Overview

Their Name Is Legion

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In recent years the world’s largest superhero team has been causing confusion with its convoluted continuity. As DC finally tackles it, we look back-and see just how things got so complicated!

The Legion of Super Heroes has had about eighty members in its fifty year history, but it started with just three. Lightning Boy (later Lightning Lad), Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy first appeared in the Superboy strip in Adventure Comics # 247 (1958) in a whimsical tale by Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino. Originally, the story was written as a one-off. The Legion was a ‘superhero club’ for super powered youths from the 30th Century, 1000 years in the future, who had been inspired by the exploits of Superboy and had traveled back in time to award him honorary membership.

Initially tricking young Clark Kent into believing he’d failed the entrance exam by not being super enough, they eventually let him in and parted with him as friends. As it turned out, something about the LSH caught the imagination of the readers though, and they would return again and again until finally, in Adventure Comics #300 (1962) they were awarded their own series in the title, sharing it with Superboy.

The LSH were always more than mere supporting characters, though. Superboy may have been the big name, but it was the crazy, wildly imaginative stories (including many by then 14 year old Legion fan Jim Shooter, who submitted some on a speculative basis and ended up the regular writer!) and off the wall characters like Triplicate Girl (who could divide herself into three people) and Bouncing Boy (a giant human beach ball) that kept readers coming back for more.

All the Legion characters were imaginative, solar powered Sun Boy, the precognitive Dream Girl, and size changing Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet and super intelligent Brainiac 5 among them. Some were actually absurd, like Matter Eater Lad, who could consume anything inorganic. But the supporting characters were often flat-out insane, like LSH rejects the Legion of Substitute Heroes (including Stone Boy, whose ‘power’ was to become an indestructible but totally immobile statue). And let’s not even mention Arm-Fall-Off Boy (oops, too late)!

Eventually of course, the Legion’s loyal readers began to grow up and demand more serious ‘straight’ stories, but the LSH still managed to deliver, new characters like angel winged Native American Dawnstar and the human atom bomb named Wildfire supplanting the likes of Matter Eater Lad. In a spirit of inclusiveness still rare in 70s comics, they gained a black member-Tyroc-though he was little used and soon written out (later, the second Invisible Kid-a black Frenchman-would fare better). Some Legionnaires even fell in battle, the first Invisible Kid, Ferro Lad and Chemical King among them.

  

They moved titles with alarming regularity as their fortunes waxed and waned, going from Adventure to Action Comics and then into Superboy with #172 (1971) before eventually displacing the boy of steel from his own book (now already titled ‘Superboy & the Legion of Super Heroes) with #259 (technically, this new LSH book was their second series, the first having been a short reprint run in 1973).

By this time, the Legion (now written by Paul Levitz) had already had its first spin-off title, Karate Kid (15 issues, 1976-78) and had attracted a devoted following of fans who knew everything there was to know about its history and its particular, discrete corner of the DCU, some even going so far as to learn to write in Interlac, the fictional, futuristic language used by the Legion. The arrival of fan favorite artist Keith Giffen and storylines like ‘the Great Darkness Saga’ (which brought Darkseid into the Legion’s future) swelled their ranks even further. In 1984, the team was so popular that they were given a new series printed on high quality Baxter paper, a new innovation for the fledgling direct sales market-and one accorded to only a select few titles (the original book continued as a reprint title, Tales of the Legion of Super Heroes).

And then, in 1986, everything changed when DC published for its 50th anniversary the continuity crunching limited series, Crisis on Infinite Earths. Worlds lived, worlds died-and shortly afterwards the Legion’s world was altered forever!

The Crisis gave DC the opportunity to reboot several characters, rewriting their histories for a new readership. One of these characters was Superman, and as revamped by John Byrne, it was now decreed that he had never been Superboy in this new continuity. Obviously, the LSH’s history had to change too-but unfortunately, no-one could quite agree on how! Initially, it was revealed that Superboy had indeed still existed for the Legion, but was a creation of the evil Time Trapper, existing only in a pocket universe scythed off from Superman’s real time line. At that tale’s conclusion in LSH #38, ‘Superboy’ perished heroically, saving his friends.

Later, even this was overturned by an editorial edict, the team’s history rewritten again (also by the Time Trapper) so that the Legion’s inspiration was now the Daxamite Valor (Mon El in the original series) rather than the Kryptonian Clark Kent. His fellow Legionnaire Supergirl was similarly replaced, by Laurel Gand, a continuity implant. It was all getting rather confusing.

By this time (1989) the Legion title had been cancelled and relaunched, Levitz leaving as writer to be replaced by Giffen and Tom and Mary Bierbaum. This new series was set five years after Levitz’s ‘Magic Wars’ storyline, which had concluded the previous series with #63 just a few months earlier. This was a darker LSH though, set in a bleak universe, where all the cozy familiarity of the previous series was overturned. Some fans loved it, some hated it.

An attempt was made to appease the latter by launching ‘Legionnaires’, a companion title starring Batch SW6, a group originally intended (by Giffen) to be the original Legion held for years in suspended animation, but later revealed to be effectively clones of the early Legion. For a time, the books ran parallel, but by 1994 the writing was on the wall for the increasingly complicated and inaccessible series. Finally, in a crossover with the universe shaking ‘Zero Hour’ series, the LSH’s timeline was erased from history in LSH (vol IV) #61 and a total reboot occurred.

While the old Legion had grown up along with their fans, the new version were teenagers again, much of the lighthearted fun approach of the early stories restored (though some of the characters were altered to reflect the changing times, Lightning Lad for instance becoming Livewire and the former Matter Eater Lad now being merely Tenzil Kem, the chef at Legion headquarters). With LSH and Legionnaires now both starring the same characters, effectively meaning that LSH was now published twice a month, the saga continued for some years. But inevitably, sales tailed off and after yet another relaunch, this second Legion were effectively written out-their history rewritten by yet another cosmic catastrophe, following a crossover with the Teen Titans in 2005.

A third Legion was created, with a history very different from either of those that preceded it (though many of the character names from the original series were restored; Livewire for instance becoming Lightning Lad again), and this “threeboot” Legion’s adventures continue today in the latest LSH series. Surely, this must now be the definitive Legion?

And yet, it appears not to be so. In 2007, ‘The Lightning Saga’, a crossover that ran in Justice League of America and Justice Society of America, reintroduced what seemed to be the original pre-1986 Legion, and this group have been appearing since then in various titles while the ‘current’ LSH continue to appear in their own title. It now appears that all three Legion’s are still around-though how this is possible remains unclear, as does the precise timeline of the revived, pre-COIE Legion.

Over to you DC, and ‘Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds’. Let’s hope you get it right this time…

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Comments

  • Eric Lindberg

    Eric Lindberg May 8, 2009 at 5:13pm

    All this rebooting hurts the Legion, in my opinion. I was never much of a Legion fan and the constant reboots have actually alienated me further. Every time they try to simplify it it gets more complicated or they have multiple Legions at once to try and have their cake and eat it too. DC really just needs to pick a version and stick with it. I'm reading Legion of Three Worlds to see what they do but that's more for the creative team than any affection for the Legion.

  • Lee Newman

    Lee Newman May 8, 2009 at 7:10pm

    Yeah, they have not really given the Legion any time to resonate with the readers. It may be working in one sense though, I refuse to devote any more time to large ensemble space books. So Annihilation has lost out, while I still am giving Legion a shot.

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver May 9, 2009 at 8:48am

    It's not just the rebooting. It's the reboots of reboots that have made the Legion such a mess. How Legion of 3 Worlds is comprehensible to anyone under the age of 45 is a mystery to me...

  • Lee Newman

    Lee Newman May 9, 2009 at 10:35am

    Hey, I understand it, but then I am a comic geek and spent a great deal of time the last four years reading old legion stories.

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