Comic Book Review – Legion of Super-Heroes: Five Years Later Omnibus Volume 2

Legion of Super-Heroes: Five Years Later Omnibus Volume 2 (2022)
Reprints L.E.G.I.O.N. #69-70, Legion of Super-Heroes #40-61, Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #4-5, Legionnaires #1-18, Legionnaires Annual #1, Valor #20-23
Written by Tom & Mary Bierbaum, Tom McCraw, Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid, and Tom Peyer
Art by Stuart Immonen, Chris Sprouse, Darryl Banks, Joe Phillips, Christopher Taylor, Nick Napolitano, Adam Hughes, Colleen Doran, Brian Stelfreeze, Chris Gardner, Frank Fosco, Curt Swan, Ron Boyd, Mark Farmer, Wade von Grawbadger, Craig Hamilton, Jeff Moy, Ted McKeever, Paul Pelletier, Arnie Jorgensen, and Derec Aucoin

The end of an era was just around the corner. The 1989 relaunch of Legion of Super-Heroes was a bold move, taking the beloved team of future teens and aging them into young adults. Some were married with kids, and others had become estranged or started new relationships. It all played out against the Dominator’s takeover of Earth. Eventually, series writer/artist Keith Giffen transitioned off the title and handed it over to Tom & Mary Bierbaum. They were a fan dream come true, starting as Legion fans in the 1970s and contributing to fanzines. Keith Giffen had become aware of their passionate devotion to the series and was impressed with some of the text stories they’d written. He and Mark Waid, editor of the title at the time, brought in the Bierbaums as Giffen’s co-writers for this new era.

Volume Two opens in the aftermath of Earth’s destruction. The Dominators had a contingency plan to destroy the planet if it was ever being taken back by humans. However, the world’s major cities were able to evacuate, and New Earth, an interconnected series of space platforms, was put into orbit. An even stranger development was the reveal of the SW6 Legion, teenage clones of the heroes frozen in the era considered the team’s Golden Age. This provided an interesting situation to attempt and please the fans who wanted something fresh & new and the other group that wanted the classic Legion. The core title, Legion of Super-Heroes, would continue the story of the adult Legion. Legionnaires would follow the teenage clones and adopt a lighter tone reminiscent of the Silver Age stories. As a 12-year-old picking up an issue of Legionnaires at the grocery store, I was perplexed. As I’d read more issues of these books and Valor, a spin-off about Mon-El, I had no idea what was happening.

The Legion of Super-Heroes book featured an epic final arc from the Bierbaums centered around longtime Legion foe Mordru. Mordru was a master sorcerer who plagued the team from time to time, and in this arc, they found he was raising all the dead in the universe. This includes DC heroes from the modern era but, more importantly, members of the Legion who had died in battle. An alliance was made between Earth’s heroes and the Khunds, a Klingon-like space empire that also saw Mordru as a threat. I found this arc to be pretty good but undoubtedly inaccessible to someone who didn’t have a pretty strong background knowledge of the Legion. 

That was always the problem plaguing the series and still today. Because the series takes place 1,000 years later, they are always disconnected from the rest of the DCU. The result was a pocket reality with heroes, villains, conflicts, and relationships that didn’t fit the shared universe of the rest of the company. Legion fans tended to not always be fans of much outside of Superman. It didn’t help when after Crisis, Superboy, the Legion’s primary inspiration, was retroactively erased from the timeline. Writers attempted to remedy this, but it never really worked, and it further pushed the Legion away from the rest of the DC heroes. 

The Bierbaums depart with issue 50 here, and Tom McCraw takes over writing duties. His first move was to turn the Legion into fugitives. They worked with the Khunds before getting permission from EarthGov. Universo, a former Legion villain, turned Earth senator, pushes the idea that the Legion has betrayed their world. The heroes are also transformed by Glorith’s magic. The result varies: Ayla Ranzz is quickly aging backward, Brainiac 5 is turned into a middle-aged man, Kent Shakespeare is turned into a child, and Timber Wolf has his human form restored. Everyone adopts new costumes to go incognito as they attempt to avoid the law and clear their names. This isn’t a terrible idea on paper, but somewhere in the middle of the arc, you get the sense that editorial issued a significant edict that would change everything.

The tenth anniversary of Crisis on Infinite Earths was coming up, and DC wanted to present a sequel with Zero Hour, subtitled A Crisis in Time. This was seen as an opportunity to course-correct some of the errors made during the first Crisis. That had ended in a reboot, but because some titles (New Teen Titans, Green Lantern) were popular, they remained unchanged. That led to a lot of confusion, and there was no hard line set on what did or did not happen in this new reality. The Legion was one of the most glaring oversights. As editor Mark Waid oversaw the finale, you can feel McCraw moving a little quicker in his pace to reach the end of his time on the book.

Meanwhile, Legionnaires launched in April 1993, and the first issue of Zero Hour was published in September 1993. We get a pretty decent soft reboot of the Legion in that short time. The series features the teenage clones, and other than taking place on New Earth, we don’t get too much crossover with the adult Legion into the final arc. The artwork here is pretty damn good in the first half, featuring work by Chris Sprouse and Adam Hughes. The colors are bright & bold, and the stories are centered on high adventure and action. I’ve often wondered about the exact mindset behind having these two titles, but I do chalk it up to trying to appeal to two groups of fans at once. The writing and art decline in quality as we get closer to the end. The Bierbaums leave with issue 15, which is when it is tied closely to its adult series.

The final storyline, End of an Era, crosses over with Valor and seeks to put a pin in this entire post-Crisis era. Through some convoluted time travel and plotting, the teenage clone of Lar Gand is sent to the 20th century, where he lays out the foundations of the United Planets. He’s then brought back to the future, where the heroes experience time collapse at the hands of Extant and Parallax. There’s a final showdown with Mordru and Glorith, with the biggest reveal being the identity of the Time Trapper. As time passes, the Legion members disappear in the reverse order they were introduced to. The final scene features the adult and teenage versions of Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl, the original three. They join hands and shout their cry of “Long Live the Legion!” They are gone. 

It’s not the strongest ending, but it feels like a necessary one. The effort to keep the series going for a decade without its fundamental components had been a struggle. It’s hard to point to a storyline during this time that stands out as one of the Legion’s best. Those narratives belong to the pre-Crisis era. It’s been almost thirty years since this reboot, and the Legion hasn’t been able to find an excellent footing. The post-Zero Hour timeline wasn’t too bad, and the writers could reimagine many of the essential ideas into ones that worked with mainstream continuity. Sales waned, and by 2004, both Legion of Super-Heroes and Legionnaires were canceled. This would be followed by reboot after reboot, with Brian Michael Bendis taking the most recent and terrible stab at the group. The future of the Legion is unsure at DC. I suspect they will always be brought back in some manner. Here’s hoping they can find their former glory again and become a persistent part of DC Comics.

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