Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Legion-Full of Heroes

It took a little while to work out the continuity for the Legion of Super Heros. In their initial appearance in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), they were from the 30th Century. This story was written by Otto
Binder, in which several Legionnaires travel back in time to meet Superboy (their inspiration) and bring him into the future to join the Legion.

A few of their subsequent early appearances had them coming from the 21st Century, which is kind of annoying since we are now in the 21st Century in real life and we don't have a Legion of Super Heroes yet. Gosh darn it. But before long the writers settled on 1000 years in the future.

Their third appearance was in a Jerry Siegel-penned story from Action Comics #267 (August 1960), in which they invite Supergirl to join the Legion. Here's where continuity becomes weird. As with Superboy, the visiting Legionnaires were Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy. But they claimed to be the children of the Legionnaires who met Superboy years before.

Well, eventually, the creative staff at DC realized that with time travel, there was no need for this generational shift. So the whole "children of the original Legion" thing was conveniently ignored, allowing Superboy and Supergirl to work together in the 30th Century despite living a generation apart in the 20th Century. Both heroes would occasionally travel forward in time to serve as concurrent members of the futuristic team. That's why Time Travel is awesome.

It also resulted in one of my favorite bits of comic book logic. If Superboy meets Supergirl when he's Superboy, why doesn't Superman remember Supergirl when he "firsts" meets her as Superman?

That's easily solved. Saturn Girl, whose powers involve telepathy and mental control, plants a post-hypnotic suggestion in Superboy to cause him to forget anything he learns about his own personal history whenever he returns to the 20th Century. Nothing could be simpler. Although that must have been annoying for Superboy whenever he got back to Smallville. He'd know why he couldn't remember everything, of course, but wouldn't it drive you kind of nuts wondering exactly what you can't remember about your own future?

The futuristic setting for the LSH stories had a major advantage for Mort Weisinger and his writers. With a full millenium separating the Legion from the rest of the DC Universe, it could progress according to its own continuity. That gave it a freedom the mainstream universe didn't have. Heroes could actually get killed and relationships between characters could progress without having to preserve a status qou. The Legion eventually become a rich and more malleable sub-universe, separate but still connected to the main DC Universe.

Eventually, Edmond Hamilton became the primary Legion writer. A master of comic book logic, he was key in developing the Legion's mythology and using it effectively to tell fun stories.

For instance, Adventure Comics #309 (June 1963) pits the Legion against the Legion of Super Monsters. A guy who can control animals is rejected by the Legion when he applies for membership. In a snit because of this, he uses his powers to recruit a squad of monsters with bizarre powers, then goes on a crime spree. The Legion confronts him, but he and his monsters put up a good fight. Chameleon Boy impersonates one of the monsters to infiltrate the enemy camp, but that plan goes awry. Bouncing Boy (despite his silly seeming
power) surprises everyone by taking out a powerful Earthquake Beast. The story ends with a nice bit of irony: the villain, embittered when rejected by the Legion, is done in by a monster he himself rejected earlier in the story.

Mixed in with these purely entertaining bits of escapism were a surprising number of more mature stories about death and self-sacrifice. For example, Adventure Comics #342 (March 1966) is a great story involving Star Boy, who is forced to kill a villain in self-defense. He's cleared by the cops, but the Legion has a code against ever killing. The presumption is that Legionnaires should be able to use their powers creatively and avoid deadly force. So Star Boy is placed on trial within the Legion to debate whether he should be thrown out. The story isn't perfect--Superboy is Star Boy's defense attorney and his attempts to get his client acquitted are laughably ineffectual. But some of the debate over whether a superhero should be allowed to kill is quite thoughtful.

It just goes to prove that if you mix together time travel with superhero shenanigans, drop in the proper amount of comic book logic, and add just a dollop or two of real emotion to the usual Silver Age innocence, then you really can't go wrong.

We're almost done with our look at the Weisinger-era Superman universe. I'm pretty sure we've covered nearly all the subjects I originally intended to cover. All that remains is a peek at Lois Lane and Turtle Boy... er, I mean Jimmy Olsen.. and we'll be done.


  1. You can start a Legion of Superheroes.

  2. I could go for more Legion articles!

  3. I have no doubt that I'll revisit the LSH in future reviews.

  4. The gas monster did,nt like being rejected so it got its mits onto Jungle king and turned his to vapor a rather grusome way to die


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