Explain the Legion to me
I promise to ask this with humility and respect if you promise to answer without blithering. Blithering about the Legion of Superheroes seems to be almost a whole subset of comics fandom, comparable perhaps to Glorantha moonbats such as myself in the role-playing hobby. Jacobs & Jones’ The Comic Book Heroes, not otherwise sentimental, breaks down into slobbers about it for a whole chapter. I am sure someone out there can manage better.
Here’s what I know. The concept started in 1958 as a one-off story, with Superboy meeting some visitors from the 31st century who’ve formed a fan club and more-or-less fashioned themselves into superheroes based on their legends of the past, namely him. It quickly led to multiple appearances and then a consistent feature in Adventure Comics, with the idea that this fan club with names and costumes based on their idealism about the heroes of yore, has actually become a superhero group.
What started as a couple of cute conceits – a unique power per character, representatives of home planet “races,” a club not crime-fighters – became emergent properties of working together to work at all, of exotics without freakishness, and of heroism arising out of fandom. It’s a neat idea, and justifies a certain goofiness in the look-and-feel, a typically mid-teen age for the heroes, names that usually ended in “boy/lad” or “girl/lass,” a naive optimism, and an acceptably wider-than-usual range of oddball powers. Arguably it’s even profound that people in a space-faring super-civilization a thousand years from now would idealize our rather grubby or difficult struggles and model themselves on their vision of it, but I may be reaching a bit with that one as far as the book itself is concerned. Suffice to say that the premise can support a remarkably lighter and broader kind of superhero action than most of the comics I know, and could certainly make it fun.
The bushels and bushels of characters is obviously built-in, and given the inherent license to be a little goofy, it seems that no one lost any time adding another Legionnaire.
If you want to blow your mind, run any image search or visit the Cosmic Teams gallery.
Bluntly, that’s all I know, and I didn’t know it at all in the early 70s. Without the context, names like Lightning Lad and absurdly cute costumes just weren’t in my zone as a comics-reading kid who liked Warlock, Conan the Barbarian, and Hero for Hire.
I remember the name Brainiac mainly because it became a general term and was often applied to me, not necessarily affectionately (or did the term exist before the character? I don’t know). I do in fact remember Timber Wolf, at his debut because I was really into wolves at age 10, and later in the 80s, someone explained the whole Wolverine-costume joke Dave Cockrum ran through his first run on the X-Men. No, I’m not going into it, it’s amusing but also all over the internet so you can look it up easily.
The Legion seems to have been a fast-track for young fans to become working pros, with significant results in all kinds of ways, so I’m interested in reading the following some day.
- The 1966-1969 run written by the teenage Jim Shooter.
- The early-mid 1970s, written by Cary Bates and then by Bates and Shooter (who’d returned to comics at the urging of Legion fans), drawn first by Dave Cockrum and then by Mike Grell.
- In 1977, long-time editor Murray Boltinoff was replaced by Denny O’Neil and fan Paul Levitz became the writer, and apparently the book changed quite a bit. (Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway were on-and-off writers too.)
- In the 1980s, finally in their own title, with Levitz still writing and with Keith Giffen as artist, then with a new title, and crossovers … which is where my interest flags.
Later stuff interests me about as much as any 90s superhero comics, meaning very few and very little. Besides, it was a crime to revise the color of that magnet-powers guy’s hot pink outfit. I’m not even a Legion reader and I do not approve.
Klordny might even have been the first real-world grassroots superhero club, and it’s very intense and immediate as well as boasting a long-running APA. I totally get that the context of the fictional team as a fan club seems to have worked nicely for the real-world fan club, such that being a reading fan of the Legion was sort of like becoming a member. Wait a minute … “sort of?” Terry Gant of Third Coast Comics begs to differ! So that’s not really my topic; you go, guys.
And I’m not going to crack wise about how the powers are silly or whatever – come on, I’m writing and you’re reading a superhero/supervillain comics blog right at this very moment, f’fucksake. You won’t find me complaining about ridiculous stuff which is somehow good; my Surfer post should tell you all you need about that. I am perfectly willing to read a Matter-Eater Lad story if it is a good story. So … my question, not challenge, with no skepticism, is whether and how the Legion is good comics, simply because I don’t know. And whenever I try to find out, I get the aforementioned blithering, which, however sincere, doesn’t help me much.
Let me narrow it down a little. If I get the basic idea, and if I’m not too interested in becoming a fully-costumed Legionnaire myself, and if I don’t need some extra-complicated time-traveling crossover plotline explained, and if I’m completely not interested in slagging them in a hyper-concentrated pinpoint on the Geek Hierarchy diagram, then what am I really asking?
This: considering this is the Doctor Xaos blog, not the Guy Who Fights Doctor Xaos, it really comes down to who the bad guys are – whom did the Legion fight? more importantly, who did what to force them to fight or try to stop it? ‘Cause what I hardly see in any of the big ol’ Legion pictures out there, are villains. Maybe that’s an artifact of what I (don’t) know to search for, but help me out here!
Oh, here’s one, apparently these are the Fatal Five, who intrigue me greatly:
Next: BONUS POST: MCI: Misdemeanors and felonies
Posted on May 3, 2015, in Heroics and tagged Brainiac, Dave Cockrum, Fatal Five, Geek Hierarchy, hot pink outfit, Jim Shooter, Klordny APA, Legion of Super Heroes, Paul Levitz, The Comic Book Heroes, Timber Wolf. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.