Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Russell Burbage - 1975

sg 1975 - It happened during the summer of 1975. I was a ten year-old boy being dragged to some family reunion type get-together, probably my uncle's wedding in Vermont. I don't remember the destination at all, but the trip itself gave me something I still treasure to this day.

My brother and two sisters and I were allowed to wander around Lambert Fields Airport (St. Louis) because back then there were only one or two shops in the entire place, and my parents could station themselves in a central location to keep tabs on all four of us simultaneously.

I was the youngest. I always made a beeline to the biggest store there: what I considered The General Store of the airport, it sold books, magazines, toys, snacks, and drinks. I guess this was the precursor to the current Hudson News shops you find dotted all over airports all over the country, but because it was just the one place, it seemed bigger.

My parents always allowed us to get some books or magazines for our trips, so I guess I was handed a dollar and let loose. I don't remember the particulars. I don't really remember what other comics I bought or anything else about that day. I only remember buying Superboy and The Legion of Super-Heroes #212.

It wasn't in the comic book rack. I don't even think there *was* a comic-book rack. It was sitting on the floor-level of the magazine stand with various other comics and kiddie magazines, and my eye just naturally wandered over to it. On the cover, Superman (I mean, Superboy?) was the only character I recognized. But this wasn't Curt Swan's or Wayne Boring's or even Dick Dillin's Superman; this was some thin almost gangly yet still good-looking Super Youth.

Right away, I was intrigued. Then there was Calorie Queen and her group standing over the prone bodies of several characters I guessed to be Legionnaires. She is demanding the right to take their places! I think I may have recognized Mike Grell's style from his three-issue run on the recent Aquaman feature in Adventure Comics. Maybe I knew him from the recent Robin-Batgirl team-up in Batman Family. I don't know if I made the conscious connection or not, but his style definitely appealed to me.

Like I said, I was used to the somewhat more staid style of Swan, Boring, or Dillin art on the inside and Nick Cardy or John Romita on covers. So Mike Grell was definitely something different and eye-catching.

I don't think I could have asked for a better, kinder, gentler introduction to the complicated mythos of the Legion of Super-Heroes than this issue. Quick recap: six Legion Rejects get together to challenge the right of their fellow countrymen to represent their planets in the Legion. So right off the bat I get quick origins for Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Phantom Girl, Chameleon Boy, Shrinking Violet, and Matter-Eater Lad, as well as important story points (each member has at least one unique super power, members are from different planets, teamwork is most important, nobody hogs the spotlight, etc).

This last point was especially awesome for a ten year-old boy used to Batman and Superman doing the majority of work over in Justice League. I was in hog heaven! And the characterizations were much stronger than what I was used to. When Chameleon Boy called Superboy "Super Buttinsky" my eyes nearly popped out of my head.

The story itself was well crafted; let's face it, First Come First Served is not always the best way to pick your super-hero. Why should Saturn Girl get to stay just because she was there first? Okay, maybe as a total newbie to all this the plot made more sense to me; but rereading it years later after I "knew" the characters, I still think it makes for a pretty good story. Besides, the Legionnaires prove it takes more than strength to be a hero, not only to themselves but to me, as well. I was convinced.

As I had never heard of any of these characters before, each of them was new and exciting. Yet, already I considered myself enough of a comics snob to think that this guy called Matter-Eater Lad was totally lame.

Perhaps another reason I liked this story was that it recognized ME Lad's failings and strengths, and then just as it reaffirmed him as a character, it shuffled him off stage to be a politician on his home planet. This was my kind of story! There was even an editor's note saying that this development had been predetermined back in some "Adult Legion" story!? Obviously, these characters had History. (I had no
idea....! Ha-ha!)

One last side-note about the main story: I always wondered why Calorie Queen didn't just take ME Lad's place in the Legion. Sure, the ability to eat anything was a stupid power, but Calorie Queen had the strength of three men, and her costume was hot. Why didn't she join? (She wouldn't have been any stupider than, say, Blok)

I guess I'm glad she didn't join, but at the time it seemed as if she should have. And although most of the other Legion Rejects reappeared years later as members of the Legion of Super-Villains, Calorie Queen was never shown among them. I always thought better of her for that. (I think she eventually did reappear during the Giffen "Ten Years Later" era) As for the others, if you go from "I want to join the Legion," to "I want to kill the Legion," I think maybe the Legion was right to reject them in the first place, with or without the duplication of powers rule, don't you?

The backup story featured Shadow Lass, Cosmic Boy, and some non-Legionnaire heroine called Night Girl in another finely written and drawn melodrama. This was another first for me because over in Justice League there were never backup stories, and when the stories were shorter, non-members were never featured.

Yet in this story I learned all about Night Girl and her group, the Legion of Substitute Heroes. Night Girl only has her super-strength when it is dark, but she insists on fighting the good fight (in a terrific costume I learned later had been designed by Grell). I think I fell in love with Shadow Lass and Night Girl during this story, and I think I had a man-crush on Cosmic Boy, too. He stuck by his girlfriend and supported her even though she wasn't "good enough" to be a Legionnaire. Talk about a nice guy! I think I wished my big brother was more like Cos.

With all the 30th Century architecture, alien bad guys, and drama, I was hooked. I've been a Legion fan ever since.

This issue represents the gate to a whole new world of heretofore unknown adventures. Before this I thought the (DC) universe revolved around Batman and Superman. After this, I knew that the Legion owned the future.

After I got back to St. Louis I started looking for Superboy at my regular comic-book haunts. I immediately found issue #213 and have never looked back. I spent my adolescence tracking down Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell back-issues; when I got S/LSH #197 in the mail I gave a little cheer. I even subscribed so I wouldn't miss any more issues. For nearly twenty years, I didn't.

Whenever I heard that the Legion mythos was hard for people to break into, I shrugged. I never had any problem picking the stuff up as I went along, but maybe that's because I started with an issue that was so accessible.

A few years ago I started buying the Legion Archives so I could have all their Silver Age appearances. I stopped at number ten because this is where my own collection starts. I read all their adventures in chronological order and fell in love with their world all over again. I hadn't been reading the new series (although I lingered, I basically gave up when Paul Levitz left the series in 1989). I decided to give them
another look.

Now I have all the Legion action figures that DC Direct has produced. I have most of the Legion Hero-Clix figures. I read their current series (by Jim Shooter again!!).

And it's all because I happened to be at the right place at the right time, flying to some family reunion I don't even remember. That's another reason I always keep a lookout at different places for different things, because you never know what you might find.

Long Live the Legion!!

4 comments:

Michael said...

LLL indeed! That was my first Legion issue as well. I'm not sure why it hooked me, I had only been reading comics for 6 months at that point.

(In case you didn't know, I run the Legion Omnicom blog, dedicated to all things Legiony.)

Vincent Paul Bartilucci said...

Great story, Russell … but a little eerie … Let me explain;

Right now, I’m working on a couple of stories for Hey Kids. One of them involves my first issue of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes - #201 to be exact (also my first Captain Marvel comic, Shazam #12). The eerie part is that my tale involves air travel and a family reunion of sorts, also. In the summer of 1974, my family and I were in Scotland visiting my mother’s side of the family. These two comics were bought for me to read on the flight home.

Like you, I’ve been a Legion fan ever since my first issue.

Brian said...

That comic is actually in the new Legion of Superheroes softcover collection from DC that came out last month. It's basically a highlight story book from over the years, but I recognized that cover immediately. It's a great story, and I agree with you that CQ should have made it in there.

Shamus said...

My intro to LSH was a reprint of the issue in which that computer thing dusts one of Triplicate Girl's selves. I was about 5 years old and it shocked me to see her crumble to pieces.

The next issue I encountered was the revitalization with the Dave Cockrum costumes and art. Wolverine er I mean Timberwolf was on the cover. I usually was only allowed one comic book per visit to the store but my Dad ran into his drunky cousin who said "By the kid the comic."

The one I already got that day was an issue of Brave and the Bold with Batman and the Demon. Whoah that one still scares me filtered through the memories of a wee lad.