Tuesday, May 3, 2011

You mean to tell me it's the 30th century and they haven't cured Legionnaires' disease?

I don't know if I'd call myself a "fan" of the Legion of Superheroes*, but I've always had a soft spot for the the group. If I remember correctly, the very first comic book I ever read on my own was a Legion story. We were on a family vacation and I was probably being a pest, so my father bought me some comics to shut me up.

It was one of those digest editions you find at supermarket checkout lines, and it had the retelling of the origin stories of various Legionnaires. The one I remember most clearly is that of Ultra Boy. He was a teenager named Jo Nah who was swallowed by a space whale ** and gained super powers as part of the ordeal. I was probably around eight and I was thinking "Yes, that seems reasonable."

The series has been going on in one form or since 1958, with the occasional reboot every decade or so. As a result, its continuity even more snarled than usual for comic books. (Though I happen to like the mythology that comes with a long running series like this, like the concept of the flight ring and its distinctive design.)

The gist of the Legion of Super Heroes, in very basic terms, is that it's a large *** group of teenage superheroes in the 30th century whose members each have one kind of cruddy superpower. For instance, Triplicate Girl is a normal person with the power to turn into three normal people, Karate Kid works out a lot and Bouncing Boy turns into a ball.

And then there's the ringer. Sometimes Superman is on the team too, with his entire panoply of awesome superpowers. I was talking about this with a friend. She says Superman makes the other legionaries irrelevant. Well, yes, I suppose, but when I show up with two of my friends I make Triplicate Girl irrelevant too.

Like any long running series, the theme and quality of the work varies over time. It's usually more light-hearted in tone than most comics, though my favorite Legion story (and one of my favorite all time comic stories ever) comes from the gritty Legion period. It's called The Great Darkness Saga, and here's the gist of it.

Darkseid survived into the 30th century. Having been forgotten by almost everyone, he defeated the era's two most powerful villains (Mordru and the Time Trapper) and absorbs their powers, subsequently using those abilities to enslave the entire population of the planet Daxam, who have Superman level powers when away from their home planet (except they're vulnerable to lead instead of Kryptonite). Darkseid moves the planet to a yellow sun and then sends his legions outward. One of the first places they hit is an outpost manned by a couple rookie Legion members. They were Karate Kid, Element Lad and some other guy who I forget.

Darkseid "only" sent about ten thousand Daxamites against these three guys, but they were barely superheroes at all,so that was overkill by a factor of about ten thousand. In desperation, Element Lad turns the atmosphere of the planet to ten parts per million lead  and I was like, "Woah, hardcore."

The cartoon series is distinctly lighter, but no less enjoyable. We picked it up from from Netflix, and Lily really liked it (despite not really liking Superman). I like it too. I'm rather amazed that such a niche property got made into a cartoon. It's unabashedly a kid's show, but there are some things aimed at an older audience, like a robot butler named Wodehouse, or Superman flying out to the Oort cloud, or him being chastised by his teammates who think he's spending too much time with his girlfriend. (They tell him "There's no 'Alexis' in 'team'.") Also, Lobo gets a cameo and a 15-year-old girl steals his bike. (The Main Man, my ass.)

I liked the Justice League series, but there seemed too much effort to find parity between the various members of the team, which resulted in too many scenes of Superman being barely stronger than Batman or Hawkgirl reacting faster than the Flash. I'm really pleased to say there is no such balancing here. There have already been several scenes where Superman shows up, kind of shrugs and then demolishes all the supervillains that had been smacking around the rest of the Legion.

When talking about the scene below later Lily described them as "A pink lady, a fat kid, and a green girl."

A pink lady, a fat kid, and a green girl walk into a bar...

That's no green girl! That's Brainiac 5! He's a robot! With hair!

Also, I dig all the character designs, but especially those for Saturn Girl (whom Lily refers to as "Planet Girl") and Lightning Lad. I like her little freefloating Saturn earrings, and I like the fact that his eyes light up when he uses his power and so does his scar. They're both trivial details, but they serve to make the characters memorable.

Lily especially likes Phantom Girl, and she happened to be wearing a black and white dress the same day we watched the show.

Me: Hey, you're wearing a black and white dress! Are you Phantom Girl?
Lily: No, I can't pass through things.
Me: Okay.
Lily: And I don't have that symbol on my chest.
Me: Okay, I-
Lily: And my skin is pink, not white.
Me: Relax, dude. I was just making conversation.

I think there's a definite resemblance though.

I don't know about you, but I certainly can't tell them apart.

* Though others might disagree, as I have a ready answer in the unlikely event that I'm ever asked "Who's your favorite Legionnaire?" (Duh, Cosmic Boy. He's got cool magnetic powers.)

** When I related this to a friend, she replied "Oh, boy.  Jo Nah, huh?  Maybe he should have been swallowed by Cthulhu and become a Unitarian" which is the greatest comment anyone has ever made about anything. Because Unitarians worship Cthulhu.

*** Regarding the large roster: In New Year's Evil: Mr. Mxyzptlk #1, Mxyzptlk attempts to recruit a parody of the Legion, called the Logjam of Super-Heroes, from his comic book collection. Despite its many members, the only ones who were properly identified were Batter-Eater Lad, Beachball Boy, Butler-Eater Lad, Butter-Eater Lad, Button-Eater Lad, Kid Kid, Kid Lass, Lightning Lice, Loud Kid, Mutton-Eater Lad, and Negative Lass.

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