Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The End of the ADVENTURE....


The Legion of Super-Heroes moved into Adventure Comics with issue #300 (Sept 1962). The Legion moved OUT of Adventure Comics after issue #380 (May 1969).

These 81 issues (plus a few odd Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, and Superboy issues) constitute the foundation of the Legion of Super-Heroes' "world." Although the majority of Silver Age Legionnaires made their debut appearances prior to this Adventure Comics run, all of the classic Legion friends, villains, and supporting characters DID first appear in one or more of these 81 stories. The Legion of Substitute Heroes? Check. (Adventure #304.)  The Time Trapper? Check. (Adventure Comics #317). Mordru? Check. (Adventure #369). Rond Vidar and his proud papa, Universo? Check and check. (Adventure #349).

Prior to Adventure #300 the Legion had no particular home; they bounced around as supporting characters in Superman, Superboy, and Supergirl features. After Adventure #380 they moved to the back-up spot in Action Comics, where they stayed for approximately one year. They were then homeless again until they moved over as one of the rotating back-up spots in Superboy from #172. I think we all know how *that* move turned out...

Today we here at the Legion of Super-Bloggers would like to take a moment to salute these pivotal issues of Adventure Comics before we move on to the Action Comic series. To tell you the truth, without them, we don't think we would be here today.



Bilingual Lad's Adventure with the Legion
My first Legion story was Superboy/Legion #212. The team and all of its members were already established in a book and I had no idea of its convoluted history. Then I started collecting back-issues, and I will never forget two of my first acquisitions: Superboy/Legion #202 and Superboy/Legion #205, both 100 Page Super-Spectaculars for 60c.


The new stories were awesome Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell instant classics, but the reprints....! Superboy/Legion #202 featured what I considered the greatest Adventure Comics stories for many, many years (and which I consistently list as in my own Top Ten Legion Stories even now). Namely, the Trial of Star Boy (Adventure #342), and the two-parter where Legionnaires are trapped in a prison for super-heroes (Adventure #s 344-345). Superboy/Legion #205 featured the convoluted but fun dismissal of Superboy & Supergirl, and the "return" of Miss Terious and Sir Prize from Adventure Comics #350-351. 
I would read and re-read these stories, memorizing all the facts and characteristics of all the characters, wondering for example where Invisible Kid and Duo Damsel had gone to. Marvelling at the improved costumes (predominantly by Cockrum, of course). But more importantly, as all five of these stories were SO good, I started to think that the Adventure Comics run had to be All Gold All The Time.

I then came across Superboy/Legion #209 and Collector's Editon C-49. The former reprinted the Luck Lords story from Adventure #343, and the Treasury Edition reprinted the debut of Mordru (Adventure 369-370). Not bad stories per se, but certainly not as great as I was thinking they would be. The former did boast some fantastic Curt Swan art, though.
Slowly but surely I acquired and/or read the entire Adventure Comics run. A comic collector friend offered to sell me his Archive Editions and I gladly purchased them through to the Dave Cockrum years, as I personally owned all Legion stories after that.

Now I go back and re-read me some Adventure Comics stories whenever I want action-packed, high-drama good vs evil stories. I've learned that they are not All Gold, but like real Gold, when you come across it in the dirt it shines even brighter.




Siskoid's Log, stardate--wrong franchise with a United Federation of Planet, sorry...
I make no secret of my love of Silver Age comics, goofy as they can be, in fact, BECAUSE they are so goofy. And by the Silver Age, I generally mean the Superman/Legion family of books (and all things Bob Haney). Marvel was pushing for a certain modernity in the Silver Age, so we can't paint everything with the same brush. My preferred "color palette" then is the anything-goes, making-it-up-as-we-go-along, "Hey how about you write a story based on THIS cover concept?" style developed by Mort Weisinger.
I'm not a child of that era, of course. I started properly reading American comics in the early '80s by which point the Legion had a rich history, a history that somehow made sense of those earliest slapdash, borderline insane, densely constructed Adventure Comics stories. I came to them late, via Archives and Showcase Presents collections, by which time I was already adopting the era's Superman stories as part of my aesthetic. When I joined the Legion of Super-Bloggers, I intended to help cover the era more, and was behind the push for convo-style reviews with other members, suspecting the incidental humor of such stories would work best with a big riff-track approach. I wish I could have kept on doing them, but I'd have needed a time bubble to manage it. Happily, others took up the baton, and here we are, at the end of an era.
Not a modern or particularly slick era. Not an era that can always be taken seriously. And yet, it's where it all started, where a lot of chances and risks were taken to tell a continuing story when most of DC Comics features had an episodic reset style, and it made the 30th Century a rich and complex tapestry for later writers and artists to explore. So long Adventure, but I'll always come back to you!




BITS BOY Reminisces:
Growing up with the Adventure Comics run featuring the Legion is one of my fondest memories of my childhood. Blessed with a father who was also into comics and who started collecting them during the 1940s, I enjoyed an upbringing surrounded not only by American products but also the best of the British offerings, including TV21, with its beautiful Frank Bellamy Thunderbirds, and Frank Hampson's Dan Dare in Eagle.
My dad introduced me to comic collecting. We began indulging in the hobby together and we bought everything we could find, including Adventure Comics #247 off the stands. Eventually I inherited the whole collection, which includes complete runs of most Silver Age titles. But despite the hundreds of different characters that rocked my world back when the world was simpler, I found myself drawn to the Legion, loving its concept of being an intergalactic force of teenagers whose membership kept changing and expanding.

I relished the fact that because the roster was so large, we'd see different characters in focus each issue. I appreciated the camaraderie, the nobleness of the members, and the exotic aliens they faced. I was young enough not to be bothered by the silliness of the Weisinger formula, from interplanetary chance machines to super-pets. John Forte's stiff art never bothered me, although when Curt Swan came along, it was clear to me that the Legionnaires began to look prettier … only for me to be rudely shocked by the odd Pete Constanza issue.

As a baby boomer, I grew up with the Legion. We both developed with the times. As we approached the '70s, we came of age together, endured the flower power era and headed into a new decade with a more mature look at life. The Legion stories transformed from stories featuring ridiculous rejected applicants to adventures with more dynamic writing and serious overtones.


Much of this rejuvenation came from the pen of Jim Shooter, who I knew nothing of at the time, let alone the fact he was only 13 when he wrote his first story. But many of his tales remain some of the best in the Adventure run: the Legion in chains two-parter when every member used their powers (Adventure #359-360); the introduction of Mordru, a lesson in suspense story-telling when the antagonist was only revealed on the last page (Adventure #369-370); and the introduction and death of Ferro Lad (Adventure #347, 353).  For me, one of Shooter's best but underestimated triumphs was Adventure Comics #378, when five Legionnaires facing imminent death tackle the news in their own individual ways. Karate Kid tries to die in a blaze of glory but only ends up defeating the entire Fatal Five and destroying their headquarters. A dejected Princess Projectra meets a park philosopher who dispenses sage advice on the meaning of life; pretty incisive writing for a lad who wasn't even 15.


With so much going for the Legion, it was a shock when the series was discontinued without any notice whatsoever, to be replaced by a dreadful Supergirl run. But again, it was a sign of the times that the Legion and I were once again moving into new territory simultaneously. I had progressed to high school, and the Legion likewise found a new home elsewhere.

Yet my love for the Legion never waned. I met and joined a group of Legion fans who were of my age and shared similar affection for the group. We banded together, produced Legion fanzines and succeeded in convincing DC to bring back the Legion on a regular basis.

For many of that group, we still regard the Legion's appearance in Superboy as the NEW comics. When I read a Dave Cockrum or Mike Grell issue, it does not give me the same sense of sentimentality as when I peruse an old Adventure story. Certainly, the redesigned Legion costumes have served to provide a time stamp on the way the Legion evolved at that point.


The Adventure Comics run of the Legion will always stay close to my heart. The Legion will always be my favorite comic book group and in my opinion, the sequence of stories over those 80+ issues will never be beat, not even by a Great Darkness or Earthwar saga. I would never part with the Adventure issues even if I sell off the rest of my collection.


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





Nostalgic Lad's Secret Legion Origin
I started collecting comics in the mid 1980s, but it took me a long time to become a fan of the Legion. Decades in fact. I started reading comics thanks to Marvel's licensed titles and slowly found myself moving over to their super-heroes. But it would be a full two years before I finally started picking up some DC titles, thanks largely to a gorgeous Superman cover by Jerry Ordway. I did read an issue of the Legion here and there over the next few years and there was something appealing about the group. But they also seemed impenetrable to me in a way. In large part, it was the sheer size of the team. So what finally made me a huge fan? 
It was the DC Archives. I had been devouring other Archives titles for years, and had really gained an appreciation for both the Silver Age and the Golden Age. So when I stumbled on the first several volumes of the Legion Archives for cheap, I figured I would give them a shot. And thank God I did.
What I found was pure joy. I was hooked by the Silver Age goofiness, the wonderful mix of interesting and bizarre powers, the colorful costumes, and the whole idea of these teenagers from throughout the universe coming together. On the one hand, I felt foolish for waiting so long to dig into the Legion. On the other hand, this was probably the perfect way for me to do it. At the perfect time.
The last two dozen or so issues we have covered from this era were sadly underwhelming for the most part, and it's a shame to end on such a down note. For the bulk of the era, there was much fun to be had and the title "Adventure Comics" was an appropriately named home for the team. The joy I had reading these motivated me to then track down every Legion comic I could get my hands on out of the back issue bins. Although later eras contain most of my favorite Legion stories, I will always have a nostalgic love of this period for giving birth to my Legion fandom.






Anachronistic Kid's Silver Mettle

Like Nostalgic Lad, I didn't make my way through the early Legion stories until I broke open my Legion of Super-Heroes DC Archives. They're a thing of beauty, to be sure. The first Legion stories I read were modern-- like, this century modern-- and the weight of their history was really lost on me. I didn't know all the connections, all the mythology. It was something like showing up in a church for the first time, wholly unfamiliar with all the familiarities that everyone else rejoices in.

I picked up scattered trades and storylines and cobbled together my personal understanding of the Legion of Super-Heroes. But these Adventure Comics issues, shining gems of the Silver Age, were my proper introduction to the foundation upon which the Legion mythology was built. The team added members, little by little, each with such unique abilities and appearances that they could not be forgotten within the swelling roster. The sheer volume of heroes gave us the Legion of Substitute Heroes, too! Every character is fun and fully-fleshed, so that each Legionnaire truly matters to the readers.

I can't give enough credit to a young Jim Shooter, and to DC Comics for taking a chance on him. The pantheon of characters that slowly built up over his stories are more fun, interesting and compelling than most of the Silver Age superhero fare. The villainous pillars of the Legion mythology-- the Fatal Five, Mordru, the Time Trapper, the Sun Eater-- are introduced within this Adventure Comics run. 
The conclusions to these tales were sometimes rushed and sometimes left rather open-ended, but those loose threads so often led to even more fantastic stories, where the stakes are higher than last time! It's a difficult trick to pull off, but with such a massive cast of characters to choose from the stories never felt repetitive. 

And yes, while some of the later stories began to veer toward an uncomfortable intersection of silly and outright bizarre, they're easy to overlook in the scheme of how much the Legion of Super-Heroes run on Adventure Comics brought-- and continues to bring-- to so many people, myself included.



2 comments:

  1. Wow! What could a humble scribe such as myself add to the words already here. Not much, except to say that I loved the Legion since I first ran across them in my long-vanished copy of Adventure 300. There were plenty of super-hero comics and there were a few science fiction comic series, the likes of Tommy Tomorrow or the anthology Strange Adventures, but the Legion was the first and only comic to put super-heroes in a science fictional setting and it was great. I've been a life-long reader of SF and, looking back, I believe it was the Legion that set me on that path.

    Hamilton had a decent career as an SF author and it wasn't until years later that I learned that the same guy who wrote "What's it Like Out There" and "The Inn Outside the World" was the same guy who wrote those Legion stories that captivated me as a kid.

    Then when Jim Shooter started writing the stories I couldn't believe that here was a guy virtually my own age creating the magic. I'm 66 now and still am wowed by how much they managed to pack into those 24 pages.

    I quit buying comics around the time I started college, most of my disposable income going toward other diversions then. But when I started working, I would grab the occasional Legion mag off the shelf when I saw them, but not all that often. However, when I retired I started going through my old stuff, as folks my age are wont to do, and ran across my old comics. It was like running into some old friends you hadn't seen in decades. You'd revisit the old times, but then start wondering what they'd been up to lately. So, I did some digging around and made my way through the Levitz era, the FYL issues and much of the Legion canon since. I recently scored a used copy of the deluxe hardcover of "The Great Darkness Saga" and found it to be a real masterpiece. Reading it in that collected form was a different experience, far more immersive, than a monthly mag or an on-line site.

    But wait, we're supposed to be talking about the Adventure run here. OK. There were a lot of life lessons to be had in those brief stories. I learned about love from Phantom Girl standing by Ultra Boy when the rest of the Legion thought he was a criminal. I learned about integrity from Invisible Kid slugging Ultra Boy when we was about to look through the lead masks of Sir Prize and Miss Terious. I learned about determination and resolve from Polar Boy not giving up when his dream of Legion membership didn't come to pass. And I learned about leadership and teamwork from every single issue.

    Silly as it might sound to others, and maybe even to me, I think that I'm a better person for having read those stories. What greater legacy can a writer seek?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Interesting. None of you came to these stories as I did, through the Digests, first the Legion volumes and then the Adventure Comics digest reprint incarnation...

    ReplyDelete