For fans of DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes, 2008 started out promising.
It was the 50th anniversary of those teenagers from the future — they first appeared in April 1958′s Adventure Comics #247 — and classic writer Jim Shooter had returned to the title. On television, a Legion Saturday-morning cartoon was in its second season, and the all-ages comic adaptation seemed to be well-received.
What’s more, Legionnaires played prominent roles in the popular “Lightning Saga” crossover in Justice League of America and Justice Society of America, and in the “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” story arc in Action Comics. And then there was the promise of the Final Crisis tie-in, Legion of 3 Worlds (it kicked off just last month).
It all combined for one shiny anniversary present, topped with a futuristic-looking bow.
“What fun! Sure makes me look forward to my 50th wedding anniversary,” said Matthew Elmslie, who operates the Legion Abstract blog.
Of course, cancellations and reboots are nothing new to Legion devotees, but they make the team’s history seem impenetrable to newcomers: pre-Crisis, “Five Years Later,” post-Zero Hour, Legion Lost/The Legion — it gets a little overwhelming.
However, the fifth volume — the “Threeboot” — which launched in July 2005 with Mark Waid and Barry Kitson at the helm, started over from scratch (again), introducing us to a new version of the 30th century, and new takes on decades-old characters.
Yet after an impressive enough debut, the series rapidly lost readers, only seeing sales spikes with the “One Year Later” jump (which added Supergirl to the lineup and the title’s name), an Adam Hughes variant cover and, finally, the first issue of the Shooter/Francis Manapul run.
So, what went wrong?
“The Threeboot Legion never really lived up to its potential,” said Elmslie, who contributed to Timothy Callahan’s Teenagers From the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes. “Mark Waid, followed ably by [Tony] Bedard and Shooter, built a lot of strengths into it, including a plausible, well-conceived premise for the Legion’s place in the world, and the strongest and most subtle characterization the Legionnaires have ever had. (And Kitson’s art — followed ably by [Dennis] Calero and Manapul — was tremendous.) But the stories were too long and slow, the villains were mostly ciphers, and fans were split on whether Waid’s innovations were any good or not. Still, if we had to pick one of the three Legions to star in a comic book … the Threeboot version has the most story potential going forward.”
It’s unclear, though, which version of the Legion readers will see when the ongoing series, inevitably, returns.
Over the past year, Geoff Johns has demonstrated a fondness for those teenagers as he’s turned to them again and again in “The Lightning Saga,” “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” and, now, in Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds. Still, he’s used Legionnaires from three incarnations of the series (pre-Crisis, post-Zero Hour and the Threeboot) so it’s difficult to figure out just what a Johns Legion would be — if the new series were even written by him.
“I think we’d love Geoff to write everything right now,” DC’s Dan DiDio told Newsarama. “But realistically, he’s got a pretty full slate with everything that’s going on. … But I’m sure that the Legion will stay close to Geoff and near and dear to him as well, and you’ll probably see some of them appear through some of his runs down the line. I don’t want to give too much away. But there’s always plans for the Legion. They’re an important part of the DC Universe.”
Surely, though, Johns and his Legion of 3 Worlds miniseries will have some hand in the future of the Legion. (Yesterday, Rich Johnston reported that Bedard will write a L.E.G.I.O.N. title, based on the late-’80s/early ’90s series. However, it’s not known whether it will be an ongoing or miniseries, or even if it will be the only Legion title.)
“When it comes to the Legion, I’m more interested in what comes next than in dwelling on the past,” Elmslie said in an email. “This comic book is, after all, about the future. What comes next is going to depend a lot on just what happens in Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds. We hear that there will be one Legion at the end of that series, but we don’t know what that means. It could be that two of the Legions get killed off (never out of the question in a Geoff Johns comic book), and one survives. It could be that some of all three Legions get killed off and the survivors band together. It could be that Superboy-Prime and/or Bart Allen become Legionnaires. It could be that hardly anybody gets killed off but the three Legions are somehow combined anyway, either as-is or in what amounts to another reboot.
“Whatever happens, the hiatus after FC:L3W suggests what I’ve suspected for a while — that DC simply doesn’t know what’s next.”