The Legend of The Legion of Super-Heroes: Part One
I’m really enjoying Comicbookgirl19’s Epic History of the X-Men video series, so I decided to something similar with the Legion of Super-Heroes. I have a love for the Legion that goes back to the point where I truly fell in love with comic books. I have tried to chronicle this through my Reviews of Old Comics, but I can only go so fast, and I try to only do a Legion comic once a month, if I’m updating once a week, which schedules sometimes just can’t allow.
The Epic History of the X-Men inspired me to do something similar with the Legion. I don’t have a YouTube channel, but I do have a web site. This also seems like a good time to start this because plans are in motion to bring back the Legion. It all goes back to DC Universe: Rebirth, where we had a young woman who was arrested wearing a certain ring. Now we are on the verge of a brand new Legion Series by Brian Michael Bendis and Ryan Sook. I’ll admit to having revised this start for the series a couple of times, but hopefully this will be the last.
The Legion has a sixty year history, so this will be told in many parts, roughly one for each of the Legion’s major periods. Let’s get started with…
Superboy was going about his usual business in Smallville when three teenagers approach him, each knowing his secret identity. Fortunately, these kids were Lightning Boy (later Lad), Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy. They were fans of his from the future where they had formed a super-hero club around his legend and the example it set. They took him to that future where he flunked an initiation into the club because of greater threats that required his attention. Superboy doesn’t give the reasons for his failures. That prompts a telling reveal by the Legion. The Legionnaires rigged the threats to give him the real initiation test, which he passed. Superboy is inducted into the Legion.
This recruitment of Superboy happens after the Legion had recruited eight members, the three founders and Triplicate Girl, Phantom Girl, Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy and Invisible Kid. Various retcons in Legion continuity later explain this. It sounds confusing now, but in the scattershot way the Legion was introduced in these early years, it works completely. The Legion wasn’t planned to be a major cast of characters in their own book.
The placement of this story in Legion continuity is very speculative, since other Legionnaires are shown. This speculation over the years lead writer Mark Waid to believe that what are perceived as Legionnaires are actually unsuccessful applicants. The rest of the Legionnaires at the time are Triplicate Girl, Phantom Girl, Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid, Colossal Boy, and Brainiac 5. Supergirl was also a member, but not present. Superboy would have noticed a girl in a costume similar to his own. These are the official Legionnaires for the time Superboy joined, although, as I mentioned, it was not a plan for them to be recurring feature.
In the Legion’s second appearance, the three Legion members get new costumes. They’re closer to their traditional costumes they’ve come to be known for. They traveled to the past specifically to build a Superboy Planet to honor their fellow Legionnaire, but when a “Futurescope Recorder” apparently shows Superboy becoming a destructive menace, they work with other heroes from across the galaxy to turn the planet into a prison. This adventure begins some of the first problems in early adventures of the Legion. Saturn Girl is depicted somehow using her mental powers to help construct the Kryptonite prison. She still has light brown hair. While consistent with their first appearance, Cosmic Boy and Lightning Lad’s powers still do not mesh with later stories that were much different. The evolution of these characters is one of the hallmarks of Legion stories, and why they grew out of simply being Superboy’s guest-stars.
In their third appearance the Legion gets its first new Legionnaires, in a story that features their recruitment of Supergirl. When reading the stories in order, it really begins to get confusing, as the Legionnaires state that they are not the same ones that recruited Superboy, but their children. Future writers would ignore that aspect pretty soon afterwards. We also see Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy and Invisible Kid added to the ranks. Most importantly, we see one of the defining qualities of the Legion.
Legion membership is only available to heroes under the age of 18. While Supergirl’s Legion tryout is impressive, For her tryout, Supergirl digs a deep underground transit tunnel. Unfortunately, she encounters red Kryptonite, which has the strange effect of aging her to adulthood. The Legionnaires reject her for Legion membership, since she’s past the Legion’s maximum age limit of 18. The story also states that the Legion only adds one member a year, a rule that future writers would ignore in retroactively when putting together the history of the Legion. Canonically, this story takes place before the Legion visited Superboy.
The next appearance of a Legionnaire saw Lightning Lad travel from the future to help Superboy fight Luthor’s army of animated Kryptonite men. It also sets the premise of a Legion of Super-Villains. Superman #147 would realize this premise. Chronologically , it would take many years for Luthor to locate the adult Legion of Super-Villains. It was just a few months for readers to see that premise realized. In the meantime, Star Boy makes his first appearance in Adventure Comics #282. While the story’s title promises that Lana Lang would meet the Legion, she actually uses the visiting Legionnaire Star Boy to make Superboy jealous. Star Boy’s power set is similar to Superboy’s. This would later be changed to gravity-increasing powers. Legion writers would not explain that for many, many years.
We next see the Legion recruit Supergirl again in a story that introduces Phantom Girl and Triplicate Girl as two of Supergirl’s “Super Girlfriends.” We also see three more Legion applicants, Sun Boy, Bouncing Boy and Shrinking Violet. She joins at the same time as Brainiac 5, a descendant of Superman’s enemy Brainiac. Brainiac 5 proves that he’s not evil as his ancestor by using the Force Shield Belt he invented to protect Supergirl against a Kryptonite meteor. The other three applicants would eventually join.
Because subsequent issues of the Legion have colored the last panel of the Legion’s first story with Brainiac 5 present, Supergirl joins the Legion before Superboy does, despite what is said by the Legionnaires. In these early years, continuity was something that was a little less adhered to, but in a world where TV series play fast and loose with telling stories concurrently, despite happening at different times (I’m looking at you, Westworld) this shouldn’t be an issue. It was also something that fans like Mark Waid would figure out over the years.
The next story that readers got was the follow-up that delivered on the Legion of Super-Villains. The Legion as adults is introduced for the first time. The Legion of Super-Villains are shown as Lightning Lord, Saturn Queen and Cosmic King, all adult criminals who are about to kill Superman in the future when the three Legion founders, now adults, come to his rescue, complete with a scheme that turns Saturn Queen against her teammates. It’s a nice little story that shows how much longevity the Legion has in the 30th century, although we don’t get to see any new Legionnaires, but the Adult Legion stories would become a wonderful diversion over the years and the source for much fan speculation, such as the anticipation of the Super-Villains debuting against the teenage Legion.
Back to a sense of Legion continuity comes when Superboy meets a new Legionnaire, Sun Boy. Sun Boy turns out to be an imposter when he reveals himself by not using the secret Legion handshake. It’s a nice little story for several Silver Age tropes like a criminal that is identical to our hero. The importance comes in the introduction of Sun Boy as a member, firmly placing his joining just after Superboy’s.
The next appearance in continuity for the Legion was in Supergirl’s big reveal to world in Action Comics #285. Brainiac 5 aids her through time. He also professes his love for her. This is important in how it ingrains the Legion in the mainstream DC continuity. That same month, the founders traveled to Superboy’s time in Adventure Comics #293, but instead of aiding the boy of steel, they betrayed him. They were under the mental control of the Brain Globes of Rambat. They defeated the globes by recruiting four “Super-Pets” in Krypto, Comet the Super-Horse, Supergirl’s pet cat Streaky, and Beppo the Super-Monkey. The four animals formed the Legion of Super-Pets. The Super-Pets would be a recurring story element throughout the Silver Age, but by far one of the most ridiculous ones.
Supergirl next saved the Legion from a race of Chameleon Men. They had been sent to destroy the Legion. In Action Comics #287, the switch happened while she was assisting the Legion in destroying a powerful Positive Energy creature. It’s guided by the lingering jealousy of the scientist it used to be. This adventure is odd because it borders on Supergirl breaking the Legion Code against killing. However, since the Positive Man is defined as a “destructive force” and as having “once” been a scientist. She also discovers that it is composed purely of positive ions. This would possibly not make it not truly alive. It’s a useful loophole in the storytelling. It also proves more troubling a decade later. That’s when the Legion would admit its own member composed entirely of energy.
The Legion was very Supergirl-centric in these early adventures, next appearing in Superman #152. They were part of a bizarre scheme to impersonate Superman’s friends with robots. The ploy was just to deliver some souvenir figurines to commemorate Supergirl arriving on Earth. Her next encounter with the Legion was in Action Comics #289. Supergirl encountered the adult version of the Legion in a bizarre scheme Supergirl had to find Superman the perfect wife. Unfortunately, her plan to hook him up with Saturn Woman was unsuccessful. She didn’t factor on this prospective bride already being the wife of Lightning Man. This actually became the first time an adult Legion story foreshadowed events to come in the “current” Legion. Outside of Brainiac 5 and Supergirl, No Legionnaire had previously been shown in any relationship.
The streak of Supergirl Legion stories ends with Superboy #98, which introduces a new Legionnaire, Ultra Boy. Ultra Boy remains unique, for while he has all of Superboy and Supergirl’s powers, he can only use them one at a time. Ultra Boy traveled back to Superboy’s time as part of his membership test. His goal was to learn Superboy’s secret identity, and in doing so, he joins.
Aside from a side mission in Superman #155 where Lightning Lad and Cosmic Boy disguise themselves as Samson and Hercules to aid Superman and pro wrestler Antonio Rocca, that brings an end to the earliest stories featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes. DC would reward the Legion with their own regular feature in Adventure Comics. This would be a stretch that would run for seven years. This time would debut many of the Legion’s greatest allies and foes. It would also introduce much of the lasting legend of the Legion. This would include a young writer who would go on to become the head of Marvel Comics.
- The Beginning
- Adventure Comics
- Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes
- The Legion of Super-Heroes
- Five Years Later
- The Archie Legion
- Teenage Revolution
- Legions of Three Worlds