Original airdate: October 31, 1998
Review by Glenn 'Continuity Kid' Walker.
Mission Monitor Board: Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Chameleon Boy, and Clark (Superman) Kent.
Guest-stars and cameos: Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl, Dream Girl, Lightning Lad, Light Lass, Brainiac 5, Triad, Bouncing Boy, Kid Quantum, Andromeda, Jonathan and Martha Kent, Lana Lang, and Kenny Braverman.
the animated "Legion of Super Heroes" television series, I thought I'd take a peek at the Legion's previous cartoon incarnations. They first appeared officially as a part of DC's Animated Universe in the third season of "Superman The Animated Series" in episode three, "New Kids in Town." The Superman series in general seemed to be concerned with two things as I remember. One was showing poor Superman get the snot beaten out of him, usually by a Jack Kirby character or characters. And two was an endless revolving door of potential DC Comics animated pilots. There seemed to be a lot of episodes featuring new characters to this universe that just felt like backdoor pilots. There was the Flash, the Kyle Rayner Green Lantern, Aquaman, all those Kirby characters, Lobo, and now the Legion.
We open in the future, 2979 AD, and Brainiac is on the loose. This is the animated Brainiac of the turn of the century DCAU, all purple and grey, with that three-dots-in-a-V symbol that will become the character's signature trademark hereafter. I'm a traditionalist, give me the pink-shirted, green-skinned android with his skull wired up any time, you know the Silver Age comics/Filmation/Legion of Doom dude - that's Brainiac. Still, this version was pretty tough, eventually evolving into a Darkseid-level threat. Here, he's on a sky sled resembling a cross between the Mobius Chair and a Flash Gordon Hawkcycle, breaking into the Antimatter Accelerator. His goal is to create a temporal anomaly (almost resembling a Boom Tube effect) and escape to the past.
The three Legionnaires are given star voice talent, at least for the time – Chad Lowe as Cos, Melissa Joan Hart as Imra, and Jason Priestly voicing Cham. Their costumes are close to those from the comics, although from different eras. I like these DCAU visuals far better than those of the eventual "Legion" animated series. I am curious as to why we get Cham over Lightning Lad, as this tale does mirror the original contact story between Superboy and the Legion in Adventure Comics #247.
The Legionnaires find themselves in the Smallville of Superman's youth. As we're in the John Byrne post-Crisis reset continuity, there's not only no Superboy, but the maturing and just-getting-his-powers Clark is a bit of a jerk. He's treating Lana Lang worse than usual, and showing off against the soon-to-be super-villain Conduit, Kenny Braverman. And then Brainiac attacks.
The one thing this episode does so well is storytelling with economy. Young Clark is just a bystander when the Legion takes on Brainiac in round one. We don't have to be told anything, as we're shown what these heroes can do, how their powers work, and what is really going on. Even when we are told things, like when Saturn Girl shows Clark who Superman is, and he affected the 30th century, and inspired the Legion, it's done flawlessly with an economy of words. Still love the spread when we see the future Legion, even if the character designs are from different eras.
As Brainiac rampages through Smallville, and the Legionnaires follow in distant second, Clark is confronted by Lana over his behavior. There's that economy of storytelling I was talking about again: I think that here in twenty-odd minutes of animation, we got more of Clark adolescent power problems sorted than we did in nearly ten seasons of the "Smallville" television series.
I really liked this episode a lot, not just for the Legion, but it was a superior Superman story, and one he didn't really show up in. The thing that gets me, no, disturbs me, is that Saturn Girl erases everyone's memory, including Clark's. Anything Clark may have learned, is lost, so he's still a jerk, right? Shame. Maybe the Legion comes back and fixes that later… the jerk does need to be hazed, right?
Next: Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes on "Justice League Unlimited!"