The Legion of Super-Heroes is a team of comic book superheroes in the future. It is also the title of several comic books about the team published by DC Comics. The team has been closely associated with Superboy, and first appeared in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958). Like many superhero adventures, their stories often contain elements of science fiction, but are more truly fantasy stories.
Original continuity (1958-1994)
A supporting cast for Superboy
Superboy was the featured series in Adventure Comics in the late 1950s. In Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), he was met by three teenagers from the 30th century: Lightning Boy, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy, who were members of a "super-hero club" called the Legion of Super-Heroes. Their club had been formed with Superboy as an inspiration, and they had time traveled to recruit Superboy as a member. After a series of tests, Superboy was awarded membership and returned to his own time.
Although intended as a one-off story focusing on Superboy, the Legion proved so popular that they returned for an encore in Adventure Comics #267 (December 1959). Lightning Boy had been renamed Lightning Lad, and their costumes were very close to those they wore throughout the Silver Age of Comic Books. In their third appearance, with Supergirl in Action Comics #267, it was claimed that the Legionnaires in that story were children of the ones Superboy had previously met, and that the Legion existed in the 21st Century rather than the 30th. Eventually these details were retconned away.
The Legion's popularity grew, and they appeared in further adventures in Adventure Comics and Action Comics over the next few years. The ranks of the Legion, only hinted at in those first two stories, were fleshed out with new heroes such as Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid, Colossal Boy, Star Boy, Brainiac 5, Triplicate Girl, Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy, Bouncing Boy, and Phantom Girl. They even recruited Supergirl as a member (Action Comics #267 and #276).
Despite appearing in about a dozen stories during this period, the story of the Legion's founding was not revealed until a decade had passed. In Superboy #147 (June 1968), for the first time readers learned that the first three members to appear, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy, had founded the Legion when they used their powers to save billionaire R. J. Brande from an assassination attempt. Impressed with their skills and courage, Brande would bankroll the Legion for years to come.
The creators of the early Legion stories included Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, Otto Binder, Al Plastino, George Papp, Curt Swan, Jim Mooney, and George Klein.
Starring in Adventure Comics
In Adventure Comics #300 (September 1962), the Legion finally received their own regular feature, cover-billed "Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes". While they would share space with Superboy solo stories for a couple of years, they eventually displaced Superboy entirely as their popularity grew. Superboy, however, continued to appear on every cover, even if only briefly mentioned in the story or not mentioned at all.
It was this run which established the Legion's general workings and environment. A club of teenagers, they operated out of a clubhouse in the shape of a yellow rocket ship inverted as if it had been driven into the ground. The position of Legion leader rotated among the membership, sometimes through election and sometimes by more arcane methods. (From time to time the editors of the Legion stories would allow readers to vote on the leader.)
Each Legionnaire had to possess at least one natural super-power (i.e., powers from devices were disallowed), in particular one power which no other member possessed. (Despite this, several members had overlapping powers, particularly Superboy, Supergirl, Mon-El and Ultra Boy.) Some issues included comical moments where candidates with bizarre, useless or dangerous abilities would try out for membership and be rejected. (A few of these flawed candidates went on the form the Legion of Substitute Heroes.)
The Legion was based on Earth and protected an organization of humans and aliens called the United Planets. The regular police force in the UP was the Science Police.
Many of these early stories were "gimmick" tales, revolving around someone trying to trick the Legion, or a member of the Legion being controlled or injured in some way so that he turned against his comrades. Stark tie-ins with the Superman stories appeared from time to time, with Jimmy Olsen, Lana Lang and Pete Ross all becoming "honorary members". Characterization was often skimpy, and some characters - such as Bouncing Boy and Matter-Eater Lad - ridiculous. In fairness, these sorts of stories were common in DC Silver Age comics, and many of these stories are beloved by long-time Legion fans.
Creators of the early Adventure Comics stories included Jerry Siegel, Edmond Hamilton and John Forte.
A watershed moment for the Legion came with Adventure Comics #346 (July 1966), which was written by then 14-year-old Jim Shooter. A Legion fan, Shooter submitted a quartet of stories to DC. In an era before comic book artists and writers received regular credits on their work, Shooter - ignorant of the typical creation process behind the stories he enjoyed - submitted full page layouts on typing paper, complete with captions and dialogue bubbles. DC, at the time ignorant of Shooter's age, was impressed enough with his efforts to arrange for veteran artists Curt Swan and George Klein to fix up the layouts for publication. and published. Those first four stories introduced several longtime Legion elements, including Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, Ferro Lad, Nemesis Kid, the Khunds, and Universo and his son Rond Vidar.
Soon thereafter, Shooter became the regular writer of the Legion stories, with Swan (and later Win Mortimer) as artist. Shooter brought more characterization and action to the Legion, an approach which was working well for competitor Marvel Comics, and moved away from gimmickry. As it turned out, this Shooter was an early participant in a gradual revolution of storytelling at DC over the next decade.
Shooter wrote the story about the Ferro Lad's death - the first death of a Legionnaire - and introduced many other enduring concepts, including the Fatal Five, Shadow Lass, the Dark Circle, Mordru, and the "Adult Legion", a conjecture regarding what the Legion would be like when they grew up.
However, the Legion's golden age did eventually end, and their last appearance in Adventure Comics was #380 (May 1969), when they were displaced by Supergirl.
The early 1970s saw the Legion relegated to the status of back-up feature. First they appeared in Action Comics from #377-392 (June 1969-September 1970) featuring more stories by Shooter and Mortimer, usually vignettes with only one or two of the Legion appearing. These were nonetheless decent character-driven stories, rather unusual for their team in that regard.
Following that stint they began appearing occasionally as a backup in Superboy starting with #172 (March 1971) with creators including E. Nelson Bridwell, Cary Bates and George Tuska. But soon signs of revival appeared, as young artist Dave Cockrum (who would go on to fame as the artist on Marvel's "all-new, all-different" X-Men) began drawing the series with Superboy #184 (April 1972). Cockrum was a prolific designer of eye-catching superhero costumes, and began revising the outfits of many Legionnaires. Although some, such as his bare-chested outfit for Cosmic Boy, were not very popular, others endured for much of the next 20 years.
The most notable story during this time was Superboy #195 (June 1973), in which a hero whose body was made of energy applied for membership in the Legion, and seemingly gave his life on a mission. The hero would go on to become Wildfire, one of the most popular Legionnaires.
Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes
The Legion returned to cover-billing on a book when Superboy became Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes with #197 (August 1973), possibly to save slipping sales on the title. Created by Bates and Cockrum, the feature proved popular and saw such events as the wedding of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel (formerly Triplicate Girl) (#200), and the death of Invisible Kid (#203).
Cockrum was replaced on art with #210 (August 1975) by Mike Grell, who would also become a fan favorite. Shooter returned and wrote his swan song on the title with a tale involving the Time Trapper and a new villain, Pulsar Stargrave.
With #231 (September 1977), the book became a "giant-size" title, at this point written by longtime fan Paul Levitz and drawn by James Sherman (inked by a variety of artists, notably Jack Abel and Bob McLeod). In #241-245 (July-December 1978) Levitz and Sherman (and then Joe Staton) produced what was to that time the most ambitious Legion storyline, Earthwar, a galactic war between the United Planets and the Khunds, with several other villains lurking in the background.
S/LSH #239 (May 1978) featured a well-received story entitled "Murder Most Foul", in which Ultra Boy is framed for murder. Written and illustrated by Jim Starlin, he resolved the mystery left at the end of the story in S/LSH #250-251 (April-May 1979), although supposedly he was so unhappy with the editing and the decision to break up his lengthy tale into two parts that he removed his name from the project, and was credited as "Steve Apollo". Nonetheless, both stories were popular tales in the Legion ouvre.
During this period, one of the Legionnaires spun off into his own 20th century-based title, named Karate Kid, which lasted 15 issues.
Levitz left the book to be replaced by Gerry Conway, a controversial choice among comics fandom. Still illustrated by Staton, the book led up to the next major change in the title's appearance.
Their own title at last
With issue #259 (January 1980), Superboy departed from the Legion due to a plot of a villain, and the book was renamed simply Legion of Super-Heroes. These issues are referred to by fandom and collectors as 'v2', or volume two. (There was a 4-issue Legion of Super-Heroes series during the 1970s which is officially volume 1, or 'v1', but it consisted solely of reprints of stories from Adventure Comics. Volume numbers are conventional in the magazine industry in order to distinguish identically titled successor magazines with different enumerations.)
Ironically, this fell in the middle of what is widely considered to be a low point in the Legion's history. The Conway stories were not very well-received, and often seemed to lack ambition. Fans often cite #260-261 (February-March 1980), featuring a "Space Circus of Death," or #268's "Life after Life after Life" (October 1980, written by J. M. DeMatteis), in which Legionnaires battle Dr. Mayavale, as the nadirs of this era. Jimmy Janes took over the art chores with #273 (March 1981), early in a lengthy tale by Conway and then Roy Thomas involving Ultra Boy disappearing during a mission and his long odyssey to rejoin the team. This story told the long-awaited tale of the Legionnaire Reflecto (only glimpsed during the Adult Legion story in Adventure Comics), featured villainy by the Time Trapper and Grimbor, and saw Superboy rejoin the team in #282 (December 1981).
Following this story, Paul Levitz returned to write the book.
The Paul Levitz Legion
Pat Broderick illustrated the book for a short while before Keith Giffen and Larry Mahlstedt took over the art chores. Their clean style and flair for drawing high-tech gadgetry made them immediately popular, and this was enhanced by the 5-part Great Darkness Saga which ran from #290-294 (August-December 1982), featuring a full assault on the United Planets and a surprise supervillain behind it all.
The Legion celebrated issue #300 (June 1983) by revisiting the Adult Legion story through a series of parallel world short stories illustrated by a number of popular Legion artists of days past.
Giffen's style changed abruptly a few issues later to a darker and sketchier style inspired by Argentinian artist Josť Munoz. This occurred simultaneously with DC's shift to launch a pair of "Baxter format" comic books (the other was the popular New Teen Titans) on higher-quality Baxter paper. The current Legion series was renamed Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes for a year before it began reprinting stories from the new Legion of Super-Heroes volume 3 (Sometimes referred to as 'v3' in fandom.)
While most of the stories during this time were written by Levitz, there were several memorable fill-ins by Mindy Newell.
The series launched (August 1984) with a 5-part story featuring the Legion of Super-Villains. Giffen left in the middle of the story and was replaced by Steve Lightle. Lightle's elaborate style fit the book well, but he only remained on the book for a year. Despite this he designed costumes for several new Legionnaires who were introduced, notably the longtime member of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, Polar Boy.
Greg LaRocque began a lengthy run in #16 (November 1985), including a crossover with John Byrne's recently-rebooted Superman titles in #37 and #38. The crossover was DC's first of many attempts to explain the origins and fate of Superboy, and his history with the Legion, in light of the revision to the DC Universe caused by Crisis on Infinite Earths. (Perhaps appropriately, the crossover also first demonstrated the continuity paradoxes that inevitably resulted from such attempts; a statue for Supergirl in the Legion's memorial for deceased members, shown in #38, had vanished by #51, as per DC editorial's then-recent edict that Supergirl had never existed at all in the post-Crisis timeline.)
Levitz' run ended with the return of Giffen and a four-part story, concluding in #63 (August 1989), focusing on the decline of science and the rise of magic wreaking havoc with the United Planets. Although the forces of good prevailed, both the UP and the Legion were left a shambles, the pieces to be picked up in the next series.
Although Levitz substantially changed the Legion and its characters and greatly altered the tone of the series from what had gone before, his run was extremely popular and was a high-water mark in the Legion's history.
Five years later
Giffen took over plotting as well as pencilling the Legion of Super-Heroes in volume 4 ('or 'v4') starting in November 1989, with scripts by Tom and Mary Bierbaum. Five years after the Magic Wars, the United Planets is a darker place and the Legion a distant memory. However, a group of former Legionnaires worked to re-form the Legion in this harsh new universe, in which Earth was ruled by the alien Dominators.
Along the way, the decision was made to retroactively remove Superboy almost completely from Legion involvement (leaving his last Levitz-era appearance with the Legion as the only time he'd ever met them), despite the fact that this left the question of where the Legion's inspiration for founding came from without Superboy. The writers' solution was to recast Mon-El in that role, as a 20th-century hero named Valor, and also added the characters Laurel Gand and Kent Shakespeare to further fill the void. Issue #5 featured a parallel world story in which this restructuring was effected.
This series was erratic, as Giffen missed plotting several issues for reasons that were not entirely clear. The Bierbaums wrote fill-in stories, but the overall cohesiveness suffered. Legion fandom was split in their reactions. Some felt that the stories challenged them; others felt that the Bierbaums were desecrating the Legion's legacy. Controversial storylines included various revelations, often based on longstanding fandom theories, that turned Legion history on its head. One was that Lightning Lad's body had been housing the consciousness of Proty, Chameleon Boy's protean "pet," ever since his resurrection years before. Another was that former Science Police liaison Shvaughn Erin was actually a transsexual, and that Element Lad—her longtime beau—was gay.
A major storyline was the discovery of "Batch SW6", a group of clones of the early Legion, circa their Adventure Comics days. Apparently the intent was that these would eventually be revealed as the real Legion, and the ones whose adventures had been chronicled for so long were actually the clones. Instead, there were now two Legions, and a parallel title, Legionnaires, was launched, with art by Chris Sprouse, starring the SW6 Legion. It was a lighter title than the main Legion book.
Giffen left the book after a storyline which involved the destruction of Earth (#38, December 1992), and the book continued on until DC's editorial department decided that the team's continuity should be rebooted. As a result of the Zero Hour company-wide crossover, 35 years of Legion continuity came to an end, to be started over from the very beginning.
With Legion volume 4 #0 and Legionnaires #0 (both October 1994), a new Legion was created out of whole cloth, beginning with a variation on the classic origin story. Lightning Lad was renamed Livewire, and after the group's founding, a large number of heroes were added to the roster very quickly. Several other members were renamed, and some new heroes were added, including XS (a descendant of The Flash) and Gates.
While in some ways following the pattern of the original continuity, there were some major deviations; some characters died, other did not. Some Legion members spent time in the 20th century, where they recruited the member Ferro. In all, it was a successful and well-received return to the days of a teenaged Legion defending a shining future from the forces of evil.
However, Legion sales began to flag. New writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning came on board with penciller Oliver Coipel to produce a dark story leading to the near-collapse of the United Planets and of the Legion itself. In the wake of this disaster, a group of Legionnaires disappeared through a spacial rift and the two existing Legion series came to an end.
The limited series Legion Lost (2000-2001) chronicled the difficult journey of these Legionnaires to return to their home, while the ensuing limited series Legion Worlds (2001) showed what was happening back in the United Planets during their absence.
Finally, a new series, The Legion, was launched in which the Legion is reunited and given a new base and purpose. The series, written for its first 33 issues by Abnett and Lanning, has recently been cancelled with issue 38, and this version of the Legion will apparently be deleted in the Teen Titans/Legion Special.
"Reimagining" (Another Reboot) (2004-Present)
Following a crossover with the Teen Titans, in issue 16 of the current volume of that team's current series and the Teen Titans/Legion Special, a new series has been launched, written by Mark Waid (giving him the perhaps-dubious distinction of the first person to reboot the same title twice) and pencilled by Barry Kitson. Apparently, this new series will start the team over from scratch again, with the Boy/Lad/Girl/Lass/Kid names—which the late "preboot" and (prior) reboot had moved away from—returning in force.
This list is in approximate chronological order, and excludes reprints where known.
- Adventure Comics #247, 267, 276, 282, 290, 293
- Action Comics #267, 276, 283, 287, 289-290
- Superboy volume 1, #86, 89, 93, 98, 117
- Adventure Comics #300-380
- Action Comics #378-387, 389-392
- Superboy volume 1, #172, 176, 185, 191, 195
- Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #197-258
- Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes tabloid
- The Legion of Super-Heroes volume 2, #259-313, Annual #1-3
- Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes #1-3
- Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes #314-325
- The Legion of Super-Heroes volume 3, #1-63, Annual #1-4
- The Legion of Super-Heroes volume 4, #1-61, Annual #1-5
- Legionnaires #1-17
After the reboot:
- The Legion of Super-Heroes volume 4, #0, 62-125, Annual #6-7
- Legionnaires #0, 18-81, Annual #2-3 1
- Legion Lost #1-12
- Legion Worlds #1-6
- The Legion #1-38
- Teen Titans/Legion Special
1 - Legionnaires Annual #1 is an "Elseworlds" story, which is part of neither the pre-reboot nor post-reboot Legion continuity.
After the "reimagining":
- Teen Titans/Legion Special
- Legion of Super-Heroes volume 5. #1-present
- List of Legion of Super-Heroes members
- Legion World.net (http://www.legionworld.net/)
- Legion Help File (http://omega.animefringe.com/lshhlp/)
- Comments by Kurt Busiek and Mark Waid on the rebooting (http://groups.google.com/groups?hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&selm=tygCsLMIp.BCq%40netcom.com&rnum=1)
- Interview with Mark Waid about the new series (http://www.newsarama.com/forums/printthread.php?threadid=13487)