Sharp-eyed Spoilerites who partake of the entire Major Spoilers experience know that quite often, the subjects of the MS-QOTD will pop up on social media a day or two before appearing here at Major Spoilers.  Such it is with today’s query, originally brought up by Spoilerite Mela, who wondered how the Uncanny X-Men-style of melodrama, fighty-fighty and angst became a multimedia phenomenon, while the Legion of Super-Heroes similar take is considered hokey and unapproachable.  It’s a good question, as both teams have upwards of 90 members, in multiple incarnations, and even share a number of creators in common, most recognizably Dave Cockrum.  There are other comparisons: Wildfire’s “mutant angst”; time travel madness throwing wrenches in the works; hormonally-driven romance storylines bouncing around their history.  It really poses a stumper, which leads us to today’s continuity-intensive query…

The MS-QOTD (pronounced “bugtussle”) prefers classic Legion to classic X-Men, but finds the current comparison less useful, as the LSH has been grotesquely mishandled since 2007 or so, asking: What factor has most held the Legion of Super-Heroes back from X-Men level popularity?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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13 Comments

  1. September 10, 2014 at 11:37 am — Reply

    I really think that the main thing that keeps Legion from being DC’s X-Men is that it doesn’t so much build off of its Silver Age roots as cling to them. X-Men has allowed the characters & concepts introduced back in the Sixties to expand, develop, and change with the times; whereas Legion (and, let’s be honest, a segment of its fandom) wants everything to stay as it was when it was introduced. Even the reboots find ways to go back to early characterizations/relationships, or re-use whole plots, or try to justify stuff that really should have been left in the past (*coughseaofwhiteyscough*), with only the old-school naming being really justifiable. The tendency for it to straight-up reboot instead of just change direction gives non-fans the idea that Legion readers & writers just want to keep circling that Silver Age ring over & over, with only the late 70s & the 80s feeling like it actually wanted to move that universe forward. It’s one thing to respect your roots – X-Men does this well, since the founding members are never too far out of frame at any time – but Legion has a tendency to feel like the roots are all the growth that’s needed. And when you have a setting full of cool alien planets & representing a future for folks like Batman, that will naturally keep its audience growth stymied to a degree.

    • September 10, 2014 at 11:55 am — Reply

      I think you hit the nail on the head. You covered my thoughts pretty well and then some.

    • websnap
      September 10, 2014 at 3:46 pm — Reply

      100% correct and why, while I am a dedicated DC fan, I can never get into Legion. Every time I do I think “this is just not made for me”.

  2. Doctor Dinosaur
    September 10, 2014 at 12:11 pm — Reply

    It’s simple, the X-Men are easier to write/sell.

    Authors (Bad, lazy or great) look at a story set in the modern day revolving around persecution/being an outsider and see fertile ground. (Even if this leads to mind numbing repetition). Readers are also attracted to this since everybody is an outsider somewhere.

    “Utopian”, future science-fiction with silver age ideas and naming convention takes more energy (See also talent, ambition or blind nostalgia) to use as fuel for stories.

    Obviously since the X-Men stories tread such familiar ground many of them are somewhat interchangeable and tired if you’ve read a lot of them. And while a successful Legion story would because of the aforementioned handicaps be so much more satisfying (And original by necessity) this rarely happens because:

    -They go ahead and do the retread fan-oriented soap opera thing.
    -Fight against their shape and try to become way to do dystopia because it works for everyone else.
    -Stick to tightly to the nostalgia and silverage and become a pastiche.

    And lastly fall into the common trap of the Utopia set story.
    Where dystopias are in some ways idealistic (We can change our ways and avoid this future) “Utopian” (Air quotes) tend to focus on the darkside of a supposed Utopia and instead delivers the very unappealing message of, “this is as good as it gets”, “don’t try to better things it’ll kick you in the ass”.

    Because obviously you can’t do more subtle story telling and having a Utopian society also means Utopian people, Utopian relationships and a Utopian Universe… That last bit was sarcasm.

    Come on Legion. Idealism, futurism, sexy young people, super powers. This is doable.
    You can do a non-boring idealist Utopian story, any writer should look at the scifi aspect and see a cornucopia of story ideas.
    Who can’t sell aesthetically pleasing architecture, people and environments today when superpowers are also involved.
    And the cosmic aspects as well?

    Just get a new writer in, somebody who might actually be young instead of the same old nostalgia gang of bearded bastards… Or maybe Mark Waid. Mark Waid is young on the inside, Mark Waid has a lazarus pit, this is fact.

  3. September 10, 2014 at 12:18 pm — Reply

    Ridiculous costumes and powers mostly, that and DC’s lack of cohesion regarding the who and when of it all.

  4. Russ Catt
    September 10, 2014 at 12:24 pm — Reply

    I think one of the biggest factors to hold back the legion is that they come from the future in the first place.

    To contrast, the X-Men comics in the 1980’s were able to hold a large amount of appeal because they were grounded in the present. When they spoke about racism, terrorism, homophobia or any other major social issue, they could draw from events around them.
    Also, the X-Men themselves are a plot device that were used to good effect in other Marvel titles of the time. A lot of the mid-80’s Marvel miniseries featured the X-Men as a stand-in for “the other” and I think they were pretty good.

    The Legion was able to touch on many of the same themes, but they always had to add a layer of futuristic abstraction that – at some level – might prevent some of the deep reader immersion at the time.

    Looking back on both properties today, the X-Men universe stories have not aged as well as they should. There are too many topical references that are problematic for today’s readers.
    By comparison, I think the Legion stories have aged much better.

    But the fact remains that these different plotting and editorial strategies have resulted in an overwhelming popularity gain for the X-Men.

    • September 10, 2014 at 1:34 pm — Reply

      Interesting thought about it being set in the future, but by that logic, Star Trek shouldn’t work since it is set in the future (and managed to touch on a lot of topical issues well enough). I’m not saying you are wrong, I’m just not sure I agree that is the biggest hurdle.

      But at the same time, I do know many folks who wouldn’t try the series solely because it was set in the future, so I could be way off.

  5. SnowWolfNW
    September 10, 2014 at 2:35 pm — Reply

    Good points raised by previous commenters. I’ve been a fan of the LSH since about 1971 and have always hated that they are consistently mishandled. They get a good run going, thematically and conceptually, only to have the next guy come in and totally screw things up. Some of the more recent stories were good, as were the characterizations, but there has almost never been a consistent follow through… instead we get the patented DC “next-guy-throws-out-everything” revamps/reboots. Even though a significant number of the LSH characters predate the X-men, many DC writers can’t seem to figure them out and thus can’t figure out what to do with them. Sad, really, as I’ve always thought that a consistent, maturely-written LSH could become a DC Flagship title.

  6. Luis Dantas
    September 10, 2014 at 4:40 pm — Reply

    To an extent, it is because they keep being rebooted… but really, that is just as true of the X-Men. It just isn’t quite so blatant.

    A more significant reason is the comparative pulls of both teams in their respective publishers. LSH has become, far too often, a victim of editoral policies and events. It is implicitly _meant_ not to be very important. It certainly hasn’t been allowed to direct the general trends of DC, very much unlike the X-Men with Marvel.

    A consequence of that is that, for all the missteps that Marvel commited with the X-Men – and grave and frequent they were, make no mistake – there has always been a serious effort at preserving their immediate commercial vialibility at the very least. It is arguably the one thing about the X-Men that was never lost. That, in turn, led to several different creative policies since the 1980s, and made the X-Men considerably difficult to ignore.

    Personally, I also think that the Legion suffered from giving too free a hand to Keith Giffen back in the late 1980s or early 1990s. It never really recovered from “Five Years Later”.

    Mark Waid’s Legion was probably the closest to an actual recovery, but he just lacked the necessary pull when push came to shove. DC had commited to its own Permanent Event Mode by then, and Legion, far from being the central point, the book protected by those events, was one of their worst victims. To an extent it is inherently vulnerable; its chronological displacement makes it hard to interact with the larger DCU except as a recipient.

    For the LSH to succeed, it must get rid of that editorial vulnerability – and the basic idea of the New 52’s Legion Lost was ultimately valid if perhaps questionable in implementation; having a contingent actually staying in the present and interacting with the larger continuity may well be the way to go. But please don’t go out of your way to make us buy the book by mistaking it for “New Mutants”…

  7. Ravishing Richie
    September 10, 2014 at 11:17 pm — Reply

    All of these comments are valid and ring true to the reason why Legion hasn’t hit it’s stride. Continuity not being followed is a big one and so is not being able to relate fully with the group because of the futuristic/alien nature of the characters. It can sometimes pigeon hole them into interesting a specific audience.

    How to fix this? Mix it up by making the team form during present day and not the future; not future members coming to the past, but a small group being united on earth today. Also, keep the membership small so that more quality time could be focused on the characters. I love the option/interaction between all the characters, but it’s hard to keep track of everyone and not neglect someone or a sub plot between 20+ characters at a time. Like what happened w/ Geoff johns writing the second series of Justice Society of America w/ Starman( Thom Kallor), Damage, judo master, etc. on the team. All those members were great and had interesting plots, but the team had become so big they split it up into 2 books and still not everyone had their time to shine.

    The last legion story I read that was interesting was in Action Comics 858-863 Superman and the Legion of Superheroes by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. Good alternate future story, they focused on a small group of legion members and the legion of substitute heroes. It gave the reader exposure to cool characters, their abilities and Johns’ ability to write characters in a way that you can subtly tell they have a history together w/o coming flat out saying it. When it comes to two superhero groups that DC should tap into the full potential it’s definitely Legion of Superheroes and Doom Patrol. I’m interested what direction they go with the doom patrol team and Shazam universe as of late and hopefully johns can guide them by establishing them the way he did with the Aquaman, Flash and GL universes before releasing them to a new writer.

  8. September 13, 2014 at 7:03 pm — Reply

    The X-Men have not been rebooted. The Legion has over and over. I don’t feel it is a creative problem but an editorial. Management seems to feel you have to retell the origin and other early stories or readers will be confused, they won’t. Give fans the benefit of the doubt.

    • September 14, 2014 at 7:26 pm — Reply

      Technically, the X-Men have been rebooted multiple times, but it hasn’t been on the same scale as Legion reboots. The same can be said comparing multiple DC and Marvel properties since DC tends to do a nearly complete reboot of their universe every so often, where Marvel’s reboots either take place in an alternate timeline (such as Ultimate Marvel, Heroes Reborn or other similar titles/series) or are smaller scale retcons rather than a full-on reboot (can’t recall the name of the series, but there was an X-Men title in the mid/late 90’s that “retold” stories of the X-Men’s early days, mostly updating the stories from the 60’s to more recent times and covering stories that took place between older stories from the time, but also altering a few small details. There was also a similar Spidey title out around the same time.).

  9. Zach
    September 13, 2014 at 7:17 pm — Reply

    I’d say it’s a few factors:

    1) the X-Men have a stronger central metaphor at their core. The idea of genetic chance at birth singling you out for both amazing and terrible things is something very universal. The Legion has sorta circled around the “diverse youths come together for the great good” concept, but never really hit the target as effectively as the X-Men have.

    2) The X-Men are at the center of their publishing line and universe, whereas the Legion are at the periphery. This makes it easier to build popularity for the X-Men and has the effect of making the Legion seem inconsequential.

    3) The X-Men never rebooted. I love the zero hour team and somewhat like the threeboot, but don’t much care for the original Legion. I know there are fans who only like the original Legion. The reboots fracture the fandom, whereas the X-Men can build support for new stuff without getting rid of the old.

    4) Marvel has done a better job at expanding the X-Men brand into mass media. I may not love every X-Men cartoon and movie that comes out, but Marvel (and Fox) push it out there, and it builds awareness for the characters. Compare that to the Legion, where DC and Warners have done one cartoon that only ran for a couple seasons.

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