The members of the Legion of Super-Heroes are…legion. The possibility that a book with such a large cast of characters that has such a rich and complicated history could overwhelm readers and become unwieldy was highly probable. With “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes”, writer Geoff Johns (along with artist Gary Frank, inker Jon Sibal, and colorists Dave McCaig and Hi-Fi) has created a six-part tale that focuses on skillfully telling a fun story without confusing or miring it in continuity. The reader will understand why team-ups between Superman and his friends from the 31st Century are such delectable treats once they are finished devouring this story that has been told with great affection.
Told over six issues in the pages of “Action Comics”, this collection is a perfect stand-alone story that emphasizes the traits that make Superman and the Legion such great and iconic characters. The themes of family and belonging are set from the very beginning of the book. Clark was introduced to the Legion by three of its members when he was a boy growing up in Smallville. Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl brought the boy from Krypton who felt like an outcast into a world where he was celebrated because of his differences.
In the present day, after not seeing his old friends for quite some time, the Legion calls out to Superman to help their world. An evil Justice League made up of Legion “rejects” has banded together to terrorize the 31st century. And, of course, Superman can’t leave his friends defenseless against an enemy. Aliens are not welcome on Earth and the planet is about to secede from the United Planets. When Superman arrives, he no longer has his powerful abilities. The once bright yellow sun has become a red sun, which, as any Superman acolyte knows, takes away the powers that make him super.
Xenophobia is a fear that infects the 31st Century Justice League, as well as the United Planets of that same century who fear what is different. The League’s members were rejected when they attempted and failed to join the Legion’s roster. Johns portrays outsiders who only became villains because the same people that didn’t fit in to “normal” society did not welcome them, as expected, into their family. The reader is given a clear villain in Earth-Man, who is the League’s leader, yet also given a character who they can understand despite his extreme actions. Johns isn’t just spinning a fun yarn (which he does exceptionally well) but he’s also mixing a morality tale within his action-packed story.
Johns emotional tale dressed up as an epic space drama could not have been successful without the unique artistry of Gary Frank. He brings every character, no matter how miniscule their role, to vibrant life. Splash pages are used to great effect when a scene calls for a massive amount of heroes and villains. Those same splash pages also transform moments of intimacy into epic scenes. A great example of this is when Dawnstar is bandaging Superman’s wounded hand. Seeing the immensity of a character such as Superman in a vulnerable position is quite powerful. His face evokes confusion, while Danwstar’s visage is one of extreme focus as she tends to Superman. Two Legion members toil away in the background transforming intimacy into something grand.
Everything and everyone in Frank’s art seems epic in proportion. From the vastness of the Batcave to the “bad” Justice League looming over a two page spread, this book is pure unadulterated superheroics. Like Johns, Frank revels in the superhero genre and pushes himself to take the comic book form somewhere new while retaining the classic traits of a superhero book. Vast numbers of heroes populate many a page and add a touch of the thrilling. Like Johns’ writing, Frank is expert at conveying a team dynamic and giving each character a chance to shine (some even literally).
The splash page with Brainiac 5 encapsulates the special alchemy that occurs when Johns and Frank work together. The page just has Brainiac 5 exclaiming, “What the hell took you guys so long?!” Both writer and artist, as demonstrated on this page, put character first. The possibility of fun and adventure pop off the page. Even though Johns is telling a story with science fiction elements such as time travel and characters of various alien origin, Frank compels the reader to care for each individual. Johns and Frank purely love these characters and the reader instantly loves them as well.
Hi-Fi and Dave McCaig bring Frank’s artwork to vibrant life. With a story that calls for every individual in the massive cast of characters to stand out, the color palette assists the art’s transformation into something magical. Frank’s Superman is massive and iconic and Hi-Fi and McCaig’s use of blue, red, and yellow add to that nostalgic and comforting feel that Superman evokes as an iconic character. Whether a scene is joyfully bright or dark and intense, dynamism and mood are brought to glorious life onto the page. Versatile use of color permeates the book, whether it’s a scene with the bright heroic Legion bursting onto the scene or the shadowy force of Superman punching Earth-Man through a glass ceiling.
Dawnstar succinctly puts the Legion’s mission and closely held beliefs into a few simple words. They “stand as a symbol of diversity, unity, and tolerance.” Those same words can also be applied to Superman. The simplicity of the story and the mission statement don’t make the characters one-dimensional. They’re wants and needs are universal and relatable. Some may hear Dawnstar’s words and think “old-fashioned” or “obvious”. But Johns and the book’s artistic team make the obvious so clearly powerful and true. These are characters that stand and fight for beliefs and desires that are so integral to the human race. That is what makes them superheroes.
Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes
Written by Geoff Johns
Pencils by Gary Frank
Inks by Jon Sibal
Colors by Dave McCaig and Hi-Fi
Letters by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Originally published in 2008