Celebrating the Best of a Fanzine that Influenced the FutureA column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Keith Dallas
Nowadays how CAN’T comic book readers communicate with each other? Unless one’s computer lacks the ability to access the internet (is that still possible?), the comic book enthusiast can learn quite quickly and easily through dozens of fan sites and official publisher sites what fellow enthusiasts think of a particular comic book, what comic books will be published in upcoming months, and the history of comic book publishing, among other topics. Directly communicating with comic book writers, artists, colorists and the like also isn’t difficult since many of the professionals have created their own websites or maintain a presence on a message board.
Before the emergence of internet message boards and comic book websites, however, connecting directly with professionals and fellow fans was limited to encounters at comic book stores, conventions and the reading of written comments in club newsletters and fanzines. One fanzine in particular that achieved legendary status and even influenced comic book publication was The Legion Outpost, devoted to DC Comics’ The Legion of Super-Heroes. The Legion Outpost published 10 issues between 1972 and 1981. TwoMorrows Publishing will release The Best of the Legion Outpost, edited by Glen Cadigan, who also edited last year’s The Legion Companion, one of the most informative and valuable comic book resources recently published. The Best of the Legion Outpost is just as valuable. As its title indicates, the 160 page book collects the most significant and entertaining articles and interviews (by both fans and professionals alike) in The Legion Outpost’s nine year history. It also showcases stunning artwork from throughout the Legion’s history. When I asked him about the book, Cadigan told me, “This is the absolute best of The Legion Outpost. Not one article which was worthy was left behind. You get the cream of the crop here. Sometimes when you buy a book, there are parts which you like and parts which you don't like. This takes all of the guesswork out of that. It is the absolute best which The Legion Outpost had to offer. That means interviews, articles, artwork, etc., plus new material which you just can't get anywhere else.”
The Legion Outpost emerged from the Legion of Super-Heroes’ darkest days as a publishing entity. The team had been thrown out of its Adventure Comics home of seven consecutive years in May 1969 and replaced by Supergirl. With longtime Legion and Superman editor, Mort Weisinger, retiring in 1970 and Jim Shooter (whose career began writing the Legion in 1966) out of comic books altogether, no one at DC Comics seemed to want anything to do with the teenaged band of super-heroes from the 30th century. As a result, the Legion went from being a regular back-up in Action Comics in 1969-70 to an occasional back-up in Superboy in 1971-2. The Legion of Super-Heroes was well down the road to comic book oblivion. The situation prompted 13 year old Bronx native Mike Flynn to reach out to his fellow Legion fans. His now famous letter was printed in the February 1972 issue of Superboy #182 (in which the Legion didn’t even appear): “…may I announce the formation of a Legion of Super-Heroes fan club?… Send me a postcard with your name, address, date of birth, and your favorite Legionnaire, and info about the club will be swinging your way.” And many responded. Cadigan continues, “the next mention of the Legion Fan Club came in the pages of Superboy #188. By this point membership was 143 members strong and all had one purpose in mind: to get the Legion of Super-Heroes its own title.”
In 1972 The Legion Outpost #1 was printed as a fourteen page newsletter, filled mostly with notices from members running for Legion Fan Club leadership positions. With the second issue Harry Broertjes, a freshman at Northwestern University’s School of Journalism, became its editor. Reflecting on those early days of The Legion Outpost thirty years later, Flynn wrote, “The Legion Outpost… was meant to be the newsletter of a fan club. Instead, it became something else. It became a fanzine… Harry led us very quickly away from our first issue---full of ads from people running for positions of leadership within the organization---to an actual publication that somebody might want to read.”
The Legion Outpost clearly not only attracted the attention of Legion fans but comic book professionals as well. Indeed, some of these professionals (particularly artist Dave Cockrum, DC editor Murray Boltinoff, and writer Cary Bates) wrote articles exclusively for The Legion Outpost. More importantly, the primary goal of Outpost was accomplished; in September 1973 the Legion of Super-Heroes received a new “permanent” home as a feature in Superboy with #197 (the official title of the book became Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes which changed to Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes with #222 (December 1976) and by #259 (January 1980) the boy of steel had been completely kicked out of his title when it became just Legion of Super-Heroes). Then Superboy editor Murray Boltinoff wrote a guest editorial for the Summer 1973 The Legion Outpost #4 in which he credited the Legion Fan Club membership for bringing the Legion back to its monthly publication schedule, “…When an unprecedented hue and cry was raised for the return of the Legion, who was I to ignore the call? We tested the feature with some pardonable timidity. The response was overwhelming. In all the years that I’ve clutched an editor’s blue pencil, never have my ears resounded with such a din. Obviously, the Legion’s readership was, in a word, legion.” As Cadigan puts it, The Legion Outpost and the Legion Fan Club members “saved the Legion. Just like viewer mail saved the original Star Trek series for one more year, The Legion Outpost rescued the Legion from obscurity. It's one of those rare instances when fan feedback actually made a difference.”
The Outpost didn’t stop its influence there. For the Summer 1974 The Legion Outpost #8, Harry Broertjes tracked down and interviewed Jim Shooter, who at that time hadn’t been part of the comic book industry for four years. In the interview Shooter explains he quit writing DC comics because of a fallout he had with Mort Weisinger. Living in Pittsburgh, Shooter had been doing freelance advertising work, but throughout the Outpost interview, Shooter expresses the desire once again to write more comic books. Some time after the interview, Broertjes and fellow Legion Fan Club member Jay Zilber visited Shooter at his home to convince him to return to comic books. As a result, Shooter traveled to New York and subsequently became a Legion writer again, starting with Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #209. One has to wonder how differently the comic book industry would have evolved if Legion fans had not influenced Shooter to return to comic books in the mid-1970s.
Like today’s internet message boards, The Legion Outpost connected fans to the professionals and revealed the writers and editors’ perspective and plans for the Legion of Super-Heroes. Among the professionals interviewed here are Cary Bates, Roy Thomas, Mike Barr, Len Wein and Mort Weisinger (and Cadigan provides new interviews of Jack C. Harris, Al Milgrom, David Michelinie and Bob Rozakis). An informal and interesting article in The Legion Outpost #3 by then-Legion artist Dave Cockrum introduces both Wildfire and several character costume changes taking place in 1973. Anticipating the fan criticism, Cockrum tries his best to justify the costume changes, which proves (as Cadigan accurately puts it), “if there’s one constant in Legion fandom, it’s that Legion fans hate change.” But of particular note is an interview of Keith Giffen when he first became the Legion’s regular penciller in 1982. Intended for the never published The Legion Outpost #11, the interview had never been transcribed due to a flawed audio-taping. Earlier this year, through modern technology (which seems appropriate considering our subject matter) one ninety minute tape was restored, and now at least the first half of the interview is presented in The Best of the Legion Outpost for the very first time, and this is truly discovered treasure. In the 16 page interview Giffen provides interesting assessments of all the Legionnaire characters and his fascination with how the future should look (“If it looks like it could be purchased now, it’s wrong…. If it’s got wheels, it’s obsolete”). Even at this earliest part of his Legion career, Giffen expresses his desire to keep changing his artistic style and not just settle for the most crowd-pleasing one. This attitude anticipates all the changes Giffen would make to his artwork over the subsequent twenty years that fascinated some readers and maddened others. Early in the interview, Giffen also makes an ill-fated declaration, “By the way, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired or horribly burned out on the Legion.” Of course, he couldn’t foresee how badly he WOULD burn himself out on the Legion after drawing a poster in 1983 that featured just about every Legion hero, villain and supporting character in its history up to that point.
Flipping through The Best of the Legion Outpost, one can’t help but admire the wide-ranging artwork: from the silly Fred Hembeck images to bold George Perez character models, from unpublished Jimmy Janes covers to reprints of Curt Swan Adventure Comics covers from the 1960s. My favorite is a two-page 13 panel Keith Giffen Legion of Super-Heroes in-house promo from the 1982 DC Sampler that I haven’t seen in over twenty years. Each panel uses the title of another DC comic (Adventure, Action, Detective, Combat, Mystery in Space, Young Love, Plop) to emphasize the varying aspects of The Legion of Super-Heroes. Like last year’s The Legion Companion, The Best of the Legion Outpost is amazingly littered with both familiar Legion images and unseen commission work from private collections.
All told, The Best of the Legion Outpost presents the history of a comic book and its fans. Cadigan claims, “it's like discovering a time capsule or uncovering a tomb. Each article stands alone, but together they tell the story of what was happening as it happened. This isn't second-hand information here, it's right from the horse's mouth. So as you read article after article, the bigger picture slowly unveils.” Not only did The Legion Outpost connect fans to each other, it connected the fans to the professionals and influenced DC’s publication decisions, which is pretty remarkable when you consider The Legion Outpost was produced by high school and college students. Mike Flynn reported in his first newsletter to the members that the ages of the initial 85 members ranged from nine to twenty. The average age was fourteen, which means one thing: a bunch of kids saved the Legion from extinction. Pretty astounding when you think about it.
You can order The Best of the Legion Outpost directly through TwoMorrow Publishing’s website: http://twomorrows.com/books/bestlegionoutpost.html