REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES SUPERBOY
As I've related in some of my previous Legion reviews, I've been a longtime fan of DC Comics' legendary LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, like since the late 1960's. Granted, the comics have had their ups and downs -- and even a few sideways -- but I've always been a fan of the basic concept and characters.
However, the Legion has never really had a major presence in the action figure world. I've tended to believe that one of the reasons for this is because, hailing as they did from a thousand years in the future, despite the periodic presence of Superboy and Supergirl, they were always somewhat isolated from the present-day DC Universe. Mego never did anything with them. Neither did Kenner or Hasbro. There was a line of them from DC Direct, but it wasn't really one of their high points, and the figures were in their very original costumes, which weren't my personal favorites.
A while back, there was a special Justice League Unlimited four-pack featuring the Legion, but that seemed to be about it. Until, at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, Mattel announced that the Legion of Super-Heroes would be joining the line-up in their flagship line -- DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS. As if there hadn't been tons of campaigning on the part of Legion fans for this to happen.
It would be, explained Mattel, a very special set. Not a two-pack, not a three-pack, not a five-pack. No -- it would be a TWELVE-pack. And even at that, the speculation as to who would be included from a membership that over the years had consisted of several dozen characters ran wild for some time until Mattel introduced the line-up.
The final dozen would include Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, and Saturn Girl -- the three founders of the team; Superboy, mostly so Mattel could turn out a classic Superboy figure; Brainiac 5, one of the most popular non-founding members; joined by Ultra Boy, Wildfire, Timber Wolf, Colossal Boy, Karate Kid, Chameleon Boy, and Matter-Eater Lad, in part for a little comic relief there at the end. The set also includes a figure of Proty, a semi-sentient protoplasm pet once belonging to Chameleon Boy, and a Legion flight ring.
I knew even before Mattel announced the line-up that this was a set I had to have, but then they had to go and include some of my most favorite characters. The set, after a few delays, was finally released in October 2010, as an exclusive to MattyCollector.Com.
The package is superb. It is a seven-sided stylized version of the Legion's original headquaters, a yellow rocket-like building with red fins at the top. The twelve figures are displayed within in what are designed to look like teleportation tubes, two to a section. The central section features the far larger Colossal Boy figure, and a smaller space for Proty and the ring. This does leave one empty space among the other six sections, however. This has been labeled for Legion member Invisible Kid. Little joke on Mattel's part...
Now -- there is no way that I can fairly review the entire set in one review and maintain my usual style of presenting a decent amount of backstory on the given character before reviewing the specific figure. Not without this review running the length of a doctoral thesis. And I'm not going to compromise my usual style by shortening this to a brief look at each figure and leaving it at that. There will be other such reviews elsewhere on the Internet, I'm sure.
As such, I am going to give each Legionnaire an individual review. I feel that to do less would be to do an injustice to this very cool concept, and this extremely cool set of figures. This review will take a look at SUPERBOY. But first, an overview of the Legion itself.
The Legion of Super-Heroes is a fictional superhero team in the 30th and 31st centuries of the DC Comics Universe. The team first appears in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), and was created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino.
Initially, the team was closely associated with the original Superboy, and was first portrayed as a group of time travelers who frequently visited him. In later years, the Legion's origin and backstory were fleshed out, and the group replaced Superboy as the focus of their stories; eventually Superboy was removed altogether, except as an occasional guest star.
The team has undergone several major reboots during its publication. The original version was replaced with a new rebooted version following the events of Zero Hour and another rebooted team was introduced in 2004. A fourth version of the team, nearly identical to the original version, was introduced in 2007. As a result, Superman (both as an adult and a teenager) and the current version of Supergirl have been reincorporated into Legion history.
Superboy was the featured series in Adventure Comics in the late 1950s. In Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), he was met by three teenagers from the 30th century: Lightning Boy, Saturn Girl, and Cosmic Boy, who were members of a "super-hero club" called the Legion of Super-Heroes. Their club had been formed with Superboy as an inspiration, and they had time travelled to recruit Superboy as a member. After a series of tests, Superboy was awarded membership and returned to his own time.
Although intended as a one-off story focusing on Superboy, the Legion proved so popular that it returned for an encore in Adventure Comics #267 (December 1959). Lightning Boy had been renamed Lightning Lad, and their costumes were very close to those they wore throughout the Silver Age of Comic Books. The Legion's popularity grew, and they appeared in further stories in Adventure Comics and Action Comics over the next few years. The ranks of the Legion, only hinted at in those first two stories, were filled with new heroes, such as Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid, Colossal Boy, Star Boy, Brainiac 5, Triplicate Girl, Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy, Bouncing Boy, Phantom Girl, and Ultra Boy. Even Supergirl was recruited as a member.
In Adventure Comics #300 (September 1962), the Legion received their own regular feature, cover-billed "Superboy in 'Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes'". While they would share space with Superboy solo stories for a couple of years, they eventually displaced Superboy entirely as their popularity grew.
It was this run which established the Legion's general workings and environment. A club of teenagers, they operated out of a clubhouse in the shape of a yellow rocket ship inverted as if it had been driven into the ground. The position of Legion leader rotated among the membership, sometimes through election, and sometimes by more arcane methods. Each Legionnaire had to possess at least one natural superpower, in particular a power which no other member possessed. Despite this, several members had overlapping powers, particularly Superboy, Supergirl, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy. The Legion was based on Earth, and protected an organization of humans and aliens called the United Planets. The regular police force in the UP was the Science Police. The setting for each story was almost always 1000 years from the date of publication.
In 1973, the Legion returned to cover billing on a book when Superboy became Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes with #197 (August 1973). Crafted by Cary Bates and Dave Cockrum, the feature proved highly popular. Cockrum was later replaced on art by Mike Grell. With #231 (September 1977), the book's title officially changed to Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Following a wide range of epic storylines, and several rather confusing reboots, largely tied in with certain "crises" of the time, a far more familiar Legion returned on the heels of Infinite Crisis. The "Lightning Saga" crossover in Justice League of America and Justice Society of America features the return of the original versions of Star Boy (now called Starman), Dream Girl, Wildfire, Karate Kid, Timber Wolf, Sensor Girl, Dawnstar, and Brainiac 5. Though several differences between the original and Lightning Saga Legions exist, Geoff Johns has stated that this incarnation of the Legion shares the same history as the original Legion up to the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, with Clark Kent having joined the team as the teenage Superboy prior to the start of his career as Superman.
This version of the Legion next appeared in the "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" storyline in Action Comics #858-863, and next appeared in the 2008 Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds limited series, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by George Pérez. The mini-series features the post-Infinite Crisis Legion and Superman teaming up with the "Reboot" and "Threeboot" incarnations of the Legion to fight Superboy-Prime, the Legion of Super-Villains, and the Time Trapper. Geoff Johns stated that the intent of the mini-series was to validate the existence of all three versions of the team while simultaneously restoring the pre-Crisis Legion's continuity as well. This Legion would then go on to star in its own title, which, although renumbered following the repugnant "DC Relaunch", is proving to be one of the titles least affected, although mention of the "Flashpoint event" closing off time travel to Superman's era has been made. Be nice if it turned into some sort of loophole at some point to put things right.
As for the character of Superboy -- in an interesting sort of twist on the question of "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?", the character of Superman was developed before the idea of presenting him as Superboy.
Superman, of course, was the creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and basically set the foundation of the DC Universe in place. The original pitch for a "Superboy" character was made by Jerry Siegel (without Joe Shuster) in November 1938. The idea was turned down by DC., and the publisher again rejected a second, more detailed pitch by Siegel two years later. After the appeal of kid superheroes had been demonstrated by the success of Robin, the Boy Wonder and similar characters, DC reversed itself in late 1944 and started publishing a Superboy feature, in an effort to expand the Superman franchise by presenting a version of the character to whom younger readers could easily relate. Superboy first appeared in More Fun Comics #101 (1944).
In early 1946, Superboy moved to Adventure Comics, where he debuted in issue #103 (Apr 1946) as the lead feature for the anthology comic, and he remained the headlining feature for over 200 issues. Stories in Adventure Comics treat Superboy as essentially a junior version of Superman. To that end, he wears the Superman costume and his alter ego Clark Kent wears glasses as a disguise for his civilian identity. Superboy is the superhero of Clark's hometown of Smallville and grows up under the guidance of his foster parents, Ma and Pa Kent. Superboy's adventures in Adventure Comics include the story of how he was reunited with his pet superdog, Krypto; the story of how his friend, the teenage scientist Lex Luthor, becomes his most bitter foe; and how Superboy joins the 30th-century Legion of Super-Heroes.
Four years after his debut, Superboy became only the sixth DC superhero to receive his own comic book when Superboy #1 (Mar-Apr 1949) was published. The series became the first new DC superhero title to succeed since World War II. Superboy saw the debuts of Clark's two closest friends: Lana Lang, who also serves as a romantic interest for Superboy; and Pete Ross, who later discovers and helps protect Clark's secret identity, and the first appearances of Legion of Super-Heroes members Mon-El and Ultra Boy.
After the Legion pushed new Superboy stories out of Adventure Comics in 1963, Superboy became the only comic book to feature original Superboy stories. Less than two years after the Legion itself left Adventure Comics, Superboy became the Legion's new home. Starting with Superboy #172 (Mar 1971), the Legion appeared as an occasional backup feature. Once again, the Legion feature proved so popular that by Superboy #197 (Sep 1973), the Legion had become the lead feature, and with the next issue, the title's only feature. Although from issue #197, the cover logo read "Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes". In issue #259 (Jan 1980), Superboy left the Legion and his name was dropped from the title altogether, which now became simply The Legion of Super-Heroes. Though Superboy still periodically appeared in the series that once bore his name, the series remained a Legion title
After the Legion took over Superboy, the Superboy feature was nearly moribund until the late 1970s, when it appeared in two short runs, first in Adventure Comics (again) and then in Superman Family. Then, in the same month Superboy left the Legion in Legion of Super-Heroes #259 (Jan 1980), a new series entitled The New Adventures of Superboy debuted, with the first issue depicting Clark Kent celebrating his sixteenth birthday. Published monthly, this title lasted for 54 issues until 1984.
Several months after the last issue of The New Adventures of Superboy, a four-issue miniseries was published called Superman: The Secret Years (1985), which tells the story of how Superboy becomes Superman during his junior year of college.
At this point we hit something of a snag, both with Superboy and with the Legion. When Superman's storyline was rebooted by John Byrne in 1986, following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Superman's career as Superboy was eliminated from continuity. However, this caused a serious problem for the Legion, for Superboy's adventures with the Legion had been well-documented, and in fact he had been looked upon as an inspiration for them.
The problem was eventually resolved -- for the time being -- with the discovery that every time the Legion had traveled into the past to visit Superboy, they had in fact been shunted into a pocket universe, created by their longtime adversary, the Time Trapper, in which he had altered history and allowed for a Superboy to exist. The Legion eventually discovered the truth, Superboy and Superman teamed up to stop the Trapper, but Superboy ultimately gave his life to save the future Earth from destruction.
Interestingly, during this time when Superman had no career as Superboy, the clone Superboy, Connor Kent, briefly became a member of the Legion.
Following the events of Infinite Crisis, Superman's career as Superboy was restored to continuity, and Geoff Johns' "Superman: Secret Origin" outlines how the Legion contacted the young Clark Kent, and not only explained how his adult version was an inspiration for them, but frequently invited him to the future to train and learn with them, thus giving young Clark a much-needed outlet for his powers that he somewhat lacked in Smallville, where his career was somewhat limited.
Following Flashpoint, the timeline has once again been closed off to the Legion. Interestingly, they are aware of this fact, and so far, at least, Flashpoint seems to have had little impact on the 31st century -- which explains why at the moment I'm reading the Legion books and darn little else from DC.
As to his powers and abilities -- well, heck, he's Superboy. He's a shorter, younger version of Superman. He can do anything that Superman can, basically. Thanks to his Kryptonian metabolism absorbing yellow sunlight and turning it into super-powered energy, he has super-strength, super-speed, invulnerabilities, he can fly, is invulnerable, has heat vision, X-ray vision, telescopic vision, the whole package.
So, how's the figure? Really cool. Mattel explained at the outset that this Legion set was their best chance to produce a classic Superboy figure. Certainly there has been no lack of Superman figures in the DC Universe Classics line, so just doing a stand-alone figure of Superboy would probably have been considered a bit of a stretch. The Connor Kent Superboy received a DC Universe Classics figure of himself several waves back, but this figure is unquestionably young Clark Kent.
Certainly the character is popular in his own right. I remember back in the 1960's, when Captain Action and Action Boy were around. These were a couple of action figures created by Ideal. Heroes in their own right, you could buy costumes for them and transform them into other super-heroes. Captain Action had quite the lineup, including quite a few DC characters. Action Boy was more limited. In fact, he had only three costume sets available -- Robin, Aqualad, and Superboy. Of these three, the only one that wasn't a sidekick to someone else was Superboy. The character had enough of an identity of his own to warrant being made as a separate costume, although teaming him with Captain Action dressed as Superman did make for a rather surreal image.
A Superboy from an alternate Earth was even introduced around the time of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, I think as much as anything to make sure that the character of Superboy was somehow represented in the story, along with the entire rest of the DC Universe. That particular character has gone on to a certain amount of infamy starting with Infinite Crisis, but at the time, it was a cool addition.
To the best of my knowledge, there haven't been a lot of Superboy action figures over the years, and in fact, DC even lost the rights to the Superboy name for a time (which is why he was always referred to as "Superman" in the animated Legion series, even though in the early episodes you can see the characters' mouths clearly form the word "boy").
As such, I think it's abundantly cool that we have this classic Superboy figure as part of the Legion set.
Mattel has created a somewhat smaller set of male hero body molds to be used on teenage heroes, and needless to say, it sees extensive use in the Legion set. Portions of these molds had already been used on two other characters, Kamandi, and the Connor Kent Superboy, but neither of these figures were entirely dressed in tights (for that matter, all Kamandi is wearing is a pair of boots and some ragged shorts), so the tight-fitting "super-hero costume" molds had to be completed for the Legion set, which indeed they were.
These figures have a slightly more slender, but still well-defined muscular appearance, and stand about 6 inches tall in a line where 6-3/4" is the standard for an adult male. It's a fair difference at that scale, but it certainly works well for the Legion, including Superboy.
Superboy has several distinctive parts apart from his unique headsculpt. These include the belt, complete with red belt-loops and the circular buckle; his cape, and thus by inference he much have a unique back to accommodate the slot into which the cape is inserted, since none of the other Legion members in this set are wearing capes; and he has distinctive lower legs, which have his boot design sculpted into them. Technically, it probably would have been possible for Mattel to simply paint his boots as part of the lower legs, which they did with a number of other figures in the set, but since the Superman figure has distinctively sculpted boots, they chose to grant the same favor to Superboy, and I'm pleased that they did.
The headsculpt is very nicely done, with an appropriate hairstyle including the famous "S" curl in the front, and very neatly painted blue eyes. My only real criticism with the headsculpt is the facial expression. Superboy has this really cheesy grin on his face, showing all his teeth. He looks like he's just been asked to pose for a prom picture or something. I know, at this point in his life, Superboy was still reveling in his powers, his life wasn't all that deadly serious, and he always got a kick out of hanging with the Legion, but come on. Still, it's not intolerable.
Interestingly, Superboy's costume is a somewhat lighter blue than that of the DC Universe Classics Superman figure that I have here. Now, Superman's costume did become a slightly darker blue in the comics, right around the time of his return after he was killed by Doomsday in the early 90's. Prior to this, Superman's costume had always been a straight blue. It was darkened slightly after his return, and honestly, it looked pretty cool. And by this time, the classic Superboy character technically didn't exist.
I was going to make a bad joke here and say that the Superboy figure had the same shade of blue as the Ultraman figure from the recent Crime Syndicate five-pack (see my separate review of this highly recommended set), but even Ultraman's uniform is very slightly darker than Superboy's, although not by much. I believe what Mattel wanted to achieve with Superboy was as classic a Superboy figure as they could turn out, and that included matching the very straightforward blue of his uniform. In this, they have certainly succeeded.
The red boots, trunks, and cape are the same color, however, as is the red and yellow on the very neatly imprinted "S" shield on his chest. The yellow details on the back of the cape, and on his belt, are also nicely done. The cape has a very slight wave to one side, but I wouldn't call it pre-posed.
Of course, the figure is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivels, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivels, knees, and ankles. Fortunately, there's no asinine double-joints on the figure. And I have to say, I've found most of these teen-sized Legion figures to be very tightly articulated. In some cases, maybe a little too much so, but I'll still take that over loose and floppy parts as long as no one is outright stuck.
One other additional little detail -- Superboy has a Legion Flight Ring on his right hand. Nice touch.
So, what's my final word? Obviously, I'm hugely impressed with the entire set, and certainly, Superboy deserves to be a part of it. If it wasn't for him, the Legion never would have come into existence. And as Mattel themselves stated, this was the perfect chance to turn out a classic Superboy figure.
And certainly, this Legion of Super-Heroes set is one of the most astounding masterpieces of action figures that I've ever encountered. Now, I will say that there's still plenty of Legionnaires out there. I realize that in 2012, the DC Universe Classics line will move to an online subscription service, which will also limit the number of figures being produced. But I also sincerely hope we haven't seen the last of the Legion. If I were to list my top five of additional Legionnaires that I would like to see, that list would likely feature Mon-El, Sun Boy, Element Lad, Shadow Lass, and Blok. Let's hope it happens.
In the meantime, I am profoundly grateful for this amazing twelve-pack, and certainly for Superboy. I can't imagine any longtime Legion fan or DC Universe fan not wanting to add this set to their collection.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of SUPERBOY, part of the LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES 12-pack, most definitely has my highest recommendation! Long live the Legion!