They say that it’s important to remember your past. Though I’m starting to suspect that for the heroes of the DC Universe, the key to success may lie in the future.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. As you likely know, DC launched a brand-new Legion of Super-Heroes series this week with a first issue written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Ryan Sook. This is the first new Legion series in over five years and is arguably the most ambitious project Bendis has undertaken since he came to DC in 2018. This week’s issue #1 has been built up over the past few months with a remarkable appearance by the team in Bendis’ Superman and a clever, absolutely gorgeous two-part prologue series called Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium. It is, in short, as big as new comics get, especially for fans who like to keep up on the DC Universe as a whole.
But it’s still a Legion comic, which means plenty of fans out there—and I know I’d be among them myself if writing about comics wasn’t what I do for a living—are likely wondering whether they should dive in.
There are readers who absolutely love the Legion, but for every one of them, there’s a fan who just doesn’t get it. To these fans, the Legion is confusing, unwieldy and remote. It’s set far in the future, in the 31st Century, and features a massive cast that, with few exceptions, doesn’t appear in any other comic. The sheer number of characters is almost daringly challenging to new readers. Just take a look at this spread in Legion of Super-Heroes #1.
That’s a LOT of new, unfamiliar faces for a Legion noob like me. Not counting Superboy, I recognize Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Brainiac-5 (who I know from Supergirl) and that’s it. Three out of over two dozen.
And before any of you Legion experts object or try to argue that the size of the Legion isn’t a barrier to entry, know that Bendis would disagree with you. In fact, no less than Superboy himself makes that case right in issue #1.
I realize that the cast’s size won’t be a problem to most people reading this. Anyone likely to check out an article on the Legion of Super-Heroes is…well, probably a fan. But hopefully you realize that there are plenty of other comic fans out there who don’t share your knowledge base and who might be wondering whether Legion of Super-Heroes #1 is worth their time.
For those fans, I’m happy to say that yes, it absolutely is.
I can’t say that the first issue does a particularly great job of explaining who everyone is. A few key characters introduce themselves, and Bendis and Sook also incorporate the “Frichtman Tag”—a visual display letting everyone on the team know who everyone else is. (It’s obscured and hard to read at times, but it does help.) Hopefully, as the series goes on and key characters emerge, the creative team will take the time to make it crystal clear who all of them are. But what Bendis does do here is give his Legion of Super-Heroes quite a few threads linking it to the present-day DC Universe, which finally gives DC fans new to the Legion some familiar faces and objects to grasp onto.
Superboy is obviously the biggest and plays the most important role. After all, he’s new to all of this too. For right now, he seems pretty overwhelmed, but you have to imagine as the series goes on, he’s going to gradually learn more about the Legion and the 31st Century and we’ll be picking it up right alongside him. Giving the series a central character who’s as naïve as many of us is a great way to help make this series a little more welcoming to new fans.
And it’s not the only way that Legion of Super-Heroes #1 does it. There’s also the character of Rose Forrest. If you’ve been reading Bendis’ other books, especially Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium, you’re familiar with Rose and how she wound up so far in the future. She’s become unexpectedly immortal, and no one, especially not Rose, understands why that is. Rose has fought with (and sometimes against) Superman in the pages of Action Comics, and as an immortal, she also knows what sort of nightmares await Jon’s world in the future. In issue #1, she really seems to want to talk to Superboy. It might have to do with precisely this, or perhaps it has to do with the book’s third tie to the present day…
No one’s exactly sure how or why Aquaman’s iconic—and vastly powerful—weapon has suddenly emerged, but it’s clear that there are some frighteningly dangerous people who want it. Ultra Boy, who stole it, thinks the trident can restore the world’s oceans and make New Earth a little more like the Earth that came before. It’s not certain that’s possible, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the trident will probably prove to be just as important to present day Earth as it is to its 31st Century iteration. It may take a while for us to discover how, but with three very clear connections to the DCU of today, it’s obvious that Bendis doesn’t intend for his Legion of Super-Heroes to exist in a vacuum. This is a series that’s going to have an impact on continuity.
But what’s brilliant is that in creating this new relevance, Bendis and Sook have also made the book more accessible. I may not know who that stern-looking alien is in Legion of Super-Heroes #1’s final panel (I really don’t—feel free to tweet me her identity if you’re familiar with her), but I sure know who Aquaman is. This might be my first time being introduced to Karate Kid, but I’ve met Rose Forrest a few times.
It’s clear Legion of Super-Heroes is an important series that should be read by as many DC fans as possible. Thanks to Brian Michael Bendis and Ryan Sook taking such a clever approach, it finally can be.