When’s the last time you thought about the future?
With daily news reports about the burning rainforest and disintegrating democratic norms and famous people accused of awful crimes, it’s easy to think that this dark and dismal present moment might be inescapable. But, at least when it comes to the realm of fiction, DC Comics is trying to resurrect a utopian vision of the future. This fall, the publisher is reviving its long-dormant Legion of Super-Heroes franchise — about a team of interstellar young heroes carrying on the good fight in the 31st century — with the two-part comic Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium, written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Ryan Sook, Dustin Nguyen, Andrea Sorrentino, André Lima Araújo, Nicola Scott, Jim Cheung, Jeff Dekal, and legendary comic artist/Image Comics co-founder/current DC co-publisher Jim Lee. EW can exclusively debut some of Lee’s pages from the first issue of Millennium (though dialogue has been withheld for spoiler reasons).
“People are looking for inspiration now,” Bendis tells EW about reviving the Legion. “I got to go on Seth Meyers and talk about the Legion of Super-Heroes, which is a weird sentence to say. There was a moment where I said the book takes place 1000 years in the future, and after 40 minutes of all the news they just heard on the show, people applauded the idea that there is a future. Like, ‘In 1000 years we’re all getting along? Oh, good!’ They clapped at the idea of it. It was so spontaneous that I was like, oh my god people really need hopeful and inspiring stories more than ever before. That’s what Legion is about.”
That’s not all Legion is about. Originally created in 1958 by Otto Binder and Al Plastino, the Legion of Super-Heroes started out as time-traveling companions of Superboy back when DC continuity held that Superman had done lots of costumed adventuring even during his youth in Smallville. They hailed from the 31st century, where they tried to uphold Superman’s legacy of fighting for truth and justice. In their future, Earth is part of an interstellar organization called the United Planets, and their ranks include members from all kinds of alien races with their own superpowers (though, to even things out power-wise, every Legionnaire carries the same standard-issue flight ring).
Bendis says that he’s wanted to write the future team ever since first reading their comics as a kid — “like anyone who’s ever read a Legion of Super-Heroes comic.” In fact, a few years ago when Bendis moved to DC from Marvel (where he co-created now-famous characters like Jessica Jones and Miles Morales throughout the 2000s), he told DC publisher Dan Didio that the Legion were the characters he most wanted to write, after Superman.
The opportunity had arisen before. As Bendis tells it, when he was still at Marvel he once got a call from Lee with a short but nearly irresistible pitch: “You. Me. Legion of Super-Heroes.”
“I couldn’t legally do it at the time, and I wasn’t ready to leave Marvel yet, but that one hurt. That one stuck with me,” Bendis says. “That was the kind of thing where then you’re sitting there working on the project you’re supposed to be working on, but now you’ve got ‘oooh, Jim Lee Legion…’ in the back of your head. When I got here, I knew with his responsibilities, there’s no way he can tackle the hardest, most dense comic of all time. But I was delighted he immediately jumped to be part of this. He rewarded us with some of the most beautiful pages.”
Millennium is designed to be the perfect introduction to the new Legion, whether you’re familiar with the franchise or a younger reader interested by the team’s legendary status among comic fans. It focuses on a mysterious character from the DC Universe who discovers they’re not aging. Their immortality allows them to literally walk us through the 1,000 year-gap between modern DC superhero adventures and the Legion’s 31st century. In the process, she’ll encounter a lot of different DC future settings that have been created over the years, from Batman Beyond to Jack Kirby’s Planet of the Apes riff Kamandi.
“I thought of this character in the DC Universe who realizes ‘oh wait i’m not aging,’ because you don’t find that out until you find that out,” Bendis says. “It hearkens back to something I did in Powers years ago with our lead character Christian Walker who never dies; he’s just always been around, up through the modern day. In this instance, we have a character walking from the modern day 1,000 years into the future, living through DC futures she doesn’t know are coming, and just trying to survive. In doing so, when the millennium 1000-year quest is over, this character will have experienced with us Kamandi, OMAC, Booster Gold, Batman Beyond, and some things people haven’t seen before. I was delighted that all these features easily lined up. People like Dan Jurgens have made it clear over the years that these things could line up if you wanted them to. So we actually told a very beautiful story about our universe and the journey of these characters, bouncing back from some dystopian futures like Kamandi to powerfully exciting futures like Booster Gold, and wrestled with all of them. So by the time the character literally walks up to the Legion at the end of Millennium, she has with her an astounding amount of information and inspiration to give them, which is different from past Legion stories.”
The first step, as you can see in the exclusive pages above, is a near future where Supergirl is President. It’s fitting, since this return of the Legion of Super-Heroes marks the latest expansion of the Superman mythos under Bendis’ stewardship. Bendis has been writing Superman comics since last year, and this summer DC launched two new comics about the Man of Steel’s supporting characters, Lois Lane and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, written by Bendis’ longtime friends (and legendary comic writers in their own right) Greg Rucka and Matt Fraction, and illustrated by Mike Perkins and Steve Lieber.
“As hard as I’m working on Superman, when it’s all over if all I’m remembered for is bullying Matt Fraction into writing Jimmy Olsen for a year, I’ll be very happy,” Bendis says. “I could not be happier than that level of artwork is coming out of my friend again. It’s just so beautiful. Me, Matt, and Greg all live near by each other, and on Tuesday nights, Greg and Matt come over and we basically have meetings of the Metropolis City Council. All we do is sit around and ask, what can we do to make Metropolis the most interesting place in fiction? Gotham has all this stuff. Metropolis has stuff too, but there are a lot more places in Metropolis to build up and build into. So that’s where all the special sauce in the Superman books is coming from.”
Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium #1 hits stores on Sep. 4. The second issue follows on Oct. 2, and then a new ongoing Legion of Super-Heroes written by Bendis and illustrated by Ryan Sook begins in November. Welcome to the brave new 31st century…