Wednesday, 15 October 2008

TEENAGERS FROM THE FUTURE: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes (Sequart, $26.95) Now here's a terrific book, a bunch of fan essays on my favourite team. It's a meaty read, taking in such subjects as architecture, the Legion rulebook and Paul Levitz' debt to film-maker Robert Altman.

Most of the articles are plain fun, reminding us of the highs, lows and sheer nuttiness of the LSH back story. Occasionally things get a tad high-falutin' for my taste . . . you can make a case for comics having cultural significance without overthinking – just look at film box offices, the widespread acceptance of such terms as 'bizarro' and the growth of graphic novel sections in bookshops.

Then again, the whole point of the Sequart organisation is to argue for the acceptance of comics as a legitimate art form, so a little intellectualising is par for the course. And there's always a nice line of argument present, with readability to the fore.

My favourite essay is Martin A Perez's Fashion from the future, or 'I swear, Computo Forced Me To Wear This'. It's written at the level of a great fanzine article - light, entertaining and insightful.

The editing of the book is a bit lax at times, particularly in Julian Darius' Revisionism, Radical Experimentation, and Dystopia in Giffen's Legion. From that unnecessary comma in the title onwards, it made me want to get out the proverbial blue pencil. Never mind the odd use of the term 'revisionism' – Giffen and the Bierbaums weren't reinterpreting Legion history, they were telling a new story with a darker tone – there was a heck of a lot of repetition, with phrases and ideas repeated almost wholesale time and again. Perhaps that's meant to reinforce an argument, but if the the reader is considered bright enough to allow an intellectual approach to the Legion, they should be credited with the ability to hang on to a thought for a paragraph or two.

There's also the odd comment that makes it sound as if being gay is among the worst things that can 'happen' to a person, for example:

Perhaps most memorably, Shrinking Violet, a cute and innocent girl with the power to shrink, was shown to have been at the same battle [Venado Bay], which left her horribly psychologically and facially scarred. She further sported short hair, rather than her long and glamorous flowing hair of years past, and seemed to be a lesbian.

Oh my god, poor Vi! By the end of this commendably ambitious piece, it's obvious that Julian Darius isn't anti-gay, which makes such comments all the more puzzling. Hopefully tighter editing of any revised reprint will sort this out.

Overall, though, I can't imagine any longtime Legion lover failing to appreciate this book. It's written with affection and knowledge and is full of fascinating detail and intelligent observation. If you're a Legion fan and haven't already bought it, order it today.

7 comments:

  1. Glad you liked the book overall but sorry you didn't have as much love for my own essay, or at least its editing!

    I just want to point out that the unnecessary comma in the title of my piece IS acceptable style (comma before conjunction in a sequence), and it should be present out throughout the book.

    I would personally argue that "revisionism" is exactly the right word, since that's the name of a movement in super-hero comics which Giffen's Legion was trying to fit into. Yeah, the movement started with revisions of Swamp Thing, Daredevil, and the like, but "revisionism" (sometimes called "deconstructionism") was a whole movement that had a lot more to do with revising the super-hero overall than any specific character.

    If I was repetitious, I appologize; it wasn't my goal, and I certainly didn't meant to insult the reader's intelligence! I'm glad you recognized that the piece was ambitious (as was Giffen's Legion), and I'm sorry it didn't totally come off for you (like, arguably, Giffen's Legion).

    The Vi quote was a mistake. I don't think there's any implication there that lesbianism is bad; I included it in a list of changes. But it's true that those changes were mostly traumatic ones, and I can totally understand how the reader would infer what you have here. This was brought up to me by Sequart itself, and I believe has been fixed.

    Thank you greatly for noting that I'm not anti-gay, which a lot of critics might not have been fair enough to note. In fact, I'm phenomenally pro-gay rights, and what you spotted was a slip-up that's been corrected.

    If you have other editing observations, I know Sequart's ALWAYS glad to hear them!

    And I'm glad you like that the book exists. It was a huge undertaking and we all both love the Legion and take comics seriously. Thanks for pointing out the potential errors or problem points; I appreciate intelligent criticism, as yours is. I did want to respond for the record, but I can't thank you enough for reviewing the book and for both your fairness and enthusiasm.

    Best,
    Julian Darius

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  2. I probably should have explained my take on "revisionism," as I do in the above comment, in the book. Which was maybe silly of me.

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  3. Hi Julian, I'm really pleased to hear from you. It's great to know how you're using the term 'revisionism' - that clarifies things nicely. If there's a chance to tweak a definition into a second edition of TFTF, great, if not, no problem - it could be just me . . .

    I still disagree on the comma, mind. So far as I can see, the comma in a list does the same job as 'and'. I'd only use both were the item following 'and' two connected things being linked by their own 'and', to make it clear that the last two things are a pair, rather than a trio with the previous item eg Revisionism, Radical Experimentation, and Dystopia and Fried Eggs in Giffen's Legion. Otherwise, why not title the piece Revisionism, and Radical Experimentation, and Dystopia in Giffen's Legion?

    Blah blah, angels and pinheads - shall we call it an English v US usage thing and I'll buy you a beer sometime?

    Any more editing observations? Not too many, really. I'm a production sub (jumped-up copy editor) by trade, so tend to read things in a very picky way. If the same thought, or a very similar phrase, pops up in a couple of pars close to one another, they're out. But I never nag the writers, it's tough to produce perfect prose when up against a deadline.

    It's a fun job, like doing puzzles for cash.

    I'm a member of a Legion apa (Apa 247) here in the UK, and added my review to the latest mailing, so you may get a few more UK sales. At least one person I know is buying it after this review, so my justified enthusiasm is doing some good!

    Anyway, best to the lot of you at Sequart (which always makes me think of trees). I love this book.

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  4. WOW!!! Thank you, Mart! That's MY essay... I don't know how I missed this review, since I've googled for reviews a few times...

    Glad you enjoyed the book, and in particular, my work.

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  5. Definitely one of my favourite book of comic book essays ever! Nice one, now get to work on another.

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  6. Heh, I'd love to be invited to another book like this.

    I write my weekly column at my blog, which you're now following, and I write in English and Spanish for a few sites now and then... in English, the most current (and available) stuff at the Geek Girls Online Geekzine. Be warned, while the 'zine is usually safe for work; the GGO site at large is a nudie site. :)

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  7. I shall prepare to be shocked!

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