Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Death of Superboy = The Death of the Legion

by Myk-El
In the real world, death is the point of no return. In comics, death is more like a revolving door. Heroes die, only to be reborn. Yet, Superboy’s death in Legion of Super-Heroes (v3) # 38 was something else altogether.

For me, the death of Superboy was also the death of the Legion.

Now, the core concept of the Legion is actually pretty simple: teen heroes from the future, inspired by the legend of Superman, who come back in time to invite the teenage Clark Kent to join their super-hero club. Or as Supes himself put it in Justice Society (v3) # 5: “They were my friends.”

The Legion inspired Superman to become a better hero, a better person. THAT’S why the Legion was so popular for so many years. Despite all its Silver Age trappings, the series managed to tap into a universal experience, one that especially resonated with its young readers: friendship.

It wasn’t about a futuristic utopia, or the advanced technology, or even the multitude of alien races. It was about a lonely outsider who finally found a group of people who accepted him for who he really was.

All that ended with Legion #38.

Because, as we all know, Superboy wasn’t just killed. His entire existence, and by extension that of the Legion, was invalidated. He went from the boy who would be Superman to the creation of the Time Trapper. From the noble hero whose deeds had inspired them to the unwitting pawn of one of their greatest enemies. With the reveal of the Pocket Universe, everything our heroes believed in, everything they stood for, was suddenly based upon a lie.

How do you come back from that?! The answer is pretty simple: you don’t.

Not to say that there haven’t been any good, or even great Legion stories published since 1987. Quite the opposite, in fact. For example, take Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s mammoth five year run. That creative team, which also included the manga-inspired artistry of Olivier Coipel, brought the Legion back to its sci-fi roots, and found innovative ways to connect the title to the rest of the DC universe (I’m looking at you, R’as al Ghul!). More importantly, they found a way to rejuvenate the franchise, without invalidating all that had gone before.

But with Superboy’s passing, something essential was lost. Call it charm or innocence; whatever you like. But, once that core conceit of friendship was unraveled, the Legion became unrecognizable to me. Gone was the wide-eyed optimism that had been such an integral part of the series’ DNA. In its place was a kind of bitter cynicism. Not to mention an increasingly convoluted, and often contradictory, timeline that—thirty years, four reboots (including the 5YL “Glorithverse”), two crises, and one convergence later—the Legion still has yet to overcome.

1 comment:

  1. I read part of the series as a kid and is spans 4 issues,

    Legion of Super Heroes #37
    Superman #8
    Action Comics # 591
    Legion of Super Heroes #38

    And the red skies is a reference to the original CRISIS series.

    The story also references,
    Cosmic Boy Limited Series #1-4 which also tie's in to the LEGEND series.