Monday, October 04, 2010

Where Should I Start with the Legion of Super-Heroes?

Frequently I'll see, on comic-book-related message boards, someone asking the question, "Where should I start with the Legion?"

So I figured I'd write this up as the most complete answer to the question I can give.

The short version is: Jump in anywhere. Pick up any Legion comic that you can find and give it a try. If you like it, look for others that are similar to it; if you don't, look for others that are different from it.

You may have heard that Legion continuity is so convoluted that you'll never be able to follow it, what with the dozens of Legionnaires and all the reboots. It's not true. It's a superhero comic. Pay normal attention and you'll pick it up as you go along, no problem.

However, some of you may want more of a roadmap than that, so here goes.

First decide what you're interested in. Do you want to read the current series, or the classic stories, or some more modern stories, or something else? You don't have to read it all. The Legion's been around for more than fifty years; don't strain yourself.

I want to start right at the beginning!

-Then Start With: Either the Legion Archives or the Showcase editions. The Archives are expensive and can be hard to find, but are in color and are nice hardcovers; the Showcase editions are easier to find and way, way cheaper, but are in black-and-white. So far there are twelve (thirteen soon!) Archive volumes that will take you up to the late '70s; at this writing the fourth Showcase collection is out and will take you up to partway through volume 10 of the Archives.

(A brief history of what publications you'll be seeing in these collections: the Legion started off as occasional guests in various Superman-related titles before getting a regular gig in Adventure Comics as of #300. Jim Shooter had a famous run as Legion writer that ran from Adventure #346 to Adventure #380; this material is covered in Archives #5-9 and Showcase editions #2-4. When the Adventure run came to an end, they had a few backup stories in Action for a while, and then were eventually picked up as costars of the Superboy title.)

-If You Like That Then Read: If you've gone through all that and you still want to keep going, you have to dip into the back issue bins. The twelfth Archive edition takes you up to Superboy #223, so you want to collect #224-230, then Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #231-258, then Legion of Super-Heroes v2 #259-#283.

-Notes: What I did was to get volumes 10, 11, and 12 of the Archives, because those are the ones with the Cockrum and Grell art. I wanted that in colour. For the earlier stuff I'm happy to rely on the Showcases; I'm not much of a Silver Age guy in the first place and therefore don't mind the black-and-white.

See how I said "Legion of Super-Heroes v2" a couple of paragraphs up? Not v1? That's because LSHv1 was a little series of reprints DC came out with in the early '70s. If you get the Showcases or Archives you'll get all those stories anyway, so you don't also have to get LSHv1 unless you're a completist.

(Also: In the mid-'70s, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl got married in a one-shot tabloid-format comic book listed as All-New Collector's Edition #C-55 (catchy, huh?) which is hard to collect. I don't have a copy, nor have I ever seen one. Best of luck.)

-Timeframe: 1958-1982.

I want to read the Levitz-Giffen stuff!

-Then Start With: Start with LSHv2 #284, and continue with LSHv2 right up until issue #313. Don't forget the Annuals! Get LSHv2 Annual #1 and read it between issues #289 and #290 (make sure you get the right Annual #1; this is the one from about 1982, entitled "Monster in a Little Girl's Mind"); it's a honey. You may find that it's easier for you to get the new Great Darkness Saga hardcover to collect this stuff; it gives you #284-296, plus Annual #1. A second hardcover, The Curse, goes from #296 to #313, with two annuals; but see below.

-If You Like That Then Read: In the early '80s, DC decided to take a couple of its more popular titles, including LSHv2, and make them available through the direct market only. So here's what they did: they renamed LSHv2 Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes and started a new series, comic shops only, Legion of Super-Heroes v3. Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes had one year, twelve issues, of new stories and then started reprinting stories from LSHv3. The idea is, if you were a newsstand reader, you'd get the same stories that comic shop readers would get, but a year later. Setting aside the question of whether this was a good idea, the upshot is that if you're collecting comics from this era you get LSHv2 up to #313, then TotLSH from #314 to #325, then LSHv3. Then stick with LSHv3 up to #63. (Don't forget all the Annuals! Some of 'em are real good.)

-Notes: The first twelve issues of LSHv3 have been collected in TPBs called 'An Eye for an Eye' and 'The More Things Change', if that helps you.

LSHv3 #37 and #38 can be hard to find, but they're included in the Superman collection Superman: The Man of Steel vol. 4, so if you want those issues and can't find them, that may be a way for you to go.

This run, from LSHv2 #284-LSHv3 #63, is actually Paul Levitz's second run as Legion writer. His first run was shorter and occurred in the late '70s. I don't know the exact issue numbers, but it was around #240 and contained the legendary Earthwar story (#241-245). Definitely worthwhile but not as glorious as the second run. His third run is going on right now in LSHv7.

-Timeframe: 1982-1989.

I want to start with the Five Years Later Legion!



-Good for You! Then Start With: LSHv4 #1. Start slow. Get the first few issues and give 'em a try. They're not for everyone. If you find yourself smelling what Keith Giffen and the Bierbaums are cooking, stick with it up until issue, oh, say #40.

-If You Like That Then Read: Well, certainly you can get Legionnaires #1-16. That's good stuff. You can also stay with LSHv4 from #41 to #50. If you still haven't had enough you can keep going with LSHv4 up to #59. You may even, if you really want to, indulge in Valor #1-21.

After that, LSHv4 #60-61 and Legionnaires #17-18 and Valor #22-23 are all tied together in the Zero Hour-crossover story "End of an Era" which puts an end to Legion history and sets up the reboot Legion. I find it unpleasant reading.

-Notes: LSHv4 begins (in in-story time) five years after the end of LSHv3. This is the famous Five Year Gap, and it's why LSHv4 is often called the Five Years Later Legion. And it's very different from the stuff Levitz was doing. The stories are darker, more adult, more wacky at times, more experimental, more confusing... A lot of people really didn't like it, and it's certainly not a good place to start reading the Legion; it demands a lot of the reader and it really helps to have a good handle on Legion history before you read it. Personally, I think it's the most powerful run of comic books I've ever read, and a highlight of Legion history. Up until about issue #40, anyway.

Legion continuity receives its first big shakeup a few issues into LSHv4. The details can be found here if you want them. It's not a reboot yet; just a big retroactive continuity tweak.

Both LSHv4 and Legionnaires have Annuals, some of which are well worth getting and some of which, shall we say, will not, by comparison, impair your ability to enjoy other Legion comics.

That other Legion series, Legionnaires, stars some time-sliced clones of young Legionnaires (also known as the SW6 batch) who were discovered partway through LSHv4. This series is lighter in tone than LSHv4 was, features Chris Sprouse on art, and is in many ways a precursor to the reboot Legion.

The other new series, Valor, is about the early (20th-century!) history of Mon-El in this Five-Years-Later continuity.

-Timeframe: 1989-1994.

I want to start with the Reboot Legion!

-Then Start With: Okay, then, you've got two titles to worry about: LSHv4 and Legionnaires. Their numbering did not get reset with the Zero Hour reboot. What happens with this Legion is that the story bounces back and forth between the two titles every month; it's like having a single bimonthly comic. To start off with, you want these comics:

LSHv4 #0
Legionnaires #0
LSHv4 #62
Legionnaires #19
LSHv4 #63
Legionnaires #20

et cetera.

The easy way to start off, of course, is to track down the Legion of Super-Heroes: The Beginning of Tomorrow TPB, which collect the first ten issues of all this.

-If You Like That Then Read: Keep right on going with LSHv4 and Legionnaires right up to LSHv4 #121 and Legionnaires #78. Don't forget the Annuals!

-Notes: This here is the first part of reboot Legion history we're talking about. The early years of the reboot Legion were kind of light and cute, both in story and art. Sometimes people call them the Archie Legion. It's not the strongest the Legion franchise has ever been, although it's not bad either. There is a general dropoff in quality between 1994 and 2000, but nothing to get worked up about.

The existence of the two titles can make it hard to arrange your comic collection, because how do you know which issue of Legionnaires comes directly after which issue of LSHv4? Later on they'd put sequence numbers on the covers to fix this problem, but for the first couple of years you were on your own.

-Timeframe: 1994-2000.

I hear the DnA run is really good!

-Then Start With: It is really good! What we're talking about here is the second phase of reboot Legion history, written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning ("Dan and Andy" = "D and A" = "DnA". That's where that comes from). They take over the two ongoing Legion titles with a great story called "Legion of the Damned" (covers LSHv4 #122-3, Legionnaires #79-80) and then end those two titles with a three-parter called "Widening Rifts" (covers LSHv4 #124-5, Legionnaires #81). That leads into a twelve-issue limited series called Legion Lost which has been collected into hardcover. Also, "Legion of the Damned" has been collected in one volume as DC Comics Presents: Legion of Super-Heroes--Legion of the Damned. No help with "Widening Rifts".

(Technically the starting point for this stuff is Legion of Super-Heroes Secret Files and Origins #2, but it's not really essential and it can be hard to find. (Actually, all the DnA stuff can be hard to find, and expensive, so good luck.))

-If You Like That Then Read: After Legion Lost comes a six-issue limited series called Legion Worlds, and then an ongoing series entitled The Legion. DnA remain on The Legion until #33. Many will say that The Legion isn't much good after the first 15 or so issues, but I think it's still above average, and in particular I think that they did a good job of wrapping things up in their last few issues.

The Legion continues under fill-in writers until issue #38, and I think these issues are very good. Then the reboot Legion draws to a close with a two-part story spread over New Teen Titans v3 #16 and the Teen Titans/Legion Special #1.

-Notes: The most important part of the DnA run is Legion Lost. It's the core. "Legion of the Damned" and "Widening Rifts" lead up to it, Legion Worlds is supplementary to it, and The Legion is a followup to it. Legion Lost is awesome: doesn't lose that "Archie Legion" innocence, but nevertheless tells a serious and gripping story.

Except for this rumoured hardcover collection of Legion Lost, the only large part of the DnA run that's been collected is the Darkseid story in the Foundations TPB; this collects The Legion #25-30, which was pretty much the least best part of the DnA run.

-Timeframe: 2000-2004.

Can you set me up with the Threeboot Legion?

-Then Start With: Glad to! The easiest thing for you would be to get the first two TPBs, as this is the era of the Legion that has been most thoroughly collected. The first two are called Teenage Revolution and Death of a Dream, and they cover LSHv5 #1-13.

(Technically the threeboot starts with a few pages at the end of the Teen Titans/Legion Special that ended the reboot. It's really not essential, though, and can be hard to find and expensive.

-If You Like That Then Read: Next you keep reading LSHv5, up to issue #36 (covering trades Strange Visitor from Another Century, Adult Education, The Dominator War, and The Quest for Cosmic Boy).

Jim Shooter takes over as writer with issue #37 and changes the tone of the book considerably. Some of what he tried didn't work and it makes the progress to #50, the final issue, something of a death march, but at least he (like Mark Waid, who wrote the first thirty issues) wasn't afraid to try new things. #37-50 are collected in Enemy Rising and Enemy Manifest.

-Notes: The title of this series, from #16-36, is not LSHv5 but Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes.

The threeboot Legion gets a lot of abuse from fans, but I liked it and will always defend it. It had some excellent art from Kitson and Calero and Manapul, it had a really different take on the Legion that should have been explored more deeply, and it had the best characterization I've ever seen. It didn't live up to its potential, but it's certainly worth your attention. I'd still like to see someone take another serious try at it, though.

-Timeframe: 2004-2009.

How about the animated series? Worthwhile?

-Then Start With: Yes, it's worthwhile; very much so. Start with the DVDs of Season One, available through your video store or Netflix or or wherever you get your videos.

-If You Like That Then Read: Then you move on to Season Two. I don't actually have any advice for how you'd go about doing that, as it's not out on DVD, but if you can do it then do it. If you can't, then console yourself with the knowledge that it wasn't as good as Season One anyway.

Also you can read the comic books based on the cartoon. DC published 20 issues of Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century under its "Johnny DC" imprint, and they were a lot of fun. Some of the issues were among the best Legion comics I've ever read. I think they were collected, at least some of them, but I don't have the specifics.

One thing about LSH31C: don't read the first issue first! The first issue is a nonlinear retelling of the first episode of the cartoon, and, while it's a good comic book, it works terribly as a first issue. So do this: take your stack of LSH31C issues, put #1 between #5 and #6, and start reading with #2. #2's a pretty good first issue, and #1 is an excellent middle issue.

-Notes: One thing you might be interested in is that #20 of LSH31C establishes that the animated series and LSH31C all take place in a computer simulation Brainiac 5 runs to make sure it's safe for Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, and Cosmic Boy to go back in time and meet Superman the first time.

-Timeframe: 2006-2008.

That is all too much Legion! What do I need if I just want to read the current series?

-Then Start With: There are three ways you can go. Here's the simplest: start reading LSHv7 with its September '11 first issue, and, if you want, Legion Lost v2, same time frame. Second way: Read Paul Levitz's first arc in the current Adventure Comics title (#12, #516-520 (see, after #12, they reverted back to Adventure's original numbering...)), which I'm sure will be collected at some point. This story, though it may not hang together very well as one piece, is specifically intended to bring new readers up to speed.

The other thing you could do is read all the stuff that's come out in the last few years that was designed to bring Geoff Johns's revival Legion to our attention. This includes, in order:

"The Lightning Saga" (Justice League of America v2 #8-10 and Justice Society of America #5-6)
"Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" (Action Comics #858-863)
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #1-5
Adventure Comics #1-4, 8-12 (along with whatever issues of Supergirl, Action Comics, Superman, and Superman: Last Stand of New Krypton you need to fill out the "Brainiac and the Legion of Super-Heroes" story) and #516-529 (see, they went back to the original numbering...)

-If You Like That Then Read: Then start in on LSHv6 #1 and keep going with the rest of that series, to #16. Don't forget the Annual! This also includes Adventure Comics #516-529, and the Legion of Super-Villains Special #1. Then there's DC's big relaunch, which leads us into LSHv7, Legion Lost v2, and the Legion: Secret Origin miniseries.

-Notes: DC intends the current Legion, the one Geoff Johns introduced and the one Paul Levitz is now writing about, to be viewed as the original Legion, the ones they were writing comics about from the late '50s through the late '80s. There are a couple of problems with that, including that Johns and Levitz seem to have different ideas about just how all of this is supposed to work, but the best advice is not to worry about it and enjoy the ride.

-Timeframe: 2007-current.

I don't know where I want to start!

-Then Start With: Best thing you can do is go find that LSHv3 Annual #1 that I mentioned way up there in the Levitz section.

-If You Like That Then Read: Try more Levitz stuff, especially from the early part of his run. Try #284 and #285.

Or try some stuff from the early part of the reboot era, or from the early-to-mid '70s, or from the Silver Age, or from Levitz's current Adventure or LSHv6 series.

One thing that might help you out is the Legion of Super-Heroes: 1,050 Years of the Future collection, which contains a nice cross-section of stories from the '50s right up to the '00s. And it hangs together thematically remarkably well!

All right, I get all of that. Anything you haven't mentioned?

-Then Start With: There have been quite a few Legion-related miniseries and specials and stuff over the years. Most of them aren't as good as the regular Legion comics, but you can still give 'em a shot if you're interested. Famously, there's the L.E.G.I.O.N. '89 series that I'm sure a lot of people would recommend, although it doesn't have that much of a connection with Legion stories. Anyway, here are some that I'd specifically recommend:

-Superboy's Legion, a hard-to-find-and-expensive two-issue Elseworlds story by Alan Davis
-DC Comics Presents #59, with Ambush Bug and the Legion of Substitute Heroes
-Titans/Legion of Super-Heroes: Universe Ablaze #1-4 (expensive and hard to find, but better than its reputation)
-The Brave and the Bold v3 #4
-Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes #1-3
-Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1-6 (starting Oct '11) (published by IDW, not by DC!)

I will try to keep this article up to date, to reflect changes in availability and relevance. Please suggest any improvements I could make in the comments.

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