Super-Articulate: Let’s Have the Legion
I want to circle back to something that I discussed in a video a few weeks ago, and that’s the idea of “unfinished teams” when it comes to toy lines. It’s a phenomenon that plagues a lot of collectors, and not just line completists. Often, fans of a particular team begin buying figures based on that group, only to see the figures stop without the basic, core team ever being finished. Sometimes, a line even gets several figures in before screeching to a halt; then, false hope comes when another line picks up the baton, only for that to fold, too. Today, I want to talk specifically about one of the most popular and, simultaneously, misunderstood teams of all time, and how they’re ripe for figure rehabilitation. I’m talking, of course, about the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino in 1958, the Legion became one of the most popular and longest-running DC Comics teams of all time. The group was in some form of continuous publication from 1958 through 2013; they first appeared as teen allies of Superboy from the future, and grew into a sprawling team whose membership came from more than two dozen planets. The Legion occupied Adventure Comics for several years before bouncing around as a back-up feature at the beginning of the ’70s; finding a home in the Superboy series, they eventually received co-billing by 1973 and completely evicted Superboy in 1980.
In the early ’80s, the team’s popularity was white-hot with the team of writer Paul Levitz and artist Keith Giffen; their “Great Darkness Saga” in 1982 is considered an all-time classic. They were so big that a second book was launched in 1984; Legion of Super-Heroes was sold only in comic shops, while Tales from the Legion of Super-Heroes was sold everywhere. After a year, Tales started reprinting the direct market title, but proved popular enough to run three more years. The 1984 LSH ran until 1989, when the book got a new number 1 and a story that picked up five years later. Known to some as the “Five Year Gap” Legion, the new series told challenging stories about an occupied Earth and the Legion fighting to free it.
In 1994, the old Legion was pushed aside for a new Legion in Zero Hour. The young Legion was fairly popular, but that continuity only lasted 10 years before a completely new one came in. Referred to as the “Threeboot,” this new angle only stuck around for five years. In 2007, the original Legion returned in the JLA/JSA “Lightning Saga” crossover. Every version of the Legion got to play together in the Final Crisis tie-in Legion of Three Worlds. When the “New 52” settled in in 2011, the Legion again had two books, but these were gone by 2013. Since then, there have only been teases and hints that the Legion was coming back, most recently in Doomsday Clock.
The core concept of the Legion (“teen heroes from the future!”) is pretty durable, and has proven pretty adaptable to other media. The Legion have appeared in episodes of Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited, Smallville, The Flash, and Supergirl. Beginning in 2006, they had their own animated series for two seasons. The Legion has also popped up in direct-to-DVD films like JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time, Lego DC Comics Super-Heroes: Justice League – Cosmic Clash, and this year’s Justice League vs. The Fatal Five.
For all this, the Legion have had a relatively finite showing in action figure form. There’s been a lot of representation in HeroClix, and a handful of figures (Brainiac-5, Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, and Saturn Girl) made it in the DC Animated line offered online. In the DC Direct days, just over a dozen Legionnaires were made, along with villain Mordru; the Legion members were Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Brainiac-5, Star Boy, Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid (Lyle Norg), Ultra Boy, Mon-El, Timber Wolf, Colossal Boy, Sun Boy, and Ferro Lad, as well as Superboy and Supergirl. These were well-made figures, but a consistent complaint was that the figures were made in their 1960s costumes, when their later 70s and 80s looks were by far the most popular versions of the characters.
Those looks were reflected in the online exclusive boxed set that DC Universe Classics offered through Mattel’s MattyCollector in 2011; that epic 12-figure boxed set included Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Matter-Eater Lad (YES.), Wildfire, Karate Kid, Superboy, Brainiac-5, Chameleon Boy, Ultra Boy, Timber Wolf, a super-sized Colossal Boy, and sidekick Proty. A figure of Star Boy/Starman Thom Kallor was also available that same year as an orderable figure through Matty’s Club Infinite Earths subscription series. Legion villain Validus made it into production as the Collect-n-Connect figure in one wave. DC Universe Classics was gone at retail by 2012, and the subs dried up by 2014. The DC Multiverse line became Mattel’s DC offering in 2016, but aside from the arguable inclusion of various Supergirl figures, no Legion members have hit shelves since.
So what have we learned, Charlie Brown? When McFarlane Toys takes over the line in 2020, it’s high time for some Legion. For one thing, outside of Saturn Girl and Supergirl, there have been ZERO other women produced as figures. And this is for a team with a huge number of female characters. Dawnstar would likely be the most popular, given her unique appearance, but fans have waited a long time for mainstays like Phantom Girl, Shadow Lass, White Witch, Duo Damsel, Sensor Girl, and many more. Likewise, we’ve been left hanging for years on visually interesting characters like Blok, Gates, and Tellus.
When the McFarlane line starts, it’s very likely that we’ll start with new versions of the big three and others right away. Such has always been the way of new DC lines. But I’d really like to see McFarlane embrace the idea of scale equilibrium and create some complementary, long-requested figures to make up the balance of those assortments. There are plenty of gaps in the JLA, the JSA, the Titans, the Outsiders, and more, but for a team that’s been around since the late 1950s, there needs to be some more respect given to the LSH. Long Live the Legion, kids.