The Legion had a great line-up of villains too. There were classic villains like the Fatal Five (five villains so bad they could take on the entire Legion), Starfinger, the Time Trapper, Universo, and super-sorcerer Mordru the Merciless. Then there were new villains such as Pulsar Stargrave and Grimbor the Chainsman. Given the Legion’s sheer size and power, their enemies had their work cut out for them.
Although the Legion already had enough characters to require a scorecard, that didn’t stop the book’s writers from featuring a large supporting cast. There were the Legion of Substitute Heroes, a group of would-be Legionnaires whose powers were too useless for regular membership (take for instance Color Boy, whose power was the ability to change object’s colors). The Legion had their benefactor, R.J. Brande, a galactic tycoon who financed the Legion after they saved his life. Other characters included scientist Rond Vidar, the son of villain Universo who served as an honorary Legionnaire and helped build the time machine the Legion used on occasion.
With the Legion set in the DC Comics universe, stories occasionally featured nods to 20th century comic books. Since the book originated with Superboy, it only made sense that Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor eventually appeared, as did a descendant of Mister Mxyzptlk. Not all appearances were from villains however. Legionnaire Brainiac Five was a descendant of Superman villain Braniac, who helped the Legion in their adventures. The Superman mythos wasn’t the only thing from 20th century that carried over into the 30th century, The Green Lantern Corps existed, but Lanterns were banned from Earth for a reason which was ultimately revealed. Perhaps the greatest 20th century tie-in occurred in the 1980’s during the five-issue storyline, “The Great Darkness Saga,” where a mysterious and seemingly unstoppable foe threatened the galaxy. Only late in the story did the Legion realize they were fighting Darkseid, who had been awakened after years of solitude. The storyline became one of the most revered Legion tales in the book’s long history.
Since the Legion was set in the 30th century, you never knew where they were going to go or who they were going to encounter. The Legion was based on Earth, but they had their share of adventures throughout the galaxy. Earth belonged to the United Planets, an assembly of various planets in the Milky Way Galaxy, a grand stage for a variety of adventures. The Legion’s foes could be anything from space monsters to alien armies to super-villains.
The Legion also took advantage of its advanced science available to them. First, there were the Science Police, who helped the Legion, but usually ended up relying on the Legion to handle super-criminals. Then there was the technology of the Legion itself. Each member had a Legion flight ring, the Legion had its small fleet of Legion cruisers, and the Legion headquarters had a number of incredible devices. The Legion Time Bubble allowed the team to travel back and forth from the 30th century. Perhaps the Legion’s most dangerous possession was the Miracle Machine, an alien apparatus capable of converting thought into reality (similar to Marvel’s Cosmic Cube). The Miracle Machine was the focus of several storylines, with its incredible power being coveted by many.
One of the book’s recurring themes was the Legion’s ever-changing membership. The team was always on the look-out for new members, but as readers found out, not everyone could meet the Legion’s strict requirements. From time to time, an issue featured Legionnaires judging applicants, usually with bad results for the would-be Legionnaires. Whether it was Infectious Lass losing control of her powers and making a Legionnaire sick, or an applicant trying to cheat by using technology, most people washed out. However, when new Legionnaires made it, it was often a big event.
New Legionnaires had to be brought in because Legionnaires died too, and typically without the comic book resurrections. By the time I started reading the Legion’s adventures, two members had died in action, and one more was on his way to Shanghalla, a planetoid where the galaxy’s greatest heroes (including Legionnaires) were buried. Ferro Lad perished as did Invisible Kid. In an unusual twist, Legionnaire Triplicate Girl (whose ability to split into three bodies) had one of her bodies killed, and she became Duo Damsel. The only way a Legionnaire returned was through the Legion’s clone bank, but sadly, cloned Legionnaires lasted no longer than 48 hours.
Another interesting feature was the back-up stories that spotlighted a single Legionnaire (sometimes a small group). It gave readers a chance to see their favorite star in action and flesh out the already exciting world of the 30th century. What’s particularly impressive is the quality and depth of these stories which ran perhaps seven or eight pages.
The Legion of Super-Heroes quickly became one of my favorite comics and I would follow the team throughout its run, even into the early 1990’s. As DC fiddled with its continuity numerous times, the Legion was rebooted, killing my interest in the book. The book never seemed to catch on, despite several reboots. Still, a solid run from the 1960’s to the 1990’s is impressive for any comic book and I never tire of rereading the classic Legion stories from days gone by.