Exclusive: interview with “Legion Lost” editor Mike McAvennie!

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Panels from "Legion Lost" (vol.I) #1 (2000), art by Olivier Coipel andAndy Lanning

Panels from "Legion Lost" (vol.I) #1 (2000), art by Olivier Coipel and Andy Lanning

Second half of our celebration of LEGION LOST, the stunning 12-issue miniseries which originally came out in 2000-01 and that DC reprinted only recently in a beautiful looking hardcover edition.
The story of LEGION LOST was written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, – whose interview started yesterday our celebration, see this link – and penciled by Olivier Coipel and Pascal Alixe. Also the book was edited by Mike McAvennie, who we interviewed as well as you can read in the following article.
Thanks again to Mr. McAvennie, who’s been very helpful and sweet!

Legion Blog: You started editing the Legion books in 1998, following KC Carlson. At the time, the line was clearly aimed at a young audience, and had been like that since the ZERO HOUR reboot, four years earlier, to the point that those characters were known among the fans as the “Archie Legion”.
Was the publisher happy with sales, and how was the audience responding to the stories?

Mike McAvennie: I was the Assistant Editor during the Legion’s ZERO HOUR reboot, and I think the franchise really benefitted from it. For a while at least, it changed an overall perception that the Legion had become a flawed concept with the “Five Years Later” launch.
Admittedly, it took me a while to become comfortable with the “Archie Legion” reference. Don’t get me wrong – I loved reading Archie comics through much of my childhood. However, I initially worried that the reference might imply that the Legion books were perhaps immature, and therefore drive away prospective new readers. Thankfully, sales improved, albeit not dramatically, while critical and fan reaction indicated that we had found the right creative balance between intergalactic adventure with teen soap angst.

How would you describe the status of the franchise, back then?

McAvennie: I was off the Legion books about 18 months before I succeeded KC Carlson as Editor, so I’m only going by how things appeared to me when I took over. It just seemed that the creative revamp had taken so much out of everyone involved that by around midway, late into the reboot’s third year, the “new car smell” that was the revitalized Legion had simply waned. After getting the franchise to a point where it was good for a new reader to come on board, the stories seemed to lack long-term direction, and the characters and their interpersonal relationships soon overpowered overall story arcs.

Before long, it became clear that many of the fans had again lost interest in the books. I remember hosting chat rooms with people speculating complete storylines. Oftentimes, I’d neither confirm nor deny such speculations, but it frustrated me that the series and its characters had become so utterly predictable. Plain and simple, we were letting down the Legion, and its audience.

Let me make it perfectly clear: I don’t think any one individual or story arc was responsible for the declining sales or interest. KC was the perfect editor for the Legion at a time when the franchise was far from perfect. I learned a lot through working with him, and with great talents like Mark Waid, Stuart Immonen, Adam Hughes, Chris Sprouse, Tom Peyer, Tom McCraw, Roger Stern, Lee Moder and Jeff Moy. I just believe that a combination of elements had simply run their course, and circumstances dictated that I couldn’t change that course until my first full year as Legion editor was behind me.

Panel from "Legion Lost" (vol.I) #1 (2000), art by Olivier Coipel and Andy Lanning

Panel from "Legion Lost" (vol.I) #1 (2000), art by Olivier Coipel and Andy Lanning

Beginning with the “Legion of the Damned” storyline in 1999, the target of the book shifted to an older audience: the stories became more dramatic, and started to involve complex themes more akin to hard sci-fi.
How and why was this change of direction born?

McAvennie: “Legion of the Damned” was never intended solely to attract an older demographic to the Legion. It was intended as a four-part story arc to shake up the status quo.
The Legion books were in dire straits, and it was clear from the increasingly lagging sales and fan feedback that people wanted something drastic to change. I felt that the ZERO HOUR reboot had re-captured as much of the classic Legion feel as it could, so trying that again would have been the wrong move. That’s when I started talking with Dan and Andy, and asked them to focus on science fiction and epic adventure. If the story was sound, then they could work the Legion into it.

How did it happen for you to put together the creative team of Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Olivier Coipel?

McAvennie: I had approached Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning to write an issue of THE CREEPER, and had really enjoyed working with them on a SUPERGIRL/RESURRECTION MAN crossover. I knew the guys greatly enjoyed science fiction, and Dan was really establishing him with his Warhammer books, so I asked them to come up with a Legion story arc. I wanted them to focus more on the story than about re-capturing the past feel of the Legion. The three of us and Tom McCraw discussed a sprawling storyline that started with Earth under siege from the Blight, and I knew right away that Dan and Andy could really do something exciting with the franchise.

Olivier was a different story. I wanted to move away from the clean style that Jeff – and Lee, to a smaller extent – had so expertly delivered over the years. There was certainly nothing wrong with it, but after five years, if the readership continues to dwindle down, then it’s time to make changes.
I owe a lot DC’s VP of Art Direction and Design, Mark Chiarello. He was a great listener as I explained my concerns to him about the Legion, and he showed me samples from several artists he had met in San Diego. There were two that stood out right away, but the one that really struck me was Olivier Coipel. His art was so drastically different than anything I had seen in American comics, and I instantly thought it would complement “DnA’s” (Dan and Andy) storytelling. I called Olivier in France right away and offered him the “Legion of the Damned” storyline, with the promise of keeping him busy right after that arc.

Panels from "Legion Lost" (vol.I) #1 (2000), art by Olivier Coipel and Andy Lanning

Panels from "Legion Lost" (vol.I) #1 (2000), art by Olivier Coipel and Andy Lanning

At the time, you also edited the SUPERBOY and SUPERGIRL series and, before that, you had assisted Joey Cavalieri in the Man of Steel office. Still, curiously enough, one of the basic points of the reboot Legion was its complete lack of a relationship with the Superman mythos, instead of what went on from the fifties until the late eighties.
How did you feel about that?

McAvennie: I read the Legion as a kid because Superboy was part of the team. He’s the reason why I picked up the LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES four-issue series of reprints from 1973, and the “Wrath of the Devil Fish” story from the 100-page SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #202. Superboy and Batman were the first DC characters I read as a kid, so he first left the Legion in issue #259, I left the book for a while – in fact, until he returned around issue #280.

When I became KC’s assistant on the Legion books in 1993, Superboy was no longer part of the team’s official history, due to the Superman revamp following CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. It was unfortunate, as I always thought he belonged on the team (I can’t explain why, but I never felt quite so strongly about Supergirl), but at that point I was more interested in working with KC to make the current Legion work.

In your opinion, was that a handicap or a strength for the book?

McAvennie: Did not having Superboy in the Legion hurt the franchise? I’d have to say yes, primarily because his complete removal from the team’s history acted as a constant reminder to longtime fans that this was not the Legion they grew up reading. And you sure as hell couldn’t explain his disappearance to casual readers without making things more complicated. Good characters and teams can often be summed up in one or two sentences; by the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, you really couldn’t do that with the Legion.

Strangely enough, I remember fans being upset because we didn’t make Superboy part of the Legion’s ZERO HOUR reboot, but I was glad we didn’t. Superboy himself was no longer the same character, so it would have been something of a cheat to make him a Legionnaire. It allowed us to play with the idea that R.J. Brande and the Legion were inspired not just by Superman, but by the Justice League of America. That seemed like the fairest way to keep the Superman-Legion connection alive without contradicting everything that had since been established. It also opened us up to doing some good crossover stories with the new Superboy, whom the Legionnaires initially mistook for Superman as a boy, due to incomplete historical archives.

Ultimately, it took DnA and Olivier to make me not miss having Superboy in the Legion. Their work on “Legion of the Damned,” then LEGION LOST, put the team on strong footing. We were all focused on moving the franchise forward, rather than worrying over what might upset fans of the classic franchise.

Panel from "Legion Lost" (vol.I) #1 (2000), art by Olivier Coipel and Andy Lanning

Panel from "Legion Lost" (vol.I) #1 (2000), art by Olivier Coipel and Andy Lanning

What was, for you, the Legion’s selling point?

McAvennie: “Legion of the Damned,” LEGION LOST, LEGION WORLDS and THE LEGION appealed to me as a fan of epic storytelling and science fiction. For a long time, having 40 characters in a book seemed to put off new readers. Now they were coming because they could pick up any issue and immediately and get swept up in the adventure. It also helped making the Legion the underdogs, fighting against what seemed like impossible odds. If your heroes can conquer just about anything that’s thrown their way, where’s the fun in that?

In fact, about a year after you had left the chair of the Legion book editor – which at the time was actually called THE LEGION – DC did tie the team again with the Man of Tomorrow, by having Superboy pay a long visit to the 31st century. This coincided with a change of tones for the book, from the sci-fi set you contributed to set to a more classic superheroic approach.
Was the freedom from the Superman mythos a weapon for you to make the team of Saturn Girl & co. more like a “Legion” than a “Legion of Super-Heroes”?

McAvennie: I left DC just before the next big story arc. DnA had discussed the idea of bringing Superboy back into the Legion fold, but I wasn’t sold on it. We spent so many years trying to get the Legion to stand on its own two collective feet, so I wasn’t quick to say, “Yeah, let’s add Superboy now!” – at least, not without making the ride very interesting.

I remember suggesting that DnA add Superboy to the books for a year or so, only to ultimately reveal that it was Match, Superboy’s evil clone from the 21st century, who for unknown reasons believed that he was the Boy of Steel. The idea never came to fruition, but that was fine. Steve Wacker did a bang-up job as editor, and collaborated on a good run with the guys and Chris Batista. It was different than I envisioned, but that didn’t make it any less entertaining.

Buy NOW the Legion Lost HC at BookDepository.com

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