In 1958, DC Comics introduced a “super hero club” inspired by Superboy to become heroes. The twist was that these heroes came from a far distant future, the 30th century to be precise, and a legendary concept was born. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Legion of Super-Heroes. Why don’t they get the love they deserve?
The Legion was intended as a one-off story in Adventure Comics, like many Superboy and Superman stories of the era. After all, we never saw Superman’s power to shoot miniature versions of himself after its first appearance (much to my disappointment). However, they proved to be extremely popular, were given a regular feature in Adventure Comics, and within a few years had replaced Superboy as the lead feature of the series. Until just a couple years ago, the Legion was one of DC’s longest-lived and popular concepts. Hell, they’ve even appeared extensively on the current season of the CW’s Supergirl.
Unfortunately, the Legion has a reputation of being confusing. The series has a huge cast (duh, it’s a Legion). The continuity is twisted, with multiple reboots, relaunches, unboots and parallel versions. But those points are a lot easier to overcome than you might think. The Legion is actually a great concept that isn’t that hard to get into, if you boil it down to the basics.
So why does the Legion deserve more love?
Transcending the Silver Age
The silver age of comics is known for silly camp. Superman shooting miniatures of himself from his hands (yeah, I went there again). Batman inspiring a couple to name their new son Batman Jones, who is obsessed with the caped crusader until he discovers stamp collecting. The Flash being turned into a puppet.
However, the Legion often transcended that. There were plenty of silly Legion stories, including overwrought romance, and confusing logic. For example, Supergirl was once rejected for membership because Red Kryptonite temporarily made her too old to join- instead of waiting for the Kryptonite to wear off.
However, the Legion told many stories with high stakes, leading to real danger for the members. Founder Lightning Lad and Ferro Lad both died fairly early in the series run. Six Legionnaires actually volunteered for a dangerous experiment that could bring Lightning Lad back, knowing that one of the six would die in the process (but not knowing which). Brainiac 5 struggled with finding a cure to lead poisoning for the heroic Mon-El, a condition that would eventually kill him. Element Lad joined the team to hunt down a pirate who slaughtered his entire planet and bring him to justice.
The Legion fell out of popularity for a few years, coming back in the 70’s, but they didn’t lose their progressive edge. In one story, Element Lad’s long-term girlfriend Shvaughn Erin of the Science Police was revealed to be transgender (a transition she was able to make thanks to a medication). His reaction was one of love and support, stating that he loved Officer Erin, whether it was as Shvaughn or Sean.
It even had a way of being progressive that was a little silly- when editorial asked the art team to redesign some of the costumes to be “sexier” (ie: bare more skin), they didn’t just redesign female characters. Legion stalwart Cosmic Boy received a “sexy” skin-baring costume also, the logic being that by the 30th century, it would be the norm for a male superhero to bare as much skin as a female one.
The Legion are heroes in the purest form of the world.
They’re often mocked or parodied as being old fashioned or corny, but they’re far from that. Instead, this is a group of heroes whose only desire to be heroic.
Multiple Legionnaires have sacrificed their lives to save the world, or even more noble to save their friends. They don’t care what it’ll take. They’ll do it because it needs to be done. Lives are at stake. WORLDS are at stake.
Even in the Mark Waid-written “threeboot” Legion, they were branded as rebels and outlaws. However, they were inspired by the heroes of the ancient past to still do good, and they did. They didn’t waver, despite the labels attached to them.
Hard Sci-Fi Superheroes
Given their far future setting, science fiction was tied to the DNA of the team. If they weren’t tied so closely to Superman and the DC Universe, we would probably regard the series as a science fiction comic, not a superhero comic. Few members of the team were from Earth (though many were Earthlings by ancestry). Many were alien. Some weren’t even humanoid.
Many of the heroes of the Legion we given their powers through super-science. Brainiac 5’s power was simply his 12th level intelligence. Lyle Norg became Invisible Kid when he ingested an invisibility serum. Jo Nah ingested the flesh of a space whale after he’d been swallowed by it (subtle name there Jo), gained five powers he could use one at a time and became Ultra Boy. The list goes on and on.
Time travel was a frequent trope used by the team. The time bubble appeared alongside the team’s very first appearance in Adventure Comics #247. It was a time travel device created by Brainiac 5 as a child, and was one of the most recurring devices used by the team.
The team also used flight rings as a membership badge, a miniaturized anti-gravity device that would, as the name implies, grant the wearer the ability to fly.
Their stories followed suit. Many Legion stories took place in space or on alien worlds. They fought off alien invasions. They saved refugees. They stopped space pirates.
The Legion is one step from a space opera with superheroes, way before the Guardians of the Galaxy embodied that, and that’s AWESOME.
Some of the Greatest Talents in Comics
Otto Binder. Al Plastino. Curt Swan. Jerry Seigel. Cary Bates. Steve Ditko. Mike Grell. Jim Shooter. Paul Levitz. Keith Giffen. Dan Abnett. Andy Lanning. Olivier Coipel. Mark Waid. Stuart Immonen. Barry Kitson. Francis Manapul. Geoff Johns. George Perez.
What do they all have in common?
Every single one of these incredible creators have been involved with the Legion.
Simply put, the Legion is an incredible concept, and they deserve more love.
Lucky us, a movie is in development, hopefully raising the Legion’s profile to the point that they return to the status they once had. The book was DC’s second-highest selling at one point!
Long Live the Legion!