Never Traded #2: L.E.G.I.O.N.

As previously discussed, comic shops have tons of comics just begging to be collected together and sold as a set, clearing out inventory and exposing fans to great comics they probably missed. Here's another that deserves the distinction. (Never Traded Introduction ; NT#1) Title: L.E.G.I.O.N. Genre: Action/Adventure, Science Fiction Issues: L.E.G.I.O.N. #1-39, Annual #1

L.E.G.I.O.N. is a prequel of sorts to the DC comic Legion of Super-Heroes which takes place in the 30th century. Legion of Super-Heroes (LoS) has a fairly lengthy history and a pretty hardcore following. I was never a fan, myself. I have nothing against LoS, I just never picked it up. As such, I have no idea whether L.E.G.I.O.N. is considered cannon or blasphemy by those who know better. But in any case, it was a fun book for me to read; and it is good enough to rate a Never Traded column.

L.E.G.I.O.N. began as a spin-off from DC's company-wide crossover Invasion which, appropriately enough, featured an alien invasion of earth that had to be fought off by the DC heroes. It's not really necessary to read Invasion to understand L.E.G.I.O.N., but it's not a bad back story to have. As the invaders stormed across the universe, several worlds paid tribute to them in the form of slaves/prisoners. Some of these prisoners banded together and escaped their cells during the melee with earth. L.E.G.I.O.N. begins shortly after their escape.

The rag tag group of misfits heads off into space, ostensibly to return everyone to his respective planet. But Vril Dox of Coluu has ulterior motives. Cold and calculating, Dox uses his fellow escapees as a strikeforce against the computer tyrants who control his homeworld. Their success leads Dox to propose that the group form an interplanetary police force that can protect the galaxy (and replace the defunct Green Lantern Corps). But his good intentions merely mask his selfish desire; and indeed, Dox's vision for universal law and order bears a striking resemblance to the political system he has just overthrown.

Despite their individual misgivings, and outright disdain for Dox, the other members see that, while his means are questionable, his ends are worthwhile. Each follows Dox not so much because they agree with him, but more because they lack any better ideas. And their shared outcast status (their homeworlds did throw them away, after all) unifies them as well as any particular agenda.

The cast of characters in this book is vast, expanding as the L.E.G.I.O.N. itself grows. And while the characters are largely static, their personalities are entertaining, and they keep the story moving.

Vril Dox is the hard-headed leader, and it is under his direction that L.E.G.I.O.N. thrives. But he is a tyrant--or at least borders on one--who has no interest in anything other than his own self interest. His is the will-to-power, and all others are mere pawns in his interplanetary scheme. That the galaxy might be better off is a secondary consideration. Indeed, it is Dox who is the largest source of conflict for the group, as the other characters act in response or opposition to his demands. Despite his self-righteousness, Dox blunders forward, propelled more by arrogance than good planning. His schemes are successful more from luck than design. But rather than give him pause to reconsider, his luck only reinforces his resolve.

Lyrissa Mallor, former planetary champion of Talok VIII, serves are Dox's foil. She functions as the implementer and administrator of Dox's plan, handling the day-to-day duties of running a large organization. As such, she is able to take a heavy hand in keeping the ship aligned with justice and mercy rather than Dox's darker vision of control. She makes Dox's dream a reality by becoming the conscience to his desire, the superego to his id. And although he treats her like crap (as he does everyone), she remains the soul of the group.

Lobo is noteworthy as the least compelling character. He is the one-note bad ass who likes to fight. Lobo serves as the muscle for the group, but his character doesn't really make sense. He's supposed to have super strength (he's gone toe to toe with Superman) and be an uncontrollable loner; and yet, his strength varies wildly depending on the needs of the story, and he swears allegiance to Dox. So he doesn't even live up to his own rep. He's the low spot in the title for me, but of course, he was a popular character, because lots of comic fans love their bad boys.

The other core members are worth mentioning in how they play off of Dox. Garyn Bek is the malcontent who eventually finds his place when he stands up to Dox. Strata is a rocklike creature whose slow passivity hides her real strength. Stealth is a wild card, and she's the one character who can get the better of Dox, by treating him like he treats everyone else. And the Durlan is a shape-shifting creature who comes closest to being Dox's friend—and thus can hurt him emotionally.

L.E.G.I.O.N. is an entertaining morality play that questions when law and order becomes fascism. There is an interesting strain among the various cast members. While they disagree with Dox, they often don't have a good counter-argument. And while they complain about his methods, they continue to follow him, because (usually) they support his ends. And while they despise him, they never mutiny. Their willingness to be led by a questionable leader serves as an ominous theme throughout the series.

L.E.G.I.O.N. also is about the nature of an organization (and people management). Without Dox, there's no leadership; but without Lyrissa, there is no order, and without the rest of the group, there is no one to make it all work. All three components are necessary for the organization to function.

Despite these interweaving themes, L.E.G.I.O.N. is never overtly political, philosophical, or psychological. Instead, the characters carry the story forward, letting the reader provide the introspection and come to his own conclusions.

L.E.G.I.O.N. was originally written by Keith Giffen and Alan Grant, although Grant took over the reins within the first year. It takes a few issues to hit its stride, but the book is well-paced and fun to read. Barry Kitson's artwork has the right balance of humor and seriousness to keep the book grounded. He has several different inkers over the course of this run (including inking himself), but I think he is best served by the lighter, unobtrusive touch of Mark McKenna. Jim Fern does a decent fill-in job of pencils when Kitson takes a few issues off. The coloring is never quite right, but I would attribute the problems to the time period more than any lack of quality in Kindzierski's palette. For the most part, the creative team(s) are a good mix.

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