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TODAY'S LETTER IS L
LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES
I've posed the rhetorical question before, but it bears repeating: if you're a kid into superheroes, what could be better than more superheroes? Superman and Batman! The Mighty Avengers! The Justice League of America! The Justice League of America and The Justice Society of America! Super! More super! In the '80s, when an inter-company crossover of The Teen Titans and The X-Men casually mentioned the possibility of calling in every superhero on Earth to deal with a growing crisis, all I could say in response was, Of course!
When I was a kid in the '60s, The Legion Of Super-Heroes seemed to me to be the ultimate, enormous super-team. More! The Legion was a co-ed group of teen heroes in the far future of the 30th century; the group also included 20th century stalwarts Superboy and Supergirl (and occasionally Jimmy Olsen as Elastic Lad, and even Lana Lang as Insect Queen), who joined in adventures with their pals of tomorrow through the ready convenience of time travel. My first exposure to the Legion was Superboy # 129, an 80-Page Giant which reprinted the first appearance of Mon-El (a then-obscure super character who is now part of the Supergirl TV series). That story's original conclusion left Mon-El poisoned, on death's doorstep, his fragile existence saved only by a voluntary exile into The Phantom Zone. A text page accompanying the story updated Mon-El's saga, detailing how Mon-El spent a thousand years in The Phantom Zone--not aging, not dying, but not living, either--until the 30th century, when the brilliant mind of Brainiac 5 discovered a cure for Mon-El's terminal condition. Mon-El emerged from The Phantom Zone, and joined The Legion Of Super-Heroes.
As a child of six, I may have skipped the text piece.
But somehow, somewhere along the way, I absorbed the knowledge that Mon-El was a member of the Legion. I liked Superboy a lot, but I preferred Mon-El, and I would have sought him out in Legion stories if I'd been aware of the possibility. The LSH had become the stars of Adventure Comics, but I don't remember seeing any of their adventures until I was eight. But, before that, I learned a bit about the Legion in the pages of an issue of World's Finest Comics when I was seven.
World's Finest Comics was the home of team-ups by Superman and Batman, "Your two favorite heroes in one adventure together!" We'll be discussing that title in more depth in a future edition of The Everlasting First. In the summer of 1967, my family went on a Vermont vacation, a vacation I recall with fond memories of fishing with my Dad, and of discovering some (I thought) unique rock in the water, a rock I kept for years thereafter. Like all of my vacations, this trip included some comic books, one of which was World's Finest Comics # 168.
The star villain in this issue was The Composite Superman, a green-faced half-Superman/half-Batman hybrid who possessed the combined power of all of the members of The Legion Of Super-Heroes. If, as I suspect, I didn't pay much/any attention to that text piece in Superboy # 129, this may have been my first, indirect exposure to the Legion.
Fascination notwithstanding, this seven-year-old kid had a finite supply of the twelve-cent increments necessary to buy new comics in 1967. I have a vague memory of waiting for my turn at the barber shop one day, and reading a coverless comic book (possibly an 80-Page Giant) that included at least one Legion story, a story involving the origin of Starboy. I have no idea when this specific haircut occurred, nor can I identify the precise comic book, but I can tell you I asked the barber if he would let me buy the damned thing, and he laughed me off. Adults just don't understand.
The first actual Legion comic book I could call my own was Adventure Comics # 368 in 1968, an unbelievably sexist story called "The Mutiny Of The Super-Heroines!" I missed the next two issues--a pity, since I would much later discover the "Mordru The Merciless" two-parter contained in Adventure # 369-370 to be one of my favorite Legion stories--but I returned in time for a rip-roarin' two parter about Colossal Boy betraying the Legion in Adventure # 371-372, and the debut of super-speedsters The Tornado Twins in Adventure # 373.
Adventure Comics # 374 was a coverless purchase for me, and I don't remember which (if any) of the subsequent issues I managed to grab at the time. I definitely remember buying and adoring Adventure # 378, with the gripping "Twelve Hours To Live!," featuring the apparent deaths of Superboy, Brainiac 5, Duo Damsel, Karate Kid, and Princess Projectra, and the story's thrilling conclusion in Adventure # 379. Adventure # 380 was anticlimactic, but even worse: it was the Legion's last appearance in Adventure Comics! Their spot was taken over in the next issue by one of their own, that super-hussy Supergirl. The Legion were relegated to a back-up spot, supporting Superman in the rear pages of Action Comics.
But, like TV's Star Trek, the Legion refused to go gently into that dark night. Diehard fans begged and pleaded for more of the Legion. The team's back-up series switched from Action Comics to Superboy, and in those pages in 1972, writer Cary Bates and new artist Dave Cockrum brought a whole new level of pizazz to the proceedings. Cockrum designed eye-catching new costumes for many of the Legionnaires, including some gorgeous, pulchritudinous new styles for the female heroes. This twelve-year-old heartily approved.
A lot of other folks must have also approved of something, as the Legion became the lead feature in Superboy # 197 in 1973. The Legion has generally been one of DC's A-list features since then. Dave Cockrum left DC shortly thereafter, moving on to Marvel (where he and writer Len Wein tried their hands at reviving an old, failed title called The X-Men. They were, uh...pretty successful with that.)
I was also starting to acquire back issues by then, so I finally got to read some of the great Legion stories I missed the first time around. I've resisted the temptation to buy the various reprint collections over the past few years, but I've a feeling I'll succumb as soon as DC gets around to the inevitable (I hope) trade paperback series. Best start buildin' some more bookshelves....
I continued to follow The Legion Of Super-Heroes faithfully throughout the '70s, and into a particularly exciting '80s run by writer Paul Levitz and artist Keith Giffen. But I lost interest after a few too many reboots. I don't know anything about the Legion of today--or, I guess, the Legion of one thousand years from today--but I hope they're well, and plentiful. A legion of super-heroes! If you were a kid like me in the '60s, and a kid like I still am now in my fifties, then you couldn't ask for any more than that.
Quick Takes For L:
LIMITED COLLECTORS' EDITION
The Limited Collectors' Editions were yet another attempt by DC Comics' Carmine Infantino to develop new comics formats that could carve out a space on retail racks. They were wonderful, oversized books for a dollar, usually crammed with reprints. The first one I noticed was this Shazam! book in 1973, and as a huge fan of the original Captain Marvel, I couldn't buy it fast enough to suit me. There were, I think, two more Shazam! books, some terrific Batman books, even an unexpected, incongruous Dick Tracy book, among many others. There were also the Famous First Edition books in the same format, reprinting collectors' items like Action Comics # 1 and Detective Comics # 27 in their entirety, Later on, the format was also used for some new adventures, including three of the DC/Marvel crossovers (Superman Vs. The Amazing Spider-Man, Superman And Spider-Man, and Batman Vs. The Incredible Hulk), as well as the landmark Superman Vs. Muhammed Ali. I still have most of my original copies of these.
THE LONE RANGER
I wasn't much into Westerns as a kid, so the readily-available reruns of The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, and Zorro weren't as big a thing for me as they should have been. My interest in The Masked Rider Of The Plains was sparked when he returned in 1966 as the star of a new Saturday morning cartoon series on CBS. I also bought The Lone Ranger's Big Little Book adventure when I was a fourth-grader in 1969-70. I became a full-fledged fan in the early to mid '70s. I recall our local PBS affiliate airing a Lone Ranger marathon one Saturday, as I sat there with a bowl of chili and immersed myself in the pure, action-packed appeal of Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto. Some time after that, I saw a matinee showing of Moore and Silverheels feature film The Lone Ranger, and cable TV delivered me a daily diet of Batman, The Adventures Of Superman, and The Lone Ranger via WPIX in New York City. It was a welcome return to those thrilling days of yesteryear.
Luke Cage, Hero For Hire, was the first black superhero to star in his own comic book. The character was heavily influenced by '70s blaxploitation movies, and while dialogue like Sweet Christmas! is dated now, Cage was cutting-edge for mainstream comics at the time. I'm not sure whether or not I started with the first issue of Luke Cage, Hero For Hire, or if I came back to that after reading subsequent issues, but I remember reading my coverless copy of the debut, purchased at Van Patten's Grocery in North Syracuse. The character's mercenary outlook, coupled with his origin as a wrongly-convicted felon, certainly differed from any other superhero book I was reading in 1972. But my favorite scene in that issue was when Cage was putting together his new hero garb, and a costume shop proprietor tried to sell him a Captain Marvel outfit--y'know, original Captain Marvel, Shazam!, etc.--telling our Luke that the costume's original owner had gotten involved in a lawsuit. Cage spurned the costume, saying something along the lines of More like union suit! The Cage character has evolved considerably over the decades, and I prefer the current incarnation (as seen on Netflix). But the original Cage was one bad mutha...Shut your mouth!
Just talkin' 'bout Cage. Can you dig it?
WHEN THE EVERLASTING FIRST RETURNS: L is for
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