Written by Musgo Del Jefe
As a young Musgo, my super-hero teams of choice were the Avengers, the Justice League (both the Of America and the International variety) and the occasional Teen Titan adventure. On TV there was no competition, it was the Superfriends and all of their incarnations. The Legion Of Super Heroes were one of the strange teams. They had a long history, having been around since 1958, but I didn't know any other kids who read the comics nor could I identify any member of the group that wasn't Superboy. Their stories took place 1000 years from current time and they seemed to have an inexhaustible roster of characters to choose from. The animated version of Legion Of Super Heroes debuted in 2006 on the CW network. Today, the super-hero team must compete on TV against Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans, and even their own appearances in live-action form on Smallville.
My introduction to the animated world of Legion Of Super Heroes is in the Volume 3 DVD which contains the final five episodes of the First Season of the show. The core members of the series are "young" Superman (not referred to as Superboy), Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Bouncing Boy (elected leader in the "Chain Of Command" episode on this disc), Triplicate Girl, Brainiac 5, Phantom Girl, and Timber Wolf.
The disc opens with an episode called "The Substitutes" that closely resembles a Teen Titans episode that I recently reviewed. Much like that storyline, a group of heroes that don't make the team are forced to come together as a team while the main team is away on a mission. Just like the Titans story, here the group calls themselves the Legion Of Substitute Heroes and learn that heroes have to work together. Their battle helps solve the mystery of the Legion's main mission. It's a common plot device but it's effective here. The sheer amount of characters is daunting to keep track of and I felt like I needed a scorecard, but the heart was there. The rejected members weren't made to feel bad even if their powers seemed useless - Color Kid can just turn things different colors and yet his power actually finds a creative use in battle.
The remaining four episodes don't hold up as well. "Child's Play" and "Chain Of Command" are perfect comparisons as to why this series doesn't work as well as Titans. In that series, the main characters feel like real teenagers - videogames, pizza, cars, and falling in love. In their stand-alone episodes, they usually explore the motivations and pasts of one of their five main characters. These two Legion episodes lack that characterization aspect. "Child's Play" ultimately is about a spoiled kid with magic powers who hates rules. It doesn't play his powers off against a similar character like Phantom Girl. Instead, the focus remains solely on the villain. The conclusion leaves the viewer feeling empty.
The disc ends with a two-part story called "Sundown" that borrows liberally from different eras of the comic-book history. Unfortunately, it's filled with so many generic cliches that it never catches your imagination. There's the typical "training scenario" at the beginning followed by the villain (Sun Eater) escaping from prison (bleeding through floors much like Alien), becoming an invisible target (looking like Predator) and then attacking our Sun with a army of robots (designed like smaller versions of the Evangelion robots). So many heroes are brought into the story, that it seems just lazy. When a specific power is needed, it's almost like the Legion can just conjure a hero who happens to have exactly that power.
The season ends with young Superman going back to his time and deciding to move to Metropolis and become Superman. Having only seen five of the season's 13 episodes, I can't fully judge this decision, but there is not that life-changing experience in the final line that should lead Clark to make that decision. It could have been there - there's a moment when the team is coming together that a character makes an important sacrifice. But Superman's reaction is to get revenge. It's unclear how that would make him decide it was time to go back to Metropolis and become a hero.
There are no extras on this disc. I can only recommend this for that die-hard fan that has followed the Legion since younger days. The stories are aimed at a younger audience than Teen Titans and just don't have the same heart.