LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES
Pocket Universe Primer
By Aaron Severson
Introduction: The Origin of
In 1945 DC Comics introduced Superboy in the pages of More Fun Comics #101, a new strip chronicling Superman’s youthful adventures in the tiny farm town of Smallville. In his early published stories, Superman did not become a superhero until adulthood, but these tales showed him in action as a young boy, clad in a miniature version of his famous costume. Though rarely ground-breaking, the pleasant, bucolic adventures of a shy, almost impossibly well-mannered boy who happened to have god-like powers proved to be exceptionally popular, eventually earning Superboy his own comic book in 1949.
Over the next two decades, Smallville would be visited by all manner of strange visitors and alien beings, but none made as lasting an impression as the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Introduced in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), this organization of super-powered teenagers from the future was inspired by the legendary exploits of Superboy. They traveled back in time to meet him, admitting him to their ranks after a rather cruel initiation (after the Legionnaires pretend to reject him, Superboy thinks sadly, “How will I ever tell them back in Smallville that their ‘superhero’ flunked out of the super-hero club? (Sob!)"). It was just a one-shot story, and not a particularly unique or memorable memorable one; the Legion did not appear again until almost two years later (Adventure Comics #267).
Reader reaction, however — something to which Superman editor Mort Weisinger paid close attention — was strong, enough to prompt several subsequent appearances. Starting with issue #300 (September 1961), the Superboy lead feature in Adventure Comics became “Superboy in ‘Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes!’”
The Legion was comics’ first teen superhero series, preceding DC’s Teen Titans or Marvel’s teen heroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men. There had been kid groups in the forties, most notably Simon and Kirby’s Boy Commandos and Newsboy Legion, but they were comic book contemporaries of the movies’ Our Gang: scrappy pre-pubescent boys (and sometimes girls) battling gangsters and Nazis. The Legionnaires were adolescents, with all the cliquishness and overwrought emotion of adolescence, and they struck a chord with readers.
The original three members were eventually joined by more than 30 more; the Legion quickly developed an enormous supporting cast and intricate history with few rivals in comicdom. Despite a brief cancellation in 1970 (more the product of an editorial reorganization at DC than any failure of the strip), the Legion eventually proved popular enough to drive Superboy out of his own comic book, which was retitled Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes in 1973 and Legion of Super-Heroes in 1980. By the early eighties Superboy appeared only rarely. Not only did the Legion demonstrate that it could survive without him, the Boy of Steel was soon to become a serious liability.
In 1986, in the wake of DC’s 50th anniversary and the cataclysmic Crisis on Infinite Earths series, writer-artist John Byrne was hired to thoroughly revamp DC’s Superman lineup, starting with a six-issue mini-series called Man of Steel. Byrne wanted to strip Superman of what he considered dead weight: the other survivors of Krypton, the Fortress of Solitude, the Phantom Zone...and Superboy. Byrne felt that Superboy stories inherently lacked tension; whatever inventiveness or charm those stories possessed, nothing really surprising would ever happen (because the reader knew that Superboy would survive to become Superman). As a result, Man of Steel established a new continuity in which Clark Kent didn’t become Superman until he was an adult and never had a career as Superboy.
This change represented a serious problem for the Legion of Super-Heroes: they had shared countless adventures with the Boy of Steel over the years and it was he who inspired them in the first place. How could the Legion, and its extensive and complicated history, still exist in a continuity without Superboy?
The controversial result, conceived by John Byrne and then-Legion author Paul Levitz, was the “Pocket Universe” saga, a 1987 storyline that served as a continuity “patch” to preserve as much as possible of past Legion stories by explaining how Superboy could exist in the same reality as Byrne’s new Superman. While Byrne later decried the story and its apparent necessity as much ado about nothing, he couldn’t resist revisiting it himself a year later to introduce a new version of Supergirl, another character who was written out of existence by his Superman revamp.
Although the first Pocket Universe storyline in 1987 served its purpose, simultaneously explaining and writing off Superboy, it was followed in late 1989 by a hasty editorial decision to completely strip the Legion of any ties to Superboy and the Superman mythos. The creative team responded with a new batch of “retroactive continuity” (“retcon” for short) changes to the Legion’s history, a situation that eventually snowballed into what became arguably the most convoluted saga in comics. Eventually, in 1994, DC became convinced that the only way to rectify the spiraling complexity of the Legion series was to scrap its entire history, more than 35 years of stories, and start over from scratch with a new Legion, entirely unrelated to Superman.
While that “reboot” of the Legion would seem to render the entire Pocket Universe saga a moot point, these stories still play an important role in DC’s continuity, not for the Legion but for Superman, whose involvement with the “Pocket Universe” Superboy and Supergirl is pivotal to his own series. This saga also remains crucial to understanding older Legion stories, particularly those published between 1986 and 1994.
The purpose of this website is to recap and clarify the entire Pocket Universe storyline, from the true origin of the Legion of Super-Heroes through the life and death of Superboy to the end of the original Legion timeline in 1994’s Zero Hour mini-series. It also discusses the various questions and issues raised by the repeated changes in the Legion’s continuity in hopes of making as much sense as possible out of a convoluted situation. Also included is a bibliography listing the issues in which the story originally unfolded.
A Note on Terminology
Although the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline was used as an internal rationale for changing the histories of individual characters like Superman, the actual changes did not take place until months or years after the Crisis series was over. At the end of Crisis #12 Superman was effectively unchanged; his new history was not established until the publication of John Byrne’s Man of Steel mini-series several months later. However, for purposes of this history, the term pre-Crisis is used to refer to the reality that existed prior to John Byrne’s revision of Superman (i.e., the reality in which Superman really did have a youthful career as Superboy and a cousin, Kara Zor-El, who was Supergirl) and the term post-Crisis refers to the reality established by Man of Steel and subsequent stories. A complete discussion of the Crisis itself is beyond the scope of this history, but for more information, see Jonathan Woodward’s The Annotated Crisis.
Superboy, Superman, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and any related characters and/or indicia are ™ and © DC Comics, Inc. This web site, its operators, and its contents are not authorized by DC Comics.