Following successful TV cartoon shows for Superman, Batman and the Justice League, Warner Brothers animation gave the Legion of Super-Heroes its shot at TV stardom, and Warner Brothers’ satellite company, DC Comics, released a comic tie-in series.

The TV cartoon, despite off-putting manga-esque stylisation (at least to those of a certain vintage), had great wit, charm and imagination. Unfortunately, the comic largely lacked this. Of its 20 issues, only two matched the standards of the TV series, and only one of them is presented here, in a reprint collection of the first seven ‘floppies’.

The premise: The Legion of Super-Heroes reaches back into history from the 30th century to invite Superman, the hero whose example inspired their organisation, to join their ranks. However, they reach a little too far; the Clark Kent they get hasn’t mastered his powers fully, and has yet to put on a costume. Ironically, therefore, the Legion end up inspiring their own inspiration. They teach him what it means to be a hero, as they help him hone his skills and provide his costumed identity!

(Trivial sidebar: The  character is called Superman, in both the cartoon and the comic, despite clearly being a teenager. This is because DC/WB was at that time in litigation with the Shuster family, estate of Superman’s co-creator, over the ownership of the “Superboy” name.)

The paperback opens with a confusing and out-of-sequence reworking of the ‘toon’s first episode, without enough differentiation between the ‘now’ and the ‘then’, and is a very off-putting introduction to a younger-readers’ comic.  Subsequent issues improved, but remained beige compared to the original source. The only story that rises above the pedestrian is Scott Beatty’s tale guest-starring Infectious Lass, where a Legion wannabee’s powers go awry, but end up saving the day. It’s great fun, but too little to save a flat and insipid collection. The other writers – J. Torres, Christine Boylan, Jai Nitz – don’t seem to have their hearts in the exercise. The various artists – Sanford Greene, Alexander Serra,  Chynna Clugston, and Ethan Beavers – produce generally attractive work, though necessarily constrained by the requirement to adhere to the animation ‘model’. A dishonourable exception is Steve Uy, whose attempts at mimicking an animation storyboard merely result in flat and dull visuals. Kudos for trying something a little bit different, but – back to the drawing board…

Despite its considerable merits, the Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century TV cartoon was a flop, lasting only two seasons. Some cynics have speculated that it was only created to publicly establish how easily the Superboy trademark could be replaced, if the trial’s verdict went against DC. The comic spin-off fared even more poorly, and so far, presumably owing to weak sales, this paperback remains the sole collected edition, with the rest of the series only available, for hardcore completists, as scattered back issues.