MARTHA THOMASES: Why I love the Legion
It was in early 1980 when I realized what I geek I had turned into. The night before, I had a dream. My dream was not the inspirational kind like Martin Luther King, Jr., nor the poetic kind that Neil Gaiman would later spin into a career that brings happiness to millions.
I had a geek dream.
In my dream, the Ramones tried out for the Legion of Super-Heroes, and were turned down because Legion rules didn’t allow for more than one person to have the same super-power, which, in this case, was being a Ramone. I no longer remember precisely who turned them down, but I do remember Bouncing Boy suggesting they join the Legion of Substitute Heroes. Joey wanted to, but Dee Dee refused.
Then I woke up.
I read my first Legion story in Jamestown, New York, visiting my grandparents in the late 1950s or early 1960s. I had what must have been an Adventure comic, with a story about the adult Legion of Super-Villains fighting Superman, and the adult Legion of Super-Heroes joining in. My grandparents, while lovely people, were very boring, and I dove into that comic as a way of avoiding Lawrence Welk on television. Luckily, this eight-page story had plenty to mesmerize a young girl. Cosmic King versus Cosmic Man! Lightning Lord versus Lightning Man! Saturn Queen versus Saturn Woman! The villains had regal names while the heroes had descriptive names. Clearly, ego and a class system must be what turned people bad.
Over the next several decades, I read as many Legion stories as I could. I loved the variety of powers these kids had (Matter-Eater Lad!), and that they had a meetings where they could gather and sit behind desks, with title cards that explained their abilities, in case they forgot. (“I’m Invisible Kid, but I don’t know what I do. Oh, here it says on my name-plate. I can turn invisible!”)
But mostly, I loved that they had a clubhouse.
A bunch of teenagers lived together in a clubhouse. What could be more awesome? Years later, when I watched The Monkees, they lived in a house together, too. The Beatles seemed to share a residence in Help. To this day, when I meet people who share something that impresses me, I assume they live together in a clubhouse. Perhaps that clubhouse is the New York Times, or the Gawker house. It always disappoints me that this isn’t true.
Like so much of the DC Universe, the Legion has been re-invented over and over again. Sometimes, they are young kids, and sometimes they grow up. Sometimes, it’s a soap opera, with romance and sex and intrigue. Sometimes it’s a geo-political metaphor, with space sectors standing in for Earth-bound continents. Whatever changes occur, there are some constants – the Legion has a cast of thousands, and everyone is welcome.
Bouncing Boy is roly-poly, Brainiac 5 is green, Chameleon is orange with antennas, Princess Projectra is a giant snake – if you can work with the team, you can be a Legionnaire. It’s true that there aren’t many girl members with thick waistlines, but that’s unfortunately true throughout comics. This never made me feel excluded. I’d seen the gym in the clubhouse and figured they all worked out.
When my son was a little boy, he, too, loved the Legion. The thirty years of back-story didn’t faze him. He found characters with whom he could identify, and he even submitted characters for the try-outs. There’s something about the Legion that makes everyone feel included.
If only Dee Dee Ramone had been accepted, perhaps he’d be with us today.
Martha Thomases is empiress of all media for ComicMix.com. Artwork by Curt Swan, George Klein and John Forte, copyright 1963 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Davis’s column, which usually runs on Fridays, will run on Saturday this week