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Long live the Legion (and Ferro Lad)!
on March 14, 2011
Tomorrow, young Clark Kent embarks on his new job as Daily Planet copy boy in bustling Metropolis. But, for now, he's spending his last night in Smallville. Later that evening, he's visited by time traveling youths from the 31st century. They desperately need the untested Clark and his abilities in order to best the powerful Fatal Five. But Clark still has a ways to go before he becomes the celebrated Man of Steel. In fact, he's still growing into his powers (he's still shaky on the flying bits). And he's certainly never heard of this Superman fella. However, after being reassured that he'll be returned to the same temporal moment as his departure, he agrees to go on a jaunt. Clark Kent doesn't know it yet, but it's gonna be a loooong night.
In 2006, the Kids' WB line - on the CW network - raised the curtains on LEGION OF SUPERHEROES. It's a point of interest that this animated show doesn't bear the same continuity as Bruce Timm's Batman: T.A.S., Superman: T.A.S., or the JUSTICE LEAGUE/JLU series. Then, again, it doesn't really have to. LEGION OF SUPERHEROES was a darn good show that thrived on its own merits. It's baffling that after two really excellent seasons, this series was abruptly canceled.
The focus early on is mostly on this version of Superman (Superboy, really), but we get enough of a spotlight on the other kids to justify the series title. The ones I've gotten to like best, besides Clark, are Phantom Girl (who surely must have recessive Valley Girl genes), the robotic Brainiac 5 (a 12th-level intellect and a devout Superman fanboy, although "Phantoms" reveals his cautious, practical side), and the show's out-of-left-field choice, Bouncing Boy, whose personality and power lend themselves to levity. It's gratifying that Bouncing Boy becomes relevant in this series. Longtime champions of this underdog will get a kick out of Bouncing Boy's getting elected as Legion chairman. His stunned reaction: "I demand a recount!" Meanwhile, the three original Legionnaires are present. The brash Lightning Lad fills in the role of Superman's primary critic because, let's face it, it'd be too boring if Supes got along with everyone. Besides, Batman's not here. Calm and steady, Saturn Girl plays the mother figure of the lot, even if she could do with a personality infusion. The third founder of the Legion, Cosmic Boy, doesn't show up until late in the game, but you could see why he grates on Lightning Lad's nerves.
With a rich, rich history to draw from (LoSH debuted in 1958), there isn't a lack of story arcs to plumb here. In the villains department, the inaugural episode doesn't waste time in showcasing the fearsome Fatal Five. Further episodes treat us to the debut of a descendant of Lex Luthor's and a two-part adaptation of the classic Sun Eater saga (which significantly raises the stakes and introduces a more serious element that usually doesn't find its way into kids' cartoons). These episodes manage to balance awesome superhero action with humor and really good character development. I think it's brilliant that the writers decided to go with a Clark Kent whose powers are still developing and who's just beginning to realize how much of an impact his future role as Superman will play. You can chart his progress as he comes of age, but what this inexperienced (and initially insecure) Clark Kent does is allow the other more battle-tested Legionnaires to shine. The animation design looks fantastic. And the humor is a constant, with "The Substitutes" deserving a special nod as the season's funniest episode. Also, this show is very good at inserting Easter eggs, little touches and fleeting cameos and coded messages in Interlac which fans of DC Comics will eat up. For example, Booster Gold and Skeetz pop up for a nanosecond in the opener. Missing them won't hamper your enjoyment of that episode. Recognizing them and then connecting the dots will probably enhance your viewing experience. There's stuff like that spread out throughout the season.
Still waiting on the DVD release of Season 2, which features two Supermen! And waiting... and waiting...
I guess this is the closest we're going to get to a full-season release of Season One. LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES Volumes 1-3 collects all 13 episodes and includes the 9-minute-long featurette "We Are Legion." However, the reason I'm only rating this 4 stars out of 5 is that this set is basically the three previously released individual volumes packaged together (with tape). So don't go expecting new bonus material. Season One's 13 episodes are:
Episode 1 - "Man of Tomorrow" - To combat the Fatal Five, the Legion of Superheroes travels back in time to recruit the greatest superhero of them all. Except that the 31st century heroes land in Smallville and some time before Clark Kent puts on the cape and tights. Blink, and you'll miss Booster Gold vacuuming in the museum.
Episode 2 - "Timber Wolf" - The Legion responds to a distress call originating from a scientist being terrorized by a feral beast. But not all is as it appears. Surprisingly, I found this one to be a pretty dull watch, and dammit I like Timberwolf!
Episode 3 - "Legacy" - Clark hangs out with the richest girl in the galaxy and again discovers that wearing a cape is a fashion faux pax. Meanwhile, the rest of the Legion rumbles with the Scavengers, a gang of technology thieves. Keep an eyeball peeled for a quick glimpse of Lobo (at least I think it's Lobo).
Episode 4 - "Phantoms" - In the Superman museum, Clark inadvertently activates the Phantom Zone projector and releases Drax, who shares Superman's abilities plus an immunity to kryptonite.
Episode 5 - "Champions" - Lightning Lad competes against his brother in the Intergalactic Games even as Clark and Phantom Girl attempt to foil an assassination attempt on the President of the United Planets (a.k.a. Phantom Girl's mom). Or as the sports announcer remarks to the camera: "We've got a supervillain brawl brewin' here, folks, and it looks like it's gonna be a doozy. Uh, we'll be right back after a word from our sponsors."
Episode 6 - "Fear Factory" - The Legion of Superheroes as done by Hammer Films. A cosmic storm forces the Legionnaires to seek sanctuary in a spooky space station.
Episode 7 - "Brain Drain" - Brainiac 5 constructs a containment chamber for himself... so that can't be good, especially when Brainy's worsening condition necessitates the Legion's making a trip to Timber Wolf's inhospitable home world.
Episode 8 - "Lightning Storm" - Lightning Lad leaves the Legion to join an older, much hipper team. Lightning Lad's shady brother, Mekt Ranzz, returns.
Episode 9 - "The Substitutes" - With the Legion all kinds of busy as they try to avert a catastrophe in outer space, it's up to the hapless Legion of Substitute Heroes to take on Starfinger (each finger with a different power). Hands down, Season One's funniest episode. Stone Boy is a trip!
Episode 10 - "Child's Play" - The Legionnaires struggle to match the unlimited "Mr. Mxyzptlk"-type magical powers of a bratty boy sorcerer. Unfortunately, this kid is too annoying for me to really enjoy this episode, although the segments with Phantom Girl languishing in bureaucratic malaise on the Sorcerer's World is fun.
Episode 11 - "Chain of Command" - Away for months, Cosmic Boy returns and immediately clashes with Lightning Lad over leadership of the Legion, even as a natural disaster strikes Lightning Lad's home planet of Winath.
Episodes 12 & 13 - "Sundown, Parts 1 & 2" - The Legion must team up with the the Fatal Five to protect Earth from the Sun Eater, an ancient extinction-level weapon that consumes stars. I like how the epilogue nicely ties into Season One's first episode. Ain't continuity grand?