Perfect 10: Legion of Super Heroes

Perfect 10 is a series of essential recommendations that fully encapsulate a comic character – 10 desert island picks of runs, single issues, arcs, etc – curated by Comfort Food Comics.

  1. Who’s Who In The Legion Of Super Heroes #1-7: By Barbara Kesel, Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen, Greg LaRocque, Chuck Austen, Grant Miehm, Martin King, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Carl Gafford & so many more. Yes, the Legion was such a huge franchise that it received it’s very own Who’s Who spinoff miniseries. This thing is my bible! You get Who’s Who entries by the likes of Keith Giffen, Curt Swan, Kyle Baker, Rob Liefeld, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland, George Perez, Ron Frenz, Dave Cockrum, Joe Staton, Colleen Dorran, Ty Templeton, Jim Valentino & more. But that’s not all as these deviate from the normal Who’s Who books with some unique front matter. Issues 1-2 have an illustrated text recap of the entire history of the Legion by Greg LaRocque. Issue 3 has the “Planets of the 31st Century” by Keith Giffen. Issue 4 has Homeworlds of the Legion. Issue 5 has a “Tour of the Legion Headquarters” drawn by Chuck Austen & Keith Giffen. Yes, THAT Chuck Austen. Issue 6 has “The Wonders of Metropolis” and Issue 7 has “The Nik Feelds Show” drawn by both Curt Swan & Kurt Scheffenberger. It’s a celebration of everything you ever needed to know about the original Legion of Super Heroes!

2. Legionnaires #7: By Tom & Mary Bierbaum, Adam Hughes, Mark Farmer, Tom McCraw & Pat Brosseau. You know how every anime ends up having a beach episode where all the characters go to the beach, strip down to swimsuits and silly downtime antics happen? This is the Legion beach episode and it’s drawn ENTIRELY by comics legend Adam Hughes. This is the 5 Years Later SW6 clone batch of teen Legion members and they go to the Atlantis Dome for some wet and wild fun. Youthful indiscretions, underwater race diplomacy, inn saving, Brainy losing it at Laurel’s daring swimsuit choice – this one has it all. The Bierbaum’s writing is super charming and so fun and the art by Hughes is a masterclass in form and expression. He’s mostly known as the sexy gal pinup artists but his cartooning skill in here is top tier. This is one of my all time favorite single issue comics.

3. The Great Darkness Saga – Legion of Super Heroes Vol. 2 #290-294: By Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen, Larry Mahlstedt, Carl Gafford & John Costanza. Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen team to create magic together! This is oft spoken as the greatest Legion of Super Heroes story ever and it’s hard to argue otherwise. I won’t spoil too much of what happens here but the most basic way to describe this story is The Legion versus Darkseid. But in actuality it’s so much more. The slow build up to the reveal is done so well and is so satisfying. Levitz & Giffen use this story to really make their mark on the franchise and inject countless long term ramifications that fuel plots and character development for years afterwards. Yes, it’s the Legion trying to fight Darkseid, but it’s also a new huge foundation for Levitz’s legendary long term run. It’s the stuff comic dreams are made of. I always say the Levitz Legion run is DC’s equivalent to Chris Claremont’s long term X-Men run, one of comics’ three greatest runs of all time, so that’s saying a lot and it all starts here with a bang. This is the epic Legion action movie blockbuster that delivers everything you want it to.

4. “The Legion’s Suicide Squad” from Adventure Comics #319: By Edmond Hamilton & John Forte. The Silver Age Legion is my favorite era for the team. There’s something so great about these future teenagers hanging out in their secret clubhouse being stupid and shitty to each other but the entire galaxy depends on them for everything. When I think about this era, the two story beats that always pop into my head first are Adventure Comics #303 where the Legion thinks it has a traitor but it’s actually a miniaturized man in a capsule inserted into Sun Boy’s foot bone and the one where the Legion selects a team for an extremely important mission by using a device that spins and planets fly off and hit the various members in the face. That’s this one, which also has so much more to it and that’s why it gets on the list before Adventure #303. An isolationist planet, Throon, builds a giant ominous tower that shoots out rays to stop spaceships that come nearby. This greatly destroys the intergalactic trade network and cuts off most planets from vital supplies they need like medicine and food. Tasked to go to Throon and deal with this, The Legion doesn’t send everybody, or even a hand picked team that would specialize. They set up the “Planetary Chance Machine” which is basically a rotating diorama of sticks with foam ball planets on the end. The arts and craft project spins, hits a few Legionnaires in the face and THAT assembles the team. The first team however fails and gets wiped out on Throon, so what does the Legion do now in this now doubly important emergency? They pull the “Planetary Chance Machine” out YET AGAIN to select a second team. This is such a hilarious plot point and really shows why I love the Silver Age Legion so much. Even in dire times, they’re still kids to the core and kids always follow the dumb rules they make for their silly clubs or friend groups, even if it may mean their death and the destabilization of the United Planets. Another reason this one is so good is this second team fails too, so a third team must be sent to Throon, but they also fail. So who saves the day? None other than the Legion rejects club, The Legion of Substitute Heroes! This whole story shows off just about every Legion character in a really fun future sci fi plot with every element that makes the Silver Age iteration of this franchise work so charmingly well.

5. Adventure Comics #369-370: By Jim Shooter, Curt Swan, Jack Abel, Gaspar Saladino & Charlotte Jetter. MORDRU!! Mordru is THE BEST Legion villain and legit one of DC Comics’ best characters. Jim Shooter does a really novel storytelling technique here in that he recaps the Legion’s first high stakes battle with Mordru that really presents him as the ultimate threat, but he does it as if it’s a past comic but really he’s introducing all of it for the first time here. Shooter has said legendary comic writer Roger Stern told him he tried to hunt down the non existent comic the flashback takes place in for years to no avail. Writer Jim Shooter was just a teen when he came up with Mordru and he said he just wanted to make a wizard character because he had just read The Lord of the Rings, but it’s strangely perfect how deep Mordru is as a Legion antagonist. The Legion represents a dream of a brighter future all about science, progress, youth and evolution all done through a massive group of selfless, heroic kids all from different planets and races that work together as one. Mordru is the perfect Legion villain because he is the diametric opposite of all that. He is an ancient singular wizard from the past that only cares about himself and his own needs that uses evil dark magic to further his goals. The Legion use Time Bubbles to time travel, he uses magic to peer into the past. The Legion want to unite everyone to make a greater galaxy, Mordru wants to solely dominate it. The Legion are all young teens, Mordru is a decrepit old ghoul. It goes on and on and on and it’s PERFECT. This first appearance story of him breaking out of his prison and attacking a group of Legionnaires is straight up a horror movie. You can feel the dread as they try desperately to just stay alive against Mordru in the 31st century, eventually having to hide out in 20th century Smallville. You can feel how important this story is to the Legion as you read it. Shooter spends a lot of time developing the unique personalities and voices of the Legionnaires involved here beyond just a costume or power set. Few comics get me that anxious and on the edge of my seat like this one. Jack Abel’s inks on Curt Swan go HARD whenever Mordru shows up and uses his terrifying power. It’s some of the most unique, dark looking art you’ll ever see Swan involved in.

6. The Legion #1-8: By Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Olivier Coipel, Peter Snegbjerg, Tom McCraw & more. You know how Abnett & Lanning came in and made the cosmic Marvel books pretty much the best stuff they’d publish for years? This is them bringing that same energy to The Legion. There are so many creative ideas and plot beats in these issues that it’s staggering. It starts with the presumed dead “Legion Lost” returning from that great maxiseries to a very different Earth and acclimating to all the surprising changes. Issue 3 reunites all the Legionnaires in a touching issue that introduces “Legion World” and everything that sect of teammates is dealing with. But the main chunk of these issues, the big reason I’m saying you MUST read this, is that this is the story where The Legion fights Ra’s Al Ghul. I won’t say anymore because I’d love for everyone to experience it fresh but this one still blows me away. I’m usually not a fan of current day DC stuff being major parts of Legion stories, but c’mon, Ra’s is made for a Legion story and this doesnt disappoint.

Slings & Arrows

7. Final Crisis: Legion Of 3 Worlds: By Geoff Johns, George Perez, Scott Koblish, Hi-Fi Design & Nick J. Napolitano. I’ve always said Geoff Johns’ writing is like a Saturday Morning Cartoon. It’s never particularly deep, intelligent or subtle but more often than not, regardless of true quality, it’ll entertain the hell out of you with bombastic action, nostalgia and high stakes drama. This story has all of that in spades. I think Johns’ does his best work when he writes the Legion. You can tell he still has that nostalgic childlike favoritism with them. In this book he cranks that love WAY up and gives us an absolutely PACKED story that doesn’t really WORK but contains so much fanservice. Essentially the Time Trapper brings Superboy Prime to the Legion’s era and he teams up with the massive Legion of Super Villains. In order to actually fight back against this grave threat, The Legion brings Superman to their time but they also then bring the Post Zero Hour Legion as well as the Threeboot Legion to their world to help. Johns sadly pulls a bunch of his regressive “Rebirths”, tying in several of his other longstanding DC characters and plots as we get the resurrection of Bart Allen and Conner Kent as well as the 31st century version of Sodam Yat. It’s not great. Despite all the Johns-isms, him being an extreme “fanboy” with this franchise actually HELPS this story immensely as you see just about every Legion character ever show up on the page in a true celebration of the franchise. Is it actually a GOOD story??? Honestly, probably not but I still like it anyways as such a devoted Legionhead, even with distance from it and the ongoing public revelations of how much of a shitty person Johns is personally.

8. Legion of Super Heroes Vol. 4 #1-12: By Keith Giffen, Tom & Mary Bierbaum, Al Gordon & many more. 5 YEARS LATER BABY!!! Legion of Super Heroes is like coffee. Sometimes you want it super sweet. Sometimes you want it flavored. Other times, you want it black and strong, like a magnificent punch to your senses. 5 Years Later Legion is like a big ol’ mug of black coffee. It’s bold, it’s fresh, it jumpstarts your brain! This is the grim and gritty time skip Legion. These first 12 issues are really the best of this entire iteration as the creators are really putting their all into the comics. It doesn’t always work, but that almost makes it all better, as each creative decision is spontaneous and shocking. I’ve rarely seen a series like this from the Big Two where the editors and higher ups seemingly just left the creators completely alone. Stylistically, this is a direct response to Watchmen with Giffen employing an almost constant 9 panel grid each page and multiple text pages in every issue. TO THIS DAY, no one has ever done a better Watchmen inspired book. These comics are so underrated and ahead of their time. From Issue 1’s shocking opening page of the text “Five Years Later” against a backdrop of stars all the way to Issue 12’s page 17 of the same image, but this time with the text “The Legion of Super Heroes” to signify the team finally coming together again, you get an extraordinary ride full of legendary moments. Issue 4 with Mon-El vs the Time Trapper will have you up out of your seat, tears in your eyes. Issue 5’s emotional, depressing hourglass countdown tale. Issue 8 and 9’s brilliant Supergirl stand-in, Laurel Gand flashback story. Issue 11’s raucous Matter Eater Lad comedy story. Issue 12’s powerful Legion reunion after all the grief that led them there. These are some of the all time best Legion comics ever made.

9. Legion of Super Heroes Vol. 3 #1-5: By Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen, Larry Mahlstedt, Carl Gafford & John Costanza. Phew, this story y’all. This is the book I always say will have you on the edge of your seat, rocking back and forth, hopping out of your seat whooping and hollering. It is an INTENSE roller coaster ride of emotions and it just rules. This is your big boy, as eternal bastard Nemesis Kid forms a new iteration of the Legion of Super Villains. They take over Princess Projectra’s homeworld of Orando and launch a strike at the entire Legion with the goal of each member to murder a Legionnaire. I won’t spoil too much more than that here, but one Legionnaire is murdered which leads to a fellow Legionnaire pulling just about the most badass moment ever in comics to get revenge. I jump around celebrating like I saw a Kobe to Shaq alley-oop whenever I read that moment. GOD, this story is good.

Adventure Comics (1938-) #352

10. Adventure Comics #352-353: By Jim Shooter, Curt Swan, George Klein & Milt Snappin. When I was assembling this list I wrote this one down as a possibility, not sure if I really wanted to add it or not as it’s almost constantly recommended. So I went back and reread it and it very quickly changed from research for this article into complete excited immersion into this classic tale. I was so engrossed and when I finished I felt such a satisfaction I don’t often feel after finishing comics. The simple fact is this shit’s good! The easy summation of this one is it’s the movie “The Dirty Dozen” with the Legion of Super Heroes”. That’s not even my comparison, it’s literal fact. Jim Shooter had this to say about it:

The story there is that back in the ancient days of the Legion, (Editor) Mort Weisinger used to tell Otto Binder or Edmond Hamilton or whoever, he’d say, “Knock off Moby Dick.”  (Chuckle.)  And then you’d get “The Moby Dick of Space.”  And they would.  They’d do the giant space whale against the Legionnaires.  And they would literally do that.  They would just pick a classic and kind of do the Legion version of that.  It was a normal thing.  So, I’m working away for Mort and one day he calls me up and he says, “There’s a movie coming out called ‘The Dirty Dozen;’ go see it and then do a story like that.”  “Huh?  What?”  So, I was just appalled.  I can’t go see a movie and then do it as a Legion story.  So, what I did was I looked in the newspaper at the ad and that’s all you had to see.  “Okay, it’s World War II.  They get bad guys for this suicide mission that no one can accomplish.”  All right.  I can do that.  I never saw the movie.  And to this day I’ve never seen the movie. But I know that it was a World War II thing where they recruited nasty criminals to go on this suicide mission and so that was simple enough.  I just worked it out.  I thought first of all that it’s got to be a big enough threat that the Legionnaires need help.  (Chuckle.)  Second, there’s got to be a reason why the bad guys would do this.  And then I cooked up the whole thing with the Fatal Five and the Suneater and all that crap and yeah, I am surprised that they have endured so long.

I think that’s so funny and kind of refreshing that in the 60’s DC Editors would just tell the writers to riff on good fiction. It absolutely works here as a small skeleton team of Legionnaires is stuck dealing with the galaxy level threat, the Sun Eater. With no other Legionnaires close by, they recruit five of the worst criminals around to help, in essence creating one of, if not the most famous Legion villains, the Fatal Five. Working together as well as can be expected, they arent able to repel the Sun Eater until one Legionnaire makes the ultimate sacrifice in a bomb blast that kills them and the Sun Eater. Having a main character die and stay dead in the Silver Age 60’s is such an uncommon thing and the emotional impact is really felt here. This story is not only a great Legion story but an extremely transformative story for the entire medium.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s