DC has revealed that the iconic, cosmic Legion of Super-Heroes are returning this fall and will have their own ongoing title by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Ryan Sook.
Fans of DC may be asking, what’s so important about the Legion of Super-Heroes? While the Legion has been touched upon in other media (including the Smallville TV show and DC’s animated universe), the team itself has been missing from DC continuity for several years now.
And although one character (Saturn Girl) kept popping up in the lead-up to the universe-altering series Doomsday Clock, there hasn’t been a lot of information about the Legion during the current “Rebirth” era.
So in anticipation of their reintroduction to DC continuity, Newsarama examines what you need to know about the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Teenagers from the Future
The Legion has been around as a DC property for more than a half-century, and at some points in the past, it’s been one of DC’s more popular teams.
First introduced in Adventure Comics #247 in 1958, the Legion of Super-Heroes is a group of super-powered teenagers from 1,000 years in the future who were inspired by the legend of Superman.
The team’s introductory story featured three leaders of the Legion traveling back in time to visit a young Clark Kent.
Shining 31st Century
In subsequent Legion stories, readers were introduced to an awe-inspiring 31st Century where inhabited planets from all over the galaxy joined together to form a governmental body called “United Planets.”
The Legion was made up of young people from throughout the U.P. who wanted to make the world a better place. They had their own super-cool headquarters and wore flight rings that allowed them to travel through the air.
Keith Giffen, who both drew and wrote the Legion of Super-Heroes in the late '80s and early '90s, summed up the team’s popularity during the Silver Age of comic books when he told Newsarama:
“[Legion] was one of the only ongoing science fiction series [at the time] that put forward a positive future. That made it stand out … There were threats and all that came roaring in, but for the most part, it was flight rings and snazzy headquarters and a fun future. The Legion is the idea that the science we have now did what it was supposed to do and made our lives better.”
While later incarnations of the Legion lost some of the Space Age hopefulness that informed the original team, the core idea of young people uniting to improve the universe remained.
Dan Abnett, who co-wrote Legion stories with Andy Lanning, his frequent collaborator, told Newsarama: “The Legion has survived because it's a thoroughly appealing future … it's been made over several times, but even the most extreme makeovers have retained the basic essence of the Legion."
The origin of the Legion has been told in a few different versions over the years, but three characters on the team play a central role as founders: Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, and Cosmic Boy.
They’ve sometimes been called by different names, but their stories usually go like this:
- Saturn Girl is Imra Ardeen from Titan (one of Saturn’s moons), who has the power of telepathy;
- Cosmic Boy is Rokk Krinn from Braal, and is able to control electromagnetic fields;
- Lightning Lad is Garth Ranzz from Winath, who has the power to control electricity.
The three met each other when they saved the life of the U.P.’s founder, R.J. Brande, and he’s the one who encouraged them to follow in the footsteps of the superheroes from 1,000 years before.
Geoff Johns, who’s written the Legion in both comic books and television (and is featuring Saturn Girl in the current Doomsday Clock), explained to Newsarama:
“Cosmic Boy is like the all-around leader who puts it all on his shoulders, but he's magnetic. His powers are all about magnetics, and so it carries over to his personality. And he struggles to bring all the Legion back together. He's like, "We can do this! We can bring it together!" It comes naturally to him. Whereas Lightning Lad is like, ‘You know what? Whatever happens, happens. Screw it.’
“And Saturn Girl tempers them. Saturn Girl is the heart and soul of the Legion of Super-Heroes. … She can read people's minds. ... She says, ‘We can do this.’ And it's like, well, if she believes it, then I believe it too.“
Super-Inspired and Super-Inspiring
In most incarnations of the Legion of Super-Heroes, the team was inspired specifically by the legacy of Superman.
As Johns told Newsarama: “All these aliens coming together – like a Durlan and a Braalian and someone from Imsk – coming together and standing side by side, and fighting for what Superman taught the entire universe: Truth, justice and the (to them, ancient) American Way. You see these Legionnaires striving to do what Superman did, striving to be heroes to a universe; where Superman was a hero to Earth, they're going for the whole universe. And it's not an easy job.”
And in some origin stories, including their debut, they traveled back in time and inspired Superman himself.
Johns explained the loop that occurred because of the Legion’s time travel to the present DCU: “Those characters helped teach Superman all about truth, justice and the American way. And if you look at each of them, they all represent one of those. You have Saturn Girl who's embodying truth. You have Lightning Lad embodying justice, sometimes to a fault. You have Cosmic Boy embodying the American way. He's the leader, the one trying to bring all these aliens together, and the one who hopes for a better tomorrow.”
Lots of Cool Kids
Over the years, there have been dozens of members come and go from the Legion team. Some of them became mainstays, like the super-smart Brainiac 5 and the self-duplicating Triplicate Girl, while others were strange additions that didn’t take as well, like the often-joked-about Matter-Eater Lad, who, yes, ate things.
Mark Waid, who's had a hand in introducing two versions of the Legion, said this giant roster helped the team stay popular. Fans of the Legion kept track of the various heroes similar to how the X-books spawned dozens of mutants for those fans to follow.
“The cast is so huge and so sprawling that there's somebody there for everybody," Waid told Newsarama. "And you get that great sort of feeling of, I'm a fan of this one character that nobody else likes, but that's OK. That's my special attachment to Shrinking Violet or Timberwolf or whatever. It's like when you find this band that nobody else knows is cool yet. You get that sense that I know something that nobody else gets. And I think that's a big part of the Legion's appeal."
Three Became One
If Bendis’ run on Young Justice is any indication, the writer will probably honor what happened in past Legion of Super-Heroes stories while also making the Legion of Super-Heroes his own.
So, just as a brief overview of past Legion continuity, there were mainly three teams in past DC continuity that called themselves the Legion of Super-Heroes: The original Legion, the Zero Hour reboot of the 1990’s, and what’s usually called the “Threeboot” from the 2000’s.
But eventually, Johns merged all three teams in Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds in 2008.
Since that continuity-condensing story, the Legion of Super-Heroes have appeared periodically, including two titles that launched during the "New 52 reboot" in 2011.
But the most recent ongoing Legion of Super-Heroes, written by legendary Legion writer and former DC Publisher Paul Levitz, ended in 2013 and left the door open for a reboot. At the time, Levitz told Newsarama, “Whatever's coming next for the Legion or the 31st Century DCU, it isn't my stories … I'll be waiting with you to see.”
In the “Rebirth” era of the DCU (since 2016), there have been a few sightings of Legion-related concepts and characters. (For example, an apparent ancestor of the Legion’s Phantom Girl stars in The Terrifics.)
But one key, current-day appearance is important to know about: Saturn Girl, a founding member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, is appearing in the event title Doomsday Clock, which is explaining the origins of the “Rebirth” era.
In Doomsday Clock #7, Saturn Girl revealed that she was sent to the present (from the future) to “help cleanse the time stream of an unknown anomaly that threatens” Superman.
She’s been pursuing this mission in the present DCU for some time, appearing first in May 2016’s DC Universe: Rebirth #1, the one-shot that created the “Rebirth” era.
So far, she’s helped expose how Dr. Manhattan meddled in the past of the DCU and changed continuity.
Presumably, the 31st Century depends on correcting the timeline in Doomsday Clock. (And it’s probably safe to assume that she and the other heroes will succeed by the end of Doomsday Clock later this year.)
Best Stories of the Past
Those are the main points you need to know about the Legion of Super-Heroes.
But if you care to dig a little deeper….
A little over a decade ago, the Legion of Super-Heroes celebrated its 50-year anniversary. At the time, Newsarama asked several of the leading Legion creators from the past to list their favorite stories — including recommendations from the original run’s popular scribe Jim Shooter.
The list they created can be explored in detail here. But for the sake of just “what you need to know,” we’ll end with a list:
- The team’s first appearance in Adventure Comics #247, when three teenagers from the future traveled back in time to visit their inspiration, Superboy.
- The team’s origin story in Superboy #147, which described their heroic actions to save R.J. Brande.
- Adventure Comics #353, which was written by then-13-year-old Shooter and featured Ferro Lad’s sacrifice, a heroic yet shocking death for a 1966 comic book story.
- Adventure Comics #369, the first Mordru story that featured an amazing cliffhanger.
- The 1978 “Earthwar” storyline from Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, an early standout from Levitz’s now-legendary career writing the Legion.
- The death of Karate Kid, another heroic death (this time in Vol. 3 issue #4, during Levitz’s run) that had a great effect on fans from that era.
- The “Five Years Later” period of the Legion by writer/artist Ketih Giffen, which explored a darker period for the team in the more gritty era of DC Comics (launching with a new Legion of Super-Heroes #1 in 1989).
- Legion of Super-Heroes #0: The Beginning of Tomorrow, which launched the Zero Hour Legion and introduced new characters to the mythos.
- The 2000-2001 “Legion Lost” collected story from the Abnett/Lanning era of the Legion.
- “The Great Darkness Saga,” a five-issue storyline created by Levitz and Giffen in 1982. It’s probably the best-loved story among current-day Legion fans and has been hailed by subsequent writers as one of the best ever.