nelson e bridwell

As a kid, your purchasing power is severely limited, or at least that’s how it was for me at this point. I was still too young to be doing any sort of a job to bring in money, and yet at the same time, I was being expected to save my cash for whatever I might want. My grandparents would typically leave me a dollar each week when they visited, and there were birthdays and holidays that might score some cash. And occasionally a parent could be prevailed upon to make a purchase on my behalf. But that is why I passed up this issue of DC SUPER-STARS featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes multiple times at the secondary grocery store my Mother sometimes frequented before deciding to purchase it. My past encounters with the Legion hadn’t been all that wonderful.

But this comic was different. It reprinted one of the most celebrated and trailblazing Legion stories ever done, the two-part Adult Legion story. To whit: most other Legion stories involved Superboy journeying to the 30th Century where he’d become a member of a team of intergalactic super-youths like himself, all around his age. Either editor Mort Weisinger, writer Jim Shooter or perhaps even assistant editor E. Nelson Bridwell had the brilliant and obvious idea to have Superman make the same journey and team up with the grown-up versions of his old pals. But in the style of an imaginary story crossed with a high school reunion, this two-part adventure made its bones by showing how everybody’s relationships turned out–who died, who married who, and even who would join the Legion in the days and years to come. 

It is a truly staggering conceit, especially in that it was used as a blueprint for close to two decades to follow in terms of guiding the destinies of the assorted Legion characters. Even more amazing, Shooter introduces almost a half-dozen brand new characters here as Legionnaires (most of whom have sadly perished by the era in which this story is set) who will come to join the group in the months and years to come–some added well after he had stopped writing the series. 

The actual plot of the first story is pretty threadbare, as much of it is simply made up of a travelogue in which Superman, summoned from the past, is given a tour of the Legion’s updated headquarters and checks in with all of his old friends. He’s been called back up because a mysterious new menace threatens the Legion–and this menace turns out to be the twin brother of the deceased hero Ferro Lad. Now, it’s important to understand something: when this story was first written, Ferro Lad had only been killed off the previous month and was only introduced maybe six months prior to that. But his sacrifice and death are treated as so monumental here that they actually became accepted as being that monumental! And it turns out that brother Douglass isn’t a true villain, but rather has ben set against the Legion by their rivals, the Legion of Super-Villains.

Not to be stopped, Shooter and Weisinger introduce even more new heroes on the issue’s cover, all of whom would go on to play a role in the Legion’s history. At the point when I read this story, all but one had been introduced–Reflecto. This added a great sense of mystery and predestination to Reflecto–he was an object of fascination even though we really knew next-to-nothing about him. When a later creative team eventually got around to doing the Reflecto story, it was sadly a bit of a bungled mess.

With Ferro Lad II discovered and deprogrammed, there’s no great need for the Man of Steel to remain in the 30th Century, and so he heads for home. Seeing him go, the pissed off Legion of Super-Villains decide that this will be the perfect moment to launch an all-out assault on their good guy counterparts. They capture Brainiac 5 and cause the Legion to split up for a series of one-on-one showdowns very much inspired by the first AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL (Shooter even uses the same Electro set-up and visuals in the battle between Lightning Man and Lightning Lord.)

It’s a fun action-oriented outing for the series, more so than they typically got, and it was marred only by the climax. Through a deception, the Villains gain the upper hand, but before they can execute the good Legion, the heroes are saved by a pair of mysterious armored crusaders–who turn out to be the identical descendants of Lex Luthor and Mr. Mxyzptlk. This had to have been Weisenger’s idea, but as the story ends with the duo being inducted into the Legion’s ranks, all future Legion writers could see that they had a problem that they’d need to deal with once they brought the narrative to this point,  Ultimately, though, that eventuality never materialized, as decades later we saw the “mainstream DC Universe” Legion’s continuity veer away from the predictions made in this pair of issues. Still, it was an amazingly ballsy thing to do, very much the precursor to stories such as KINGDOM COME or even THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Who didn’t want to see how all of their favorite characters’ stories turned out in the end?