Out of the Vault – Superboy Starring the Legion of Super-Heroes

So last week, we talked about a reprint book DC tried in the mid-70’s featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes. But why did they try to cash in with some cheap Legion reprints?

Because Superboy, which featured revolving back-up features including Dial H For Hero reprints and new stories of Superbaby, had been getting fan raves for their new tales of the Legion, written by Cary Bates and drawn by Murphy Anderson and rising star Dave Cockrum.

Yep, before he redefined Marvel’s X-Men, he did the same with another teen team, the Legion of Super-Heroes, starting with Superboy #184 (which he actually inked over Murphy Anderson’s pencils).

By issue #190, Cockrum was pencilling with Anderson inking, and by #193 (published the same month as the first issue of the Legion reprint book discussed last week), he was pencilling and inking and designing new costumes, like the ones here for Chameleon Kid, Shrinking Violet and Karate Kid.

It’s hard to overstate just how revolutionary Cockrum’s art was. The naturalistic poses, the dense details, the beautifully varied textures (people often forget just how good an inker Cockrum was), all immediately grabbed your attention. And even moreso applied to the Legion of Super-Heroes, who had been some of the most stiffly drawn, boringly designed characters ever.

And keep in mind that the Legion didn’t back up in every issue. So from the time Cockrum’s inks first appeared in issue #184 to the month that DC rushed its Legion of Super-Heroes reprint book onto the stands, there were only four Legion back-ups published. That’s how much heat he generated.

But the reaction to the reprint book was not happy. The readers who had been clamoring for a Legion title wanted it to be the new Legion, Cockrum’s legion. So after four issues, the reprint title was cancelled, and then DC did something unexpected: they gave the fans what they wanted.

Starting with issue #197, pictured above, the title of Superboy’s book became Superboy Starring the Legion of Super-Heroes. The stories of Clark Kent’s teen years in Smallville were discontinued (with the exception of one inventory story that was used as a back-up that first month) and the book became all Legion.

And now, just because I can, a few more examples of why we all suddenly loved the Legion.

Cockrum took interesting chances with layouts and graphic effects. Nobody else at DC was doing stuff this daring.

His designs just exploded off the page. For spaceships, rather than draw the same boring Flash Gordon-esque ships everybody else was doing, he took designs similar to the Starship Enterprise, flattened them out and made them look even sleeker and more futuristic.

Or check out these futuristic weapons from issue #199…

Holy crap, ten-year-old me nearly wet my pants with joy when I saw that incredible cannon strapped to Star Boy’s torso. Not to mention Star Boy’s awesomely redesigned costume.

And speaking of costumes, Dave loved to redesign the women’s costumes. And like the spaceships, he seemed to take inspiration from the sexy costumes designed by Bill Theiss for Star Trek (the original series) and then just amp them up a little. And Cockrum loved to draw sexy women, as in this back-up story featuring Dream Girl, which gave him an excuse to draw almost an entire story with her in her skimpy nightgown.

But he also drew kick-ass action, with liberal application of Kirby dots, like in this climactic battle scene from issue #201, with ERG-1 (soon to be renamed Wildfire) battling the android Molecular Master.

Alas, it ended all too soon. Issue #202, the sixth full issue featuring the Legion and only Cockrum’s twelfth Legion story, was inked by newcomer Mike Grell. And starting in issue #203, Grell took over the art completely. Grell did some interesting things with layout and improved quickly, but his stiff figures and narrow lines never appealed to me.

Looking back at the issues now, I still think Cockrum was doing great work, although I have to laugh at villains like Starfinger. Seriously. So in that sense, I’m glad for both our sakes that Cockrum ended up moving to Marvel and doing the new X-Men.

The story doesn’t quite end there, though. In a last twist, Cockrum’s final story on his first X-Men run (in issue #107) featured the X-Men battling the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, who bore a distinct resemblance, both in costumes and powers, to the Legion, which was a welcome return for a Legion fan like myself.

But the story doesn’t end there, either. I just remembered, there was a final, final twist. We all know that John Byrne ended up replacing Cockrum on X-Men and taking the book to new heights of glory.  But what few people remember is that there was a fill-in issue, basically an inventory story, that ran in issue #106, while Cockrum was working on the massively complex battle in issue #107. And #106 was pencilled by Bob Brown, who had lost his job on Superboy when Cockrum’s Legion took over the title.

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One Response to Out of the Vault – Superboy Starring the Legion of Super-Heroes

  1. Pingback: Out of the Vault – X-Men #77 & 96 | Hero Go Home

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