With four major reboots, two teams running concurrently and multiple timelines, the Legion of Super-Heroes has had one of the most illustrious and convoluted histories in the comic book world. But despite all this, the concept of teens from many worlds using their powers to fight for the greater good has been a beloved part of the DC Comics universe for nearly 60 years.
With a devoted fan following, this comic book team made news earlier this year thanks to DC Entertainment CCO Geoff Johns. During the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Johns told reporters after The CW’s Legends of Tomorrow panel, “You’ll see a hint of the Legion on one of our shows. Keep watching.” This tease proved true in episode 15 of Supergirl (“Solitude”) as one of the objects found inside the Fortress of Solitude was a Legion Flight Ring. This confirmed that the team exists in the narrative realm of Supergirl, which has now rolled into the same universe as Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow.
As fans are hoping for more than just a ring (and will probably get it), we’re here to get you up to speed on the team’s history. We’re also going to run you through the world of Legion of Super-Heroes collectibles so you are ready to line your shelves with everything that’s out there!
The Legion first appeared in Adventure Comics #247 as part of a Superboy storyline. Three super powered teenagers calling themselves Saturn Girl, Lightning Boy (later Lad) and Cosmic Boy confronted a young Clark Kent claiming to be members of a super-hero club from the 31st Century. They took him into the future and had him run through a series of tests, which they rigged to fail. It was his moral center in the face of those defeats that caused them to invite him to be part of their club. They then returned him to his own time and flew away. The story was meant to be a one shot but proved so popular that they returned in back up stories and by Adventure Comics #300, had chased Superboy out of the title. It would be in the pages of Adventure Comics that the story of the Legion was further fleshed out.
What is that story? It all began with three teenagers from different worlds riding a public transport shuttle with galactic billionaire R. J. Brande. Telepath Imra Ardeen detected a plot to assassinate him and Rokk Krinn and Garth Ranzz used their magnetic and lightning powers respectively to subdue the assassins. Inspired by their heroism and the heroic example of Superboy from the 20th Century, Brande agreed to bankroll the trio as a superhero team. Taking the names Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad and Cosmic Boy, they were given headquarters, equipment and drafted a constitution that, among other things, created a strong code of ethics that prohibited killing.
While initially met with suspicion and skepticism, they were eventually given official sanction by the Science Police and made a peace-keeping arm of the United Planets. Soon they began accepting new members from all different worlds under the proviso that they had one power that did not duplicate the powers of an existing member. Their numbers soon grew and a colorful part of this team’s history was the regular membership drives. Have had to reject a number of applicants whose powers were not controlled, useful or just too silly to be admitted (hello Matter Eater Lad and Bouncing Boy), a number of the early denied applicants went on to create their own Legion of Substitute Heroes.
The Legion had a storied career, losing some members to death and gaining new and stranger members like Blok, Dawnstar and Wildfire. Superboy and Supergirl were regular members during time traveling adventures and the Legion protected the United planets from many threats including the warlike Khunds, the devious Dominators and even the galactic tyrant Darkseid.
The Legion took a strange departure in a storyline dubbed “Five Years Later”. Following the Magic War that briefly destroyed all science in the universe, the United Planets was left in disarray. Earth fell under the control of the sadistic Dominators. A wounded and de-powered Cosmic Boy would be the center here as he worked to bring together several of his own teammates (changed in many dark ways) and new characters with the goal of freeing Earth from Dominion control. Sadly, in a completely unexpected turn, the heroes would lose this fight and witness the destruction of Earth itself.
Almost concurrent with this storyline was the “Clone Legion” aka Batch SW6 or Legionnaires. Originally thought to be a cloning experience by the Dominators, they were found to be temporal paradoxes that were pulled out of time when the Legion was at its “strongest” in an effort to combat the coming time temporal disaster of Zero Hour. There was much confusion as to which one was the “real” Legion and attempts were made to both blend and keep the two teams apart, but the younger team ultimately sacrificed themselves to save the timestream and became absorbed into the older Legion. Both teams and all the previous continuity were destroyed by the cosmic destruction and rebirth of the Crisis and Zero Hour.
A clear casualty of the time distortions, which rewrote DC Comics history, were a mix of changes to the boyhood activities of Superman. As a result, he was no long the inspiration for and or even a member of the Legion. He was replaced in continuity by the Mon-el (pictured above) reimagining him as Valor but in time even that concept fell away. After Zero Hour, a reboot of the whole team occurred that ushered in many changes. For example, Lightning Lad was now Live Wire, the granddaughter of Barry Allen’s Flash joined as XS, 20th Century hero Ferro was recruited and the Legion membership swelled quickly with many young heroes joining the team. The changes in continuity saw some heroes die as they previously had and others lived. Their status as accepted heroes in the United Planets was also tenuous at best. Legion Lost saw several Legion members trapped in the 20th Century and the new Superboy, a clone of Superman and Lex Luthor, joining the team.
Feeling confused yet? Just try being a lifelong Legion of Super-Heroes reader and you’ll feel like you’ve been narratively broken down and rebuilt more times than the Six Million Dollar Man!
Roughly ten years after the second reboot occurred, another title wide DC Comics reboot happened, jokingly called the “threeboot” by fans. This reboot brought back the “Boy/Girl/Lad/Lass” codenames and saw many drastic changes to the teams origin, again. Some of the characters were also dramatically changed. Colossal Boy was now a giant who shrinks to human size. Star Boy went from being a white character to being black. Chameleon became increasingly androgynous and Phantom Girl found herself existing in two universes at once (and holding conversations in both).
The greatest change in this new continuity was to the society. The Earth here was very oppressive, especially in terms of human sexuality and free thought. It also monitored its youth in an almost Orwellian sort of way. One of the mandates of this new Legion was to foster open-mindedness, social reform and to inspire others with the example of the superheroes of the past. Thousands of young people from multiple worlds came to revere and follow the Legion with an almost cult like fervor, calling themselves Legionnaires. This incarnation also saw the re-introduction of the modern Supergirl into the Legion, although she thought the whole incident was just an elaborate hallucination.
The Legion next appeared in current continuity in the first of a three part reinvention of the Legion called the “Lightning Saga” with the Justice League and the Justice Society also playing a role. Starman, once again back to the white Thom Kallor, had been a member of the Justice Society for a while, having traveled from the 31st Century with a stop on the “Kingdom Come” Earth to aid Superman. The trip had reignited his schizophrenia and he spent his off hours in an asylum. Several other Legionnaires are found living other lives until their memories are restored after the words “Lightning Lad” were spoken to them in Interlac (a language of the 31st Century). The six are revealed to be part of a plan created by Brainiac 5 to use lightning rods to sacrifice one of them when the lightning hits so that someone else might live. Batman and Green lantern realize that the Legionnaires have positioned themselves at points of Speed Force activity and when the Lightning hits, Wally West, his wife Linda and their two children return, although that was not the intended outcome. All but Starman and Karate Kid return to the future and the Kid is joined by the previously unseen Duo Damsel who then run off for their own adventures. The most important thing to the continuity is that it re-establishes that Superboy was once again part of the legion’s history as Superman identifies them as lifelong friends. Once again, when it comes to the Legion, the past is frustratingly never set in stone.
The second part takes place in an Action Comics storyline called “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” which follows Superman as he is drawn into the future by Brainiac-5 to an Earth that has become a xenophobic police state, the Legion has been outlawed and the Sun has been tinted red. Legion reject Earth-Man has formed other rejects and villains to create the Justice League of Earth and rounds up scores of aliens. Earth-Man has also spread lies that Superman was indeed from Earth and the Legion’s inclusive nature was a lie. Superman helped the Legion defeat the evil League, exposed the lie, returned the sun to its proper hue and saved the Earth before it was attacked by the former United Planets. Superman left the Legion to rebuild their world but not before being given a new flight ring with a “sling-shot” feature to pull Superman to the future in emergencies.
The final part of is the “Legion of Three Worlds” miniseries ran alongside the Final Crisis event. This event drew together many of the more convoluted portions of the Legion’s past. Long time Legion foe, the Time Trapper, brings the deranged Superboy-Prime to the 31st Century. Enraged at finding that his existence had little impact on the future, yet Superman was still revered 1000 years later, Prime vowed to destroy everything that Superman inspired. Prime frees all the prisoners from the prison planet Takron-Galtos and forms a new Legion of Super-Villains. After it’s recent trials, the legion is vastly underpowered and Brainiac 5 decides to not only call Superman for help but draws two Legion teams from parallel universes to battle Prime.
He also resurrects the previously killed Kon-El Superboy, recruits the last Guardian of the Galaxy Saddam Yat and releases Bart Allen Kid Flash from the Speed Force, the original intention of the Lightning Saga. All the heroes fight the assembled villains as the Time Trapper takes Superman and the three founders to the End of Time and reveals himself as an aged Superboy-Prime. Returning to the 31st Century, the teams trick Prime into battling the Time Trapper, which destroys the Trapper and depowers Prime who is returned to his original Earth, much to the terror of his parents. The two Legion teams are returned to their respective universes and Superman returns to the 21st Century with the resurrected Superboy and Kid Flash, leaving the Legion to shape its future on the ideals that have always made it such a great team.
As with all tales, there are many side adventures, twists and turns beyond what I’ve detailed above, but the aim of this article was to paint a path to untangling a very tangled history and this is a solid start. Consider it a primer meant to allow you to explore more. In all the twists and turns there is, at the center, a team many love and a story of hope and the future worth exploring.
The Legion’s exploits have not been limited to just the comic book page. The Legion has had a popular animated series and several appearances in both animation and live action (even before the ring drop in Supergirl). Their main live action appearance occurred on the 2001 to 2011 television series Smallville which follows the development of a young Clark Kent before he became Superman.
In that series, the three founders of the Legion of Super-Heroes pursue their foe, The Persuader, to Smallville and stay to help Clark defeat Brainiac. Cosmic Boy later returns to try and get Clark to veer away from his upcoming battle with Doomsday. Later, Brainiac-5 takes Clark through his past, present and future as part of his training to become Superman.
In the Superman the Animated Series episode called “The New Kids in Town”, Chameleon Boy, Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl travel back in time to stop Brainiac from killing Superman at a young age. They go on to mention that Superman was the inspiration for the Legion and we see a quick glimpse of the extended membership. A more extensive look at the Legion happens in a Justice League Unlimited episode called “Far from Home” which sees Supergirl, Green Arrow and John Stewart drawn into the future by Brainiac 5 and Bouncing Boy to battle the Fatal Five. A large number of the Legion are shown including favorites Timber Wolf, Blok, Ultra Boy and Wildfire and we also see Supergirl decide to stay with the Legion.
Fall of 2006 saw the debut of an animated series called Legion of Super-Heroes. As part of the Kid’s WB line on The CW network, the series follows a core group of Legionnaires who go back in time to recruit a young Superman (they can not refer to him as Superboy due to legal issues) to help them defeat the new threat of the Fatal Five.
The show focused on eight core Legionnaires and the young Superman as they defend the galaxy from a variety of threats. Other Legionnaires are woven in and out of various stories. One of the standouts in the series was Bouncing Boy. A minor and usually derided character in the comics, here he is a comedic yet capable leader in this Legion. Brainiac 5 has a robot body that allows him to perform various incredible feats and a cool but insecure Timber Wolf also makes his mark on the viewer. The second season would see the inclusion of a Superman clone named Kell-El who assists the Legion in fighting the cosmic threat of Imperiex. The series changes dramatically in tone from the first season to the second as the Imperiex War alters the Legion in both physical and mental ways.
While not as well represented as their 21st Century counterparts, the Legion of Super-Heroes has had several interesting collectibles created in their name. McDonald’s created a series of Happy Meal toys for the Legion of Super-Heroes animated series. Featured in the set are Superman, Brainiac 5, Bouncing Boy, Lightning Lad and Timber Wolf and villains Tharok, Validus and Mano of the Fatal Five.
DC Universe Classics came out with an amazing box set for the Legion of Super-Heroes. This MattyCollector.com exclusive 12 page included action figures for Superboy, Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Ultra Boy, Karate Kid, Wildfire, a larger Colossal Boy, Lightning Lad, Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy, Timber Wolf, a clear Invisible Kid, Matter Eater Lad, Proty and a replica Legion Flight Ring. Each figure is house in their own part of a case with their names and biographical details on the side. In the end, the entire case folds up into a convenient tube that resembles the original Legion headquarters. What a staggering set!
Mattel came out with another great four pack from the Legion’s appearance on the Justice League Unlimited animated series. This set features the founders: Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad plus Brainiac 5. All of the figures are done in the animated Bruce Timm style.
Over the years there have been five series of DC Direct Action Figures. Series 1 arrived in 2001 and included Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad. Series 2 arrived in 2002 and featured Brainiac 5 and Mon-El. Series 3 arrived in 2003 and included Star Boy, Sun Boy, Ultra Boy and Chameleon Boy. Series 4 was up next in 2004 with Ferro Lad and Timber Wolf. The final series arrived in 2004 and served up Colossal Boy and Invisible Kid.
The one collectible that everyone wants to make its way to reality but we haven’t quite achieved fully yet is the Legion Flight Ring. The ring was created by Brainiac Five as a successor to the flight belt to allow for instant transportation for his teammates to spring into action and into the air.
Whatever the incarnation, the promise of the Legion of Super-Heroes has always been a future that is inclusive to beings of all kind. A future where that one thing that makes you different may just be enough for you to make a difference in the world. Hopefully we don’t have to wait 1000 years for those ideals to become a reality in our own lives. Because of that and so much more, I am proud to say: Long Live the Legion!