Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Legion of Superheroes

To the Legion of Super-Heroes, I make this solemn pledge: to use my powers for good, to fight for justice and protect the innocent, to aid my fellow Legionnaires in times of peril, and to keep their secrets safe.

Now that I have finished watching the Legion of Superheroes cartoon I think it's time to post a bit more about the background of the Legion. I was toying with the idea of putting this stuff on my other blog because I usually don't put links to watch stuff here. But I found it quite ridiculous to put comic related stuff on the blog I created for my non comic related stuff. So this post is going to be a bit different than my others.

One of the reasons for that is that I'm also doing this post for my sister who's a big legion fan but who is not up to date on current comic events. So I'm writing this like my old posts on the Ivory Tower message board for comic newbies who don't know too much about the Legion. It may be old news to my regular readers but I always wanted to do a proper post about the Legion with all the bells and whistles I add on my other blog. Normally I don't do this much here but I already did a similar thing with my KRABAT post even if it took me three days. Yes, it's really different to my usual comic ramblings that go shooting off into whatever direction occurs to me but I still hope that new readers stumble upon my blog by accident.

Another reason why this is probably not so interesting for my readers in America is that the cartoon already aired on the cartoon network and is available on DVD. Now in Germany it still hasn't been announced on tv and I don't know if it will air at all. So for all who haven't seen it yet I have added links for the episodes. Maybe it would be different if they were showing it on german tv but as long as they don't I suppose it's fair game to post the links.

So first a bit of background info thanks to Don Markstein's Toonopedia :

The Legion of Super Heroes started as little more than props in a Superboy story, but grew inexorably to become one of DC Comics' most popular series — in fact, they did that more than once!

Superboy was inducted into that elite group of young adventurers in Adventure Comics #247 (April, 1958), when its three charter members (Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl and Lightning Boy, later known as Lightning Lad), who hailed from the 30th century, journeyed back in time to meet the first superhero of all during his boyhood years. They all acted out their parts in a routine little story (written by Otto Binder, who had earlier written Captain Marvel and Tommy Tomorrow; and drawn by Al Plastino, who also ghosted several newspaper comics, including Terry & the Pirates and Ferd'nand), then went back home, and that was that.

It may be that they weren't even intended as recurring characters — indeed, more than a year and a half went by before they returned. But even in the early days, they seem to have struck a responsive chord in readers. Maybe it was a combination of the futuristic setting, camaraderie, and age of the members — not much older than the readers themselves. In any case, the Legion began to appear more often. More members turned up — in fact, it was a good bet, from about 1959 through the early '60s, that any unknown superhero who appeared in a Superboy story was connected with the Legion. This fit right in with the trend at DC, where superheroes in general were making a comeback.

They finally got a series of their own in the back pages of Adventure Comics #300 (September, 1962), replacing "Tales of the Bizarro World". Within a year or so, they started encroaching on Superboy's space in that title — in fact, they even crowded him off the cover, where he'd reigned alone since 1946. By the mid-1960s, the Legion was starring in book-length stories, and Superboy was out.

Those stories were at first written by science fiction author Edmond Hamilton, but in 1966 a teenage writer named Jim Shooter made his debut. Shooter wrote the Legion for the rest of its Adventure Comics run, then went on to an illustrious (if controversial) career in comics, which included a lengthy stint as Marvel's editor-in-chief.

Editor Mort Weisinger retired in 1969, and his "Superman Family" comics were divided up among the other DC editors. Several features were shifted around during that period. Among them was the Legion, which switched places with Supergirl. Starting with the June, 1969 issues, she got their book-length Adventure Comics slot and they got her back pages in Action Comics. They languished there for a couple of years, then were transferred to the back pages of Superboy, where they languished a little while longer.

But not too long! Within a few months, they started doing to Superboy in his own comic, what they'd done to him in Adventure. First they got more pages, at his expense. Then the title was changed to Superboy & the Legion of Super Heroes, with the Legion getting the covers. Then Superboy stopped appearing in his own stories, but was present only as a Legion member. With #259 (January, 1980) the title became Legion of Super Heroes, and Superboy was out once again.

Since its Adventure run, the Legion has been through dozens of shifts in creative personnel, even more shifts in membership, and even a couple of reboots. But the series has seldom been out of print, and has certainly never suffered for a lack of enthusiastic fans.

Now the different comic series had some ups and downs in their various incarnations. The one I really followed when I got serious about reading comics in the american original was the one that started after ZERO HOUR. My younger brother had started reading the series more regularly but because they did a reboot with ZERO HOUR he wanted to get the title off his pull list. Well, I wanted to try the new series so we swapped a few comics and I got the part of his legion comics that were drawn by an unknown comic artist named Stuart Immomen ( I wonder whatever became of him ? ) and the title ended up on my pull list.

The whole series started from ground zero and really did a good job of establishing a new continuity and making the legion members characters you could identify with. Instead of just concentrating on the core members it tried to give each member his moment in the spotlight.

And instead of one titles there were two. Before ZERO HOUR there were also two books because in one adventure of the legion they found clones of themselves ( only younger ) and the adventures of the clones were told in the LEGIONNARIES comic while the regular team was in the LEGION OF SUPERHEROES book. I think they did this because the normal legion members had become very old. Instead of Teenagers they were now 30 or 40 years old and had kids and families. By doing the new book DC tried to recapture the spirit of the original stories.

Of course the whole clone thing was a mess ( just ask Spider - Man about his experiences with clones ) and it was cut short by ZERO HOUR rebooting the DC universe. Now after it they kept the second title but instead of having two different teams in two titles they had the same team in two titles. Which meant a double dose of legion goodness every month. Of course they used this to present the adventures of the core members in one book and the adventures of others in the second book on occasion. Or they had one plot line in one book and another argument in the second. I think the best use of both books was when part of the team was lost in time and landed in our aera fighting with the DC heroes against the sun eater. One book followed the exploits of the time travelling team and the other showed what happened to the other members in the 31st century who tried to find their lost friends.

Artwise the title was top notch : one book was drawn by Lee Moder and the other one by Jeffrey Moy who must have restrained himself a bit judging from his sexy commissions you can find on the web. And let's not forget the beautiful Alan Davis covers.

He even did some interior work for an anniversary issue that featured Ferro Lad. Now Ferro Lad was from 20th century Earth - in the new continuity after ZERO HOUR - but despite being a stranger who followed them after FINAL NIGHT to their time he quickly became the heart of the team even if his superpowers weren't the most impressive ones. This book wasn't just about good art it also was about good stories.

It also cared very much about fleshing out the legionnaries and transmit what makes them tick. For me it was one of the first series that really conveyed how frustrating it must be for a twelfth level intellect like Brainiac 5 who has to work with - from his point of view - a bunch of primates. Or that explored how the powers of the different superheroes could be misused with the secret espionage squad working within the legion. And let's not forget Gates with his constant conspiracy theories who uttered such unforgettable phrases like : Sure, because there's such a thing like an ex - earthgov - agent.

And the stories did not just concentrate on superheroics but it also involved themes like intolerance, xenophobia and racism.

The little things in life as well as the big things. There was a story were Cosmic Boy was replaced by someone else from his home planet. At first the other members like Live Wire ( formerly Lightning Lad ) hated his guts because he was just a cheap Cosmo Boy knock off to him and he was always so nice and well behaved. Well, that all changed when the new recruit first lost his powers and then was infected with a terminal disease suffering through the whole thing with tremendous courage and an unbeatable will. It was a different legion but they all were very human.

Maybe that's one of the reasons why I like the legion cartoon so much. It's true that it takes a few liberties in the retelling of the stories and it's a bit weird that they avoid the name Superboy because of legal reasons. But on the other side since Clark has never been Superboy in the continuity after the crisis it wouldn't make sense to mention it to a tv audience that doesn't need to know it.

To make things more interesting instead of three legionnaries showing up in the past and basically just annoy Superboy they show up because they need his help which also makes more sense.

Because let's face it in the original story the Legion of the Superheroes isn't really friendly to Superboy. First they show up and almost give him a heart attack by carelessly spouting his secret identity to the four winds. Than they reveal that they come from the future and invite him to the 31st century only to have him participate in a rigged contest with the only purpose of making him fail.

I mean they say that he inspired them to start the legion and then he has to audition for them ? Hey, if someone comes to me and tells me that I was the big inspiration for his exclusive club the least I expect is that I'm an honorary member for life. Not that I have to wrestle a shaved tauntaun on drugs to see if I'm worthy to be a member of the damn club I inspired. Damn brats of the future. Seems that the concept of gratitude was lost along the facts of Superman's life in the mists of time.

Okay, in the end they reveal that it was all just a test but how cruel is that ? Oh, let's just play with his feeling and crush all his hopes by telling him he's not good enough to join our little superhero club. You might think that they would be as intelligent as avoiding the risk of altering the past by traumatizing young Superboy for life. I mean what would have happened if this experience took Superboy of the path he would later choose by planting the idea he wasn't cut out to be a hero ? They could have erased their own timeline.

Luckily that didn't happen. But still, it's frigthening how cruel the protagonists of those old comics were. Now in the legion cartoon they travel to the past to enlist Superman's help. The only problem is that somehow Brainiac 5 miscalculated their time travel and instead of meeting an experienced Superman they encounter an insecure Clark Kent just before his journey to the big city of Metropolis.

Did you ever notice how often Brainiac 5 miscalculates something and how often it involves time travelling ? It may be that time travelling is not an exact science and by changing the time stream you can change the destination of your journey. Or it may be that Brainiac 5 is not as brilliant as he always says. Or it may be that otherwise the stories would be too boring. Anyway, I think the lesson here is to stay away from time travel, kids.

So instead of the legendary Superman who inspired them to found the legion they get an inexperienced Clark who hasn't tested his superpowers very much and who even doesn't know he can fly. Clark's situation even gets worse when he discovers the Superman museum and is confronted with the legacy his future self leaves behind. Of course he comes trough in the end and decides to stay a bit longer to get a better handle on his powers. Because when time travel is involved it doesn't matter how long he stays since he can return to the exact moment he left. If Brainiac 5 doesn't screw it up again.

One of the things the cartoon shows is how important the legion was for the development of Superman who learned how to better handle his super powers but also what it means to have friends you can depend on. Okay, that's the family part of the cartoon but it's not preachy or something. What I liked was that they choose Bouncing Boy as one of the main characters who is just beyond cool. Of course every legionite knows he's going to end up with Trio Girl but the writers of the cartoon present it in such a way that you don't wonder how a classy babe like her falls for him. They even have the stones to make him team leader.

Anyway, while the first season is all about a few core members and establishing the legion and the 31st century the second season kicks it into overdrive. The story takes place a few years after the first season so the characters are all much older. And not only does it spotlight more members like Starboy, Dreamgirl or Chameleon Boy who joins the regular cast it also presents the Superman of the 41st century. Trying to stop the deadly menace of Imperiex ( who resembles the character from the OUR WORLDS AT WAR storyline ) he enlists the help of the legendary legion but instead of finally beating him they manage to let him loose in the 31st century - thanks to a miscalculation of Brainiac 5. Didn't I call it ? Always the green kid.

So the legion comes back to the 31st century just after Imperiex and to stop him Brainiac 5 decides to get help from the original Superman. As it turns out the Superman from the 41st century is a clone from Superman's DNA samples so why not get help from their old friend ? Well, because the entire 31st century is at stake the legionnaries are in for a surprise when they see the adult Superman exit the time sphere instead of their scrawny little pal. Especially Phantom Girl is overwhelmed.

I don't want to go into more detail than that because that may already be too much information. Let me just say that the LEGION OF SUPERHEROES cartoon has impressed me much and I hope it soon comes to television sets in Germany. Otherwise I just have to get the spanish version or order the originla DVDs through Diamond. If you want to know more about he cartoon I have included links to reviews as well as episode guides. And of course there are the cartoons themselves you can watch. As always there are also links for more Legion info. Now this selection is totally random and doesn't claim to include every important legion website. But I hope there is something useful for you here after all.

For more information about the Legion :

Legion of Superheroes ( comic ) at wikipedia

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Legion but were afraid to ask : Legionpedia / Legion of Superheroes ( cartoon ) at wikipedia

review Legion of Superheroes / review first DVD / review second DVD

Legion review for families / Episode Guide on Supermanhomepage

Now I thought about embedding the episodes on the blog but the clip started playing immediately. And you don't want to load a page with 26 episodes loading at the same time. So here are some links where you can watch the episodes :

Episodes Season One

Episode 1 - Man of Tomorrow / Episode 2 - Timber Wolf

Episode 3 - Legacy / Episode 4 - Phantoms

Episode 5 - Champions / Episode 6 - Fear Factory

Episode 7 - Brain Drain / Episode 8 - Lightning Storm

Episode 9 - The Substitutes / Episode 10 - Child´s Play

Episode 11 - Chain of Command / Episode 12 - Sundown part 1

Episode 13 - Sundown part 2

Episodes Season Two

For a lot of episodes on this season I couldn´t find the original links so I embedded the videos from YouTube which was a real f - storm. I just hope the videos are going to stay a while there unlike some others I had posted.

Now have some fun and watch those cartoons already.

Episode 1 - The Man form the edge of Tomorrow part 1

Episode 2 - The Man from the edge of Tomorrow part 2

Episode 3 - Cry Wolf

Episode 4 - Chained Lightning

Episode 5 - The Karate Kid

Episode 6 - Who am I

Episode 7 - Unnatural Alliances

Episode 8 - Message in a Bottle


Episode 9 - In the Beginning

Episode 10 - Trials / Episode 11 - In your dreams

Episode 12 - Dark Victory part 1alternative link

Episode 13 - Dark Victory part 2alternative link

I hope you like the show and maybe it gave you an urge to check out those weird funny papers. See you in 1000 years.

New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN : top ten posts / more posts of interest

Long live the Legion !


Anonymous said...

Hi I have not had time to read the whole thing but I did read the part where you said that Brainiac 5 messes up alot well I say he SO does not mess up he has a 12-level inteligence and does not make mistakes he probably knew that they had to help Superman to realize his potential.
p.s.I did accidently see this and thx for writing the history and whatever. You'll be hearing from me again.

Brainiac 5 Fan

SUBZERO said...

Well, I HOPE he messes up. Because the only other explanation would be that he´s just cruel or doesn´t care.

If he didn´t mess up he just decided to get the unexperienced Superboy without consulting the others. It means he risked the survival of the 31st century just to help out Superbboy.

Cool for Superboy but risky for the rest of humanity - and the United Planets.

ÄI mean it´s totally possible that all these " blunders " Brainy does are totally intentional.....but isn´t that much crueler ?

Anonymous said...

Ok I admit he messes up sometimes but dosen't it make sense that he hnew that Superman needed help? I mean he keeps ALOT of secrets.
p.s.He is NOT cruel. He just was not human and so did not understand that sometimes doing the most logical thing is just not logical.

Brainiac 5 Fan