The news that DC was going to use the Zero Hour event to stage a hard reset of the Legion of Super-Heroes franchise, I seriously considered dumping the associated titles from my pull list. Even though the grimy and gritty charm of the “Five Years Later” era had worn thin after the resolution of the “Earthwar” story arc, I’d hung on out of loyalty and the hope that things would eventually get interesting again.
The idea of a full-on “do over” — in which four decades of continuity would be chucked into the dustbin — felt like a bridge too far for me. Fanboy attachment to the character and lore played a part in shaping that attitude, but there was also a touch of sadness that the last superhero franchise I gave a shit about was going to be subjected to the aesthetic nightmare known as the “1990s reboot.”
I decided to give the venture a few issues (split at the time between two monthly titles) to make its case. That turned out to be a wise decision, as I came to love the new Legion as much — if not more — than the old version. Instead of taking a rude and ‘tudey over-accessorized approach, the new creative team stripped the franchise back to its core concept of “teenage superheroes living in the distant future.”
The narrative arcs were long-form ensemble epics punctuated with liberal doses of melodrama and quieter moments character interaction. The Silver Age stories never really foregrounded the “teenage” aspect of the Legion (even when the stories were written by an actual teenager). The post-Zero Hour Legion, on the other hand, drew as much upon YA fiction as it did upon classic superhero tropes.
Whether or not the “Archie Legion” tag was meant as a slam or not, it certainly described the tenor and tone of the run. At a time when unabashed pandering to the naked fanboy-speculator Id was the norm, the two Legion titles served up a bi-weekly dose of accessible, all-ages superhero entertainment which drew inspiration from the team’s rich history but wasn’t beholden to its convoluted prior history.
It was the “Planet Hell” arc — where the team had to investigate a malfunctioning prison world embedded in a stellar core — which truly sold me on the concept. The storyline also introduced the Work Force, a rival group of super-teens assembled by one of Legion benefactor R.J. Brande’s business rivals and led by former Legionnaire Live Wire.
While most of the Work Force members (such as Ultra Boy, Karate Kid, Evolvo Lad, and Spider Girl) were taken from the pre-reboot Legion mythos…
…Inferno, the homicidal hot-head, was a new addition to the lore.
There really isn’t too much to say about Inferno, as her surly ruthlessness existed to serve as a contrasting attitude to the flawed-yet-selfless heroism of the Legion kids. When Inferno and a number of Legion members found themselves trapped in the 20th Century for an extended period of time, she was able to bring her broody firebrand routine into a whole new era.
A two-dimensional supporting character from two decades ago who has since been erased from continuity by further Legion reboots? That alone screams Nobody’s Favorite, but we should first discuss Inferno’s 1997 solo miniseries.
It would be easy to chalk its existence up to the “print it and they will buy” mentality which nearly did in the comics industry back in the mid-1990s, but the truth is slightly more complicated…and kind of heartwarming.
When DC editorial sorted out the roster of participants in the Final Night crossover event, Inferno was on the short list of characters which could be sacrificed for the sake of building some “shit just got real” dramatic tension. Stuart Immonen, the artist of Final Night and up-and-coming comics superstar, went to bat for Inferno, asking that that she be spared from the altar of forced pathos. This in turn led to Immonen getting a chance to write and illustrate a four issue miniseries starring the character.
While the results were beautifully illustrated and sported a pretty neat cover design gimmick, the tale itself is a very 1990s teen rebellion take on the very 1980s miniseries formula. You know the one, I’m sure — character with a self-esteem issue confronts a physical manifestation of her personal demon and thus reasserts her self-worth and learns the importance of friendship.
It’s not terrible (though the Vertigo-ean vision quest stuff with a talking panda makes me retroactively embarrassed about that era), but hardly the springboard for the greater things Immonen had hoped for the character. In truth, I doubt anything could have managed that accomplishment, but the notion that a creator would actively advocate on behalf of disposable d-lister is pretty darn remarkable to contemplate.