Monday, November 2, 2009

How Can I Join the Legion of Super-Heroes?

I enjoy being transported. Happily, not like criminals to Australia. Sadly, not like Dr. McCoy on Star Trek. But transported to an entirely new imaginary realm- especially of the futurey-looking kind. Such as that of the 51-years-young DC comic team: The Legion of Super-Heroes.
It has everything I love in a story; all the 7 'S's: Sci-Fi, Superheroes, Sexiness, Smarts, Surprises, and Sarcasm-Spiced Sweetness. I also adore alliteration, which is neither here nor there.
The LOSH started as a gimmick in a 1958 Superboy comic: what if there was a club for teenage alien super-heroes a thousand years in the future- and they wanted Superboy as a member? He wouldn't have to hide his secret identity from them, he'd finally have a place to belong, and THEY could pal around with their historical idol. So the LOSH kept showing up (in Action Comics, Adventure Comics, and the other Superman family of titles) to help Clark, or invite him along on an adventure in the future, then drop him back in Smallville that same afternoon. Over the years they became more than just a gimmick or deus ex machina, their membership growing to dozens, then dozens more, all from different planets with different powers and backstories. Their future was utopian, weird, and as wild as the strangest imaginations of some very strange DC writers. And it got so detailed, so space-operatic, so darn-right convoluted that it seeemingly alienated new readers. 'What are these pages full of spandez clad weirdies and why should I care?' DC had it re-launched over and over to try to start it fresh. That means there are (not counting the cartoon continuities) 6(?) different versions of the LOSH. There's the Pre-Crisis Legion from Otto Binder to Jim Shooter to Paul Levitz in the 50s through the 70s. The Post-Crisis Legion from Levitz & Keith Giffen and company. The short-lived magic war reality when Mordru and Glorith conquered the universe and changed everyone's histories. The Post-Zero Hour Legion reboot. The Post-Infinite Crisis reboot. And the Present version of the Future (which is possibly the same as the Past Post-Crisis?) Even listing them makes me sound crazier than Brainiac the First, stuffing cities into bottles.
So, assuming you WANT to read such a twisted space-epic, where would you start? My first exposure to the Legion was in an '80's John Byrne Superman comic which was in the process of removing Superboy from the Legion's backstory. They had chosen to erase Superboy altogether, which meant cutting the Legion adrift. It was like Hogwarts without Harry Potter to ground it in reality. I must admit- I had no idea who they were, what was going on, was intimidated by their sheer numbers, and too disinterested in a book labelled 'DC' to seek them out again for years.
Well, I might suggest my OWN jumping on point: the Great Darkness Saga. Late seventies, Paul Levitz writing, and some very cool grife hitting the radioactive fans. It's immediately gripping and it references the past without relying on it. Also, it's the farthest back normal people can afford to buy in single issues, or more recently as a trade.
Then again, it's not too expensive to shell out for the black and white showcase reprints, mostly by Otto Binder, probably. The fifties and sixties can be yours in all their crazy-ass Silver Age glory. Your benefit here if you can stomach the rambling and bizarre atomic age 'science' and goofy 'kiddie' stories is that the poor saps who didn't get their names on these things were CREATIVE with a capital C. New characters seemed to arrive by the handful every month and they're still the ones they use today. I like these, despite their limitations. I like starting at the beginning. The Superman and Flash and Green Lantern I read from this period seem somehow childish, repetitious, or worn out, but the LOSH feels clever and innovative to me. But I'm a guy who finds the Legion of Super-Pets kind of charming.
Or... if you want to jump aboard with no baggage at all, there's Mark Waid and Barry Kitson's 2005 reboot. It's just fantastic. This re-imagining supplies its own world, no backstories required, and benefits from the laser-sharp minds giving new spins to the old concepts. Like: Colossal Boy isn't a guy who can grow huge- he's from a race of giants and can shrink himself to a paltry six feet tall. He wants the others to call him 'Micro Lad'. One of the cooler concepts of this period is the conceit that the Legion is not just a club- it is literally LEGION. It is a rebellion tens of thousands strong, a galactic youth movement away from the overly insular, security and segregation-minded adults of the year 3005.
Mark Waid would've had you start with Jim Shooter's stories in the 60's which are also peachy keen, I suspect.
If none of these starting points appeal to you, the Geoff Johns stuff going on in Action Comics last year and Adventure Comics even as I yammer is typical Johns: that is to say mind-blowing. He makes it all seem brand new yet he never seems to throw the past away. I love his take (and Gary Frank's art) on the seminal moment of LOSH: when the 3 Legion founders (magnetic Cosmic Boy, electric Lightning Lad, and telepath Saturn Girl) meet Clark Kent for the first time.
It's not for everyone. Maybe part of the the fun of it is that all Legion fans 'come in alone' and either get swept up in an elaborate fantasy or give up the first time someone says Bgtzl. So everyone who finds it can feel like they were the first one there. So forget who introduced you, launch your time sphere into the vortex, and start (as the Buzzcocks sang) : 'Surfing on a wave of nostalgia for an age yet to come'.

1 comment:

Brainy Pirate said...

Ah, but if they give up as soon as someone says Bgtzl, they aren't truly fans, are they???