POW~! Presents The 7 Greatest Moments In Comics History #7: Mon-El Reboots The Legion of Super-Heroes
I love The Legion of Super-Heroes a whole bunch. The concept is so simple yet far-reachingly epic that it was so ahead of its time for the Silver Age of Comics. I mean a group of teenagers from different planets in the 30th Century are inspired by the memory of Superman to form a club and fight evil throughout the universe. How can that not be awesome?
The problem was the origin of the LSH was so entangled in Superboy/Superman mythology that when DC reset everything after the events of Crisis On Infinite Earths, the Legion became a major stumbling block. The Legion looked to Superboy as a key inspiration but post-Crisis DC clearly stated that Superman never had a career as Superboy. So where the hell did the Legion come from then? How could you erase Superboy from continuity yet STILL have The Legion of Super-Heroes?
DC was left with so many post-Crisis continuity hiccups, the Legion was just the tip of the iceberg. Add to this that Legion of Super-Heroes was still a flagship title for DC in the mid-80s. They used both LSH and The New Teen Titans to launch the concept of the Direct Market i.e. comic books that were not available on newsstands but only available at the growing Comic Book Shop trade (i.e. your local comic book shop). To put it more simply, The Legion of Super-Heroes sold comics and in turn made money for DC.
Eventually The Legion’s popularity waned and the main book was cancelled. But this didn’t solve the continuity error of why the Legion existed. Enter Keith Giffen, the madman of modern superhero comics. Giffen had come to acclaim as the main artist on Legion of Super-Heroes during one of its most popular stories before the direct market experiment. The story was The Great Darkness Saga, Giffen and writer Paul Levitz great epic that incorporated Jack Kirby’s New Gods into the Legion mythos. DC gave Giffen the keys to Legion of Super-Heroes hoping he could clean up the mess that DC’s own editorial team couldn’t.
Giffen took a cue from a 3 part story involving Superman and the Legion, which was the first post-Crisis attempt to fix Superboy conundrum. A big part of the Legion’s history involves them being able to time travel. So the solution was to say that every time the Legion went back in time to hang out with Superboy, they were in fact visiting a pocket dimension created by their nemesis The Time Trapper. It turns out The Time Trapper, who controls all time past, present and future, had manipulated the time stream to actually CREATE the Legion, because without the Legion their Arch-Nemesis Mordru would have ended up as ruler of the 30th century.
This brings us to the problem of Mon-El. Mon-El was introduced in 1961 in a Superboy story where a rocket from Krypton crashed near Smallville. Of course Superboy investigates and finds someone inside the rocket complete with a note from Jor-El. The traveller was roughly Superboy’s age, so in one of those leaps of logic that only seems to happen in DC Comics during the Silver Age, Superboy assumes this is his long lost brother. We also discover that Superboy wasn’t the most outside the box thinker, as he decides to name his new “Brother” Mon-El because he is of the house of El and Superboy found him on a Monday.
The story unfolds and it turns out that Mon-El is not Superboy’s brother, but rather an explorer from Krypton’s sister planet Daxam named Lar Gand. The problem is that even though both planets were under the red sun of Rao and give both Kryptonians and Daxamites the same powers, Daxamites do not share Kryptonians vulnerability to Kryptonite. Instead their weakness is lead. Needless to say, Earth is not the place for Mon-El. Dying from lead poisoning, Mon-El regains his full memory and reveals that it was Jor-El who gave him a map to get to Earth but the rocket he was in was damaged as Krypton exploded. Superboy doesn’t have time to whip up a cure for lead poisoning , so instead he has an alternate plan to save Mon-El’s life… Banish him to The Phantom Zone until he can devise a cure.
Now Superboy doesn’t have time to devise a cure for lead poisoning, so he eventually lets the Legion know that Mon-El is in the Phantom Zone and to use his Phantom Zone generator in the Legion’s club house to set him free. Thus Mon-El ends up in the 30th century, gets a cure for lead poisoning and becomes a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. All is well right?
Hold on there true believers, Mon-El was a pre-Crisis creation and should have no bearing on the post-Crisis DC Universe. Hence the pocket dimension idea coupled with the Time Trapper comes into play. Add to this right before the core Legion book got cancelled, Mon-El had actually died during a major story arc. Once again, enter Keith Giffen.
Giffen had restarted the Legion with a new series set 5 years after the end of the previous series. The Legion has disbanded, the Earth is secretly under the control of the alien Dominators and the Universe is on the edge of economic collapse not to mention war with Mordru and the alien Khunds. So what does Keith Giffen do?
Bring back Mon-El. See since Mon-El, and his origin, was part of the pocket universe, he can be directly manipulated by The Time Trapper. It is in Volume 4 issue 4 of Legion of Super-Heroes that Mon-El returns and confronts the Time Trapper once and for all. After beating the Time Trapper within an inch of his life, the Time Trapper points out that Mon-El cannot kill him, because doing so means that not only would Mon-El never exist but the pocket universe would never have existed either. No pocket universe means no Superboy and no Superboy means The Legion never exists and Mordru rules all.
Mon-El has 2 choices, let The Time Trapper live so the Legion can carry on under his manipulation or kill The Time Trapper and let the time stream reboot itself to what it should be. Knowing it is an ultimate no-win situation, Mon-El chooses to live free and be no man’s slave, no matter the consequences.
So why is this The 7th Greatest Moment In Comics?
It was the first logical story someone tried to tell that really attempted to clean-up the mess leftover from Crisis On Infinite Earths. Keith Giffen (along with Tom and Mary Bierbaum) really tried to fix the mistakes of rebooting Superman’s backstory. The Legion of Super-Heroes was one of those little problems that ended up being a big problem. Remember that this was attempt number 2 to fix the Superman/Legion problem, which means the first attempt failed miserably and in the process finally killed the Golden age/Silver Age version of Superboy (which would be my #8 moment by the way). Sure, it took only a few years and crappy mega-event or 2 to undo all the good work Giffen did to try and fix the issue of the Legion of Super-Heroes even existing. It doesn’t change the fact that no one did it as successfully or as sensically as Giffen did.
God, continuity fixes that make sense?
A story that draws on a comic company’s rich storied past to tell a great overall tale?
A satisfying end and simultaneous rebirth to a long loved franchise in comics?
Hard to believe we are talking about DC Comics isn’t it?
20 Years later and DC is still trying to fix the Legion of Super-Heroes. I really hope after all this “Relaunch” nonsense we can get back to what he Legion was shaping to be, one of the BEST comics on the main DC roster. Maybe DC should look to the past for inspiration and just have Keith Giffen run the show again. It can only mean great story telling and in the end, that is what the Legion of Super-Heroes has always thrived on.
Until Next Time, I’ll leave you with a proper send off for this article…