Sunday, April 2, 2023

Showcase Corner - Legion Of Super-Heroes One!

About a year after I was born, DC gave birth to one of the more fascinating and at times successful concepts of the Silver and Bronze Ages -- the Legion of Super-Heroes. They were youthful heroes who have banded together in the 30th century to bring justice to all of space as their inspiration Superboy had done on Earth a thousand years before. They are a club, a common enough group of young people all blessed with superpowers of some kind deemed useful in the battle against evil. It is the desire of many young people of the future to be a part of the Legion, and many stories begin with aspiring folk getting a chance to audition. Most go poorly, but now and again a new member is added. The number of heroes in the Legion was greater than any other team of the time, at DC or otherwise. Nowadays large numbers of heroes are common, but back in the late 50's and early 60's super teams consisted of a small team of four, five, six or maybe as many as seven. 

We begin with three -- Cosmic Boy, Lightning Boy (later "Lad") and Saturn Girl. These three come back in time to test Superboy and welcome him to the club in the debut issue of Adventures Comics #247. After that there is an intermittent return of the heroes from the future, often bringing new colleagues with them. Not only do they show up in issues of Adventure Comics and Superboy, but they visit Supergirl in her back-up feature in Action Comics. (Weirdly they claim they are the children of the Legionnaires who visited Smallville, but this detail was dropped after one mention.) The teens from the future even drop by to see Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. In this first batch of stories which follow the Legion as it's growing and being defined, we even meet adult versions of the team in the pages of Superman

Here are the Legion members we meet in this first Showcase volume in the order in which they were introduced. Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, Invisible Kid, Star Boy, Phantom Girl, Triplicate Girl, Shrinking Violet, Bouncing Boy, Sun Boy, Brainiac 5, Mon-El, Ultra Boy, Matter-Eater Lad, Element Lad, Light Lass (originally Lightning Lass), and Dream Girl (she refuses membership in her debut). In addition, we meet the Substitute Legion of Super-Heroes made up of heroes who had been denied Legion membership but still wanted to contribute in secret. They are Polar Boy, Night Girl, Fire Lad, Chlorophyll Kid, and Stone Boy. And to top it off we get Jimmy Olsen as Elastic Lad, and of course Superboy and Supergirl. It's an increasingly full comic book, fairly vibrating with characters. 

Much of the charm of the Legion comes from the ability of younger readers to identify with the cast of characters. With so many members, one of almost certainly to catch a reader's attention. (My favorites have always been Brainiac 5 and Matter Eater Lad) Being DC in the early Silver Age, there wasn't that much difference in personalities of characters, they were all good unless the plot required them to be otherwise and then that was explained away and the status quo reset. Lots of the stories did see the heroes battle each other. Sun Boy gets quite a bit of attention early on, as does the original trio of Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl. The latter was leader for quite some time, remarkable in its own way. Lightning Lad died for a while but was revived eventually. 

The Legion had a feeling of being a fraternity and or soroity at times, especially when they were testing possible new members. Often these wannabe heroes were rejected with some exceedingly harsh and downright mean criticisms. Some deserved it such as rich kids who tried to buy their way into the club, but others seemed sincere and deserved a bitter better reception than they got. 

The debut story is by Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino. The main artist for the majority of stories from Adventure Comics here is John Forte. The writers for the series are Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton.  Siegel's stories are among the most bewildering and zany I've come across in a long time, woefully dependent on last minute information to make it stick together. The artwork on the Supergirl stories from Action Comics is by Jim Mooney. Curt Swan draws the one Superman story and also gives the team many elegant covers during these earliest days. The work of inker George Klein is throughout. 

Here are the covers of most of the issues in this volume. (The Legion stories didn't always rate a cover.)

But this is only the beginning. The Legion of Super-Heroes ran for a long time. More next week. 

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