|Karen (odditycollector) wrote,|
@ 2007-09-05 21:30:00
|Entry tags:||dcu, legion of super-heroes, what about me|
WHY I HATE THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, by Karen, number one fan.
A long while ago, thete1 wrote a post on race. And I went "Yes! Now I am inspired to finish that essay sitting on my harddrive since people first squeed about Outsiders! It's a good thing I waited so long, as today fandom has even more examples that will add weight to my thesis!"
And, indeed! I added a few hundred words to the essay, agonizing over each one. Was it fair to bring up a movie if I was not, myself, familiar with the canon? Were my issues with the town Eureka was filmed in actually relevant? Were my commas in the right places? Was I using terminology correctly? I was, and still am, all but completely unfamiliar with the literature on racial identity and history. Was there *any* way I could post it and avoid looking like an asshole?
So, yeah, I stalled on the essay. Probably for the best all around, because honestly? I didn't *want* to write a long, thoughtful essay on why most genre media fandoms suck, and I can't imagine very many people would want to read it. It'd hardly be saying anything new, after all.
The reason I tried to write that essay at all is because I wanted to tell *this* story. However, I wanted to do so in an objective and convincing way with, like, numbers and graphs and stuff, so that it wasn't just all about me, personally.
But screw that. It's all personal, and it's all about me.
It's always all about me.
WHY I HATE THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, by Karen, number one fan.
If you've been hanging around my livejournal for any length of time, you've probably learned a couple of things about me. For one, that comics from the 1960s have had a disturbingly large effect on my development as a child, as I will take *every possible* opportunity to tell you. And that my *very* favourite comics, as a very young girl, were the ones with the Legion of Super-Heroes in.
The Legion was awesome! It had space ships! Time travel! Superpowers! Mad science-ry! Walking money! Ray guns! Identity theft! Girls taking over the planet! Exclaimation points!
And plot twists, oh boy! When you flipped the page, you never knew if the Legion was about to get brainwashed or turned into babies or decide to play spin the space-bottle. Or *all of the above*! Once, as a prank, they travelled back in time and replaced Perry White with a robot! *No sane person could have predicted that*!
In hindsight, these were not exactly sophisticated works of literature. But when you are 8 years old, Does this make sense? ranks a lot lower than And then what happens! If it's fun, it's worth reading.
And the Legion of Super-Heroes was fun.
Not that it didn't have problems even my 8 year old brain picked up on. I mean, as *if* Supergirl would avoid a competition just because she would totally kick Brainiac 5's butt and embarrass him in front of all his friends. (Honestly, I thought at the time, she just looked *bored* of the whole thing.) And how does just changing the colour of kryptonite from green to blue make it, functionally, blue kryptonite? (I actually found a reader's letter on the subject in another issue. IIRC, the official reply was that kryptonite was so unstable, chemically, that by changing its colour you could change it into another form of kryptonite. This confused me *so much* you do not know.)
And then one day I was reading an issue - I don't remember what issue it was; I don't even remember what story it was, really. But I remember that someone made a comment about the global community of the FUTURE, or the lack of countries in the FUTURE, or maybe the ease of transportation across the earth in the FUTURE. Something like that.
And I stared at the remark. And then I stared at the page it was said in. And then I flipped about the issue, staring at the other pages.
And then I crawled out from underneath the shuffleboard table and went upstairs.
"Dad?" I asked, when I found him. "Are there more white people or not-white people in the world?"
"Chinese people, I think," he said.
"That wasn't," I said, crossing my arms to better display my annoyance. "The question."
It took him a few seconds to respond, during which I imagine he was thinking worried thoughts about my logic faculties. But he did clarify that yes, considering all the people who were not-white in addition to the Chinese folks, who tended to be not-white, there were almost certainly more not-white people than white people in the world.
I took this news solemnly and went back downstairs. Then I stared at the comic some more.
Because in the comic, there were no not-white people at *all*. No *humans*, anyway. There was a boy with green skin, and a girl with blue skin, and another boy with orange skin (usually, at least, and if he felt like it), and sometimes there would be aliens that looked like bugs or whatever… but the only brown ink in the comic was saved for Invisible Kid's costume.
I could usually suspend disbelief for the Legion stories, because it was easy to imagine that in 1000 years we would have spaceships and homicidal computers with disintegrator rays. It was harder to imagine that we *wouldn't*. However, the world I lived in had people from all over the pigment spectrum, and the world the Legion lived in did not. I could not get back into the story until I figured out where they all went.
Maybe, I thought to myself, everyone died in a catastrophic event between now and the future. Except for the white people, of course. Maybe there was a disease… that was so targeted because… it was designed by a mad scientist! Who hated everyone but white people! Because… they were in the KKK or, like, a Nazi!
A Nazi with a degree in *viruses* and *genetics*!
So I took a break from the comics to tell myself a story about a mad scientist who had developed a disease that, if loosed, would kill everyone on Earth with DNA that identified them as not-white. It was a great story. It had flying cars and superpowers. It had desperate heroics and changes of heart and ray guns.
And in the end, the virus was set upon the world anyway, and most of the human race died horribly. It was up to those surviving people - the people white *enough* to be spared, you see - to repopulate the earth and build huge towering cities and spaceships and space colonies and time machines and Legion headquarters.
And now, satisfied, I could pick up the comic and start reading zany adventures again.
Because, to the little white girl curled up with an awesome story about white kids doing awesome things, that was all that mattered.
I told you it was all about me.
It's not fair to trap the unsuspecting in a post about the Legion without touching on A Brief History Of, so here's the LoSH elevator pitch:
The Legion of Super-Heroes is the Justice League, if the Justice League existed 1000 years in the future and was comprised entirely of 15 year olds. Together, they fight
each other crime!
Well, *I*'d read it.
And I can't be alone, because the concept has survived 50 years, three separate comic book existences, and two separate animated ones, as well as a grab bag of one shots and toys and gentlemen at cons who perhaps shouldn't have depended on Cosmic Boy for their summer fashion advice.
It's changed in those 50 years, of course. But it has not changed nearly enough.
Some rough counting:
The first version of the Legion dates back to the late 1950's and 60's. Which would in and of itself be forgivable, except that all of today's most recognizable members were introduced during these early years. And it shows.
There are 25 core members, and of these we've got:
22 white kids.
3 visible aliens.
These were the childhood stories I loved and lost and clung to and never, entirely, forgot and never, entirely, forgave.
In the early 1990's, the old Legion continuity became casualty to a Mega! Crossover! Event! Nothing Will Be The Same! and the series was rebooted to star Younger! Fresher! versions of the characters. These rebooted characters kept the same racial identities as their previous incarnations, but several brand new characters were invented to keep them company. Some of the new characters were not white, and several of those were even *human* while they were at it.
However, even with that booster, the demographics are pretty pathetic. The stats break down to about:
19 white kids.
6 obviously-not-human aliens.
3 not-white humans. 
We were supposed to be so enlightened in the 90's. Yet there are twice as many non-*humans* than non-*white* humans, and yet twice as many white humans than everyone else put together. And I'm not even looking at the supporting cast.
By the time the 2005 restart came around, even TPTB noticed that their most forward-thinking series was a little bit monochrome. One of the more discussed tidbits surrounding the re-reboot was the news that while the *new* new Legion will be made up of versions of long time core characters, some of these characters might be recast into ethnicities other than "white".
Now, this might have been a questionable solution for a present set series, but in the future DCU, there isn't any cultural baggage wrapped up in *race* as we define it today. (There *couldn't* be - not when for so much of the series there literally was no *race* as we define it today.) It seemed like a great compromise between using the old, popular characters and adapting to a world in which you're allowed to buy new brown crayons if you run out.
Of course, when the ink dried it turned out that the big change they made was that *one* relatively minor character is now black. One. Out of eighteen white characters they were bringing back. *One.*
It struck me as a perverse *joke*.
I mean, "The characters all stay white, because we want to keep them intact and race isn't a socially superficial attribute" would be a defensible position. (Although not, I'd argue, a correct one. Not in this case. But *defensible*.)
But they didn't say that. DC decreed that they could change the race signifiers of the characters to better represent the humanity on *this* side of the pages. And with this power of change they... made Thom black. The End.
Eighteen white kids may be too much, but drop a black kid in! Now you've got something to point to when someone says there isn't any representation. We've got your
tokenism representation right here! (And hey, if this new, black Thom is inoffensive and often ineffectual, well. Thom has always been inoffensive and often ineffectual. So that's okay, right?)
How can we *not* be satisfied? After all, the current comic book incarnation of the Legion consists of:
17 white kids
3 aliens of colour
1 suddenly black kid
1 Asian kid (with Karate powers. Of course.)
The conceit of this current Legion of Super-heroes is that it has based its structure and philosophy on the superhero groups of earlier eras, like a ridiculously powerful SCA.
It's good to see they've understood their history so damn well.
But that's okay, I tell myself. I tell myself it doesn't really matter - the comic no longer has a circulation of half a million. The comic no longer has a circulation of fifty thousand. It reaches, I imagine, mostly people like me, who are reading it for the nostalgia value of seeing their favourite character, sort of like they remember her from back when.
It's an easy hypocrisy to dismiss the comic as impotent. But it's harder, then, to ignore the corollary: that the version of the Legion that does matter, in a culturally measurable sense, is the one in the cartoons.
I'm sure most of us are aware of Justice League Unlimited. I have *bad* cartoon comprehension skills, but it was fun watching my favourite characters fly around onscreen and blow things up and stuff. I even went back to Superman: TAS to track down all the Supergirl episodes, which is how I found out about the old episode New Kids in Town, guest starring the Legion.
The LoSH in Superman: TAS, made me happy. No explanations necessary, everyone instantly recognizable to those who would recognize them, a glimpse into a universe where the colour spectrum is wider than "FFFFFF".
It was quite a moment for me. Here were the characters I loved as a kid, as they would have been in a world where the mad Nazi doctor had been stopped in time and *all of us* made it to the thirtieth century.
It was a future I was willing to believe in.
Soon after, I learned there was going to be a new, unrelated, cartoon, this one ALL about the Legion! I had some faith they would get it right. They did in 1998, after all. Imagine what they could accomplish in 2006, when the brown pixels are free!
And then I saw the promo images!
It was wonderful! It left me vindicated and optimistic and… really kind of a liar. The above is a quick photoshop done by me.
What they *actually* decided on was this:
I *know* the DC cartoons can do better. I know this. I have past evidence. Batman Beyond was lovely. Teen Titans avoided race issues the right way. Justice League Unlimited… well, JLU was handicapped by being tied more closely to the current day DCU. And even then, of the few episodes I've seen, John Stewart was in a *lot* of them.
Someone sat down and thought about the *other* 83% of the human race. And decided they mattered.
And then, I can only assume, was fired between shows, because the Legion of Superheroes cartoon is the adventures of five white kids, a robot, and a monster. Who used to be a white kid.
I've seen about half of the thirteen episodes that have aired so far. It's surprisingly watchable - and when you have my attention span, that's pretty impressive. There are fight scenes and explosions and enough fan-service to balance the mild guilt of watching a show aimed at elementary school kids.
It's fun! And I hate it.
Every time I remember that it exists, I envision some eight year old kid staring at the screen and asking themselves why, in the future, all the heroes are white. Where did all the people of colour go?
I really hope that kid comes up with a better answer. I never did.
 This was originally a much, much longer summary. I was saddest to cut a five paragraph tangent on Why You Should Read Legion Lost Even If You Never Read Anything Else Legion-y, You Will Thank Me, And More Relevantly, How That Mini Illuminates Problems With Race In The Wider LoSH Mythos If You Look At The Math. Luckily, this is my essay and no one can stop me from putting the moral in the footnotes if I so desire. (That moral being, "Talk to me, if you're interested in reading it as you well should be. *wink wink*")
 Dependant on which roster and who's deciding which characters count as members and, and, and. It's true that in the late 70's and 80's, the original Legion acquired a couple human characters of colour - however, they tended toward racial caricature and have not as yet been considered "core" enough to resurrect for subsequent versions of the Legion. If you know Legion history well enough to argue timelines with me, you know Legion history well enough to follow my point.
 Except for the one that was a snake.
 Being generous and including Karate Kid, who spent his time looking like maybe he wasn't 100% white if you've read his backstory and are willing to use your imagination a bit. And XS, whose father wasn't white, but whose mother *was*.
 The creative team has been somewhat more liberal in assigning different skin tones to supporting characters, but invariably to green or blue.
 Starring a black kid, an orange kid, a grey kid, a white kid, and a green kid! You've got to *work* to introduce problems with that lineup.
 Thanks go to brownbetty and vagabond_sal for stupid checking. Any residual stupid is all mine.