writer: Mark Waid
artist: Barry Kitson

The Legion of Super-Heroes has seen several incarnations. In its complex history, the title has been started, stopped, revamped, gone edgy and dark, gone pre-L.E.G.I.O.N. (Yeah, you don’t go a more tangled continuity, in the name of pleasing old fans while creating a jump on point for new ones, than going pre-your original self. Hello, Star Trek: Enterprise.) Luckily, you need to know none of that continuity to pick up and enjoy the latest incarnation of The Legion of Super-Heroes.

The title has a simple premise: it takes place 1,000 years from now, during a new age of heroes. After a millennium of utopian peace, there is a security, stability, and order to our united world. (Yes, for all of the Left Behind brand of theology fans, it’s literally a thousand years of peace followed by the return of an evil.) But this newfound peace is at the cost of freedom and individuality (read: it’s boring).

The young are held in suspicion. They are tracked genetically via a system known as the “public service” that also filters what under-agers (those under the age of 18) see and hear. The peace is maintained by a global “science police” and the planet is a member of the “United Planets.” All the while, the society has grown so impersonal that two people in the same room talk to one another via video screen. Okay, maybe it’s not so simple, but it’s easy to get into the swing of things.

One of the daunting tasks about writing the Legion of Super-Heroes is that you have over thirty characters to juggle. Focusing on only the most popular characters misses the point of a book like the Legion (emphasis on Legion) of Super-Heroes. Mark Waid has fleshed out their individual personalities, since with so many characters, many became generic or interchangeable. This changed the team dynamic as not all the members get along, or for that matter, even like each other. We get more of a sense of the alien-ness of the members. He went so far as to re-imagine how some of their powers work.

The members of the Legion look back on the age of heroes (Batman, Superman, etc.) through a romantic lens (since, in the eyes of the law, they were costumed vigilantes). Inspired by them (they even generate their codes of conduct from them), the members retain a lot of the charmingly retro names from earlier incarnations of the Legion, in keeping with their emulation of the old heroes (or as they put it: adjective + gender = names). Ultra Boy. Colossal Boy. Dream Girl. Sun Boy. Star Boy. Light Lass. Phantom Girl. Invisible Kid. And they invite all young people to subscribe to their philosophy of reclaiming their individuality and standing against wrong. Since this is a movement created on the backs of the young, some adults view the Legion as a (super-powered) cult.

The Legion of Super-Heroes for all intents and purposes is a church. The membership is made up of different races, with different gifts, with differing personalities and temperaments, yet they are one body. As a “church,” they struggle with this question: what does it mean to be missional? Often churches are mission-minded; that is, they put on shows or do outreach along the lines of getting the community to go to the church. This idea that the church is an attraction for the world to come see needs to be jettisoned, or at least re-thought, in light of a missional mindset. With a missional mindset, one is concerned more with getting the church to go to the community. To incarnate Christ (and the Bible) puts a new light on how Christians should see themselves, since lives modeled on the Bible may be the only Bible that people may know.

However, even this “church” has to deal with fragmented ideology that needs to be integrated, as different members pursue their own agenda and competing visions. In other words, their gospel message, their uniting vision, needs to be re-thought and figured out.

Boiled down, the gospel is about re-learning what it means to be free and fully human. To enjoy community, acceptance, while reviving the concepts of socialization and interaction. To be transformed and in so doing be a part of a generational revolution that frees people from being prisoners to the bondage of society, and the tyranny of their selfish ways. And as they grow, they realize that there is a lot to learn from history and tradition that has been forsaken in the name of expediency and progress. In so doing, they are swept up into a greater mission: to be a blessing to the world. Even the galaxy.

This book hasn’t forgotten its sense of fun, a fun not seen since the Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen—even the Jim Shooter—era of the book. Yes, it is a book featuring kids coming together in defiance of adults, emulating the vigilantes and highly individualistic “cowboy” super-heroes of the past—basically, rebelling against a society that controls every aspect of their life. Yes, those themes have a particular appeal to a new generation of readers. However, they leave room for the “older” generation of fans to enjoy this run also.