I want to stand up for the Legion of Super-Heroes.
My parents both read comics - my dad, originally from Germany, taught himself to read English with them, and my mom just loved the art and science fiction. She had been a fashion illustrator, and later a painter, and she contributed some of her weirder pieces to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. Her favorite comic book was Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes.
In part, it was the optimism and the energy of the book. She’d grown up through the Cold War, and merely the idea that mankind had not only survived another thousand years but thrived and spread out among the stars spoke to her on a level I can only empathize with to a degree - I grew up in the Eighties, my generation all share recurring nightmares of nuclear armageddon; she lived long enough to watch the paranoia and seeming inevitably of nuclear war rise to its peak over the course of her entire life.
But more than that, it was that the book celebrated youth. She’d told me that she’d read so many magazines, books and comics that spat on kids, or belittled them, or dismissed them, when she adored youngsters for their hope, optimism, potential and passion, that she loved that there was one book out of all the sneering masses where teenagers save the universe.
In addition to being an artist, she was also a highschool teacher - one of those teachers that the kids came to with their problems. Her office became something of a waystation for abused kids, troubled kids, kids who’d just come out of the closet or found themselves knocked up. She’d started her teaching career in California’s juvenile detention center. I still get emails from her former students who only survived some rough patch or another because she believed in them. She had a lot of faith in kids to pull themselves together and supersede the mistakes of their parents with new successes.
The Legion was her comic. She loved them the most in the Seventies, with their soap opera storylines and barely-there costumes; she considered it the ultimate middle finger to older authority, that even the austere and wasp-y Saturn Girl was trotting around in a pink bikini and thigh-high heels - if I may, as she said - “Shoving them in the faces of all the old men”. My mom was a pip.
When at its best, the Legion has nothing going for it but virtues; it’s predicated on relationships, the characters are allowed to change and grow, it’s got a strong - and populous - female cast, it was one of the first team books to add a multitude of recurring non-white characters (It could still have done better, although Tyroc remains one of my favorites), there was even a time when various characters were homosexual, polysexual, and transgender (although the book backed off of that noticeably in the Nineties - to its detriment, I’d argue).
We talk a lot about promoting superhero stories for girls, although we kind of have a one-at-a-time mentality; we’re gonna get Wonder Woman over, We’re gonna get Black Widow over, etc. In reality, there should be dozens of girl-friendly superhero books, cartoon and movies, at least as many as there are for boys (assuming they should even be “for” one gender or another, for that matter). I can’t think of a better franchise to equalize all sorts of inequity than The Legion of Super-Heroes.
Right now, the Legion is dead, it’s been replaced by a book called Justice League 3000 which reiterates 21st century heroes as future versions of themselves, and which has its problems, although that’s neither here nor there for the nature of this discussion. It deserves to come back, it’s proven time and again that it has good stories to tell in a unique way that’s underserved by almost every other mainstream comic and that it means something of real value to its audience. It needs the right creators - as much good service as its old guard has done it, it does need new blood - and a permissive editorial hand, but there could be a great future for the, er, future.
Plus, my mom would have loved to have seen it.
Long Live the Legion!