Geoff Johns’s late 2000s Legion of Super-Heroes stories were, unfortunately, ahead of their time.
Set on a xenophobic future Earth where lies about where Superman was born transformed our entire world into the worst parts of the American South, Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes presupposed an era when widely disseminated misinformation and entitled rage would be all it took to drive the universe to war.
But if the book’s initial premise seems prescient, then we have to hope its ending is as well. Because standing against this wave of ignorance and vitriol is the Legion of Super-Heroes. This group of diverse young adults, gathered from among the cosmos, is not having any of this xenophobic nonsense.
And neither is their friend, Superman.
On my first read of this story, what stood out most about the villains of the piece, the so-called Earth Man and his re-tooled Justice League, was how willing they were to spread lies about Superman, and also how easily it seemed the humans of Earth bought those lies. It’s these lies the Legion felt the need to fight against, and the eventual dismantling of these lies provides the Legion with the confidence they need to re-assemble on Earth.
All that is still very important. But on this read, what stood out most was Earth Man’s immense rage over his earlier rejection by the Legion.
The lies about Superman’s origin are what drive the larger, universe-spanning story, but it’s Earth Man’s very personal rage that drives the lies. Which makes Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes not just a story about how easily people will buy (and be influenced by) propaganda, but also a story about how rejection can cause people to lash out in enormous and unexpected ways.
So what does the story say you should do about that? Through Superman, the story says you should persist and continue looking until you find somewhere that you do belong.
That’s not a perfect answer (and it’s definitely a bit easy), but even the world of the 31st century isn’t perfect. The best anyone can do, even a Superman, is to do the right thing and look for friends who accept you. Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes says that if you do the first, the second will eventually follow. But you have to do the first, because otherwise the second is meaningless. If you do the wrong thing and then find friends who accept you for who you are … well, then you’ve built an evil Justice League.
By story’s end, the Legion once again stands as a symbol of unity and diversity, with acknowledged-alien Superman at their head. There is no war, and Earth Man’s hatred and lies are exposed for what they are.
But to me, the real denouement is a panel four pages from the end of the story, in which Superman gets real with his friends.
Despite their differences, despite coming from scattered time periods and planets, the Legion stands together. They’re a diverse group of forward-thinking young people who looked at the world around them and said, “We can show them. We can show them it’s possible to unite and work together and do impossible things.” Even something as impossible as battling rage, entitlement, and lies.
Long live the Legion. May it be founded before its time.