Friday, July 07, 2006

No Time Like the Future

I’ve been doing a lot of Legion-of-Super-Heroes-related rereading recently, so that I could help out with this project (about the prevalence of sexual assault in mainstream comics), and while I was doing that and thinking about, you know, stuff, it occurred to me that the Legion really is kind of an odd duck when it comes to superhero comics. It’s been around forever, but because of its semiseparated continuity, different conditions apply to the Legion than to DC’s regular fare.

For one thing, it’s easy for people to read a lot of DC for a long time and yet not know a damn thing about what’s going on with the Legion. It’s almost like things that happen in LSH-related books don’t count for as much as does something that happens in Action or Justice League, because it’s off in this strange little alcove of the DC Universe. But that’s not right. The Legion is an important part of DC continuity and history even if it’s for no other reason than sheer longevity.

Consider DC’s great superteams. For that matter, let’s consider Marvel’s too:

Justice Society of America – 1940
Seven Soldiers of Victory – 1941
Legion of Super-Heroes – 1958
Justice League of America – 1960
Fantastic Four – 1961
Doom Patrol – 1963
Avengers – 1963
X-Men – 1963
Teen Titans – 1964
Defenders – 1971
Freedom Fighters – 1973

The point I’m trying to make here isn’t that the Legion is older than those other teams, because so what? It’s that the Legion has been continuously published (give or take) for… well, for as long as any of the others. (Something you can’t say for the JSA, the 7SV, the Doom Patrol, the Freedom Fighters… even the Titans and X-Men had their gaps.)

Anyway, because of the nature of what I was looking for while doing this rereading, I also thought about DC’s superheroines. And I realized that the Legion was a good place to be a superheroine. First of all, there’s lots of opportunity. Second of all, there’s job security.* Here’s what I mean. These are all the prominent DC superheroines I could think of who a) were created before 1970 (which leaves out rookies like Huntress, Power Girl, Starfire and Raven), b) are still being used now (which leaves out, say, Liberty Belle), and c) have been in more-or-less continuous use the whole time (which leaves out Batwoman and Elasti-Girl):

Wonder Woman – 1941
Hawkgirl – 1941
(Phantom Lady – 1941)
(Mary Marvel – 1942)
Black Canary – 1947
Saturn Girl – 1958
Supergirl – 1959
Phantom Girl – 1961
Triplicate Girl – 1961
Shrinking Violet – 1961
Wonder Girl – 1961
Light Lass – 1963
Dream Girl – 1964
Zatanna – 1964
(Nightshade – 1966)
Princess Projectra – 1966
Batgirl – 1967
Shadow Lass – 1968

The ones in brackets are characters that DC has since bought up from other companies. Did I miss anybody? Should Aquagirl (1967) be in there? Catwoman (1940)? Anyway. That’s a very strong Legion presence on this list (even without counting Supergirl)**. Think about it: of all the superpowered crime-fighting women with staying power published by DC Comics in the early ‘60s, half of them were Legionnaires. It’s quite shocking. Within a ten-year period, one superteam introduced eight new superheroines, all of whom were still going strong forty, fifty years later. It is without precedent. Although, if you wave your hands a bit and apply a lot of hindsight, you could compare them to this bunch (which showed up over a shorter span of time, and has more star power, but you have to squint a lot to get them all into the frame):

Storm – 1975
Psylocke – 1976
Mystique – 1978
Kitty Pryde – 1980
Emma Frost – 1980
Dazzler – 1980
Rachel Summers – 1981
Rogue – 1981

Now look at the other superheroines on the DC list. Great characters, but not that many of them. Also, here’s a list of early Marvel superheroines (but I’m not as sure about its completeness. I’m not a Marvel guy; I just don’t know who should count and who shouldn’t. Are the Inhumans superheroes? Should Clea be on the list? When the flip did Mockingbird first show up? If anyone can help complete it (or any of them), I’ll go back and edit this post to reflect it):

Hellcat – 1944 (yes, I know)
Invisible Woman – 1961
Jean Grey – 1963
Wasp - 1963
Scarlet Witch – 1964
Black Widow - 1964
Ms. Marvel – 1968

That’s smaller than the DC list, even without the Legion. Were there really more female Legionnaires than Marvel superheroines in the ‘60s?

And just seeing some of those names on the DC list next to each other… Zatanna and Dream Girl were created in the same year. Obviously, Zatanna is considered to be the more important character to DC. But here’s my question: which of the two has appeared in more comic books? I honestly don’t know the answer. Similarly, Supergirl is way more prominent than Saturn Girl, but has she appeared in more comics? Probably she has…

Not that simply appearing in a large number of comic books is the point of a character. It’s a point, though, or part of a point.

Speaking of points, I suppose I should be trying to make one.

I guess it’s this: when I decided to blog about the Legion, I knew that the Legion was good. As in, good stories, good characters, worth a read, worth my time and attention. And I knew it had been around for a while, and was therefore a pretty big topic. What I didn’t realize was, relative to the rest of DC Comics, just how big it was.

(So if there’s anyone reading this, for whatever reason, who isn’t a Legion reader, let me say this: there’s no time like the present! The Legion was rebooted just before the current series started, and you’ve only got (at this writing) nineteen issues worth of continuity to absorb! Go!)

*Third of all, it’s a little safer in some ways. It’s a rare superheroine who hasn’t experienced some level of sexual assault during her supercareer, but when I was searching for such incidents in Legion comics (and if you can think of any in any mainstream comic, please help), I found that the Legion had plenty of such characters. By my reckoning (and I may have missed things, or assessed them differently from, say, you), Triplicate Girl, Phantom Girl, Light Lass, Andromeda, Shikari, XS, Kinetix, Kid Quantum II, Spider Girl, Celeste Rockfish and Thunder had long Legion careers without suffering any such outrages. Of course, some of them may have, you know, died, or been morphed into an agent of evolution, or something, so it isn’t all a bed of roses in the 30th/31st century.

**Spider Girl, later a Legionnaire, first appeared in 1963, but wasn’t a major character until the ‘90s and spent a lot of time as a supervillain anyway. Similarly, the White Witch, later a Legionnaire, first appeared in 1966, but wasn’t a major character until the ‘80s and spent some time as a supervillain anyway.

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Blogger LT said...

This is a great post and something I've been thinking about as I'm collecting the Archive editions of the Legion. I'll definitely be talking about your post on my podcast and continuing to review the Archives as I get them.

Great work!

Lene Taylor

2:16 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Thanks very much. I've checked out your site in the past, but I'll keep watch for that in particular.

11:14 PM  
Blogger Penpen2nd said...

I found a few more Avengers/X-Men female characters from the 70's to the 80's.

She-Hulk 1980
Spider-Woman II-1984


8:45 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Mockingbird debuted in *1980*?! I thought she was way earlier than that. She-Hulk was only in '80? What took them so long?

Thanks for all those. I have to admit I was expecting to have left something important from the '60s out of my original post, but none of the ones you mentioned really change anything I wrote: Polaris (is she a big enough character?) came along too early to appear on the X-Men list, although she could qualify for the pre-'70 list, and Jubilee (who in my defense I did think of) came along too late (although I could have sworn I remember her from some comic book before '89. She was a member of The Template or something? With Karma's brother and sister? And, possibly, Psylocke?).

The ones on your Avengers list... after 1970, the superpowered population of both DC and Marvel started taking off like crazy. Or that's my impression. And I'm not sure if I want to try to discern trends in the middle of all that (picking eight prominent X-women out of the crowd is one thing; cataloguing everyfreakingbody from both companies is another). I will consider. Thanks again.

9:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[and Jubilee (who in my defense I did think of) came along too late (although I could have sworn I remember her from some comic book before '89. She was a member of The Template or something? With Karma's brother and sister? And, possibly, Psylocke?).]

There was a 'Jubilee' with fireworks creation powers in a New Mutants Annual drawn by Alan Davis, but she was one of a trio of (British?) kids that got caught up and empowered as part of the shenanigans, and was no relation at all to the later fireworks-creating Jubilee character. (She wasn't Asian, for one thing!)

Her friends turned into 'Straight Arrow' who never missed and the other kid got the power to make people fight amongst themselves...

None of these characters seem to have shown up ever again, as they seemed to be pretty exclusively an Alan Davis 'thing.' (And came across as a British version of 'Our Gang.')

3:51 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

That's the one.

5:59 PM  

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