Earlier this week it was rumored that Warner Brothers is actively developing a movie based on their long running super team, the Legion of Super-Heroes. While a Legion movie may have once seemed like the longest of long shots, the truth is that the unexpected runaway success of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy this summer has had to make the folks at Warner Brothers look if they have anything similar. And with the Legion, they absolutely do. Much like Guardians, whom the Legion pre-date by a good decade, the Legion are also a space-faring team of heroes who exist in a futuristic world where multiple alien races co-mingle. In this modern climate of cinematic superheroes, it’s a no-brainer to adapt the Legion for the big screen.
It may seem like a distant memory now, but there was a time when The Legion of Super-Heroes was one of DC Comics’ biggest selling titles with a large, vocal fanbase. From the 1970s through to the 1980s, it was right behind New Teen Titans as DC’s most popular book, in an era when you couldn’t give copies of Superman and Batman away, believe it or not. Ever since the mid ’80s though, when DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot took a vital part of the Legion’s legacy away – namely, their ties to Superman lore – DC has struggled to keep the book relevant. Over the past several decades, in an effort to keep the series afloat, DC rebooted the team (in 1994) then rebooted them again in 2004, and when that didn’t take either, brought back the original pre-Crisis team in a stellar run of Geoff Johns’ Action Comics with Gary Frank, which later led to yet another new series. This book was cancelled last year, making 2014 the first time in over fifty years the Legion no longer had a regular monthly comic. A big screen movie would almost certainly herald a comeback in the comics.
The Legion was a forerunner of a lot of things in modern comics; first appearing in 1958, they pre-date the Justice League of America by a full year as the first super team of the Silver Age. The Justice League led to the creation of the Fantastic Four, which in turn led to the whole Marvel Universe, so you Marvel fans have the Legion to thank in a way. While the Marvel heroes created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby get a lot of credit for the creation of characters with new, original powers, truthfully the Legion usually had characters with powers like that first. Before there was a telepathic Marvel Girl, there was a Saturn Girl; before Magneto, there was Cosmic Boy; Before Hank Pym was ever Giant-Man, there was Colossal Boy; Decades before Kitty Pryde, Phantom Girl was phasing through walls. And there is way more where those came from. Granted, during the sixties, the Legionnaires were your average Leave it to Beaver white kids next door, all with the same generic personalities, and the Marvel characters were much more well developed. When it comes to coming up with super powers, though, there’s no doubt Stan Lee was looking at some Legion tales in the pages of Adventure Comics.
By the seventies though, the comics revolution that Marvel had begun had started to catch up with DC, and the Legion became a cool cosmic soap opera in the hand of writers like Paul Levitz and artists like Mike Grell and Keith Giffen. The Legion was so popular at this time they outgrew their need to have the Big Red S in their series at all, and in 1980, the title which began as Superboy morphed into Superboy and the Legion, kicking out the character who started the book, and then became the Legion of Super-Heroes. In short, Legion has had a much longer run as a successful franchise in the comics than Guardians of the Galaxy ever has, and that property worked out okay for everyone when it became a movie. Nothing is stopping the Legion from being the next big thing, but Warner Brothers has to do it the right way — no one wants another Green Lantern on their hands. Here are five tips from a long-time Legion fan that the folks at the WB should seriously consider when bringing the Legionnaires to the big screen.
Keep Things FUN
I’m not one of those fans who hates on Man of Steel; I quite like it in fact, but one thing its detractors aren’t wrong about is that the tone of the movie is way too somber and serious, and that tone isn’t going to work for the entire cinematic DC Universe going forward. It especially won’t work in a Legion movie. Unlike most futures seen in popular movies like The Matrix, Blade Runner, and The Terminator series, the Legion’s future is a utopian one, much more akin to the one seen in Star Trek (In fact, Trek has the “United Federation of Planets” as the governing political body, while Legion has the “United Planets”, both properties wearing their sixties idealism for the future on their sleeves). A Legion movie needs to have bright colors, exotic aliens, dynamic characters — the works. Guardians of the Galaxy’s planet Xandar might as well be future Earth from the Legion comics, and the Star Trek reboot has proven that modern fans will accept heroes wearing bright, primary colors out in space. If those can work on the big screen, so can the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Ditch the “Lad” and “Lass” Code-Names
Bright and fun doesn’t have to mean everything from the old Legion lore has to stay though. Some Legion tropes are just hopelessly dated, especially any superhero name that ends in the words “Lad” or “Lass”. Now, “Boy” and “Girl”? Totally fine, since we still call young people “boys” and “girls” after all. But no one uses the word “lad” anymore, much less “lass”. DC realized this in the mid ’90s, when they rebooted the Legion the first time. They gave a lot of the characters more modernized names. Some of these worked: “Live Wire” is a cooler name than “Lightning Lad”, for example, and “Leviathan” is less lame-sounding than “Colossal Boy.” But Phantom Girl just was fine as Phantom Girl; “Apparation” wasn’t a better name in that case, nor was “Triad” a better name for “Triplicate Girl”, really. And while we are on the subject of characters that are just plain silly and dated, maybe sit this one out, Matter-Eater Lad and Bouncing Boy. Take one for the team.
Keep The Focus on a Core Team
The name of the team is The Legion of Super-Heroes, so it can’t just be five members, as five people does not a Legion make. At the peak of their popularity, the Legion had something like thirty-plus members. That’s obviously way too big for a movie, so trim the main cast to the most essential members of the team, and those with the most useful powers. That would be team founders like the telepathic Saturn Girl, magnetic Cosmic Boy, electric-powered Lightning Lad, and shapeshifting Chameleon Boy. Other candidates I’d include are ones like Shadow Lass and Colossal Boy, heroes whose power set we haven’t seen yet in modern superhero movies. The other members can be seen in the background as Easter Eggs or during a big action sequence, and maybe could be expanded upon in sequels, but keepin the focus on a smaller, core group of characters for the initial Legion movie is crucial. The short lived Legion cartoon that ran from 2006-2008 more or less did this successfully, although I’d use a different core team line-up than they did.
Keep It Gender and Racially Diverse
One thing the Legion always had going for it was that the active team at any given time was much more equally split down gender lines, even if the boy members still outnumbered the girl members somewhat. Even back in the sixties the Legion comics were pretty forward thinking in this regard, an era when the JLA, the Avengers, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four almost always had just one female member at a time, maybe two, the LSH always had several girls as part of the active roster. Hopefully the movies keeps things just as diverse when it comes to gender roles as the comics did. And, for that matter, racial lines too. The classic Legion comics were not so great when it came to racial diversity — they had more orange people and blue people than blacks or Asians. The good thing about the Legion not having as huge of an internet fanbase as Marvel does though is that they’re not going to scream bloody murder if Cosmic Boy is cast with a black actor, for example. We’re chill like that.
Tie It In To The DC Cinematic Universe
There are several key moments in Man of Steel that could serve as springboards for the Legion to time travel back to the past. When young Clark Kent saves the school bus for example, or when Clark is being harassed by bullies. It would be a fun retcon to have the Legion members show up to Clark at this point in his life, and take him on an adventure into the far future, a future he helped shape. For those wondering why adult Superman doesn’t remember or mention the Legion in Man of Steel, in the comics, the telepathic Saturn Girl always erases his memory of the future before sending him home to his century. That’s an aspect of the lore I’d keep.
In Man of Steel, they stress how big of a deal it is that Superman is the first alien embraced by Earth, as well as its first public superhero. This could serve as an inspiration for the Legion members in the future, most of whom are aliens who live on Earth and are looking to protect it as costumed heroes in the Superman tradition. It also helps to have Clark Kent be our POV character in this wild world of the 31st Century. It’s the easiest way to deliver exposition too, as Clark is a stranger to this world as much as the audience is. And it can’t hurt the movie’s chances at the box office to have a tie-in to Superman lore either.
There is nothing stopping Warner Brothers from making the Legion of Super-Heroes into the next great cinematic geek franchise. If WB is really going to go big with their cinematic DC Universe, there is maybe nothing bigger in scope than the Legion. Time to go big or go home.