Countdown Breakdown #41

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: John Hays

Here we are 10 weeks in. How are you all liking things so far? From the reaction I’ve seen on the internet, I’d have to assume that things aren’t going as well in terms of sales for Countdown as they did for 52. Perhaps if Countdown were a bit more self-contained, and the meat of the stories actually occurred in THIS title, it might help. Regardless, I’ve decided to take this week to delve into the history of the Legion of Super Heroes. Yeah, I guess I have a bit of a masochistic streak this week, but I think it could be relevant, since two different versions have been showing up lately. Let’s get to it.

Originally created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino in 1958, the Legion started out more or less as support for Superboy in the Adventure Comics title. The first three members, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, and Cosmic Boy, (it seems that every generation has a “Big 3”) traveled back in time from the 30th century in order to recruit Superboy, since he was the inspiration for the group. The three members had formed the Legion in an effort to save the life of billionaire R.J. Brande, who later bankrolled them. The Legion operated out of a yellow rocket ship clubhouse of sorts (it was revealed years later that even the ship was a one time recruit…don’t ask).

In order to join the Legion, a hero would have to possess at least one natural power, and it had to be something no other Legionnaire possessed. Of course, this presented problems over time, when popular characters showed up wanting to join, but had similar powers to others, like Supergirl, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy. If recruits were rejected, they sometimes joined the Legion of Substitute Heroes. Since Jimmy Olsen seems to be getting his Elastic Lad powers back, I should mention again here that he was, at one time, an honorary Legionniare.

In an astonishing tale by today’s standards, many of the Legionnaires that appear in Countdown were created by…Jim Shooter! No, wait. That’s not the astonishing part. The astonishing part would be that he was 14 years old at the time! Jim submitted full page layouts for 4 stories, and DC, unaware of his age, had artists fix them up for publication. This introduced us to such members as Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, Ferro Lad, Nemesis Kid, the Khunds (used frequently throughout DC Comics), the Fatal Five, Shadow Lass, Mordru (also used frequently in DC), and Universo and his son Rond Vidar. Shooter would go on to write the death of Ferro Lad, the first Legionnaire death. The Legion was finally replaced by Supergirl in Adventure Comics in 1969. In 1973, Dave Cockrum designed a hero made purely out of energy who had to wear a containment suit. That’s right, Wildfire!

Cockrum would team up with Cary Bates to bring the Legion back to greatness with an actual Superboy and the Legion of Super Heroes title. During this run, Karate Kid went back into the 20th century in his own title, which lasted for 15 issues. In 1980, the Legion received its own title. However, this period is considered by many to be a low point in Legion history. I would have to argue that point, however, since those are the issues I was given by an older cousin, and I loved them! I particularly enjoyed villains such as the Dark Man and Pulsar Stargrave (a character who was recently seen in a flash-forward splash page in a Superman Family Annual hinting at upcoming stories).

Paul Levitz took over writing chores with Keith Giffen on art soon after this, and brought the world the "Great Darkness Saga," in which the Legion fought Darkseid. Many consider this one of the best Legion stories of all time. Then, the Crisis on Infinite Earths occurred, and all hell broke loose.

First off, there was no more Superboy, so that had to be explained. Basically, a pocket universe had been created in the 20th century by the Time Trapper, complete with its own Superboy, so that when the Legion went back into the past, they were sent there instead. It sounds more like a pocket was sewn onto DC’s new continuity to try to fit something old in.

Keith Giffen then come on as a writer, with his “Five Years Later” idea. Five years after the supposed "Magic Wars," everything was darker and the Legion no longer existed. The Earth was ruled by Dominators. A group of former Legionnaires worked to rebuild the Legion. In another effort to remove Superboy from Legion history, Mon-El was renamed Valor and recast as a 20th century hero. A new character named Laurel Gand was created as a parallel for Supergirl. Giffen also created a group of clone Legionnaires, and a spin-off title, Legionnaires, was launched. Then the Earth was destroyed. No, you didn’t misread that.

In 1994, after Zero Hour, DC decided to completely reboot (for the first time) the Legion of Super Heroes. Many members were given new code names. Lightning Lad was renamed Live Wire, and new members were added, such as XS, the granddaughter of the Flash. In this reboot, Ferro Lad, now just going by Ferro, was a 20th century character recruited by the Legion. In 2000, the Legionnaires were lost in a spatial rift, and yet another new series was launched upon their return. The series lasted for 38 issues. Geoff Johns and Mark Waid co-wrote a Legion/Teen Titans crossover that ended the reboot continuity and led into Infinite Crisis.

After the crossover, Mark Waid rebooted the Legion once again, going back to the classic naming conventions for the characters. Some notable differences from previous continuity would be the fact that Star Boy is now black, Colossal Boy is naturally a giant who shrinks, and Phantom Girl exists in two universes at once. Starting with issue #16, the title was changed to Supergirl and the Legion of Super Heroes, when Supergirl mysteriously arrived in the 31st century.

A couple of storyline elements of interest: After an attack, Saturn Girl gained the power to sense and communicate with Mon-El, who had been trapped for many years in the Phantom Zone, and was able to exist as a wraith on Kandor. The Dominators attacked Earth after mishearing Booster Gold’s speech given while taking the weapon that would save 52 worlds. They thought he said that 52 worlds would join together to attack the Dominion.

Recently, members of a Legion quite similar to the original Legion have appeared in the present time DCU. Star Boy (now Starman), Karate Kid, and Triplicate Girl have stayed behind after their comrades went back to their own time following their adventure. A future storyline, "Legion of Three Worlds," promises to shed some light on what is really going on with the different Legions.

The Legion has a very complex and confusing past, but I’ve always enjoyed them, particularly the originals now seen in present time, and I hope they stick around for a while! See you next week!

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