“Why I love the Legion of Super-Heroes”

Man, that pink costume seems so 2008...
Man, that pink costume seems so 2008…

Sometimes, one hero is not enough. Sometimes a League isn’t enough. Sometimes you need a Legion!

"Avengers what? THAT'S OUR THING!"
“Avengers World? WHA… THAT’S OUR THING!”

Created in 1958 by Otto Binder and Al Plastino, the Legion has been an enduring branch of the Superman family. The Legion was a group of futuristic time travelers who visited Superboy (the adolescent Superman,  not the modern boy of steel Connor Kent) and brought him to the 30th century to see how his legacy would impact the Earth. But this isn’t a history lesson, it’s about me!

I didn’t always love the Legion, in fact I kind of hated them. I saw them as boring knockoffs from the Man of Steel. “Each member has one power? LAAAMEEE!”,” Oh, they are all in this little happy club and aliens”. This was all stuff I thought for years, up until 5-7 months ago. What changed? Well, for one a certain writer you may have heard of (MARK WAID) actually wrote the LOSH years ago and is a huge self-professed fan of the characters. So given all the works by Mr.Waid I’ve enjoyed (“Kingdom Come”, “Superman:Birthright”, and “Daredevil”) I decided to give his run a fair shake.

I started with the earliest book of his I could find, co-written by Tom Peyer “Legion of Superheroes:The Beginning of Tomorrow”. Pretty rough, but I knew it was a good preparation for his Threeboot run on the title with Barry Kitson.

LSH1

I really enjoyed Waid’s run; I would compare it to Marvel’s Ultimate line where familiar characters are updated and revamped to be more modern. The run is full of interesting tweaks on the characters; Cosmic Boy carries the weight of the Legion on his shoulders (and many think the pressure is getting to him), Brainiaic 5 manipulates everyone behind the scenes, Invisible Kid is the young rookie often being overlooked, etc. This pretty much cliched it for me, Waid took everything old and made it new again and infused the series with a mix of action and humor.  Which made me go back and revisit a show I’d written off as being too silly; “Legion of Superheroes”…

legion

I love this show, I tore through the first season in three days.  I’m still trying to find a way to watch the second season, which seems pretty impossible right now. Nonetheless, this is a clean and accessible introduction to the Legion and a pretty solid comic book cartoon from James Tucker (a common cohort of Bruce Timm and the DCAU).

After reading and watching all of this, I came to recognize and appreciate several things about the Legion. 1, They’re about optimism, and right now that’s something I desperately crave. The Legion operates on the premise that They can make today, and by extension tomorrow, better. They have this youthful exuberance and zest for adventure that many other characters seem to have outgrown. 2, The Legion is all about Science Fiction; a lifelong love of mine. 3, They’re easier to get into than the X-Men. Look, I like the X-Men but aside from the first 2 movies (and maybe those don’t even count anymore) I can’t muster enough attention to care anymore. The comics are so dense (Who’s from the future? Who has an evil twin? Are those two related?), and the cartoons and movies don’t seem to really push the concept further aside from “Wolverine and the X-Men” (I may have to rewatch “X-Men:Evolution” and confirm that). The X-Men almost never seem to make things better in the world around them and things just seem to happen. Magneto is usually the villain (because he just can’t get along), Sentinels keep coming, the X-Men go to space or time-travel if things are getting boring.  Maybe I’ve just outgrown the angsty, “everyone and anyone could be a mutant” outsider bent. I don’t begrudge the X-Men or any of their fans, but it doesn’t interest me anymore. I want to believe in a better tomorrow, that the young are ready to step up, that things will get better; and the Legion makes me believe that by showing me young (oddly overwhelmingly looking human) aliens who have powers and volunteer to use them because it will help others. That, is why I love the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Now, in my “Gone Too Soon” series recent vote; the LOSH took the top place for me to cover. So to prepare for that I’ve bought all three of Paul Levtiz’s pre-New 52 tpbs and the entire New 52 series also written by him. A common criticism of Levitz’s New 52 run is how dense and inaccessable it was, so seeing a challenge I went ahead and tried to get as caught up as possible to give the best review I can of the LOSH 2007-2011. There’s more in there besides Levitz’s run but I’ll go into that later.

Next time; “Gone Too Soon:Legion of Super-Heroes”! It will probably be a long one…

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25 thoughts on ““Why I love the Legion of Super-Heroes””

  1. I love the pre-crisis Legion of Superheroes. The interesting relationships between the heroes was the key in those days. Wildfire with Dawnstar, Dream Girl/Projectra with Starboy and all the rest that are too many to mention here really had me hooked.

    Having a loose canon/loner type character like Wolverine in Timber Wolf didn’t hurt either in the 80’s. I especially liked when Superboy or even better Supergirl would drop by as a guest star. The relationship between Brainiac 5 and pre-crisis Supergirl was probably the highlight for me in that series.

    Needless to say I was extremely ticked when crisis did away with that version. Oh DC tried to salvage it with the whole pocket universe Superboy storyline but it still faded away eventually.
    I tried reading all the subsequent versions but they never captured the chemistry that the first version had.

    I supported the new 52 version(both LOSH and Legion Lost) religiously since it was basically the pre-crisis version but liked you said ITO’S_SPHERE, too much history and too much time has passed for it to succeed now.

    Today’s generation of comic readers IMO want to be there from the beginning and appear too lazy to support anything with any complex history behind it. Hence the constant #1 issues and reboot/relaunch every few years to cater or fool these type of readers into thinking that this Avengers #1 has no history whatsoever before it.

    My first comic was Captain America #204 and I didn’t give a damn that I miss the first 200 issues. Half the fun was finding out who everyone was and what happen before. But clearly that’s not the mentality of readers today. And with so many options today, it’s easier just go to Image or Dynamite than try to figure out Marvel or DC’s complex universe.

    So gone again is my beloved version of Legion but at least I got to experience it again briefly.

  2. I never got ’round to reading Waid’s LSH, although I have them sitting about and really must get to them one day. I’ve followed the Legion for quite awhile now and was really pleased when the pre-crisis “real” LSH finally came back. I think Levitz’s pre-New 52 Legion in both LSH and Adventure Comics was a lot stronger than the New 52 version though. I don’t know what happened, something wasn’t quite the same anymore. Maybe it was losing some cast members to Legion Lost, I don’t know.

    I don’t really understand the whole “there’s too much history” argument when it comes to the Legion. It’s no different to any other book out there. When I first started reading comics it was back in the UK and I guess that helped in a way because it was all about Marvel UK and the reprints which were a long way behind the US titles. This meant that if I did get a US original that it wasn’t so hard for me to fill in the gaps. Once I was old enough to start finding US imports on a regular basis I already had a reasonable idea of the history and past adventures.

    Then I found comic shops and mail order and finally back issues. I love the old stuff. A lot of comic runs, characters, creators that I love the most are from before I was born or old enough to really read and appreciate fully.

    In the case of the Legion I’d suggest that if you’re enjoying the recent output then go back to the original Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen run from the 80’s. Outstanding work. And even further back I really enjoy the Dave Cockrum/Mike Grell run from the old Superboy and The Legion of Super-Heroes series (written by Cary Bates, I think). It’s all a bit dated and 70’s idea of the future but both Grell and Cockrum do some awesome art in that and it’s a really good way to get into pre-crisis LSH.

    1. Waid’s LSH wasn’t bad and probably the best version of the post crisis Legion but it lost a little something when they added Supergirl to the mix. A last ditch effort to boost sales but it still couldn’t save that LSH version.

  3. Good article. I’ve never quite gotten into the Legion, but I haven’t really read that much of them either. There was the Johns arc at the beginning of his Action run, plus their appearances in various DC events. I don’t think that I’ve ever read a stand-alone Legion title.

    I agree that “there’s too much history” is probably not exactly the problem. For me, the issue was the sheer number of characters appearing in any given story — it’s a lot to get one’s head around. It didn’t help that for the most part I found their personalities generic, and thus it was harder for me to learn who was who. Now, clearly this is an issue with the writing, not the characters themselves. But, I think that it points to a hurdle that new readers might have.

    I should look up that Waid run and give it a try someday. Has anyone read the DnA run of Legion? I’ve been curious about it, since the Legion sounds like the kind of book they would be good at . . .

    1. I read the Abnett and Lanning Legion but it didn’t do much for me. It came after this whole Adult Legion/Five Years later thing by Keith Giffen and then DC deciding they wanted a younger Legion again so they discovered these SW16 clones and they were spun off and became the younger Legionnaires (there were two books a month)… anyway, from what I remember most of DnA’s run was a 12 part Legion Lost series with a handful of characters, believed dead, were flung into the far reaches of the galaxy with no way home. And the Oliver Coipel art wasn’t that geat either. Which sounds odd to say now but he has come along so much and his art is so fantastic now that it’s hard to believe that it was the same person.

      DC made the right move by bringing back the original Legion in John’s Action comics run and then Levitz’s pre-New 52 series and ignoring everything else since Crisis on Infinite Earths so you can skip a good bunch of those re-boots without too much problem.

      As for too many characters. It’s still a lot easier than The X-Men. Like the JLA of the day the good thing about those old 70’s Superboy issues is that with Superboy as the main star of the book they only tended to use a few characters at a time. Sometimes the book is spilt in two with Superboy and a couple of Legion members in the main story and then a shorter Legion story as back up, again focusing ona small number of characters. Made it a lot easier to get used to who was who and what they did.

      But as I said above, if you like 80’s stle books such as New Teen Titans or Uncanny X-Men then the Levitz/Gifeb run from that period is a great read.

        1. Johns once again proving that a back to basics approach, throwing out the crap that’s accumulated over the years is a good approach. His and Gary Frank’s run on Action was great and far too short.

    2. I read 1 volume of the DnA run that I really liked, but it didn’t seem 90s, I think it was 00s. The cast was super young (almost like the cartoon) but just had this fun attitude. Slowly it started getting complex (someone is in a dead members body after turning evil and being brought back to life but doesn’t have his old powers).

      Waid I think was great at giving the Legion cast individual personalities, others I think get so caught up in action that there’s no time to make the characters seem unique. And they’re not super deep to begin with; they have powers, they want to help people, and that’s it. Some come from really different cultures/planets and that makes interactions fun but only a handful have really distinguished personalities IMO.

    1. For some reason, I dig the pink costume more than his others. And I usuall hate when men wear pink! IDK, something about Cosmic Boy makes him able to pull it off I guess…

  4. Great post. Do you have a favorite Legionnaire? My favorite was always Ultra Boy. I liked the limitations of his powers – he had the powers of Superman, but could only use one power at a time. And his origin was so weird and based on the biblical story of Jonah and the whale.

    1. It’s tough when it comes to favorites for me. It was sometimes Timber Wolf because of his Wolverine type characteristics, Wildfire and Mon-el. I actually did not even know Ultra Boy had an origin story.

      I always thought the yearly vote on who would be the leader of LOSH was a popularity vote by really fans anyway, at least in the past it was. Something that was truly unique about the Legion where we as fans had a say in who lead the team

      1. I liked the fan voting on Legion leadership, too, and that DC printed out the Legion Constitution, which made the Legion one of the most democratic and organizationally transparent organizations in comics history; I’ve read Marvel Comics for years, and I’m still not sure who funds S.H.I.E.L.D. 🙂

    2. All time I might say Cosmic Boy; I like that he’s a good leader but often has to work to get the team to trust him. Brainiac 5 is probably my 2nd fav. Although I keep wanting to see more of Matter-Eater Lad…

      I don’t really care for Ultra Boy. He’s fine as a character, but I feel like the Legion has too many Superman-lite members (Ultra Boy, Mon-El, Superboy, Supergirl). When they’re not around I feel like the Legion has to struggle more and that makes the story stronger than just throwing the closet thing to Superman at the villain.

      1. I guess I’m the opposite because I love it when the big guns come down and lay down some smack.

        One of my favorite comics of all time is Avengers #165 when Count Nefaria kicks the Avengers butt and Thor shows in the last panel and you know the next issue all hell is going to break loose. The last panel in that issue is just burned in my psyche till this day.

        The same for the Legion when the Fatal Five starts kicking their ass then Mon-El or Superboy swoops and you know the collateral damage is going up ten fold.

        1. I do tend to tend to prefer my LSH with Superboy as a member. Johns did that great Legion of Five Worlds mini/Final Crisis tie-in with beautiful George Perez artwork. That led to the Legion guest-starring with Superman in Action Comics and a new Levitz series. And then we got those few issues of Superboy (Superman as a boy) and LSH in Adventure Comics. I really liked that whole thing. The Legion were really back on form for a couple of years there.

          1. I read (I think) most (if not all) of Legion of Five Worlds and I didn’t follow any of it. However, that could be as much a fault of Final Crisis itself being an incoherent mess than Johns’ writing on the mini-series. The fact that there was a major gap between issues didn’t help. So it goes.

            1. Yeah, Final Crisis was terrible. And to be honest I don’t remember a thing about the story in Legion of Five Worlds (as you say, the gaps between issues didn’t help) but I loved the Perez artwork.

              1. It’s hard to have a coherent event when next to none of it or the tie-ins ship on time. Sigh.

                I’ve always been a fan of Perez. A great artist . . .

                1. Cosmo, I found Legion of 3 Worlds pretty straightforward and a pretty good LOSHtale. If you read “JLA/JSA:The Lightening Saga”, then “Superman and theLOSH” then Legion of 3 Worlds lines up great. Johns was seeding thisepic thru all these bookswithout us knowing it.

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