The Legion of Super-Heroes had really been one of DC's more organic successes. The team started out in the late 50's in a one-off story guest-starring with Superboy in Adventure Comics, but soon they were showing up in Action Comics with Supergirl and more and more often in Adventure Comics, Superboy, and elsewhere. That led to their own feature in Adventure Comics, replacing Superboy's feature which had introduced them and they thrived, especially among the young fans of the 60's looking for a fresh take from DC. But as they grewand devleoped and added a seemingly endless cast of characters, they also began to dwindle in popularity and gave over Adventure Comics to an updated Supergirl. They went on to take up residence in Action Comics, hidden behind the main Superman stories. Then they were shifted over to Superboy's main title and history began to repeat itself as they came to absorb it as well. Superboy was still a significant part of the proceedings but there was no doubt the Legion was the rising star.
DC also was not experimenting with different size comics featuring reprints but also offering up complete reprint comic books. The Legion of Super-Heroes was given a four-issue run which might've been an attempt to test the waters for a push into a title of their own or perhaps DC was just trying to defend its position on the spinner racks with the myriad Marvel comics hitting shelves in droves. Despite the long history of the Legion this was first self-titled series.
That revival was largely the result of the art of Dave Cockrum. He came to the strip as an inker working with longtime DC great Murphy Anderson, but soon was doing all the art, and bringing some fresh design ideas to the series.
The Legion was a wonderful Silver Age comic, but Cockrum tooled it to become a wonderful Bronze Age comic. New sleek costumes for heroes such as Colossal Boy, Shrinking Violet, Element Lad, Star Boy and many more. Cockrum had a knack for drawing young characters with fresh handsome faces. He gave Timberwolf a ferocious new look. And new legionnaire Wildfire was designed by him. One of his neatest contributions was giving the Legion a sleek new cruiser evocative of a certain enterprising starship from another franchise which had its ups and downs. In conjunction with writer Cary Bates, they made the Legion exciting again. But Cockrum was only there a little while before jetting over to Marvel to pull off a similar trick with a new set of X-Men.
Mike Grell stepped in to fill his shoes and he did so wonderfully. Grell's work was not as sublimely elegant as Cockrum's, but it was more dynamic and a bit more exciting to read. His girls weren't as pretty, but they were sure pretty enough. In tandem with Bates and returning writer Jim Shooter, Grell made the Legion a must read. Heroes married, moved into new careers, and even died in these Legion stories, and the stakes were always seemingly higher than in other DC comics. With all of space and time to play with, it's no wonder the Legion of Super-Heroes became a hit all over again.
Below are some of Cockrum's costume designs alongside some classics.
The Legion was so successful in the 70's that Val Armorr, the Karate Kid was granted a spin-off title making late advantage of what Kung Fu craze was still left in 1976. Karate Kid featured art by Ric Estrada and one of my favorites Joe Staton. Paul Levitz wrote the initial scripts, his first connection to the Legion as far as I know. This story has the Kid shift his work to the 20th Century where he found life at once more challenging and more fulfilling, at least for a time.
Here are the covers from this run on which the Legion appears. Many feature the creamy art of Nick Cardy. The rest are by Grell.
And that wraps my month-long read of the Showcase Legion tales. I've been hankering to get to this one for a long time and it's a pleasure finally get it completed. These are fun stories which speak of their respective eras delightfully.