Saturday, December 12, 2015

BLING, RINGS AND THINGS




When the Legionnaires started using flight rings, readers soon began to clamor for DC Comics to produce a line of replica rings as collectibles. And in 1974, Legion fan extraordinaire Mercy Van Vlack even made her own rings to sell to fans who desperately wanted this symbol of Legion coolness. Proceeds from sales went to the coffers of the popular Legion fanzine of the time, The LEGION OUTPOST.


    It wasn’t until 1997 that DC released an official, licensed Legion ring. The handsome 14K, gold-plated item came in a variety of sizes and in an attractive box bearing the disclaimer: “Warning! This ring does not enable the wearer to fly!”.  It sold for $54.95 but can be bought on eBay for cheaper these days … if you can find it. Obviously, you also don’t have a choice of ring size if you snap one up this way.



    In 2001, DC Direct ventured into a line of Legion figures, and the first three off the rank – Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, and Lightning Lad … all came with flight belts and flight rings. The belts could be placed on the figures comfortably, but the over-sized adjustable, plastic rings were obviously meant for human hands. The rings were of a very dark orange/brown color, and over time have probably even got darker, if the evidence of my own hermetically-sealed rings are anything to go by.


The DC Direct figure of Cosmic Boy, shown with flight ring and flight belt. This also came with two cool iron balls that attached to magnets in Cos' hands.
 
    Some ten years later, DC issued promotional plastic Legion rings as giveaways to complement LEGION: SECRET ORIGINS #1. Many of these probably ended up as cosplay items at various comic cons.




   In 2011, Mattel released its highly-acclaimed Legion of Super-Heroes 12-pack set. As a bonus, the set also included a slot containing a Proty figure and a 24-carat gold-plated ring, which is entirely golden in appearance. Mine still lies within the pack, unopened, so I have not been able to scrutinize it in greater detail.


   

   The flight rings were flying (pun intended) off the assembly lines now. The 2014 Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes Heroclix set included a Legion flight ring among its relics. Of all the plastic rings issued, this one is the best-looking and came in a realistic golden hue.






    Finally, in 2015, those purveyors of all things cool, Think Geek, sold a new DC-approved Legion ring, which came in a box that oddly bore Superman’s symbol (instead of, as one might expect, the Legion’s). This gold-plated, stainless steel ring is thinner than the first licensed version, and was made in China, while the latter was manufactured in the USA. The design is also slightly different.



   
    Those mentioned above are all the officially licensed Legion flight rings to have been released. There have been many other custom-made ones over the years which vary in quality, so collect them at your peril, knowing only those listed here are the official ones.

    BUT WAIT! There’s more bling than a ring. If you’ve ever been to a comic con, chances are you picked up one of several Legion pins that were often distributed as promotional items. There was even a pin for the spin-off L.E.G.I.O.N. book.




    The most coveted Legion pin of all was a cloisonné pin issued to retailers for every 100 issues of LEGIONNAIRES #1 that they sold. The lapel pin came in a plastic bag and featured a military clutch design on its back. These are extremely difficult to find today.




So next time you are at a Legion gathering, don’t forget to adorn your Legion tee with one of those pins, and wear a ring on your hand. You’ll be the best-dressed fan in the club.


Bits Boy runs the comprehensive Legion completists’ site Bits of Legionnaire Business.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

SUPER ZEROES



Remember Zero Hour?
    Indeed, some fans would probably prefer to forget it. The series was done with the best of intentions, aiming to clear up various inconsistencies caused by the landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths. It promised to consolidate the inconsistent future timelines of the DC Universe into a new unity.
    The architect of the cosmic upheaval was Hal Jordan, who, mad with grief after the destruction of his home town of Coast City, and having obtained immense power as Parallax, attempts to destroy and then remake the universe.
    Or course, Hal dies in the end, but like the whole Zero Hour series, it can be looked on as a monumental waste of time. Hal’s back again in the current universe, which of course has been diverged and converged into yet another entity, until such time as future DC Comics chief call for another reboot.
    One of the main victims of Zero Hour was the Legion, which was forced to undergo a restart after Superboy and Supergirl were eliminated from DC continuity, with Mon-El recast as Valor to take Superboy's place as the Legion's inspiration and most powerful member.
    Promotional materials issued for Zero Hour featured some members of the Legion. There were two separate posters issued for the event: one included Lightning Lad and Ultra Boy with his ponytail, the other showed Jo in his Emerald Dragon guise. Go figure.
    Promotional advertisements and folders for Zero Hour in the fan press also included Legionnaires (see images below).
    One interesting piece of merchandise given away to retailers was a Zero Hour clock, featuring various characters including Andromeda and Vril Dox.


Zero Hour poster with Lightning Lad and Ultra Boy.

Zero Hour poster with Emerald Dragon (Ultra Boy).

Fan press advertisement for Zero Month.

The Zero Hour clock.

Bits Boy runs the comprehensive Legion completists’ site Bits of Legionnaire Business.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

CALENDARS TO COLLECT



Full 12-month calendars in their own right issued by comic book companies are nothing new these days, even if some may appear to be only released at the publisher’s whim. But as recently as the dawn of the 70s, such items were non-existent, appearing only occasionally as novelty pieces within the pages of comic books.
   The first DC Comics calendar which has any sort of Legion connection appeared in DC COMICS’ LIMITED COLLECTOR’S EDITION C-34 (Christmas With The Super-Heroes), which featured a standard 12-month listing of dates for 1975, embellished on the periphery with images of various DC characters, including the Legion. This Murphy Anderson illustration was also used on the covers of the four-issue LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES series, which reprinted various stories from the ADVENTURE COMICS era.



   The following year (1976) was a momentous one, with the United States celebrating its bicentennial. Among the many items of comic book merchandise produced to cash in on the event was a standalone calendar featuring DC’s heroes, with monthly spreads gloriously illustrated by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, including the iconic Legion fly-by scene. Even more interesting was the calendar’s citation of the birthdays of various heroes and supporting cast members, many of which had previously not been established. And miraculously, none of the characters ever shared a birthday!

A typical month from the calendar, showing dates of special events for the DC Comics characters.
Neal Adam's classic Legion scene on the inside cover of the 1976 calendar.
   The calendar sold well enough to convince DC to repeat the venture with a 1977 almanac,this time with the theme “Super-Heroes versus Super-Villains”. The cover was again drawn by Neal Adams, but the interior art was spread out among DC’s stable of artists. The Legion literally took center stage, with a Mike Grell depiction of the group battling the Fatal Five on top of the Statue of Liberty, an image reprised on the back of the calendar.



   The calendar for 1978 highlighted a year of Super-Spectacular Disasters. A mysterious villain plans “the total destruction of the earth and leads up to it with monthly menaces which tax the powers of the world’s greatest super-heroes.” With clues to the mastermind’s identity provided, readers were directed to fill in a grid on the JLA computer screen to spell out the villain’s name. Each month featured a battle scene which led up to the conclusion on the last pages of the calendar.
   Karate Kid and the Legion of Super-Heroes  featured in December, taking on the Toyman at a New York department store, beautifully illustrated by Jim Sherman and Jack Abel. The dates for December are also wrapped around by a framework consisting of Legion members. The details for the month explain how some Legion members decide to spend an old-fashioned Christmas in the 20th century, arriving on December 16. They visit the home of Karate Kid (who was then living in 1978) on December 21, then battle the Toyman on December 23.





   DC Comics stopped publishing these “Super DC calendars” after 1978, opting instead for one-piece calendars which featured the months and various illos of DC characters. Surprisingly, even though the Legion was hot property in the 80s, they never appeared in any of these publications.
   The Legion’s next major appearance in a calendar did not come until 1996, when DC published its Final Night series, in which  the heroes and citizens of Earth faced impending demise as the Sun-Eater, which first appeared in a Legion story, threatened to extinguish their Sun, therefore creating the planet’s final night. 
   As a prelude to the series, DC Comics released a Final Night calendar … an advent calendar of sorts which allowed retailers to reveal scenes from the series weekly in the countdown to the first issue. An exclusive story previewing the crisis was featured in the calendar, which showed Superman and members of the Legion discussing the menace of the Sun-Eater.




   There have been several other calendars in which the Legion were featured in the form of reproductions of comic book covers in which they appeared. These include the 1988 calendar, which depicted covers of LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES 34 (Universo Project Pt 3), WHO’S WHO: DEFINITIVE DIRECTORY OF THE  DC UNIVERSE 20 (featuring Saturn Girl and Saturn Queen on cover), and SUPERMAN 8 (several Legionnaires on cover); and a DC Comics “Collectible 2010 Vintage 16-Month Calendar” published by Asgard Press, which included a reproduction of the cover of SUPERBOY 147.

The 1988 calendar with images of comic covers, including three featuring the Legion.

The 2010 calendar featuring the image of SUPERBOY 147.

   A different sort of Legion-related calendar was published to coincide with the release of Alex Ross’ lavish, coffee table book titled MYTHOLOGY, which collected most of the master artist’s DC Comics work. The 2005 calendar featured 12 of Alex’ best pieces to accompany each month, including the iconic Legion of Super-Heroes artwork first released as a limited edition poster. 





Are there are other Legion-related calendars we missed? Let us know!

Bits Boy runs the comprehensive Legion completists’ site Bits of Legionnaire Business.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

THE NUMBERS GAME

In September 1998, a poster of the DC Comics line-up was given out on the summer convention circuit. It included most of the company’s characters at the time, with the Legion represented by the three founders and Brainiac 5. Although the figures were small in comparison to the size of others, they were featured smack dab in the center of the poster.



   
The unsigned piece has been attributed in some circles to Jerry Ordway (pencils) and Karl Kesel (inks), but it very much looks like Tom Grummett’s or Dan Jurgen’s work instead.
   The poster was subsequently released as a limited edition lithograph (250 copies) by the now-defunct Warner Bros stores, and given a name in the Warner Bros newsletters: Strength In Numbers. It was a name that would later also be used for at least two other DC Comics posters: a JLA one and the poster depicting the threeboot Legion.
   The artwork was milked for all its worth. It was also used in a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle produced by the Warner Bros store, only this time the set was called Heroes of the DC Universe. In addition, the central part of the poster, featuring the Legionnaires, was excised for use as an American Library Association bookmark with the @your library branding, to promote DC Comics.


The Heroes of the Universe jigsaw puzzle (above) and bookmark (below)



Strength in numbers indeed!

*** The Warner Bros store promoted another DC Heroes lithograph in the same year, illustrated by Mike Deodato. An image of the poster was featured in promotional material such as the company's newsletter at around the same time, featuring the same four Legionnaires. But it is not known if this litho actually went on sale. If you have a copy, let me know!


The image from a Warner Bros store newsletter.

Mike Deodato's original art for the piece.


Bits Boy runs the comprehensive Legion completists’ site Bits of Legionnaire Business.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

ALEX-CELLENCE

Legion fans know Alex Ross created an absolute masterpiece with his wall poster depiction of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. It was produced in 1997 as a huge 29” x 54” Giclee print for the Warner Bros Studio Store Gallery, with a run of only 500. The image is used as part of the background for this blog.


In a recent interview, Alex included the creation as one of his 10 favorite pieces. In his own words: “This print is a portrait of Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes, which was a major part of my childhood in the version that existed in the '70s. It’s a tall, vertical piece that has a very bright blue background and vivid colors for all the various members. They’re flying in unison, up towards the top of the piece, following Superboy. 
“This was a careful drawing meant to evoke the style of the artist that worked on it in the early '70s: they went through a kinda sexy costume phase, where there were lots of bikini superhero costumes for the women and even some of the men as well. But it has a certain timeless quality that means something to me, and it’s one of the pieces I’ve kept all these years. This was never a cover; I did it purely as a print for the Warner Bros Studio Stores, way back in the late '90s."
The artist Alex refers to is more likely Mike Grell than David Cockrum, and Alex would later use one of Grell’s layouts again as a template for another of his well-known Legion pieces (this time for Back Issue magazine).
Alex Ross' cover for Back Issue!, modelled after Mike Grell's cover for DC Ltd Collector's Edition C-49. 

The 1997 print was more than just a tribute to the 70s Legion. The clever vertical layout, which accentuated the upward movement of Legionnaires reaching for the stars, was clearly one of Alex’s most inspired creations, from the grandiosity of Superboy and heroic postures of the members, down to the minute details of Chemical King and the Legion cruiser reflected in Wildfire’s visor. The scene comprised the Legion membership just prior to Chemical King’s death, shortly after Dawnstar joined the ranks.
 
The print came with a certificate of authenticity, a key to the characters, and an instruction sheet on taking care of the item, packed in a plastic bag taped to the backing board. The black frame itself, with clear acrylic face plate, is not of the best quality and is prone to cracks and general wear and tear, forcing some owners to re-frame the print.
The pack with certificate of authenticity, Legion key, and instruction sheet on taking care of the product.

The illustration has been available in many other forms throughout the years, often as smaller reproductions in various books (including some of Alex’s own biographies), calendars and postcards, and has been offered as inferior quality facsimiles (often with the bottom of the image cropped off) by enterprising merchants eager to make a quick buck.
For fans who have never seen the documentation that came with the Giclee, here’s what they looked like:
The key to the characters in the print.

Instruction sheet on taking care of the product. Unfortunately, the frame was prone to cracks (possibly due to changes in temperature).

The print went on sale for $575, which sounds like a big investment even today, but imagine what it seemed like 18 years ago. Yet with only 500 copies made, shrewd collectors (or at least those who could afford it) recognized the value of the item, and quickly snapped it up, making it an instant sell-out. Today, not only will these prints likely cost more than $1000 each, but you’d be lucky to even find any being offered. And when Alex finally decides to sell the original, imagine what that would fetch.
The solicitation for the print.

Meanwhile, some lucky Legion fan somewhere is sitting happy with print #247 hanging on the wall. If you are that person, please let us know!
 Bits Boy runs the comprehensive Legion completists’ site Bits of Legionnaire Business.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

THE FUTURE'S IN THE CARDS

Most Legion fans will own Legion-related trading cards in their collection. But these products have been around longer than one might think.

   The first Legion-related trading card was the Topps foldee that featured Saturn Girl, released as part of a 44-card DC Comics set in 1966. The novelty of the card was that it could be folded into different permutations, which offered a variety of looks for each character.




It wasn’t until 1987 that we next saw Legion characters on cards in the US. But before that, interestingly enough, the Legion appeared on cards in various other countries.
   In 1969, a card of some members was released in South America, possibly given away with the country’s Legion reprint comics, published by Ebal.


A Brazilian comic book featuring the Legion.

Meanwhile, in 1970, Mexican residents were able to collect a set of Superman family sticker cards issued with local confectionery, which they could place in an album. Legionnaires were among the characters featured in this set.

The album which contained pages for stickers (see below).







The United Kingdom was not to be outdone. The company Weetabix had long been including collectible strips in its cereal boxes, and in 1978 produced a set of 18 which featured some bizarrely-chosen Legion characters: Worldsmith, the Brain (un-named in the actual comic book), the Galactic Coordinator, and a Resource Raider. It’s likely that licensing prohibitions prevented the use of the Legionnaires themselves, but what’s interesting is that the cards provided new information on the featured characters.

 



The cards were stand-up cards included in packs of Weetabix cereal in the UK. They were meant to be used by kids to stick into slots on various adventure settings printed on the Weetabix boxes. There were four different scenes to play against: Kryptonopolis, Scarlet Forest, Fortress of Solitude, and the Town of Kan. 
   Weetabix customers could also find mini-cutout model kits to build their own Krtyptonian Flyer or Kal-El Rocket, while there were random “picture puzzlers” on the inside of the boxes (three featured the Legion characters Worldsmith, a Resource Raider and afore-mentioned The Brain). Way cool!


Three of the picture puzzlers, featuring Legion characters.

The four adventure settings for the cards

In 1987, DC Comics decided to test the waters for trading card demand in the US market, but chose to release the product in a unique fashion: as part of backing boards for comics sold in three-packs at large retailers. The first set came in six different sheets of eight, with cut-out lines for the cards and a header for hanging the item. A second series with nine sheets was produced in 1989. There are some Legion-related cards in the sets:

A typiccl backing board with hanger and eight uncut cards.




In the 90s, of course, the non-sports trading card phenomenon came into full swing, in all manner of style: ordinary card sets, chase cards, oversized ones, foils, extended art rares, stackers, promotional items, one-off sketch cards, and the like. The Legion formed the basis or part of many a card set, and we’ll cover these separately in a future blog.

Bits Boy runs the comprehensive Legion completists’ site Bits of Legionnaire Business.