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Grumpy Old Fan | All I do is miss you and the way we used to be

Legion of Super-Heroes (1989) #1

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (1989)

These days it’s very easy not only to discover some venerable bit of pop culture, but to bone up on its history almost as thoroughly as if you’d experienced it in real time. Although it’s some thirty-odd years old, only fairly recently have I become acquainted with the excellent Dire Straits song “Romeo And Juliet.”

The song doesn’t quite track the play, instead choosing a different take on the tragedy of true love. Juliet, not death, separates the star-crossed pair; and the refrain has Romeo pour his broken heart out to her:

Juliet! When we made love you used to cry/
You said “I love you like the stars above, I’ll love you ‘til I die”/
There’s a place for us (you know, the movie song)/
When you gonna realize, it was just that the time was wrong?

The song is almost triumphal in its melancholia, running the emotional spectrum from highest high to deepest low. In one of those low points, Romeo moans,

You promised me everything, you promised me thick and thin, yeah/
Now you just say, “Oh Romeo? Yeah, you know I used to have a scene with him.”

It’s about incredible passion, and the desperate need such passion creates … but it’s also about the reality that sometimes passion fades, or at least stops being returned in kind. “Romeo And Juliet” creates the sort of longing that can make you hug your significant other that much tighter; and if that’s not your current circumstance, it can bring you to the brink of tears remembering your own long-lost Juliet.

And — of course, right? — it now reminds me of my own relationship with the Legion of Super-Heroes.

* * *

Perhaps more than any of DC’s other major features, the Legion’s history has become bound up with that of its fans. Before we get too much further, let’s be clear: I am not really a Legion scholar, which I imagine makes me a fairly casual fan. The two terms are likewise bound up with each other, it seems; because Legion fandom apparently inspires a certain degree of scholarship.

Anyway, I read the various Legion titles faithfully for the better part of twenty years, from 1989′s “Five Years Later” relaunch (Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 3 #1, cover-dated November 1989) until Mark Waid’s last issue on the “threeboot” (Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #30, July 2007). After that (and/or along the way) I read the “Lightning Saga” in Justice League and Justice Society, the “retroboot” Legion’s return in Action Comics, and Legion of Three Worlds, and I’ve been reading the retro-styled stories currently running in Adventure Comics.  You might well ask how eighteen years’ worth of the Legion still doesn’t amount to being a “fan”; and I think the missing ingredient is passion.

Basically, I think I missed something critical all those years ago. Either I was indifferent to the Legion at just the wrong time, or I’m just one of those superhero fans who will never “get” the group the way I got the Avengers, the Teen Titans or the Justice League. See, I read Superboy and the Legion off and on in the ‘70s, back when the Dark Circle threatened Earth, Brainiac 5 cracked up, and Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl were still newlyweds. My first proper issue was probably May 1978′s #239, where Ultra Boy was framed for murder, but I’d probably been introduced to the Legion in June-July 1977′s DC Special #28, where writer Paul Levitz and penciller Arvell Jones had the team deal with a blackout in 30th-Century Metropolis.  After that, in fact, was probably the Legion’s guest-shot in JLA #s 147-48 (October-November 1977), and then SLOSH #239.

In fact, once I got going, I thought I knew the Legionnaires well enough — but apparently I managed to avoid most of the good stuff, like Earthwar and the Great Darkness Saga. When I saw the Legionnaires in Crisis On Infinite Earths, I recognized most of them, but had to put together developments like Timber Wolf’s new costume and the return of Lightning Lass’s original powers.

Now, that wasn’t as off-putting as you might think. After all, if I was willing to become a full-time Legion reader after the infamous Five-Year Gap, surely I could stand a few minor updates. Regardless, the river of Legion continuity seems to move faster and more forcefully than many of its fellows, and I think it took a significant relaunch to get me to jump in. I liked the book well enough, but before long I was tracking down the seven issues of Who’s Who In The Legion.

Similarly, today I am reading the Showcase Presents reprints, trying at least to get caught up. The new Volume 4 finishes out both the Adventure Comics run and the “Weisinger Legion” (which ended with backup stories from Action Comics) and sees the group into its longtime home in Superboy. Clearly it’s a significant period of transition, but even after four phone books I still haven’t had any kind of revelatory experience. I mean, I’ve heard fans swear by the Adventure period and the role of editor Mort Weisinger, and I don’t discount their views — it’s just that I don’t love the Legion like I thought I would.

Probably part of it is a certain impatience. I do have a few favorite Legion stories, including the Great Darkness Saga, the racist-Daxamite arc from the post-Zero Hour reboot, and the Ra’s al Ghul arc from the The Legion series. I also liked what Mark Waid and Barry Kitson were trying to do with the “threeboot” Legion; and I thought Legion of Three Worlds worked pretty well despite all its various goals. However, in terms of the Legion itself being enough to sustain my interest, well … that eighteen-year streak started with a relaunch and included two square-one reboots (and a couple of softer ones). Now that the Legion has settled into its “retroboot” phase, going back for the most part to an older version of the Silver Age team, more research is necessary before I’ll want to sample the regular series.

In fact, I am really looking forward to Showcase Presents Volume 5, which should cover at least the Dave Cockrum early ‘70s, and maybe the beginnings of what would become the “Levitz Legion.” I suspect it’s more the style of comics to which I’m accustomed, emphasizing continuing subplots and distinct (if broad) character development. Filling in the gaps of my knowledge is always fun.

It can be risky, though, too. Undoubtedly, many longtime Legion fans remember the Adventure issues and/or the Weisinger years because to them that’s the team at its height. The farther DC goes with these reprints (and the farther I choose to go with them), the more I may find myself agreeing that the Legion’s best days are behind it.

Of course, that’s the danger of any long-term relationship. That’s the chance we take, investing our intellect in service of our emotions. For years and years DC tried to reinvent the Legion for new audiences while honoring the fidelity of the lifers; and finally it has settled on updating the originals. On one level I understand DC’s decision, even though it looked at first like the most naked form of fannish pandering. Having tried twice to cultivate two new generations of Legion fans, why not go back to the (surely smaller) group which has stuck around for so long? DC has become Mark Knopfler’s Romeo, singing

… all I do is miss you and the way we used to be/
All I do is keep the beat — and bad company/
Now all I do is kiss you through the bars of a rhyme/
Juliet, I’d do the stars with you any time!

Now, I wouldn’t make such a borderline-ridiculous comparison for just any title and any other target readership — and I certainly don’t want to downplay the feelings of the Reboot’s and Threeboot’s fans — but again, the original Legion and its fans apparently have a unique relationship. Although scholarship and research might get me close one day, I’m not there yet.

Besides, who am I to stand in the way of true love? If that kind of passion is truly required to sustain a relationship with the Legion, why not seek out the fans who might still be that passionate? The romantic in me says let these groups try once more to find each other, and hope they reconnect. How ‘bout it…?

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It’s not even that simple; I was as big a fan of the original Legion as anyone would need to be, but I also became very attached to the reboot, threeboot, and animated Legions. I didn’t need the retroboot, and actually resented it a bit; I felt like DC had just been jerking us around with these other Legions, making us care about them and then burying them.

In the end, though, I’m more attached to the overall Legion concept than to any particular iteration of it, so, as annoying as DC’s Legion shenanigans are, I’m not in danger of losing my emotional investment.

Fascinating piece, Tom. Perhaps the Legion is best encountered at a young age – I was a pre-teen reading hand-me-down copies of the early LSH tales in Adventure Comics and became hooked for life. Nobody could say you’ve not given the team a fair shot, but not every series can become a favourite.

That song is awesome, and served as a soundtrack for many teenager passions back in the day…

“you and me, babe / how ’bout it?”

I started with the Legion back in the Cockrum days – Superboy 197 when I was about 12 – and I was a big fan for years. They were my favorite team up until the 5YG when I started drifting away. None of the later versions had the spark. Maybe it’s because they weren’t really the characters I’d grown up with. Maybe it’s because the golden age of science fiction is thirteen and I was the wrong age for the later versions.

I don’t know.

All I know is that when the retro-boot came on the scene it felt “real” in a way the others hadn’t. It wasn’t new characters with the same code names; it was the Legion.

That’s why the retro-boot works for me.

All I know is that when the retro-boot came on the scene it felt “real” in a way the others hadn’t. It wasn’t new characters with the same code names; it was the Legion.

I think your experience was common. A lot of other people said the same thing. And I have to say I don’t get it. I’m not saying you’re wrong; I’m just saying that I didn’t have that reaction. It didn’t seem at all the same to me; it seemed like new… well, not new… characters with the same code names and similar costumes. The reboot and threeboot Legions certainly never felt like the original Legion to me, but they did feel more like the Legion than the retrobooters did.

Maybe part of the problem is that Geoff Johns didn’t really write any stories about the retroboot Legion; they were typically Superman stories that had the Legion in them, but we didn’t really get to know them. It’s a little better now that Levitz is writing them and actually focusing on the Legionnaires, but it still doesn’t feel much like the original Legion to me.

I guess the closest I can come is that the reboot and threeboot felt like different characters with the same code names and the retroboot feels like a different take on the same characters.

I don’t want to get involved in a flame war, but both reboot and threeboot feel to me like Kyle Rayner, Wally West, and Tim Drake. Even though they share (or have shared) code names, Kyle isn’t Hal, Wally isn’t Barry and Tim isn’t Dick.

Retroboot feels like a different interpretation of the same characters, like the difference between pre-crisis and post-crisis Batman. It’s not identical, but it’s close enough. Reboot and threeboot feel more like new characters for a new audience.

reboot and threeboot feel to me like Kyle Rayner, Wally West, and Tim Drake. Even though they share (or have shared) code names, Kyle isn’t Hal, Wally isn’t Barry and Tim isn’t Dick.

I think that makes a lot of sense.

What the retroboot feels like to me is the decision to bring back Barry Allen. Sure, it could be good, but… really? After all this time? We haven’t moved on from that yet?

@Matthew E – I know i hadn’t moved on from the retroboot legion.

I would compare it more to kyle/hal than Barry/Wally. Barry died and wally picked up the mantle out of respect. Kyle had no idea who Hal was and was thrust on us to accept. The old school legion was taken from us vis crisis & zero hour and while the replacement was nice.. it’s not the original.

i grew up reading earth wat, the great darkness saga, who is sensor girl, the legion of sv war. they are stories i can point back to and say “that’s the legion at it’s finest”

I liked the reboot version. it had a young innocents the legion hadn’t had in a while but then they were wiped out and replaced with the threeboot
I never got the threeboot maybe cause it was SO teen based and i’m now in my 40s.

Wow, I had a parallel upbringing with the Legion. Although i probably saw fifties/sixties re prints of early Legion stories as a little kid, the Ultra Boy story in #239 was my real introduction to the series as an ongoing concern. I LOVED that comic and its one of the few that survived the test of time in my collection… and the dozen residential moves I’ve made since High School. I was passionate during that run. I was passionate again for the first 12 issues of 5 Years Later.. and then it lost its way a bit for me. My interest rekindled with Legion of Three World’s and i wish i could say the new Levitz run is ‘appointment comics: but as of yet, I’ve been less than passionate about the reformation of Earth Man. But my love for Legion #239 will always keep me coming back or at least checking in. Though, like Titans under Wolfman/Perez, I do wish they could get that lighting back in the bottle…

I was really disappointed when the “Threeboot” Legion ended. I felt Jim Shooter’s Legion was one I connected to really well and fired on all cylinders. I was kind of angry about the abrupt cancellation of that series, especially with the throwaway last issue (which Shooter wouldn’t even put his real name on). The new Legion is good, but I still mourn the Threeboot.

I’m very recent when it comes to fandom and I can only talk about how I fell in love with it. I think Legion is a young concept. The great runs of Legion were done by famously young people. As a reader its palpable. Its young people with a can do attitude and no one to outrank them like it is with the Teen Titans. The Legion were the top of the super-hero tree in their time and they are respected. I think this is where the retroboot misses the point, Children are the future and so the legion have to be young. I adored Waid’s teenage revolution take on the team. Its a natural extension from the student protests that litter history to having Legion as the biggest student protest of all.

I once read a fan say that they had found X Men was read by LGBT readers who were in the closet and Legion was read by LGBT fans out of the closet. I thought that was an interesting perspective to look at. Legion does have a diverse fan base perhaps because they used to live in a world where you could be anything and it wouldn’t matter.

Great article, Tom.

I was a huge fan of the original Legion run in Adventure. For me, the thrill was gone when Curt Swan and Mort Weisinger handed off the series to other artists and editors (and writers). Over the last 40 years, I’ve occasionally bought issues of the reboots, just to see if there was any magic there, but it just seems like caffeine-free diet Legion to me.

These never-ending re-boots can all be traced to Byrne’s Superman Re-boot. It’s his fault -wink! (teasing)

Honestly: I stopped reading seriously, full-time after Mon-El punched the crap out of the Time Trapper – wasn’t happy that ‘my’ Superboy was a now a ‘pocket universe hero.’ Some of that dissapointment went away when Mon-El said, basically “Frak you!” And rebooted it all for the love of his brother.

I am probably in the minority here and probably my view on what made Legion a distinct book is nowhere near other passionate readers, but here it comes:

I liked the Legion when I first read them (probably early issues of Levitz/Giffen/Lightle era), when they were published here in Brazil as a back feature to Superman. At that time, Superboy wasn’t really an issue, and I saw it as an interesting sci-fi book with lots of characters. But nothing so different from X-Men plethora of mutants.

I just became a true fan of the Legion during the “infamous” (or, to my tastes, groundbreaking) 5-Year-Later era. Why? For the first time, I got WHY the Legion was such a unique concept.

1) Chronology – this was a group of heroes than matured. It was interesting to see for the first time a group of heroes that got old and evolved as adults, not eternal adolescents. And that’s what made Legion unique in the first place, not the “bright future” or the “adolescent theme”. Legion was at its top form when characters were NOT adolescents.
2) Heroes as adult people, not overgrown adolescents – I never understood the fascination with spandex and uniforms and Giffen’s idea of getting rid of them not only made sense but seemed appropriate for what should be the future of superheroes. Here we had characters who had flaws, made sex, cheated, had wars against each other, regretted actions, called each other by first name, bonded and were bright lights in spite of all the evil that was going on. I loved the idea they would not use those silly codenames ever again.
3) Complexity – Instead of linear storytelling, we had not simply the Levitz concept of main-plot/3subplots running, but lots and lots of subplots that would return without expectation.
4) Politics taken with flair – politics was a huge part of Giffen’s complex ideas, but differently from ridiculously oversimplified “retroboot” xenophobia, we had complex matters into Legion, which made a lot of sense. I never got why there was so little politics in a group that largely dealt with different races and planets.

Zero Hour (but before that, the disastrous run that followed Giffen’s departure, that dumbed down the book) destroyed all the character of Legion. Without the idea of growing older, we simply got with a group of adolescent heroes from lots of planets and lived in the future. Yawn. Yes, you can still tell interesting stories with them (with Shooter’s threeboot being the best one so far) but you most of the times do mediocre superhero things (Levitz’s current run and Meltzer & Johns’ Lightning saga).

So I can see why Tom doesn’t become a “converted” fan. There’s not a single reason nowadays to see Legion as unique, because it is being written/seen as just another book on the shelves.

I wholeheartedly agree with Ricardo. Post five yer gap legion was everything he said. I’ve never read a more dense (this is a good thing) comic series and Giffen’s and the Bierbaum’s work was by far my favorite series ever.

I have a big stack of 5 Years Later comics sitting on my desk next to my computer. Definitely my favorite Legion era ever, with Giffen really pushing the bounds of density in layout and storytelling and creating a really rich, really compelling word.

5YL was my gateway into the Legion, and I *did* approach it as a research project, but that honestly made the stories and my engagement all the richer. It’s almost too easy these days to pick up a trade paperback and read a wikipedia page and BOOM you know everything there is to know.

That said, I’d love to get some trades of these issues.

I have nothing to add about The Legion that hasn’t already been covered, but I will say that The Killers cover of “Romeo & Juliet” is superior to Dire Straits version… :-)

I don’t like this new version of the Legion of Super-Heroes series. It doesn’t have that Legion spark I loved in the prior series. I gave it a shot and it’s just not my thing.

I’ve been reading the Legion since the 60′s in its various forms and my favorite run by far has been Abnett and Lannings run that included the year long “Legion Lost” saga. While many people seem to love Giffins run, I just thought it got too bizarre for my taste and I was also not a fan of the art in those issues.

Waids run was interesting but my favorite part was how they handled the changes for the future…
The Teen Titans had been brought to the future to help the Legion and when they were being sent back to their own time, something went wrong and they ended up 10 years in their own future, which had the effect of changing the whole timeline so that the future that they had just left no longer existed and had been replaced with Waids new version. A perfect reboot!

While I’m a big fan of Levitz for his time in charge at DC, his current run of Legion reminds me of his original run on the book and unfortunately my expectations have changed since I was a teenager. The current “Rebels” book is closer to what I would expect from Legion these days.

The shame of it is that “Legion” has the ability to be one of DC’s top books if it were handled differently.

It also has the potential to be the next “Star Wars” if someone at Warner Bros. ever gave it a serious chance.
It has everything the “X-Men” has with the futuristic sci-fi thrown in besides. Here’s a few examples…

Timber Wolf – superhuman agility and strength, claws, super-senses, and accelerated healing
Saturn Girl – reads minds and can control others with her mind
Cosmic Boy – control of magnetic fields
Phantom Girl – becomes intangible
Lightning Lad – generates and controls electrical fields
Sun Boy – generates controlled heat and light
Ultra Boy – flash vision, as well as flight and invulnerability (1 power at a time)
Polar Boy – Cold manipulation; ability to absorb heat and produce cold

Ron Catapano

Rons Comic World
1690 Route 38 – Armory Plaza
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My path has been different but you pretty much summed up my feelings on the matter.

I don’t love the Legion like I thought I would either.

Being a Marvel kid, my first exposure to the Legion was the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. The Retroboot Legion has gotten me interested enough to explore the Legion through backissues and I’d have to say that I’m firmly a casual Legion fan but am most passionate about the Cockrum era.

So I guess I like the Retroboot Legion the best. And they happen to be the focus of the Legion franchise right now, so things are good.

But I still don’t love the Legion, like you say.

I started reading the Legion in Adventure Comics way back in the early 60′s. I have loved almost every version of the Legion since then. But to be honest, I wish they had let the Legion that Mark Waid (and then Jim Shooter) had developed continue. It was a fun book, with lots of subplots and crises and adversaries worthy of a legion of young heroes. So far, the Retroboot has been a little underwhelming. The Legion of Superheroes works best as a group of young teens standing together as a force for justice in an adult authoritarian world. It’s Harry Potter. It’s the Blob (Steve McQueen version). It’s about youth and the future. It’s definitely not about looking back. (Though that’s what most of it’s small army of lifelong fans keep doing.)

For me, what they have done with the newest Legion book is sacrifice a wonderful concept for the sake of continuity, and I — as a comic book reader of 45 years — am thoroughly sick of continuity.

I think the connection many fans have with The Legion is due to the degree of interaction the series had with them- fans questions were addressed either in letter columns or in the stories themselves, and sometimes even their suggestions were used! This was something rarely seen in comics of the time (long before the internet) and certainly not in the rest of DC comics. They felt like they were part of an ongoing event, and their gratitude lasted for decades.

I myself first came aboard with the Shooter era Legion which I found incredibly original and dynamic for its time (it had the kind of stories that would later make X-Men and Teen Titans so popular.) Later I discovered the original, Silver Age version thanks to reprints, and while it felt like an entirely different team, it was still fun in the same kooky way most Silver Age DC comics were. I could never get into the Five Years Later era though (too dark, Giffen’s art got worse not better) and have never actually followed any version since.

For me the reboot was like a friend, who I had known forever, getting a makeover to update their look. I didn’t think they needed it but I liked the result and got used to it, even came to love it. Threeboot was same friend getting a drastic makeover. Only problem is they’d done it before and this time they were going for something really different. It didn’t suit them and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t see past the fact that they were trying too hard.

Now they’ve undone everything, embraced the original them but still managed to update their look and attitude.

And I definitely think gay men and the Legion share a certain bond. In my case I blame Timber Wolf…

I’ve been reading the legion for 20 some years, and I have to say that I really, really miss the DnA Legion. I thought I would love this new legion book, but maybe Levitz’s writing style just isnt for me now that I’m older.

The first Legion I bought for myself was Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #245, but I had read several Bates-Cockrum-Grell issues, including several with Shooter-Swan reprints, and the Mordru tabloid before that. This Legion was my first comic love, and you never get over your first love. Levitz continued and deepened this Legion and gave me the most joy I ever had from comics. Having THIS Legion back, as much as I enjoyed other comics along the way (including the DnA Legion), is like having that first love, which was ripped away from me (in Zero Hour), back. Bliss.

And I know others liked the reboot and the threeboot, and like I said, I enjoyed DnA’s run, but they were like New Coke. I don’t know why they thought they needed to change the formula and it just wasn’t the same, no matter how hard they tried to tell me it had everything I loved about the original, but with improvements. I wanted the original back.

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