Money-Printing Machine: Legion of Super-Heroes

A column article, Mission: Professional by: Steven Savage

As a disclaimer, the Legion of Super-Heroes (LoSH) was one of my first comics experiences, reading issues friends have when I wasn't "into" comics (and later when I was in my Indie phase). I'm very fond of it, the huge cast, the soap opera-like occurrences, and some of the wonderfully crazy stuff over the years (reality warping device? Have someone eat it!). So you're going to have to tolerate my love.

Now onward: I think the Legion of Super-Heroes is something that DC could develop into its own multimedia sensation. Basically, it's an opportunity to create an enormously profitable enterprise of shows, games, merchandise and more. So I'm going to explore how we could all be joyfully exploited by Legion of Super-Heroes multimedia. Consider it an example of business analysts, a hint to those of you working in comics, and a thought exercise that might help you come up with useful career options and insights on what comic properties can become.

(If you aren't familiar with Legion of Super-Heroes, shame on you, you're making me feel old, and go read about them on Wikipedia).

So why would Legion work as a multimedia property? A few distinct traits:

  • An insanely huge cast. The Legion's cast covers people of different races, from different worlds, different times, and a variety of personalities and powers. There's enough material to mine here for ages.
  • Multiple takes. Thanks to assorted reboots, Legion's continuity has several versions. Though often irritating, it does mean people have room to explore the story and characters.
  • A legacy of unusual. Legion of Super-Heroes in its run has had android girlfriends built in ones sleep, galactic wars, the return of magic in an age of technology, cross-species romance, and the whole eat-the-reality-warping-device plot. There is, again, material to mine for ages.
  • The large and the small. The Legion's focus on small personal issues and big plots gives a huge range of stories to work with.
  • Enough name recognition to get attention. People have probably heard of the Legion, even if it doesn't get the name recognition of, say, Batman or the Justice League . ..
  • . . . obscure enough to play with. Legion also is not so popular that it risks being constrained by public expectations.

Or, in short, the Legion has a load of characters and situations that can give life to media properties for ages.

Brainiac 5 calculates the amount of fanfic that would be written about him if there was aLegion TV series.

So, how would I do it? Or more importantly, what kind of media enterprise would get me to happily cough up time and money? I'm glad you asked.

Go International, or "Hello Japan"
Anime is still hot, Cool Japan is still Cool. There's plenty of anime fans, there are western successes (and crossovers of talent like Supernatural), and the Japanese studios know how to produce series. Also Japan has been doing super-powered teens and twenty-somethings for decades.

I'd start with Japan. Make a Legion animated series that would be a joint US-Japanese venture. How? Perhaps shared animations studio work, designs, what have you. Make the cast pre-cast for both nations, and get the best names you can. You can be pretty bloody sure in America Andrea Romano would be given large sums of money to cast the American actors.

What this gives you is a large international market, attention, and the best of all worlds. A lot of American animation seems to be deriving from a mix of anime and Fleischer retro, so take it all the way and be done with it. The marketing possibilities are fantastic.

Make This A Reboot
Don't try and base the series on any one interpretation or time. A LoSH animated series should go all out and do its own solid take on the characters and their plots.

This avoids any attempts to tie it to a given take or even character set. A story and setting can be designed to make best use of the enormous LoSH materials, plots, and cast. It also gives the creators a chance to make a take they truly have ownership of.

It also allows for a take that may fit certain sensibilities and ideas, or to play with a few ideas to make the show truly the creator's own take.

See this cast? Think of the action figure potential alone...

DC's Future, Not Its Past
One of the ideas that works well in the various Legion-takes is a revival of a heroic age in the future of the DC Universe. The old heroes have left a legacy revived by these bright young people.

However, any crossovers would probably be out of the question. Let the heroes be remembered, and mentioned, even seen in flashback. But I'd ditch the time-travelling elements to bring Big Names like Superman into the plot.

This may seem disrespectful to the origins of the LoSH series, but having this policy of "limited past" would prevent a few issues:

  • It allows other "past properties" to be used in ways that don't diminish the LoSH brand (say a Superman film, other series, etc.)
  • It allows the LoSH to stand on its own.
  • It prevents any unpleasant infighting over property use.

All Aboard the Arc
If you're going to sell a not-quite-well-known series cross-culturally and worldwide, you need everything going for you. In story that will have romance, drama, war, and possibly a superintelligent alien building a robot girlfriend in his sleep (it was the 
'70s, trust me, it really happened), you want to make a commitment.

Pretty much a third of LoSH is like this anyway. You know people will tune into superhuman romance, they've been doing it for years...

LoSH the animated series should have a definite story arc spanning each season and a good 5 years or so. Certainly there would be standalone episodes, but to do something big with Legion, you might as well go all-out - and that would involve a commitment both internally, and to the world.

(Besides, imagine the selling point of acknowledging the fact that this is a superhero-SF fusion drama where you make a commitment to plot and resolving issues. It's a good sale to people burned by other series).

You could make this commitment even more effective by hiring on noted comic/anime writers to work out the plot and the arc. This lets you get serious talent at work, and shows the commitment to quality. Plus imagine what the great minds of comics and animation will come up with being handed five year and all those characters to play with. 

Launch Effectively
LoSH TV series certainly can and should be launched with fanfare, tie-ins, and soforth. However it shouldn't be overdone for several reasons:

  • This should be long-haul. A hard-hitting launch could make it seem like it's an overhyped flash in the pan.
  • This is a tale of superpowered teens and twenty-somethings. Overdo it and you'll get labeled an attempt to be the next Twilight/Harry Potter/Whatever. Worse you'll be seen as trying too hard.
  • The media loves to see big things take a fall. Don't set yourself up for one, or encourage them to cause a fall.

Merchandise Appropriately
LoSH could be a great source of appropriate merchandising. Or for that matter inappropriate merchandising, but let's hope for some dignity.

The LoSH series could be enhanced, expanded - and be profitable - with a few key tie-ins:

  • Its own comic series and novels. Yes, that's probably a given, but additional media - that takes place in continuity - could sell well. The only risk here is that you could overshadow any existingLoSH comic series.
  • Games. You've got action, adventure, and odd powers, this screams video-game tie in. However to deal with the issue of bad media-tie in games (as in so many aames), the appropriate studio should be picked, preferably someone with a good track record that's publicly known. That publicity will help tone down doubts.
  • MMOs. I have high hopes for the DCU MMO, and as a big part of the Legionverse is "try outs", a good Legion MMO could be pulled off (probably if only as a sequel using most of the same engine). The only risk might be that it'd dilute some of the DCU Online players and the sci-fi/hero mix could swing too easily in either direction as opposed to achieving a proper fusion. This is a maybe.
  • Your usual merchandise of figures, etc. That's kind of a given.

And now back to reality

So, I've had my fun and we've joined together in my speculations on a Legion of Superhero animated-and-more property. I hope you had fun, and thanks for indulging in my speculations.

Now is this possible? I'm not sure - I think it's possible enough that I'm willing to speculate. Time will tell.

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