Saturday, September 09, 2006


When I was a little boy there was this comic magazine in Germany called MV Comics which introduced me for the first time to the 31st century, home of the Legion of Super - Heroes. MV Comics was an anthology, which was a very common concept in my youth but which has almost completely disappeared now. Like the magazine KOBRA which featured the comics IRON CLAW, THE EYE OF ZOLTAN, TRIGAN and THE SPIDER there were different series in MV Comics. In general it contained one funny series - for the most part Archie comics, one frankobelgican comic like Asterix, Umpah - Pah, Isnogood, Lucky Luke, etc, etc.....and one superhero comic. Either from Marvel which meant Daredevil, Spider - Man, Fantastic Four and the likes. Or a DC series like Superman, Batman or.....the Legion of Super - Heroes.

Now for me this was the first time I saw these kids which was around the same time I became aware of Spider - Man. Nowadays comic historians are making a big deal about how Spider - Man was the first teenaged superhero who was his own person and not a sidekick and not just a younger version of an existing character like Superboy was just a younger version of Superman. Seems that everybody has forgotten that long before Peter Parker came along there were some teenaged superheroes. In fact there were so many of them they called them the Legion.

At the time I discovered the Legion I was much into it because it had all the things we all just knew the future would have : time travel, 147 different kinds if ice cream, bases on the moon and mars and flight belts. Because that´s the nice thing about the future : every generation has it´s own version. And every version reflects the curent state of science, music and pop culture. Which is the reason why in the original star trek future there are hotter space chicks than in the later versions and why they have hotter outfits ( miniskirts rule !). They were just sexually liberated at that time and the current future is dominated by sexual oppression due to political correctness. But thankfully if thousand of science fiction stories have one thing in common it´s the fact that nobody knows for sure if you can change the future or not. So there is still hope.

But back to the legion. Team books were always the most successful kind of superhero comics. I mean what´s better than one superhero or a team up of two or three heroes ? A whole team of heroes. And the only thing better than a whole team of heroes ? A whole legion of heroes. The intruiging thing with the legion was that besides being superheroes they also were teenagers and had all the problems non superpowered heroes had - only worse. Like dating. I mean it can be nervewrecking to go on a blind date with a girl. But imagine if that girl can read your mind or punch you through a wall if she doesn´t like you. That´s a whole new level of pressure. And of course there were always friendships and jealousies flying high. Who had the better superpower ? Who had the bigger secret ? How to tell your girl that it´s not her fault but yours ? Because you really like her but you just can´t tell her the reason why you always have to dash off.

Because it was really difficult to have relationships with non - superpowered teens most legionnaires dated within the legion. I mean, why try to have some meaningful relationship with that normal chick ( who just wants to expose your secret identity anyway ) if you can date a Supergirl ? You can fight crime together or avert disasters, you can go on patrol together or take a stroll through the meteor shower. If you have problems on the job because you accidently killed a small crook by letting a space cruiser fall on him you had somebody to talk about it. And let me tell you, monitor duty gets much more exciting with hot chicks.

I guess that´s one of the reasons why in the Justice League of America they always have monitor duty alone. Less distractions. Because it´s not easy to tell Superman that you just kind of missed the big alert about the exploding volcano because you were checking out Wonder Woman´s cleavage. Or just wanted to check if the camera you installed in the women´s quarters just when Power Girl was taking a shower ( purely for security reasons ) is functioning properly and the only monitor you could hook it up to was the big plasma screen. You know, I always kind of wondered what really went up there with the boys and girls. Because if you have guys like Plastic Man or the Flash together with such fine centerfold material like Wonder Woman, Power Girl, Fire and all the other JLA babes there is just so much potential for stories. But that´s stuff for another post or my own JLA story when I can write about the day Robin was substituting Batman on monitor duty and Power Girl found out the real reason why he is called " the boy wonder " by all the girls.

I don´t remember all the details about the legion couples but if my memory is correct Timber Wolf was with Light Lass, Brainiac 5 had a crush on Supergirl, Duo Girl ( formerly Trio Girl ) was with Baloon Boy, Phantom Girl was with Ultraboy and there was a love triangle with Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad and Cosmoboy. But the topic of the legion couples became more interesting later when Mike Grell was doing the series for obvious reasons.

Now as a young teenager I never wondered about the fact that in the future all the heroes were teenagers. I just took it as a given. Maybe there was a hidden message but I just don´t know which one it is supposed to be. Most of the adults seemed to be in the Science Police which was always in some kind of opposition, sometimes outright villains, sometimes just doing evil things although only wanting the best for the kids ( something that adults always do no matter which time you´re from ), sometimes beings friendly competition for the legion and sometimes just ineffectual or stupid. Or the adults were the villains which to my younger self made total sense. I don´t know if there was ever an explanation to what happened that all the adults gave up on the idea of superheroes.

Somehow I lost track of the heroes of the 31st century and did not encounter them again till the german Ehapa Verlag printed their adventures in various comic books, extra issues and the Superbände ( which were magazine sized comics with 48 to 64 pages ) especially the Mike Grell issues. Man, that guy was just taking off and the hot women alone were worth the price of admission. Not only could Mike draw the female figure very well, they had the hottest costumes in Legion history with little clothing, a lot of cleavage and in general resembling more the itsy bitsy swimsuits of now ( combinig the best of spandex, shoe laces, exposed belly buttons and hip huggers ) which left a huge impression on little SUBZERO when he had just hit puberty. I very much doubt you could put them in those costumes now. But the costumes of the guys also got updated with a disco spin on it. At that time the costumes of the Legion of Super Heroes were the most modern costumes of comicdom. Not just DC or DC and Marvel. The most up to date costumes in general.

Almost no capes ( except for Mon El and Superboy for the boys but that´s just the kryptonian thing. Some of the girls still had capes like Shadow Lass, Supergirl or Princess Projectra but most webt without ), they featured really futuristic designs and interesting patterns like the new costume for Star Boy. At that time DC was leading the way in superhero costumes. Everything was hip, the stories became more interesting with politics and science that reflected current trends and the legion members becoming more personality. Old members were updated and new members like Tyroc were introduced. Sadly they gave him a superpower that made him so powerful they had to get rid of him. But apart from that it was a really exciting time to be reading the legion. That´s when I became a really huge fan with the stories, the characters and mostly with the girls. Like I said I was a fan from the first stories I read because the concept combined so many things I really liked : science fiction, superheroes, the three musketeers, the federation of star trek ( here called the united planets ) or King Arthur and the round table.

Now the first volume of the legion had it´s fans but it was not very successful commercially which must have been the reason that it took a long time before the legion got their own book. Because when I was researching the pictures for this post I couldn´t find most of the covers I remembered because they didn´t have their own series. Luckily I found one website that had a lot of the pictures and so I found out that at first the legion appeared in Action Comics ( at that time there were more anthology type series around ), then in Adventure Comics, then in Superboy, then in Superboy and the Legion of Super - Heroes and finally in their own magazine. One of the reasons why the legion was not as successful as it could have been was the fact that it´s greatest strength was also it´s greatest weakness : the sheer volume of it´s cast. It took a very good writer to show the individual traits of the characters and to give each member his own five minutes of glory. And very often writers focussed more on the " hot " members with lots of power instead of the ones with only one power. So that you knew very much about a few members and not so much about the rest.

Another problem was that one of their members came from the past : namely Superboy. Since the legion was founded because of Superboy you couldn´t just kick him out but there was always the problem that he could learn little details that had the possibility to alter the time stream and thus erasing the future of the legion. Such little details as the death of Superboy´s parents or the moment of Supergirl´s or Superman´s death. Maybe that´s one of the reasons why the science police was not very thrilled about all the legions time - travelling. Thank god they later came up with a machine that erased any dangerous informations from Superboy´s brain like the cure for cancer or future terrorist attacks. So they had already invented the mind wipe long before IDENTITY CRISIS. Although since it took place in the future maybe it was inspired by it and more an after effect. Who would have thought that the story by Brad Meltzer would have such far reaching consequences ?

Now I have to take a little break to comment on this cover. I mean, what´s wrong with this picture ? Not that Superboy is counting the money before he saves the child. And not the fact that Superboy takes mones to save somebody. But why is his speech ballon square ? Is it because he´s kryptonian ? And what´s up with that old dude having to pay Superboy in the first place ? Dude, you can catch the kid on your own. He´s not that heavy. If you just stand up you´re almost touching him. Man, those adults of the future sure are lazy. No wonder all the superheroes are teenagers.

Even if there was some hokey or weird stuff in the earlier comics there is one thing that has not changed over the years : the idea and the spirit of the legion that there is strenght - not only in numbers - but also in diversity and that a society can grow through the differences of different races and different cultures. The general idea was that everyone can be special. On his homeplanet Winath Garth Ranzz is just like everyone else - but on another planet he suddenly becomes Lightning Lad. And that´s the case with almost every member of the legion. On one side they wanted to be different from the other people on their home planet but on the other side they joined the legion to belong to a group of kindred spirits. You could say that they achieved equality through diversity. They were all the same because everyone was different.

And it didn´t matter which superpower you had. Sometimes it´s not Superboy or Cosmoboy who saves the galaxy, no, sometimes it´s the guy with the most insignificant power like Ferro Lad or Shrinking Violet. Which by the way had far cooler german names. I know, there are some german readers who get the shakes when they read names like WINZWANDA ( Shrinking Violet ), EISENGESICHT ( Iron Face which was Ferro Lad ) or WALDWOLF ( Timber Wolf ) but they sometimes sound more natural to me. The german names were a science all to it´s own and to this day I still don´t know why Lightning Lad was Blitzjunge but Starboy remained Starboy in german. Maybe the -boy thing was more common once Superboy became more popular. Even Karate Kid was called Karate Boy in Germany which is the reason why he never had to suffer any Ralph Macchio jokes here.

Now there were some crazy ideas in the book but I have to confess that a lot of these things made the legion cool in my book because they were just so off the wall. I mean if teenagers decide the leader of the team through a rotationary sistem why not go all the way ? Case in point : the impropability machine, which was a modell of the planets of the star system and with the push of a button began to rotate. The legionnaire who was the first to get hit on the head by a ricochetting planet became the new leader. Democracy in it´s most essential form.

Or the Legion of Substitute Heroes. There were regular auditions held ( and this was long before boybands like Take That or televised casting shows like star search ) for the membership in the legion - which probably was another point why I liked the stories. Which teenager doesn´t know the fear of failing a test ? Well, there were many who failed - like Polar Boy. Now it is still a mystery to me why Bouncing Boy was admitted to the legion but Polar Boy was rejected. One of the big injustices of the space time continuum. But unlike many others Polar Boy was not one to give up on his dream that easily after the first try. Together with a crew of other rejected teenaged heroes who got flight belts ( which much later got changed to flight rings even if it´s still a mystery to me how you can fly with only a ring instead of a belt ) as consolidation prizes he founded the Legion of Substitute Heroes to tackle the threats that were beneath the legion or to battle on if the legion should ever fall. Now the question remains if it is really such a bright idea to hand out flight belts as consolidation prizes to rejected teenagers with super powers. Most of them would get tanked and just crash into buildings or space ships. Or maybe that´s their way of dealing with overpopulation and how they keep the genepool clean.But seriously, what always fascinated me about the legion are those crazy ideas and weird stories. And I honestly believe if I ever had the chance to write a story it would rather be a story about the Legion of Substitute Heroes than the normal legion. Because there is much more potential in those outsiders that can´t even get the proper respect from their fellow superheroes. And one thing would be a must : the main character of the story would have to be Arm Fall Off Boy. Yes, that´s right, a superhero whose only ability is to let his arms fall off his body and reattach them at will. Like a lizard that loses his tail to escape ( which would be far to graphic and painfull so they went for the arms in this case ) he can seperate his arms at times of peril - or whenever he wants to. When I first read about this character there was only one thought in my mind : this has to be the coolest superpower of all the comics I have read in my whole life. Ever. I mean, there are just 1001 ways how to use this ( which could become a seperate post ).

After a long period of legion deprivation due to the great comic drought in Germany I only rediscovered the Legion of Superheroes two years before the megacrossover ZERO HOUR. My brother had started to read the series and was thinking about dropping it because they wanted to reboot the whole history with ZERO HOUR so I bought the last big storline from him and put the new series on my pull list. The series was written by Keith Giffen and later on by Tom and Mary Bierbaum. My brother had begun to read the series while Jason Pearson was doing the art and when the team changed and Stuart Immomen came on board things got really interesting.

The teenagers had become adults but after a few months ZERO HOUR was looming on the horizon so they put out the lights and began preparing for the relaunch. I don´t know how successful the series had been but there were some problems with the basic story to begin with. When the first crisis was over there was no longer a Superboy who was a member of the legion and who later would become Superman. Because in MAN OF STEEL John Byrne changed the history of Superman and he got his superpowers as an adult. It was then explained that the time trapper ( an old legion villain ) had created his own future universe and that whenever Superboy, who was now a Superboy of an alternate earth, thought he was travelling to the future he was only transported to the time trappers patented future simulacrum now commonly known as " I can´t believe it´s not the 31st century ".

When I began to read this new series there were two teams. One with older versions of the heroes who apparently just had survived some big war or catastrophe. They were the originals who had become adults. And another team they apparently found during their last adventure that consisted of clones of them. Who were younger versions. The team with the adults was starring in LEGION OF SUPER - HEROES and the team with the teenagers was starring in LEGIONNAIRES. From the latter one I didn´t read many issues, I think I only have two, one of them the issue Adam Hughes did who was providing covers for the series. The series I did read was Legion of Super - Heroes and I began when they were fighting against Mordru and had to hide their identity with new superhero identities. There were some old members and some new ones, one in peticular that I instantly liked : XS aka Jenni Ognats who after ZERO HOUR became Bart Allen´s cousin and one of my favorite characters.

Sadly just when I was enjoing the series they had to wrap everything up which they did by destroying the universe the time trapper had built ( who was revealed to be a fellow legionnaire ) and they just pushed the reset button. Makes my head hurt. There are only a few things that were positive in the case of the crossover : one being the new STARMAN series the other the reboot of the legion. Much as I had loved the series before this one was even better. With two series ( Legion of Super - Heroes and Legionnaries ) every month DC created one of the big comic - epics of modern times. With art by Lee Moder and Jeff Moy ( later to be joined by Alan Davis on the covers ) the series modernized the story of the legion and built it up from day one. Sadly I never got the last few issues and subsequentially missed LEGION LOST which was one of the best stories ever written about the Legion of Superheroes according to it´s readers and comic critics. Which must be the reason why it was never collected in a trade paperback. I rejoined the Legion with the german monsterband from PANINI comics that costs 20 EUROs and contains the first 14 issues of the new series that followed the LEGION LOST storyline. This comic should be in every comic collection.

Now the reason for this whole post is that I finally have gotten around to read the two trades of the new Legion series I bought before Erlangen containing the first 13 issues - which is the first big story arc. The series written by Mark Waid with artwork by Barry Kitson is the Legion story after the new crisis. This is not the first collaboration of these two artists who have already worked on series like JLA : YEAR ONE, EMPIRE or THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD. So they already know their strenghts and it shows in this collection. The story is not so much a reboot of the whole legion canon as a re - imagening. Which is a wise decision in my opinion because they don´t have to fill in all the backstory of how they got their powers and formed the legion and stuff. There are enough versions of these stories and we as the reader get to pick the one we like best. And the artists can focus on telling their story.

Which begins in a 31st century that has seen the last of war, the last of conflict and knows only peace. Everything is secure and peaceful and quiet. And utterly dull. People don´t interact, they prefer not to meet in person and if they have to meet they prefer to talk to a video screen rather than to another human being. A fact that is nicely illustrated by a scene with two coworkers who are in the same room and although they are only one meter apart they keep talking to their screen rather than to each other. Now to keep everything so peaceful all the teenagers are constantly observed by the public service system which gets enforced by the science police ( which have always been the anthanagonists of the legion like the hall monitors of the future ). Of course there are some teenagers who rebel against the system by joining a new movement : the Legion of Superheroes who cannot be detected by the public service system when they don their legion flight rings.

By turning a superhero team into a teenage revolution Mark Waid manages to keep the idea of the legion fresh and reader friendly for all the readers who never read a legion comic before. You don´t have to know anything to enjoy this series. Because really, names like Lightning Lad, Invisible Kid or Chamaleon are just self - explainatory, aren´t they. And there are enough inside gags and new twists for older legion fans to enjoy. Like Colossal Boy who calls himself Micro Lad because he comes from a race of giants.

His superpower ?

The ability to shrink down to our size.

And that´s just one of the many cool ideas and changes of this series. If you ever wanted to check the legion out this is your chance to do it without the usual baggage. The series has good characterisation, interesting characters, internal fights between Cosmoboy and Brainiac 5 who both think they are best qualified to lead, romance, tragedy and triumphs. There is a big conspiration going on to throw the whole galaxy into death and devastation but naturally the adilts prefer to close their eyes and ignore the youth. How the legion manages to win - or not - is a story you should find out for yourself.

I for one enjoyed the series so far and I´m going to look for the following issues. If you make the same decision just remember that after the ONE YEAR LATER jump the title of the series was changed ( for obvious reasons ) to SUPERGIRL AND THE LEGION OF SUPERHEROES. As for the trades, they are okay and include the covers ( often the big negative on collections ) , some sketches and introductions. Not too over the top but a nice package.

I hope you liked this longer post and that it makes up a little for the lack of post of the last few weeks.

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