This article contains spoilers for Future State: Legion of Super-Heroes #1
Never let it be said that Brian Michael Bendis doesn’t know how to keep busy. The prolific writer has had his hands full since coming to DC in 2018. Arriving with much fanfare on both Superman and Action Comics, Bendis also relaunched Young Justice, co-created a new DC mainstay in Naomi, wrote the excellent Batman: Universe, shepherded the Event Leviathan mini, and more. All of these books introduced new characters, re-tooled existing ones (such as aging up young Jonathan Kent to his mid-teens), and set various wheels in motion throughout the DC Universe.
And in the midst of that he also rebooted the team with the largest roster in all of comics, the one that brings with it the most complex web of continuity, the one that requires the most amount of worldbuilding by virtue of its 31st century setting. I am, of course, talking about the Legion of Super-Heroes.
It’s been a little over a year since the launch of Bendis and Ryan Sook’s ongoing Legion of Super-Heroes book, which kicked off in the Superman titles, brought the now Legion-aged Jon Kent along (any good Legion needs a Superboy…it’s the law), showcased some truly spectacular new character designs in Sook’s art (new costumes and regular redesigns for Legionnaires may as well be the law, too) and established what the 31st century of the current DC Universe looks like these days. In true Legion fashion…well, it’s a lot.
The book seemed to reach a stopping point with its twelfth issue, taking a brief hiatus. But not too brief, because as part of DC’s Future State initiative, which offers tantalizing glimpses of the DC Universe to come across the entire line, Bendis returns to the 31st century with the two-part Future State: Legion of Super-Heroes, this time aided and abetted by Riley Rossmo on art. And like Sook before him, Rossmo followed one of those unspoken Legion laws and gave a bunch of the Legionnaires new looks. Great new looks.
But…isn’t Legion of Super-Heroes by its very nature ALREADY a Future State book? Not exactly, and fans of the recent series will find plenty of surprises even as it picks up on story threads from the main series. Oh, and if the roster wasn’t big enough already, there are some Legionnaires you haven’t seen yet, and some fan favorites everyone has been waiting for. Bendis told us all about it…
(This interview has been edited for length)
Den of Geek: Future State: Legion of Super-Heroes #1 kicks off with a time jump from where we last saw the team in Legion of Super-Heroes #12. What can you tell us about that time jump?
Brian Michael Bendis: We were going to do a time jump after the first 12 issues, regardless. That was the plan because it’s in the DNA of Legion where you don’t have to, if you don’t want to, there’s no reason to stay [in one time period]. You don’t have to do monthly, to monthly, to monthly, like you would on Superman or Batman because it’s a shared universe and anything that happens in one book affects all the other books.
Whereas Legion of Super-Heroes, because it’s a thousand years in the future, you can do five years later. You can jump and bounce around and show the story from different perspectives. So the jump was always on the list of things to do with Legion. And then DC called and said, “Hey, Future State!” And I’m like, “Oh, great. Already in my notes.” It was all already planned. It’s the future, of the future. I liked that, so I leaned into it hard.
The issue isn’t clear about how much of a time jump it is, though.
No. The hint I will give is that it’s not as big of a time jump as people might think, considering the dramatic changes that have happened around them.
Is that time jump, and whatever it is that happened, tied to the “Great Darkness” that was being teased in the latter part of the main run? Or is this a separate event?
It is a separate event, but it doesn’t stop the momentum where they’re headed. They’re concerned that this is The Great Darkness. They’re like, “Oh, this is The Great Darkness. We can deal with it.” And then they go, “Oh, shit. This wasn’t The Great Darkness. This was just a mild case of darkness.” As bad as the event was, there’s something else coming. They live in almost…not fear, but in dread of what this Great Darkness is, how it may manifest itself, and whether they’ll be ready for it when it comes.
It’s funny, when I spoke to you before the launch of the book, I had asked you about the potential to touch on existing Legion stories. At the time, you were like, “No, we don’t want to do that,” and you specifically mentioned The Great Darkness Saga as one where “people know what’s going to happen.” And clearly you’ve found a way around that.
I think when we brought back Secret War or other things at Marvel, you want to find something that fits the label, but elevates. You don’t want to just repeat the beats of something people have already seen. I personally like it when, if you don’t know anything about the history of the Legion, it completely works. But if you know everything about Legion, we’ve got something for you. That’s been my goal from the get go.
You had said that the time jump was already probably going to be baked into the book anyway.
It was. It was like my third note when I was making my notes for Legion. It was like, “oh, and we don’t have to follow a linear timeframe.” We can tell stories from anywhere in this period, even going to prequel stories and then stories that go before they were all gathered as well.
How much of the specifics of that were in place before it became Future State? Was Riley Rossmo on art already on the table? Or did that happen later?
No. I’m very happy to report that Riley was the first name requested, and he immediately said yes. I had worked with Riley on a couple of things. There’s something about his work that very deeply speaks to me. I just was like, I would like to see more Legion with him.
I said, “This is a grand opportunity. Just go nuts.” That’s what you want for someone like Riley, to give him an excuse just to use all his tools and all his imagination. He took it from there.
And the script was really like… sometimes you write scripts, and they’re emotional, and sometimes they almost take on a list of drawing prompts. I was just prompting him to go as crazy as he wanted to go, and I would then take the ideas from there.
How did you settle on which Legionnaires would be part of this? Did Riley have input into that as well?
I 100% said to Riley, “Who do you want to draw?” I do this with anybody I can. If there’s any space in which we can meet. I’m like, “What would you like to draw?” I’ve learned through many years and many collaborations that just asking brings a level of craft and quality to the finished product that everyone gets excited about. When an artist points to something and says, “I want to draw that,” they’re telling you, “I’m going to draw the hell out of it and this is going to be amazing.” So I always try to make it work.
He had a list of characters, some of which I already knew he was going to pick from our past work together. I was able to use most of them. Also, I told him what the hook of the story was, so it was easy to cast. There were some character needs we had, like Saturn Girl, but he had already picked them.
One of my favorite things about the Legion in general, and then particularly about this run of it, it’s always about how the characters evolve and how the costumes get redesigned on a regular basis. This was the first opportunity since Ryan Sook did the designs in the main run for that to happen. Did you discuss any of Riley’s designs beforehand?
I told him “Here’s what’s happened to them, here’s who did it, here’s why, and make your choices. Here’s what’s motivating the character.” And then sometimes he came to me with designs where I went, “Oh, I can write a whole of stuff about that.” So, yeah, it was a nice mix.
It’s nice to see the Duo Damsel change happen.
See, I agree with you and I hated it at the same time. One of my favorite storylines of all time is the Duo Damsel thing. But it’s also like the biggest tragedy in comics to me. It’s like a haunting thing. It’s losing a limb but it’s a whole person. So, I was excited to write it and dreading it at the same time. I knew I would feel it and I knew that Riley would bring a lot to it too.
You’re able to encompass that whole thing in just a couple of panels too. It was really powerful.
Well, if I remember correctly, that’s how they did it back in the day too.
Yeah. It was like, she came back and they’re like, “Wait, you’re alive.” It’s like, “well, kind of…”
Yeah, and no one knows what to say. It’s just so unique, the tragedy.
There’s a lot of characters who appear in this issue. Shadow Lass, Ultra Boy, Brainiac 7, Saturn Girl, Colossal Boy, Chameleon Boy, Cosmic Boy, Timber Wolf, Blok, Duo Damsel, Bouncing Boy, and Element Lad. I rattled off the people that I know for sure because they’re throughout most of the book. And then page eight and nine, there’s this spread and there’s a few Legionnaires that I can’t quite identify. Is that Shrinking Violet and Polar Boy? Who are some of these others?
That’s the Substitute Heroes. Time jumping was number three on my list of Legion notes, but I think the Substitutes was number eight. May I say, hilariously at the announcement of this relaunch of a Legion of Super-Heroes, the first comment was, “Substitute Heroes.” I was like, bring them. We don’t want the Legion, we want the Substitutes. I was excited to bring them in here, and it seemed like a good place. And also, Riley was the right person to infuse them with new energy.
Who’s the guy wearing the Superman crest and the hood?
You will find out next issue. A payoff’s coming.
On page 23, you give Bouncing Boy possibly his most badass moment ever. How long have you been planning that Bouncing Boy moment in your head?
Riley made it the most badass moment ever, I will say. If you really do some pseudo-super-Legion science, he really does add up to be the most powerful Legionnaire. I just thought it was a great way to celebrate that character, which I love.
That panel’s great. I almost want to see it in 3D.
Everyone gets their moment and then every once in a while, just something really special happens in the collaboration and you’re like, yeah, good. I absolutely wanted Bouncing Boy to have that kickass of a moment.
I have one more question about one of the mystery Legionnaires. There’s another great shot, another great spread at the end of the book. There’s a guy who is carrying a laser sword of some kind. I don’t recognize this character.
That’s Ferro Lad and his sword. He has a sword now. I love that design.
There’s one more issue of Future State: Legion of Super-Heroes out in February, but there’s no Legion in DC’s solicitations for March and April.
But there are Legion plans coming. Legion is a hard book to make. There’s 34 lead characters, and we try to shove as many of them on panel as often as possible because that’s one of the best parts of the Legion is the scope of it.
I think you can kind of tell from the jam issues and the fill-ins and the level of quality, attempting to keep it at the highest quality possible, yet still delivering that very special Legion feeling…instead of fill-ins that may not be up to the quality that we were doing, we’ll stop, get a story ready to go, and solicit it when it’s time. There’s more to come.
I know that’s frustrating for some people and some people just want it monthly. I get that, but not all books are created in the same way. It’s art. Even though it’s commercial art, it is art. The pandemic also takes a lot out of the schedule. When we’re ready, we’ll put out more. We’re planning stuff that connects to what’s going on in Justice League as well. Not to connect the two, but that is 100% within what’s happening.
Do you already have your artistic collaborators lined up for the next arc of the book?
You’re not going to tell me, are you?
No. It’s very, very good news. I’m absolutely delighted, but honestly, I don’t want the person stolen. Sometimes that has happened to me. I don’t mean to be vague, but right now, I don’t want to oversell something that is down the line.
One of the cool things you did in the main run of the book was introduce legacy characters that fans don’t usually associate with the Legion, like Dr. Fate and particularly Gold Lantern. I want to know what kind of feedback you got from fans on those.
Well, I was actually quite delighted. I thought the purists were really going to hit us hard on any additive stuff, but most Legion fans know that almost every run of Legion has had the added characters to the roster.
It gets frustrating only because when there’s been a lot of time in between Legion books, so some of these fan-favorite characters from past runs don’t get as much face time because you’ve introduced Gold Lantern and “oh, Gold Lantern is standing in front of Ferro Lad. We want more Ferro Lad!” Which I understand, so you better make sure Gold Lantern is interesting enough that no one feels slighted because it’s not Shadow Lass. I must say the additions, particularly of Gold Lantern and Dr. Fate and Monster Boy, all seem to go over very well and I was grateful for that.
Our biggest pushback was on redesigning the costumes. That comes with every Legion redo as well. So I pointed that out. But part of it is that some of the biggest fans in the world have already dedicated cosplay, and we messed up their cosplay. This happened in the X-Men too when we redid Magneto’s costume. People were screaming at us. We’re like “Oh, because you bought the helmet. Okay. I’m sorry. I get it.”
But I just don’t think they take away from each other. I just know from Legion past and other franchises I’ve worked on that anything you’re earnestly adding to it is good, even if it’s got pushback in the moment. I live in a world with the things I’ve gotten pushed back on the hardest ended up being huge movie moments that everybody applauded 10 years later. “Good job on creating Ronin!” I’m like, “Really? Where were you when it debuted? Because people were ripping my face off.”
So compared to stuff like that, I think the Legion fans have been just really, really generous and cool about where we’re going. I think they can tell we’re real Legion fans and we’re not messing around, and we’re taking it seriously. Even though you may not agree with every choice we’re making, you see we’re making loving choices.
Future State: Legion of Super-Heroes #1 is on sale now. We’ll have more from Brian Michael Bendis about his upcoming run on Justice League very soon!