BOOK LOG 58: LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (THE MODERN VERSION)
Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes: The Early Years; When Evil Calls; The Choice; Consequences; Volume 1 (Hostile World); Volume 2 (The Dominators); Volume 3 (The Fatal Five); Legion Lost; Great Darkness Saga
Various authors and artists
DC Comics Entertainment
Instead of telling you about the prose books I’ve been reading (or editing), I should tell you about the graphic novels I’ve been reading this year, from time to time, in between projects. There are other graphic novels I’ve been reading (manga, actually, but I’ll tell you about those another day), but since I have a lot of Legion books near me right now, I figured I should tell you why these are memorable.
First (of course there’s a first; how else would I set the scene, aside from a literal “As you know”?), I got interested in comics and the Legion in particular when I was a teenager. From then on I read them voraciously, got in contact with others of a similar comic persuasion (by mail; these were years long before the Internet, my children), wrote letters to the editors of the comic books, even sold a few stories, and worked at a comic company for a short while. Let me sum all this up by saying I was intrigued. Of particular interest to me were the stories about the Legion of Super-Heroes.
The Legion was first introduced in the late 1950s, about a group of three teenagers with amazing powers from the 30th century inviting Superboy to join their club. The stories about their adventures that ran in the 1960s had a particular cachet because a number of the most memorable were written by a teenaged boy named Jim Shooter, often inspired by whatever he was studying in junior high and later high school. Stories by a teenager about teenagers! These were stories about Superboy and his pals when he went into the 30th century, teenaged heroes with names like Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy and Brainiac 5 and Matter-Eater Lad. (Yes, Matter-Eater Lad, often named as one of the most ludicrously titled. But logical. Again, a topic for another day.)
Later on, I found out that there were other readers who also found them of interest, one of whom I married (yes, dear reader). To this day, I count many as friends. I stopped reading comics after a few years because other matters took precedence (making a steady living, among others), but I kept the Legion close to my heart. (Considering by then I was married to someone who could cite issue number and other details of the early Legion stories, it was always going to stick around.) The Legion kept popping up in DC books in various forms, and even though Marvel was getting accolades for their group and teen books (do the Avengers and the X-Men strike a chord?), the Legion were generally mocked (Matter-Eater Lad often mentioned in the mockery).
Skip to the present day (finally! You say). The Legion has changed a lot since I first read them back in the 1960s. They’ve gotten older, they’ve lost members (the team even has a hall of fallen heroes), they’ve gone through turmoil, all reflecting not only their readership but the turmoil and complexity of the world and society. I liked a lot of the storylines (a lot of it could have used blunt editing, frankly, but there’s a reason I wouldn’t work there), a lot of the art worked while a lot didn’t (pretty pictures don’t tell a story), but there was enough that I kept reading.
Of particular interest was the storyline about a xenophobic character named Earth-Man who’s turned down for membership to the Legion, and in retaliation, he builds up another super-hero society and attempts to destroy the Legion. He calls himself as Earth-Man because he views the Legionnaires not from Earth to be an infection, a detriment to the world, and becomes a terrorist. (I told you it reflects modern society.) He’s foiled by the Legion, goes to jail—but in a twist, he’s forced to join the Legion, even as he keeps in touch with his xenophobic terrorist allies, plotting to kill the Legion and its offworlder components. He doesn’t want to be there; the feeling is mutual. How he changes made for interesting reading (along the way, he sleeps with a blue-skinned Legionnaire, so yes, he does have to change). In all, I found it worth reading.
(Matter-Eater Lad? His world and everything in it was poisoned, so to survive the people had to adapt to eat every- and anything. See? Very logical!)
Coming up: West of Everything by Jane Tompkins