Alien Legion, Vol. 1 (1984)

So, Alien Legion.
I’m five issues in and wrestling a bit. There are some great ideas, some strength to the world-building, some complexity to the characters and perspectives–but a bunch of things just keep kind of wiggling in.
I’m addressing them because I feel the need to vent this as I go.

 

  1. A Good Bit of Heinlein-Style Bias (with All Arguments about the Existence Thereof Entangled)
    From the first issue–though, admittedly, I first read it half-asleep and I think ascribed some comments to the wrong characters–there’s a clumsiness to some of the expressions. It sometimes carries a waft of difficulty in expressing an opposing viewpoint. This also comes through in an overbearingly…simplified complexity? The first issue has the Legion constrained by the TGU’s directive to avoid interference with the still-evolving lifeform of the rathrosaurs there (think Prime Directive, I suppose).

     

    They have weaker, “simpler” weaponry, as compared to their standard fare. The government (via the Galactors, iirc) references “Soldiers, but only Legionnaires” to ham-fistedly suggest their utter disdain for our protagonists. This comes up again in the third issue, which also employs a certain level of confusion in plotting/illustration. On the first page, a member of a guerrilla pacifist group, responding to a proposed forcible conscription act seemingly shoots a guard. Then they all spend the rest of the issue emphasizing their non-violent pacifism, never commenting on this. Was it a stun, perhaps? I have literally no idea. I read it two or three times and couldn’t make sense of it.

     

    The corruptions and the perspectives that aren’t militaristic (a spectrum there, to be fair) are pretty poorly portrayed much of the time: Chief Lanx’s local police corruption in the same third issue; the simplistic (and super-Heinlein) notion of military service via Montroc in the fourth issue…so on and so forth. It feels like someone on the cusp of being able to represent viewpoints other than their own, but failing miserably to do so with full respect or acknowledgment of how one could hold that viewpoint.¹ It’s held that these perspectives are the end, final truth–something especially (seemingly) emphasized in Montroc’s internal struggles in the fourth issue.

     

    There’s just enough respect and complexity in these “opposition” characters much–but not all–of the time to avoid being flat-out offensively simple-mindedly dismissive of others,² but it still doesn’t achieve a balance of respect–not to go out of one’s way to suggest that an opposing viewpoint is entirely reasonable, but rather that one can arrive at it without being a cartoonish villain.

  2. Logical Contradictions and Stretches to Serve Those Biases (and Maybe a Bit of Plot)

    Plenty of comments abound about the limitations the refusal to issue HEL-guns saddle the Legion with as they try to remove an un-restricted piratic mining operation from Wedifact IV. But the restriction, honestly, seems illogical even given the reasoning: they want to avoid leaving technological remains or interfering, but a “laser scar”–the most often given reason–doesn’t seem like a meaningful indicator of technology. It’s an interesting idea, but when you’re inserting logic to explain the plot, it has to make sense. This doesn’t make sense. Compressed-gas-propelled darts are still leagues ahead of the rathrosaurs’ technology. Just because the dart decays doesn’t make it different from a laser (which sure as hell doesn’t stick around…).

    This comes up again in the third issue, with the aforementioned pacifistic group’s seeming murder, the convenient flip-flop of governmental perspective on violations and value of the Legion, and the inconsistency in response to internal crimes (it seems as if violently attacking another member of the Legion is taken less seriously by the Legion itself, which seems insane).

  3. The Letters (Thoughts in General)

    The letters pages–one of the lovely benefits of single issues over many/most trades–are an interesting mix. Appropriately, many place Frank Cirocco’s (excellent!) art and character design (with inking from the great Terry Austin, and great colours from Bob Sharen) as the best feature of the book. Often the plotting is held up next, and the writing itself held as “strong” or “good”, but often with far more caveats.Someone brings up the (almost?) universally male composition of the Legion as an odd point. The editors respond that the letter-writer is making assumptions! But, of course, we have profiles in issues 1 and 5 of many members. Every single one says “he” and “his”. Sure, there are assumptions, but the statistical probability given by the first issue’s profiles, all of the dialogue prior to the letter’s publication and so on make it a reasonable (and, to this point, seemingly accurate…) conclusion. This bothers me primarily because of the flipping of points–a dangerous thing to mention, in that I’m wary of some modern incarnations that feel, to me, excessive in choosing to see a response as ignoring or dismissing a problem. This read exactly like that–it was an editor (presumably) writing on behalf of a writer, with no evidence to support the claim, and plenty against it that only further supported the letter writer’s accuracy.

    Perhaps most frustrating was reading a letter from the famous letter-writer (seriously) T.M. Maple. Maple references the hypocrisy of pacifist activists in reference to issue three, calling out events in his native country (take a wild guess from that name!) that were performed rather contemporaneously by “Direct Action”, aka “The Squamish 5“. They were not, so far as I can see, avowed pacifists. Indeed, they rebelled against nonviolence as means of protest, hence the self-applied name “Direct Action”. Maple (real name Jim Burke) applies these events anyway, then goes on to make numerous terrible leaps of logic (Paraphrasing–“If they’re part of the peace movement, it implies the other side is against peace!” and “I’m opposed to any side claiming a monopoly on morality”³) before establishing a last flimsy footnote of declining to express where he falls (it’s obvious, man…).

    I do think I find this clumsy writing fits with my impression of Zelenetz, who took on a smattering of first-volume Moon Knight issues, as well as the entirely misguided and very much cut-short second volume (Fist of Khonshu) in that there are legitimately good and interesting ideas, marred somewhat by questionable execution.


¹Should one think this is unreasonable to expect of “Perspective X”, I submit Nick Spencer’s portrayal of both the Red Skull and the mind-tampered Captain America. These are human and complicated characters who definitely have vile perspectives, but the way they arrived at them and how they justify them is clear and not condescending.

 

²My counter example here might be C.S. Lewis’s portrayal of the Calormenes in The Horse and His Boy. Perpetually referencing fair skin as a glorious and beautiful thing, condemning the dark-skinned, making–for all the (accurate!) claims to its polytheistic and otherwise slightly modified elements–a bunch of not-unsubtle references to Victorian-esque perceptions of the Middle East (turbans! pointy shoes! scimitars!) and then having Aslan say, “Anyone who does a good thing, even if they worship that other guy, they’re actually mine. And anyone who does a bad thing? Yeah they’re ACTUALLY worshiping the Calormene God.” Considering his stances on Islam, I don’t see a way around this that doesn’t involve some serious contortions. For all the this-or-that Calormene character isn’t bad, it comes off more like, “But some of my great friends are ___!” as Aslan’s proclamation definitively seals it as “Aslan=good, Tash=bad”, and anyone who claims otherwise is accidentally saying the exact same thing or secretly/accidentally evil.

 

³It should be noted that no group or movement is ever likely to be devoid of some percentage that represents the bogeyman version of that group or movement. Hesitance to associate on those grounds I find understandable, particularly where there is sufficient popular disagreement as to whether the group/movement has the boundaries some members assert or not. Decrying said entire group/movement as fully and accurately represented by those individual parties, however, is a different and altogether dumber idea.