What’s Next for the Legion of Super-Heroes?
I am a huge fan of the Legion of Super-Heroes, published by DC, almost non-stop, for over fifty years. This summer marks the end of that streak for the foreseeable future. Even when they didn’t have their own regular series, the Legion would appear in back-ups in Action Comics and Superboy, before taking over the latter title and starting a publishing streak that saw the rise of artists like Mike Grell, Pat Broderick, Keith Giffen, Steve Lightle, Stuart Immonen, Oliver Coipel, Francis Manapul, among others. Sadly, in recent years, the title has been hurt by reduced sales, changes in direction and apparent mixed editorial messaging as to the purpose of a book set 1,000 years in the future. DC has announced that the title will be replaced with a Justice League spinoff with no apparent ties to the Legion, signifying the end to five decades of a nearly continuous presence of the Legion in the future of the DC Universe. What comes now for this former hallmark of the classic publisher as the new 52 (or whatever number we are actually left with) shifts its focus to a more Justice League centered publishing lineup?
The people in charge of the New 52 are primarily the architects of Marvel’s boom of the 1990s, which was fueled by a speculator frenzy that the publisher rode into bankruptcy, assisted by the ultimate speculators, venture capitalists. Think back to the titles that were published by Marvel and the expansion of gimmick-laden promotion into storytelling. The New 52 revived that notion with their “WTF month,” and hype for the romantic pairing of Superman and Wonder Woman, despite what story was developing in the individual titles. The Legion doesn’t fit into this mold, especially with the variety of writers it has had over the years. The current writer, Paul Levitz seemed an ill fit for today’s market of starting and finishing stories in four to six issues for later collection in trade paperbacks and hardcovers. The rotating art teams didn’t help much either as comics have a track record of titles being consistent sellers with a consistent team on them. While there are exceptions to this rule, they are rarely found in the genre of superhero comics.
The Legion deserves a chance, if only because it gives room for stories that don’t involve Superman or Batman, almost half of DC’s lineup going into the fall. The Legion had the legacy of being tightly tied to Superman’s mythology, but has shined when it was forced to abandon that aspect and move forward. The Threeboot Legion seemed to excel at this, even though sales suffered without an anchor to the present day. For a while, Supergirl was brought in to create that anchor and refreshed the title, but without that future’s architect, Mark Waid, the charm wore off. Veteran Legion writer Jim Shooter infused a Silver Age energy into the title, but lost the support of DC Editorial when Geoff Johns and Brad Meltzer used the classic Legion for their JLA/JSA crossover and later for a multi-part story in Action Comics. It often seems that the promise of the Legion gets lost with an editorial direction that is mercurial at best. In the thirty years since the Legion was the number two title at DC, the company has rebooted it three times, each time seeing only a temporary boost in sales. The opportunity seems ripe for the Legion to be given a chance in digital format.
The Legion, if given a direction, could benefit from DC’s burgeoning digital publishing model currently home for Smallville Season Eleven, Arrow, Adventures of Superman and Batman ‘66 among others. With at least five different Legions out there in the Multiverse, stories could be told by other writers without the need to pigeonhole everything into the New 52’s timeline. We could see a return of the Threeboot Legion which never got a solid conclusion to half of the storylines Jim Shooter left hanging when the editorial decision was made to return to the Legion of the 1980s. Legion of Three Worlds left us with the rebooted Legion wandering the Multiverse in search of other survivors. Superboy’s Legion by Alan Davis had much of the Silver Age charm of the original Legion but with some concepts turned askew in interesting ways. The Legion highlighted in Kingdom Come could be featured for a return to telling stories geared to the rebooted Legion without the baggage of a destroyed universe. Let’s also not forget that the very dark “five years later” Adult Legion and their teenage duplicate counterparts were wrapped up haphazardly in the reboot of Zero Hour, despite the best laid plans of the authors. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Bierbaums get another chance at telling the story that they wanted to tell with that Legion and their younger counterparts. Heck we could even go back to the Silver Age to tell some lost stories that recreate the feel of of a more innocent time in comics.
The Legion isn’t dead, and if DC doesn’t do something with it, it comes across as being short-sighted. The Legion has a rich history as long as creators are given a chance to work with the raw material and shape a world that they’re passionate about, the Legion could once again be one of DC’s best selling titles in a market moving ever further into the future.