(Photo by DC Comics)
Fans of DC Comics’ futuristic super-team the Legion of Superheroes are some of the most devoted fans in comics. The team bounced around as a back-up strip in titles like Adventure Comics, Action Comics, and Superboy for years before getting the lead in Adventure and, later, taking over Superboy’s long-running title; eventually becoming Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes before dropping “Superboy” entirely from the trade dress.
Over the course of that time and for another 15 years, the Legion grew up almost in real time with its audience. Starting as teens in the 1960s, they were adults with children, marital discord, and plenty of regrets by the early 1990s. Through it all, the fans followed their travails, format changes, and even reboots as DC restarted the entire concept in 1994. Then again 10 years later in what is colloquially known as the “Threeboot.” Another version, mainly inspired by the original, debuted in 2007. There may even be another reboot for the team on the horizon in the next year or so.
Legion fans put up with a lot of alterations to their favorite characters. And as far as their appearances on Supergirl so far, they’re not the team fans love. But they could grow into something as valid as the Threeboot. With that in mind, here are five things the show has done right with the Legion — so far — and, for fairness sake, two things they could not be more wrong about.
A Legion Flight Ring is the piece of kit which identifies a young hero as a member of the Legion. They first appeared in 1965 — or, rather, 2965 — thanks to Brainiac 5’s ingenuity. Prior to that, the team used Flying Belts that limited their mobility. In fact, the Flight Ring tech seen on Supergirl appears to resemble the belts more than full-fledged abilities of the a proper Flight Ring. During the fight against Reign (Odette Annable) in episode 10, “Legion of Superheroes,” both Mon-El (Chris Wood) and Imra (Amy Jackson) appeared to hover more than fly. The team faced a similar issue in the 1995-2004 era when the rings were initially created by Brainy. Eventually, they needed a tweak from Invisible Kid to really give the Legionnaires flight. Maybe Winn (Jeremy Jordan) will serve in that capacity as his knowledge of 21st-century technology already bested Brainy’s (Jesse Rath) 12th-level intelligence in one instance.
Though it took the Legion logo some time to evolve, its current manifestation coalesced around 1993 and has stayed constant even as the various Legion series hit the reset button. The size and position of the starburst over the “L” varies based on the artist drawing it, but the design is otherwise unchanged.
On Supergirl, the logo appears in the frosted glass partitions on the command deck of the team’s advanced starship. As glimpsed in a handful of scenes, the starburst is enormous, but it will still give a Legion fan a thrill to see the logo given such attention and craft.
And speaking of logos, the individual Legionnaires have their own personal logos for identification purposes in the Legion’s computer and tracking system. Brainy’s is the three-dot motif seen embossed on his shirt. Imra’s is typically a stylized representation of Saturn, but the icon on her Supergirl outfit features more rings. When Mon-El was forced to bring her out of stasis, a number of other personal logos appeared onscreen, suggesting the other Legionnaires still in stasis may include the element manipulator Jan Arrah. A few fans hope Tenzil Kem — a.k.a. Matter-Eater Lad — is also aboard the ship.
(Photo by DC Comics)
As explained by Mon-El and Imra in episode 10, the Legion went to the distant past to stop something known as The Blight. According to Mon-El, the secret to defeating the scourge was found in prehistoric time and is encoded in the DNA of the five Legionnaires aboard the starship. But because their craft lacks the ability to jump back to their present instantaneously, the team expected to sleep though all of human history until the 31st Century. Unfortunately, a sub-launched missile altered that plan.
Mon-El’s story is copied almost entirely from the 1999–2000 Legion of Superheroes tale “Legion of the Damned,” in which an extra-galactic menace known as the Blight took control of key Legion members and used them to conquer whole swathes of the United Planets, including Earth. In finally overthrowing the Blight, a number of Legionnaires were lost in space and risked everything to make it home. Getting stuck 1,000 years before their time was also the topic of 1999’s “Team 20th” crossover with Superman and a subsequent 2011 series called Legion Lost.
It remains to be seen if Mon-El and Imra are telling the whole truth or if Supergirl will be needed to help defeat The Blight. Despite some similarities to Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Borg, they are worthy Legion enemies made all the more frightening by the way they use loved ones against their enemies. And one can easily imagine Kara (Melissa Benoist) struggling to fight a Blight-infected Mon-El or Alex (Chyler Leigh).
If there is one constant in the various interpretations of the Legion — which also includes a cartoon series, Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes, and their handful of appearances on Smallville — it is the inability of Brainiac 5 to understand the social niceties of humans. As a member of the Legion, Brainy’s curt and exasperated manner is tolerated because of his great intellect and because he occasionally manifests an emotional intelligence that proves his loyalty to the team. Not that this ever really stops him from decrying the lack of proper peers, equipment, or the need for someone to comprehend his ideas as quickly as he can think them up.
On Supergirl, we’ve seen Rath’s version of Brainy display a surprising amount of empathy while dealing with the comatose Kara during episode 10, but his true irascible self appeared in episode 11 when introduced to Winn and the DEO command center. His dismissive comment that he has “seen espresso machines with more computing power” was a prime Brainy remark.
But that air of superiority and arrogance can and does get him into trouble, as seen later in the episode when his sarcastic “message in a bottle” quip leads Winn into out-thinking him and finding a way to contact Supergirl. In fact, that pride-before-a-fall turn for Brainy might be the most faithful element of the character seen on the series so far.
(Photo by DC Comics)
Before the winter break, Mon-El and Imra eluded to some of the Legion’s expansive history with the most pertinent part of the teams origin: They were inspired by Mon-El’s stories of Supergirl’s strength and bravery.
That idea has been at the heart of the Legion since their debut story in the pages of February 1958’s Adventure Comics #247. In that tale, Imra, Cosmic Boy, and Lightning Lad come back in time to see if Superboy is worthy to join their superhero club. And while it seems that they all outclass him, it was all a ruse to celebrate his accomplishments and reveal his exploits as both Superboy and Superman would live on as legend into the 30th century. They also offered him membership, leading to decades of stories.
Curiously, Mon-El took Superboy’s place as the Legion’s inspiration when Superman’s adventures as a boy were removed from DC’s main story continuity in 1985. In that version of the legend, he helped human colonists settle each of the key United Planets worlds before ending up exiled in the Phantom Zone for a 1,000 years. Now, on Supergirl, it is only fitting to see Mon-El still inspire the team, but by framing Kara as the ultimate example of what a hero can do.
Though Jesse Rath has made fun of the change on his Twitter account, the tone of Brainy’s skin has to be one of the biggest things the show gets wrong — well, at least for a longtime Legion fan. Based on the original depiction of Superman villain Brainiac, his thousand-years-later descendant has always been depicted with the green skin of a Coluan and blonde hair.
His look on the show, which seems more like an Andorian from Star Trek, came as a shock to many fans when pictures first surfaced late in December. Rath eventually said the color was more turquoise than blue. Which may be true on set, but once color corrected in post-production, the effect lacks for any green content whatsoever. The actor also suggested fans may be experiencing their own version of the “What Color is This Dress?” meme.
— Jesse Rath (@jesserath) January 6, 2018
And to be fair to Supergirl and its own continuity, the darker green hue is reserved for Green Martians. It also established Brainy’s descendant Indigo (aka Brainiac 8) in the first season as very blue Laura Vandervoort. Also, green skin tone is hard to pull off on film and television, with Guardians of the Galaxy’s Gamora (Zoe Saldana) being a notable exception.
Nonetheless, it still tough to accept this seemingly minor change to Brainiac 5. Rath, for his part, also said the makeup will continue to change as the season continues. This is definitely true in episode 11. The application of the three illuminated dots on his forehead and the white wig were markedly improved over the character’s first appearance a week ago. Maybe they’ll figure out how to make him properly green by the end of the season.
Though Amy Jackson plays a character named Imra Ardeen, the purple accents in her uniform and the nature of her powers suggest she’s really an amalgam of the comic book Imra and fellow Legion founder Cosmic Boy. In the comics, Imra is a powerful telepath. Cosmic Boy, meanwhile, has an innate ability to control metal. He also likes to wear magenta-colored outfits and predates the first appearance of Magneto by five years.
On Supergirl, Imra appears to have some sort of telekinetic power. But, so far, she has only used it to manipulate metal. A curious change to the character Legion fans will notice immediately. Some would even suggest the change is a pointed clue at what may be really happening with Mon-El and his team. At the same time, the strange mind-wompy Psi (Yael Grobglas) gave Imra may indicate a change in power is coming her way.
There are a few other things that will make a Legion fan wrinkle his or her nose — the mostly black uniforms, Mon-El and Imra’s marriage, the way they referred to Ayla Ranzz as a “friend” — but these alterations may have some not-yet-revealed story purpose. In fact, Mon-El’s costume will be getting an upgrade soon, as a winter season CW trailer recently unveiled. As with so many characters on Supergirl and its cousins on The CW, the story is really about making the people into the heroes they will become. Perhaps the Legion still has a few lessons to learn before they really become the Legion of Superheroes. And we’ll all cheer when that moment finally arrives.
And when they fix Brainy’s skintone.
Supergirl airs Mondays at 8/7C on The CW.