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So a while back I mentioned in a footnote to this post that the above comic book, Superboy #208 from April 1975, was the first comic book I ever read featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes. Now, I don’t recall if I read this when it was new (which would be probably January or February 1975, given the usual difference between cover dates and the actual release dates) and I was five years old, or if my original copy was purchased from a used book store a bit later, when I was around, say, seven years old.
Either way, I was quite the young fellow when I was exposed to that weird-ass story where Lightning Lad stepped out of a spaceship left foot first, bad luck on his planet, and ended up losing an arm because of said bad luck! Okay, things weren’t quite what they seemed, but still, that stuck in my head for years, along with several other images and bits of dialogue from this issue that floated around in my brain. I’d long since lost my original copy, but picked up a replacement sometime later at my previous place of employment.
Now, at my current place of employment (being Sterling Silver Comics, located in the heart of lovely Camarillo, CA), I bought another collection of 1970s comics that was heavy on the Superman and Superboy comics. And in this collection was yet another copy of Superboy #208 (said copy scanned and posted above). As I was processing the collection, I did what I sometimes like to do with old comics and glace at the letters page, looking for missives from future comic creators, customers of mine from either shop (more common that you’d think!), or letters from around my local area. I never recalled doing this with my own copy of #208, so I went ahead and checked this copy, and wouldn’t you know it, there’s a letter from someone from my own hometown:
…and that’s pretty neat an’ all, but I started thinking. As I recall, perhaps not every letter that appeared in these old comics were, shall we say, on the up-and-up. As in, “not actually written and sent in by real readers.” Whether it was just to fill up space, or to lead into a plug for other comics, or whatever, sometimes there was a little fudging of the truth in those letter columns. (I don’t know if the practice continues today, though in the ’90s a pal had a letter printed in a particular superhero comic that was edited from being critical to being quite praising, so there were still shenanigans of some sort going on.)
Anyway, this only comes to mind because two of the main drags in Oxnard, California are “Rose Avenue” and “Gonzales Road,” which actually intersect not too far from where I’m living now. Now, “Rose Gonzales” is hardly a rare or unusual name or anything, but that certainly seemed like quite the coincidence, like someone needed a name to attach to a letter (or a seeming excerpt from a letter), whipped out the Book o’Maps, picked “Oxnard” for the letter writer’s city, and picked out a couple street names to comprise the name as a gag. (I regularly spot letters with “Oxnard” or nearby “Ventura” addresses in ’60s and ’70s comics, so I imagine the city names were at least somewhat familiar to some editors.)
Now I have no idea if that’s what happened…granted, seems like a lot of work just to create authenticity for a line or two of inconsequential text to fill space in a layout. Could just as easily been “Mary Smith of New York” and it’s not like anyone was going to check. And I certainly can’t check now, as anyone involved in the editorial process here is either, um, departed, or not going to want to take any calls from a dude asking about 40-year-old letter columns they don’t remember.
I just thought it was an oddly interesting thing to note in this old comic that I have strong nostalgic feelings for…that now has an even stronger connection with its ties, real or spurious, to my hometown.
From the Question File, DavidG doesn’t make it easy on me with
“In the long run, The Legion of Superheroes never recovered from the Post Zero Hour reboot, in which baby boomers destroyed years of continuity in a misguided, nostalgia based decision to make the Legionnaires teenagers again, even though they were more popular as adults. Discuss.”
Yeah, well, that was somethin’, wasn’t it? I think, in its defense, and in the short term, the Zero Hour reboot worked, as the twisted timelines/multiple Legions hoohar was resolved in an effective and not entirely unemotional manner during a DC Universe-wide event. And, unlike the usual shoehorning of the Legion into these events (difficult, given the Legion was set 1,000 years later than the rest of the DCU), it actually seemed to fit about as naturally as these things can.
Now, the problem here is that a lot of the appeal of the Legion is its soap opera aspect, with decades of character development and relationships mixed in with the superhero action, creating a significant fanbase in the process. The Legionnaires whose lives you were following in, say, the 1980s were essentially the same Legionnaires that started to be introduced in Adventure Comics #247 (1958) and continued to pop up for many years following. There were the occasional reboot or retcon (the whole post-Crisis Superboy thing, the “Five Years Later” timejump) but you can still draw a line from the beginning of the Legion to, well, the end as represented by the Zero Hour tie-in.
With that Zero Hour conclusion to the Legion saga as we knew it, the chain was broken. Granted, Legion fandom wasn’t what it once was by the time Zero Hour rolled around (what comic’s fandom was?), but that was the final break between What Had Come Before and What DC Was Going to Try to Attempt in the Future. Even Crisis on Infinite Earths didn’t cut off the Legion’s progression, despite throwing some serious monkey wrenches into the works (like, as previously noted, the whole Superboy thing).
For longtime Legion fans, that was a lot of investment in the characters that was seemingly just discarded by DC, but in DC’s defense, they couldn’t depend on just the longtime Legion fans to support the title. They had to pursue new readers and build the audience for this particular franchise, and usually the #1 strategy comic publishers go to when trying to bump up sales numbers is, well, new #1s. Or in this case, #0s, where as part of the Zero Hour event issue #0s were released in which the status quos of DC’s various titles were reestablished. And, in the case of the Legion titles, the adventures were rebooted…started from scratch and presenting a hopefully fresh, new jumping on point for readers previously intimidated by the decades of backstory.
It worked, for a while anyway, and as I recall it sold reasonably well at least for our shop, gathering some new readers as hoped, and old Legion fans (like me) sticking around out of curiosity and, oh, because the comics were actually pretty good. This version of the Legion went through some interesting permutations, I thought, including the dark but still enjoyable Legion Lost mini-series, which followed the end of the previous Legion comics.
There were a couple more series set in that Legion continuity, but eventually (and presumably sparked by a need to improve sales) a new Legion series was launched, rebooting from scratch again. It was a fun comic, I thought, with some new takes on old characters, but this reboot of the Legion only made it five years (versus the second reboot’s ten years), and then suddenly we were into our next rebooting of the Legion, which was actually more of a reinstalling of a back-up of the original Legion continuity into then-current DC continuity (with some minor tweaks here and there to jibe with the DCU as a whole).
Following that was a mini-series connected to the Final Crisis event, in which all three (or three and a half, depending on how you feel about that last reboot-ish thing) versions of the Legion encounter each other, and I think it was around this point that I sorta lost the Legion thread. I love the Legion, I read ’em for years, and it was even the only extended DC Archives hardcover set that I collected. But after reboot and relaunch and wait we didn’t mean to reboot it again let’s go back to how it was before…I couldn’t do it any more. Like I said, one of the appealing aspects of the Legion was getting immersed in the soap-operatic nature of the stories, but the multiple reboots just gave me the feeling of “well, if they write themselves into a corner, they’ll just reboot instead of trying to write themselves out of it” and that sort of soured me on the books.
I realize this is a complaint you can have about ANY comic that has a history of rebooting/restarting…I’m guessing DC’s New 52 relaunch hit a lot of people this way. But specifically with the Legion, with such a long history behind the title, to see what was special about it fragmented this way, was disappointing. The reboots seem to have shorter and shorter lives, with the New 52 version of the team (which I guess was still more or less the original continuity still, I guess?) lasting around a couple dozen issues. I’m hoping letting the team’s shelf presence rest a while (its first extended break that I can think of!) will help, and that whatever forthcoming relaunch may occur will be more well received.
There are ideas I hope DC would attempt at refurbishing the Legion for current audiences. Maybe they could appear as supporting characters in another title, or perhaps a new title could launch focusing on just one member of the team (like Brainiac 5) with other Legionnaires appearing as needed. Or maybe the Legion can just say out of the public eye until someone has a really good idea how to use them…but with hints at their existence in the Supergirl TV series, I suspect any possible media presence may force DC’s hand sooner rather than later.
So yes, DavidG, I think the Legion’s involvement in Zero Hour did cause the long-running franchise to stumble and never quite find its legs again. Not to say there weren’t good comics that came out of all the reboots, because there were, and that a five-year run of a series isn’t something to sneeze at. However, I’m not sure if or when the team will ever find any kind of extended traction again. Like Hawkman, the Legion was “fixed” until it was broken and…wait, that’s it!
Hawkman and the Legion of Super-Heroes! I did it! I fixed ’em both! DC, get on this right away!
EDIT: Pal Andrew has additional wise insight on the matter.
PICTURED: the first Legion of Super-Heroes comic I ever read – Superboy #208 (April 1975)
Look at those two gluttons pack it away while poor Ma Kent works up more skyscraper-sized stacks of pancakes.
That’s okay, Li’l Hellboy, apparently Superboy and Mon-El will gladly eat them for you. Sheesh.
from Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #208 (April 1975) by Cary Bates and Mike Grell, and Dark Horse Presents Annual (1999) by Mike Mignola
So the newest iteration of Legion of Super-Heroes is kaput (along with three other DC titles, which I’ll discuss in a moment). I went on about it on the Twitter yesterday, where I suggested a couple of options as to what to do with this particular franchise because, you know, DC’s totally listening to me:
1. Just give Legion a rest already. Every reboot/restart boosts sales on the title for a little bit, then it always settles back to the numbers it usually sells at. Or maybe a little less. Maybe a little time out of the public eye would result in an actual fresh start for the book, removed from the previous decades’ worth of continuity that may or not still be valid because who the hell can tell any more. A little testing of the waters with some guest-appearances prior to any relaunch wouldn’t be out of order.
2. Pick one Legion character, give him or her a solo title, and make the Legion background/supporting characters. There could still be occasional Legion adventures, but it would be all told from the perspective of the title character. My personal pick for this would be Brainiac 5, because good gravy I’d love to read a solo Brainiac 5 comic, and also he seems like the one interesting/complex enough to carry a series on his own. Super-genius, doesn’t really “get” the emotionally volatile non-geniuses around him, always inventing crazy machines that are more trouble than they’re worth, HAS A TIME BUBBLE…c’mon, that’d be fantastic. But whoever is the star…that at least would give us a fresh perspective on an old dusty comic.
I don’t know. I’ve liked the Legion about as long as I’ve been reading comics, and easily have about three decades’ worth I’ve bought off the rack, and I’m still getting the sporadic and progressively more dear Archives reprints of the older material. I did stop reading new Legion some time back, prior to the New 52 relaunch, simply because I think I lived through one reboot too many and just couldn’t get into a comic where the constant threat of yet another restart to get themselves out a painted-in corner was always there. But I would love to read a good Legion comic again, particularly one that did something interesting with the franchise beyond “we need to have a Legion book on the stands.”
Okay, that sounds like I’m slagging the folks who are working on the comic now, and I’m really not. It’s just that…well, Legion isn’t grabbing new readers. With no current movie/cartoon/video games/action figure line to drive kids into shops looking for comics with those awesome Legion characters, the potential audience is restricted to people already buying comic books, and by and large, the people buying Legion are usually the people who always buy Legion, with some attrition over time (such as yours truly). To grab money out of the pockets of comic fans, you need to grab their attention, and the perception is that Legion is just same-old, same-old…this is your grandpa’s comic book. Esteemed Twitter colleague Max said that “Legion needs to be J.J Abrams-ed,” and that’s probably what it’ll take.
There have been some nice shots at it before…I really enjoyed Mark Waid’s take and the subsequent One Year Later (geez, remember “One Year Later?”) revamp Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Those worked, at least for a while, in grabbing new readers.
As for those other cancelled DC titles that I was reading…I’m pretty sure Dial H was no surprise to anyone. It was a fun and intelligent comic, but maybe a little too off the beaten path for your standard line of superhero funnybooks. Threshold‘s main selling point was the Larfleeze back-up, and even that wasn’t too much of a draw…maybe a cover or two actually featuring him may have helped. The lead story is entertaining, but the Green Lantern hook is slight enough to not have grabbed much of that franchise’s audience. And Demon Knights…I really liked Demon Knights. I have no idea why that’s getting cancelled. Well, okay, I know it’s low sales. Let me try again…”I have no idea why more people weren’t reading it.” I believe I mentioned a while back that the early issues were a tad on the chaotic side, and I wasn’t 100% sure I was following all the plot threads, so maybe that was an issue with more folks than just me. But I thought the rough spots were smoothed over of late and it’s been a highly entertaining fantasy/horror adventure. Ah, well.
• • •
In other news:
So that DC publication outlining all their graphic novels ‘n’ such I mentioned a few days back? Collected Editions does the thorough overview of this item that I was totally too lazy to do myself. Good work, gentlemen and / or gentleladies…give yourselves a raise.
I can only assume the Legion flight ring is helping a little here, as that doesn’t look too aerodynamic.
from Adventure Comics #355 (April 1967) by Otto Binder, Curt Swan & George Klein