United Planets

I was pleased to read this week that the Legion of Super-Heroes is poised to return in Justice League Alpha Fli-sorry, Justice League United– in the autumn. A childhood favourite of mine since the earliest days of primary school, the Legion was one of DC’s top-selling comics in the late Bronze Age and I decided that I’d like to post some thoughts on why that was. I hope to alternate LSH posts with Batman Family posts for a week or two.

Thirty-two years ago next week, my mother, brother and I paid our first visit to London. I saw my first-and only -West End musical (Evita) and  Star Trek 2.  I had really enjoyed the novelization on the coach journey down- it had a torrid tone similar to New Teen Titans or the later DW New Adventures; one , I would eventually learn, known as “hurt/comfort”. The book also  featured characters from McIntyre’s Entropy Effect, which I had borrowed from my friend Graham.

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Irene Cara’s Fame was number one with Steve Miller’s Abracadabra at number two. Come On Eileen was everywhere although corporate MTV pop was still a couple of years away. I also remember 1972’s The Curse of Peladon was repeated for the first time on peak time BBC tv as part of Dr. Who and the Monsters.

Tragically, this was also the week when the IRA bombed Hyde Park and the resulting and understandable panic created a menacing and unhappy atmosphere. I remember a bomb alert caused us to be evacuated from Oxford Street and only now can I sympathise fully with my mother, shepherding two teenagers in an unfamiliar metropolis.

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The highlight of the holiday  for me of course was visiting the original Forbidden Planet shop in Tin Pan Alley (Denmark Street), which was near our hotel on  Tottenham Court Road. I don’t think I had discovered Photon Books in Kelvinbridge yet. I also  dragged my family to  Comics Showcase in Covent Garden and made them climb all 193 steps. I was really looking for sixties issues of Adventure Comics and JLA but the comic I recall best is the first part of the Levitz/Giffen Great Darkness Saga.

The LSH had spun out of Superboy’s monthly in January 1980. I had been crazy about the giant-sized issues in 1977-78. Especially the text features which made a teenage Shooter’s characters and stories sound amazing.

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The impact of the fan-favourite status of X-Men under Claremont and Byrne can still be felt today ( as we saw recently with the Future Past blockbuster movie).  It seems to have been an influence in the comically-unbalanced logo.

However, I think Shooter/Michelinie/Perez and Byrne’s Avengers had a bigger influence on Conway and Staton’s Legion. This is most apparent in the governmental interference subplot, perhaps inspired by Shooter’s Gyrich character in Avengers. Once Colossal Boy’s mother became President of Earth, the LSH began clashing with the United Planets in an echo of contemporary Post-Nixon political cynicism.

After the stylish likes of Starlin, James Sherman and Mike Netzer (Nasser)the series had plodded through 1980-81 under the pencil of Jimmy Janes with occasional and controversial guest appearances by Steve Ditko. I appreciate Ditko far more nowadays- back then, foolishly, I thought he was hopelessly old-hat. I also found Conway’s bland super-heroics tired- I think he was more suited to JLA (but even there he suffered by comparison to Englehart).

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I had been thrilled in my final year of school to discover that Roy Thomas, author of Conan the Barbarian and creator of the Vision, Sunfire, Sauron  and the Kree-Skrull War would be the new Legion scripter. Even more astonishingly, he was going to introduce Reflecto, a doomed Legionnaire only glimpsed once before, on the cover of the Adult Legion tale! ‘Optikon readers will know that comic was my Holy Grail and I wouldn’t get my hands on it until a happy accident at the end of 1982.

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However, despite Perez covers – DC’s fan-colossus du jour– Thomas’s Legion stories turned out to be as bland as Conway’s: Reflecto was merely an alternate guise for Superboy. There was a dull time-travel adventure with the enigmatic robed villain , the Time Trapper. And finally a Marvel-esque melodrama for the most Marvel-esque Legionnaire: tragic but temperamental energy-being Wildfire. It was all a bit uninspired.

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But in February 1982, everything was about to change.

Paul Levitz, who had killed off Chemical King ( in accordance with Adult legion prophecy) and provided cosmic scope with the Infinite Man and Earthwar, returned to write the comic. The new artist was Pat Broderick who had been the penciller of Marvel’s Micronauts in 1981.

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My brother had followed the Star Wars-knock-off  toys since their UK debut in the Star Wars Weekly in January 1979. In their own monthly, Broderick guided them through a series of Flash Gordon-inspired fantasy environments and a panoply of bizarre creatures.Hhe was an inspired choice therefore to design a kaleidoscopic 30th Century.

That was a longer preamble than I thought and it’s a muggy lunchtime! In the next LSH post, we’ll look at the first third of the Great Darkness TPB and then at the Legion Digest that was published at that time.

Coming soon: Darkness Visible

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

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One comment on “United Planets

  1. Kid Robson says:

    I was never really into DC’s team books at this time. (Enjoyed Justice League around the mid-’80s, but that was about it.) As for the Legion, Superboy could do just about anything and everything by himself, so what did he need to be part of a team for? 1982, eh? It seems so close and far away at the same time.

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