It’s an exciting time to be a Legion fan, whether you’ve loved the team for decades or are only just now meeting them for the first time.
With all the developments currently going on in Legion world, I’ve been struggling with how to keep the discussion here au courant without abandoning or distracting from the primary purpose of the column, a deep dive into Legion history. Right now you’re reading my solution: Bonus Columns.
These columns will be 100% spoilered-up discussions of the Legion comics hitting the shops right now. Their primary purpose isn’t to be reviews, though I obviously exercise the right to express critical judgment. Instead, the goal is to dissect each new issue for references and clues, and to engage in speculation, head canons, theories, and general fannish discourse.
These columns will be entirely a bonus on top of the regular columns, and will not supplant them in any way. You can still expect at least two Legion history columns per month, in addition to these bonus columns. Based on DC’s present publication schedule, that means you’ll get this bonus column, another column next week covering Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium #1, and then probably a bonus column each month thereafter covering every new issue.
With throat-clearing out of the way, let’s dive into Superman (2018) #14, written by Brian Michael Bendis, with art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Oclair Albert, Alex Sinclair, and Wes Abbott.
In case you’re not aware, Superman #14 marks the on-page premiere of the new Legion of Super-Heroes. It’s to be followed by the two-part Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium, a mini-series that leads into the relaunch of the Legion of Super-Heroes ongoing in November.
So, the primary thrust of this issue is the resolution of the ongoing Rogol Zaar plotline that has dominated both the Superman and Supergirl comics since last year’s Action Comics #1000. In their quest to unravel the conspiracy that destroyed Krypton, Superman and friends have accidentally brought the entire galaxy to the brink of war. As armies stand ready for battle, Jon Kent calls for a “time-out,” then proposes that everyone cool their jets and found a United Nations-analog called the United Planets.
This is a pretty interesting creative choice; while the United Planets figures in every incarnation of the Legion, I don’t recall any version really getting into the details of the UP’s founding. In this instance, it’s a more optimistic, publicly-spirited successor to the Galactic Circle (first seen, in this incarnation, in Man of Steel (2018) #1), a shadowy conspiracy that’s a frequently-recurring villain in Legion books.
Making the Circle public knowledge, and making the UP a response to it, is a pretty bold choice. It’s essentially saying “The galaxy used to be governed by a secret conspiracy of the most powerful races and beings. Let’s start governing it in a publicly accountable way.” At the same time, it leaves open the possibility of a new version of the Circle in the Thirty-First Century.
It’s also an interesting decision to place the UP’s founding in the Twenty-First Century; while the ambiguity around the UP’s foundation in previous Legion iterations means there’s seldom been a specific foundation date, it’s generally implied to be sometime in the fairly distant future, when Earthlings are a more space-faring race than they are at present. Couple that with interviews in which Bendis has said that the Earth has been destroyed in the Thirty-First Century, and that the Legion has one member from each member-planet, and it adds up to a notably less human-centric Legion than has existed in the past.
Also notable are the alien races present at the founding of the UP:
We see an assortment of races and organizations from throughout the DC Universe, including Thanagarian, Rannians, Oans, Tamaraneans, Green Lanterns, Red Lanterns, L.E.G.I.O.N., Khunds and Dominators.
Those last two are particularly interesting, because Khunds and Dominators, from their very inception, have been practically defined by the fact that they’re not members of the United Planets. Now, a lot can happen in a thousand years, and it’s left ambiguous whether they’re even going to wind up joining the UP (though, at the very least, they seem to be abiding by the cease fire). Still, it at least teases the possibility of their being UP members in the Legion’s time, which is an intriguing wrinkle in the formula.
The presence of Lanterns is also notable. To start with, Oans have historically not taken kindly to the idea that anybody except Oans knows how best to attain peace and harmony in the galaxy.
But, more specifically, when Lanterns have figured into previous versions of the Legion it’s generally been bad news. There’s a lot of inconsistency on this point, even within individual versions of the Legion, but as a rough guideline the Lanterns are usually extinct as an organization in the Thirty-First Century, and the memory of the Green Lanterns is generally regarded with contempt. Where Lanterns do exist, there’s usually exactly one on a quest to redeem the legacy of the corps.
That brings us to the big reveal at the end of the issue: In the silence that follows Jon and Superman’s proposal for a United Planets the Legion of Super-Heroes spontaneously appears, having traveled from the Thirty-First Century to tell everyone how important founding the UP is. They invite Jon to join them in the future, an offer he will presumably accept.
The big news here is the giant, double-page splash of the new Legion of Super-Heroes:
This practically begs readers to play spot-the-Legionnaire… So let’s do it! By my count, there are 27 Legionnaires in this image, moving roughly from left to right they are:
- Triplicate Girl (Note the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow coloring, which may or may not have significance)
- Gold Lantern (A new character mentioned in interviews and promo art)
- Matter-Eater Lad (Significant redesign to make him much more of a ‘heavyweight’ character)
- Light Lass (note the feather on her chest)
- Wildfire (using basically his classic Bronze Age design)
- White Witch (This is a guess, but she has a similar iridescent glow to the character I think is Dream Girl, and they are siblings, so…)
- Monster Boy (Another new character)
- Ultra Boy (Nothing too surprising in this design)
- Brainiac 5 (Ditto)
- Star Boy (Now with gold skin, giving a more alien appearance)
- Saturn Girl (With a sleek unitard costume and continuing the Legion tradition of having a haircut that corresponds precisely with what was in style one thousand years prior)
- Shadow Lass (In a fairly standard version of her look)
- Chameleon Boy (Same)
- Karate Kid (sporting a queue hairstyle)
- Lightning Lad (Now Black, unlike prior versions, adding some much-needed diversity to the team)
- Element Lad (This version has interesting green skin color, a different shade than Brainy’s. Hopefully this version will be explicitly queer)
- Dawnstar (Hard to tell at this size, but seems to have had a modest costume revision)
- Princess Projectra (Not Sensor Girl, which makes some sense)
- Colossal Boy (Nothing surprising here)
- Phantom Girl (I’m not 100% convinced on this; the costume is evocative of a mash-up of several versions of Phantom Girl’s costume over the years, with the cutouts and the black and white color scheme, but the skin and hair are pretty radically different from the Phantom Girl currently appearing in The Terrifics. That said, I don’t have a better guess)
- Sun Boy (A pretty radical redesign; now he seems to be constantly on fire. Hopefully this isn’t a reference to his eternally tormented state at the end of Five Years Later. I wonder if he and Wildfire bond over being made of pure energy?)
- Cosmic Boy (See: Saturn Girl re: hairstyle)
- Bouncing Boy (Yay! Always a fun Legionnaire)
- Timber Wolf (He has an interesting, kind/earnest look to his face, a sharp contrast to his general portrayal as an unfriendly ‘lone wolf’ type)
- Shrinking Violet (I wouldn’t have known this was her if it weren’t for the design docs released as PR. A pretty radical redesign, with a long, flowing platinum blonde/purple mohawk)
- Dream Girl (See: White Witch, above. It’s an interesting decision to give Naltorians a luminous, ethereal look)
- Mon-El (Everyone’s favorite Daxamite!)
(I also suspect there’s another legionnaire being hidden by Cosmic Boy’s word bubble and Lightning Lad’s left arm; I believe it’s Blok)
Twenty-seven (or twenty-eight) Legionnaires is a lot to start with, but I don’t think that’s even a comprehensive list! Because a couple of weeks ago, Brian Michael Bendis shared this image (art by Ryan Sook with colors by Jordie Bellaire) on a visit to Late Night with Seth Myers:
By my count, this image has 31 Legionnaires (plus the mysterious figure in the foreground on the right) — 33 if you count Triplicate Girl three times. That’s all of the 27 (29?) above, plus Superboy, Blok, A glowing green skeleton in a hazmat suit-type costume (Possibly… Chemical King?), and Doctor Fate (whom they’ve mentioned in a few PR interviews is a woman here).
Plus, it looks like there may be a thirty second member: Note how Element Lad seems to be gesturing weirdly, like he’s holding something, while Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy are both staring at the blank space between Element Lad and Light Lass. That makes me suspect a hidden Legionnaire, almost certainly Invisible Kid.
So, what do we make of all this?
First, it’s a lot of characters to start out with; it’ll be interesting to see how Bendis and Sook set about the task of bringing new readers on-board with such a large team right from the start.
Second, I’ll note there’s a very strong preference for Silver/Bronze Age Legionnaires. All the classic characters are represented, plus a few of the characters introduced in the Bronze Age, like Blok and Dawnstar (though not, sadly, Quislet, unless it’s hidden in one of those floaty cameras). There doesn’t appear to be any Substitute Legionnaires (though that doesn’t mean the Subs won’t show up), nor any of the members who were in the Legion Academy.
Also absent are any Five Years Later-exclusive members (Kono, Neon, Reflex…) or Reboot-exclusives (XS, Kid Quantum, Kinetix, Gates…).
I’ll be honest, I’m a little discomfited by the Retroboot vibe this line-up has? Like the Retroboot, it replicates the team as it existed in the late Eighties, plus a few new characters (though even the Retroboot pulled a few Reboot characters in, like XS and Gates).
On the plus side, unlike the Retroboot it’s starting from scratch and doesn’t appear to demand familiarity with continuity as it stood thirty years prior.
It’s a pretty daunting task this creative team has taken upon itself. At the same time, whatever you might say about Brian Michael Bendis, he’s not known for writing impenetrable comics that require deep knowledge of continuity in order to comprehend. Hopefully this comic will be friendly and accessible to new readers while still being engaging for old hands.
It’ll be interesting to see where the team goes from here… And, we won’t have to wait long, as the beginning of the introductions will come next week! See you all then, as we dive into Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium #1!