Saturday, October 29

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (Nov 2011)

“Renegade World”

Let's see now: Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (1970s reprint series); Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (1984 Baxter series); Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (1989 five years later series); [Legion Lost #1 (2000); The Legion (2001);] Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (2004 “threeboot” series); Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (2010 “retroboot” series); and Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (2011 DCnU series).

By my count, this is the sixthLegion of Super-Heroes #1.” And if you throw in the original Legion Lost #1 and The Legion #1 because they were part of a continuing narrative thread, unlike the new Legion Lost #1 which is a “parallel” narrative thread, you can consider it the eighth! ENOUGH ALREADY!

Deep breath. Specifying “continuing narrative thread” as I do brings to mind the oddity that some of the most significant “narrative discontinuities” as well as fundamental shifts and milestones in Legion history are not connected to new #1's of any title. Here's a little more detailed summary of fifty-plus years of Legion history:

Adventure Comics #247 (Apr 1958) – the introduction of the Legion in what was initially just a one-off story of a “teenage super-hero club” from the future putting their inspiration Superboy (“Superman when he was a boy!”) through a hazing process before inducting him into their ranks. That story struck a chord and after several more appearances in various titles, adding quickly to Legion lore, the “super-hero club” got their own series with Adventure Comics #300 (Sep 1962), which would last for about eighty issues until editorial shifts would unceremoniously boot them from that cushy berth to backup status in first Action Comics (#378, Jul 1969 – what a coincidence that DC's main science-fiction series would be degraded the very month that man first walked on the moon!) then Superboy (#173, Apr 1971). 
The Adventure Comics years were, however, particularly under the authorship of youthful (age thirteen when he started!) prodigy Jim Shooter, the first great age of the Legion. And it created a new phenomenon in comics – a dedicated fanbase that continued to grow even in the lean years, demanding a return to glory. It's my impression that those lean years were in fact the great age of Legion fandom, from my perspective at least centered around the great fanzine Legion Outpost that flourished during that time.  Nothing like an underdog cause to bring people together.

The Legion of Super-Heroes #1 that appeared for Feb 1973 was basically an experiment – reprints of four of the most significant stories from the Shooter Adventure issues to see if the Legion could really carry itself. Apparently the results were favorable, because Superboy #197 (Sep 1973) saw the Legion return to main feature status, essentially taking over their host's home … and eventually booting him out! That took a while. In quick succession, however, they went from lead feature with a Superboy story as backup (#197), to lead feature with a Legion story as backup (#199), then the classic Superboy #200 (Jan-Feb 1974) appeared which, with the first full-length Legion story in five years set in their own rightful milieu, the future, felt really special, a return to greatness. Yes, I'm aware that #198 was also a full-length Legion story, but it was set in the 20th century and felt more like a Superboy story co-starring the Legion. #200 focussed on the Legion itself, with Superboy as just another member. And that was pretty much how it would be from there on out, more or less. Yeah, Superboy's name did dominate on the cover from several years, and generally he would be pretty prominent in the stories, but he was portrayed as part of the team, not as the main character with guest-stars.

Almost unnoticed because there was no change in the cover logo was a significant shift in status to acknowledge that reality in the official name of the publication, when Superboy #230 (Aug 1977) was followed by Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #231 (Sep 1977). Then, the shift from the 1970s to the 1980s was marked by the appearance of a new title, Legion of Super-Heroes … #259 (Jan 1980) “in a comic all their own at last” as proclaimed by the cover, as Superboy and his very name departed tearfully from what had been his own series for over thirty years (Superboy #1 was way back in Mar-Apr 1949)! His absence from the Legion tales was short-lived, however, but when he came back it was still as just another member, even less of a focus than before, and he probably appeared no more often than any other of the first tier of Legionnaires. Some have always been more popular than others.

Through all these changes in publication status, however, there was a continuing thread of continuity. These were, no matter what changes had developed, the same characters who had been introduced over twenty years before. And arguably the greatest years of the Legion would begin very shortly, inaugurated by writer Paul Levitz and artist Keith Giffen in Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1 (1982) and Legion of Super-Heroes #290 (Aug 1982), the latter being the first issue of The Great Darkness Saga, one of the best DC Comics stories ever told. It's not Levitz and Giffen's debut on the title, but it is when people sat up and took notice, and Legion catapulted to the status of one of DC's top-selling titles, winning both critical and commercial acclaim …
and earning a new prestigious #1 -- the first with new material -- in a deluxe new format called “Baxter,” with higher paper quality and production values, in Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (Aug 1984).

Relatively soon thereafter, however, things did start to change – radically. 1985: Crisis on Infinite Earths wrought havoc on Legion history as their inspiration, Superboy, was retconned out of being in the DC Comics-wide partial reboot. Attempts were made to create patches, to keep a Superboy as their inspiration by the introduction of the “Pocket Universe,” but editorial mandates and shifts in direction kept cutting such efforts off at the knees and Legion continuity, hitherto long and complex but cohesive, descended into chaos. The title suffered for it, in my opinion, despite Levitz's best efforts … and despite the fact that he obviously loves these characters and writes them better than anyone else, the fact that he'd been writing them continuously for several years started to show. Everyone needs a break from time to time. Various changes in tone, both of story and of art – sometimes radical as with the return of Giffen late in the 1980s, afflicted the title until, in 1989 a significant shift threw the narrative five years into the characters' own future in another:

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (Nov 1989) – the beginning of the “Five Years Later” era, sometimes called the “Five Year Gap” although to my mind that's erroneous. Whatever. Overseen by Keith Giffen, no holds seemed to be barred as the story took a darker albeit quite offbeat turn that finally – wham – almost immediately in issue #4 (Feb 1990) threw over the connection to Superboy and the Superman legend altogether in the first devastating “Continuity Punch,” delivered by Mon-El, a Superboy surrogate who fairly neatly stepped in to fill the void in a complicated rewriting of many aspects of Legion history. The “Five Years Later” Legion is perhaps the most controversial period in fifty years of publication, polarizing fandom. I think I stand in the middle of the road here, enjoying certain aspects of the new status quo – which undeniably brought a freshness to the saga – while not really liking the basic ideas upon which it was premised. I mean, for me, the Legion will always be connected to Superman at least, in some way, shape, or form, but continuing editorial vaccilation resulted in even such things as the Daily Planet – still publishing in electronic form after a thousand years in the early stage of this period – being banished before very long. Talk about going too far!

Predictably, it floundered, even though there was some good storytelling going on. It just never caught on. Various things were done to revive the magic – a group of younger versions of the characters as they had existed way back during the Jim Shooter/Adventure Comics glory days were literally brought out of cold storage – leading to the ultimately unanswered question of which were the “real” Legionnaires. Were the younger versions clones kept in stasis for all those years, or were the younger versions the originals kept in stasis for all those years while the ones we had been following for all those years were really the clones? Whichever, the young'uns seemed to bring back the magic – first they got their own title – Legionnaires #1 (Apr 1993), which I don't count in my list of #1's above because it's really a continuing, companion parallel thread alongside the main title – then when DC Comics threw up their collective hands in 1994's Zero Hour to effect another line-wide partial reboot to fix the problems that had developed as a result of incomplete implementation of new storytelling after the Crisis on Infinite Earths nine years earlier! –

(I just had to go get some Tylenol.)

- the young'uns became the only Legion in a reimagining of their saga from the very beginning, a new beginning. … And yet there were no new #1's – the Zero Hour Legion, often derisively called the “Archie” Legion, was introduced in (as part of the line-wide “Zero Month” event) Legion of Super-Heroes #0 and Legionnaires #0 (both Oct 1994), followed by Legion of Super-Heroes #62 and Legionnaires #19 (both Nov 1994).

The first radical narrative discontinuity in Legion history did not get new #1's!!! Even though these were new stories altogether, with no connection to what had gone before other than reimagined characters and events including some of the same overall themes.

Not yet jaded after reboot after reboot, still missing the originals to a degree but figuring this was the new status quo that would stick, I quite liked this fresh new Legion although it is another very controversial era in Legion history. It would last – with parallel titles so we had essentially two Legion comics every month – for about five and a half years.  Times were good.  Nevertheless, declining sales apparently drove another radical change in story although not in narrative.

What I mean is that when the first Legion Lost twelve-issue miniseries came along (#1, May 2000), it followed continuity-wise directly from what had just ended. And, with a bit of a gap filled by the six-issue Legion Worlds mini-series (#1, Jun 2001), telling what had happened to the bulk of the team while a dozen or so of their members had been lost at the other end of the universe – therefore really a parallel narrative – so did the new title,

The Legion which took up with #1 in Dec 2001. Through all this, again with a certain darkening of tone and maturing of the characters, there was a continuing narrative thread telling the adventures of what is variously called the Zero Hour Legion, the “Archie” Legion, or the Reboot Legion …

until declining sales prompted another wholesale reboot/reimagining – conceptually, I would argue that this was far more profound discontinuity than even the Zero Hour reboot. Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (Feb 2005) reconceived the Legion as a galaxy-wide movement of youthful rebellion against their stodgy old parents – the watchword was “Eat it, Grandpa!” – that quite frankly in part because this long-time fan (I've been reading the Legion continuously since 1967, the middle of the Shooter/Adventure days) is old enough to be “Grandpa” I didn't much care for although I dutifully bought it and enjoyed it for what it was.

Ironically, however, virtually concurrently with the introduction of what has been called the “Threeboot” Legion, something else happened. In a major crossover between the Justice League and the Justice Society called The Lightning Saga, set in the present (now 21st century, of course – time marches on), characters from the future unmistakeably identified as minimally-tweaked versions of the originals from the mid 1980s Levitz era were introduced! Even to the point that Superman remembered having adventures with them during his youth! At least in part because comics fandom is an eternally aging population (a real problem for the future of the medium that no one seems to know how to address), nostalgia for the “real” – I shouldn't put that in quotation marks because to me they are – Legionnaires who existed from 1958 to the mid 1980s trumped generational conflict and the “Threeboot” never really had a chance. I mean, whatever else you might think of the title, Mark Waid has a legitimate grievance in that DC editorial gut-shot that latest reimagining of the Legion from virtually the beginning! It rocked on for about three years, ironically ending early in 2009, just after the end of the Legion concept's half-century anniversary year, when it was unceremoniously cancelled with #50 (Mar 2009). Because it was really obvious that the version that had legs was the “original,” which appeared here, there, and yonder, gaining momentum, until in 2010 we were graced with
another Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (Jul 2010), continuing the adventures of what by then was called the “Retroboot” Legion because although the broad strokes of almost thirty years of narrative were intact, the next twenty years gap had left inevitable adjustments necessary. Exactly how it all fits together is not entirely clear as yet.

Especially with this latest #1 - see top of this post for the cover.

(Okay. The title of this blog is not Random Ramblings for nothing, you know!  The point of all this is that there have been a whole bunch of Legion #1's but that they haven't always coincided with the really significant shifts in Legion continuity.)
* * *
What about this latest Legion of Super-Heroes #1? As a story, and overall what they promised is so true that I can't discern much of anything that would put the lie to it – that the Legion would probably be the least changed of any title in the transition from pre-Flashpoint to DCnU – this feels like almost a direct continuation from what happened in last month's Legion of Super-Heroes #16. They are still dealing with the aftermath of their conflict with Saturn Queen's Legion of Super-Villains as told both in the Legion title itself and from the Legion Academy faculty and cadets' perspective in Adventure Comics. Several of those cadets, having been tested in a fire that consumed one of their number, have been promoted to full Legion membership because the main team has suffered its own losses and stands at its lowest number in a long time. And yet there is something that did happen in the meantime, leaving several of their number lost in time and presumed dead – what exactly it was that cast the members of the new Legion Lost into the past is not revealed yet, but alone among all the New 52 titles I've read (by no means all) there is here acknowledgment that there was a “Flashpoint Event” – which has slammed shut the possibility of time travel back to the 21st century. The Legion can no longer call on Superman's help from the past – so we know that his association with the Legion is still intact, although we don't know exactly when that began, what that association was, and so forth. Hints in Action Comics #1 are that it goes back to when he was younger, so hopefully the essence of classic “Superboy and the Legion” is still there. Things are looking good. What could have been a real catastrophe taking away “my” Legion so soon after we got it back, seems to have been averted.

Most of all, Paul Levitz is still at the helm, in his rightful place, complemented by the fantastic art of Francis Portela – so I'm confident that the Legion will continue as the title I will continue to buy even if I can get nothing else. Even though I mentioned a bit of a waning in the stories in the mid-late 1980s and attributed it to Levitz being on the title too long without a break, another thought has occurred to me. The various editorial mandates that were coming down had to be interfering with what he wanted to do, and although he adapted to them quite ably, I really prefer to believe that if DC will just let him do what he does best, all will be well and we can all be happy. I'm happy at least!

Cheers, and thanks for reading (if you made it this far!)!


  1. Interesting article - certainly from my point of view as a 59 year old LSH comics fan. I kind of still like the old parallel worlds of JLA/Jsa/Crime Syndicate and all and don't know why some sort of embellishment couldn't be used to reestablish that line of story telling. Then again my memory is oftne 'non-linear'(?!?) even though I enjoy my continuity and stories when they attempt to be non-paradoxical. [Its late and I have to get up to get my Halloween sugar crazed 10 year old up for school tomorrow and look after my VCU partner who is recuperating from his bariatric surgery.] Good evening!

  2. I enjoyed your overview. As so often happens, we pay more attention to the series numbering than to the plot threads that occur in the interim. I think the Great Legion Reference Book still needs to be written that covers the complete history of the Legion with all it's ups and downs. In the meantime, most of us Grandpa fans are still waiting for the continuation of the Adventure era Legion. Although many claim that the Adult Legion stories limited the creativity of the writers, I still think of this period as the one where everything made the most sense and the characters were still people you would like to have as friends.