The Legion of Super-Heroes at 50: Talking to Jim Shooter

The Legion at 50: Jim Shooter

It was superheroes meets science fiction. In 1958, a fraternity of flying teens from the future first appeared in Adventure Comics #247 as the Legion of Super-Heroes was introduced to comic book readers.

A few years later, a 14-year-old named Jim Shooter wrote his first story about the Legion of Super-Heroes in 1966's Adventure Comics #346. Over the next decade, Shooter would help define the characters that won the hearts of DC Comics readers, making his mark on a team that is not only still around 50 years after their introduction, but is at the center of this summer's Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds mini-series.

Newsarama celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Legion of Super-Heroes this week with a look back at what makes this concept so compelling to the people who have created the stories over the years, and a look forward at what's coming up for the futuristic heroes. We start with Jim Shooter, who returned to the characters last year when he took over the Legion of Super-Heroes ongoing series more than 30 years after his last story in 1976 about the superhero team of the future.

Newsarama: Jim, let's start back before you ever wrote the Legion. When you were just a fan of the Legion, what was it about them that really captured your interest as a young person?

Jim Shooter: I wasn’t actually a fan of the Legion. I loved the idea of it — young heroes in the future — but the comics weren’t my favorites. What caught my attention were the covers. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Adventure Comics featuring Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes had some really wonderful, intriguing covers. I was usually disappointed by the stories. The Legion seemed to have incredible potential that was untapped.

NRAMA: Once you started writing them, did you discover new things about them?

JS: At first, I modeled the Legionnaires’ personalities after my high school classmates’. I thought I was cheating, that a “real” writer would be able to make everything up. I soon learned that real writers did that too. As I went along, however — the cliché thing to say is that they took on lives of their own — but it’s true, they sort of did come alive in my imagination and become more real to me. As I worked with them, and as they interacted, I found myself discovering things, realizing things about them that I didn’t expect — and I got to know them better than I knew any of my classmates.

I also discovered how really wonderful the idea of the Legion is. It’s set in a non-dystopian future, which is refreshing these days, with limitless possibilities. The heroes are young men and women who are ordinary on their own worlds who become heroes because they want to be. They’re off on a magnificently noble, naïve quest to make a difference in the universe. Throw in the raging hormones that come along with their ages and it’s a writer’s dream.

NRAMA: Is that why you think their appeal has lasted all these years?

JS: Yes. Also, I would say that during the 1960s, the Legionnaires "aged" a bit — moved from seeming very young-teen to near-adult-teen. So did a lot of the older fans. So did I. We all grew up together! Nothing comparable has ever happened in comics. I doubt that anything like that has ever happened in serialized entertainment of any kind. Therefore, there is a hard core of people, like me, who love the LSH, who have been indoctrinating newbies ever since.

NRAMA: Past visions of the future often start to feel dated after awhile, but the Legion future has remained pretty constantly appealing. What is it about this vision of the future that has translated well to audiences over several decades?

JS: The fact that it’s a positive future is key, I think. I know I’m weary of post-apocalyptic futures. Also, it’s a “recognizable” future — not so different or weird that people can’t relate. Technology is advanced, but people — beings — are the same, and most things track with experiences today.

NRAMA: What are the things that you've contributed to the Legion of which you're the most proud?

JS: I don’t know. A few characters, a few opponents… I guess the best thing I did was not totally screw it up. I think I preserved, and built upon, the vision of the founding creators.

NRAMA: Who are your favorite Legion members?

JS: The original three, I guess: Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl — though I love them all.

NRAMA: Let's talk about your current run on Legion of Super-Heroes. What was your goal for the series, and do you feel like you're achieving it?

JS: I want the characters to come alive for the readers the way they’ve come alive for me. I hope to introduce enough things that are new, interesting and exciting that readers just can’t wait to see what happens next. I hope to tell a story so compelling that they don’t dare look away. I feel like I’m doing my best. I have no doubts that Steve “Magic” Wands will execute the lettering with his usual rare excellence, so… if my stories are good, if Francis Manapul and Livesay convey them well enough in the art, if JD Smith’s coloring serves the story, if production does its job properly, if it all comes together, then I think we have a chance of achieving the goal. The readers will let us know if we succeed.

NRAMA: Are you on the Legion long-term?

JS: As long as they'll have me.

NRAMA: What's been the most fun thing about returning to these characters and reviving them through their new series?

JS: It’s been fun getting to know them all over again. Mark Waid did the heavy lifting part of “reviving” the characters, and some have been changed since last I wrote them, but, for the most part it’s been done in interesting ways that I can relate to.

NRAMA: What's coming up in the series?

JS: Let’s see… there will be a bunch of new opponents introduced, four new Legionnaires, an engagement, a tragic death, major changes in a couple of long-established Legionnaires, two returns, two departures and a partridge in a pear tree.

NRAMA: Do you think the Legion will be around another 50 years from now?

JS: It wouldn’t surprise me. There’s something wonderful about this series. Even if it were to go away for a while, it’ll be back.

NRAMA: Any chance you'll be writing it?

JS: I’d only be 107. Why not?

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