Dec 6, 2008: Let me start off the bat by saying that I have a thing for superhero fiction. I watch Heroes, I read comics (or I used to, until I realized there was absolutely no way I could keep up with characters who never actually died), and I think superhero movies were the best thing to happen to cinema since Citizen Kane. Part of the draw of superhero stories is how fundamental they are: how simple the interplay of light and dark, how human the emotions behind the masks, how basic and powerful the themes you have on offer in the genre. Jim Zoetewey, the author behind The Legion of Nothing, knows this. He grew up with a love of the secret identity and the comic book, and he knows what’s been done in this genre before. You will find no cliches here, unless it’s been turned onto its head, cooked and served with a side order of sarcasm.
The Legion of Nothing is about Nick Klein, grandson of Joe Vander Sloot/The Rocket. Nick’s heritage is vast: his grandfather and a bunch of old timers built up the Heroes League shortly after World War Two. Legion concentrates on the grandchildren of that first League, and the consequences they face for taking up their grandparent’s old identities. Some of it is subtle: like a mental block one of the old League members placed on every single one of them; others are more up-front: Nick’s dad is a psychiatrist, and he doesn’t like the idea of a new Heroes League run by a bunch of kids. He has no idea Nick is the new Rocket.
Nick has no powers. He has, however, extensive karate training and an in-depth understanding of his grandfather’s technology. He also has the Rocket suit, or several versions of it – these suits are equipped with weaponized sonics, a jetpack and super strength. The Rocket’s chief weapon is sound, and Nick’s grandfather’s decision to use sonics instead of guns is indication of one of the main themes in this series.
I’ve a feeling that Zoetewey has had experience with martial arts. The use of appropriate force (and no more) to disarm and suppress threats is a constantly recurring theme throughout Legion. Nick constantly worries about the consequences of his actions. He worries if his punches kills, if a falling superhero has hurt civilians, and he worries about collateral damage in the midst of a fight. This is gritty superhero fiction, and these kids don’t fight without facing very real facts of life.
There is one scene where one of the original members of the League tells Nick and his friends: “One more thing, you may kill somebody today. We don’t want you to, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. We won’t think anything less of you for it.”
To which another hero replies: “No. It can always be avoided. Always. And it should be. Whatever we might think, in the public’s opinion you’ll have killed an innocent man.”
This clash is powerful. It highlights, in so many sentences, what it’s like to be teenaged and stuck in an evil, often unforgiving superpowered world. It’s also worth noting that Joe, Nick’s grandad, used to wake up from nightmares as a result of the people he had killed during the war. The new League consists of kids, and it’s mostly been non-violent so far, but you can’t help but wonder: what happens if one of them kills someone? These are teenagers, stuck in situations way over their heads. What will happen to them then?
The Legion of Nothing succeeds in almost every way: it is gripping, well written, and regularly updated. Above all, Zoetewey writes it with fantastic humour, poking fun at superhero cliches and often ending chapters with witty repartee. There’s something here for everyone. Zip up and ready your power armour. The Legion’s here to stay.