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Legion of Super-Heroes: 1050 Years of the Future

Posted: Wednesday, July 2, 2008
By: Shawn Hill

Various
Various
DC Comics
Reprinting:

Adventure Comics #247, #304, #312, #354-355
Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #212
Legion of Super-Heroes #300
Legion of Super-Heroes #0
Legends of the DCU 80-Page Giant #2
Legion #3

The foreword to Legion of Super-Heroes: 1050 Years of the Future is by Paul Levitz, whose work in the volume is mostly represented by Legion of Super-Heroes #300, an issue that is itself is a nostalgic homage looking back to many eras of the Legion’s storied past. In that story, he and Keith Giffen provide the framing device for “visions” that are illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger, Howard Bender, Curt Swan, Dave Cockrum, James Sherman and Joe Staton respectively.

Levitz, famous for his long run that mixed action and soap opera while never slighting the entirety of the Legion’s huge cast, worked with Sherman, Giffen, and Staton. Swan was Jim Shooter’s frequent collaborator, and Cockrum was best known for his dramatic visual updates of the team just prior to Marvel stealing him for the X-men re-launch in the mid-1970s (take a look at Storm and Shadow Lass side by side).

Unfortunately, the compilers have let the inclusion of Levitz’s anniversary issue do the work of the rest of this book, as it’s both the first and last you see of many of the contributors and characters.

While a lot is included in the selection of reprint issues listed above, there’s also a lot that’s left out. Fortunately, the additional featurettes include such things as the covers of the large-size Limited Collector’s and All-New Collector’s editions that came out during the Legion’s 1970s renaissance, and several other excuses by Sherman, Jiminez, and Davis to celebrate the entire team at once.

Unfortunately, aside from Legion of Super-Heroes #300, there’s not much on Mordru, the Fatal Five, the Suneater or Computo. What’s more, Cockrum’s original art (which led to that afore-mentioned renaissance) receives no story and just a few pages of fact-oriented reprints.

The illustrated roll call of character origins and trivia in this volume, which was a frequent feature in the old days of the Legion, doesn’t use Cockrum’s rendition but a latter-day oddity by the trippy Sherman and hard-edged Jack Abel--an unlikely duo that nonetheless works.

No other Levitz/Giffen stories are included--no “Great Darkness Saga” and nothing from the Baxter run of the 1980s, which lasted until the five-year Gap following the Magic War. Additionally, there’s no Giffen/Bierbaum Legion, no Legion Lost, no Legion Worlds, no Khunds, no Blight, no Jim Starlin, no Greg Laroque, no Laurel Kent, no Miracle Machine, no Luck Lords, no Time Trapper, no Neal Adams monthly covers, no Monstress, no Snekka, no Dawnstar, no Tellus, no Dark Circle, no Dominators, no Moy, no Universo, no Moder. . . .

Okay, so maybe being comprehensive for twenty bucks wasn’t going to happen. While what did happen seems curiously uneven, there’s no argument that some of these stories are quite important, or that the whole package is a fun read. We get the first meeting between Superboy and the Legion, with extra-judgmental versions of Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl. They look like extremely mean Mousketeers, and they put Superboy through his paces before revealing how much they worship him.

Then we get Lightning Lad’s death and Saturn Girl’s first attempt at comprehensive deception--a pattern she and other Legionnaires will frequently repeat; it’s not for nothing that they ultimately form an Espionage Squad or have “Conspiracy” story arcs, as spying is one of the premiere Legion skills. Then we get Lightning Lad’s resurrection, an all-around odd story that really sets up the DCU future as an alien-filled space opera.

Lightning Lad’s resurrection story also sets up the frequent Legion theme of individual sacrifice for the greater good--as long as the individual is a minor player rather than a main one (wink).

There are a lot of interesting parallels between the Legion and the Star Trek mythos, actually; certainly Braniac 5 and Spock would have a lot to talk about. However, again, you’d hardly know it from this collection, which skimps on Brainy.

The ongoing nature of the plots and soap opera character arcs was already beginning to gel in the early 60s. By the time Shooter arrived he took the potential even further with singular new characters and a mix of dark and heroic moments, as well as a greater emphasis on military strategy and long-term enemies.

Look back to the Adult Legion, Days of Future Past, to see your origin in a then-wildly creative attempt to envision a future mixed up with both tragic loss and new hope for the team. Curt Swan’s adult versions of our teen heroes, with receding hairlines, growing families of children, and clear differences in body shape and attire, are wonderfully conceived. This is the story where we see Superman among his adult peers and best friends, so Geoff Johns has forebears to thank as well.

And then, well, okay, we get a beautifully drawn but rather formulaic story by Shooter showing the supermodel-gorgeous Grell Legion beating more powerful doppelgangers though teamwork. Yes, even the mullet on Magno Lad looks good.

The stories were simple in this era of renewed interest for the team, and Grell took Cockrum’s sexy new costumes to the extreme in every panel. Imagine the most outlandish space babe outfits from Star Trek, then put them on the boys as well as the girls, and you’ll almost get there. The team never looked better, but this second run from Shooter lacked the drama of the first (who candidly admits to those shortcomings in a brief essay).

The newer material includes a standout retelling of the team’s origin, with art by Immonen, who with Chris Sprouse was perhaps the lasting artist from the post-Five Year Gap, pre-Reboot era of the team. Immonen also draws the touching story from the Legends of the DCU 80-Page Giant #2, which I missed the first time around--doing that “multiple styles page by page” thing he can do, a nice match for Levitz’ look back at all the 20th century legacies that live on in the futuristic team.

And then the post-reboot era is summed up by one issue of the Abnett/Lanning/Coipel Legion title, which didn’t really achieve the notoriety of their earlier more radical Legion Lost or “Blight” stories, nor the creativity of their Legion Worlds experiment.

Though it’s ultimately pretty good, featuring an attractive team of smart youths, the strangeness of writing a team from the next millennium that is somehow simultaneously fifty years old is touched on by Levitz in his confessional introduction. As assembled, this collection isn’t the Legion’s greatest hits. The principal themes of the team do make it through, however, and there’s no denying the beautiful work of Swan, Grell, Lightle, Jiminez, or Sherman. This is a charming curio for the dedicated Legion fan.



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