Legion of Super-Heroes: 1,050 Years of the Future

January 1, 2010

Of the 3 main DC super-groups, the Legion of Super-Heroes took me the longest to appreciate. I just didn’t get it for a good stretch of my salad days. The Justice Society of America and the Justice League of America are pretty obvious from the get-go. One works like a family, the other a team of professionals, a corporation. Both are about forgetting the kid you may be and dreaming of punching the daylights out of cosmos-threatening villains with the body, skill, and exponential force of an adult. So hitting anyone to solve tactical problems is still rather juvenile, but look, you are never just dumb because you fantasize too much. Superheroes are supposed to be who you escape into to do the things you can’t do in real life so as to gain clarity for your deepest and purest ideals. No comic geek (help me out here, guys) is going to jump out of the window in a belief that he or she can suddenly attain some unconditional power of flight…

The Legion of Super-Heroes seemed to have spoilt all that empowering self-delusion for me. It would surely be counter-productive to introduce into my fantasy world a bunch of thinly-differentiated super-powered kids. Come on — kids? Lightning Lad? Saturn Girl? Cosmic Boy? So what if they have out-of-the-world campy abilities, and they live in the “same” reality (read DC continuity) over 1,000 years into the future. Yes, they may save the universe, many universes even, and they may champion the tradition of heroes while preserving the sacred timeline. But, at the end of the day (or millennium), they are still kids. They don’t set up shop with a Hall of Justice: they have a club-house. They call it a club-house. They uphold some silly oath of honour and make up membership rules and initiation rites. They wave fairy wands, wear sorority rings, and zap each other for fun. They discuss their favourite Superman adventures and gush, swoon, rave, stutter, and go blurry-eyed in the presence of their idol-in-the-making, Superboy.

So what’s going on? These traits break a major rule in Escapism 101: kids reading about other kids doing cool but ultimately kiddish stuff is plain uncool. If you climb into an arcade cockpit and insert a dollar, you want to believe that you are in a fighter jet or a stealth bomber, not an arcade cockpit. You’d think that this was self-evident to any writer-creator. If he’s going to be condescending towards my infantile hobby, at least he needn’t rub it in my face. And this is especially true for adult readers. One just doesn’t read comics to be reminded that one is still stuck in pathetica, that the geek-in-shorts who the comic shop owners couldn’t chase out is still somewhere inside snotting in glee. Being caught admitting that comics are for kids is like being caught reading Wonder Woman. Alright, I’m going on record to say that Wonder Woman actually has a lot of decent action adventures, but you will barely find comic fanboys jumping in to admit that they know enough to comment!

Thanks to this volume collecting some of the most significant stories in the Legion’s 50 years in DC business, I finally understand what this is all about. The whole environment is a living allegory, a more-or-less self-reflexive portrait of the comic reader’s promise to his or her own life. It is a pictorial manifesto, a belief in a future where, through the revolution of comics, we bind ourselves each to each through a childlike faith in justice, camaraderie, and perseverance. That out-of-time Superboy or Supergirl is us in a foreign world we can still believe in because the joys and thrills of childhood are timeless and universal. In every person is the same kid, wishing only for a playmate and an unassuming friend, with rules made up along a road that is analogous to life. In every kid is also a simplicity where each enemy, even one like Lex Luthor or Mr Mxyzptlk, is but a future friend — and Legion reality turns this point into a fixture through its most endearing character, Brainiac 5. And the Legionnaires, on the whole, are also us, us celebrating the defining pleasures of our youth, epitomised by the Superboy/Superman these future heroes hero-worship. They know their comics/history and, by drawing strength and faith from such knowledge, they create adventures through which their own ideals come alive time and again.

This magnificent collection draws such threads through the stories told first by Otto Binder, Superman creator Jerry Siegel, then Jim Shooter, Paul Levitz, and, more recently, Mark Waid, Dan Abnett, and Andy Lanning. Shooter, we remind ourselves, actually cut his teeth on this title as a 13-year-old wunderkind; so did a 18-year-old Levitz. The book includes Superboy’s famous first trip into the 30th century, the classic tale of Lightning Lad’s death, always an obligatory one on Ferro Lad, that “The Future is Forever” epic, and more. What is also thrilling is — for once with a DC reprint (and I’m hardly exaggerating) — we get interspersed with the stories loving extras such as memorable covers and pin-ups, the Legion Constitution, and generous profiles of key Legionnaires. While the selection introduces the Golden- and Silver-Age Legion more with very little on its rebooted versions, this book works well as a companion to DC future’s more recent revelations. It will, for example, give you some idea about what geekoid Geoff Johns has been doing with these kids on a meta-textual level. I think that, all in all, the collection must rank among the best reprints DC has the foresight, imagination, and non-corporate Legionnaire innocence to pull together. So to infinity and — oh wait, wrong cartoon.

Gweek gives this itinerary of futuristic adventures 8 blasts to the time barrier.


One Response to “Legion of Super-Heroes: 1,050 Years of the Future”

  1. Loffrobia Says:

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    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Christian, iwspo.net

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