BACK ISSUE! 15 (2006)
Sporting a glorious Mike Grell Legion commission on the cover, the issue spotlights the two artists regarded as being responsible for turning the Legion around in the 70s and restoring the title back to glory: Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell.
At the time of the interview with Philip Schweier, Dave was finishing a Futurians project, after being involved with Soulsearchers and Company, while Mike was busy with his Shaman's Tears and Jon Sable books.
The two men recall how they got their jobs drawing the Legion. Dave was handed the gig by editor Murray Boltinoff after working as an apprentice with Murphy Anderson, while Mike was asked to come on board after being tried out inking a Cockrum story (SUPERBOY 202), and doing it sufficiently well to impress.
“Joe Orlando recommended me after Dave quit the Legion,” Mike recalls. “Murray said, 'Congratulations, you got the job. Now the bad news. You're going to get hate mail. You're replacing the most popular artist we ever had on the Legion, and we're killing off one of their favorite characters (Invisible Kid).”
“He was right. It was a long time before anyone mentioned me without comparing me unfavorably to Dave, and justfiably so.”
Dave confirms that part of the Legion's popularity owed much to his redesigning of several of the members' outfits to suit the 70s.
“I really had to fight Murray over it. He was very conservative, he didn't like it, but reluctantly, he let me go ahead with some costume changes,” Dave said.
This resulted in new looks for Colossal Boy, Shrinking Violet, Karate Kid, Duo Damsel and Chameleon Boy.
“A lot of people actually think I redesigned Matter-Eater Lad too (SUPERBOY 193), but they just got the color wrong,” Dave said.
|Some of Dave Cockrum's redesigns for Legion costumes. Courtesy Glen Cadigan.|
Mike reveals the flak he got for changing Cosmic Boy's costume (the infamous corset look). “Some guys never forgave me for it,” he said.
“I had a funny conversation with Mike Flynn, who had been one of the key people with the fanzine The Legion Outpost, and who despised the costume.
“He went to work for DC Comics and used his power and influence to get it changed to the way it looked before. And then he quit.
“I asked him about that and he said, 'Hey, my job here is done.'”
Like Dave, Mike bemoans editor Murray's conservatism and lack of humor.
“There was one story (SUPERBOY 204) that had Brainiac 5 saying, 'I'm looking for the girl in the red and blue costume'.
“I said, 'Murray, shouldn't that be 'I'm looking for the girl with the big S'. Murray, not getting it all, said 'Let me see if that works'.”
Fans also remember Mike's other famous encounter with Murray over character design.
“When I drew a Science Police officer in SUPERBOY 207, I made him a black guy. Murray said 'You can't do that because we'll get a lot of negative mail from our black readers',” Mike said.
“But there are no black characters in the Legion. Why not use one?”
Reluctantly, Mike changed the character slightly, leaving enough characteristics for readers to realize he had NOT been intended to be pink.
When the opportunity did come up to draw a black hero with Tyroc, Mike was disgusted. “One, he had the stupidest power of all; and two, his people had gone to live on an island, which sounds like the most racist concept I had heard,” he said.
“So I cobbled up a costume that was a combination of Elvis Presley Las Vegas shows and old blaxpoitation movies.”
Dave tells of coming up with several story concepts for the Legion, which Murray would inevitably shoot down.
This included a team-up with the Blackhawks, which were Dave's favorite comic book group, and the inclusion of Nightcrawler as a Legionnaire.
“Murray said he was too funny-looking,” Dave said.
Another Marvel character that developed from potential Legionnaires was Storm, an amalgam of a wind-powered heroine named Typhoon and a bird-girl named Quetzal.
Dave also put up a Legion villain concept featuring a group named the Devastators, and whose members comprised Foxglove, Tyr, Wolverine, Sidewinder and Manta. Only Tyr appeared in print, but it's interesting that Cockrum created a character named Wolverine a few years before Marvel's version. The design for this version of Wolverine was used by Dave for Fang, the Timber Wolf analog in the Legion-inspired Imperial Guard which Dave helped co-create when he revitalised the X-Men.
This narrow-minded approach at the editorial office was one reason which prompted Dave's departure from DC, a decision which was boosted by an argument over the return of his original art.
“When I did the wedding of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel, DC wasn't returning artwork even though Marvel was,” he said.
“I asked Murray, 'could I have the double page wedding scene spread back?'”
Although Murray agreed, publisher Carmine Infantino refused, citing company policy.
Furious, Dave quit the book, which paved the way for Mike to follow in his footsteps.
“I did eventually get the artowork back, but not any more. Somebody quoted me such a price on it that I couldn't refuse,” Dave said.
He remembers being asked several years later to draw a story for LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES 300, which featured creators from the Legion's past.
Surprisingly, Mike was not asked to participate in the project, probably due to his busy schedule with the launch of Jon Sable.
“I would've done it if I had the time,” he said.
Both artists in fact expressed a desire to return to the Legion, even if for one-shots.
“It's like somebody asking you, 'Remember that sports car you used to drive in the 70s? How'd you like to take it or one more turn round the track?” Mike said.
“I have always thought I'd like to come back,” Dave said. “I did six pages for that anniversary issue but they haven't asked me back.”
Dave notes that Alex Ross sent him a copy of his famous lithograph, signed as a personal tribute.
While the artwork featured the Legionnaires in the costumes that Dave and Mike designed, the layout was based on a panel that Mike drew in the tabloid that featured the wedding of Imra and Garth.
At the time of this interview, Mike said he had not seen the piece.
Remarking on the fact that his Cosmic Boy costume was featured, Mike said: “Somewhere Mike Flynn is having a conniption right now.”
While Dave is recognised by both fans and Mike himself as the more accomplished illustrator, it is Mike's humbleness that certainly reinforces his reputation as one of the industry's nice guys.
Acknowledging that he based his early atwork from the likes of Neal Adams, Mike said his art paled in comparison to the work of Dave, who he believed was the best artist the Legion ever had.
“I could be sitting at a convention table somewhere in the world, and some guy will come up to me, obviously a fan from that era, and ask me to sign one of those early books where I drew all the people too many heads high, arms too short to reach their pockets, you know, tiny little feet, really awful anatomy, and they'll sit down and say, 'I sure wish you'd go back to the Legion. This is the best work you ever did.'”
The entire interview features much more interesting insight from the two men, and this issue is worth acquiring for this excellent article alone.
But read further and there's also an interesting piece on the parallel worlds of the Imperial Guard and the Legion, which compares the members of both groups.
It's written by Ted Latner, who incidentally owns another original spread that Dave Cockrum drew that's just as gorgeous as the wedding piece: the meeting of the X-Men with the Legion dopplegangers.
|The Legion analogs the Imperial Guard meet the X-Men, by Dave Cockrum.|
|Dave Cockrum's wedding spread, re-colored by Brian Philbin.|
MORE ON BACK ISSUE! TO COME!
Bits Boy runs the comprehensive Legion completists’ site Bits of Legionnaire Business.