Glenn Walker On… the Legion of Super-Heroes

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Each week, one of Biff Bam Pop’s illustrious writers will delve into one of their favorite things. Perhaps it’s a movie or album they’ve carried with them for years. Maybe it’s something new that moved them and they think might move you too. Each week, a new subject, a new voice writing on… something they love.

It’s been a year or so since this superhero team has had their own title in the DC Comics Universe, but perhaps soon that will change. The Legion of Super-Heroes began as a one-off, a silly concept in a Superboy story, then grew into one of the most enduring continuities in the DCU, almost an entire universe unto itself. Meet me after the jump when I’ll talk about my love of the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Secret Origins

I was taught to read by my big sister, now a librarian who shows hundreds of children every year the wonders of books and reading. She’s super cool. She taught me with all the usual suspects – Dr. Seuss, Peanuts, and yes, that evil of all evils, comic books. While it was my big brother who hooked me on the Flash and Justice League, my sister’s comics were a bit different. She brought Wonder Woman and Teen Titans home for me to read, and one other – Adventure Comics featuring Supergirl. I learned early that women were equal to men early in the comics, especially in Adventure, where I first encountered, in reprint stories, the Legion of Super-Heroes.

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The Legion was a unique concept at that time. Most superhero teams had only one female member – Black Canary in JLA, Sue in the FF, Wanda in the Avengers, and Marvel Girl in the X-Men – but the Legion was different, as they had as many females as they had male members. Of course, it made sense because they were in the future, the clean sparkling hopeful future of the 30th century to be precise. Even as a five year-old, I understood that the future would be more progressive. And the Legion had such a large cast, nearly two dozen members, it was a whole new world to me, and I ate it up.

aleg3Reprinting the Past

Furthermore, even at that young fragile age I was savvy enough to know that these tales of the Legion were from the past, despite them happening in the future. DC Comics, in those days of extra-length comics and 100 Page Super Spectaculars, reprinted a lot from their vast library of five decades, including some from the recently obtained Fawcett, Quality, and others. It was a wonderful time to be a comics reader, new comics were changing and here were decades of classics as well. I read the Legion stories voraciously, wherever I saw them, be it in the back of Adventure Comics, in their own self-titled reprint comic, or in that one issue of Secret Origins.

Even then I was getting the sense of history and continuity to the Legion’s universe, exploring their world as I read. I read of the great Earth/Krypton War that happened thousands of years in the past, about the Legion of Substitute Heroes composed of heroes rejected for Legion membership, about villains like Mordru the Merciless and the Fatal Five whose names were only whispered because they had nearly beaten our heroes, and of the second hero death (the first was Red Tornado) I ever read about – poor Triplicate Girl in battle with Computo, a mechanized evil very much like the Avengers’ Ultron (who I didn’t even know about yet) because it was created by one of their own.

Superboy

So I really was digging the Legion, and that’s when I saw that Superboy comic. And when I say Superboy, I mean Superman when he was a boy, not that clone from the 1990s. I mean the real Superboy. I had read a few Superboy comics before this, one where he met a young Batman, a young Green Arrow, a young Aquaman, even Robin – amazing how in the Silver Age these guys all knew each other since they were kids. But then again, Superboy was always chilling with superheroes his age, but mostly, he chilled with the Legion.

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On a fairly regular basis, Superboy broke the time barrier and joined the Legion for adventures in the 30th century. And Superboy wasn’t just a member, he was their inspiration, and Supergirl was there too. Weirdly she traveled to the 30th from a different point in time from Superboy. Theoretically she came from the 1960s and Superboy from the 1950s, and as Legionnaires, they were teammates. A post-hypnotic suggestion however kept the young Kal-El from remembering anything about his future when he returned to his own time – including Supergirl. And you thought Terminator and Back to the Future were full of paradoxes, this predates them by a lot.

aleg5All New All Different

Anyway, that comic book. It was Superboy #197, the first issue to cover feature the Legion, and the first to have them share the title – Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, a title that would in just a few short years eject Superboy from it. I can still remember that cool summer evening when I saw that issue on the spinner rack of the local 5 and 10, I was mesmerized. This was not only a new Legion story, this was a whole new Legion!

Artist Dave Cockrum, who in just a couple short years would completely redesign and reinvent the X-Men and change the entire comics industry, was redesigning the Legion. Almost everyone had new modern costumes, the future was more vibrant and fresh than ever, and the storytelling was very seventies, a change from the Silver Age stories I had been reading. If I wasn’t in love with the Legion already, I was now. Each new issue introduced new elements, new costumes, new characters, and both slowly and quickly built on a history that was already epic. I was all in.

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I mentioned the history of the Legion, and how some of it to a new reader became legend, like the almost mythical ‘Adult Legion’ story. Slowly I began to learn what was what as old characters and villains returned to the fold and more stories were reprinted, but my real initiation to Legion history came when I started going to comic conventions. Back in the dark Ages before comic book shops and eBay, cons were the only way to get back issues, and Legion was one of the first things I began looking for.

This was no easy task. All one has to do is look at the original publications in the Legion Archives books to see that because the Legion didn’t have its own title, it appeared sporadically throughout the Superman family of comics. My big thrill was finding that many of the Legion’s Adventure Comics appearances had covers Neal Adams, one of my favorite artists. While he mainly did covers and a promo or two, his renditions of the team were always a favorite of mine.

Return, Revive, Reboot

Besides Cockrum and Adams, I loved Mike Grell and James Sherman on the Legion, and when writer Paul Levitz and artist Keith Giffen joined forces on the title, a new era ensued. As I mentioned The Legion, being in the future, had always been apart from most of the DCU, but Levitz and Giffen brought worlds crashing together when Darkseid was resurrected in the 30th century, becoming one of the Legion’s most dangerous adversaries in “The Great Darkness Saga,” still one of the most epic stories in comics in my opinion.

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Sadly, from there it kinda went downhill. Giffen brought us a series of adventures taking place ‘Five Years Later’ that while still the Legion, and still brilliant, it was far from what we as fans may have wanted. The Legion’s future was bright and shiny, not grim and dystopic. And then the reboots began, both official and unofficial. We had a young Legion of clones, new versions, new codenames, new members – and while that may sound familiar, it had none of the charm of what Dave Cockrum did. It seemed like every time I turned around, the Legion was being rebooted, again, with yet another different take. Until finally, they were taken off the shelves.

Long Live the Legion!

As it stands now, there is no Legion of Super-Heroes title being published. They have popped up here and there in the New 52, even made an appearance in Convergence, but nothing else. I am content to re-read the old stories and relive former glories. Every day I get a nice email from the Legion of Super-Bloggers who keep hope alive. Maybe someday the Legion will rise again, but until then, Long Live the Legion!

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