legioncoverOur book today is a brightly-colored celebration from 2008: Legion of Super-Heroes: 1050 Years of the Future, sub-titled: “Celebrating 50 Years of Everyone’s Favorite Super-Team of Tomorrow!” It reprints some of the best issues from the long run of the various incarnations of the Legion of Super-Heroes, DC Comics’ sprawling super-team of teenagers fighting interstellar dangers a thousand years in the future.

The core idea of the group debuted in Adventure Comics #247 back in 1958 when a teenage Clark Kent is confronted in Smallville by three mysterious teenagers who know that Clark Kent and Superboy are one and the same. They quickly reveal themselves as time-travelers from the distant future, members of the Legion of Super-Heroes – and they ask Superboy to come back to the future with them and join their club. The three future-teens – Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad – have a bit of fun pranking Superboy about whether or not he’s good enough for the Legion, but the end result is foregone: Superboy joins the team, and comics history is made. As legendary Legion writer Paul Levitz recalls in this volume, the success of the idea was a surprise to everybody:

When sci-fi writer Otto Binder and classic Superman artist Al Plastino collaborated on the first appearance of the Legion, they could not have imagined they were building the cornerstone on which fifty years of stories would be built. Fifty years before Adventure Comics #247, there were no recognizable comic books in America, Hugo Gernsback hadn’t launched modern science fiction in Amazing Stories, and H. G. Wells had just begun writing of the future. The possibility that this short story could attract enough attention to generate hundreds of sequels was impossibly small. Yet it happened.

It did indeed happen, and fans couldn’t get enough. This was the first superhero team of the modernlegion1 era, the first such team since DC’s Justice Society of America had appeared nearly twenty years before, and the JSA had been cancelled a decade earlier, leaving a conspicuous void. And the Legion wasn’t just a super-team; two key innovations were at the heart of its appeal to its fans: all its members were teenagers, and aside from Superboy, all its members were brand-new characters, with powers, origins, and personalities that readers could discover together. In a way that had never been true before and has virtually never been true since, the Legion of Super-Heroes felt like it belonged to its readers.

Mark Waid, a later writer for the team, puts it succinctly in this volume:

The Legionnaires have been, at various points, my friends, my paycheck, my family, and probably most importantly, my greatest inspiration as a writer. I always feel like the luckiest boy on Earth when my world intersects with theirs.

legion21,050 Years of the Future reprints some fantastic Legion adventures, including that dorky, adorable first appearance, and “The Future is Forever” by Levitz and iconic Legion artist Keith Giffen, and the classic future-of-the-future story “The Adult Legion,” written by an obscenely young Jim Shooter and drawn by the great Superman artist Curt Swan. Waid himself writes (with Stuart Immonen artwork) a version of the team’s origin story, how Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad came together in the first place. An anthology like this one could have been five times as big and still only constitute a quick survey of all the great Legion storylines over the decades, although everything in here is perfectly chosen.

And the Legion is on my mind more than usual lately. Not just because DC Comics continues the years-long disgrace of having no Legion title currently in publication, but legion3because the company has recently been making veiled hints at another huge continuity-resetting event coming up this Spring. In May, DC launches something called “Rebirth,” in which, it seems to me, they intend to roll back or undo some of the many unsuccessful features of their disastrous “New 52” relaunch of a few years ago. When I first heard about “Rebirth,” I was instantly hopeful that a lot of things would be restored: the Justice Society of America, a Superman who stands for optimism, a Wonder Woman who stands for hope (and never says things like “What ho, fellow heroes! ‘Tis a fine day for combat!”) … and most of all, the Legion of Super-Heroes.

But there’s no Legion title on the list of first issues that’ll be rolling out this summer. That list certainly isn’t complete, and a wise old industry-watcher has since reassured me that there are signs of hope for a Legion return. But I remain doubtful – this company has been botching one of its best legacies for quite some time now. I’ll certainly be reading “Rebirth” in any case – I’ll report back.

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