At a time when the Legion of Super-Heroes are once again without a comic series, a new feature-length cartoon starring them gets my attention. The fact it features Supergirl, another favourite without a comics spotlight, as our PoV character makes it an immediate watch.
The feature opens with a pre-credits origin of Supergirl, showing her relationship with mother Alura in the last days of Krypton. They’re very close, despite Alura’s bizarre propensity to shove her daughter to the ground while – for some reason – racing one another. Kara is thrilled to find she’s been accepted into Krypton’s military guide, only for Krypton’s red sun to go nova, reigning down doom. Alura, though, has heeded brother-in-law Jor-El’s warnings of planetary doom and prepared a rocket ship large enough so her daughter may follow her baby cousin Kal-El to Earth.
So, no Zor-El, a Kara who’s more into soldiering than science, no Krypton exploding from within and no floating Argo City. No idea why.
The next we see of Kara, after a meteor throws her rocket off course, causing her to arrive on our world decades late, she’s wearing goofy Earth clothing, clasping a note of congratulations from cousin Kal in her hands. She looks daft, and suitably uncomfortable, but is soon able to embrace her Kryptonian self as a strangely fat Solomon Grundy attacks. They battle and Grundy, surprisingly, gets the upper hand – this Supergirl does not hold back. It’s inexperience, perhaps. Superman and Batman arrive to finish the fight, and Batman tuts at the property damage – Supergirl doesn’t realise, or care, that the people of Metropolis can’t instantly rebuild via robots. More than that, the Caped Crusader tells Superman that Kara is a problem, she’s far too rough. Superman is a little aggrieved at the implied criticism of his training regime, but realises his cousin isn’t ready for prime time. He suggests training with the 31st-century Legion of Super-Heroes, a crime fighting team from many worlds inspired by his own good self.
This is Batman at his most obnoxious, an utter know-all telling others heroes how to live their lives. Superman is weak, not telling Batman where to stick his misgivings. And Supergirl lacks agency, she’s at the mercy of older male heroes, and too insensitive to take in the fact that Earth isn’t as scientifically advanced as Krypton (mind, it does look more futuristic than it should). I wish writer Josie Campbell had simply had Kara herself save the day, just, but decide she needed a little help to hone her heroic skills.
Supergirl likes that 31st-century Earth is a little more Krypton than the 21st-century equivalent, but she’s not thrilled by the idea of being left there. That is, until matinee idol Legion Academy student Mon-El swoops down, charming her with his knowledge of, and respect for, long-dead Krypton (‘The scientific wonders. The emphasis on conformity, order’). Kara can’t send Superman back to his own time quickly enough.
Supergirl devotes herself to training with her fellow Academy members – Dawnstar, Arm-Fall-Off-Boy, Triplicate Girl, Bouncing Boy, Invisible Kid, Phantom Girl and Brainiac 5. Their instructors are Legionnaires Timber Wolf, Shadow Lass and Chemical King, while the rest of the Legion are off-world and out of contact. Oh, and also on the scene is Academy pet Proty.
Proty is adorable, as are most of the students – Triplicate Girl is especially appealing, smart and sassy, while Bouncing Boy is just the right side of cocky, and Invisible Kid is all visible charm. The designs are generally good, bar a stern, overly mature ‘President’ Saturn Girl, a hobo-like Timber Wolf and a bald Brainac 5.
Suspicion surrounds Brainiac 5 for his links to Superman’s alien enemy – Supergirl seems unwilling to give him a chance. And when the Academy is attacked, and a member killed, it becomes clear that there is (all together now) A Traitor Within the Legion!
And that’s enough scene setting and recap – if you’re reading this you’re almost certainly going to be watching the cartoon. So let’s cut to the chase – did I enjoy the show?
Mostly, yes. It’s good to see a version of the LSH get their own film, and even if she doesn’t get equal billing, putting Supergirl front and centre won’t bring any complaints from me. Sure, her background story is randomly changed, but her heroism is intact and by film’s end she’s a more fully formed heroine than she was at the start. I’d love to have seen more of my favourite Legionnaires given roles, but I’ve read and enjoyed enough stories with a handful of members to know you don’t need an actual Legion of characters to get a great Legion story. This isn’t great, but it is pretty good, with engaging characters, a cracking take on a favourite villain (body horror alert!), callbacks to some classic Legion goodness and a few decent surprises.
The trainees do seem like little kids at times, chanting ‘fight fight fight’ as Kara has a row with Brainy, while Dawnstar – here Kara’s roommate – initially sounds like a ditz. And while Dawnstar’s powers seem more Sensor Girl than space-tracker, they make for a great visual. It’s a shame we don’t see Chemical King show what he can do, his inclusion seems pretty random – fellow teachers Shadow Lass and Timber Wolf both make more of an impression. I could understand Campbell not getting Condo’s power – few do – but if that’s the case, why not use someone ‘easier’? A million points, though, for giving us Arm-Fall-Off Boy, even if his outfit does look like bad lingerie.
Overall, this is a decent introduction to a version of Supergirl, the Legion and the 31st century, with attractively clear designs, good voice acting and a story that incorporates enough Legion lore to keep me watching. It’s not perfect, but I’ve not considered any Legion perfect since ‘my’ Legion died with the Crisis on Infinite Earths. It is clear in its vision of what this Legion is, and more satisfying as a unit of entertainment than DC’s most recent comic offering. A post-credits scene hints at sequel hopes… sadly, that would be a sequel to the Superman and Justice League thread. This Legion of Super-Heroes won’t change anyone’s like, but I think most fans of the comics will find plenty to enjoy.
12 thoughts on “Legion of Super-Heroes 2023 animation review”
I really enjoyed this one. The changes to Supergirl’s origin didn’t bother me too much (figuring Argo City was cut for simplicity’s sake), and I’m willing to make allowances for her fighting techniques since she’d only been here for 3 months. I also really like the animation style these new DC films are using; JSA: World War Two has a very similar look.
The look at longtime Legionnaires as trainees was interesting — half of them were Espionage Squad members, which was especially nice. I liked the mix of old and new character designs, and the new origin/motivation for the Dark Circle. (And *loved* the idea that it was tied into Black Zero — is that new to this movie, or has it been hinted at in the comics too?)
Hopefully, whatever sequel comes out of that final scene involves the Legion as well as the JLA.
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I think I saw JSA: World War Two, I definitely prefer this very clean animation style.
Good pick-up on the Espionage Squad link. Have we ever had an Espionage Squad with a mentalist, it seems a useful ability. Putting the ESP into ‘espionage’ and all that.
Oh, that’s a good point! I don’t recall if Saturn Girl ever participated with the Espionage Squad, but you’re right, she’s a natural!
Unfortunately, I liked little of it, particularly the reveal of the traitor. I did appreciate the modifications to Brainiacs 2-4 as to their reputations and connection to Brainiac and Brainiac 5, but I didn’t care for their scenes.
rant/ Everything always has to be a clean slate with these things, with rewritten origins, personalities, and connections. It’s as annoying as redesigning costumes and uniforms in film series (e.g., Captain America, Star Trek). /rant
I don’t mean to be curmudgeonly, I really wanted to like this. I even embraced post-Crisis LSH for a number of years in comics. Fortunately, early streaming meant I had time to cancel my pre-order of the physical disc.
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You don’t sound any more curmudgeonly than me on a good day! There’s nothing wrong with having high hopes. It really would be great to have a Legion that’s authentic to one of the comic runs. The Blight storyline would make a pretty good animation, I reckon.
“This is Batman at his most obnoxious, an utter know-all telling others heroes how to live their lives. Superman is weak, not telling Batman where to stick his misgivings. And Supergirl lacks agency, she’s at the mercy of older male heroes, and too insensitive to take in the fact that Earth isn’t as scientifically advanced as Krypton (mind, it does look more futuristic than it should).”
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^ Sounds like the film could have used Superboy (Clark Kent), who would have been a contemporary rather than a authority figure. I don’t think there’s an issue with Batman and Superman being male, though. They are the two greatest superheroes of all time; that should give them some validity? 😉 My issue is that this ground with Supergirl is so worn and knee-jerk, I don’t have to even pay attention to the sequence. What happened to the Kara Zor-El that arrived and was full of light and youthful exuberance? This approach to Supergirl makes her an add-on, rather than a compliment to the Superman mythos.
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I CAN’T WAIT TO GET THIS!
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Do report back!
In my opinion, Supergirl is great with the Legion and DC should consider putting her there semi-permanently. Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes would be a great book handled by a good team that understands not to overwhelm us with the sheer number of characters or bog them down with ridiculous slang.
The Mon-El twist bugged me, just as the twist in the Bendis run made me angry. Mon-El’s origins and place in the Legion need to be left alone. He doesn’t need changing this way.
This was very enjoyable for me, but I kept thinking that someone was mixing up angry New52 Supergirl with the pre-New52 Supergirl and not quite knowing the differences.
I would also like to see Powergirl brought more closely into the Superman Family, she deserves it, and maybe even have her have some Legion adventures along with Supergirl.
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Looks like DC listened to your request; PowerGirl is definitely being integrated more into the Superman Family! 🙂
Yes indeed go the two dodgy portrayals of Mon-El… we need know twists, all you need to know to get him right is that he’s Superboy’s Big Brother. Enough manufactured drama.
I loved it when Supergirl had co-billing with the Legion, bring that back!