Monday, October 26, 2015

Role Call

by Bits Boy

Role-playing games are not everyone’s cup of Kono juice, this author included. But in the mid-80s, Mayfair Games released its critically well-received DC Heroes tabletop game line, which, because it encompassed the whole DC universe, and therefore the Legion, ensnared the non-gaming fans who just had to have the Legion-related items for their collection. And there was much to keep them occupied: the three editions of the game came with an abundance of manuals, game books, figurines and sourcebooks.

There were four Legion of Super-Heroes game modules: Pawns of Time (#223), Knight to Planet 3 (#224), Mad Rook’s Gambit (#225) and King For All Time (#226). As the titles suggest, the theme revolved around a chess game, with the Legion confronting the Time Trapper. The gameplay for module #223 is particularly interesting as it revives former Legionnaires such as Chemical King, Nemesis Kid and Ferro Lad. Covers for the books were illustrated by the likes of Dan Jurgens, Ed Hannigan and Curt Swan, while the interiors were adorned with re-purposed artwork and a smattering of original sketches by ambiguously-named “DC staff”.

Because the Legion consisted of so many characters, and its history and settings were so rich and diverse, Mayfair produced two comprehensive reference manuals on the world of the Legion. Volume 1, co-written by Paul Levitz, focused on all past and present Legionnaires up till then, with comprehensive explanations of powers and statistics for use with the RPG, as well as “intimate details on the Legionnaires’ lives you can’t find anywhere else”. Volume 2 featured “the world of tomorrow”, and included information on the Earth of the future, its government, the Science Police, technology of the time, the Legion Academy, plus the various worlds of the United Planets. It also included a large and detailed schematic of Legion headquarters. Original covers were drawn by Ed Hannigan, Jose Delbo and Larry Mahlstedt.

The DC Universe game came out on the heels of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which shook the foundations of DC continuity. The ramifications were so widespread and confusing that, four years later in 1989, Mayfair released The Background/Roster Book, in an attempt to clarify and explain the consolidated universe. In the introductory piece, Robert Greenberger writes: “While we have dumped the parallel worlds, we have expanded the one Earth to encompass more peoples … only last year, Earth made its first extraterrestrial alliance with Daxam, home of Mon-El. We are still meeting new alien races as our knowledge of the universe increases. There is now even a forerunner of the Legion in existence.” (You may recall that the Durlan from L.E.G.I.O.N. turned out to be RJ Brande.) In typical vague dialogue, Greenberger goes on to say “the publishing business affords us the opportunity to revise and remold material as the demands of the creators and marketplace change” … words that we can’t help but resonate with today, nearly 26 years later, as DC re-establishes the concept of multiverses.

The book includes submissions and essays on various characters by their creators, such as Jack Kirby (New Gods), Roy Thomas (Golden Age heroes), Robert Kanigher (Sgt Rock) and Mike Gold (the legendary heroes). Roger Stern writes on Metropolis, Dan Jurgens has a dissertation on DC’s wealthiest characters, Paul Kupperberg discusses the Intelligence Community, and Neil Gaiman flirts with magic. A chapter on alien races includes specifications for many first introduced in Legion stories, including Daxamites, Dominators, Durlans, Gil’Dishpan, and the Khunds.

Mayfair delved even deeper into the worlds of the DC universe in the following year (1990), with the release of the Atlas of the DC Universe, a “complete guide to the people, organizations and places that make up the exciting world of DC Comics”. This included backgrounds on countries of the Earth, planets of the galaxy, and assorted full-color gatefold maps, with one of the USA showing the locations of notable locations such as Metropolis, Smallville, Gotham, Star City, Coast City, Keystone City, and Littleville (quick! Which DC character lives here?). Sections devoted to life beyond Earth look at Legion-related places as diverse as Colu, Dryad, Khundia, Korbal, Takron-Galtos, Ventura, Brande’s Asteroid, Avalon, Kathoon, Lallor, Lythyl, Medicus One, Nullport, Shanghalla, Somahtur, Tyrrazz, Weber’s World and Zerox.

In 1995, the Legion’s title moved five years forward. A cataclysmic event known as Black Dawn ravaged the universe and the ranks of the Legion, with the organization forced to disband and then regroup in triumph. The 5YL stories have been either loved or hated by Legion fans, relying on a non-linear story-telling device that requires fans to, as writer Tom Bierbaum once put it, “work a little harder” to fully grasp.
Mayfair released a Legion sourcebook, scripted by Tom and Mary, to help fans fill in the gaps and delineate incidents not explained fully in the comic book. Of particular help is a detailed timeline which explains the major events of the five-year gap. For the first time, members who joined the Legion during Black Dawn were named in full; these included Atmos, Calamity King, Echo and Reflecto. The specifications for each Legionnaire also include their birthdates, which match up with those provided in the 1976 DC Calendar. Members who weren’t around that year were given new birthdates (the full list of birthdates can be found here.) The sourcebook is essential reading for those keen to enjoy the 5YL run to its fullest.

The cover features the Legion battling Lobo, who did not feature in any Legion story at the time (nor since). The crazy Czarnian was a hot commodity back then, and was ostensibly featured in a blatant attempt to lift sales of the book.

As if inspired by DC Comics’ Who’s Who series, Mayfair next released a set of three Who’s Who books of its own, with each volume thicker than the one before. The compendiums were rich with established and new information on DC’s entire cast of characters. Legion fans get treated to such compelling tidbits as Bouncing Boy’s DNA, Matter-Eater Lad’s digestive enzymes, the layout of children’s hospital Quarantine, maps of Legionnaires’ home planets, the borders of the United Planets, schematics of Universo’s pendant and Roxxas’ chronal howitzer, and the hierarchy of Dominators according to caste. While much of this information has never been revealed in the comic books, it can be regarded as canon because the books were co-published by DC Comics. All three volumes are scarce and not cheap to obtain today.

The global map of Timber Wolf's home planet, Zuun.

The biology of Cargggites, Duo Damsel's race.

Matter-Eater Lad's room, and a molecular diagram of his digestive acid.

The caste system of the Dominators.

To view all the Legion-related items from the Who's Who series, see here.

Mayfair didn’t just stop at books, though. It combined with Grenadier Models, a leading maker of miniature lead figures for RPGs, to produce sets of characters for DC Heroes. These included Justice League, New Teen Titans, Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes, for which the characters were Blok, Dawnstar, Wildfire, Sensor Girl, Element (sic), Modru (sic), Persuader, Tyr, Lightning Lord and Emerald Empress.

By the turn of the century, other game manufacturers came to prominence, one of the most successful being Green Ronin Publishing, based in Seattle, Washington. Founded in 2000, it published several award-winning RPG–related products.

One of them was based on the DC Universe, named DC Adventures, for which several reference books were released. Strangely, although the Legion entries in these tomes were the Geoff Johns versions, many of the illustrations were based on the threeboot members.

DC Adventures Vol 1: Cover and statistics for Brainiac 5

DC Adventures Vol 1: Sample pages

DC Adventures Vol 1: Sample pages

DC Adventures Vol 2: cover and text for the Legion of Super-Heroes

DC Adventures Vol 2: Sample pages

DC Adventures Vol 2: Sample pages

Several varieties of RPG also exist in electronic media, of course, as well as single-player role-playing video games. The action video game Scribblenauts, developed by 5th Cell for the Nintendo DS, includes a DC Comics component called Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure, featuring more than 2000 characters from the DC universe. On its release in 2013, the manufacturer claimed the database was so extensive that fans would find it hard to find heroes that were not included. Alas, there were several Legionnaires missing, including iconic members such as Sun Boy, Dawnstar and Blok. On the plus side, it included Arm-Fall-Off Boy.

The cover of the game.

The Legion-related figures in the game.

From the comic book series.

From the comic book series. Dawnstar was not included in the actual game.

The only Legion-related Scribblenauts figure released so far: Tharok.

RPGs continue to be popular, whatever version they take. The most recent tabletop game to feature Legion characters is HeroClix, in which players use miniature figures to construct teams of comic book heroes, villains, or characters and engage in a turn-by-turn battle on grid maps based on various storyline locations. The figures have become collectible in their own right, and many fans collect HeroClix simply for these well-crafted miniatures, and not to play the game. There have been more than 100 Legion-related figures already released, too many to include in this blog today, but certainly it will be a topic which we’ll return to in the future.

Some of the Legion-related Heroclix figures that have been released.

Bits Boy runs the comprehensive Legion completists’ site Bits of Legionnaire Business.

1 comment:

  1. Sockamagee! Littleville was the home of H-for-HERO-dialer Robby Reed.

    The only bits of the Mayfair game I was never able to find was the lead figures. Even the local game shops couldn't track down a set for me (This was in the long ago pre-eBay days of course).