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The Leisure of
Super-Heroes

by Chaim Mattis Keller

Most super-heroes have lives outside of their super-heroic "jobs." Even those whose identity is public usually spend some time as themselves, letting their hair down and blending into the crowd. Even Jack Knight, for instance, holds a job as "Jack Knight" even though he's known to be Starman.

But what about the true full-time super-heroes? There aren't many of them in the twentieth century…Booster Gold and Guy Gardner are probably the biggest examples. But the entire Legion of Super-Heroes fits that category. In the thirtieth century, almost all identities are public.

Before the Zero Hour reboot of the Legion, the team started out as not so much a group of crusaders for justice, but a club for kids with super-powers. While they definitely felt a sense of responsibility to use their powers for the greater good, in the earliest appearances, it definitely seemed as if the primary purpose of the Legion was for super-powered teenagers to have a peer group to hang around with. It was within this context that the three original Legionnaires invited Superboy to join their "super-hero club" and, in fact, the original Legion headquarters was labeled a "clubhouse." Even though they were apparently full-time super-heroes, they found time to go exploring on different planets or to down a sundae at the Nine Planets Ice Cream Shoppe. So in a way, this was what the kids did in their "personal lives"…the automatic assumption was that, like other kids (and like Superboy), they went to school normally and only this, their "after-hours activities," made them distinctive. Even when the group got its own regular strip in Adventure Comics and its super-heroic activities became more prominent, we still got to see scenes of the Legionnaires dating (most often one another, but occasionally an outsider…more on the romances below) at holo-films and space-carnivals on several occasions, and, in one prominent scene, we saw the Legionnaires making full use of their Rec Room…playing Spaceopoly, dancing the Shurg, and using a computer to pair up Legionnaires for maximum fun…kissing one another. In fact, in that very story, one of the most important Legion events happens during a member's downtime. It is in that story (Adventure Comics # 342) that Star Boy, visiting his parents, kills a man in self-defense, leading to his temporary expulsion from the Legion.

With the arrival of Jim Shooter as the feature's new writer (Adventure Comics # 346), the Legion began facing greater threats such as the Khunds, Universo, the Sun-Eater, Mordru, the Dark Circle and the Fatal Five, and the old "club" mentality gave way to their becoming something of a 30th-century Justice League. This paradigm shift led to a redefinition of the Legionnaires' lives: now, it seemed their primary occupation was super-heroics, and their spare time was what they spent doing anything else. In a few places, we got to see the Legionnaires in street clothes or with their parents, but it was rare…one of those times, the Legion was disbanded! The best rare glimpse of a Legionnaire's personal life during this period was when we met Matter-Eater Lad's family…an alcoholic, gambling father and a submissive mother, whose constant bickering drove Matter-Eater Lad to take his Legion stipend check, normally used for the family's finances, and treat teammate Shrinking Violet to an elegant night on the town (Action Comics # 381).

From that time, until the arrival of the Paul Levitz-Keith Giffen glory days in the 80's, the amount of Legion down-time only went downward. Almost every scene dealt with Legion super-heroic activity. Personal lives were limited to interaction within the group. But what interaction! Almost every member had a boyfriend or girlfriend, and with a few exceptions, it was another Legionnaire. Most of these pairs were well-established since before this period. Lightning Lad's and Saturn Girl's romance and Brainiac 5's and Supergirl's were almost as old as the Legion itself, the Ultra Boy-Phantom Girl, Star Boy-Dream Girl and Timber Wolf-Light Lass relationships predated the Shooter era, and Jim Shooter filled out the roster with relationships between Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel, Karate Kid and Princess Projectra, Shadow Lass and Mon-El, and Cosmic Boy and Substitute Legionnaire Night Girl. Only the Wildfire-Dawnstar romance was new…and both of them were new characters. But during this period, two of those pairs (Bouncing Boy-Duo Damsel and Lightning Lad-Saturn Girl) got married, and a few back-up stories showed us what married life for a pair of retired Legionnaires was like. It was also during this time period that Karate Kid went back to the twentieth century in his own series to prove his worthiness to marry Princess Projectra. On the one hand, you could say that he had no personal life in that series (he had no job, his whole purpose was to act as a super-hero), you could also say that this represented "free time" in relation to his normal Legion activities.

In 1982, Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen took over the Legion book and, by moving the personal lives of the Legionnaires forward, they brought the Legion to prominence. Under their watch, the first Legion children were born…and we saw Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl retire to raise them on Lightning Lad's home planet, Winath. We readers saw Legionnaires attending the first child's christening, and they attended yet another Legionnaire wedding (although two years later that marriage would come to a tragic end.) We saw some long-standing Legion couples grow apart and break up (Timber Wolf-Light Lass, Dream Girl-Star Boy, Shrinking Violet-Lallorian Hero Duplicate Boy) and we also witnessed the first ever marriage of a Legionnaire to a non-Legionnaire (Colossal Boy and Year), as well as the introduction to the cast of several non-Legionnaires whose Legion relationships had romantic overtones (Gigi Cusimano with Sun Boy), or outright romances (Shvaughn Erin with Element Lad). In several very memorable issues, we saw Legionnaires go home to deal with personal issues on their home planets. And on top of that, the Legion's rec room came into greater prominence once again. Around headquarters, it became common to see Star Boy in a heated game of Dungeons and Dragons (a holographic version, naturally), Polar Boy playing Trivial Pursuit with Tellus, or Brainiac 5 playing chess with himself (you expected anyone else could play with him?). A trip to the Legion gym also became as much for exercising a Legionnaire's social muscles as for his or her physical ones. Delighting in the richness of thirtieth-century diversity, Levitz also made a point of having every non-destroyed home planet of a Legionnaire visited at least once. The character-driven writing explored every aspect of Legionnaires' personal lives, both within the Legion and without.

The era that followed was considerably different. It was five years later, and the Legion was disbanded. While the plots of the first few years involved the re-assembly of the Legion and the winning back of Earth from the control of the alien Dominators, one thing hadn't changed: the focus on the character's personal lives. In fact, with no Legion officially in existence, the personal lives were all there was. It was fascinating to see what the new writers, Keith Giffen and Tom and Mary Bierbaum, extrapolated from the former Legionnaires' prior existences into a post-Legion career. The former Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lass came from a planet where all the inhabited regions were in a temperate climate zone…probably this was a world made for agriculture. So the three of them were running a plantation. Sun Boy came from a rich background and always had an eye for the finer things of life, and he was also a native of Earth. So it seemed natural that he'd see the government of Earth as a benevolent force and that he'd work for it in exchange for a life of luxury. Ultra Boy came from the rough-and-tumble world of Rimbor and there were hints of gang involvement in his past. So he became a smuggler…fighting for freedom against a government-run cartel. Cosmic Boy's and Shrinking Violet's worlds were known to be in odd financial circumstances, one possessing only mineral wealth but whose residents were perpetually poor, and one extremely dependent on the rights to hunt certain space-animals, to the point that hunting territory was often considered a possible reason for secession from the United Planets. So it made sense that these two planets might be the type to go to war. And the Legionnaires themselves were drafted into their planets' armies. Element Lad, very much the loner, and the sole survivor of his race, became a wanderer on his home planet. The strong, silent Invisible Kid became a resistance leader on embattled Earth. And so on. In this era of the Legion, the super-heroics faded to the background, and the personal lives fully took center stage.

This changed with the defeat of the Dominators and the liberation of Earth. Keith Giffen left the books, and there was very little personal exploration (with the exception of a bit about Mysa Nal, the former White Witch), and the "personal time" focus was on the younger set of Legionnaires…the most immediate forerunners to today's post-Zero Hour Legion.

Today's Legion has returned the characters to their adolescence. But unlike the early days of the Legion, the Legion of Super-Heroes is not a social club, but is instead a law-enforcement agency, first and foremost. But the Legionnaires enjoy all the things that the average teenager does: dancing, sports, walks on the beach, shopping…and, of course, stopping Mordru from conquering the universe. These days, the occasional "downtime" issue is interspersed amongst the action issues, but plenty of characterization and interaction tend to be present at all times. Most of the old romances are back, including marriage between Ultra Boy and Apparition (the rebooted version of Phantom Girl). And there are plenty of opportunities for visits to home planets…thus mixing together the personal-lives priorities of most past Legion eras all at once.

All characters are ™ DC Comics
This column is © 1999 by Chaim Mattis Keller.
All artwork is © 1999 by their respective artists.

All scanned artwork is ™ and © DC Comics

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Letters Editor Chaim Mattis Keller, aka Legion-Reference-File Lad, is a computer programmer who lives in New York City with his wife and four children.