We Need the Legion of Super-Heroes Now More than Ever

This week is Legion Week on The Fifth World, with articles all week on those 31st Century heroes.  Today, JL Franke gives a case for why the team needs to make its return.

Checkmate Lad in action.
When Otto Binder and Al Plastino created the Legion in 1958, the world did not resemble a utopia.  The Cold War was in full bloom.  The United States was still healing from the damages of McCarthyism.  US Marines landed in Lebanon to protect the government from overthrow.  Great Britain sent warships into waters claimed by Iceland in a fishing standoff.  And people were worried enough about the specter of nuclear war due to widespread bomb testing that the peace symbol we all recognize today was invented in protest.

But it also wasn't a particularly bad year, either, and showed promise for the future.  NASA was founded.  The Lego was invented.  The practice of female genital mutilation was finally ended in the United States.  Jim Henson founded a company of his own and set out to change entertainment.  And a teenager with the powers of super-chess, Bobby Fischer, won the US Championship.  In the midst of the dark events around them, humanity had reason to hope, even if not every hope came to fruition. 

And most leaders turned out pretty well.
The Legion, with its vision of a united Earth that was part of a United Planets and protected by teenagers with incredible powers who used them wisely, was a nice reflection of that.  The UP respected and depended on the team, and the team relied on each other.  They respected each other enough to trust their very leadership to a vote of their members (or, eventually in reality, to the readers).  The Legion lived in a universe not without its obvious problems, but addressed those problems often head-on in order to make a bright future even brighter.

Dystopia as a concept and a science fiction genre had already existed long before 1958, but was still at the time used sparsely.  The seeds are there, especially thanks to the start of Phillip K. Dick's career, but dystopia as a subgenre didn't really hit its stride until the 1960s, perhaps reflecting the unease of the times.  Looking through the top science fiction books of 1958, one still finds the list filled with high adventure, encounters between mankind and alien races, and humans navigating a dangerous universe together.

Why do dystopias always have the worst fashion?
That has certainly changed.  Dystopian futures frequently populate modern science fiction, in particular in works aimed at young adults, where dystopian young adult fiction has essentially become a subgenre itself, driven by writers wishing to produce the next Hunger Games, the next Maze Runner, or the next Divergence.

It's a little unclear to me if the popularity of these works reflect the views of its readers or if the mounting tide of ugly worlds invading every library and movie theater has impacted the views of the consumers.  Perhaps it's a little of each.  In any event, we live in a world that is much changed from those halcyon days.  Across the Western world, countries find themselves highly divided and trending toward more and more divisive political wars being waged by sides that are becoming more and more radical in their views.  Nationalism, populism, and counter-multiculturalism are on the rise.  Our online world has been an easy conduit to manipulate our real lives, and it's been done both for purpose or just to sow chaos.  Surprisingly, young adults are beginning to turn away from democracy with a hope that strongmen and dictators might reverse what they see as the slide of their civilization.  We seem to be hellbent on creating our own dystopia, possibly as a fix for our ills, possibly to give us something concrete to fight instead of this general feeling of unease.

A group rejecting divisiveness.  How refreshing.
The Legion, even at its darkest points, has always avoided tilting into a dystopian view of the universe.  The threeboot Legion, with its army of teenagers rebelling against government restrictions and shouting "Eat it, Grandpa!" into the ether, came the closest but still worked within the system where possible to change it from within and always projected a belief in affecting that change.  The world was not something to be afraid of and/or overthrow, it was something to celebrate while improving upon it.  And there was no one better to shape the future than those who would grow to inherit it.   

There is a possibility that such a view aided in the demise of the team's last title or two, but I think times likes this are exactly when a reminder that the future is what we make of it is important.  We need to read about a world where entire planets have joined together in common purpose.  We need to experience the joys of invention that has produced flight rings, telepathic ear plugs, transparent space suits, stellar cruisers, and stargates.  We need to see a world of heroes.  We need to remember our purpose in navigating the troubles of today is to get to a promise of tomorrow.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "When it is dark enough, you can see the stars."

Prominent Parkland voice Emma Gonzalez
photo by Nicole Raucheisen/Naples Daily News
As I type this, teenagers across America, inspired by a brave few from Florida who survived their own brush with the dangers this part of our history presents, are planning to raise their collective voices to try to effect change of their own.  They are taking ownership of their future, and are pushing to make one step closer to the world they want to live in.  It gives me some hope for the future, seeing the young take action.  Perhaps they should be issued flight rings.

Now is the right time to bring back the Legion of Super-Heroes.  The fact that it's their 60th anniversary doesn't hurt, but by far the most important reason is the need for a non-dystopian future for us (and, in particular, our young) to embrace.  It's dark enough.  We need the stars.

JL Franke is a fan of both hard science fiction and hard fantasy.  He has been collecting comics for over 40 years and has been an on-and-off active member of online fandom for 25.  Those interested can find other writings at his personal blog, NerdlyManor.com.  When not geeking out, you may find him at a baseball park or cheering on his favorite college and pro football teams.  In his spare time, he is chief scientist for a research and development laboratory somewhere in the Washington, DC greater metropolitan area.

We Need the Legion of Super-Heroes Now More than Ever We Need the Legion of Super-Heroes Now More than Ever Reviewed by JL Franke on Tuesday, March 13, 2018 Rating: 5
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