Legion of Super-Heroes 50th Anniversary

(This piece was originally published in PiQ #4, July 2008.)

This year, DC’s team of teenagers from the future, The Legion of Super-Heroes, celebrates its 50th anniversary. In their first appearance in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), the three founders — Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, and Lightning Lad — went back in time to play tricks on Superboy before inducting him into their club. Who would have thought that a superpowered frat would have lasted so long?

The Legion of Super-Heroes: 1050 Years of the Future cover
The Legion of Super-Heroes:
1,050 Years of the Future
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The Legion’s appeal has traditionally been multifaceted. First, there’s the team size. With a huge membership, there’s always been a wide variety of characters, which means everyone is someone’s favorite. They actually had the characters pass a rule that they could only have 25 active members at one time, probably a result of the writers and artists throwing up their hands at the sheer number of personalities they were expected to wrangle.

The Legion demanded that each member had to have a unique power. That might be telepathy (Saturn Girl) or intangibility (Phantom Girl) or turning into a giant (Colossal Boy) or even bouncing (Bouncing Boy). Regardless of how silly they sometimes got (Matter-Eater Lad?), the message was that, no matter how ridiculous your individual ability seemed to others, through teamwork, you could save the world.

Often, the characters were from planets where everyone had their abilities. It was only their willingness to leave home for another location that made them special. The Legion regularly held try-outs, when characters could apply to join by demonstrating their powers. That led to a spinoff team, the Legion of Substitute Heroes, made up of characters like Night Girl (super-strong, but only in the dark) and Chlorophyll Kid (who controlled plants) whose powers weren’t strong enough to earn them membership. Showing Legion spirit, they refused to take no for an answer and formed their own team to back up the main squad. At one point, there was even a Legion of Substitute Heroes Auxiliary, kids not good enough for the Subs. (Never let be said that LSH fans and creators don’t have a sense of humor.)

Fan participation made a difference in the history of the team from early days. Popularity turned the concept from a one-shot into a regular series. After interest waned, and the team was relegated to occasional backup stories, fan letters brought the concept back to the publisher’s attention. Eventually, the Legion displaced their supposed leader, Superboy, from his own title.

Within the stories, Legion leaders were elected by the team, but it was the readers’ letters and votes which really determined the outcome. This might give the writers a curve ball, as when the precognitive Dream Girl was the readers’ choice. This decision forced the creators to develop more of a personality for the former airhead to fit her new role and make the “characters'” decision plausible.

Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes cover
Superman and the
Legion of Super-Heroes
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The Legion has also changed its readers’ lives. Participation in fandom has resulted in at least two weddings among followers of the title. It even gave one noted comic professional, Jim Shooter, his start at the surprising age of 13 when his stories were accepted by the editor (who didn’t know how young his new writer was).

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the team, DC Comics has collected a set of their stories across the decades. The Legion of Super-Heroes: 1,050 Years of the Future includes their first appearance and their first turning point: the death (and later return) of Lightning Lad. Also included are the first appearances of the Legion of Super-Villains and the Legion of Super-Rejects (another group who didn’t take being turned down well), the origins of younger versions of the team, and a glimpse into some of the team’s alternate futures.

Although DC’s calling these a “best of”, they’re also stories that provide key background for today’s Legion adventures, such as Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes. This new hardcover collects Action Comics #858-863, written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Gary Frank, in which an adult Superman meets his childhood teammates again for the first time.

In August, watch for Legion of Three Worlds, a five-issue miniseries by Geoff Johns and George Perez that ties into the next big DC event, Final Crisis, written by Grant Morrison. It’s promised to be “a multiverse-spanning 31st century battle” in which Superman leads the Legion of Super-Heroes against Superboy-Prime and Legion of Super-Villains.

Most exciting for fans is the promise of Perez’s art. In all the many years of his career, he’s never worked on the Legion, although he’s called it “a lifelong dream” to do so. Known for his insanely detailed panels and his ability to put more characters than anyone thought possible on a readable page, he’s a perfect choice for history’s largest super-team.

5 Responses to “Legion of Super-Heroes 50th Anniversary”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Long Live the Legion!

  2. Shawn Hill Says:

    What did you think about the selection of stories in the new volume, Johanna? I found some of them a little odd in my review.

  3. Johanna Says:

    It’s a shame that they didn’t truly pick the best ones; instead, they seem to have been selected due to their status as background reading for upcoming storylines.

  4. Shawn Hill Says:

    Oh, I get it, as in the Perez/Johns mini-series, etc. That does explain it better.

  5. Maurice Kane Says:

    Congratulations to DC and the LSH on the 50th anniversary of the greatest crimefighters of the 30th and 31st centuries! I cannot wait for the Legion of Three Worlds to be published. It always seemed odd, even perplexing, that the LSH, a futuristic superhero army with a gallimaufry of flamboyantly-attired (especially when Cockrum and Grell were the illustrators)interplanetary super-powered characters could not sustain their popularity, instead waxing and waning, flourishing and fading. Hopefully, the lean times will be fewer in the years to come.




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