Superman: Special Reports

The Legion of Super-Heroes

Author: Sean Hogan (shogan@buckho.com)

Last updated: September 27, 2004



Legion Publications

The Legion of Super-Heroes is set 1,000 years into the future of the current DC timeline. When three super-powered teenagers thwart an assassination attempt on R.J. Brande, he decides to finance them and others as a group to protect and inspire others. The teens are themselves inspired by the heroes of their ancient past, particularly Superboy/Superman. The Legion's members generally have unique, usually single powered, abilities.

The history of the Legion began in April 1958 with Adventure Comics #247. DC apparently had no expectation that the Legion was to be anything other than another one-shot story. The concept proved popular enough with fans that the Legion soon reappeared (with revised costumes and new members beyond the original three) in various Superman comics, including Adventure Comics, Action Comics, and Superboy. The popularity of the Legion increased enough that the title of Superboy's own comic became Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Eventually, Superboy was forced out of his own book and it became The Legion of Super-Heroes.

There have been four different series titled The Legion of Super-Heroes(frequently referred to as the LSH). To distinguish them, they are commonly referred to by fans with their version (or volume) number. The first title, v.1 was a four-issue reprint series. The second, v.2, began in 1980 with the Legion's takeover of Superboy's book.

The team of writer Paul Levitz and artist Keith Giffen on v.2 became so popular, that the Legion was awarded a new title in the "deluxe" format in 1984 (v.3). The former title was re-named Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes as of #314 and ran new stories for a year. After that, it re-ran stories from the v.3 Legion of Super-Heroes, so that Tales #326 is the same story as v.3 Legion of Super-Heroes #1.

Levitz ended his run on the Legion in 1989 with issue #63 and shortly afterwards, Keith Giffen, along with Tom & Mary Bierbaum, began v.4 of the Legion of Super-Heroes -- a darker, grittier (and, to many, confusing) version that began with tales set five years after the end of Levitz' stories.

Along the way, another version of the Legion was discovered held in stasis. Referred to as Batch SW6, this second set of younger heroes (some with very different personalities from their older twins) were given their own title, Legionnaires.

Although the fall-out of the maxi-series, Crisis On Infinite Earths, had a tremendous impact on the Legion and it's history (outlined in my article on the Death of Superboy), the greatest effect on the Legion was as a result of the 1994 Zero Hour miniseries, when the Legion was re-booted with one new set of Legionnaires. Everything that happened in the Legion's previous 36 year history was ended and the Legion's story began again from the beginning. The editors continued the numbering of the then existing series, intertwining stories between the Legion of Super-Heroes and Legionnaires much like the stories do with the Superman titles.

Although the re-booted series started with strong stories and renewed fan interest, later issues began to lose reader interest and in 1999 and 2000 there was a change in both the creative teams and direction as writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning wrote some darker stories which ended with the Legion becoming scattered and broken in the "Widening Rifts" arc. The last issue of Legionnaires was #81 followed by the final Legion of Super-Heroes #125.

A 12 issue series, Legion Lost, followed the adventures of several members trying to find a way home. Artist Oliver Coipel's dark art mirrored the tone of the series. A six issue series called Legion Worlds showed promise of the original Legion spark by catching up on the heroes who remained home.

Finally, in late 2001 a new ongoing series, simply titled The Legion, reunited the heroes. The creative team of Abnett, Lanning and Coipel remain but the tone of the series seems more hopeful and less dark than their previous work.

Everyone got that? Now, let's get on to story recommendations.

Finally, in late 2001 a new ongoing series, simply titled The Legion, reunited the heroes. The creative team of Abnett, Lanning and (for the first 14 issues), Coipel remained but the tone of the series became more hopeful and positive than their previous work, while maintaining darker villains and plots.

Legion ended in 2004 with issue #38, to allow for a new series by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson. The new series starts with a tie-in with the popular Teen Titans, beginning in Teen Titans #16 and continuing in the Teen Titans/Legion Special, before starting off in the Legion of Super-Heroes #1.

Everyone got that? Now, let's get on to story recommendations.

Recommended Legion Reading List: Part 1

The current version of the Legion began in 1994. The entire first year was enjoyable, starting with the origin issues (Legion of Super-Heroes #0 and Legionnaires #0) and the regular issues of both titles (beginning with Legion of Super-Heroes #62 and Legionnaires #19). The writers, primarily Tom Peyer and Tom McCraw with Mark Waid, retold the early history of the Legion with updating and changes for the modern audience. The art was primarily by pencillers Lee Moder and Jeff Moy with inks by Ron Boyd. The early issues are reprinted in a trade paperback called Legion: The Beginning of Tomorrow, collecting the Zero issues to Legion of Super-Heroes #65 and Legionnaires #22 and are a good introduction to the modern version of the Legion.

The balance of the issues from that first year are also well worth collecting as the Legion battled the racist group, White Triangle (led by super powered Daxamites), through Legion of Super-Heroes # 71, Legionnaires #28, and the climax in the Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #2 (1995).

The current Superboy ties into the Legion's history through Lar Gand (known pre-Crisis as Mon-El and post-Crisis as Valor). Similar to pre-Crisis history, Superboy is forced to send Valor into a "Phantom Zone" to save his life in Superboy #18-19. The Legion, discovering Valor's imprisonment 1,000 years later, returns to Superboy's time in "Future Tense" (Superboy #21, Legion of Super-Heroes #74, and Legionnaires #31). Lar Gand takes the name M'Onel in Legionnaires #37.

The Legion earns its political freedom and deals with the new Fatal Five in five terrific issues starting with Legion of Super-Heroes #78-80 and Legionnaires #35-36 (the Legion titles used numbering similar to the Super-titles; these issues are 1996: 5-9).

The Legion battles one of its greatest enemies, Mordru, for the first time in Legionnaires #48-50. Another arc worth reading is the battle against the Dark Circle in Legionnaires 62-65 and Legion of Super-Heroes #106-108 (numbered 1998: 13-19)

The first story arc in the new series, Legion, (issues #1-9) followed the return of the team after Legion Lost only to find that Batman's ancient villain, Ras al Ghul, had supplanted the President of Earth and planned to unleash a global cleansing and to terraform the planet. Issues #17 & 18 provide a sequel to the story.

The next enemy was the machine lifeforms known as Robotica which began its attack on Earth with issue 10 through 14.

A revised classic villain, Universo, began his mind-controlled takeover in Dream Crime (issues 19-24) and heralded the next arc which, beginning with issue #25, reintroduced Darkseid and Superboy to the Legion in the storyline titled, "Foundations" (which became the Legion's third trade paperback in its over 45 year history). Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's last issue was #33 and was followed by a spotlight issue on Wildfire and a nice four story arc by Gail Simone with art by Dan Jurgens and Andy Smith.

That ended the Legion series, to allow a new start for Mark Waid and Barry Kitson's new series, The Legion of Super-Heroes, which started again at with issue #1.

Recommended Legion Reading List Part 2

For anyone interested in the pre-Zero Hour stories of the Legion, a good place to start is the 7-issue Who's Who In The Legion of Super-Heroes from 1988. The first two issues have a good summary of Legion stories and history to that date and the rest of the issues contain an alphabetical listing of characters.

Pretty well any of the Adventure Comics or Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes issues are stand alone and can be read and enjoyed on their own. For those with interest and money, DC's hardcover Archives series includes volumes collecting the early Legion tales.

The only pre-Crisis trade paperback collection is "The Great Darkness Saga" (collecting v.2 Legion of Super-Heroes #290-294 and including a prequel from #287 and sequel in v.2's Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #3). When this story originally came out around 1983, it was a tremendous tale with a mysterious villain. The cover to the collection has a huge picture of the villain, so much of the fun of reading the original story is spoiled (I won't reveal who it is here).

The cavalcade of costumed heroes in the story can be confusing, but the tale is still enjoyable to new readers and moreso on later readings after you learn more Legion history. The collection should have also included a second sequel in v.3's Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #2 (1986) (the cover has Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl trying to save their infant son from the monstrous Validus) -- if you read "The Great Darkness Saga" and v.2's Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #3, you absolutely must read the second sequel.

Levitz and Giffen started their new series with a bang -- having a newly formed Legion of Super-Villains capture the planet Orando (home of Princess Projectra and Karate Kid) in Legion of Super-Heroes v.3 #1-6 (or Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes #326-331) leading to the death of one of the Legion's popular members. Incidentally, a happier story about the marriage of Princess Projectra and Karate Kid is Legion of Super-Heroes Annual v.2 #2 from 1983.

The next popular storyline by Levitz was the mystery, "Who is Sensor Girl?". The disguised female joined the Legion in Legion of Super-Heroes v.3 #14 and subsequent issues raised all kinds of questions and hints about the true identity of this heroine. The answer was revealed in Legion of Super-Heroes v.3 #24-27 in a battle against the Fatal Five.

Some other popular issues from that run are "The Universo Project" (Legion of Super-Heroes #32-35), and a running story against a villain named Starfinger (Legion of Super-Heroes issues 29, 40-41, 47-49 and Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #4 (1988)).

If you want to read about the young Batch SW6 Legion members, Legionnaires #1-6 has a good dust up against the Fatal Five.

The muddied history of the Legion came to a finale in 1994 (tying into the Zero Hour miniseries) in a story arc called "End of an Era" (which runs through Legionnaires #17-18, Valor #22-23, and Legion of Super-Heroes #60-61). Suffice to say, the Legion's 36 year continuous history comes to an end, making way for the current Legion. "End of an Era" finally reveals the true identity of the Time Trapper. It's a great plot twist, as the villain turns out to be someone essential to Legion history. The bittersweet tale nicely sheds a new light on one of the Legion's strangest foes.

The "End of an Era" storyline isn't for the casual Legion reader. If you have enough knowledge of Legion lore, and want to appreciate the story fully, start with writer Mark Waid's arc, "DOA" in the series Valor (issues #12 on), about the death of Lar Gand, as well as Legion of Super-Heroes v.4 #54-59, about the adult Legion on the run, before reading "End of an Era".

However, readers don't need to know the Legion's back history to enjoy the ongoing series. Start with the newest series, The Legion of Super-Heroes and, if you want to find out more about this fan favourite group, pick up the three trade paperbacks and hunt the back bins for more.