Believe it or not, the concept of the comic mini-series didn’t originate until 1979, with DC’s World of Krypton as the very first mini-series. DC would publish more mini-series throughout the beginning and mid 1980s, and following Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC released a plethora of new minis. With Legion of Super-Heroes one of DC’s highest selling books at the time, it is no surprise that the Legion cast also got the mini-series treatment.
Legionnaires 3 was a four issue mini-series, cover-dated February 1986 through May 1986, starring the three founding members of the Legion of Super-Heroes (Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl) squaring off against their old foe, the sinister Time Trapper. The Time Trapper was last seen in the pages of Crisis on Infinite Earths #10 and Legion of Super-Heroes (vol 3) #18, when he battled the Legion on the planet Takron-Galtos. It is revealed here that the Time Trapper that fought the Legion in those issues was actually a Controller sent by the real Time Trapper to masquerade as him. The Time Trapper saved his minion from destruction, only to bring him back to the future and execute him for his failure in person. The Time Trapper is much more maniacal than he has appeared before; here he is shown to be an absolutely terrifying, outright ruthless, fascist dictator of the far future.
The Time Trapper, disgusted with another defeat at the hands of the Legion, decides it is time to take matters into his own hands and strike the Legion at its source. He determines that there must be something special that the Legion is built upon, some special dynamic that makes them so resilient of an adversary. He supposes that if he were to shake the foundation of the Legion, namely the legacy built by its three founding Legionnaires, he would finally be able to crush the Legion of Super-Heroes. And so he closely examines the three founding members, who have since left the Legion and moved onto other pursuits in their lives. Lightning Lad (Garth Ranzz) and Saturn Girl (Imra Ardeen) have married (as seen in the 1977 All-New Collectors’ Edition C-55 treasury comic, reviewed here), and have a son, Graym. Cosmic Boy (Rokk Krinn) has also retired from the Legion, but remains a constant fixture in the lives of Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad, and is the Godfather of Graym.
The Time Trapper has postulated that of the three founding Legion members, Lightning Lad is the weakest. He feels that he can exploit Garth, who he sees as a “boy masquerading as a man,” and in doing so, finally crush the Legion of Super-Heroes. And so The Time Trapper springs his diabolical trap, kidnapping their son, Graym, and threatening to harm the young infant should they involve any other members of the Legion in their rescue attempt. The Time Trapper thus lures Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, and Cosmic Boy into the far future for his deadly chess match to begin….
After our heroes are sent into the future, they attempt to save Graym. However all the while they are playing into the ominous Time Trapper's hands. He separates them and tests them, all the while suspecting victory with the easy defeat and breakage of Lightning Lad. However, Garth, Imra, and Rokk prove their resolve and teach the Time Trapper that they are not only the soul of the Legion, but together also stand as the the rock that the Legion is built upon (pardon the pun). The Time Trapper learns that The Legion is truly special; it is an idea realized and upheld through the strength and dedication of its members both present and past. The ideals of Superman and R.J. Brande that the Legion of Super-Heroes were founded upon, are carried strongest by these three torch-bearers, the three founding members Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad.
This series is one emotional-packed roller-coaster ride. It isn't a typical superhero comic loaded with action and double splash pages of battles in space. It is a deep, suspenseful, and emotional thriller. This story really hits home and brings a sort of realism to this far future science fiction fantasy. Garth and Imra are hit where it hurts the hardest as parents, with the capture of their child. Here in the real world, unfortunately, the fear of kidnapping is very real, and man does it cut like a knife when that fear is realized. Coming off of heavy and dark stories like the Great Darkness Saga and The Curse, Keith Giffen continued to push the tone of Legion comics towards the darker 5 Years Later series that looms on the horizon.
It seems like this story is oft forgotten by non-Legion fans. Typically when there is discussion of the darker, more mature story lines that DC was publishing in the 1980s you get the Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Great Darkness Saga thrown out there, but this Legionnaires 3 mini-series packs a whole lot of emotional punches and resonates on a real world level that the others don't.