Friday, June 26, 2015

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

Many comic book conventions are now mega-events, getting bigger each year like a sun-eater spreading its tendrils across the galaxy. And as the gatherings grow in size and popularity, so too does the quality of the souvenir programs that get published in conjunction with them. These books often contain information about the convention, bios on the guests, explanations of the panels and booths, comic book previews, and more often than not, specially-commissioned pieces and original art from participating comic book artists. For Legion fans, coming across programs with Legion-related art in them can be quite a treasure find.

One of the earliest examples of Legion artwork appeared in the souvenir booklet for the 1978 Women in Comics expo, organized by the Delaware Valley Comicart Consortium, and which ran for three days in Philadelphia.  Inside the publication, adorned by a Marie Severin cover, are articles on many of the convention guests, including Joe Staton, the Legion artist at the time. To accompany the article, Joe provided a great sketch of the female Legionnaires.
   Interestingly, also featured were David and Paty Cockrum, with the bio piece mentioning their love of reptiles and plastic models, and Dave's stint at the Legion. The article was complemented by a Cockrum sketch of the Vision and Scarlet Witch.



The cover of the Women in Comics booklet, and the Joe Staton piece.

When it comes to souvenir books, the San Diego Comic-Con leads the way in terms of quality and content, and expectedly so, for an event which has been going since 1970 and in some ways has become the standard-bearer for such occasions. In 1985, it ran a competition which invited attendees to correctly identify as many artists as possible who contributed to a jam piece of DC Comics characters used for the program cover. The concept was inspired by the DC CHALLENGE mini-series that debuted at the time, for which various writers and pencillers contributed various chapters.
   I can usually spot an artist’s handiwork, but I have to admit  most of these stumped me. None of the characters was drawn by the artist usually associated with them, so as much as I think it was a rushed Cockrum sketch of Lightning Lad in the piece, it probably isn’t. The Batman looks very Ross Andru-ish, but I can’t verify this nor any of the others. The answers were provided in an issue of COMIC BUYER'S GUIDE, but I've never managed to find out which issue it was. If somebody knows the official answers, please let me know!

The 1985 SDCC souvenir book and the DC Comics competition details.

Perhaps the crème de la crème of Legion-related convention books was the 1998 SDCC edition, a thick quality-paper bound tome with a handsome Alex Ross cover of Superman. That year was a milestone for DC ..  it commemorated the 60th anniversary of the man of steel, as well as the 40th anniversary of the teenagers from the future. Packed with artistic and textual tributes to both Superman and the Legion, the souvenir publication can be considered a genuine Legion collectible. Peruse some of the pieces below:

The cover of the 1998 SDCC souvenir book.

Art by Stephen Blue on the left, featuring the original costumes of the members when they joined (Phantom Girl first appeared without the "P" symbol). On the right is Colleen Doran's tribute to her favorite Legionnaire, Element Lad.

Art by Andy Ice (left) and Michael Kennedy.

Art by Travis Moore (left) and Philip Moy (right).

Art by Steve Pearson (left) and Cutey Bunny creator Joshua Quagmire (right).

Art by artist/letterer Wes Abbott (left) and Neal Yamamoto (right).

   1998 was in fact a grand year for the SDCC Eisner Award Hall of Fame. New inductees that year included Curt Swan, Julius Schwartz, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Gil Kane, Walt Kelly, Alex Toth, Wally Wood, and Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

SDCC also publishes a publication called Comic-Con Magazine, which generally provides convention updates as well as information on Eisner Award winners from the event. The pre-convention magazine from 2008 features an article celebrating the Legion’s 50th anniversary, its endurance and appeal. 

Comic-Con Magazine pays tribute to the Legion.
The 2008 SDCC souvenir program book.

The actual souvenir program for that year uses Alex Ross' classic Legion poster art for the cover (see above). It features a couple of articles and plenty of artistic tributes to the Legion. But unlike the 1998 book, most of the sketches are provided by amateur artists, and do not stand up well to the standards of professional work. One only has to glance at the glorious Ross cover to note the difference in quality. However, there were some notable pieces, example of which are reproduced below.

 
Tom Kelly provided this lovely graphic representation.


Pieces by Dave Reyes and 'Xdonado'.

Art by CAPS members including Sergio Aragones, Scott Shaw!, Anson Jew, Tim Burgard and Randy Reynaldo.

A tribute piece by Nolan P Smith.


There's no doubt the Legion has appeared in one form or another in various other comic convention programs not featured here, and certainly in UK convention booklets, in the form of original art or, interestingly, limericks and sight gags. Keep a lookout for the programs at your next con, and you may be pleasantly surprised with your Legion-spotting exercises. 

Conventions are also the source of many original Legion art pieces, of course, including commissioned sketches or original prints offered by the guest artists. But that's a topic so all-encompassing that it would need its own dedicated blog article ...  so watch out for that in the near future.

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

Thursday, June 18, 2015

ROLE CALL

Role-playing games are not everyone’s cup of Kono juice, this author included. But in the mid-80s, Mayfair Games released its critically well-received DC Heroes tabletop game line, which, because it encompassed the whole DC universe, and therefore the Legion, ensnared the non-gaming fans who just had to have the Legion-related items for their collection. And there was much to keep them occupied: the three editions of the game came with an abundance of manuals, game books, figurines and sourcebooks.
    There were four Legion of Super-Heroes game modules: Pawns of Time (#223), Knight to Planet 3 (#224), Mad Rook’s Gambit (#225) and King For All Time (#226). As the titles suggest, the theme revolved around a chess game, with the Legion confronting the Time Trapper. The gameplay for module #223 is particularly interesting as it revives former Legionnaires such as Chemical King, Nemesis Kid and Ferro Lad. Covers for the books were illustrated by the likes of Dan Jurgens, Ed Hannigan and Curt Swan, while the interiors were adorned with  re-purposed artwork and a smattering of original sketches by ambiguously-named “DC staff”.

 


Because the Legion consisted of so many characters, and its history and settings were so rich and diverse,  Mayfair produced two comprehensive reference manuals on the world of the Legion. Volume 1, co-written by Paul Levitz, focused on all past and present Legionnaires up till then, with comprehensive explanations of powers and statistics for use with the RPG, as well as “intimate details on the Legionnaires’ lives you can’t find anywhere else”. Volume 2 featured “the world of tomorrow”, and included information on the Earth of the future, its government, the Science Police, technology of the time, the Legion Academy, plus the various worlds of  the United Planets. It also included a large and detailed schematic of Legion headquarters. Original covers were drawn by Ed Hannigan, Jose Delbo and Larry Mahlstedt.





The DC Universe game came out on the heels of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which shook the foundations of DC continuity. The ramifications were so widespread and confusing that, four years later in 1989, Mayfair released The Background/Roster Book, in an attempt to clarify and explain the consolidated universe. In the introductory piece, Robert Greenberger writes: “While we have dumped the parallel worlds, we have expanded the one Earth to encompass more peoples … only last year, Earth made its first extraterrestrial alliance with Daxam, home of Mon-El.  We are still meeting new alien races as our knowledge of the universe increases. There is now even a forerunner of the Legion in existence.”  (You may recall that the Durlan from L.E.G.I.O.N. turned out to be RJ Brande.) In typical vague dialogue,  Greenberger goes on to say “the publishing business affords us the opportunity to revise and remold material as the demands of the creators and marketplace change” … words that we can’t help but resonate with today, nearly 26 years later, as DC re-establishes the concept of multiverses. 
   The book includes submissions and essays on various characters by their creators, such as Jack Kirby (New Gods), Roy Thomas (Golden Age heroes), Robert Kanigher (Sgt Rock) and Mike Gold (the legendary heroes). Roger Stern writes on Metropolis,  Dan Jurgens has a dissertation on DC’s wealthiest characters, Paul Kupperberg discusses the Intelligence Community, and Neil Gaiman flirts with magic. A chapter on alien races includes specifications for many first introduced in Legion stories, including Daxamites, Dominators, Durlans, Gil’Dishpan, and the Khunds.



Mayfair delved even deeper into the worlds of the DC universe in the following year (1990), with the release of the Atlas of the DC Universe, a “complete guide to the people, organizations and places that make up the exciting world of DC Comics”. This included backgrounds on countries of the Earth, planets of the galaxy, and assorted full-color gatefold maps, with one of the USA showing the locations of  notable locations such as Metropolis, Smallville, Gotham, Star City, Coast City, Keystone City, and Littleville  (quick! Which DC character lives here?).  Sections devoted to life beyond Earth look at Legion-related places as diverse as Colu, Dryad, Khundia, Korbal, Takron-Galtos, Ventura, Brande’s Asteroid, Avalon, Kathoon, Lallor, Lythyl, Medicus One, Nullport, Shanghalla, Somahtur, Tyrrazz, Weber’s World and Zerox.



In 1995, the Legion’s title moved five years forward. A cataclysmic event known as Black Dawn ravaged the universe and the ranks of the Legion, with the organization forced to disband and then regroup in triumph. The 5YL stories have been either loved or hated by Legion fans, relying on a non-linear story-telling device that requires fans to, as writer Tom Bierbaum once put it, “work a little harder” to fully grasp.
    Mayfair released a Legion sourcebook, scripted by Tom and Mary, to help fans fill in the gaps and delineate incidents not explained fully in the comic book. Of particular help is a detailed timeline which explains the major events of the five-year gap.  For the first time, members who joined the Legion during Black Dawn were named in full;  these included Atmos, Calamity King, Echo and Reflecto. The specifications for each Legionnaire also include their birthdates, which match up with those provided in the 1976 DC Calendar. Members who weren’t around that year were given new birthdates (the full list of birthdates can be found here.) The sourcebook is essential reading for those keen to enjoy the 5YL run to its fullest.
   The cover features the Legion battling Lobo, who did not feature in any Legion story at the time (nor since). The crazy Czarnian was a hot commodity back then, and was ostensibly featured in a blatant attempt to lift sales of the book.


As if inspired by DC Comics’ Who’s Who series, Mayfair next released a set of three Who’s Who books of its own, with each volume thicker than the one before. The compendiums were rich with established and new information on DC’s entire cast of characters. Legion fans get treated to such compelling tidbits as Bouncing Boy’s DNA, Matter-Eater Lad’s digestive enzymes, the layout of children’s hospital Quarantine, maps of Legionnaires’ home planets, the borders of the United Planets, schematics of Universo’s pendant and Roxxas’ chronal howitzer, and the hierarchy of Dominators according to caste. While much of this information has never been revealed in the comic books, it can be regarded as canon because the books were co-published by DC Comics.  All three volumes are scarce and not cheap to obtain today.


The global map of Timber Wolf's home planet, Zuun.

The biology of Cargggites, Duo Damsel's race.


Matter-Eater Lad's room, and a molecular diagram of his digestive acid.
The caste system of the Dominators.

To view all the Legion-related items from the Who's Who series, see here. 

Mayfair didn’t just stop at books, though. It combined with Grenadier Models, a leading maker of miniature lead figures for RPGs, to produce sets of characters for DC Heroes. These included Justice League, New Teen Titans, Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes, for which the characters were Blok, Dawnstar, Wildfire, Sensor Girl, Element (sic), Modru (sic), Persuader, Tyr, Lightning Lord and Emerald Empress.




By the turn of the century, other game manufacturers came to prominence, one of the most successful being Green Ronin Publishing, based in Seattle, Washington. Founded in 2000, it published several award-winning  RPG–related products.
    One of them was based on the DC Universe, named DC Adventures, for which several reference books were released. Strangely, although the Legion entries in these tomes were the Geoff Johns versions, many of the illustrations were based on the threeboot members.


DC Adventures Vol 1: Cover and statistics for Brainiac 5

DC Adventures Vol 1: Sample pages

DC Adventures Vol 1: Sample pages

DC Adventures Vol 2: cover and text for the Legion of Super-Heroes

DC Adventures Vol 2: Sample pages

DC Adventures Vol 2: Sample pages

Several varieties of RPG also exist in electronic media, of course, as well as single-player role-playing video games. The action video game Scribblenauts, developed by 5th Cell for the Nintendo DS, includes a DC Comics component called Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure, featuring more than 2000 characters from the DC universe. On its release in 2013, the manufacturer claimed the database was so extensive that fans would find it hard to find heroes that were not included. Alas, there were several Legionnaires missing, including iconic members such as Sun Boy, Dawnstar and Blok. On the plus side, it included Arm-Fall-Off Boy.
   The game also spawned a nine-part DC series titled SCRIBBLENAUTS UNMASKED: A CRISIS OF IMAGINATION, in which, strangely, Dawnstar was among the Legionnaires featured.




The cover of the game.

The Legion-related figures in the game.

From the comic book series.

From the comic book series. Dawnstar was not included in the actual game.

The only Legion-related Scribblenauts figure released so far: Tharok.


RPGs continue to be popular, whatever version they take. The most recent tabletop game to feature Legion characters is HeroClix,  in which players use miniature figures to construct teams of comic book heroes, villains, or characters and engage in a turn-by-turn battle on grid maps based on various storyline locations. The figures have become collectible in their own right, and many fans collect HeroClix simply for these well-crafted miniatures, and not to play the game. There have been more than 100 Legion-related figures already released, too many to include in this blog today, but certainly it will be a topic which we’ll return to in the future.


Some of the Legion-related Heroclix figures that have been released.


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

Friday, June 5, 2015

POSTAL PECULIARITIES

The name of the blog comes from the Facebook page I manage, whose name is derived from a much-loved feature of old ADVENTURE COMICS issues: Bits of Legionnaire Business.  If you are unaware, it’s an archival site which contains images of as many bits of Legion paraphernalia and miscellania as possible.  We always welcome new  viewers and “Likes”.
    My blogs will touch on the treasures in those albums: merchandise, books, obscure Legion references in comics, toys, oddities.  I hope to have you join me and my musings and I look forward to your comments, additions and suggestions.
     To kick things off, this week I take a look at Legion-related postal items!


The most well-known of such merchandise was a set of 15 postcards released in 1990, which included characters from the then-current incarnation of the Legion. Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Al Gordon, colored by Tom McCraw, and featuring text by Tom and Mary Bierbaum, the cards featured 5YL members such as Kent Shakespeare, Kono, Devlin O’Ryan, Bounty and Celeste, along with other established characters from previous versions of the group.
   There was also a set of Justice League postcards released at the same time. Completists might wish to include the Booster Gold card from this collection (because, you know, Legion flight ring).



In 2010, DC released a box of postcards commemorating its 75th anniversary.  The set of 100 featured DC comic book covers from the 1930s through to the 80s, and includes a postcard with the cover of ADVENTURE COMICS 247.


Another postcard featuring the Legion was issued in 2005, to help promote Alex Ross’ MYTHOLOGY book. The card uses Alex’ well-known piece of classic Legionnaires flying upwards towards space.  A few months later, the US Postal Service produced the DC Comics Super Heroes Collectible stamps, which was a set of 20 featuring various DC characters. While no actual Legionnaire was included, there is a stamp of Supergirl from the era in which she was an active member. Below you can see a photo of the Alex Ross card, with the Supergirl stamp affixed and postmarked at San Diego Comic-Con in 2006. Cool!



And speaking of SDCC,  in that same year Warner Bros also offered a promotional postcard at its booth to tie in with the Legion of Super-Heroes animated TV series.



In 2000, countries around the world were invited by the US Postal Service to participate in a world-wide stamp-design contest, Stampin’ The Future, with the grand prize winners from each country assembling in Anaheim, California, for a special global celebration. This was one of the first day covers issued at the occasion.



More recently, in 2012, postcards were made by IDW  to promote the Legion/Star Trek crossover series.




Finally, across the pond, UK Legion fans had access to a pretty set of postcards featuring ADVENTURE COMICS Legion covers, which were given away with the first two issues of the HEROES comic. The title featured reprints of US comics, notably Batman, Blue Devil, Flash and the Legion (albeit on much better quality paper). Unfortunately, the series (and publisher) only lasted eight issues.  The awesomeness force is strong in these postcards, though.









As a closing note, kudos to anyone who remembers the Interplanetary Post Office. In the 30th century, it was the center of all mail between worlds, which mailmen from throughout the galaxy would visit to collect postal items to convey back to their respective home worlds. E-mail, what e-mail?




See more Legion miscellania at www.facebook.com/bitsoflegionnairebusiness