someone who was probably friends with people that, say, Gravity Kid would not be. And Paul really liked it, so we went with that as well, and then sort of expanded on each one of these. So it was very gratifying to know that Paul liked some of these ideas, and not only likes them, but actually ran with some of them when the started telling these stories.
Nrama: Paul seemed to indicate that the Legion Academy approach was just something they were trying, hoping it might catch on as a focus for Adventure Comics. Do you think it will stick around?
Jimenez: That’s a good question. I wanted to do this in the pages of Adventure. It's partly a test run just to see, like, what fans like about these characters, and do readers want to see more?
I like these characters quite a bit and have grown quite fond of them, and I think you can see that in the work. I suspect that DC is trying to figure out now what to do with them, and I think with the first issue, now the second one coming out, people will decide if they want to see more of them.
I enjoy it quite a bit, and it’s a great way to play in the 30th Century, or the 31st Century, excuse me, on a different scale. And Paul has discussed different kinds of adventures that we could do, and so I guess we’ll see. We’ll see what people think about them.