A legion of reboots.

§ June 9th, 2021 § Filed under legion of super-heroes § 37 Comments

So remember my post from last week about how I kinda lost my involvement in, my connection with, Swamp Thing post the New 52 relaunch? You folks had a lot to say in the comments, mostly along the lines of “Mike, I feel your pain, but with the Legion of Super-Heroes.”

Hey, I hear ya. I wrote at length about this…egads, was it really five years ago? Well, here we are Five Years Later (wink wink, nudge nudge) with one more Legion reboot come and apparently gone, so things haven’t changed. I suppose this newest iteration of Legion can still pop up…given that Superman’s son Jon is a member, and is about to be the focus of the Super-books for a while (where the solicitations reference the team), I’d say there’s a good chance the Legion will show up there.

Now in that post I linked, I talked about how I finally stopped reading new Legion comics after years of enjoying them. That recent Legion reboot I did read, as writer Brian Michael Bendis had been doing a good job on the Superman books, I thought, and was interested to see what he’d do with our favorite 31st century super-teen team. I don’t know if DC has given up on this version, but the big relaunch for the book fizzling out after a year doesn’t inspire confidence. Frankly, at this point it just accelerates the countdown to the next attempt at getting the Legion to stick to the wall.

Anyway, I went into extensive detail on all this back then . And pal Andrew had my back with his own analysis of the Legion’s decline.

To reemphasize…there was a lot of Good Work being done in the comics, despite editorially-designated changes to the franchise. In fact, just earlier this year I was writing about how I enjoyed the Five Years Later era, which granted was more of a soft reboot. But in the 2016 post I wrote about how I enjoyed the Zero Hour reboot version as well. And the Legions that happened after that.

It’s just…having multiple mostly-contradictory takes on the Legion, a group where a large part of the appeal was its lengthy history and established personalities, was just too much. You want to invest in the characters, even if you have to follow them from series to series, but with each reboot essentially telling you “forget everything you knew!” that appeal is completely undermined.

On the Twitters, blogging colleague and noted Legion Lover Johanna Draper Carlson said to me in regards to Legion’s restarts

“I’m not sure the ever-more-complicated soap opera history was a successful path forward, either.”

…and she has a point. I feel like there should be a way to give folks a fresh start on a franchise like this, and tell new stories, without necessarily undoing or contradicting what had gone before. But it apparently required (or DC Editorial thought it required) a new #1 and a completely fresh slate every time the comic was attempted, in the hopes to get new readers on board. And like many of the reboots and new #1s that have flooded the stands over the last decade or so…sometimes it worked for a while. But just for a while.

As I’ve said again and again, there was a lot of work to be found in these reboots. Both in Legion and in the New 52-and-later Swamp Things. It’s just that the connection wasn’t there…too much was changed, sometimes downright arbitrarily, from What Had Gone Before. When the Byrne-reboot Superman came on the scene, folks reacted with “this isn’t the real Superman,” but eventually, through an at least halfway chain on continuity, and just fact few people reading Superman in ’86 are still reading now, that Superman is the “real” Superman. So much so that the New 52 one felt like a fake, and it was a relief when the “original” post-Byrne one came back to replace him.

That’s kind of how I feel about Swamp Thing and the Legion. Maybe I’ve been enjoying their stories of late, but that deep, dark part of my fanboy mind stills asks “when will the real ones come back?”

37 Responses to “A legion of reboots.”

  • Snark Shark says:

    “getting the Legion to stick to the wall.”

    Have they tried GLUE?

  • Thom H. says:

    I loved the Five Years Later Legion, but as we’ve discussed before (and as Andrew lays out so well) it was the start of the decline of the franchise.

    Not only did Giffen and the Bierbaums (but I have to think it was mainly Giffen) do irreparable damage to the status quo, but decoupling the Legion from Superboy kind of cast the book adrift.

    Once the Legion is unmoored from mainstream continuity, you can do anything you like with it. Characters can be changed and rebooted willy-nilly because who’s going to notice (besides the fans)? It’s not like Superboy/man/girl is going to pop in from the past and wonder what’s going on when everything looks different.

    I hate to say it, but maybe the next Legion reboot should be one of those in-story continuity corrections that I usually hate. Some version of the rebooted Legion realizes they have to go back in time and avert the Magic Wars or something. And then we pick up where we left off before FYL even started.

    But give it to a creative team that current fans like. Not Levitz or Shooter or some other nostalgic choice.

  • Daniel T says:

    Bendis has strongly suggested on social media that his Legion will be coming back.

  • Robcat says:

    Mike- I read Byrne’s Man of Steel when it came out and liked it. I was still a fairly new reader and loved Byrne and Perez and didn’t like Swan or Kirby or the “old guys” back then. I have since learned the error of my ways.

    Now, this was before the internet, but I didn’t realize there were people who DIDN’T like it. Anything more you’d like to say on the subject?

  • DK says:

    I LOVED LOVED LOVED the LSH just in time for the 5-Year-Later reboot and then dropped the book like a hot potato once the clone Silver Age guys showed up. I think Waid did the best reboot job thus far.

    Soap opera works- just look at X-Men.
    Team changes works- look at JLA and Avengers.

    Honestly, I feel the reboots all have the same problem. TOO MANY MUTANTS, er LEGIONNARES.

    I know that everyone has their favorite they have to see but asking new readers to learn 30 different names + real names + home planets + costumes (and in the Bendis reboot, nobody looks like they used too, like they all look radically different PLUS half a dozen brand new people) is too much for anyone.

    “When Superman was a teenager he used to travel to the 31st Century and hang out with fellow teen superheroes” is a high concept cool idea.

    If I had the keys I would:

    -10 LSH members max, 5 male/5 female. People cycle in and out frequently (home planet, school, work, death, marriage, demoted to Subs) so in the first couple of years you at least touch base with all the potential members.

    -No new characters, there is a super duper deep bench to pull from. That goes for villains too.

    -Superman is a teen and so are his friends. They date! They go to parties! They have young people problems! They save the day! They mess up sometimes!

    -Like the old annual JSA/JLA team-up, the LSH gets to visit the 21st Century once per year for a one and done story with current characters teaming up with them. Easy into to the rest of the DC Universe.

    -In media res, we get the origin of the team in like three panels in the first issue and then this is a team that has existed for a while. Show us the Clone Wars later, right now blow up the Death Star. Last page every time is a pin up/Who’s Who on a member for the newbies.

  • Daniel T says:

    I never understood people who rejected the Byrne reboot. I’d been a fan of Superman since my memories start and was excited about it. But I was at an age more open to change (16) and the last year plus of stories before Byrne felt increasingly like filler material (which I suppose essentially it was) and I was primed for a shakeup.

    But more importantly, the reboot lead to GOOD STORIES. Byrne’s work was solid, but from the point he left through the Return of Superman is, I think, the best run of work in the history of the character.

  • Yeah, it’s me. I just keep saying every reboot of the Legion just happens on a different Earth.
    I agree that I really enjoyed Mark Waid’s run, and I don’t know if that is partly because of when Supergirl appeared.

    There could be a lot of characters. Just keep them separate, like when the

  • Daniel T says:

    “I just keep saying every reboot of the Legion just happens on a different Earth.”

    Legion of 3 Worlds established that’s exactly what happened!

  • Yeah, it’s me. I just keep saying every reboot of the Legion just happens on a different Earth.
    I agree that I really enjoyed Mark Waid’s run, and I don’t know if that is partly because of when Supergirl appeared.

    There could be a lot of characters. Just keep them separate, like when the Espionage Squad is involved. Remember the old JLA team-ups that gave us a chapter that read, Hawkman, Elongated Man, Zatanna? In addition, who the hell is protecting their general area of space if all of the LSH is on Earth. (In the 60s, the computer might say X was on patrol or Y was on leave, remember the simple ways?)

    Another high point might have been when they left Adventure Comics, then Action, for Superboy right around his 200th issue. Validus killed Invisible Kid and there was no replacement. Bouncing Boy married Duo Damsel, no replacements. (I mean with the same name and powers.)

    Mark Waid had it right with rebellious teens. (For anyone who read PAPER GIRLS,it came down to teens trying to stop mistakes adults kept making.)

    And, honestly, they don’t all have to be the same age.

  • Aaron Morrow says:

    The Five Year Gap to the Zero Month issue was just five years (5.5 if you throw in the Magic Wars); there were *a lot* of continuity and tonal changes for the time in those 60-odd issues. Within the first six issues, besides the darker future there were (technically) three different continuities as well as a major shift in art format/style.

    The problem with the LSH as a soap opera metaphor is that actual soap operas maintain tone while adding AND REMOVING characters. Unless you count between v3 and v4, the Legion never got in the habit of actually retiring as many characters as it added.

    (I don’t know which I liked better, but I also liked Mark Waid’s run and Mark Waid’s run.)

  • >Frankly, at this point it just accelerates the countdown to the next attempt at getting the Legion to stick to the wall.

    Can we stick them to the Source Wall and just leave them there?

  • Wayne Allen Sallee says:

    Daniel T: I don’t really consider LO3W as doing that. In the end we are left with a Legion from Earth-247 (or something close) realizing their Earth no longer exists. It ends with them saying, bye, we are going to go off and find other lost Legionnaires. Whatever Geoff Johns meant.

    I think of LO3W as just another version of a Legion- Earth. It was just all BS with Impulse in the end. So I have to disagree and there was certainly more than three versions of the Legion after that book. That is my point. 2008 was a long time back, and Earth-247 is just like a random Earth Marvel would use. So going by Earth-1 and Earth-2, etc., you’ve got the new52 version and the Bendis version. And whatever might be the next version.

    I just say, OK, different Earth. LO3W effectively lasted three years. That’s how fast DC screws things up.

  • Signal Watch says:

    As someone who didn’t even try the Legion books until the Mark Waid run (15-20 years ago?), who has picked up and read the Showcase Silver Age reprints, who has tried to read the out-of-order printing of a variety of Levitz and other Legion stories over the years… who was thrilled by the attempt to revive the old Legion continuity pre-new 52… and who basically likes the idea of the Legion… but who was not part of the 70’s and 80’s Legion fan base…

    DC needs to knock it off. It’s absolutely murder for reader interest to kill the series every time there’s a continuity shake-up or sales trend downward. I happen to have enough Super-interest in the concept and a few extra bucks per month I’ll spend on what I consider an auxillary Superman book, but Legion hasn’t had traction since the Reagan administration, and seems to only show up when a hot writer talks someone at DC into what big numbers the book once had.

    I’m not one to argue with Ms. Carlson, but, like X-Men during it’s Claremont heyday, a soap opera is all you really HAVE with that many characters. Villains will come and go, universes will be saved, but just as they say “you won’t remember what people said, but how they made you feel”, the Legion title can’t just be a swiss-army knife of super powered suits punching at a space-threat. The stakes have to come from if we care about those characters or not, and hoping a 20-something picking up a Legion comic will have an investment in 40-odd characters they’ve never seen before seems like a heck of a bad call. Unless, of course, you’re up in those characters’ business and understand the emotional stakes, not just “I guess it would be bad if this wizard fellow won the day, which I am betting he won’t as this is a superhero comic book”.

  • DavidG says:

    Loving this conversation.

    DK’s post illustrates the problem DC have. I’m a Legion fan of similar vintage and no disrespect because we are all different, but I hate his ideas.I loved 5YL. I hate teenage Legion, for me the best stories were the Levitz/Giffen period when they were young adults. And the Legion coming back to the present is always a terrible idea. There are no good Legion stories set in the present.

    For me, they work best totally out of continuity other than in the most basic way (there were a bunch of 20/21st century heroes, and Superman inspired them). Anything else and you end up with the whole Valor mess again.

    So who does DC try to appeal to? Me or DK?

  • Thom H. says:

    I’d say DC should aim for somewhere in the middle.

    — Age in comics is always kind of nebulous. And frankly, the difference between “teen” and “young adult” is not huge. Levitz’s young adult Legion dated all the time. They also broke up, messed up, lied to each other, had parties. Were they 18? 25? Who knows?

    — No one says all of the members have to be the same age, either. Like when Cosmic Boy’s younger brother replaced him on the team. Or when the Legion considered bringing on some of the trainees from the Academy.

    — One of the smartest things Levitz ever did was spotlight different groups of the team over time. His cast was enormous, but each issue only starred up to maybe 10 Legionnaires at a time except on special occasions. The Espionage Squad was an official sub-group, but also couples would double-date, or small teams would be sent on a mission based on their powers.

    One of Bendis’ biggest problems is that he wants it both ways: all of the members around all of the time, but only five of them talking. Why not just focus on those five for a bit and transition to a new small group in a couple of issues? I swear there are still a couple of members from this latest reboot that I can’t even name. The one with the hula hoop? But I digress…

    — You can establish links to “present day” continuity without bringing the Legion into their past. Now that Superboy(s), Supergirl, and time travel all officially exist again, an annual visit from one of those Supers would more or less fulfill DK’s requirements. And they could bring friends, or Jimmy Olsen, or Lois.

    Basically, I think the Levitz/Giffen formula still works, as long as you freshen it up a little bit. There’s no reason it couldn’t sell as long as you tell good stories.

  • DK says:

    Very thoughful commentary here, as usual at Progressive Ruin.

    I think we actually have some consensus as a group as to what would work:

    1. Small teams for individual stories, but a larger world that has lots of characters.
    2. The LSH should be young people (young adult is OK), not middle aged or adult. They should have youthful problems and relationships.
    3. Get some mainstream DCU characters interacting with them on a regular basis via time travel shenanigans. Don’t limit it to Superman Family.
    4. The most important thing is to make it a soap opera where we care about the dramas in their lives.
    5. No premise killers like blowing up the Earth, etc. LSH is young superheroes in the future inspired by Superman who protect the Earth and the UP from villains.

    I bet both DavidG and I would like this.

  • Rob S. says:

    Snark Shark wrote:

    “getting the Legion to stick to the wall.”

    Have they tried GLUE?

    Hell, they tried Grimbor the Chainsman.

  • Rob S. says:

    DK, your second list is definitely more appealing to me than the first. I’d dial back on the 21st century crossovers (a semi-regular basis is fine by me), but that’s just quibbling. And definitely don’t just limit it to Superman Family. Hell, I’d love an LSH/Demon Knights crossover… avoid the 21st century altogether!

    I like a big Legion — but yeah, each issue should focus on a subset of the team. When they all get together, that’s a BIG DEAL… likely a wedding or an Earthwar.

  • Wayne Allen Sallee says:

    Mike: not necessarily sliding timescale-wise, like Batman and Superman, which characters/titles do you think have had the most reboots? Or, better yet, unnecessary reboots?

  • DavidG says:

    Yes, I can get behind DKs plan. Personally I’d try to to minimize the time travel, but I can live with it.

    The trouble with time travel is that the paradoxes always annoy me. Back in the day Superboy could turn up in the future to the exact minute for meetings or crises. So whenever they were in trouble why didn’t he just jump forward half an hour, find out how to win, then jump back? If he was in the future for weeks, did he get older? He must have been about a year older than his peers back in Smallville after a while.

    I know, overthinking it.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    Regarding Mr. Sallee’s question: I could not state which character has had the most reboots, but I think I know which one has had the highest ratio of reboots to appearances. That would be the Atlas Seaboard character Targitt.

    His original comics series ran for only three issues. The first bore the simple title of “Targitt.” It was highly influenced by the “vigilante cop” movies of the period. The hero’s name and appearance were suggested by the movie “Bullitt,” his choice of weapon was influenced by Dirty Harry, and the plot was a combination of “The Big Heat” and “The French Connection.”

    With the second issue, the title changed to “John Targitt, Man-Stalker.” The hero now, for no very compelling reason, wore a mask and tights. There was a bullseye on his chest, presumably to help the aim of the gangsters he was chasing.

    In the third and final issue, he swapped the tights for an exoskeleton that gave him super-powers. He also switched from fighting ordinary criminals to going after a mad scientist named Professor Death.

    Recently, the character was revived by a company named Nemesis Group, Inc., for a series of prose stories. I have not read these, but according to the descriptions at Amazon, these have split Targitt and the Man-Stalker into separate characters. I note with some regret that there have been two stories published so far of this version, spoiling what had been a perfect record of each appearance being a new version.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    By the way: If anyone is wondering with which university Professor Death was affiliated, I am afraid that the comic gives no answer.

    I am always a bit mystified by the way comics writers consistently misinterpret the meaning of “professor.” It is not a generic term for “scientist.” It is an academic title, one with a fairly specific meaning. One can be a scientist, and not be a professor. One can even be a scientist who teaches at a college, and not be a professor. One can most definitely be a professor and not a scientist; I would presume that most professors have nothing to do with the sciences.

    I can understand some haziness on this point from the first generation of comic book writers, those forced by the Great Depression into forsaking all thoughts of college and instead starting careers while still in their teens. However, the new generation that entered the business in the 1960s and ’70s was pretty much all college educated, and they should have known better. I could say the same about the creators who followed, except that there seems to have a point at which comics came to be created only by people who know nothing but comics*, so I am not surprised that they have little understanding about how the rest of the world works.

    *Okay, they also know a few movies (mostly the STAR WARS and ALIENS series), and at least two TV series (STAR TREK, THE X-FILES). That does seem, however, to be the limit to their knowledge of culture.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    By the way, again: Has anyone ever heard, in real life, a professor addressed as “Professor”? In my experience, a holder of that title is addressed as “Doctor,” or else Mr./Ms./Miss/Mrs. One might be introduced as such at an academic meeting, but even then the more likely formulation would be “Dr. Charles Xavier, professor of biology” (or whatever his field was), and from that point he would be called Dr. Xavier.

    Of course, Xavier ran his own school, so if he wanted to be called “Professor,” I suppose that everyone there had to humor him.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    Will you accept one more “by the way”?

    Upon further thought, I realize that I was giving the new creators of the ’60s and ’70s more credit than they deserved in supposing they were more broadly knowledgeable than their predecessors. I have been reading a fair amount from that period recently, and I have been struck by the consistency with which comics then treated Africa and Asia as fantasy lands that were created by H. Rider Haggard and Sax Rohmer. The reality of the actual places never intruded. You can start with the fact that “Africa” or “Asia” was always treated as a unitary place, each part of it just like all the others.

    There was perhaps a modest bit of progress as the decades shifted. In the ’60s, the country of Africa was 100% jungle, inhabited exclusively by men in loincloths and women in wraps. There were no national governments, only tribes, whose leaders were invariably under the influence of witch doctors. By the 1970s, there were shown to be few a few big cities, with more-or-less modern technology and fashions…but these were immediately adjacent to jungles, inhabited exclusively by men in loincloths, etc., etc. Basically, if you were a character in a 1970s Marvel or DC comics, and you went to an African city, you faced the constant danger that giving your taxi driver the wrong address would leave you stranded in the jungle, pursued by cannibals.

  • Cassandra Miller says:

    Hmm. On the one hand, I’m a huge Legion fan.

    On the other hand, I’m coming in waaaay too late to this conversation!

    I actually really liked Bendis’ version; I felt it captured a lot of the spirit of the original team, and I loved the diversity. The one bit I wasn’t hot on was tying Mon-El to New Krypton, because that’s a continuity bomb just waiting to explode another version of the Legion. To that end, limiting ties to the 21st century is, I think, the best way to a stable Legion.

    (For the record, the only version of the Legion I never really warmed to was the Waid/Kitson one, although I felt it worked better after Supergirl joined.)

  • Rob S. says:

    I really liked (like?) the Bendis/Sook Legion too, Cassandra! And I do think it’s coming back; I just wish they’d hurry up, already!

    I think you’re right about ties to the present day. The shifting tides of continuity is something the Legion is perfectly suited to avoid… but it just can’t help itself!

  • Voord 99 says:

    Has anyone ever heard, in real life, a professor addressed as “Professor”? In my experience, a holder of that title is addressed as “Doctor,” or else Mr./Ms./Miss/Mrs. One might be introduced as such at an academic meeting, but even then the more likely formulation would be “Dr. Charles Xavier, professor of biology” (or whatever his field was), and from that point he would be called Dr. Xavier.

    Actually, yes, I’ve heard that a lot. But I’m from Ireland, and in the UK and Ireland, “Professors” are very exalted academic creatures, approximately equivalent to full professors with endowed chairs in the US. Most lecturers are not “professors,” unlike in America, where you can use the word “professor” as a generic term for college faculty.

    Even in America, though, I have encountered institutions where “Professor” was the normal form of address, along with others where “Doctor” was. It seems to me to be a matter of the culture of the particular institution.

    In Germany, of course, you used to be able to throw around “Herr Professor Doktor,” although I think things are more relaxed nowadays. (Happy to be corrected about that by an actual German.)

  • DavidG says:

    I work at an Australian university, and people do get addressed and introduced as “Professor” all the time. As my learned colleague Voord points out, it is a senior title not lightly bestowed. I taught very briefly 30 years ago, and would never have dreamed of calling myself “Professor”. The much more relaxed use of it in the US always bemuses me.

    On a related note, the most senior academic officer at our uni is the Vice Chancellor, a title we adopted from the UK. Many years ago we had to add “and President” to the title, because visiting Americans felt that they were being disrespected by meeting with the Vice Chancellor instead of the Chancellor.

  • Jim F says:

    Coming a few days late to this chat, but it seems to me that the Legion has been something of a pissing match among writers/editors on the Legion where each seems to have a massive tonal shift “just because.” The original post-ZH reboot was SUPPOSED TO BE a reset to get people in on the ground floor, which it KINDA did, but also probably alienated at least as many people as it brought in. Then the COMPLETE tonal reset with the DnA Legion, then the Re-Re-Boot with Waid, which also conflicted with Johns’ plans, which then retrobooted to pre-5YL. Sheesh.

    DC has zero idea what to do with the Legion except alienate long time readers. They know not to touch the Batman or Superman rail to alter too much, so they do all that with the Legion.

  • @misterjayem says:

    I’m very late to the conversation, but I would add to the list above “suitable for younger readers.”

    Not Casper the Ghost friendly, but no more grimdark than the death of Ferro Lad, please.

    (And I say that as someone who was a big fan of the Five Years Later era.)

    — MrJM

  • Johanna says:

    Anyone else remember the story where they established that lifespans in the future had been extended so the Legionnaires were really 25-30 but considered kids and that’s why the names were all Boy/Girl/Lad? No? Just me, then?

    My favorite Legion idea is a super-sized anthology with recurring features from each favorite era. Kid Legionnaires, 5YL angst, old-school soap opera, each get their own continuing serial. Once a year, all the features team up and crossover. I even know who could edit it. :)

  • Hal Shipman says:

    Johanna – Oh,yeah. That, more than even Dr. Maryvale, is the single most eye-rolling element of v1 for me. From the day I read it (as a new issue), I immediately rejected from canon. “Oh, that’s not true. Sorry, Brainy. You’re wrong.”

  • […] the Legion of Super-Heroes and its scattered continuity/publishing going on in the comments to this post. In this case I’ll likely do an update post on the topic addressing some of your […]

  • Matthew E says:

    I’ve been blogging about the Legion for many years, see link, and while I have no shortage of thoughts about them and what their comics ought to be like, I also don’t want to overthink it.

    Just leave continuity alone for a while and tell good future superhero stories about them. And keep doing it.

  • Cassandra Miller says:

    Johanna–I would buy that in a millisecond. (And possibly even submit stories for it. I had a great idea for how to introduce Dev-Em–as a Kryptonian–into the post-Zero Hour Legion last millennium….)

  • Jim F says:

    Johanna’s idea of a cross-Legion era Showcase anthology is spot-on amazing. I’d buy it in a second. I’d even buy two! :-)

    It has the added benefit of appeal to those of us who enjoy several eras (let’s be honest here, there are a few points of time – and these will be different for everyone – we don’t want to revisit). But a Legion Showcase title that had 2 or 3 siloed stories in the Reboot, or 5YL, then team up in an annual…. Yeah, I’m in.

  • Randal says:

    Regarding the most reboots, anything that doesn’t begin with “Hawk” is probably a nonstarter.