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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #183

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This is the one-hundred and eighty-third in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and eighty-two.

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Black Panther pre-dated the Black Panther Party.


I will allay any fears of me simply being pedantic here by noting that the Black Panther first appeared in Fantastic Four #52, which was cover-dated July 1966, which means it probably hit the stands a few months earlier.

In October of that same year, in Oakland California, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.

So yes, the Marvel Black Panther certainly WAS around before the famous Black Panther Party that we are all most familiar with.

That’s totally accurate.

However, what I wish to discuss is the notion that Newton and Seale could have possibly taken their name from Lee and Kirby’s creation, a notion I recently was asked by reader Jason (who also asked one of the Madelyne Pryor legends last week). That’s something I’ve always dismissed out of hand, but only because I found it unlikely that they just happened to see an issue of the Fantastic Four a few months earlier. But while I dismissed the notion, I did so thinking that the Black Panther in Fantastic Four, while not being the influence for the Black Panther Party (as anyhow, there have been plenty of groups named Black Panther over the years before T’Challa made his first appearance), DID at least come first.

That’s where I was mistaken, as the Black Panther name and symbol that Newton and Seale ended up using were actually created the previous year, well BEFORE T’Challa showed up in the comics!

Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were working to register voters in Alabama in the mid-60s. In 1964, in Mississippi, the SNCC helped to form a new political party called the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to take the place at the 1964 Democratic Convention of the whites-only Democratic delegation from Mississippi. While they were unsuccessful in doing so, they did manage to draw a lot of attention to their cause.

Well, in Alabama, they wished to follow the lead of the Mississippi Freedom Party, so they began to develop the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael. Now, in Alabama at the time, due to the number of illiterate voters, each party had to have its own symbol.

The LCFO had a designer come up with a logo, and she developed a dove symbol. That was determined to be too passive of a logo, so the designer then went to the mascot of Atlanta’s Clark College (a predominantly black college that has since merged with another black school, Atlanta University, to become Clark Atlanta University), which was the Black Panthers. Clark’s logo was basically traced, and that was the new logo.

The LCFO soon became known as the Black Panther Party. The next year, in October, at a conference sponsored by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at UC Berkley, Carmichael gave an impassioned speech where he said:

In Lowndes County, we developed something called the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. It is a political party. The Alabama law says that if you have a Party you must have an emblem. We chose for the emblem a black panther, a beautiful black animal which symbolizes the strength and dignity of black people, an animal that never strikes back until he’s back so far into the wall, he’s got nothing to do but spring out. Yeah. And when he springs he does not stop.

Now there is a Party in Alabama called the Alabama Democratic Party. It is all white. It has as its emblem a white rooster and the words “white supremacy” for the write. Now the gentlemen of the Press, because they’re advertisers, and because most of them are white, and because they’re produced by that white institution, never called the Lowndes Country Freedom Organization by its name, but rather they call it the Black Panther Party. Our question is, Why don’t they call the Alabama Democratic Party the “White Cock Party”? (It’s fair to us…..) It is clear to me that that just points out America’s problem with sex and color, not our problem, not our problem. And it is now white America that is going to deal with sex and color.

Seale and Newton asked for permission to use the Black Panther name and logo, and the rest was history.

So yeah, there is a clear path of usage of the name Black Panther, and it did not include Fantastic Four #52.

Thanks to Jason for sending me on this path, and thanks to a great number of neat sources for information, with the H.K. Yuen Social Movement Archive at UC Berkley being probably the most helpful. Heck, I might as well send you to Clark Atlanta University’s website, too!

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Wowzers! Being a Londoner myself, and having even lived in a nearby postcode (SW15) I never made the connection! What a brilliant line-up this week, Thanks Brian.

I have to admit I always thought it was the other way around with the Black Panther/Black Panther Party… I thought they inspired Stan and Jack… But it sounds like both weer conceived separately, although possibly from the same influence?

Did anyone ever respond to someone who introduced themselves as “a member of the Alabama Democratic Party” with “Oh, you’re a White Cock?” Although ‘member’ is probably the wrong word to use…

It’s a shame Namor didn’t get a chance to be in the show that actually moved.

Think Dusty wrote his name big enough on that Legion cover? :P

So yes, the Marvel Black Panther certainly WAS around before the famous Black Panther Party that we are all most familiar with.

Not all of us. I’d never heard of them till today.

Wow, the part about the black panthers is particularly interesting.

I got 2 for you……

1.Cable was intended to become Ahab

2. Starfox was going to get a 1 shot in the late 90’s making him a bigger threat than Thanos.

Now I belonged to a comic message board in the mid to late 90’s. Tom Brevoort and Kurt Busiek were always on the boards as well. Now my memory is clouded but apparently the guy who did those Spider-Man drug insert 4 parter was to write a one-shot where Starfox had been playing nice all these years and was to fight Thanos and the MU. Alot of us got riled up, and it was about that time Bob Harras was let go in favor of Bill Jemas so I guess it got lost in the shuffle…thank god. Of course it could of been a joke on us Eros supporters by Kurt and Tom!!! Can you research it?

…Bah, that wasn’t the only in-joke the Bierbaums wove into their incoherent “Five Year Crap”. Where Shooter gave the occasional tip-of-the-hat, the Bierbaums went totally overboard and turned the Legion into one big fanfic in-joke. That’s one of the reasons DC will never consider letting “big name fans” write their adventures ever again, and why if the rumors are true in that the “Five Year Crap” will be totally retconned as never having happened in the “Adventure” relaunuch it will deservedly be so eliminated.

I absolutely loved the Five Year Gap as well as T & M’s work on it. The best Legion stories of their 50 year history were told in those issues. I put that run in my top ten creative runs of all time. Amazing work!

Thanks a lot for the Black Panther clarification, Brian. It’s something I’ve always wondered about myself.

But DC will let any non-comics writer come along and screw up continuity and destroy characters all for the sake of a buck, hm, OM?

Frankly, I enjoyed the SW6 stuff… Everybody griped about the characterization of the ‘grim and gritty’ Legion, and how they had lost everything that was good about the Legion, and the Bierbaums tried to bring back lighter fare. If you didn’t like it, tough. Zero Hour sufficiently addressed the issue, and in a very touching way. There is no need to ‘retcon’ something ‘as if it never happened’ when that storyline has already been resolved.

What are you talking about? What you call as “five year crap” were some of the BEST legion tales I have read (next only to “darkness saga”)
May be the intense stuff by T&M was beyond your scope .

Om, do you have any purpose in your life other than bitch? I’ve been seeing your name on message boards for years as a lurker and I just want to say you come off as an angry petulant baby in everything you pen.

btw, I like the tone of the recently ‘revamped’ Comic Book Legends Revealed pages…. Thanks, Brian.

I’ve got to go along with Mike here. I thought the “Five Years Later” Legion (or, the “Adult Legion”) stories were fantastic! I had quit following the Legion shortly after they became a Direct Sales Only book, and just happened to pick up this wild new Legion series one day. I was amazed at how good it was!

I wasn’t one of those fans who ever kept up all the Legion’s civilian names– maybe just a few of the main characters– and I didn’t know all of their home planets, but that didn’t stop me from totally digging that book. During the time it ran, it was a comic I couldn’t wait for. I would even send my girlfriend to the book store on Wednesdays if I had class that day.

For those of you who’ve never read it, I highly recommend that you seek it out. Really good comics await you!

Hear, hear. The Adult Legion stories was awesome stuff. I miss those years of great comics.

My girlfriend: (Paraphrased) You know, for someone who spends 90% of his free time reading comics, you sure do bitch a lot about comics fans.

Me: (Pointing to this post)

…Bah, that wasn’t the only in-joke the Bierbaums wove into their incoherent “Five Year Crap”. Where Shooter gave the occasional tip-of-the-hat, the Bierbaums went totally overboard and turned the Legion into one big fanfic in-joke. That’s one of the reasons DC will never consider letting “big name fans” write their adventures ever again, and why if the rumors are true in that the “Five Year Crap” will be totally retconned as never having happened in the “Adventure” relaunuch it will deservedly be so eliminated.

“Because. They. Write. Like. This. All. The. Time.”

Her: “Oh. Ok. That kind of makes sense, then.”

(P.S. The Black Panther one has been my favorite of these so far. I’ve been wondering about this for a while. I mean, it didn’t make any sense to begin with, but I KEPT hearing it.)

“Om, do you have any purpose in your life other than bitch? I’ve been seeing your name on message boards for years as a lurker and I just want to say you come off as an angry petulant baby in everything you pen.”

…Kids, I’m not here to jump in on the bandwagon and kiss creator ass when they don’t deserve it. I calls’em as I sees’em, and if that doesn’t agree with you then you’re well within your rights to disprove what I say. So far, where the Bierbaum run is concerned, not one single person has *ever* been able to offer concrete proof that the “Five Year Crap” was anything other than, well, crap. All that’s been offered is “Well, I liked it, so fuck you.”, completely ignoring the Bierbaum’s numerous dangling plotlines amidst shoddy pacing, combined with allowing fanfic and APA politics to determine the behaviors and fates of the majority of the main and supporting casts. If you thought Giffen was bad in his hate of Karate Kid, the Bierbaums were worse with regards to Wildfire, Blok, and Dawnstar.

Bottom Line: The Bierbaum run was crap, period. But I’d still love to see someone come up with *real* reasons why it didn’t other than “let’s just take the opposite view of OM just to make ourselves feel superior.”

I won’t hold my breath, natch.

“Not all of us. I’d never heard of them till today.”

I weep for the youth of America.

It ain’t about that man. Art is subjective, people com eon here saying they adored that run. I myself did not like it to be honest, but I do not get off on going on message boards to spread my venom. For years I’ve read your posts and never read anything but whining vitriol. Whenever you pop up its to shit on Quesada, Didio, and even Stephen King. I seem to recall you calling some woman involved in the sci-fi channel a bimbo. That reeks of sexism and classism. I hear you if you criticize creative chooses, and how one chooses to exercise his/her creative process, but instead you attack physical appearance and gender. You seem to take a perverse pleasure in belittling those in power at certain companies.

The Beirmbaums are years removed from Legion, there run a foot note and you still choose to attack attack attack. I would love to see your pull list, because from years of seeing those dreaded letters O-M I never saw you praise anything. It just makes me wonder if you can experience pleasure or do you live to spray your venom unto others.

“I weep for the youth of America.”

How do you know he’s American? And do you have extensive knowledge of political groups from a wide variety of nations?

… but if you happen to know for a fact he is American, nevermind.

“Not all of us. I’d never heard of them till today.”

Less comics, more books.


Thanks for the excellent write-up on the Black Panther history! It was well-informed, in-depth, and sharp. That voter registration drive is a crucial turning point in America. It empowered poor people in the South, forced the door open for the Democratic Party to integrate, broadened their membership and their ideals, and led directly to the Poor People’s March on Washington in 1968, the Panther Party, musicians like Sly Stone and Public Enemy and KRS One, and now our new President.

Thanks also for letting the new eyes and ears pick up on this deeply important heritage.

I believe Dan is British.

I thought the Black Panthers were known in Britain, too, but maybe not!

btw, I like the tone of the recently ‘revamped’ Comic Book Legends Revealed pages…. Thanks, Brian.

I guess I’ll accept the compliment, but besides the dropping of the word “Urban,” they’re really just the same as always! :)

I got your back, Om. The “five years later” Legion was the very worst of all the various “let’s wear trenchcoats and be grim and gritty” crapfests.

…I really, really, *really* do *not* want to hijack this thread. So I’m going to respond to just three points of Averypoo’s blatherings. After this, she can quaff all she wants because it’s mox nix:

1) I’m not the only one who derides Quesada and Didio, not to mention Stephen King. If you’re not going to try and scream them down with your bibbling, then don’t try and single me out for your own form of vitriol.

2) The bimbo in question was Bonnie Hamner, and I stand by that assessment 110%. When you consider what a morass the Sci-Fi channel became under her reign – I mean, seriously, *wrestling*? – then the only word that can describe her and/or her business decisions is “bimbo”. Although a word that starts with “C” actually comes to mind quicker for some reason…

3) My pull list is none of your business – and I should note I don’t see you volunteering yours, do I? – and I experience pleasure just fine. However, you seem to be under some really deluded misconception that I, specifically, am not allowed to express discontent. Again, that’s just too bad for you, because I intend to voice my opinions and analyses as I see fit.

…And an aside note to Matt and those others who disliked the “Five Year Crap”: don’t let sycophantic whiners like “Averypoo” – apropos name, natch – try to shout you down. Call a spade a spade and don’t let others intimidate you into keeping silent, much less taking their twisted view to avoid derision. The ability to say what’s on your mind – especially if it’s an intelligent opinion – is what makes this country great. It’s a right, so use it as it was intended.

Um… “got your back” turns out to have been an overstatement. Let’s just say “I happen to agree on that one topic.”

So calling a woman a “c” word is an expression of discontent over creative decisions? How about “awful network exec” instead of appealing to the lowest common dominator sexist phraseology. And you did not read my posts. I said I disliked the five year later run on Legion. Honestly I stopped reading at the time and stayed away till zero hour. The difference being I would much rather talk about what does succeed on a thematic and fun level than what fell short. Especially a decade later.

I never called you a name, I just pointed out the fact that for years you plagued comic book fandom with your entitled whining and name calling. An artist (I wish I could remember who) just coined the phrase “baby men” to describe your brand of self important fans who thinks that every aspect of comics and genre fiction should conform to a limited viewpoint. Judging by your knowledge of comics and history with the medium, I would say perhaps you were the fist baby man. Congrats.

Next time you see Bart and Homer tell them hi, you pathetic cliche’ of a man.

PS Books I am loving- GL, JSA, Captain America, Hercules, Action Comics, Zorro, Blue Beetle (dammit!) Avengers: Initiative, Madame Xanadu, Ex Machina, Criminal, among many more.

It’s purely semantic really, but you essentially take pains in the first entry to prove yourself wrong. Why not just put down “The Black Panther political activist group took it’s name from Marvel’s Black Panther” and avoid the whole “this is the extremely roundabout way in which I am correct” thing?

I never knew that old episode of “Fantastic Four” was adapted from the comic. I remember watching it on a rerun on Cartoon Network in the mid-90s and thinking that Triton looked a helluva lot like Namor, but it never really clicked until now.

I don’t suppose anyone can tell me why Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, & Namor were licensed to Grantray-Lawrence Animation and the FF went to Hanna-Barbera? Or at least where I might find that info?

It’s purely semantic really, but you essentially take pains in the first entry to prove yourself wrong. Why not just put down “The Black Panther political activist group took it’s name from Marvel’s Black Panther” and avoid the whole “this is the extremely roundabout way in which I am correct” thing?

I certainly appreciate the thinking, Josh, but my logic was that I just didn’t feel “The Black Panther political activist group took it’s name from Marvel’s Black Panther” was believed enough to really be worth disputing it. On the other hand, most people DO believe that Marvel’s Black Panther predated the very idea of the Black Panther Party,which is why I went that way.

Didn’t OM used to refer to himself as a New God of Flamebaiting or some such nonsense?

Anyways it’s not worth the effort to argue matters of opinion with somebody who says things like “nobody’s ever been able to come up with concrete proof that this comic book isn’t crap.” You’ll never change their mind and the effort will just make you crazy.

I have always thought that the confusing elements in the “Adult Legion” were not really the creative team’s fault but was editorial’s way of adjusting to the current stories in Superman and to a lesser extent, with DC’s retconning of Superboy. But despite that, I still think the Giffen/Bierbaum series was quite good. I loved that Shrinking Violet became badass. That the Supergirl version Andromeda was a kickass nun. That Mon-el attempted to plug the hole that is Superman. That Tenzil Kem became a dignitary. The Legion had real jobs and the stories were kinda grounded in a hard sci-fi way.. And the new style of Giffen, I really dug. The production quality is also superb (nice thick white paper, crisp/vibrant separations, and a lettercol!)

“Didn’t OM used to refer to himself as a New God of Flamebaiting or some such nonsense? ”

….”New God Of Creative Flaming”, from back in the day when Newsarama had a decent message forum.

…As for changing my mind, when it comes to the “Five Year Crap”, the answer there is no, it will *not* happen. You’re free to try and convnce me if you really have what you think is honest, logical evidence, but the fact remains is that this was this era of the Legion was so poorly written that there really isn’t anything that can be said in defense of it. Besides, if it was so damn great, then why are the vast majority of fans clamoring for the upcoming “Adventure” relaunch to feature the Levitz era and not he Bierbaum debacle?

Sorry kids, that puppy simply won’t hunt, and it’s time to get a new dogma.

I found the Five Years Later Legion to be a valiant effort to put Legion continuity back together again after the post Crisis changes to Superman-including, but not limited to the creation of Laurel Gand as Supergirl stand in.-especially her relationship with Braniac 5.

Other reasons I liked it:

Mon-el killing the Time Trapper and recreating the universe.

Andrew Nolan as a freedom fighter in the alternate world of Morduu (“Anyone who fights Mordru and expects to win is a fool. You fight Mordru because you have to.”)

Batch SW6 (especially Saturn Girl’s realization that Lightning Lad’s personality was different)

The last stand of the Tornado Twins.

Lyle Norg (SW6 version)’s “reunion” with his parents.

Roxxas as an foppish assassin

Lightning Lord reforming. (I love redeemed villains.)
The new take on the Element Lad/ Shvaugh Erin romance.

Above all, I like the fact that the characters evolved.

Again, OM, these are purely subjective matters of opinion. This is not a court of law, there’s no need for anyone to use “honest logical evidence” to prove anything. You don’t like it. Big deal.

I don’t like Green Lantern but I don’t demand people prove to me why I should. And that’s a comic that’s being published currently, not ten years ago… different strokes for different folks.

I think OM’s pull list consists of Cerebus and Glamourpuss.

Ha ha ha ha. These boards are hilarious at times.

We get it, you don’t like it. You don’t like lots of things. Most everything in fact, and women in charge are bimbo’s and editor in chiefs are fat, and you rant on message boards as some desperate plea for attention. So one tell us, what do you like?

What have you read the last two years that you enjoy, or do you get some perverse pleasure in spending money on comics, and then shit on them? Do you actually read comics? Tell us some stuff you bought recently, or do you just read the headlines on newsarama and proceed to whine?

As this clearly is not going to end on its own any time soon (as we’ve already had one “I’m done, wait, no I’m not” moment), let me just say now – please just cut this argument out.

I surely do not want to start deleting comments, but I will do so if this keeps going on (and on…and on…etc.).

Sorry Brian, I did not want to see the dark cloud descend on the hard work and wonderful column you give us every week.

God bless the Black Panther Party.

I feel like I’m supposed to know who this Triton is but alas I don’t, any relation to the Inhuman Triton?

The Black Panther thing has always been something I found interesting, I’m almost positive it’s a coincidence, really reminds me of all the Swamp-Thing/Man-Thing debates

Do you want to see my Giant-Size Man-Thing?


still funny

Nice column, Brian. I don’t know whether you know, but Peter Hayward-Brewer died earlier this year – the SW6 thing is an extra reminder of a great fan, and a lovely fella.

I’m British too and thought the Black Panthers were well known. Perhaps it’s an age thing.

The best single-word description I ever heard of the “Five Year Gap Legion” was “challenging”.

I personally had months where I couldn’t figure out what was going on in that book. It was only going back and rereading several issues all-in-a-row again that I understood what was happening and realized how brilliant it was. Deep, three-dimensional characters. Moral ambiguity. Plot points that took months to develop. I loved it.

True, it all went to crap later on. But for a while, it was brilliant.

If I recall, Batch SW6 DID come out of the Dominator pods naked. After all, it would be pretty silly for teen superheroes such as “Matter Eater Lad” and “Bouncing Boy” to hatch out of alien pods FULLY COSTUMED!

‘Challenging’ works for me. There’s a great essay on the period in the rather marvellous Teenagers from the Future book, recently featured on this very site.


If I remember correctly there was a period where Marvel considered calling the black panther the coal tiger because of the political party.

I was also a fan of the “5 Years Later” legion and even the SW6 batch. I enjoyed that we had an adult legion with darker stories and a younger legion with lighter stories with the occassional back and forthing between the groups which, if you think of it, is pretty much what they’re doing now with the Legion Final Crisis mini. And I’m also looking forward to their next reinvention.

Also bashing the so-called “difficulty” with the Giffen/Bierbaum team is odd now when one compares their dense and sometimes difficult writing with the confusing mess that is Final Crisis and Batman RIP.

If OM wants to be proven, he should read the wonderful Julius essay on Teenagers From The Future on the TMK run. I think it was thought-provoking, Watchmen-level challenging that never got the amount of revaluation it should have, like Morrison’s Doom Patrol had.
But it is okay, if people buy lots of X-Men stuff and want Johns to write a completely retconned Legion of Super-Heroes, hey, success means quality in OM’s bookcase of what’s good. Luckily, his wise and sound arguments have won me over.

The big difference is that the Giffen-Bierbaum stories are “difficult” because of a pungent mixture of laziness and contempt on the part of the writers. The more you deciphered their obtuse narrative, the less rewarding it was.

I once had one of my favorite film students tell me “I really want to make sure my first short film has a lot of cognitive dissonance”. I warned him: “Well,you’re in luck– Every first film does! Cognitive dissonance is free. It’s clear storytelling that’s difficult to achieve.”

Brian – Good look on the Black Panther thing. I’ve been wondering about that for a long time now!!!

Those Legion days were real fun. I loved having two sets of Legionnaires around, but I guess it was too complicated for readers to understand. To me, it was a great formula. Sadly, it looks like this will be the only era of the Legion that is going to be left out with the current Legion development, tough. I kind of liked the relationship between Vi and Ayla the most.

“Sorry Brian, I did not want to see the dark cloud descend on the hard work and wonderful column you give us every week.”

You were the dark cloud. There was no problem until you started whining about someone disliking something.

At the time, I was tolerant to mildly positive about the post-gap LSH, at least up until the “hey, we don’t know what else to do, so let’s blow up the earth with no foreshadowing” issue.

In retrospect, though, it’s hard for me to believe even the teenage version of myself had so little taste. Aside from the Subs’ creative use of lame powers in one battle, there’s nothing that I still find likable today. And things I disliked (the Valor retcon, killing Blok, Shavaugh=Sean, etc.) strike me now as disasters. Especially wiping out the timeline and starting over, a fetish that has plagued LSH books ever since.

Retconning the Legion has been its biggest flaw and I think the DC eds have already realized it. I’m really looking forward the current developments as it is obvious they’re going for an integration of everything Legion.

“As this clearly is not going to end on its own any time soon (as we’ve already had one ‘I’m done, wait, no I’m not’ moment), let me just say now – please just cut this argument out.

I surely do not want to start deleting comments, but I will do so if this keeps going on (and on…and on…etc.).”

Aww. And I was halfway through the process of going into fanboy curbstomping mode before I read this post.

“If I remember correctly there was a period where Marvel considered calling the black panther the coal tiger because of the political party.”

This was actually covered in an earlier Comic Book Legends Revealed!

b_rad wrote:
“If I remember correctly there was a period where
Marvel considered calling the black panther the
coal tiger because of the political party.”

I don’t recall that, but it certainly is true that for periods of time they tried alternate names, the Black Leopard or the The Panther, because of the party.

–Mike Blake

I have no idea who OM is, but just reading this thread, he comes off as the personification of everything that is hilarious about the Internet.

The Legion pretty much is an in-joke. I never read DC as a kid and I find the series impenetrable.

Thanks for writing about one of my favorite subjects, the Black Panther!

Another possible inspirational source was the all-black “Black Panther” tank battalion that served in Europe during World War II.

Oh yeah, if we were looking at actual influences for Kirby and Lee and their name for the Panther, I’d say that the Tank Battalion would very likely be a influence, particularly with Kirby’s history in the infantry in Europe during the War.

Brian From Canada

November 30, 2008 at 2:51 pm

Regarding the whole Cable thing that someone brought up: that comes from one line in the Days Of Future Present annuals when Ahab seems familiar to Cable. But later on in Excalibur, it’s stated that Ahab will be Dr. Rory Campbell gone nuts, and Rory begins down that path with psychological manipulation exercises gone wrong. It explains everything fairly well, so there isn’t much of a problem there.

I loved the 5YL Legion. I hadn’t read a lot of Legion stories before this, probably only 30 issues in total, including the Great Darkness Saga and the Magic War. I had no problem comprehending what was happening and found the stories and characterisation fascinating. I still read this run (1-38) every couple of years.

Here’s some of the reasons why I liked it:

– Like a lot of my favourite sci-fi stories, Giffen and the Bierbaum’s used the future setting to spotlight modern social, cultural and philosophical issues. War, social disorder, economic crisis, corruption and many other topics were explored, with the futuristic setting allowing the writers to examine the potential effects these problems could cause.

– The narrative structure was interesting, unlike many comics of the time. It was refreshing to see writers trying different approaches to storytelling.

– The big picture nature of the story and it’s interlocking plots were intricate and fascinating, while never leaving me confused.

– The writers sought creative means of dealing with the editorially-imposed mandates, specifically relating to Superboy and Supergirl. They created two great characters in Laurel Gand and Kent Shakespeare and added some interesting elements to Mon-El without losing the core of the character.

– Issue 5 is one of my favourite stand alone issues ever. I loved the story and its implications on the issues that followed.

– The characterisation was deep and thoughtful. No character was lost in the background, 2 dimensional or similar in personality to another, problems I’d had with previous incarnations of the Legion. The characterisation also didn’t seem too far removed from what I’d read of these character’s past personalities.

– Despite the ‘grim and gritty’ slogan, I found the book remarkably optimistic. Here were a group of heroes who chose to band together to save a universe in turmoil. Despite their personal hardships and problems, they wanted to help make their world a better place. Given the overwhelming odds against them, I felt this added to the level of heroism on display.

– Batch SW6 was an interesting idea that, coupled with the Legionnaires book, offered traditional readers with an alternative to the darker regular book. It was a case of DC offering both traditional and new fans two books with very different feels in the hope of appeasing both groups of fans.

– I found the relationship between the Legion, Mordru and Glorith absolutely fascinating. The idea that the Legion had been created to halt the rise of Mordru, and that the Legion had infact created a stalemate between Glorith and Mordru was certainly atypical of the usual hero/villain dynamic. This added to the sense of scope and drama in the series, and was an interesting way of interpreting Legion history.

After Giffen departed, I felt the book lost it’s way a little, and got steadily worse until Zero Hour hit. But those first 38 issues are pure gold IMO.

Babylon, you’re my new best friend, lol. I loved that Legion era as well, and I’m sure it didn’t last longer because it was actually ahead of its own time. If it was published this day, it would be still ahead of its time. It tried the complexities of a big event, all within the same series. It was delightful and I still adore it.

Thanks CATR’S Chris. These are my honest, logical opinions on some of the things that make that series great. There’s plenty of other reasons, including Giffen’s amazing artwork, the 9-panel layout, dense plotting and plenty of tother things.

OM: I’d be interested to hear ‘honest, logical evidence’ for why the series is ‘five years crap’. We’re clearly not going to convince one another but you’ve provided very few solid arguments and have attacked others for doing the same in defence of the series.

I completely agree that the 5YG Legion was ahead of its time. The Legion is tied with the JSA as my all-time favorite group. When DC jettisoned Superboy it gave the rest of the group a chance to really shine and develop IMO and that really kicked in with Levitz and Giffen. Later, Giffen and the Bierbaums took the Legion in a totally different direction, but I thought it was brilliant. You have to admit : people who have read this either loved it or hated it. It was certainly jarring and confusing upon first read, but upon rereading it really unfolds and sparkles. The SW6 Legion was a stroke of genius and gave us the best of both worlds with the Adult Legion (still my favorite version but the one we have not seen given any credence yet with the current version / reboot) and the Archie Legion. It really was genius and at the time comics were booming and the Big Two were giving us different versions of all their major characters. This one made more sense to me than any other and I enjoyed it more than any other. The balance of Adult and Archie Legions is my favorite version ever.

What work are the Bierbaums doing now in comics ? I would probably buy just about anything they did I liked their LSH so much. I know it’ll never happen, but I’d love to see Levitz, Giffen, the Bierbaums, or DnA back on the characters. Johns too but I doubt that’ll happen either.

If we can’t get regular Perez, Phil Jiminez would rock too.

I feel that the Giffen-Bierbaum ‘Legion of Superheroes’ was one of the best attempts to write a superhero series for people who had GROWN UP with superheroes, especially in its first year. The stories– for better or for worse (better, in my opinion)– assumed that you knew who the characters were and what they stood for, and moreover, that the readers had an attention span that lasted longer than a month. So when people say ‘challenging’, yes, perhaps so on a monthly basis, but read all the Giffen-driven issues in one sitting, and I think you’ll be surprised as to how straightforward the storytelliing actually is, minus the editorially driven Superboy/Valor cock-up towards the beginning. A nice hardcover of the first 14 issues would probably come as a revelation to many fans. I will concede that the third year of the 5YG moved a bit too far in a fan-lore direction, particularly in that Schvaughn Erin- Element Lad story, but most of what Giffen plotted was a very solid and mature look at what happens to teenage superheroes when they grow up and find out that life isn’t what they expected it to be, like many of fans of the Legion were probably learning at the same time. Personally, i don’t think that Rokk Krinn or Chamleon Lad have ever been written better.

I left comics from 1986 – 1996 so missed the 5YG. When I came back I found a new “Archie” Legion that somehow time switched with the old legion because of something called Zero Hour. All I knew was that the Legion I had loved for almost a decade was gone and that pissed me off. Then as Archie Legion went on they kinda grew on me and then when we got to Legion Lost I was hooked. But with the more than a year it was going to take to debut The Legion I decided that would be a good time to go back and get all those old issue and read up on them.

So I did – all the way back to LSH V3 #24 – #63 and LSH V4 #1 – #38 (whichever one where the Earth explodes). Ya know what? Read continuously over the course of a month I got to really enjoy those stories. The art still doesn’t do it for me tho I got why that style was used. But the stories themselves were very adult and complex and real – which is exactly what the Legion was all about. Well, that and galaxy-spanning evils that needed to be stopped by the Legion. Which we got a plenty. It also gave some depth to the SW6ers too and made them like a second coming, reinforcing why they had the beliefs they did in spite of what was going on around them. And someone must have liked them. They stayed published through 81 issues of Legionnaires, 16 issues of Lost and Worlds, and 36 issues of The Legion before being shunted off into the void.

All that is to say is – while I can see why the direction that was taken seemed abrupt and unnecessary at the time, what did come out of it was some really good stuff. The idea that the Beirbaums somehow burned it for fanboys to ever right again is laughable considering they were on Legion/Legionnaires for over 5 years and sales of the books were stead(er) than other books around the time of the investor crash. And we have had other fanboys writing since then including Devin Grayson, Phil Jimenez, Kevin Smith, to name a few off the top of my head, all of whom continually get work.

In fact SW6 grew to become my 2nd favorite Legion group and not all that far behind from what I consider the classic Legion that started from LSH V2 #284 – LSH V3 #63. The new Legion is a clan of winey brats. Booster should just pop in and dump some Starro spors on them all and be done with it.

I believe Dan is British.

I thought the Black Panthers were known in Britain, too, but maybe not!

I am indeed British, so that’s my excuse. That said I’ve just done a straw pole of the three people sat nearest to me at work and they’ve all heard of the Black Panthers so maybe it’s me after all…

Another one here who thoroughly enjoyed the 5YG Legion; I recently went back and re-read the first 38 issues (+annuals), and though the run is flawed in some respects, it was still one of the most innovative comic runs of the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Yes, the Bierbaum’s could be accused of writing fan-fic, but so what? They were employed to co-write the series with Giffen, and offered up ideas that had been gestating in Legion fandom for years previous (and if you want to take task with anyone, it should be Giffen as he ran with their ideas – and took full personal responsibility in the letter columns).

Personally, I haven’t looked forward to a next issue as much since.

The “Five Year Gap” stories, particularly those before the Bierbaums got involved, were the only Legion stories I could ever get into. Once they introduced the SW6, I could see where the series was headed and bailed. Personally, I think the Legion is basically a concept that has whose time has long passed. What are we on now? A “three-boot”? Or is it a “quadra-boot” now? Whatever.

I’ll post because I do not intend to be insulting and since “defenders” have continued to have their say, I’ll pipe in, too.

The Legion was the backbone of my collection for many years. I first got hooked by DC Comics Presents #59. (I was already an Ambush Bug fan – this was my entrance into the world of the Legion.) I became so enamored of the Legion that it actually pulled me into general comics collecting, something that Atari Force, Groo and Ambush Bug had failed to do. The day I walked into my local comic shop and said “take the Legion off my list”, you could hear a pin drop. That was around issue 10 of the Giffen/Bierbaum run. I just hated it.

I had given it a chance, but had disliked the whole “gritty” look from issue 1. Now, I realize that they were saddled with directives from on high that led to the whole rebooting of the universe a few issues in, but I then hated what they did with the opportunity, usually going for something significantly less than what had come before. (Of course, I would later thank them for that reset, because it made it clear that these weren’t the same people I had been reading about anyway, so who cares what happens to them?)

A perfect example is the aforementioned Brainy/Laurel Gand thing. The original Brainy/Supergirl romance was a lovely, unrequited love that had this poignant end to it because of Supergirl’s death (and Brainy’s foreknowledge of it). Lovely. Perfect. Replaced by a by-the-numbers romance gone bad. Boring.

I was also amused to see someone highlighting Roxxas. I was going through an old sketch book of mine a few weeks ago and came across a drawing I did of the Joker. At *some* point after drawing it, I had written a couple of pretend comments from an art editor on it – “Looks too much like Giffen’s Roxxas” – “You’re right. It’s crap.”

I should also point out that I found this to be Giffen’s worst artistic period. The faux MacGuire period, I call it. (Look at the pursed lips – you’ll see what I’m talking about.) Wa-a-a-a-ay over-the-top on all the designs, buckles everywhere. Yuck.

I never gave up completely on the Legion. I tried Legionnaires (a nice attempt to fix what they had broken, but too little too late). I tried the “reboot” Legion. I tried Legion Lost. I tried the “Threeboot”. All left me cold. These weren’t “the” Legion, just various riffs on the theme.

But I was intrigued enough by the return of Jim Shooter to give the most recent series another try and I loved it. Sure, they weren’t the “real” Legion, but at least Shooter was telling stories that seemed more in line with what had come before. No “Live Wire”. No cultists.

But I was absolutely over the moon at the return of the real Legion in the “Lightning Saga”. Sure, it’s not quite the same as picking up right where Paul Levitz left off (as I would have preferred), but anything it takes to amputate and cauterize the “Five Years Later” is a worthy sacrifice. (Though it’s obviously not *all* gone. Rond Vidar as Green Lantern proves that.)

“All that is to say is – while I can see why the direction that was taken seemed abrupt and unnecessary at the time, what did come out of it was some really good stuff. ”

Abrupt, unnecessary and going against everything the Legion had been about (primarily optimism) since its inception. It would be like telling gritty sexually-charged stories with Archie and the gang. You might get some good stories out of it, but it would be totally inappropriate.

“And we have had other fanboys writing since then including Devin Grayson, Phil Jimenez, Kevin Smith, to name a few off the top of my head, all of whom continually get work.”

But, notably, not the Bierbaums. (And, really, did Kevin Smith get that job because he was a fan? And I do belive Phil Jimenez broke in as an artist and earned the writing job like any artist-turned-writer. I know nothing of Devin Grayson.) I have to believe that the Bierbaum’s lack of work is not by choice, as they tried to keep up a comics career after Legion, but couldn’t sustain it. They weren’t very good from the start, but at least when they were backed up by Giffen (T.H.U.N.D.E.R., Legion, Heckler), they could hold a story together. By themselves, they were incoherent.

Okay, that’s enough. I know there are plenty of fans of that era, so I won’t go on. (I could!) Suffice to say that there is plenty of justifiable discontent with that era and fans should shoulder it with more grace. If you like something, you shouldn’t need to get all worked up when someone else dislikes it, no matter how intensely. (The reverse is also true, of course.)

That’s all, kids. I’m out.

The concept is dead now because the Giffen-Bierbaum era killed it.

Unfortunately, the same thing is happening to the James Bond franchise now: “Hey, let’s add a bunch of grim and gritty nihilism to the series so that we can finally admit how embarrassing it was to have all those go-go fun super-hero antics for all those years. There, now we’ve proven that we’re more mature than all those silly writers that came before us! Great! Hey, where’d the fans go? Oh, wait, I guess that, in proving how cool we are, we accidentally ripped out the beating heart of the franchise. Whoops.”

The problem with the Giffen-Bierbaum era was that they didn’t just write bad stories, they went further and poisoned the well of Legion history. After they were finally fired, the only solution was to wipe away all that history and start over, but history was such a huge part of the Legion’s appeal that future writers had too little to work with.

‘It would be like telling gritty sexually-charged stories with Archie and the gang.’

Ha! Better that, than the sad Archie Legion.

Rond Vidar appeared as Green Lantern in a story written by Paul Levitz prior to “5 y ears later”. (teaming with the Mon-El, Duo Damsel, Saturn Girl and Braniac 5 against the Time Trapper.

I do not think the quality of the Five years later Legion had anything to do with the Zero Hour reboot or subsequent reboots. DC as a company likes reboots. The histories of some characters (eg. Hawkman, Power Girl, and Supergirl) and teams (e.g. Legion) are confusing and complicated because DC only gives lip service to continuity.

What complicated everything beyond measure was the lack of Superboy. After dealing with the absence of Kal, they should have stuck to their guns but didn’t. THAT”S the biggest reason why Legion continuity is so screwed up.

i really enjoyed the ‘5YL’ Legion while Giffen was there. i had to work at getting through the dense material, where the writers/artists didn’t spoon feed everything to the reader. i loved Giffen’s artwork, and i had purchased a huge amount of earlier Legion books at a sidewalk sale a few years before ‘5YL’, so i had plenty of his work, among others, to compare it to. After Giffen left, i felt that the series deteriorated and started wandering.

Around issues 35-40, i became tired of it and dropped it. i hated how the Legion had won the war against the Dominators that we had seen hints of through the whole series, only to have the earth blow up. That angered me and pushed me to drop the book. However, the first 2 years of it were very interesting to me, especially the mix of dystopian future and weary optimism of the returning Legion.

i also hated the Annual which revealed that Proty had taken the place of Lightning Lad and turning Element Lad’s relationship into a gender bending quadrangle or whatever the hell they were trying to do.

So, i really enjoyed the first 2 years of it, then felt it really deteriorated into junk.

Blowing up the moon and that whole Element Lad / Schvaughn Erin issue rocked IMO.

@Kryptofan1: “Rond Vidar appeared as Green Lantern in a story written by Paul Levitz prior to “5 y ears later”.”

I am aware of that. As I stated, I would have preferred if the cutoff was the end of Levitz’ reign. They chose to place it earlier (circa Crisis on Infinite Earths), which makes sense as it was the start of all the trouble. But the appearance of Rond as a Lantern shows that certain elements that were revealed *after* Crisis are still a part of these guys’ universe, which is fine by me.

Now, it’ll be a bad sign if I ever see Kent Shakespeare again…

[…] They both started in 1966 and only a few months separated the the founding of the party and the publication of the issue.   Brian Cronin at Comic Book Resources has all the information.  […]

Late comment to the whole 5 years later subject, but it is important to note that one of the “two great characters”, Kent Shakespeare, was NOT created by the writers, but by inker Al Gordon. A lot of what was good about the whole 5 years later can be attributed to Giffen and Gordon. No Giffen and Gordon and the quality dropped.

I don’t have a dog in this fight, having never been a hardcore LSH fan (and I’m obviously late to the discussion), but I find it interesting that the arguing back and forth really reflects the nature of fandom and DC Comics in general, today. Personally, I liked the 5 Year Gap (and also L.E.G.I.O.N.). I tried the reboot- it felt forced to me. The threeboot was good, though. And there you have a picture of my tastes- the original LSH was great, but it had been status quo for so very long that it really did feel ‘out of its time.” Then, 5YG came along and we finally were given the chance to see characters grow and grow up in a way that you rarely seen in comics beyond “Funky Winkerbean” and “For Better or For Worse.” Love it or hate it, it at least it contained the serious notion that governments and people both change. The original LSH operated out of utopia for several decades, and anyone who knows anything about history knows that utopia is cyclical.

Most (not all) of the arguments about this seem to be that the “spirit” of the Legion was ruined by the book, and I can understand that POV. But, as I said, this really demonstrates the dilemma of any long-running comic book (or soap opera, for that matter.) Fans bitch that nothing ever changes- and then, when it does, they bitch that the characters aren’t the way they always were. Like any fan, I can get upset when characters seem mischaracterized or changed for the sake of change (Emerald Twilight is my best example), but I also understand that the nature of this business is going to HAVE to be one of revamp every decade or so. “My” Superman was Byrne’s Superman.Byrne’s Superman annoyed old-timers’ Superman. Understood. And I have no right to bitch that Superman has been revamped again if I’m going to defend Byrne’s approach. However, I am disheartened to see that the latest “revamps” are not new takes on a character, but retreads. The new old LSH thrills some people, but I wonder why? If the threeboot wasn’t working for people (it worked for me), than try a new 4boot. But going back is never going forward, as far as I’m concerned (incidentally, that’s why I didn’t care for the reboot, either- felt like old stories in new clothing.) If you don’t like Byrne’s Superman, do something modern with him- but redoing old Silver Age stories really IS “fanboys gone wild.” Same as bringing back Barry Allen, same as retconning Wonder Woman back in the original JLA for no apparent reason. As fans, we need to embrace change. I just feel like looking forward is better than looking back.

Sermon over.

Anthony Durrant

June 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Well, actually they used a replacement character for the Sub-Mariner TWICE! The second replacement character was a man undersea scientist called Dr. Gamma, who, after the Fantastic Four destroyed his undersea laboratory, was mutated into a creature called the Gamma Ray – the only Marvel monster ever created for television, I believe. In the TV version, it is he who awakens the great creature Gargantua with blasts from his hands. The Gamma Ray is amphibious and looks like an underwater version of the Abomination with red skin and a gill fringe on the top of his head instead of the two frilly ears. The Ray may have been the inspiration for the later, more powerful, incarnation of the DC Comics character Despero.

Y’know, there was a black panther in The Jungle Book movie, and of course there’s the actual animal, which even if it is a variant of leopard rather than a separate species is still pretty widely known to most people, including kids, who like to study up on wild animals from around the world — to my memory, I was familiar with the actual animal before I’d heard of either the Black Panther Party or the Marvel character, just like I was familiar with lions, tigers, cheetahs, ocelots, etc., etc. I read a lot of books about animals as a kid. And Black Panther does have a far better ring to it than Coal Tiger, Kirby’s initial name for the character. And like black widows and black knights, the name is far older than any comic book or American political party.

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