The Legion of Super-Heroes is in a pretty sad state. Brian Bendis’ ridiculous idea to deliver a fourth complete reboot of the Legion of Super-Heroes was a complete sales failure. I still have no idea why DC editorial seems determined to make the Legion’s continuity as byzantine and unfriendly to readers as possible. While we have no good Legion of Super-Heroes stories to read these days, I thought it would be a good idea to look back at the illustrious history of the Legion and pick out story arcs worth reading. All of the recommended Legion reading lists that I have found on mainstream comic book news sites are offering some rather bad and/or uneducated advice. One example is a list posted by Comic Book Resources which gathered a rather terrible reading list for new readers interested in learning more about the Legion. The author gives either predictable or bad suggestions.
Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank from Action Comics.
This is predictable and not a good suggestion. This story is definitely not even in the Top 20 of best Legion stories. Your time is better spent elsewhere.
Legion of Super-Heroes: The Silver Age Volume 1.
Yup. The author suggests the entire Silver Age. This particular volume covers Adventure Comics #247, #267, 282, #290, #300-310, Action Comics #267, #276, #287, #289, Superboy #86, #89, #98, and Superman #147. That is just a bit broad, huh? This is completely phoning it in. First, these issues are largely standalone and do not have much to do with each other. There is no real overarching story to read. Second, as much as I adore the Legion, most new readers would find most of these issues boring and dull. This is a bad recommendation.
Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga
Even a blind squirrel can find a nut. This is the most painfully obvious Legion story to recommend. This is also the one Legion story that a person with next to no knowledge of the Legion has probably already heard about. However, this is an excellent read and it certainly should be on any list of Legion stories to read.
Legion of Super-Heroes: Teenage Revolution
This is a terrible suggestion. And the author calls the Mark Waid and Barry Kitson 2004 reboot of the Legion one of “the most beloved relaunches” which are words that I have never heard or seen to describe the Threeboot Legion.
This story took place from Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 5 #1-#7. This was not a particularly good read at all. Nor was this story popular. The Waid and Kitson are talented and this creative team should have produced a brilliant Legion. But, this was a case where even having an all-star creative team did not translate into a quality comic book. This Legion was oddly out of touch with the core ideals and foundations of the Legion of Super-Heroes and was often just way too bland.
The Legion by Dan Abbnett and Andy Lanning Volume 1
This collection includes Legionnaires #78-81, Legion of Super-Heroes #122-125, and the Legion of Super-Heroes Secret Files #2. This is another terrible suggestion. The DnA Legion was a massive failure because it learned nothing from the complete failure that was the TMK Legion. It is ridiculous to suggest reading this collection that stems from the creative team that caused the Legion of Super-Heroes to get canceled and then completely rebooted. Again.
This useless article made me realize that it was time for me to publish a list of must-read Legion of Super-Heroes stories for new readers. Even though we are discussing very old storylines, I am going to try and avoid big spoilers so that you can get your hands on these issues and not have all of the details spoiled. With that in mind, let’s take a tour of the Legion of Super-Heroes recommended reading list.
Adventure Comics #352-353 (1967)
Iconic Legion writer Jim Shooter penned this story. Iconic Legion artist Curt Swan delivered the pencils. George Klein handled the inks. This story is an important read since we get the first appearance of one of the Legion’s greatest group of villains: The Fatal Five. We also get the first appearance of the Sun-Eater. This story also gives us the death of a Legionnaire. Paul Levitz in the only other Legion writer that I would place up there with Jim Shooter. It was always apparent how much Jim Shooter loved the Legion franchise.
Adventure Comics #369-370 (1968)
Jim Shooter was the writer. Curt Swan and Jack Abel delivered the artwork. This story treats the reader to the first appearance of another iconic Legion villain: Modru the Merciless. Mordru is a wonderful villain who would return time and time again as the menace of the Legion of Super-Heroes. As always, Shooter delivers a story that has great character work and team chemistry. Shooter’s stories are always tightly paced and plotted with plenty of excitement.
Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #241-245 (1978)
This is the epic Earthwar story. Iconic Legion of Super-Heroes writer Paul Levitz wrote Earthwar and really put his stamp on the Legion with this story. James Sherman and Joe Staton handling the pencils. Bob McLeod, Jack Abel, and Joe Giella handling the inks.
This is the granddaddy of epic war tales that we would get on the Legion of Super-Heroes over and over again. This particular story starred the United Planets, the Khunds, the Dominators, the Dark Circle, and Mordru. That is incredible. Basically, Earthwar assembles arguably the biggest villains in the Legion universe for this story. Earthwar offers the type of action and adventure on a massively grand scale that only the Legion can deliver. This is a fun ride that balances drama, team chemistry, and action.
Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 2 #269-271 (1980)
Gerry Conway was the writer. Jimmy Janes and Frank Chiaramonte handled the artwork. This story arc stars the Fatal Five. The appearance of the greatest Legion villains is enough to justify reading this story arc. However, there is another reason why this story arc is a must-read. This story arc is when Colossal Boy’s mother, Marte Allon, wins the Earth Presidency.
Conway often gets overlooked when it comes to the Legion of Super-Heroes. Jim Shooter and Paul Levitz cast large shadows over this franchise. But, the fact remains that Conway delivered some exciting and entertaining stories on the Legion of Super-Heroes that were in keeping with the Legion’s core concepts and values.
Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 2 #274-282 (1981)
This story arc shows off the strengths of the Legion of Super-Heroes franchise: the strong roster of characters, excellent chemistry, and gripping drama. Gerry Conway and the great Roy Thomas handle the writing duties. The pencils are handled by the iconic Steve Ditko and Jimmy Janes. The inks are handled by Frank Chiaramonte and Bruce Patterson. These issues boast some heavy hitters in the writing category with Conway and Thomas. Things are only made better by having one of the greatest artists of all time Steve Ditko handling much of the artwork.
This story arc deals with multiple plotlines that all mesh together pleasantly. Conway and Thomas demonstrate how vitally important it is that any Legion writer be able to handle stories that involve numerous interlocking plotlines. Conway and Thomas give us so much in these issues.
The main plotlines involve the “death” of Ultra Boy and the debut of a new Legionnaire named Reflecto. Ultra Boy is not actually dead. Instead, he suffers amnesia and joins up with a gang of space pirates. This story provides some excellent character work for Ultra Boy’s character. The new Legionnaire Reflecto is actually an iconic Legionnaire in disguise. This story arc also gives us the return of Superboy to the Legion of Super-Heroes.
In addition to all of the above, Conway and Thomas also treat the reader to some big-time Legion villains in Grimbor, Mordru, and the Time Trapper. Those are all some fantastic villains. This story arc shows off the fun that can be had with a roster as impressive as the Legion of Super-Heroes. This story delivers so much drama, mystery, and excitement.
Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 2 #290-294 (1982)
No list of great Legion stories would be complete without The Great Darkness Saga. Yes, this is an obvious and uncreative selection, but it is absolutely necessary. This is certainly the most iconic and popular Legion story of all time. Paul Levitz handled the writing duties. Levitz managed to surpass his superlative Earthwar story with the Great Darkness Saga. Keith Giffen and Larry Mahlstedt deliver the artwork. Giffen is a bit of a dipshit when it comes to writing. But, before he changed his style, Giffen delivered some of the best pencils you will ever find on a Legion of Super-Heroes comic book. Plus, Giffen’s pencils never looked better than when Mahlstedt inked them.
Now, comic book websites only ever recommend issues #290-294 when talking about the Great Darkness Saga. However, I would include reading Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 2 #288-298, as well. Issue #288 deals with Princess Projectra becoming Queen and her and Karate Kid leaving the Legion. Issue #298 The second issue is an excellent character study of Colossal Boy, Shrinking Violet, Timber Wolf, and Saturn Girl. These two issues are a fantastic prelude to the Great Darkness Saga.
Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 2 #298-299 (1983)
The creative team for this story arc is Paul Levitz doing the script, Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen doing the plot, Keith Giffen doing the pencils, and Larry Mahlstedt doing the inks. What makes this story arc such a must-read is that it makes the triumphant and stunning return of the original Invisible Kid: Lyle Norg. This was a huge deal. Lyle is a fantastic character who had been dead since Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #203 published in August 1974. Levitz did a brilliant job capturing the raw emotions of Lyle Norg and his anger at dying and then being replaced with another Invisible Kid. This story absolutely rocked my world when I originally read it.
Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 3 #1-7 (1984)
This is the classic An Eye for an Eye story arc. The creative team consisted of Paul Levitz doing the script, Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen doing the plot, Keith Giffen doing the pencils, and Larry Mahlstedt doing the inks. This story arc treated the reader to arguably the greatest super-villain team in Legion history in the form of the Legion of Super-Villains. This story also gave us the tragic death of Karate Kid. Yes, this would be an example of fridging a male character for the benefit of character growth for a female character in Princess Projectra. But, it was the 1980’s and this style of writing was far more common. So, I give it a pass. Plus, this story arc certainly exemplifies everything that makes the Legion so unique and wonderful.
Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 3 #24-27 (1986)
The creative team for this story arc is Paul Levitz doing the story, Greg LaRocque doing the pencils, and Larry Mahlstedt doing the inks. This story centers on Sensor Girl and her secret identity. Up to this point, Levitz had kept Sensor Girl’s true identity a complete secret from the reader. The reveal of Sensor Girl’s identity was an absolutely fantastic moment because it turned out that she was a long-time Legionnaire who we had not seen in a while. On top of all of this, Levitz also treats the reader to the Fatal Five and Mordru.
Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 3 #32-35 (1987)
This is The Universo Project story arc. The creative team is Paul Levitz doing the story, Greg LaRocque doing the pencils, and Mike DeCarlo doing the inks. This is an entertaining story that also treats the reader with the return of Saturn Girl to the active roster.
Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 4 #25 and Legionnaires #1 (1992)
This story was brought to us by Todd and Mary Bierbaum doing the story, Chris Sprouse doing the pencils, and Karl Story doing the inks. The Todd and Mary Bierbaum and Keith Giffen Legion (TMK Legion) was a total trainwreck. The TNK Legion was the result of allowing fanfic writers to control a comic book franchise and allowing Keith Giffen to run amok with no adult supervision. The TMK Legion completely ignored the Legion’s established core ideals and values. The result is a stretch of twenty-four completely unreadable issues.
The TMK Legion was so bad that it lead DC to make two drastic decisions. The first decision was to bring back the original Silver Age Legion during the TMK Legion run. The second decision was to cancel the TMK Legion and then completely reboot the Legion of Super-Heroes and start all over again.m from scratch.
These two issues are important because they are the first drastic decision where DC had the original Silver Age Legion appear in the TMK Legion run. This version of the Legion was called the Batch SW6 Legion and they were clones of the original Silver Age Legion that were developed by the Dominators. This version of the Legion starred in the pages of the Legionnaires. The TMK Legion continued to star in the pages of Legion of Super-Heroes.
At any rate, Legionnaires #1 is a vitally important issue as it is the first step that DC took in fixing the mistake that was the TMK Legion. Legionnaires #1 was a breath of fresh air for long-time Legion fans who had been suffering through the first twenty-four issues of the TMK Legion. Chris Sprouse’s wonderful art was such a better match for the Legion franchise than Keith Giffen’s increasingly sloppy and dark artwork.
Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 4 #59-61 (1994)
This story was the set-up for the rebooted Legion of Super-Heroes. Tom and Mary Bierbaum were fired by DC and their last issue was Legion of Super-Heroes #50. Tom McGraw took over the title with Legion of Super-Heroes #51. However, it was with Legion of Super-Heroes #59 that Mark Waid joined the Legion as co-writer. This was also the issue where McCraw and Waid started laying the foundation for the newly rebooted Legion of Super-Heroes. This story arc shows the revival of the Legion and the potential of excellent stories to come under the guiding hands of Mark Waid and Tom McGraw.
Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 4 #0 (1994)
This is a huge issue. The Legion of Super-Heroes was completely rebooted. It was a bittersweet moment. But, the TMK Legion had irrevocably broken the Legion to the point that a complete restart was the only viable direction for the franchise. With Legion of Super-Heroes #0, the TMK Legion was wiped out of existence. The SW6 Legion was then rebooted into time-paradox duplicates of the original Legion of Super-Heroes created by the Time Trapper. This issue was a shining moment of hope and a signal to readers that it was time to get excited and let the good times roll.
Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 4 78-80 and Legionnaires #35-36 (1996)
Tom Peyer, Roger Stern, and Tom McCraw handled the story. Lee Moder and Jeffery Moy handled the pencils. Ron Boyd and W.C. Carani handled the inks. This story arc involved the Fatal Five which automatically makes this a must-read story arc. This was the first time we saw the Fatal Five in the newly rebooted Legion continuity. This story also saw the Legion of Super-Heroes finally gain their independence as their own organization free from the control of the United Planets.
Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 4 #83-84 and Legionnaires $40-41 (1996)
Tom Peyer, Roger Stern, and Tom McCraw handled the story. Lee Moder and Jeffery Moy handled the pencils. Ron Boyd and E.C. Carani handled the inks. This is a brilliant story arc and probably the high point for this version of the Legion. This story arc delivers what is certainly the best heel turn in Legion history. Shrinking Violet falls under the power of the Emerald Eye and turns into Emerald Vi. Shrinking Violet as a villain is flat-out fantastic. She really shines as a heel. The writers do an excellent job with the rest of the Legionnaires having to deal with the fallout of one of their own becoming such a massive villain.
Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 4 #106-#108 and Legionnaires $62-#65 (1998)
Tom Peyer, Roger Stern, and Tom McCraw handled the story. Jason Armstrong and Jeffery Moy handled the pencils. Ron Boyd and W.C. Carani handled the inks. This story arc centers on the Dark Circle. This is a classic Legion nemesis that had not been seen since the franchise was rebooted. This story arc is full of action and surprises.
The Legion: Foundations #25-30 (2003)
Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning handle the words. Chris Batista handles the pencils while Chip Wallace and Andy Lanning deliver the inks. This story arc is the high point from DnA’s failed run on this franchise. Before DC had to fully reboot the Legion of Super-Heroes for a second time due to DnA’s mess we did get this gem of a story. DnA returned to the foundations of the Legion of Super-Heroes and helped cement a new bond between Superboy and the Legion. This is a fantastic story that appeals to long-time fans just as well as it does to newer readers.
Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 5 #37-50 (2008-2009)
The Threeboot under Mark Waid was a big swing and a miss. DnA’s run on the Legion ignored the core values and traits of the Legion franchise and ran the franchise into the ground to the point that DC felt the Legion was ruined beyond repair. Therefore, DC fully rebooted the Legion for a second time. DC then unveiled that Mark Waid would be in charge of the newly rebooted Legion. Being the third version of the Legion, this was dubbed the Threeboot Legion. Mark Waid was a big-name writer with an established history and love for the Legion franchise. Everything was set up for the Threeboot to be a massive success. DC was proud of its new direction and everything was set up for the Legion to break out in a successful fashion. I will fully admit right now that at the time I thought DC had hit a home run and that Waid was going to deliver a brilliant Legion of Super-Heroes. I thought it was a can’t miss moment.
Except…it did not happen like DC or I was hoping. Waid’s Legion was underwhelming and, frankly, boring. The Threeboot suffered in sales numbers and this lead to the Legion being relegated to the role of second-class citizens on their own title when Supergirl took over the Legion’s title. With issue #16 the comic book was re-titled Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes. This was the first time since 1979, when the title was Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, that the Legion of Super-Heroes did not have its own title.
The comic was billed under the title Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes for twenty issues. This felt like a massive step backward for the franchise. The Legion continued to regress under Mark Waid’s guidance. Mark Waid was finally pulled off of the title with his last issue being Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #30.
Then, with Legion of Super-Heroes #37 in February 2008, the Legion rightfully reclaimed their title from Supergirl and were blessed with an incredible new creative team in Jim Shooter and Francis Manapul. This was the best version of the Legion of Super-Heroes that readers had gotten since 2000.
The only writer who rivals Paul Levitz for the mantle of greatest Legion writer would be Jim Shooter. Shooter returning to the Legion breathed new life into the franchise. Manapul’s incredible artwork brought a vibrancy to the franchise that had been missing for over a decade. Legion of Super-Heroes v5 #37-50 delivered excellent character work and fun action and adventure. Shooter flexed his muscles as he displayed an excellent feel for the characters and generated great chemistry between the Legionnaires. The Legion of Super-Heroes was fun again. These issues are just flat-out quality Legion stories.
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds (2008-2009)
This story was brought to us by Geoff Johns handling the words, George Perez delivering the pencils, and Scott Koblish supplying the inks. This mini-series is an absolute must-read because this is where Johns stepped in and finally made sense of the ridiculously broken and convoluted Legion continuity. Johns employed the best literary tool in comics, the Multiverse, to logically explain the Legion’s complete mess of a continuity.
This story revealed that the Legion was never actually rebooted. That all of the different versions of the Legion existed on different Earths in the Multiverse. The original Legion was from one Earth, the Rebooted Archie Legion was from another Earth, and the Threeboot Legion was from a different Earth. In one fell swoop, Johns made sense of the Legion’s continuity and managed to give meaning to all the past versions of the Legion.
The only version of the Legion that was not brought back into continuity was the TMK Legion. Johns wisely left out that version of the Legion by having the original Legion that currently exists be the Legion from right before Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds is required reading for any reader in order to properly make sense of and understand the Legion’s continuity. Plus, you get to see George Perez drawing the Legion! It just does not get any better than that!
All, right. That is my list of must-read Legion of Super-Heroes stories. Go run to your local comic book shop and start doing some back-issue bin diving and get some of these comics. Another option would be to pick up some of the hardcover collections of Legion of Super-Heroes stories from the 1950s through to the 1990s that DC has released. Either way, you will not be disappointed. This will also help you better judge Brian Bendis’ work on the new upcoming Legion of Super-Heroes title.
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