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How the Legion was Saved

by Brad Parnell

There has been much written about the Legion of Super Heroes in many fan publications and in the various indexes and archives. Most of it concerns the creation and background of the Legion, its creators and popularity during the early years. There has also been a great deal written about the later years that brought much confusion to old and new readers alike. But there hasn't been enough due paid to the early seventies, or Cockrum-era of the Legion. So that will be the focus of my article.

My first encounter with the LSH was in an old Adventure comic from the 60's (the death of Ferro Lad) given to me by my older brother. I wasn't a fan from the start but remembered the characters a short while later when I picked up a new issue in the store.

But something was very different. Now the Legion were in Superboy instead of Adventure and the artwork was dramatically different. The style was modern and grabbed me by the throat. The new artist on the book was a relative unknown named Dave Cockrum. At the time he arrived sales were sagging. The series had lost a lot of its luster when Curt Swan and George Klein were no longer the artists. Soon after, Jim Shooter, the young fan turned writer who gave the book so much depth and character, left to go to college. They had already dropped out of Adventure and were then dropped as Superman's backup in Action and were now the backup in Superboy. The once great fan base had begun to shrink. Something big needed to happen and it did.

Dave's art began a stir within the fan base and the editors as always listened. After all, the fans helped to create many of the concepts and characters over the years.

The new costumes!

They allowed Dave to redesign the Legion's costumes, some of which had remained unchanged since the late 50's and were badly out of touch with the early 70s. Although Shooter had changed the characters' dialogue and attitudes with the times, the overall look had remained bland. Dave's style gave the series a dynamic look and feel that was lacking. When the Legionnaires were flying in the past, they seemed stiff. Dave's Legionnaires flew with style in dramatic poses. Before Dave, the space ships were chunky and looked as if they could never get off the ground. Cockrum made space ships that were streamlined and smooth and shiny. You believed they were the fastest ships in the galaxy. The monsters before had seemed uninspiring (with a few exceptions) and even somewhat comical. Now they were bold, scary and menacing. His special effects were eye-popping. You knew you were reading a science-fiction book when you saw his work. You couldn't wait to see what new creature, villain, or costume was going be waiting in the next issue. This ignited the fan-base into a new growth period where many old fans, tired of the last couple of years had come back to the fold and of course many new fans were joining in to see what was going on.

You could make a decent argument that Mr. Cockrum single-handedly saved the LSH from certain doom. They were going nowhere fast and then became a big seller again. Not long after Dave resuscitated the Legion, they were appearing more prominently in the company's promotional pieces again. At that time DC had it's own fanzine called the Amazing World of DC Comics. Its all-Legion issue (#9 I think) was a quick sell-out and remains extremely hard to find to this day (I know I would love to get a copy!) The characters were even used in merchandising, such as T-shirts and the 7-11 Slurpee cups. The Legion's star shone brightly again and had a wonderful future ahead of them. Sadly, Dave would not be around long on the trip he had started.

For as much as Cockrum's career with the Legion was important, it was very short-lived. I was fortunate enough to meet Dave at a couple of model shows here locally and was able to get the story of his departure straight from the source. He explained that it all came down to one problem between he and the editor (Mort Weisinger, I believe).

The Wedding of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel

It was all over one piece of artwork. In those days the company kept all the artwork and never returned any to the artist as policy. Dave wanted back his double page spread of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel's wedding, an incredibly nice piece that featured dozens of characters (including J'Onn J'Onzz and Tars Tarkas of Barsoom) and a fantastic background set on Mars. You would think that for such a piece of art and such a popular and important artist, an exception could have been made. However, policy is policy and in those days that's just how it was. Dave thought it important enough that he quit the book and leave DC all together. A huge blow to Legion fans everywhere had occurred.

Fortunately for X-Men fans, Dave took a book with even less of a pulse than the LSH had had and turned it around in a similar fashion. Fortunately for LSH fans DC had Mike Grell there to carry on the spirit that Dave had begun. They had one of the best transitions I can remember of an art team in comics. In Superboy #202, the main story was penciled by Cockrum and inked by Grell. Dave's last piece was a story in the back that featured a new creation, the Devil Fish, another remarkable creation, and was one of his finest pieces of work. Superboy #203 was Mike Grell's first full story and rarely has an artist done such a remarkable job capturing the spirit of his predecessor while not compromising his own unique style. It didn't hurt that Grell was a terrific designer either.

Dave Cockrum went on to have a terrific career in comics. Should there be a comic's artist hall of fame, Dave would be inducted. He also was a huge inspiration to me and part of the reason why I wanted to be a comic book artist. Though I never went into that field professionally I do make a living as an artist. Although I no longer read comics as a hobby, I still look back fondly at the time when I was a young lad reading the Legion as some of the best comic work of all time. The Legion and all its fandom owe a great deal to Dave Cockrum.

 
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