ComicsAlliance vs. the Legion of Super-Heroes: Our 10 Favorite Legionnaires [Part 1]
David: The Legion of Super-Heroes! The team always seemed to me like the Grateful Dead of superhero comics, like a band with a really devoted following but such a self-referential history and unorthodox paradigm that it seems impenetrable. Which is why we’re here today to break it down with a list of our 10 favorite Legionnaires.
Chris: I love the Legion. Absolutely love it, in pretty much every form. The basic premise here is that a thousand years in the future, a bunch of teenagers with extraordinary abilities (some of which they share with their entire planet) are inspired by the heroism of today (specifically Superboy) to join together and use their powers for Good. So basically, Super Future Space Teens.
Chris: But yeah, I’ve often said that if you’re going to read the Legion, you pretty much have to go and drop $600 on Archives. Or to update that from when I first said it four years ago, $450 on archives and about $45 on Showcases. Point being, it’s a pretty insular little bunch, and the fact that it gets rebooted every now and then with a fresh start that actually has a ton of references to past continuity doesn’t really help. Which is exactly what brings us here today!
David: My history with it? I jumped on with the late 2004 Mark Waid/Barry Kitson reboot, which I thought was – for the first year – one of the best superhero comics out at the time. Waid introduced the characters and concepts to me in a way that seemed completely organic and logical, and I really loved it. It was just edgy enough to feel like real teenagers, but optimistic and hopeful enough to feel like teenagers inspired by the modern heroic ideal.
Chris: Ah yes. The “Eat It, Grandpa” Legion.
David: It’s been a hell of a ride since then, from there to Jim Shooter’s return to the Lightning Saga and the return of the pre-Crisis Legion, and then the entertaining but utterly inscrutable “Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds,” which retconned “my” Legion into the future of Earth-Prime. Since then, though, I think I’ve gotten the basics — three kids, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy, are brought together by R.J. Brande to reignite the heroic ideal in the 31st century. They then take over an upside-down rocketship for a clubhouse. I always liked Waid’s take on them basically being the SCA for the 31st century, like LARPers. They wear ridiculous costumes and have ultra-dorky names in deference for and emulation of the purest form of the modern superhero.
Except that like — imagine if you were in the SCA, and King Arthur ACTUALLY CAME BACK FROM CAMELOT to come hang out with you in the present and slay some trolls. That must be what it’s like for them chilling with Superboy.
Chris: That’s a pretty good summary, actually. Chris: But looking at it, I can see how people would get lost. That’s why today, you and I are going to take a trip through the Legion Clubhouse with a look at some of the more obscure and awesome characters from the Legion of Super-Heroes!
Chris: Just so our readers our prepared, David and I are going to be referencing a series of character descriptions written by Jim Shooter – who broke into comics at age 13 writing the Legion of Super-Heroes, then became Editor-In-Chief of the best era for Marvel comics ever, then went back to finish out the last of the “Threeboot Legion” a couple years ago — that contain a surprising and somewhat uncomfortable amount of information on the Legionnaires’ sex lives.
David: These were originally published in the “Interlac” fanzine in in 1976, and are generally completely hilarious.
Chris: They are. So if you’re into hearing about the hypothetical sex lives of imaginary future space teenagers, brother, are you in the right place.
Chris: Originally, I wanted to lead this off with everyone’s favorite bizarre Legionnaire, Matter-Eater Lad, but really: Everybody knows that guy. He’s sort of the poster child for the Legion’s weirdness. So instead…
Chris: Taryn Loy, Calorie Queen!
David: Nuclear metabolism. I mean, it’s better than your arms falling off, but there’s cooler powers for sure. I also love how they have her describing how everything she eats is changed to energy — the magic of the human body! Biology 101!
Although I guess excess calories don’t escape through my pores, which would be the most convenient weight loss method ever.
Chris: Like Matter-Eater Lad, Calorie Queen’s from the planet Bismoll, which I think is actually the longest-running terrible joke in comics history, so she’s got the same Matter-Eating ability that he does.
David: Bismoll? I actually don’t get that off the top of my head, so I’m looking forward to groaning loudly in a few minutes.
David: … I… I’m out of beer to wash that bad pun down. Damn you, Ontario liquor store closing times. I was about to make a crack about how if she had the Matter-Eating ability she’d be unstoppable – I mean, that seems like an expensive superpower if you have to keep ordering truckloads of Double Downs.
Chris: Yup. Unfortunately, Calorie Queen never actually made it into the Legion. She was rejected under the “no two people with the same powers except Superboy, Supergirl, Mon-El, Ultra Boy and Lightning Lass” rule. She wanted to replace Matter-Eater Lad — and really, she should, because she’s basically got his power only it’s better and she wears crazy awesome disco pants — but the Legion beat her and her cadre of rejects because, get this, they work as a team.
David: That’s pretty cruel. “Our exclusive clique is tightly-knit, so screw you! If you’d made better friends first, then you could be our friend!”
Chris: That is basically the Silver Age Legion’s defining principle. I actually wrote an essay in the book “Teenagers From The Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes” (available now on Amazon!) about how what makes them great is that they actually act like teenagers. Meaning they have all these arbitrary, draconian “the floor is lava so you can only step on the couch cushions” rules, and also that they’re kind of total jerks about it. There was one time where they made Shrinking Violet shrink down to put Kryptonite in Superboy’s brain so that he wouldn’t remember them in the past, and then they made him think about his dead parents so that she could ride out of his head on his tears. I swear to God.
Chris: E. Nelson Bridwell. It’s “Adventure Comics” #350.
Chris: Pretty much. Salu Digby of the planet Imsk, where everyone can shrink down to save space. Which is something that actually turned me off of the Legion when I was a kid: A lot of them come from planets where everyone can do what they can do, so why not just pad the team out with Daxamites, who all have Superman’s powers? It’s not like there’s a whole lot Lightning Lord’s going to be able to do about that.
David: I remember her from Waid’s run, where she was a straight-up urban legend in the Legion. Everyone thought she was made up as a practical joke. When she actually enlarged and was like “I exist”, everyone was totally flabbergasted.
Chris: That was pretty great.
David: God, I loved that book. In any case, she has a sweet look, though. Fits the codename, and while the lapel violet is a bit on the nose, the green hair streak is a nice clashing detail.
Chris: She as also all gothity in the cartoon version, which I thought was a nice play on the shyness that was her defining characteristic for so long:
Chris: If memory serves, she’s one of the only early Legionnaires to not have the “_____ Girl” or “_____ Lass” in her codename. During the big post-zero hour reboot, when everybody got swanky new super-hero names (Phantom Girl became Apparition, Lightning Lad became Livewire and so on), she got to keep her old name. Although when she later got growing powers, she took up Leviathan in honor of the post-Zero Hour version of Colossal Boy, who died when she was possessed by the Emerald Eye, and–you know what? The Legion actually is kind of confusing.
David: I remember that – that was a Mark Waid thing, right? The codenames? Or was it Abnett/Lanning? I’ve always heard Abnett/Lanning/Coipel had a great run on the Legion, and that always seemed like something I’d love to read.
Chris: Waid, wrote the first couple of issues that actually rebooted the team in 1994 (and then rebooted them again in 2004), but then passed it off to guys like Tom Peyer and Tom McCraw. And yes, that Abnett/Lanning run is great. If you like their Cosmic Marvel stuff…
David: I love their cosmic Marvel stuff. And Tom Peyer is the most underrated superhero writer of the ’90s probably; Hourman is a masterpiece. But I digress.
Chris: I love Shrinking Violet. She’s easily one of my favorite Legionnaires, both because I really like the way she’s been developed over the years and because she was one of the first bisexual characters in comics that I know of, which was kind of a Big Deal back in the ’80s.
David: It doesn’t surprise me! I figure Legion would be the kind of book that would handle this, since it was insular enough to probably not appeal to young kids, and was also one of the first titles to go DM-only, correct? It’s ironic that the team with the youngest, most accessible concept always seems to have the oldest readers.
Chris: I think that comes from the fact that it was one of the earliest books to really use continuity. People joined and quit, died and came back, all well before that sort of thing happened regularly.
David: That makes a lot of sense — the Superman and Batman stuff from the time period of a lot of that earlier, more serialized Legion stuff was really episodic.
Chris: And since they were set so far in the future, they didn’t have to deal with other parts of DC, other than with Superboy, who was fairly static. So it sort of evolved alongside DC, but in isolation. But yeah, while it was never actually stated, after her relationship with Duplicate Boy (who can duplicate powers), she developed a romance with Lightning Lass through pretty obvious subtext that involved them hanging around the planet Winath with no clothes on, because that’s how the future rolls. Then, post-”Zero Hour,” there’s a lot of subtext with her and Kinetix that unfortunately doesn’t end up going anywhere.
David: For reference, here’s Jim Shooter’s characterization of Shrinking Violet and her sex life:
More than a little like a female version of Ultra Boy. She is very hung up on Ultra Boy. She is very hung up on Duplicate Boy and is rather a depressive sort — but not as extreme as U-Boy. Just being a girl helps, because it is easy to relax into a follower’s role and her essential underlying morbidity is interpreted as shyness. She is very emotional, bright, attractive, and confusing to simpler types like Colossal Boy who can’t understand that she is happiest when wallowing in loneliness, suspicion, doubt and fear. She gets all her weird sex from Duplicate Boy and waiting and worrying just makes it sweeter.
David: Shooter’s description can best be described as: Ultra Boy is a completely morbid guy who is awesome at boning Phantom Girl but saves the kinky stuff for Dream Girl. Then again, according to Jim Shooter, EVERYONE saves the kinky stuff for Dream Girl, who is the clubhouse bicycle.
Chris: Yeah, there’s this weird recurring theme in Shooter’s writeups. And that theme is “Dream Girl is a slut.”
David: “Hell in bed.”
Chris: Ultra Boy is maybe the second-best character in the Silver Age, right after Jimmy Olsen.
David: I have no familiarity with pre-Threeboot Ultra Boy, outside of his small appearances in the Johns stuff. In the Waid Threeboot, he was always way more of a dumb goofball.
Chris: Well, maybe “Best Character” isn’t the right way to put it, but come on! He’s got all of Superman’s powers but he can only use ONE AT A TIME! That’s awesome. That’s exactly the kind of thing a kid would come up with.
David: I always thought it was any superpower in general. I never realized it was restricted to Superman’s powerset.
Chris: Also, his origin story is fantastic: He got swallowed by a space whale.
David: OH GOD THAT’S WHY HIS NAME IS “JO NAH”
David: I love how that hit me immediately. Oh, God, that’s SO on the nose.
Chris: They’re the perfect comic book characters, man.
David: It makes sense to go for such broad archetypes when you have such a huge cast, though.
Chris: Yeah, you want people to be able to associate them with what they do at a glance, hence Violet’s violet. Also, while it’s not technically a super-power, he is so handsome.
Chris: Yeah, he’s always been kind of a hunky doof. Which, again, is something great: He’s a guy who really has to struggle with figuring out what power he wants to use at a given time.
David: Has he ever used Superman’s super-intelligence to strategize the best combination of his other powers?
Or best sequence, at least?
Chris: Unfortunately, that is not among the powers he gained in the belly of the space-whale.
David: Wait, that’s where he actually GOT his powers?! I figured it was just some thing from his background. Was it like a magical wishing space whale?
Chris: It was a space whale full of Ultra Energy. It’s… It’s probably best not to dwell on it. Instead, let’s talk about Dream Girl.
Chris: Yeah, that Shooter thing is really the only reason I’m bringing her up, because otherwise, Dream Girl’s exactly what she says on the box: She’s a really hot girl that also has prophetic dreams. According to Jim Shooter, this makes her roughly as promiscuous as Yo Mama.
David: I’m really coming up to a loss of what to say about her that isn’t “wow, what Jim Shooter said about her is messed up.” Because you’re right — other than that, it’s all very surface level stuff, and I’m not really aware of many stories about her other than the extended Brainiac 5 dream thing in the Threeboot.
Chris: For those of you wondering, here’s what Shooter had to say–and again, keep in mind that this was 1976, so there’s a good chance he’s changed his mind over the past 30 years:
Dream Girl is dumb. Her power is more or less hit or miss in value (though it is always accurate) and I’m sure her main service to the Legion is in her quarters after dark. She needs constant reassurance of her value, and since her Legion career has been less than stellar, the only way to get psychologically stroked is to allow herself to be physically stroked. By anybody.
David: I love how it’s in such sharp contrast to the Bierbaums’ (who wrote the book in the ’80s and early ’90s) later description of her as a “smart cookie” and a sort of chessmaster.
Chris: He also goes on to paint a truly harrowing picture of her relationship with Star Boy, but I kinda hate Star Boy, so it works for me.
She has a need for love, adoration and reinforcement of her narcissistic self-image. Star Boy is either too dumb to realize this, or has resigned himself to it. His most fervent wish is to get her off to some godforsaken observatory somewhere, alone. Forever.
Chris: Actually, it sort of does, but not from Shooter: There’s a scene in the ’70s where Dave Cockrum (I think) drew her sleeping with someone. Like, she woke up after a dream and someone was in bed with her. But it takes a pretty huge logical leap to get to “The Legion’s resident doorknob.”
David: Yeah, seriously. It’s a weird and more than vaguely misogynist… straw-woman of female sexuality.
Chris: For real.
Chris: You realize we’re going to get called out on him pre-dating both, right? I think it’s pretty commonly accepted that in a lot of ways, Polar Boy represents the Legion’s fans. He wants desperately to join, but he gets rejected because he doesn’t quite have control. But rather than being down about it (see: Calorie Queen), he decides to basically make a fan club with other Legion rejects and eventually becomes so good at it that he not only joins the team, but becomes the leader. He’s the super-hero version of the Professional Fan.
David: Well that isn’t just the comic fan’s dream — although it is — but it’s also the classic outsider’s dream as well, you know? He’s like the Horatio Alger story of superheroes.
Chris: Yeah. But he has a really good arc, all through the Legion’s grim and gritty 80s period, where he ends up being the guy who has to shut the Legion down because they get on the wrong side of the government. But even then, he’s really defiant about it. And then he comes back and gets his arm ripped off, because hey, that’s what happens in DC Comics in the 2000s:
Chris: And speaking of that arc…
To be continued tomorrow…