In 1973 DC published a short series of Legion reprints from ADVENTURE COMICS in the Legion’s first self-named comic. The logo and cover lettering are by Gaspar Saladino, the main guy doing both tasks at DC at the time. The logo looks back to the styles of Ira Schnapp, Gaspar’s predecessor, using both the kind of block lettering he favored and the telescoping drop shadow Schnapp used so effectively on logos like SUPERMAN. To have room for all that, Gaspar put the team name on three lines for the first time.
Here’s a black and white copy of the logo and trade dress from issue 2 copied from a photostat in the DC files. While I might have, at first glance, attributed this conservative, traditional logo to Schnapp, I know it can’t be him, as he had retired and passed on by then, and looking at the way the letters are formed, with sharply defined corners (more obvious on the original image), I know it was Gaspar. If this series was a tryout for a continuing Legion book, it didn’t succeed, as it lasted only four issues.
The logo was used on some Legion title pages, and on this one issue of SUPERBOY, with the drop shadow blacked in, probably to make it more readable. Notice the words “STARRING THE” in white. This was done with type, probably created with the Varityper Headliner machine in the DC production room, a sort of small photostat camera that just produced lines of headline-size type.
The very next issue featured a brand new LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES logo designed by Gaspar to match his SUPERBOY logo. The tall, condensed letters were needed to get the long name on one line, and even though the style of the top and bottom lines were the same, there was a small, awkward gap between them with a slightly different Headliner STARRING THE between. While very readable, this entire logo shows none of the usual Gaspar flair, and is pretty bland, with only the slant giving it any interest. And the entire cover is so full of trade dress, character heads, type and cover lettering there’s hardly any room for the art! DC was in dire need of a cover designer at the time. Carmine Infantino had been designing a lot of the covers in the late 1960s, but seems to have given that up in the 70s, and it would be a few more years before Neal Pozner was hired as the company’s first real cover designer.
DC’s cover designs went from bad to worse in 1975, and so did this logo, when someone decided to space out the letters of both SUPERBOY and LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, no doubt thinking it would make them more readable. In fact it just made them look bad, and forced them to be smaller on the cover. But there was so much wasted space on this cover already, it didn’t matter. The cover art on a comic is supposed to be a major selling point, and this cover has left less than half its space for art. The rest is an unhappy mess of conflicting elements, none of which work well together. Dark days for DC cover design.
Three issues later some slight improvements were made: STARRING THE was put in a small burst above LEGION, allowing the two lines to move closer together and leaving about 60% of the cover space for art.
Another slight improvement on this issue from 1976: the box behind the logo was eliminated. The logo and trade dress still took up too much space, but the color-gradient sky did give it all a more open feel.
A few more changes came with issue 222 in December 1976. The Legion part of the logo was given a box like the one on SUPERBOY, to help it read better against the cover art. This also unified the logo, giving the top and bottom lines the same exact style. Unfortunately, AND THE is once more between them, hand-lettered by John Workman, I think, who also did the rest of the lettering on this cover. This version of the logo lasted for a few years.
1976 also saw the first Legion spin-off title, featuring KARATE KID. DC may have decided to try this series because of the popular “Kung Fu” TV show that ran from 1972 to 75. A bit late to the party, as DC often was. But Legion fans must have supported it, the book ran for 15 issues at a time when many series were cancelled quickly if they didn’t sell. The logo is by John Workman, who told me an interesting story about it. It seems John had, independently, created a character of his own with the same name when he was a child, and wrote and drew some stories about his creation (completely different from the Legion version.) When asked to do a logo for the new DC book, John reused the Japanese-style logo he’d created for his own Karate Kid many years earlier. The logo is attractive and easy to read. It’s in a style commonly used for oriental characters or names in the early to middle 20th century, roughly mimicking the look of Japanese and Chinese writing. It’s fallen out of favor now, apparently disliked by Asian Americans, and real Asian fonts have the same kind of creativity and variety in styles as European ones, so I can understand why they’re tired of this one.
The last few issues of the title had a different logo, which I now know is by Walter Simonson, confirmed by him. Moving away from the typical Oriental look, it has an interesting mix of styles that suggest 1970s rock posters to me, don’t know if that was an influence. Notice also that the new DC symbol designed by Milton Glaser, and commissioned by new DC Publisher Jenette Kahn is in place, and most of the overblown trade dress is gone, giving all the DC covers a much cleaner, more modern look.
Here’s the original logo from the DC files. The uniformity of the letters suggests Walter might have been looking at a particular font. And he was.
Designer Alex Jay has identified the font, “Eckmann,” created by artist Otto Eckmann in 1900, and often found in books about the Art Nouveau movement. Walter didn’t copy it exactly, but it was clearly his source. Thanks, Alex!
In 1980 I’d been on staff for about two years, and had already designed about a dozen logos when I was asked to do one for the Legion. A new logo was wanted, as Superboy was leaving the title, and the Legion would go it on their own. I was a reader of the book at the time, and jumped at the chance. I chose to put the logo on two lines in a design that featured thick, open, condensed letters not terribly different from previous ones by both Schnapp and Saladino, though my style of S is distinctive. The open letters had a heavy outline, and they were all packed close together in a design with three-point perspective and an open, telescoped drop shadow. Astute observers have noticed that the backward lean and overall shape are similar to the logo Jim Steranko designed for the X-Men in 1968:
© Marvel Characters, Inc.
Those observers are spot on, though I didn’t notice it myself until it was pointed out recently! It was probably an unconscious influence, as I was a fan of that book, too.
For some reason I had no sketches or even a copy of the final logo in my files, but found this photostat in the DC files (the original was not there). I think it does a good job with a long title, and I still like it. The backward slant didn’t always work well with cover lettering, though, and when asked to come up with a spinoff title, this is what happened:
Pretty awkward, isn’t it? Why I didn’t simply add SECRETS OF THE as a third line above the rest I can’t say, but this logo is definitely a poorly designed one. Fortunately it only saw print on this mini-series. Despite this fiasco, DC wanted something new for the book in 1981, and gave me another shot at it. We’ll continue there next time.
For other chapters and more logo studies, visit my LOGO LINKS page.