April isn't just the month where formerly reputable sources try and convince you that spaghetti grows on trees - It's also the month that sees the anniversary of the creation of comics' premier team of teenage superheroes fighting crime one thousand years from now. April 2008, in fact, is the 50th anniversary of the creation of DC Comics' Legion of Super-Heroes, and we here at io9 want to take this opportunity to remind you of just five reasons why the Legion is maybe the Superman franchise's greatest gift to the world.
1. The characters are almost all named "Lad", "Boy", "Girl" or "Lass".
Sure, it's a holdover from the simpler era in which they were created - later additions to the team tried to sound cooler with names like "Wildfire," "Quislet" and "Blok" - but when writer Mark Waid rebooted the team's continuity for a second time (Actually a fourth time, but very few people remember that the 1989 series restarted continuity twice within two issues, just because), he made a point of preserving the tradition and having the characters point out that they did it because it was so awesomely retro.
2. In the future, anything can happen.
When you're the only comic book that's staking out a particular territory, then you get to say whatever goes. Like, for example, blowing up the Earth. Or, that your long-running lead character is actually being possessed by a bi-sexual pet and that his girlfriend is actually a man. Perhaps you'd prefer the revelation that your entire cast may be cloned versions of their original selves, and if not, then their original selves may in fact be cloned versions of your entire cast. All three of these plot twists appeared in the fan-favorite Five Years Later era of the series in the late '80s.
3. Everyone wanted to be them.
When you're a legion of super-heroes, it stands to reason that your bad guys would want to form their own Legion of Super-Villains in response. But that's not all; there was also the Legion of Super-Pets, who saved the Legion's asses on a couple of occasions, and the Legion of Substitute Heroes, a team made up of wannabes who'd applied for, and failed to get, Legion membership but wanted to save the day when their heroes were unavailable nonetheless. Which leads me to...
4. They held open auditions for new members.
For years, the Legion would open the doors of whatever headquarters they happened to have at the time - My favorite was the upside-down rocketship that had crashlanded in the ground nosefirst - to anyone and anything that wanted to join the team, American Idol-style. The current team-members would watch demonstrations of applicants' powers and listen to them explain why they wanted to join the team, and then vote whether or not to admit them. That's not the only proof that these kids of tomorrow had too much faith in democracy; they also voted for the leader of the team each year, with the results reflecting whoever the readers of the comic had wanted to see take the chair.
5. The Legion of Super-Heroes has the second greatest superhero high concept ever.
True, it's no Green Lantern (Seriously, does it get any better than "He's a space cop fighting alien crime with his magic wishing ring"?), but whether by accident or design, writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino managed to hit paydirt with their April, 1958 issue of Adventure Comics - even ignoring the Superboy connection, there's just something awesome about the idea of alien teenagers with super powers one thousand years in the future. Anyone who can't come up with something interesting from that set-up shouldn't call themselves a writer (Jim Shooter, I'm looking at you, based upon your current run).
With the 50th anniversary of the characters this year, and three different versions of the team in existence (two different versions being published as we speak, in Action Comics as well as the actual Legion of Super-Heroes series), rumors are that the franchise is going to get a significant (and multiple-Earth-spanning) push later this year in a mini-series that may tie in with Grant Morrison's Final Crisis, as well as a special collection of some of their greatest hits for newcomers. All I can say is, it's about time. When the world can't recognize the genius of a team with members called Bouncing Boy and Matter-Eater Lad, then something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
The Legion of Super-Heroes Online Companion [Legion Online]