“Yeah, I’ve got some words to describe you.”

“Unless those words are ‘genius’, they’re probably incorrect.”

Legion of Super-Heroes is a 2022 feature film from Warner Brothers Animation. Produced by Jim Krieg and directed by Jeff Wamester off of a story by Josie Campbell, it is based on the DC comic of the same name, which features characters created by writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino in 1958. The film boasts a large ensemble cast, starring Jensen Ackles, Jennifer Hale, Yuri Lowenthal, Meg Donnelly, Darin DePaul, Eric Lopez, Darren Criss, Gideon Adlon, Zeno Robinson, Robbie Daymond, Cynthia Hamidi, Benjamin Diskin, Harry Shrum Jr., Victoria Grace, Ely Henry, and Daisy Lightfoot.

Young Clark Kent, as Superboy was the starring feature in Adventure Comics in ’58, and a group of super-powered peers was conceived for him. The Legion is a team of adventurers from the 31st century who travel back in time in hopes of getting Clark to return with them to the future and join their club. The group proves to be very popular, first replacing the backup feature in Adventure, and then becoming the main draw in Adventure Comics #300, published in 1962.

The team appears alongside Superboy when he is moved to his own book, and again their popularity eclipses his. The title would first be renamed Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes before the Teen of Steel leaves the book in issue #250. Then it would simply be called The Legion of Super-Heroes.

One of the conceits of the Legion is that you have to be eighteen years old or younger (or whatever your planetary equivalent is) to join the team. Originally, the group was known for rather elaborate try-outs, but that method was later supplanted by the Legion Academy, where hopeful applicants could hone their powers and wait for their chance to join the team. The Academy and that process are featured prominently in this film. Another conceit is that each character needs to have at least one unique, distinct superpower, though exceptions are made for those with powers like Clark’s.

In 1959, Binder and Plastino also created Supergirl, who first appeared in Action Comics #252. Seventeen years earlier, Binder had made Mary Marvel as part of a greater Marvel Family to supplement his wildly successful character, Captain Marvel, then being published by Fawcett Comics. DC wanted something similar. Whereas Mary is Captain Marvel’s sister, Kara is Kal-El’s cousin. However, they were both conceived as teen girl sidekicks with the goal of broadening readership and getting girls to buy in. Clad in costumes of very close design, both wore capes, skirts, and shirts emblazoned with the colors of their mentors.

In Supergirl’s original iteration, her father Zor-El had managed to save their home, Argo City from the destruction of Krypton. For a time, the space-bound citizens escaped the dire fate of their surface-stuck kinsmen on Krypton but ultimately they were doomed. The bedrock of Argo City-Satellite was rapidly transforming into Kryptonite, poisoning the populace. Zor-El and Alura come to the same conclusion his brother and sister-in-law had arrived at. There’s only enough time to save Kara. They dress her in an outfit with Superman’s logo on it so he can recognize her and rocket her off to Earth, where she would share many adventures with her more famous cousin.

Due to the vagaries of time travel, Kara is also a member in good standing, first meeting the Legion in 1960 and joining the team formally in Action Comics #276 later in 1961.

As a Legionnaire, she interacts with a much younger version of her mentor. To insure the integrity of their future, Saturn Girl, a Legion founder with incredible telepathic abilities, removes Suprboy’s specific memories of Kara each time he returns to his past because time travel is tricky.

The Legion has a lush and convoluted backstory, with dozens (and dozens) of characters in the roster. While that in and of itself is not off-putting to your typical comic geek, the title has suffered through six major reboots and retcons since the late eighties and some find it hard to dive into. The most recent one began in 2019 by Brian Michael Bendis with artist Ryan Sook contributes many design elements to Warner Brothers’ film.

Many members of the Legion have appeared in live-action over the years, most notably on several episodes of Smallville in 2009 and Supergirl starting in 2015. The Legion of Super-Heroes is WB’s sixth attempt at animating the team and the first time they were given a full-length feature. Different incarnations of the team appeared in the episode, New Kids in Town for Superman: The Animated Series in ’98, and again in the Justice League Unlimited episode, Far From Home, airing in 2006. The Legion anchored their eponymous show for two seasons also in ’06. Members of the team also have prominent roles in Justice League vs. the Fatal Five from 2019 and Young Justice: Phantoms, running between 2021 and ’22.

Supergirl was famously and horribly killed off in Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 in 1985. However, like the Legion, her character has been subject to many rebirths, retcons, and reboots, and is currently being published as part of the vibrant Superman Family of characters.

Helen Slater plays the starring role of Kara in the live-action 1984 Supergirl feature, and Laura Vandervoort portrayed Supergirl on Smallville in 2007. From 2015-2021, Mellissa Benoist would wear the cape for the series, Supergirl, set in the CW’s Arrowverse.

Paul Dini and Bruce Timm brought Kara into the DC Animated Universe in 1998 in Little Girl Lost, a two-part episode of Superman: the Animated Adventures. Nicolle Tom performs Kara through to the last season of Justice League Unlimited in 2006, where she goes off to the future to join the Legion during Far From Home. In 2010’s stand-alone, direct-to-video feature Superman/Batman Apocalypse, Summer Glau takes on the role.

Legion of Super-Heroes is the fifth film in the Tomorrowverse, an animated feature series started with 2020’s Superman: Man of Tomorrow as a clean slate successor to the grimmer DC Universe films based on the New 52 comics that came to a conclusion with Justice League Dark: Apokolips War.

Argo City Administrator Alura (Hale) hasn’t told her daughter Kara (Donnelly) how soon the end will come for the planet Krypton so Kara is stunned when the techno-utopia that is her home is rattled with ever-increasing quakes. After the ruling Science Council rejects her brother Jor-El’s analysis of the problem and his proposed solution, Alura plans for an evacuation protocol of her own but runs out of time. With global devastation beginning and only one pod ready, she rushes Kara inside and launches her Earthward. Debris from the destroyed world knocks the ship askew. Its onboard systems strain mightily to return to true course, leading the pod to arrive long after Kal-El’s escape craft has landed; the teen was told to watch over a baby brother who in the intervening years has grown up and become a Superman.

Clark (Criss) embraces his cousin but she in turn has a hard time embracing life on Earth. From her perspective, human technology is incredibly primitive. She’s unable to integrate with his super friends, most notably Batman (Ackles). He finds Kara’s constant, stubborn urge to impress Superman completely unsatisfactory when paired with her lack of concern over the collateral damage she causes or the civilians she’s supposed to be saving. Batman wants her shot back into space, exiled until she develops more fine control over her vast abilities and shows a modicum of regard for the people she purports to be protecting.

Clark has a better idea. He brings Supergirl his time bubble, a marble-sized device that expands and creates a chronal tunnel in the air. It creates a path to the 31st century and the cousins transition into the far future. Superman explains to her about the Legion of Super-Heroes and takes her to the Legion Academy where she meets several of the students.

She takes an instant liking to Mon-El (Lowenthal) from the planet Daxam, distant cousins of the Kryptonian people who share similar genetics. Mon-El’s powers are equal to hers. Dawnstar (Hamidi), an interstellar tracker from Starhaven takes Kara under her wing and shows her around campus.

Adjoining the campus is the Legion Armory, a robustly guarded vault where the Legion stores the worst weapons from a thousand worlds. Included in their collection is the most dangerous in all of space, the Miracle Machine, a reality-bending doomsday device that can make the very stuff of dreams tangible.

She meets more classmates like Invisible Kid (Robinson), Phantom Girl (Adlon) and Bouncing Boy (Henry) with glee but her joy rolls into rage when introduced to Brainiac 5 (Shum Jr.), an individual from the planet Colu with an unimaginably prodigious 12th-level intellect. She sees him skulking about the armory entrance and a fight breaks out. He reminds Supergirl of the Brainiac from her time period, the cosmic conqueror who tries to murder Kara’s cousin. She is too caught up in the moment to listen to his protestations that he’s not that guy. Her brawl with Brainiac 5 almost gets her expelled before the end of her first day.

Most of the Legion is off on a mission in deep space, leaving a skeleton crew at headquarters and three Legionnaires minding the students. A cascade failure begins to strip several academy systems of their functioning. Headquarters and the campus lose contact with the away team. Not long afterwards, several students go missing. Supergirl suspects something sinister is afoot.  Kara keeps catching glances of someone nefarious lurking in the shadows.

 Can Supergirl catch the saboteur? Can she stop the infiltration? Can Kara suss out the location of her captured classmates? Can she prevent the armory from being breached, its contents cleaned out? Can Supergirl learn some basic life lessons and grow into the great potential Clark sees in her, or will Batman banish her into exile when she returns? Watch Legion of Super-Heroes to find out.

As we’ve established, The Legion of Super-Heroes is a strange book with a strange history. One of the strangest parts of that history is when a 13-year-old boy became the writer and plotter for the first full-length issues. To review: The book began as a backup in Adventure Comics in 1958 and swiftly gained a following, then DC accidentally hired a kid who brought the Legion to even greater heights.

Jim Shooter was that kid, a boy from Pittsburgh who had sent DC editor Mort Weisinger designs for new characters and some plots with breakdowns in 1966. Weisinger was so impressed with the quality of the work and the stories that he wanted to buy them and immediately offered Shooter a gig. They corresponded at first through the mail. Weisinger wanted Shooter to come to New York so they could meet in person. Mort called Jim. After a few moments of conversation, he realized that he was talking to a teenager and asked if Shooter could put his mom on the phone.

Shooter knew how petty and catty teens could be, how raw their emotions are, how clumsy and inarticulate they were when expressing themselves from his own contemporaneous lived experience, and was able to capture that teen voice in his writing.

Shooter began his work for DC comics with Adventure Comics #346, “One of Us is a Traitor!” Ardent and astute Legion fans will notice acute similarities in the structure of the plot of Legion of Super-Heroes to the story arc began in that important and influential, classic Adventure Comics issue. They will, however, probably be quite put out with the unexpected heel-turn in this narrative.  The relationship between the goons and the ultimate Big Bad is lifted from a slightly more modern Legion story and overlaid on top of that structure.

The Tomorrowverse is a reimagining of the DC animated properties with only a tenuous connection to what has gone on before. The art style and character designs are much flatter and less detailed than those of the DC Universe films or the Young Justice show. The Legion in this movie is an amalgam of earlier versions, with callbacks and shout-outs to many different eras, however, the Tomorrowverse is doing its own thing. Though many of the character designs are from the most modern Bendis/Sook version, some are from the Legion’s WB cartoon series, some from the classic print era of Adventure and some spun out of imagination for this feature. Only one of the characters in the film version of the Academy actually studied there for any length of time in the comics and several were instructors.

There are tons of things to like in this movie. The recontextualized time bubble is very clever. The heel-turn is lampshaded extraordinarily well with some perfectly placed, atonal dialogue. Action beats are well-choreographed, easy to follow, and fun to watch. Emotional moments resonate and the characters are unusually expressive for a DC animated film. Kara’s brash exuberance and Brainiac 5’s caustic irritability are mirroring façades attempting to mask both of their transparent loneliness. The Academy kids act like students. They act like High School kids. It’s very nicely done.

There were a few things that this reviewer didn’t care for but they are largely trivial. The how and the why of the relationship between the Big Bad and his goons is never made clear, nor is why the goons are packing the same type of heaters in the 21st century that they’re brandishing in the 31st as they’re not time travelers.  Beams from those heaters that have been established to disintegrate objects and people leave most of a body so it can be found and move the plot forward. In a moment of stress, Mon-El curses. A dude from an alien planet who lives a thousand years in the future curses in 21st-century idiomatic English. It’s a bit jarring. They don’t have curses in the future? They don’t curse on his homeworld?  Little things, but I found them jarring.

 There are so many juicy bits of Legion goodness. So many notes that ring true plucked from almost 65 years of source material: a plethora of supremely silly names, highly effective ladies in leadership roles, missing members, mean girls, murders most foul, massive property damage, sentient protoplasmic species, super-flirting, mistaken identity, Miracle Machines, Legion Cruisers, Time Bubbles, force-field belts, flight rings, Weisinger Plaza, the dreaded Dark Circle and Legionnaires dying who stay dead, among other things. However, this film is telling a very old story particularly well, and one does not have to be marinated in Legion lore or Supergirl love to enjoy the movie.

The moral of this movie is painted on its sleeve, that of “Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover”, but still. The allegory is apt, accurate, timely and works well in the context of a Super Hero High School. Legion of Super-Heroes is a fun film and a must-have for any Supergirl or Legion fans who are interested in new takes on these long-running characters and a new direction for them to go in.

Special features include:

The Legion behind the Legion: Voice actors Yuri Lowenthal and Meg Donnelly,  producer Jim Krieg and writer Josie Campbell wax rhapsodic about the things they love about the Legion of Super-Heroes and working on this project.

Down To Earth-The Story of Supergirl: Josie Campbell discusses what allows this version of Kara Zor-El to stand apart from previous incarnations. This Supergirl is a refugee in Kansas, a misplaced person who has to unlearn the life she lived and discover how to exist in the now. This Supergirl is kind of a dumb jock who thinks in a very linear fashion at first. She often thoughtlessly dashes off into action, but then learns to look before she leaps.

Meet the Legionnaires: Due to the large cast, one of the hallmarks of a good Legion comic was a roll call in the beginning of stories, listing all the characters present and sometimes their abilities as well. This segment introduces the Legion members and Academy students featured in the film.

Brainiac Attacks-The intellect behind the villain: This segment delves into the origin of the being known as Brainiac in addition to his antagonistic relationship with Brainiac 5. This section shines a spotlight on a new spin for a classic villain, one that leans heavily into a macabre moment of massive body horror.

From the Vault: Episodes from Superman: The Animated Series. Little Girl Lost #1 &2.

Previews:  Trailers for 2019’s Justice League vs. the Fatal Five and 2020’s Superman: Man of Tomorrow.

Legion of Super-Heroes is available in 4K Ultra HD, Blu-Ray, and streaming on February 7th.

Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Mon-El was created by Robert Bernstein and George Papp.
Brainiac, Supergirl, and the Legion of Super-Heroes were created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino.
Brainiac 5 was created by Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney.

By Dan Kleiner

Dan Kleiner is a strange visitor from another planet who resides in Brooklyn, New York with two cats and his amazing girlfriend. When not plotting world domination, he spends a great deal of his time watching movies and anime of all sorts, reading comic-books and book-books, studying politics and history and striving for the day when he graduates as a Class A-Weirdo.