The Legion of Super-Heroes have been absent from the DC Universe for far too long. The team of youthful heroes from a variety of worlds around the galaxy has long been an essential piece of DC and Superman mythology, but every now and then, they need a fresh start. After all, as our present changes, so must the future. And DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes is in the process of a high profile fresh start courtesy of Brian Michael Bendis and Ryan Sook. With a story that began in the main Superman title and continues through the “future history of the DC Universe” limited series Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium, and finally in a brand new Legion of Super-Heroes ongoing series in November, DC fans are about to meet the Legion again…for the first time. Brian Michael Bendis told us what to expect.
Den of Geek: Why was it important for this to be a reboot for the Legion?
Brian Michael Bendis: Well, it’s not a reboot in the technical sense. I didn’t even realize when I came in to DC that things had kind of maneuvered in continuity where there wasn’t actually a Legion of Super-Heroes yet.
I whispered “Legion”, they go, “Oh, yeah we’re on the path towards the Legion, but we haven’t made our plans yet.” And I raised my hand. Being that there isn’t a Legion, the job got even more exciting. So not only am I introducing the Legion of Super-Heroes, but really it’s the first Legion of Super-Heroes. It’s the first time anyone’s ever going to meet them.
Then I realized this job is absolutely very similar to what Ultimate Spider-Man was when I first got it which is… let’s step back and let’s think about the Legion of Super-Heroes is and cherry pick the stuff that really worked and zoom in on it to tell the most modern cool version of it. So that’s what we have, not a reboot of Legion, but the very first appearance of Legion of Super-Heroes to these characters, and kind of the “ultimate” version of them.
Does this give you the freedom to kind of tell some familiar Legion stories in a new way if you want to?
It’s really focused on the things that we absolutely loved about the Legion. Not in the, “let’s do an exact duplication of Keith Giffen” way. But the spirit of it is connected Mike Grell’s work, to Dave Cockrum’s work, to Keith Giffen and Mark Waid and Barry Kitson. There’s a genuine spirit. So let’s zero in on that spirit and then zero in on the story choices that we think makes the most sense to the DC Universe we’re writing towards, to the theme that we’re writing towards which was the premise of these kids looking at us and making choices.
So based on those premises, it’s very easy to cherry pick very cool, exciting ideas. But the storylines like “ooh we’re going to do The Great Darkness Saga again” is never as potent as a brand new story. We’re going to be doing brand new stories that are attempting to reach the heights of Legion’s greatest stories. The reason people like The Great Darkness Saga is that they did not see Darkseid coming. Again, spoilers if you haven’t read it, it’s been about 40 years, but there were things in that story people didn’t see coming and connective tissue to the DC Universe they did not see coming.
I can see there’s already connective tissue kind of in place, and not just because of Jon Kent. You’re going to introduce a Gold Lantern and a new Doctor Fate. These are characters that aren’t usually associated with the Legion. What can you tell us about Gold Lantern? Because this is way more than just putting a Green Lantern in the Legion because it’s a new kind of Lantern entirely.
We’re going to unveil that in story. If you think about it for a second, it’s more than just a character. There’s a whole legacy that comes with it and now we’re going to find out what happened to the Green Lanterns. That is definitely going to happen in the story.
Every Legion roster that I loved had the classic Legionnaires plus a couple of new characters that were very much in the same vein. So we thought it was definitely our obligation to not just introduce all these other characters, but to drop a couple of new ones in as well. Doctor Fate and Gold Lantern are perfect examples of how there’s a whole story there on top of who they are.
Doctor Fate isn’t usually a character you associate with the youthfulness of the Legion. How do you balance that ancient power of Doctor Fate with the spirit of the Legion?
Again, a thousand years has gone by since you last had an update on Doctor Fate. A lot can happen in a thousand years. I don’t mean to blow off the question, but you’re going to find out who’s behind the helmet, where did they get it from, where’s it been for a thousand years. All of these things are going to be answered, and those answers tell the story of the history of the DC Universe.
Remember that the history that the Legion has is not unlike the history we have of Ancient Egypt. We hear a version of the story as kids and then you hear a different version of it as an adult and then if you want to dig in further, there’s real detail there that sometimes reflects a completely different truth than the one you grew up hearing. That’s how we hear history. So imagine the stories of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman being told over a thousand years after the collapse of civilization a couple of times. How does history continue on or how does it work in the public consciousness through things like that.
There’s an optimism that’s baked into the concept of the Legion that I think was pretty clear just from their introduction in Superman #14. What is this Legion’s mission statement and how do they view us? The reason I ask is because there have been three incarnations of the Legion in continuity before this. Two of them were relatively similar in their worldview I think. And then Mark Waid did one that was a little bit more radical.
I found Waid’s radicals so very hopeful.
I love that take on the book. It was just their very particular kind of youth movement approach to things. Where does this Legion fall on that spectrum? How do they view us? Obviously they worship our heroes but what does the 31st century think of the 21st century?
You’re right in that the general tone of the Legion will be optimistic and positive and forward thinking, and their view of us is all funneled through that premise. They’ve come to Legion going “Love Batman, love Superman, going to rise to that occasion.” But to be very clear, there’s a lot of characters on the team with a lot of different histories and a lot of worldviews. And part of the Legion is to have all these people come together with different viewpoints, different histories, different experiences and perspectives and help each other bring the universe together. That’s how they see us. They go, “You know what really, really made the universe of what it is was when everyone was working together.” They look at the Justice League and Jon Kent, all that as people who brought unity. That’s all they’re thinking about.
So even the characters that are worried about the future or don’t see it with as cockeyed optimism as some of the characters do, they do believe that we need to try to get there. Complete optimism, which I think a lot of our readership is eager just to feel for a while. People want to visit a future that’s hopeful and that has people in it that are fighting for it. That is going to be the backbone of what we’re doing here.
I love that this team emerges fully formed. How long has this Legion been in existence before we met them meeting the Superman family?
Not too long. So what we’ve done, you’ll see in the first issues of Legion is that they’re pretty much still freshmen, for lack of a better word. And they’re still making freshman mistakes. Maybe recruiting Jon Kent might’ve been one of them. We’re going to introduce ourselves and then we’re going to find out how the world or the universe perceives them a little bit more.
How big is that roster?
It’s pretty big and we haven’t even unveiled of all of it yet. I had a moment in my childhood, I’m looking at a Legion of Super-Heroes poster, and there’s Keith Giffen and Larry Mahlstedt poster with all the Legionnaires on it. Hundreds of characters who are very, very famous. That poster meant a lot to me. That poster inspired a great deal of my creativity and desire as a storyteller.
My ambition in this here, and I know I speak for Ryan [Sook] on this as well, is to achieve the magic of what that poster was. Which was it not only just, “wow, look at all those superheroes” but just look at them working together. And every one of them just speaks to imagination and creativity. Every one of them, wants you to hear their story. So we’re diving into the Legion at that energy level and then we’re going to break it all apart and introduce you to all of these characters. And then on one of the premises is that they’ve prepared an orientation presentation for Jon Kent, which is going to tell us all of this information and he just doesn’t get to it right away.
Let’s talk about Ryan for a second because these new designs are amazing.
I’m very in love with Ryan’s stuff. It’s so exciting to be at the launch of a book and to be just that in love with your collaborator as I am with what Ryan has done and the energy in which he’s done it.
Did he just away and come back with these costume designs or did you work with him on any of them? How did that come together?
A mixture of everything. We were truly blessed. DC gave us almost an entire year headstart on trading this book. That is unheard of in mainstream comics. It’s unheard of in film and television. I didn’t even wrap my head around what a blessing it was until we started making the book and it was over and I go, “Oh my God, we had so much time to develop that was such a lovely thing.” But that was DC taking what needed to be done here very seriously. We’re really building a future and we’re building something that’s not retro, that’s not leaning on other people’s designs. We’re heading towards the premise of Legion through as modern eyes as we can.
I said, “Ryan, go draw the first things that pop into your head when I say the following things or just draw whatever’s in your head or I’ll send you things.” Hundreds of things of references to others people’s material and other illustrators and things like that and a lot of looking at one of the premises we put forward to each other and then to say this out loud it’s a little scary.
If you look at a lot of mainstream sci-fi, most of it is very wrapped around Jack Kirby, Moebius, or the illustrator John Berkeley. You see a lot of John Berkeley’s work in things like Guardians of the Galaxy. And it’s all gorgeous and it all affects me greatly and I said, “wouldn’t it be wonderful if we at least attempted to push past all that influence and towards a new kind of sci-fi?” Just to say that out loud and see what happens. It’s very exciting and nerve-wracking and it has inspired a great deal of cool work that you’ll see in the pages coming forward. Because I’ve seen the intricate detail of the first issue. I know that’s kind of a like a dick thing for a writer to say, “Hey, how about let’s take away all the things that people like and are popular and see what else we can do.”
I didn’t know Ryan at all. I’m just a big fan of his. When I came to DC and I always thought we’d make good comics together, just just looking at his choices and stuff. But the minute we started working together on Action Comics and I saw that my theory about us was true I jumped on him. It was like if making a comic is like making a baby, this is like, “You want to have quadruplets with me?” on a second date. And he said yes.
Do you remember which characters you started with to help point the way?
It’s always the core members and then Timber Wolf and Wildfire. Everyone feels like if we nailed Timber Wolf and Wildfire as all the other pieces will fall into place. And Timber Wolf got this new look. There’s always been this weird influence between Timber Wolf and Wolverine going back over the years, right? They’ve always kind of had some kind of back and forth influence and I thought using that premise, my favorite Wolverine is actually Darrick Robertson’s Wolverine. I put that out as the basis of our Timber Wolf and that’s where we are.
You talked about wanting to break away from popular conceptions of sci-fi right now, but in terms of Legion mythology, was there anything that you specifically felt that you had to shake up or break free of in order to make sure this book was able to distinguish itself?
I made a loud proclamation that I really wanted “no retro.” I thought really the opportunity here is to surprise and delight ourselves as creators. Push ourselves as hard as we can into this, just like all of our heroes did, right? What did Kirby and Moebius and all these greats, what were they trying to do? They were trying to blow everyone’s mind! Instead of doing them, let’s just try to do that. Let’s learn from the example of our heroes by trying to blow the roof off the place.
I guess when you start putting retro, it’s retro on retro. Now you’re retroing something that was already retrofitted. We thought, no, let’s go as future forward as possible. Some people are going to see the designs right away and their not going to be the thing they loved in 1970 and it’s going to take a minute. But then if you step back, you’re going to say to yourself, Oh this is all reflects the stuff I love. It just reflects in the way that a new audience can wrap their heads around it and really embrace it. As a Legion fan, isn’t that what we all want? As many people to hop on board as possible?
One thing that I always felt about Legion was it was so dense in its own mythology. And even though it takes place in the DC Universe, it’s also kind of like its own corner of the DC Universe. So how tied to the wider DCU is this book going to be, especially with some of the other wheels that are in motion across the line?
Well, I’m very involved in all the wheels. This wheel is very much in concert with the other wheels. Does that make sense?
We’re all being built around the same premises and ideas were very in tune with each other. That one I’m excited for that level to reveal itself in about a year from now. We are building towards something. So I’m excited about that. That’s coming.
The other part of your question is something I really focus a lot on because you want the Legion, this team on its own, but the book is about how they reflect the entire DC Universe. So you’re torn because you don’t want to do a book about other books because that can always be death. That’s never good news. In this instance, I definitely want connective tissue and MacGuffins of some sort. I definitely want MacGuffin that really speaks to the DC Universe that we haven’t seen in the, in the Legion books before.
I was literally sitting in my office going, “hmm, what am I going to do?” My son, six years old, burst into my office holding his Aquaman Trident toy and he goes, “Dad, this is the most important thing in the entire universe!” And I go, Hey, he’s got a point. If you’ve seen the cover of Legion #2 and Superboy holding the Aquaman Trident, it’s because my son convinced me that is the most important thing in the DC Universe. This actually opened up an idea for a storyline that was completely unique to Legion but connects us to our path in a completely fantastic way. That is our first story.
How far ahead are you planned? How far out do you have this book mapped right now?
Again, I’ve been working on this since I walked in the door in DC, so I’m good. I have so much to get to. I’m like there’s not enough pages in the world. My high class problem is getting to all of it.
You said something very exciting to me before about the density of Legion and the complexity of the storytelling. You’re right and it’s something we’re leaning into hard. It’s why I wanted to do the book. Some of my greatest heroes in comics and outside of comics have dealt almost exclusively in this kind of a multi-layered and multi-generational storytelling.
I have been studying this my entire life. I was telling Dan Jurgens, because he was talking about some stuff that he did with Paul Levitz and I was completely blown away by Paul’s organization skills as a creator and a writer. Sometimes when you take a book you go, “wow, there’s so much here.” I have some experience in this field and I am completely blown away by the organization and power of his ability to tell the Legion story as clearly and cleanly and as excitingly as he did all those years.
Was it a coincidence that Superman #14 hit the same day as Doomsday Clock #11, where the previous Saturn girl was, was kind of, you know, disintegrated from the timeline?
Ah, yes. Because we had a printing error and we had to go back to print. The elements of the story are not a coincidence. All of this is done in connection to each other. But the actual shipping scheduled time, they were supposed to be a week apart. They ended up being out of each other, but it didn’t really matter. The truth is still there.
All of the pieces of Doomsday Clock, all of the pieces of Superman, all of the pieces of Event Leviathan will all land to connect together in a beautiful way. This has all been planned.