Underrated – Legion Lost

Twenty years ago, several members of the Legion of Super-Heroes were lost in space. And time.

Actually, that statement doesn’t do the extent of the their problems justice; they’ve been flung outside of reality itself, with no landmarks to help resident genius Brainiac 5.1 even begin to plot a way back. They do, though, gain a new friend in Shikari, a member of a nomadic race on the run from vile beings known as The Progeny.

Little by little, Saturn Girl, Monstress, Ultra Boy and the rest regain hope, their Legion spirit pulling them forward. Maybe, just maybe, they will find a way home.

When comic fans are asked to name the best Legion of Super-Heroes story of them all, The Great Darkness Saga is the go to. And I’m not surprised, Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen’s brilliant, brash, multi-layered story is pure comics joy.

It’s a shame, though, that the Great Darkness Saga is such a landmark that so much other brilliant work is forgotten. Like Legion Lost, published as a 12-part maxi-series and collected here as the second volume of Legion work by writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. The first collection re-presents the Blight storylines in which Abnett & Lanning – often referred to as DNA – gave a new energy to the post-Zero Hour Legion. While remaining true to the work that had come previously, they took the ‘Archie Legion’ and darkened their world. The characters went through a crucible and emerged as closer to the pre-Crisis version of the team, a little older, a tad battered, but always able to shine in the dark.

Partnering DNA in giving the team a new feel was future superstar artist Olivier Coipel, in his first DC work; his scratchy, gritty approach a real shock to the system, but perfect for the Blight story.

It’s even better here, as Coipel’s skill grows before our eyes, his layouts and characterisation complementing the script, enriching the ambitious story. His sci-fi space-scapes are mind-blowing, his alien races startling.

Coipel isn’t alone, Pascal Alixe draws three chapters. His work suffers slightly by dint of his gracious attempts to maintain Coipel’s look, but overall, Alixe does a great job and I appreciate the effort he puts in. There’s an especially brilliant splash page for the Umbra spotlight. And co-writer Andy Lanning helps keep the look of the story consistent by foregoing his usual smooth inks for a style more sympathetic to the tone Coipel sets.

Long-time Legion colourist and sometime writer Tom McCraw handles the whole series, and the work is fabulous, his balanced palette making every page pop. And Comicraft’s people stretch their lettering muscles with varying approaches as each chapter is narrated by a different player.

I recall enjoying this series at the time, but reading it in one go, it is spectacular – the fiercely intelligent DnA amp up the sci-fi concepts so the Legion becomes more than ‘super-heroes in space’. They bring new approaches to familiar abilities, making better use of Umbra’s shadow bolts, for example; showing us how his quick mind lets Ultra Boy address his one-power-at-a-time limitation to best effect; demonstrating what goes on in Brainy’s far-from-tiny mind.

They even explain what the heck it is Kid Quantum’s traditionally nebulous fields actually do… and I almost understand it.

And the surprises are constant, as twists and turns abound, with only one big reveal, towards the end, making me lift an eyebrow… then I go back and look again at a particular chapter and it’s no cheat.

Best of all, is the emotional pulse of Legion Lost. Our heroes go through hell, several times, and what they encounter batters their emotions, disrupts their relationships, but there’s always someone there to hold out a hand – they are Legion.

If you’ve ever been a Legion fan – of any iteration – but haven’t read this storyline, seek it out, whether in the original issues, trade collection or digitally via ComiXology, DC Universe or Hoopla. Heck, if you like smart comics at all, give it a try, it’s surprisingly new reader friendly. Legion Lost deserves to be anything but.

10 thoughts on “Underrated – Legion Lost

  1. It’s a fantastic series! I just reread it last year, taking advantage of a Comixology sale to pick it up digitally (even though I have the original issues, I wanted them in a collection I could access anytime). The surprises are *really* well handled, and the tragedies involved — and there are several – hit home exactly as intended.

    It’s definitely one of my favorite Legion stories. And I’m pretty sure I’ve read at least 95% of them.

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      1. I’m missing a couple of the later Archives — I think volumes 8 and 10 — and I think I’ve read most of the stories in there in single issues, but I’m sure there are a chunk that I’ve missed out on all these years!

        And then there’s the New 52 Legion Lost series, which I dropped at some point. I never read all of Valor, either, or all of the L.E.G.I.O.N. series. And there might be some other odds and ends I’ve missed. Did I read all of the Timber Wolf series? Maybe, but if so, I blocked it out. (I don’t think I’ve ever tracked down the complete Karate Kid, either…!)

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      2. Valor was the stealth start of Zero Hour so it might be worth looking up for that. Art by Colleen Doran made it wonderful…

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      3. I second the Valor recommendation, Rob. If you actually haven’t read the Timber Wolf series, I recommend buying it to specifically not read it. Boy, that was bad. The original L.E.G.I.O.N. series, though, was pretty great for most of the run.

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      4. I read a lot of L.E.G.I.O.N. — but at some point, the book lost me. Maybe when it changed to R.E.B.E.L.S.? Maybe beforehand. It’s been a while.

        Valor is a book I’d definitely like to return to. I’ve read chunks of it, including the last bit. But I should dig around the boxes and see what I’m missing.

        Timber Wolf, I’m pretty sure I just gave an issue to. Ugh.

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      5. I remember liking that Timber Wolf mini. Didn’t it feature characters trying to get an origin?

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  2. This Legion had lost me by the time DnA debuted so I read their work and Gail Simone’s very much after the fact. Certain key reveals were already known to me so they not only had less impact but the dread that one in particular was coming soured my reading. Maybe someday I’ll try again but that reveal (and you know which one and what he did to someone else after) just hit me hard even though I knew about it, I’m not sure I want to read it again.

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    1. I hated that death too… I read an interview in which DnA said the hero was unpopular, and they wanted to make readers like them before they were slaughtered. But I already did!

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