Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Magnificent Seven: Legion of Super-Heroes

Today August 7th falls on Wednesday Comics here at Friends of Justice so that means it's time for another Magnificent Seven list about comics. I've already done The Avengers and The Justice League, so now I want to write about my third favorite comic team, the Legion of Super-Heroes.

It goes without saying that if you don't know the Legion of Super-Heroes, you probably shouldn't read this article. It will only make your head hurt. Or skip my build-up slash explanation and go directly to the list and see if you recognize these characters and if you agree with my choices.

Because, you see, the Legion isn't just a name. It's a LEGION of Super-Heroes. See that picture above, by Greg LaRoque and Larry Mahlstedt? All of those heads were members of the Legion at one time, and most of them at the *same* time. So I say again, if you're not at least a little bit familiar with the Legion, this article may confuse you. 

The idea behind The Magnificent Seven is that if an editorial edict came down mandating that only seven members could remain in the Legion of Super-Heroes, who would your choices be?

Of course, it's almost impossible to reduce the roster of the Legion of Super-Heroes to The Magnificent Seven level. And I am only taking in consideration the so-called "Original Team" that existed in continuity from 1958-1989, then again from 2007-2013. If you consider the Re-booted Team and the Three-Boot, there are literally hundreds of characters to choose from!

And I don't want to turn this into a "My Seven Favorite Legionnaires" article, either. I really want to think about which characters, put together as a team, would be the overall BEST Legion Away Team. So I decided to try to be more logical in my considerations. (Turns out that there's a little bit of Brainiac Five in me after all.)

Here's what I came up with.

The Legion is an institution: a club of super-heroes where to gain admittance you must show aptitude at one unique super-power. (This rule was waived for Superboy, Supergirl, Mon-El, and kind of for Ultra Boy.) Within the confines of this rule there are what I think are three types of characters: Power Houses, First Assault, and Supporters.

Power Houses: these are the characters mentioned above (Superboy, Mon-El, Ultra Boy, Supergirl) as well as Element Lad and Chameleon Boy. You have got to have a pretty high power-level to get through any of these individual heroes, let alone any pairing or group of them.

First Assault: These are the members with the most physical powers; those characters who shoot fire or ice such as Sun Boy or Polar Boy or who are more "in the trenches" types like Timber Wolf or Karate Kid. Most of the members fall into this category.

Supporters: These are the strategists or those members whose powers are not overtly physical. Dream Girl and Brainiac Five are the best examples of these characters, as they both appear "static" even when they are actually demonstrating their abilities.

Of course, some characters defy clear descriptions. For example, Blok is a living battering ram and shield, so is often physically in First Assault. However, he doesn't actually DO anything except stand there. His personality is not dynamic; definitely not one of a traditional leader. Likewise, members such as Bouncing Boy, Duo Damsel, and Matter-Eater Lad possess physical powers, but they are not always shown to be dynamic or out-going, depending on who is writing them. In my mind, they can fit well in either First Assault or Supporters. 

So with these divisions or definitions, I'm ready to explain who my core Legion team would include. In the order in which they joined the team, I would pick the following as The Magnificent Seven of the Legion of Super-Heroes: 

There's a reason his given name is "Rokk." More so than either of the other two founders, in my mind Cosmic Boy is the lynchpin or axis on which the whole Legion exists. He left his home planet in order to make money to support his family, and in doing so gained an even bigger one. He was the Legion's "Big Brother" (in a good way!) for years. This made it even more painful when his actual younger brother was killed in action. Besides his solid characterization, he has magnetic powers, and everybody knows how cool Magneto is. 
Highlights of his career: 
S/LSH  212, when he decides he loves "his girl" Night Girl, even though she isn't a Legionnaire;  LSH 297, where he nearly kills the terrorists who killed his mother

Almost from the beginning Garth Ranzz has been the emotional core of the Legion. He was the first member to die, sacrificing his life for the woman he loved. He was the first to come back, although he was gone for nearly ten issues, which in comics time is an eternity. I often wonder if the writers and editors were arguing over keeping him dead or bringing him back until they decided to bring him back. He finally returned in a story with another classic sacrifice. Then he was the first Legionnaire to be severely wounded, losing an arm in battle against The Moby Dick of Space. His arm was eventually regrown, but his nick-name as "the unluckiest Legionnaire" stuck. He was always the "emotional" one vis-a-vis his girl friend's calm demeanor and his best friend's level headedness. In LEGIONNAIRES THREE the Time Trapper believes that Lightning Lad is the "core" of the Legion. I'm not sure I agree with that, but in a very real sense he is the connection between the three founders, and the Legion could not have existed without them.
Speaking of Saturn Girl, I love her, BUT....I don't think she is as important to the Legion as her two co-founders are. We'll talk more about her at the end, I promise. 
Highlights of his career: 
ADVENTURE 304, where he sacrifices himself to save Saturn Girl; S/LSH 236 , where he and Imra vow their love for each other; LEGIONNAIRES THREE 1-4 where he is shown to be the "rock" that both Rokk and Imra lean on.

Tinya Wazzo (great name!) was one of the first Support Legionnaires, and she is one of the best. Her ability to "phase" through objects, solidifying her fist in order to attack, is a great one. Like a real-life ghost, she can go almost anywhere and do almost anything. With her experience as a Senior Member (she is member #5) she has the tactical and leadership abilities many other members lack. She is also an important member of the Legion Espionage Squad, second only to Chameleon Boy in rank. Although she is most often portrayed as the "yin" to Ultra Boy's "yang," she is an experienced heroine who was most recently voted Leader of the Legion. And according to some, she is the over-all "hottest" Legionnaire.
Highlights of her career: 
S/LSH 220, where she over-rules the other (male) members and refuses to be black-mailed by slave traders; LSH 47, where she pulls rank on Dawnstar regarding mission protocol.

Speaking of Cham, Reep Daggle is next on my list. I am not a huge fan of the Power House characters, which is why Superboy and Supergirl et al didn't make this list. And the Durlans are possibly the strongest alien race in the entire DCU (or just behind the Daxams, anyway). Think about how strong Marvel's Super-Skrull or DC's Amazo are, and how they are usually portrayed: they are bad-asses. Now take that same type of ability and give it to a cute orange-skinned alien, and you definitely have a power-house! However, he still has to breathe, and he can only change into one thing at a time. So I think he isn't TOO powerful. Chameleon Boy can become anything, from an Earthquake Beast to a Vornian Mole, and that is an ability you definitely want on your side. Plus, except for the time when he was the victim of an editor's unexpected plot device, he has always been portrayed as cool and level-headed. Amongst a team of leaders, he is the ultimate tactician.
Highlights of his career: 
ADVENTURE 376, where he meets and falls in love with a princess in another dimension; S/LSH 239, where his analytical mind solves the murder that had been blamed on Ultra Boy; The Universo Project (LSH 32-35), where he is shown to be one of the smartest Legionnaires.

The second Power House member I have chosen is Jan Arrah, the last of a race of alchemists. Element Lad can literally change lead into gold. Or into hydrogen. Or into Kryptonite. He can increase or decrease or otherwise move around the number and locations of neutrons, protons, and electrons of all matter instantly. So he changes the sides of an invader's space ship into oxygen, or he transmutes the invader's weapon into hydrogen. The best thing about Element Lad, however, is that because his entire race was exterminated by Space Pirates, he is a pacifist. He wants to stop violent aggressors, but he doesn't want to harm them. So in modern DCU lingo he is a mash-up of Batman (wounded child) and Firestorm (master of all elements). That's a pretty cool combination! Also, in many of his characterizations there is a slight under-current of homosexuality, which would be another "inclusive" item. During Paul Levitz' run he was shown with his girl friend basically said that he loved whomever he loved, and did not believe in marriage. That's a pretty interesting character to have around.
Highlights of his career: 
ADVENTURE 307, his debut and where we first learn his origin and motivations; S/LSH 211, where he confronts the murderer of his people; LSH 19, where he refuses to kill, preferring to die than murder a Sun-Eater creating warrior race.

Princess Projectra joined the Legion at the same time as Ferro Lad, Karate Kid, and Nemesis Kid. For years after this, she was the dullest and least developed of these four. However, once she finally became Queen Projectra she started coming into her own as a real super-heroine. Her illusions seemed stronger, as was her personality. Then came the attack of the Legion of Super-Villains on her home world; she became a widow and an executioner. When we saw her next she had increased abilities, but really she was just a pumped up version of her old self. She can manipulate others' senses, making them see, hear, and even feel things differently from what is real. She is almost like the ultimate Jedi Knight: "These are not the Science Police officers you are looking for." As a Legionnaire she is loaded with potential, not only for her powers but for her characterization, which is very much "the tragic responsibility of nobility." This isn't your average Legionnaire!
Highlights of her career:  
ADVENTURE 346, her debut and where she proves her worth as a Legionnaire; LSH 1-5, where she and her husband nearly single-handedly repel and invasion of their world; LSH 26, where we learn her new powers and motivations; LSH 31, where we get another glimpse of the very powerful "young Jeckie."

It took years for the Legion to add a non-humanoid member. There are hundreds of planets and races in the United Planets, and yet from 1958 until 1986 there were no "alien" super-heroes. The only members who even look like aliens are Chameleon Boy and Blok (although Shadow Lass is blue, and Brainiac Five is green). According to an interview with LSH writer Jim Shooter, he originally intended for Ferro Lad to be African-American; however, the editor didn't allow it, and the future had to wait ten more years before it was integrated. Worst yet, the Legion of this era never had more than one Black man as a member at a time! This doesn't sound like unity and international brotherhood to me. So after Tellus finally appeared he instantly became one of the visually appealing members; when Paul Levitz played up his naivete and "fish out of water" characterization I was hooked. Tellus has telekinetic abilities as well as telepathy, which means he is a very ugly version of Marvel's Marvel Girl! There are still plenty of stories to tell about how he has to get used to a bi-pod carbon-based lifeform world. Although none of my choices here are actually from Earth (Cosmic Boy was born on Earth, but he considers himself Braalian), I don't think the "immigrant" or "handicapped" (in the sense that society is not set up for him) storyline would work nearly as well with, say, Phantom Girl,  as it would with Tellus.
Highlights of his career:
LSH 14, his debut as a Legionnaire, where he shows off his innocence and his exuberance; LSH 23, where he helps rescue Mon-El from the Phantom Zone; LSH 25-26, where he is one of the members who must face down The New Fatal Five; LSH 46-49, where he is the first member to become suspicious of The Conspiracy.

So let's get back to where we started, namely with Saturn Girl. One of the reasons I did not pick Imra Ardeen is because her powers are so passive. I don't mean she's a light-weight; far from it! I just mean that she very much falls into that "background figure" type, overshadowed (literally) by Cosmic Boy and Lightning Lad. She was initially portrayed as an "ice maiden" who had to hide her feelings from the others because she actually cared too much, but this wasn't a very dynamic personality. Under Paul Levitz's tenure she did become a better, well-rounded character, but she just didn't make the cut.

Which leads me to my closing statement. Somehow I did manage to whittle hundreds of characters down to seven. Again, these are not necessarily my favorites, although I do admit that I always enjoy any story with any of these characters in it. However, it did kill me to cut out Shadow Lass and Saturn Girl, two I tried hard to keep in, and some of my other favorites that I just had to cut: Mon-El, Polar Boy, Sun Boy, Chemical King, and Wildfire.

If you are a fan of the Legion, I would love to hear what you think of my list. And if you are willing, let me know which seven would make YOUR Magnificent Seven.



  1. Good article, Russell! I REALLY have a hard time choosing just seven members, though. Wow! ;)

    Oh, I e-mailed you a few weeks back. Did you get it?

    1. Gernot, yes, it was pretty tough to cut out some old favorites!

  2. Russell - Awesome post! I've been mulling this over for a while now. I think I've narrowed down my seven Legionnaires.

    1) Cosmic Boy - For his power, but also because he is THE leader of the Legion. As you stated, he is the "Rokk" of the Legion.

    2) Saturn Girl - While I'm personally not a huge fan of mental powers, Saturn Girl's abilities can't be denied. She's powerful, hot (you knew that was coming), and a real mainstay of the Legion.

    3) Phantom Girl - Again, very useful powers (especially for espionage). Also, great personality. ... wait for it ... and she's the hottest Legionnaire of them all.

    4) Chameleon Boy - Again, very useful power. I guess I'm interested in some of the espionage power sets.

    5) Brainiac 5 - Well, cause you gotta have him. It's like a rule. He's rude and sometimes unfeeling, but you gotta have the resident genius there.

    6) Ultra Boy - He's very powerful and I've always dug his commitment to the cause. He never seems to give up. I probably could have picked some other characters for this slot, so I recognize I'm probably being influenced because I dig the character. If I skipped Ultra Boy, I'd go with Timber Wolf.

    7) Either Andromeda or Kent Shakespeare - You are probably scratching your head on this one. I never warmed to the idea of Supergirl or Superboy being part of the Legion. However, I recognize their usefulness and importance to the team. When I started reading the Legion during the 5 years later era, I really dug these replacement characters. So I'd be fine with either one finishing up my team.

    So the team breaks down like this:
    Leader: Cosmic Boy and sometimes Saturn Girl

    Sheer brute force & power: Cosmic Boy, Ultra Boy, and Andromeda/Kent Shakespeare.

    Subtle abilities or espionage: Brainiac 5, Phantom Girl, Chameleon Boy, Saturn Girl

    There are some classic Legionnaires I actively chose not to include:
    *Lightning Lad - Not a huge fan of the character. Maybe if I read the early Legion stuff I'd feel different.
    *Mon-el - I'm kinda of Meh on Mon-el. I like his Valor 20th Century adventures, but that's about it.
    *Element Lad - The character never really interested me.
    *Dawnstar - Boring, boring, boring
    *Wildfire - I know everyone loves this character, but I've never read many stories with him.

    Great idea for a post!


    1. Good choices, Shag! Thanks for taking the time to write this up for me. I need to send you some old LSH stories so you can appreciate how cool Tellus and Element Lad and Sensor Girl all were. :-)