Honestly, it’s harder to type “5YL” than it is just to type out “Five Years Later.”

§ February 12th, 2021 § Filed under blogging about blogging is a sin, legion of super-heroes § 8 Comments

So anyway, I’d meant to have a post up Wednesday, and then tried to have it up for Thursday, and in fact I actually had most of it written on Wednesday, but I was just too tired to put finishing touches on it and I wasn’t able to tell through my sleepiness if it all made sense or not. Thus, a rare moment of “quality control” on this site. No need to thank me.

I’ll probably revise and post what was completed at some point so all that “hard” “work” doesn’t go to waste. But in the meantime, let’s talk about Five Years Later Legion of Super-Heroes.

Longtime reader Wayne brought it up in his comment (responding to my post where I mentioned I was going through that latest volume of Legion reprints), and y’all continued the discussion on the pros and cons of that revision to our favorite 30th century heroes.

Wayne asks of the Five Year Later (or 5YL, as I think it was popularly known by) storyline “anyone else remember that run?” and boy howdy sure I do. I…probably implied a reference to it here in this overall post about the Legion of Super-Heroes Vs. Rebootery, in that it was one of many attempts at revitalizing/restarting the Legion in order to expand the audience beyond the readers who would buy Legion comics regardless. 5YL was not a reboot as such, but a rejiggering of the concept designed to shake things up, re-engage readers, and also try to clean up a continuity glitch or three, while technically maintaining a continuity of character and plot developments started so many decades ago in the Legion’s first appearance in Adventure #247.

In you’re not familiar, and in case you haven’t guessed from me repeatedly using “5YL,” with the new first issue in 1989, the Legion storyline jumps ahead five years to a universe where the Legion is scattered, everything’s in turmoil, all the character’s call each other by their first names instead of their codenames, and there are mysteries within intrigues within conspiracies, all told in a deliberately obfuscatory manner.

But, y’know, is it any good?

It feels silly to write out anything about this stretch of Legion when pal Andrew knocked it out of the moopsball ring with this analysis. Just kinda picture me nodding my head next to pretty much every sentence in that essay. In short, this phase of the Legion devoted a lot of time to tearing up the scripts and smashing the scenery of What Had Come Before,a propcess that eventually brought us to the point of, as Andrew says, requiring the start-from-scratch afforded by a reboot.

“Yes, yes, Mike, but is it good?”

I started reading the Legion in the early ’80s, so I came to it a little later than the “Long Live the Legion”/APA-type fans who arose out of ’60s and ’70s fandom who opined on Legion goings-on in fanzines and whatnot. Legion was noted for its loyal fanbase, surely inspired (in part if not in whole) by the soap opera aspects borne by the large and varied cast. But I jumped in with both feet, followed the title, then the two titles once the “hardcover/softcover” publishing plan (in short: DC published a version of Legion for comic shops, reprinted a year later for newsstands, but before the reprints started the newsstand version also contained new stories).

Plus I read stories in DC’s digest reprints, and picked up back issues, and that sort of thing, so I was reasonably well versed in the franchise by the time that first “direct-sales-only” comic shop series came to its end.

“Mike….”

Okay, okay, I happened to really like the “Five Year Later” relaunch. It felt…it felt almost like a superhero version of Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!…I mean, not in the sexy-naughty-times sort of way, but in that the comic was, as I said before, deliberately obfuscatory. It wasn’t bad storytelling, leaving out important plot points or taking unnecessary short cuts or leaving the reader in the dark for no good reason. The information was there, sometimes between the lines, making it a challenging read, but challenging in a good way. You’d reread each issue a time or three making sure you got what you were supposed to get. It felt…adult, again not in the dirty-filthy sense but in the “we expect you to bring some interpretative abilities to this, it ain’t no kid’s book.” And look, I was, what, 20 when this was coming out? It was rewarding to read a book that made you feel smart for getting it.

Not to say some of the criticisms some of you related in my comments section weren’t valid. Yes, calling everyone by their real first names could be confusing unless you were already fully immersed in all this nonsense prior to the launch of this series. I could read stuff in the comics written in the Interlac alphabet without referring back to the key they published in the early 300s, keeping Reep, Jo, Brin and Imra straight wasn’t going to be a problem.

And sometimes the artistic choices didn’t help either. Lots of characters in shadow, the occasional super close-up of whoever the heck it’s supposed to be…it added a layer of confusion to a series that was already not open to casual reading.

The storytelling gradually switched back over to a more traditional form as the series wore on, though the focus continued on breaking the milieu in ways that couldn’t be rolled back (refer back to Andrew’s post for a cataloging of some of these events). And, you know, it was fine reading it at the time…it was suitably dramatic, and surprisingly permanent, because back then you didn’t realize “shutting it all down and starting anew” was an option on the table. The series had survived Crisis on Infinite Earths, riding out the changes wrought by that series directly affecting Legion’s underpinnings. (One of which, the removal of Superboy, was one of the continuity fixes installed in those early 5YL issues.) If it could make it through that linewide event, nothing could stop the Legion!

Well, except sales, and a back-pedaling on the whole “5YL” concept, by introducing what appeared to be the younger, more innocent version of the Legion, coexisting with the older, wiser, and occasionally embittered post-5YL team. Let’s be clear…it was still entertaining, I thought, and something of a compelling mystery…where did these younger Legionnaires come from? But it was still a splintering of the concept, asking you to maintain your loyalties and devotion to the ongoing character developments with two versions of the same characters. It was one of those bendings of the concept that was interesting at the time, but didn’t realize what it had broken.

Eventually things came to a head and, as I talked about before, DC used their Zero Hour event as an opportunity to wipe that slate clean and start again. And I already went into detail in that post why that was a bad idea, so I won’t repeat it all here.

But yes, I liked “Five Years Later.” We can look at it from a publishing standpoint and say “ooh, maybe DC shouldn’t have done that” (see also Crisis on Infinite Earths), but as a story just in and of itself, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Not knowing what to expect in each issue, knowing nothing was necessarily sacred, was the kind of excitement one didn’t often get in long-running comic book franchises. But maybe there’s a reason we don’t get that in long-running comic franchises, given the Legion’s difficulty in maintaining a significant presence in the decades since.

8 Responses to “Honestly, it’s harder to type “5YL” than it is just to type out “Five Years Later.””

  • Hey, Mike. Thanks for following up with this, though I’m sorry most of the comments to your previous post went towards Five Years Later. (I’m not going to ever type FYL, just as I no will never do with LOL.) Certainly I can see that being helpful as a retailer and even more once the companion LEGIONNAIRES book came out.

    I’ll have to check your past posts, though I’m sure I’ve read at least one. I discovered this ruin back in 2010. But since you didn’t bring it up in this post, what was the deal out there in Ventura County in 1989? Were fans asking you or Ralph about the new writers or the new take or what the sprock the Magic Wars happened to be? Just curious, I always thought it funny how the younger employees working on consignment pointing and saying things like “That guy who looks like a drifter? He might know.”

    I do agree that the concept was brilliant, sort of finally doing that Adult Legion story only where Shadow Lass didn’t die as Shadow Woman, so even that goes with your mention of being more adult. But it bugged me that a big complaint was the lack of code names. I’m a writer. If someone named Ayla is talking to someone named Brin,just imagine that in a regular print book.

    I guess that is an example of anti-fanboy.

    And, again. 1344 pages. I’ve never purchased any HC omnibuses before, so I have no idea if this is common, carrying a book around that changes my body’s center of gravity. Careful where you read it.

  • Hey, Mike. Thanks for following up with this, though I’m sorry most of the comments to your previous post went towards Five Years Later. (I’m not going to ever type FYL, just as I will never do with LOL. I have my principles.) Certainly I can see that being helpful as a retailer and even more once the companion LEGIONNAIRES book came out.

    I’ll have to check your past posts, though I’m sure I’ve read at least one. I discovered this ruin back in 2010. But since you didn’t bring it up in this post, what was the deal out there in Ventura County in 1989? Were fans asking you or Ralph about the new writers or the new take or what the sprock the Magic Wars happened to be? Just curious, I always thought it funny how the younger employees working on consignment pointing and saying things like “That guy who looks like a drifter? He might know.”

    I do agree that the concept was brilliant, sort of finally doing that Adult Legion story only where Shadow Lass didn’t die as Shadow Woman, so even that goes with your mention of being more adult. But it bugged me that a big complaint was the lack of code names. I’m a writer. If someone named Ayla is talking to someone named Brin,just imagine that in a regular print book.

    I guess that is an example of anti-fanboy.

    And, again. 1344 pages. I’ve never purchased any HC omnibuses before, so I have no idea if this is common, carrying a book around that changes my body’s center of gravity. Careful where you read it.

  • DavidG says:

    That post sums up my feelings about 5YL pretty darn well. Giffen’s obsession with the 9 panel grid and the tight close up did make some of it hard to read, but I agree that part of the fun was reading it 3 times to make sure you got it all.

    The SW6 Legion was the shark jumping moment, not just because it felt like pandering to those bits of the fan base that hated everything after about 1972, but because Giffen apparently was going to make them the “originals” and the older Legion the clones, presumably so he could kill Sun Boy again. This just felt like a total betrayal of the lives we had all been following for some reason.

    Man, I think I need to do a re-read.

  • Cassandra Miller says:

    The first year of Legion v.4 was absolutely fantastic. I feel like it got a bit diffuse after that, with too much going on, but (as I said earlier) it holds up a lot better now than I thought it would.

    I actually liked the SW6 batch, both as a contrast to the older Legionnaires and in their own right. It was interesting to see how these bright, idealistic kids handled the transition to a much darker time. (And I loved the Bierbaums’ Legionnaires book.)

    Honestly, reading it last year, even the McCraw stuff was better than I remembered, although “Ancient, Power-suited Brainy” is still….an interesting choice.

  • Robcat Kid says:

    I personally loved the 5 year jump. I am not a person who reads most stories with my “continuity glasses” on. Does the story stand on it’s own? That being said, one of the things I’ve loved about the Legion (I started with Superboy 212) is the fact that they had a history and THINGS COULD CHANGE. Only so much you can do with Batman or Superman but with a team this large, you could have marriages, deaths, and metal arms and they could hang around. Which leads me to what I loved about 5YL… it felt like a fitting conclusion to the Legion. (Yes, I count it as THE END.) You start with these 3 kids saving RJ Brande and you finish with the earth blowing up. Epic. Any and all reboots are pale imitations….

    And this series seemed like the epitome of comic collecting. So much history! I need the issue where Ferro Lad joins! And then later dies! If it’s all one big story, I need to fill in the gaps! With the Legion, it’s very easy to see how reboots hurt the back issue market. After the 4th or 12th reboot, it is an entirely different team.

    Regarding the density of the issues, particularly the first year, loved it. I loved looking for more information, any news I could get by reading between the lines. Plus, I enjoyed this way better than a comic I can read in 3 minutes.

    On a different note entirely, really enjoying DC’s choices to reprint Legion stories in volumes in no particular order. Do you happen to know if they are using a Wheel of Fortune or do they just throw back issues up in the air and whatever lands on top will be reprinted next? Boy, that just makes things even more fun…

  • Snark Shark says:

    FYL? LOL!

    Speaking of Giffen & the Bierbaums, did anyone like The Heckler?

  • Thom H. says:

    I loved that the 5YL Legion was a challenging read for all the reasons listed above. And I started with issue #10, so piecing together the story with back issues made it even more confusing and fun. I got to read those issues over and over again to make sure I understood what was going on. Who wouldn’t love that?

    Giffen & the Bierbaums were amazingly able to navigate all of the editorial interruptions to their story while also elevating a bunch of formerly ridiculous or minor characters (e.g., Glorith, the Substitutes) and staying true to the (slightly revised) history of the book. What an accomplishment.

    From what I understand, most of the really out-there ideas were Giffen’s, and I think he overstepped in a couple of big ways. They probably wouldn’t have needed a get-out-of-jail-free card like the SW6 Legionnaires if things hadn’t gotten so extreme in other ways.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    The title of this post reminds me of the observation by Douglas Adams, that “www” for “world wide web” was a rare example of an abbreviation that takes three times as long to say as what it is abbreviating.

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