Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Growing up with The Legion of Super Heroes

My rather young debut as Legion scripter created a unique situation: I was about the same age as my characters. I was also about the same age as my audience. Better still, my friends, who were also my audience, were the same age as my characters, so my friends became my characters who were my audience, who... You get the drift.

We all aged together, characters, friends/audience and me. I’m sure working with a teen-aged writer aged Mort a few zillion years, too, but the point is that the Legion grew up with me from early 1966 to early 1970. That may not mean much to anyone else, but to my point of view, it made those characters very special, and good, bad or indifferent, I feel responsible for the characters of the Legionnaires I wrote in that period.

With Mort's blessing I struggled to find raison d'etre for a character called Bouncing Boy, who previously had been offered up at face value, and played straight and serious. I found my Bouncing Boy among my Bethel Park Senior High classmates, in the person of a friend whose initials, T.K., and slightly rotund body had earned him the nickname "Teakettle." Going through high school coping with a weight problem and the name Teakettle is not a whole lot different, I think, than being Bouncing Boy in the Legion of Super-Heroes. Thus, in my mind, they became one, and BB grew into a bright-but-insecure, self-effacing, lovable guy who was resigned to the role of comic relief and once described himself as the Legion's "...self-appointed chief of morale." I found similar models for the other Legionnaires. It was easy. Everyone is a character in high school, because no one has learned to hide it yet.

Naturally, the high school "character" I knew best was the tall skinny kid with the armload of science books who was renowned for "drawing cartoons," so there was quite a bit of me scattered among my 20-odd Legionnaire charges. When Karate Kid did something impulsive and got himself in trouble, believe me, I knew just how he felt.

So we all progressed - my friends/audience/characters/self thundered toward adulthood together. Together, we abandoned the shy, uncertainty of our first dates and slowly learned about love. In my first Legion script ever (Adventure Comics #348, "Target - 21 Legionnaires") Duo Damsel girlishly flirts with Superboy, eager to hold hands with the "most powerful" Legionnaire, eager to be seen with the Legion's equivalent of the Big Man On Campus. Didn't all freshman girls want to hang out with the football stars? Her crush on Superboy grew as issues passed, while he noticed her less and less. The tension built to the kind of cataclysmic heartbreak that only a sophomore girl, shattered by unrequited love, can know.

Just like the classmate she was modeled after, Duo Damsel went on to discover that just as her love had gone unnoticed by Superboy, someone else's love for her had gone unnoticed. He was a bright-but-insecure, self-effacing, lovable guy, more than a bit on the plump side, but that was okay. She had learned, and grown, and was able to find in Bouncing Boy things that mattered, things that made him special to her. Their relationship blossomed...they were seniors at the Sweethearts Ball, truly in love.

I've been thinking about Duo Damsel and Bouncing Boy being married now. For a time, I didn't like the idea, but I've changed my mind. I figure Teakettle would like it that way.

14 comments:

Marc Miyake said...

I only got around to reading the issues of ADVENTURE with the romance between Duo Damsel and Bouncing Boy a few months ago (hooray for SHOWCASEs!), and I was impressed by how subtly and realistically you depicted it. It felt organic, not pasted on.

I've speculated that Duo Damsel must have been devastated by the loss of her third self. Cargg culture might regard her as an amputee. But she held herself together and Bouncing Boy made her more than whole.

Youth has remained a theme of yours through the years. It comes up again and again, in HARBINGER, THE GOOD GUYS, STAR SEED, and ANOMALIES. And obviously and most recently in your newest LEGION run which I finished reading last night. I found myself thinking at times that the characters weren't doing what I would do ... but then I realized they shouldn't. They're teenagers. (Or "underagers" in the parlance of the 31st century.) You still remember *and* understand youth. A rare combination.

Marc Miyake said...

Sorry to comment again so soon. When you first got into the comics business, the audience was mostly very young. I don't have any statistics on hand, but my impression is that the audience for American comics has been aging since then. I haven't seen a kid reading a comic book in a long time.

When you were editor-in-chief at Marvel, I got into NEW MUTANTS because the titular heroes were kids my age and I could relate to them more easily than the adult X-Men. I was older than the Power Pack, but I liked them too. Part of the appeal of both titles for me was the fact that they had both just started. I didn't feel I was missing much when I picked up NEW MUTANTS #4 and I managed to get the first issue of POWER PACK.

Marvel recently revived NEW MUTANTS and has revived POWER PACK a couple of times. I wonder if any kids are reading these revivals - or are these titles really aimed at adults who remember the originals from the 80s?

Will kids ever be reading about kids in American comics again?

niederklopfer said...

Great story. I was actually thinking about this very subject after reading the last blog. Who better to write a book about teenage superheros than someone who is a teen himself.

Steve Fox said...

Great post! I have so many fond memories of the Legion. It's really great to get a behind the scenes sort of perspective.

Martin Gray said...

Fun memories today! I love that Chuck and Luornu got married - so what if Bouncing Boy is chubby, he's a nice guy and a hero.

yoda said...

I can't wait to read any flashforward stories from the 2000-2010 years,...

Richard Guion said...

Please keep writing these memoir articles, Jim! They are fascinating to me. Love to see you record other things, too, like coming to Marvel later on and eventually becoming editor in chief.

As for Bouncing Boy, I always thought he was goofy as a kid, but found the romance with Duo Damsel charming.

arromdee said...

I never quite got the idea that Luornu is way out of Chuck's league. Sure, if you only think of it in a "how good is this power for sexual purposes" way. But for everything else, they're both superheroes with weak powers and limited use to the Legion--their situations are not really that different.

Alejandro said...

I would like to go back and read some of your older work, no idea where to start though. Any suggestions Mr. Shooter?

Chris said...

The two-part Mordru story is still to this day not only my favorite Legion story, but my all-time favorite comics story. A lot of that had to do with Duo Damsel. She was already my favorite Legionnaire but the heartbreak scene has always stuck with me. Not only did I create a whole web site Duo Damsel Obsession Page (http://duodamsel.obsessionpage.com/) but in discussions with my friend Mark Waid, I learned those same scenes motivate him to be a better writer.

David said...

Jim, I would visit my aunt's house every Saturday as a kid in he '70's and my cousin had (still has) a huge comic book collection that I would read through several time over during those years (1000's of comics). I would always come back to those issues of Adventure Comics and read those great Legion stories you authored.

When I learned that you were a kid like me (when you wrote them) I cherished those stories even more!

Just my way of saying THANKS!!!

jww said...

I just found this blog, and am fascinated as a 40-yr-old comics fan.

But this entry in particular, struck me as beautifully genuine and sweet.

This one line is so brilliant, poignant and true: "Everyone is a character in high school, because no one has learned to hide it yet."

Thank you for writing these memories and sharing them with whoever waltzes by here - I fear for the vast amounts of important memories that comics creators have not shared, for whatever reasons they have.

Don't wait for a book deal - Just let them out there, for interested fans to find.

bmcmolo said...

I know Jack diddley about the Legion but when I read this post months ago I said okay, I'll have to track some of those down. I always prefer getting the original issues (I like the extra stuff, like the ads, the letters, etc. Or in the case of old Marvels, the Bullpen Bulletins) but those Adventures are a bit pricey. So, I put the Showcases on my wish list and got vol 3 for my birthday.

I've been reading it this past week and thinking about this entry. Really enjoying it. It's fun to discover such a comprehensive pocket-universe at this late age in my comic fandom.

A friend of mine saw me reading it and asked how I could be "wasting my time" when there was the new 52 from DC, etc. I didn't answer. To some, the Silver Age is just a historical curiosity; I pity them. To me it's an endless reservoir of wonder. Maybe because I wasn't around for it, so it all has this air of mystery and classical-ness, but there's such imagination and spirit in these Legions. Great stuff. Sorry to only notice all these years later!

In a way, it's your own fault. If the Marvels that hooked me as a kid hadn't been so good, I might have discovered DC much earlier. But hey, better late than never.

Anonymous said...

The Legion was/is my first love in comics. You won't be disappointed.

--Rick Dee