Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Episode #115: The Legion Of Super-Heroes!

As DC Comics celebrates its 75th anniversary, I want to take the opportunity, as often as I can, to highlight aspects of that history as it affects Superman. According to Mike's Amazing World Of DC Comics at, the Legion of Super-Heroes first appeared in Adventure Comics #247, April 1958, and, according to Mike's website, was published around February 27, 1958 (about 2 years and 7 months before I was born). In that story three super powered teens travel from the future and visit Superboy, inviting him to join their super hero club. They engage in some initiation hazing before Superboy is admitted. Superboy and the Legion would be intertwined for the next 30 years, and Superman would even sometimes visit the adult Legion. In this episode I will give a general overview of the history of the Legion, and won't really touch on many plot points.

The Legion was not an immediate hit. The next Legion story would not be published until about a year and a half later, in Adventure Comics#267, Decenber 1959, October 29, 1959. Future Legion stories would be printed sporadically in issues of Adventure, Superboy and Action until it became the title feature with Adventure Comics #300, September 1962, published around July 26, 1962. Legion popularity steadily grew, and its fans, although perhaps not the largest comic book fan base, became among the most avid and dedicated in comic books. It is often said that comic book fans of teen groups usually fall into two camps, the Legion and the X-Men. While I like the X-Men, especially the earliest Lee and Kirby X-stories, I guess you can chalk me up as a Legion fan. And that is only from a small handfull of Legion stories I managed to read growing up, and I'll mention a few of them in this episode.

One criticism about the Legion is that there are too many characters. My response to that is, isn't the same true about the X-Men? I'm not knocking the X-Men, but with the Legion, yeah, there are a lot of characters, but at least there is only one comic book title to keep track of. The X-Men have about as many titles as there are mutants. That's an exaggeration, but it takes a lot more money to keep up with the X-Men titles than it does with the Legion. But there is a lot to enjoy with both groups.

The first Legion story I have any memory of reading was the fourth Legion story, The Army Of Living Kryptonite Men from Superboy #86, January 1961, published around January 31, 1961. I obviously didn't read it when it was first published. I don't remember how I got a copy of it around the time I was learning to read. The young Lex Luthor invented a machine that could cause chunks of kryptonite to group together in a human shape to battle Superboy, who was rescued by Lightning Lad.

Adventure Comics would establish the classic era of the Legion, with the inverted rocket shaped clubhouse, rotating Legion leadership, Legion tryouts and eventually the Legion of Substitute Heroes. The first legion story I remember my Dad buying me was Adventure Comics #372, September 1968, published around July 30, 1968. The story in that issue was School Of Super-Villains, written by Jim Shooter, pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Jack Abel. I saw it at a drugstore in Ocala, Florida, where I lived for a few years. What made me ask my Dad to buy it was the Neal Adams cover, showing Superboy turned into glass and being shattered by a sledgehammer. In the story Colossal Boy had been kicked out of the Legion in part one the previous issue, and joined a school for super-villains.

Legion fandom has produced a number of comic book professionals who have made major contributions to Legion lore. The first was Jim Shooter, who began his comic book career around the age of 14 writing for the Legion, beginning with Adventure Comics #346, July 1966, May 26, 1966. He would be the regular Legion writer through Adventure #384, January 1970. His final Legion story of the 1970's would be in Superboy #209, June 1975. He created the characters Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, Shadow Lass and the Adult Legion. He also introduced the Legion villains Fatal Five, Dark Circle and Mordru. He also wrote the story of the first Legion death, who stayed dead, Ferro Lad in Adventure Comics #353, February 1967, December 27, 1966, when he sacrificed himself to destroy the Sun Eater.

Other creators who added to Legion history were writer Carey Bates, who wrote the story in which Bouncing Boy married Duo Damsel in Superboy Starring The Legion Of Super-Heroes #200, Jan./Feb. 1974, October 18, 1973, drawn by Dave Cockrum. He would draw the Legion from Superboy #184, April 1972 through Superboy #202. Mike Grell inked Dave Cockrum's last story and would become the regular Legion penciller with issue 203, August 1974, the story which told the death of Invisible Kid. He would draw the Legion uninterrupted through Superboy #235, January 1978. This era of the Legion, between Cockrum and Grell, is sometimes called the Legion's disco era because of the haristyles, bell bottoms, and skimpier outfits.

The second Legion wedding would occur in Superboy #236 & 237, March & April 1978, when Saturn Girl married Lightning Lad.

With issue #261, March 1980, Superboy would be dropped from the title and it became the Legion Of Super-Heroes. It would be renamed again, as Tales Of The Legion Of Super-Heroes with issue #314, August 1984 and run through issue #354, December 1987.

During this time other Legion fans became professionals. Paul Levitz, who was involved with comic book fanzines, and wrote and published the fanzine The Comics Reader, wrote his first Legion story with Superboy #225, March 1977, And Who Shall Lead Them? His first Legion run would end with issue#251, May 1979. He would return to the Legion with The Legion Of Super-Heroes #284, February 1982. The title would be renamed Tales of The Legion Of Super-Heroes with issue #314, August 1984. That same month a new Legion Of Super-Heroes title would begin with issue #1 (volume 3 of the Legion). This would be during the early days of the Direct Market, which is the dominant distribution system for comic books today. This new Legion title would be called the Baxter run because of the type of upgraded paper stock used for this edition, which carried a cover price of $1.25. Tales was the newsstand edition and sold for 75 cents, and would eventually become a reprint title of old Legion stories.

It was during the "Baxter Legion" era, when John Byrne began his revamp of Superman with his Man Of Steel mini-series in 1986. Byrne's Superman was never a superhero as a youth, which contradicted with 25 years of Legion continuity. DC handled this conflict in several ways. Legion #'s 37 and 38 tied in to the Superman titles in a Superboy storyline. It established the Pocket Universe, fabricated by the Time Trapper, where the Legion was "actually" visiting this Superboy all these years. The Pocket Universe Superboy sacrificed himself in Legion #38 in a battle against the Time Trapper. Looking back, it seems to me that the Legion began to lose its way, which would not become evident until recent years with a number of reboots. The highlight of the "Baxter" Legion would be the storyline The Great Darkness Saga, which pitted the Legion against Darkseid in issues 287, 290-294 and Legion Of Super-Heroes Annual #3. The Baxter Legion title ended with issue #63, the end of The Magic Wars storyline, and marked Paul Levitz's last Legion story for many years.

The biggest change to the Legion happened with a new Legion Of Super-Heroes title, Novermber 1989, September 12, 1989 (2 weeks before my 29th birthday). This was the first Legion run where I followed it monthly. This fourth volume began five years after the Magic Wars. The United Planets had entered a dark era, with some member planets going to war, and EarthGov and the UP had a very srained relationship. The Legion had been forced to disband for some years, and the Legionnaires scattered to their home planets. Keith Giffen was the plotter and penciller, and husband and wife Tom and Mary Bierbaum wrote each issue.They got their start through The Legion Outpost fan club and Interlac, the Legion amateur press association (APA). It would eventually be revealed that EarthGov had been controlled by the alien race the Dominators.

It was during this time that DC editors decided to erase all mention of Superboy from Legion continuity. In issue 5 Mon-El destroyed the Time Trapper, which created an alternate timeline where Mordru ruled the UP. Glorith would take the Time Trapper's place in an attempt to usurp Mordru, and the timeline would be restored. Mon-El, called Valor in the 20th Centruy, would take Superboy's place as the Legion's inspiration, and be responsible for liberating Dominators' human captives, who had been the subject of genetic experiments. Valor would carry them to various worlds, and their descendants would become the United Planets, and be the source of the Legionairres' powers. During this time a duplicate Legion, first referred to as Batch SW6, also appeared. At first thought of as Legion clones created by the Dominators, they were established as temporal duplicates of the Legion in suspended animation found by the Dominators. These new Legionnaires would appear in their own title in Legionnaires #1, August 1993. Earth would be destroyed in Legion issue #38, December 1992.

With the Zero Hour crossover in 1994, 26 years of Legion continuity would come to an end, in Legion Of Super-Heroes #61 and Legionnaires #18, September 1994. After both Legion and Legionnaires had an issue #0, the new continuity began with Legion #62 and Legionnaires #19. New members of Legionnaires were XS, Barry Allen's granddaughter, Kenetix, whose power was telekenesis, and Gates, a teleporting insectoid. This era is referred to as the "Archie Legion" because the stories were a little more lighthearted at first. My last Legion issues for a few years were Legionnaires #78 and Legion Of Super-Heroes, December 1999. The last issues of these series were Legion #125 and Legionnaires #81, March 2000. With the UP near collapse, a group of Legionnaires disappeed in a space rift.

The twelve issue Legion Lost mini-series, May 2000 - April 2001, chronicled these Legionnaires difficult journey back home. Legion Worlds, June - November 2001, a six issue mini-series chronicled the UP during these Legionnaire's absences.

A new Legion #1 premiered with the December 2001 issue. this series was known for the post-Crisis Superboy, Conner Kent, and a 21st Century Superman clone, were members, and Lex Luthor was an honorary member. I began re-reading this title with issue #19, June 2003, when I began reading comic again with a new local comic book store opening. This Legion series would end with issue #38, October 2004.

What would be called a "3-boot" Legion with another new Legion Of Super-Heroes, volume 5, would begin with #1, March 2005. Writer Mark Waid and artist Barry Kitson began this series. This Legion was different from any other version of the Legion. It was more of a youth movement than an organization. In a very conformist society this Legion was a reform movement. There were some interesting twists with some of the Legionnaires' powers in this Legion. Colossal Boy came from a race of giants who could shrink to human size, Chameleon Boy was known as the androgynous creature Chameleon, Phantom Girl existed in two dimensions at once, and would talk to people in both dimensions at the same time.

Tony Bedard would become the write with issue #31. Waid may have left because of some conflicts with Legion continuity in the JLA/JSA story The Lightning Saga in Justice League Of America 8-10, April-June 2007 and Justice Society Of America 5-6, June-July 2007. This story would involve the Legionnaires Starman (the original version), Dream Girl, Wildfire, Karate Kid, Timber Wolf, Sensor Girl, Dawnstar and Brainiac 5. Jim Shooter would return to the Legion with issue #37. These stories were okay, but I did not like Princess, or Queen Projectra, becoming a villain after the destruction of her world. This series would end with issue #50.

The traditional Legion began to return with the Superman And The Legion Of Super-Heroes story in Action Comics 858 - 863, late Decmber 2007 - May 2008. The verious versions of the Legion joined forces with the Final Crisis: Legion Of 3 Worlds 1-5, October 2008 - September 2009, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by George Perez. The Legion would return to the new Adventure Comics #1/504, October 2009, August 12, 2009, as a back-up feature. while I have enjoyed these issues, I feel the Legion is too big to serve as a short feature in the back of a comic book. Geoff Johns and Gary Franks returned the Clark Kent Superboy to Legion continuity in the first two issues of Superman: Secret Origin, November and December 2009. Legion members have been involved in the 21st Century, in the Superman titles with the World Of New Krypton and World Against Superman storylines. Starman has been a member of the Justice Society in JSA in the last few years.

In upcoming stories, Adventure Comics will carry the Brainiac And The Legion Of-Super-Heroes story, involving the Legionnaires in the 21st and 31st Centuries, and General Lane's Human Defense Corps. Paul Levitz is scheduled to return to the Legion with yet another new series in May 2010. I will be reading it starting with the first issue.

I want to end this episode about the Legion with a look at two institutions of Legion fandom, The Legion Outpost and Interlac, the bi-monthly Legion Amateur Press Association (APA).

The Legion Outpost was both the name of the Legion letters page and the official newsletter of the Legion Fan Club, which published ten issues from 1972 - 1981. The fanclub arose after 1970, when Legion lost its spot in Adventure Comics to Supergirl. Mort Weisinger, editor of Legion as well as the Superman titles, had retired, and no editor at DC seemed interested in the Legion. The Legion was relegated to the back of Action Comics or the occasional Superboy title. Mike Flynn, a 13 year old Bronx resident, wrote a letter that was published in Superboy #182. He invited Legion fans to send him postcards with their information, along with their favorite Legionnaire, with the intent to form a Legion fan club, and show enough interest for DC Comics to give the Legion its own title. The first , 14 page, issue of The Legion Outpost was published as a newsletter. Harry Broertjos, a Northwestern University journalism student, became editor with the second issue. DC staff members contributed, including editor Murray Boltinoff, writer Cary Bates artist Dave Cockrum and others. In issue #8 Jime Shooter was interviewd, and he revealed he originally left the Legion after an disagreement with editor Mort Weisinger. Other comics pros itnerviewed included Mort Weisinger, Mike Barr and Len Wein. A book, Best Of The Legion Outpost, was published by TwoMorrows publsihing in November 2004, and is still in print.

Interlac is the bi-monthly amateur press association (APA). In the years before internet forums, it was the first APA devoted to the Legion. It got its name from the language of the United Planets. It was founded by Rick Morissey in June of 1976 with fifteen founding members. Among its members were Tom Bierbaum and Mary Gilmore, who met throught the APA. They would eventually marry and become Legion writers. Eight of the fifteen founders are still involved, four continuously through its history. Membership is limited to 50, but people can sign up for a waiting list. The leader serves as a central mailer, collecting submissions by members, making copies, collating, and mailing the finished issues to its members. Notable members of Interlac have included Jim Shooter, one of the founders, Dave Cockrum, Colleen Doran, Paul Levitz and Mark Waid.

With the new Legion Of Super-Heroes title, and with the young Clark Kent / Superboy restored to Legion continuity, I hope that the Legion will once again return to its place as one of the top series in DC Comics.

Wikipedia served as a foundation of information, along with Information about The Legion Outpost came from the website Other Legion websites are: The Legion Omnicon named after a 31st century version of an iPad.

There are several podcasts devoted the Legion of Super-Heroes:

The Legion Of Substitute Podcasters
Super Future Friends
LotsaLegion (last new episode on September 12, 2009)

Next episode: Happy Birthday, Irwin Donenfeld! (And before I forget, Happy Birthday, Superman!)

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