Once again it is the last issue of this wonderfully old title. The Legion of Super-Heroes, a superhero team that debuted in 1958, has come and gone more often than William Shatner, and with just as great a variety of incarnations. It is usually easy to account for their comic’s demise — poor sales has done them in at least half a dozen times. But why do they keep on coming back? That is unusual — we see no revivals of Brother Power the Geek or Sugar N Spike. Something must account for the LSH’s enduring appeal.
To spot the attractive elements in the Legion it is probably easiest to go look at their first appearance, in Adventure Comics #247. DC is republishing this issue next week, and if there is nothing more distracting I may review it. The idea of super teens teaming up is an ancient trope and can probably be traced through the comics, cartoons and pulps all the way back to the cunieform tablets, when the young Gilgamesh gets together with a pubescent Enkidu to fight monsters. We all adore the idea, then and now. The three members of the LSH that appear in that issue push all the right buttons. They are from a bright shiny distant future, they have banded together to use their different powers to fight evil and injustice, and they (inexplicably from internal motivations, but from a marketing POV perfectly sensibly) have come back into the past to recruit Superboy.
In very short order the popular Legion crowded poor Superboy right out of Adventure. When that title wilted they moved over to Superboy and took that book over. The charms of exploring a futuristic universe are well known to SF readers. Added to this, the members of the Legion (which got up to perhaps 25 or 30 members at one point) had different super powers. When marketing dictated they visited or were visited in their far future by all the other DC heroes. And with a couple dozen members the social developments were endless. Members gained, lost and then regained their lives, their powers, their squeezes, their relatives. Furthermore, whenever sales lagged or the entire setup became too convolute DC would close up shop and then restart the Legion entirely from day one. This led to not only the Reboot but the Threeboot. Diehard fans have calculated that there have been upwards of a dozen separate Legions, some lasting for only a few issues before a similar but definitely different one is rolled out.
As you can imagine, this is not a recipe for mass appeal, but is powerfully attractive to longtime fans. Even the beginning of the various reboots has never been a particularly good time to start on the title. This last incarnation has been as good as most, and with reasonably decent stories — not as good as the glory days, but not annoying. Unfortunately and typically, this was not enough. Sales have not been good and once again the LSH is cancelled.
But this ‘final’ issue #50 is not the end of the Legion. At this point they are as deathless as Dracula. Later this month they will be in a giant crossover with the current Final Crisis event. And because this Event has led to the return of the Multiverse, in which there are many versions of Earth (last I checked, there were going to be 52), not only will there certainly be more stories about the Legion — the writers will be able to pick which one of the reboots they want to dig deeper into. Boy, is that going to be confusing.
If only they could figure out a way to hang onto all the old fans, while inculcating new readers into the vast complexity of the Legion! It’s not for want of trying, heaven knows.
For a detailed review of the various versions of the Legion, have a look at Wikipedia: Legion of Super-Heroes.