Revisiting Crazy Ideas: Having Characters Age in Real Time – The Legion of Super-Heroes
After writing my last article on this subject, I started thinking about my favorite super-hero team, the Legion of Super-Heroes. Having been around for over 50 years, the Legion is unique in that it’s members all join relatively young, and two of their members travel through time to participate. Before we go along, let’s throw out the idea that each leader gets a one year term, and not even focus on that aspect of the stories, since they’re really only interesting in the relevance to the stories. Some classic members like Superboy, Supergirl, and Mon-El age are almost immortal in how slow they age, and Brainiac 5 has been established as having a lifespan in the hundreds of years. As members join, they have to be under 18, and we’ll assume they join in the year that they debut, at the age of 15, unless otherwise stated.
The founders were all around 16 when they founded the Legion in 2958. RJ Brande is already old, but let’s assume 50. Lightning Lad may be younger, let’s say 14, the reason for that will become apparent when his twin sister joins. Triplicate Girl, Phantom Girl, Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy and Invisible Kid join two years later, and we’ll assume Phantom Girl joins at 14, to make her relationship with Ultra Boy work better. Invisible Kid has a history on his own, so we’ll assume he is 17. Consider everyone else 16 at the time they join. Superboy joins that year as well, at age 14, to preserve the amount of time he spends in the Legion.
The next year sees 6 new members Star Boy, Brainiac 5, Supergirl, Sun Boy, Shrinking Violet, and Bouncing Boy. As I mentioned Brainiac 5 ages differently, and consider Supergirl 14, just like her cousin at the time of joining, to maximize her time with the Legion. Everyone else should be considered to be 16 at the time that they join.
The next year sees Ultra Boy join at 16, making him the same age as Phantom Girl, with whom he has a relationship. Mon-El also joins after being freed from the Phantom Zone, but like Superboy and Supergirl, ages differently. Matter-Eater Lad also joins. By this time, Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl are both 20, and Lightning Lad is 18.
This next year, Lightning Lad dies to stop a Khund invasion of Earth, and his twin sister joins as Lightning Lass. She is also 18, about to turn 19 when she joins. Lightning Lad will be revived later that year. Element Lad joins at a young age 13, just because he always seemed younger to me in those early Legion stories. Dream Girl joins and quits the next year at age 16, and the 19 year old Star Boy is smitten with her and is expelled the next year when he kills a jealous ex-boyfriend of hers in self-defense, just after Triplicate Girl loses one of her bodies fighting Computo.
It is 2966 when four new members join, all at 16, Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, Ferro Lad and Nemesis Kid, who is quickly expelled. Ferro Lad will die early the next year destroying a Sun Eater, just after Star Boy and Dream Girl rejoin. A year after that, Shadow Lass joins the team at 17, since she was serving as her planet’s sole hero at the time she met the Legion. Chemical King and Timber Wolf join later that year, Timber Wolf at 18, Chemical King at 16.
At the time that they join, the Legion membership consists of Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl (each 25), Lightning Lad and Light Lass (each 23) Duo Damsel, Chameleon Boy, and Colossal Boy (each 23), Phantom Girl, Ultra Boy, Matter-Eater Lad and Superboy (all 21), Invisible Kid (24), Brainiac 5 and Mon-El (n/a), Star Boy, Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy, and Bouncing Boy (all 22), Supergirl (20), Element Lad (17), Dream Girl, Karate Kid, and Princess Projectra (19), Shadow Lass and Timber Wolf (both 18), and Chemical King (16). Given that Superboy is about to become Superman, he will go to reserve status, but still occasionally take part in Legion stories, just not with the regularity that we would be used to.
This doesn’t change the dynamic for the team, but could see some changes in attitudes for the various members as they get older and may view their contributions to the team. In comics, we were already seeing that with Duo Damsel, which sparked the beginnings of her romance with Bouncing Boy.Timber Wolf and Light Lass could be having a romantic relationship, but when they met, she was 18 and he was 14, which is a broad age difference for the first sparks of romance to occur. at 23 and 18 is more likely, so we might see that relationship flourish later.
The next member to join is Wildfire, who doesn’t age, then Tyroc, five years after the last member subject to aging could join, making the oldest Legionnaires, CosmicBoy and Saturn Girl, at the time he joined 30, and the youngest, Chemical King, 21. Let’s assume his age to be 18, given how much older he looks. Dawnstar joins the next year, and given her experience and desire to join the Legion to make more money, she’s probably no younger than 17. We won’t see another member join for another four years, and by then, four members have resigned, Duo Damsel, Bouncing Boy, Matter-Eater Lad and Tyroc. Invisible Kid and Chemical King have been killed. Supergirl no longer participates in Legion missions, nor does Superman.
At the time that they join, the Legion membership consists of Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl (each 35), Lightning Lad and Light Lass, Chameleon Boy, and Colossal Boy (all 33), Phantom Girl, Ultra Boy (each 31), Brainiac 5, Mon-El and Wildfire (n/a), Star Boy, Shrinking Violet, and Sun Boy (all 32), Element Lad (27), Dream Girl, Karate Kid, and Princess Projectra (29), Shadow Lass and Timber Wolf (both 28), and Dawnstar (20). That’s still twenty-one active members, but a couple of prospective members have been introduced, namely Calorie Queen, who would be 21 by this time, or the White Witch, who would probably be too old to join shortly after her assistance in Earthwar, and by now is around 26. The Legion is beginning to look older, and here’s where things would need to change.
This is where we get members discussing adding new blood. A new Invisible Kid joins, most likely around 16 when he does so, but to join at this same time, the White Witch would need the membership to waive the age limit. as she’d be 28, at the very youngest. With Karate Kid and Queen Projectra resigning, we are on the edge of a crisis in the membership. With the founders pushing 40 shortly after the death of Karate Kid, new members join, but in actual publication at this time, one of the new members is Cosmic Boy’s younger brother. I would propose it actually be Cosmic Boy’s son with Substitute Legionnaire Night Girl, who could easily be 14. This membership change requires the resignation of the founders, who are getting older. Quislet’s age doesn’t apply, but Tellus can be assumed to be 16, but Polar Boy joining at long last seems unlikely too, since it’s been 25 years since he started his career at 13, waiving the age limit for someone who’s 38 is possible, but I don’t imagine there’d be much call for a waiver for someone who’s approaching 40, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, especially since the “Adult Legion” stories had members who were definitely approaching middle-aged, including some male members with receding hairlines.
So approaching the end of the 2980s, we have a membership looking very much older. Saturn Girl (45), Lightning Lass, Chameleon Boy, and Colossal Boy (all 43), Phantom Girl, Ultra Boy (each 41), Brainiac 5, Mon-El, Quislet, Blok and Wildfire (n/a), Star Boy, Shrinking Violet, and Sun Boy (all 42), Element Lad (37), Dream Girl and Sensor Girl (each 39), Shadow Lass and Timber Wolf (both 38), White Witch (36) and Dawnstar (30), Polar Boy (43), the second Invisible Kid (24) and Magnetic Kid (19). Of course, around this time Quislet is forced to return to his home dimension and Magnetic Kid sacrifices himself in the Magic Wars. Mon-El and Shadow Lass resign following severe injuries he suffers battling the Time Trapper.
Because of the disposal of the 5 Years Later Legion stories of Keith Giffen and the Bierbaums, those events should be considered to not have happened, but there are some new members added in this period that make for continued evolution of the Legion membership. Kono (16), Kent Shakespeare, aka Impulse (17 at time of joining circa 2990), Laurel Gand/Andromeda (does not age), Celeste McCauley, aka Neon (25), Devlin O’Ryan aka Reflex (20)and temporarily Spider-Girl (44 at the time of her joining). For the sake of argument, we will not consider the SW6 Legion, since adding them into the mix would actually have duplicate members, but several instances can be worked around to reinforce the membership.We will get to that as I progress. Apparently, to accommodate these older members, the age limit was lifted. After all, many members were now over 40. The rebooting of the Legion in 1994 introduced several new members, and rather as a reboot, we see it as an overhaul of the Legion with the new members introduced in the reboot added to the Legion. Many of the new members added in the five years previous would not stick around through the restructuring.
At the time of the restructuring, the membership consists of Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl (50), Lightning Lass, Chameleon Boy, and Colossal Boy (all 48), Phantom Girl, Ultra Boy (each 46), Brainiac 5, Mon-El, Blok and Wildfire (n/a), Star Boy, Shrinking Violet, and Sun Boy (all 47), Element Lad (42), Dream Girl and Sensor Girl (each 44), Shadow Lass and Timber Wolf (both 43), White Witch (41) and Dawnstar (35), Polar Boy (48),and the second Invisible Kid (29). Perhaps in this restructuring, we would see the older members officially retire, after growing far too old to continue, although a confrontation with the Time Trapper could see several reduced in age, but rather than cop out like that, we’ll have an arbitrary rule that members will retire around 50. New members, all considered to be 16, are a new Carggite named Triad, Kid Quantum (who dies on the first mission), XS. A year later, Kinetix and Gates join. Magno, another Braalian joins a year after that along with Sensor, a serpent-like creature with powers similar to Projectra, along with successors to the mantle of Karate Kid and Kid Quantum, and Monstress.
At the end of this millennium, our Legion is Brainiac 5, Mon-El, Wildfire, and Andromeda (n/a), Element Lad (47), Dream Girl (49), Shadow Lass (48), White Witch (46), Dawnstar (40), the second Invisible Kid (34), Triad, XS (each 21),Kinetix , Gates (each 20) Magno, Sensor, Karate Kid III, Kid Quantum and Monstress (19). Gear (17), Shikari (16), and a new Timber Wolf (16). The reboot Timber Wolf is such a different character that I think considering him as an inheritor of the mantle appropriate. Shikari’s similarity to Dawnstar may provide an impetus for her to retire, and that separation from Wildfire could be a story in its own right.
See where letting the characters age takes us? We now have a team of twenty-one heroes with about half with ties to the original team. A younger member like Kid Quantum being elected leader could make for interesting storytelling when commanding older, strong-willed heroes like Brainiac 5 or Shadow Lass. We also have in this period Superman’s cloned heir, Conner Kent being stuck in the 31st century and joining the Legion. Halfway through, we see an influx of new members as we incorporate new characters from the “Threeboot” Legion. This is circa 3005 and gives us Atom Girl. The character is a departure to how Shrinking Violet had been portrayed and since her powers are common to all Imskians, I think she could count as an inheritor to the mantle of Shrinking Violet that takes a different name, and we’ll consider her age to be 18, given the level of maturity she demonstrates. We could also see a new Karate Kid, if the third one leaves or is killed. We could also see the inheritor of Shadow Lass’s mantle, perhaps the child of her cousin Grev. A new Chameleon can also join, given how different this character was from the original, and a new Dream Girl, probably unrelated to original, but still a very skilled Naltoran. The rest of the new members should be considered around age 16, providing needed young members for the Legion.
At the start of the Threeboot the Legion stands as follows: Brainiac 5, Mon-El, Wildfire, and Andromeda (n/a), the second Invisible Kid (39), Triad, XS (each 26),Kinetix , Gates (each 25) Sensor, Karate Kid III, Kid Quantum and Monstress (24). Gear (22), Shikari (21), Timber Wolf (21), Atom Girl (18), Karate Kid IV, Shadow Lass II, Chameleon, and Dream Girl II (all 16), giving a membership of 20. There could even be an exploration of new relationships as was done by Mark Waid during the “Threeboot.” We also have the possibility of adding characters from a Superman line that has been allowed to age. Most recently, in the New 52, new members were added such as Dragonwing, Chemical King, Glorith, and Harmonia, and were given the chance to create their place within the team.
By allowing characters to age, we get the opportunity to develop newer characters, something that the sliding, or static timescale of X-Men has failed to allow to happen. It could also be argued by the constant reboots, the the Legion has failed because of the constant reliance on members that have been around since the Silver Age. It also allows a team with as long a history as the Legion to explore the concept of a legacy. As older members retire, the ones that do not age may start to re-think their places within a team than has fewer and fewer familiar faces. By not rebooting every few years, we also don’t have to re-establish characters and try not to offend older fans. The Legion was set up to expand and change, and somewhere along the way, both fans and creators became resistant to letting that happen. We have to allow our characters to grow, because from that growth, we get new stories that we haven’t seen before instead of the origin stories retold again and again.