When Crisis on Infinite Earths debuted in 1985, some suspected the identity of the villainous Anti-Monitor would be revealed as Darkseid, evil ruler of Apokalips in Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. And while that wasn’t quite how things worked out, writer Grant Morrison would give Darkseid his time to shine as a handy Anti-Monitor surrogate in 2008’s Final Crisis. Morrison would also use Final Crisis as an excuse to resurrect Barry Allen, the original Flash (if you ignore Jay Garrick) who was famously killed off in Crisis on Infinite Earths‘ eighth issue.
Final Crisis, coming off the heels of Morrison’s equally bizarrely-structured, utterly capitvating Batman R.I.P., was perceived as being something of a mess: there were publication delays, Wonder Woman and Mary Marvel in bondage gear, a new Aquaman who was introduced then immediately forgotten, the “deaths” of Martian Manhunter, Batman, and all of Kirby’s Fourth World characters, and a plot that alternated between dense, impenetrable, and nonsensical. There were also a truckload of continuity issues resulting from Countdown to Final Crisis (which had its own problems), which preceded Morrison’s series and was written with only a vague understanding of what would be happening in Final Crisis.
And, because this was an epic crossover miniseries, there were tie-ins. So many tie-ins. Some tied into the main series pretty well (Final Crisis: Requiem, Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3-D, Final Crisis: Submit), some were tangentially related (Final Crisis: Rogue’s Revenge, Final Crisis: Revelations), some had a connection that made no sense (Final Crisis: Resist, DCU: Last Will & Testament) and some, like Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns and Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds, seemed like stand-alone stories that were slapped with a Final Crisis label despite having absolutely nothing to do with the main series.
When Legion of 3 Worlds was released, many on DC’s sorely-missed message boards argued that it was the epic Final Crisis should have been. Scripted by Geoff Johns and drawn by Crisis on Infinite Earths‘ George Perez, Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds featured Otto Binder’s original Legion of Super-Heroes trying to find a way to fight Superboy-Prime and the Legion of Super-Villains, eventually enlisting the help of Mark Waid’s 1994 post-Zero Hour reboot Legion, and Mark Waid’s 2004 Threeboot Legion:
In case the previous paragraph looks like gibberish to you, a quick recap: the original Legion lasted from 1958-1994. Pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths, they were heroes from a 1000 years in the future who used the legend of Superman as inspiration for their own team, eventually travelling back in time to befriend Clark Kent when he was still Superboy, embarking on many time-travelling adventures together. Post-Crisis, Clark Kent was never Superboy and Tom and Mary Bierbaum’s much-loathed Five Years Later arc (I loved it) drove the team into the ground enough that Mark Waid would use 1994’s Zero Hour company-wide pseudo-reboot to re-introduce the team as they originally appeared: a bunch of fresh-faced teen heroes. In 2004, Mark Waid rebooted the Legion a second time, putting the teen heroes in a Dystopian future and adding a time-displaced Supergirl to the team (Kara Zor-El having recently returned to continuity).
The 2007 Justice League/Justice Society crossover “The Lightning Saga” brought back the original Legion, and the story, aside from making the Superboy/Legion stories of the past canon, culminated with the Legion trapping someone in a lightning rod:
Knowing Barry’s return was imminent, fans speculated the lightning rod contained the original Flash, or his grandson (born 1000 years in the future): Bart Allen, also known as Impulse/Kid Flash. The second issue of Final Crisis made it clear that the Legion hadn’t rescued Barry, and in Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #3, Bart made his triumphant return:
Crisis on Infinite Earths killed off Supergirl and the Flash; Legion of 3 Worlds brought back a speedster (Bart) and resurrected a member of the Superman family: Superboy, who’d been dead for several years:
That’s Conner Kent punching out Superboy-Prime, an alternate-universe Superboy who’d been a key player in Crisis on Infinite Earths and the villain of Infinite Crisis, as well as Conner’s murderer.
Superboy-Prime is one of the least-loved characters in comics history. He’s also a not-so-subtle representation of the whiny continuity freak in all of us: hailing from Earth-Prime, the “real world” where DC Comics exists, he becomes a supervillain after deciding things were better pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths. Here’s his family’s horrified reaction to his misdeeds in Legion of 3 Worlds:
Geoff Johns has been labelled a fanboy, sometimes affectionately and sometimes not so affectionately, meaning he gets criticized for doing almost exactly what Grant Morrison does: write big stories about popular heroes, fill them with winking nods to the past, and pluck forgotten characters from obscurity to round out the tales. Yet it seems like Morrison is constantly praised for his efforts while Johns gets continually slammed.
Which is too bad, because Legion of 3 Worlds is pretty great, and a fine showcase for Johns’ talents. The plot goes something like this: Superboy-Prime, mistakenly landing 1000 years in the future, is enraged to find he’s a minor footnote in Superman’s career. Deciding to destroy the Legion of Super-Heroes because of its connection to the Last Son of Krypton, Superboy-Prime frees the Legion of Super-Villains and is surprised to learn that he inspired their creation. In another funhouse-mirror twist on Superman’s early years, he arrives in Smallville in a similar manner to his namesake, but with slightly different results:
After Legion of Super-Heroes benefactor R.J. Brande is killed during a United Planets meeting to determine the Legion’s future, the team calls Superman to the future to help battle Superboy-Prime. Aside from revealing Braniac 5’s plan to call in two alternate-universe Legions (Mark Waid’s teams), Superman states his intentions: “We need to redeem Superboy-Prime.”
The idea that the other Legions are from parallel universes makes sense in a post-Infinite Crisis DCU (Golden Age heroes once again hailed from Earth-2), but the idea of redeeming Superboy-Prime is sort of dismissed after the first issue.
Two Green Lanterns show up in Legion of 3 Worlds #2: the Alan Moore-created Sodam Yat, and Rond Vidar, who single-handedly takes on the Legion of Super-Villains in order for his friends to escape:
It goes about as well as one would expect. In issue #3, evil wizard Mordru unleashes another callback to the original Crisis on Infinite Earths – shadow demons, those unstoppable killing machines that wiped out dozens of characters (including the original Dove) in 1986:
At the beginning of issue #4, we see the slightly-unhinged-due-to-time-travel Starman digging up a grave bearing the name Kent.
There were two possibilities of who the grave could belong to: Jonathan Kent, Clark’s recently-deceased father, or Conner Kent, a.k.a. Superboy. Starman’s “special mission,” it turns out, was to dig up Conner Kent’s body and place it in the Fortress of Solitude’s Kryptonian healing matrix, the same device that revived Superman after his death at the hands of Doomsday. Superman healed relatively quickly, but as luck would have it, Conner would take exactly 1000 years to revive.
More interesting stuff happens in issue #5, but basically the entire series leads up to this squeal-inducing moment:
Every Legion of Super-Heroes character to ever exist shows up to help fight Superboy-Prime, including the Five Years Later Legion, the SW6 clone batch, the modern-day Invasion! offshoot L.E.G.I.O.N. (later knowns as R.E.B.E.L.S.), and a couple versions of pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Supergirl, who, despite all effort to the contrary, just keeps refusing to not exist. It’s a cool moment, probably one of my favorites from the last 10 years.
Maybe Legion of 3 Worlds does explain the difference between Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison: where Final Crisis was an obtuse, compelling tale with an odd structure, Legion of 3 Worlds was a straight-up crowd-pleasing adventure told through a conventional linear narrative. Both are excellent, but Final Crisis was meant to tickle your brain, whereas Legion of 3 Worlds was meant to wow you. And boy does it.