The Legion of Super-Heroes is one of DC’s greatest teams. They live 1000 years in the future in the 31st century and fight for peace, tolerance, and a better universe for all. Despite the Legion being one of DC’s biggest hits in the 80s, it has been 6 long years since the last issue of a Legion of Super-Heroes ongoing was published. Now, after all this time, the Legion is home. Brian Michael Bendis and Ryan Sook have brought us the very first issue of an all new Legion continuity. Joining them is Wade Von Grawbadger assisting Sook on inks, Jordie Bellaire on colors, and Dave Sharpe on letters. Spinning out of recent events in Superman and the two-part Millennium special, this team has taken on the monumental task of bringing back the Legion and restoring them to popularity. Many attempts have been made to reinvent the Legion and return them to their former status. While it remains to be seen if this iteration of the team will build that audience after a 6-year absence, this first issue is a solid foundation for a fresh take on the 31st century.
Bendis may not be the first creator that comes to mind when it comes to sci-fi futuristic comics, but between Ultimate Spider-Man and Young Justice, he has had plenty of experience with younger characters. Bendis has consistently shown an ability to connect with what younger audiences want. From creating Miles Morales to curating the entire Wonder Comics imprint, he has an impressive history, and his skills work well for this book. He captures the essence of each character’s voice in the snippets we see, and his iconic style of dialogue works exceptionally well for this large cast. The 30(ish) members all get to bounce their dialogue off one another right out the gate in an incredibly satisfying way. Despite the overwhelmingly large cast, this issue provides several enjoyable character moments. Managing a superhero team this large is no easy feat, and Bendis introduces the entire team in this issue. To explain who everyone is to new readers, Bendis and Sook use a new concept called “Frichtman tags.” These tags are an in-story explanation for the name and description blurbs that often pop up in comics to explain who is who, used by the Legion to ease social interaction in the future. Unfortunately, these tags are not very visible in this issue. In a future issue they will perhaps be placed in more visible locations for a proper introduction. The size of the cast also forces a certain amount of compression, which works in the book’s favor. Some of Bendis’ issues at DC have felt far too decompressed, and while Legion #1 is still a relatively decompressed issue, the sheer amount of content to be covered limits it to an acceptable degree.
One of the most immediately striking aspects of this new reboot (Bendisboot? Sookboot? Bookboot?) is the incredible designs and art by Ryan Sook. Sook was tasked not only with drawing this issue, but crafting the look of the entire team and the world they live in. It is a monumental amount of work that had to be done before even starting the first issue, and the results are simply out of this world. The attire of each Legionnaire pays homage to their classic outfits yet are completely reinvented for a modern era. Members like Dawnstar greatly benefited from this redesign and are wearing far more appropriate attire than their classic iterations. This cast looks like the 31st century, and not just because of their outfits. This Legion team is possibly the most diverse team of characters ever in a DC team book, both racially and in terms of body type. Many characters are now drawn as nonwhite, providing much needed diversity to a team that exists to fight for tolerance. Several members such as Princess Projectra, Element Lad, and Dream Girl are drawn much more alien in appearance. Matter Eater Lad is now large and buff, and Timber Wolf is stockier. It is an immense variety in people unlike any ever seen in comics. One can only hope future issues will reveal an equal amount of variety in sexuality and gender identity. Sook’s art throughout the issue itself is equally as thrilling as his design work. Like Bendis, Sook and the art team need to manage 30 characters, with the entire team appearing on the same page multiple times. Each Legion member is given the care they deserve, and their designs are beautifully realized and leap right off the page. His vision of the 31st century certainly draws from more classic depictions, but it’s the sci fi edge he adds that truly makes it something special. From the bright, shining surface cities to the dark and dingy corners below, fantastic inks and colors bring Sook’s pencils to life.
This team is not afraid to bring fresh changes to the title, both in art and in writing choices. Right out the gate, Bendis has made the choice of connecting this Legion continuity to the main DC universe much more-so than any previous writer. There are several new characters on this Legion team, two of whom are a new Doctor Fate and a Gold Lantern. The Legion is a cosmic team and has plenty of experience with magic, so these characters do fit, but there has never been a Doctor Fate or Lantern on the team. Lanterns were outlawed in United Planets space in previous continuities, and despite every era having a Doctor Fate, none have served on the Legion. These characters open exciting new possibilities for storytelling. Who are they under their masks? What is a Gold Lantern? Could we see other reincarnating characters such as Hawkman and Hawkgirl in the future?
In addition to the cast itself, Bendis has also connected this Legion to the present DCU through this arc’s McGuffin: the trident of Aquaman. Aquaman has had few connections to the Legion in the past, the presence of his trident as a relic of power opens even more exciting doors. One can’t help but wonder how Atlantis fares in the 31st century. Speaking of, several key DC locations make their appearance in this issue, albeit quite different than their present-day counterparts. The Earth is a far different place in the future and seeing how these familiar locations have adapted is fascinating. Enhancing the connection between the Legion and the present day DCU is a choice that is deeply important to the success of this book in an age where one of the most commonly asked questions about comics is “does this matter?” While whether or not a book truly matters is only dependent on how much the reader enjoys it, telling newer audiences that this is an active part of the DCU is an important clarification.
These are not the only notable choices Bendis has made when building this continuity, and some will be far more controversial than others. A major Legion villain makes their first appearance in this new canon. They are significantly different than their previous iteration, and one cannot help but feel underwhelmed at this usage. This character may grow into their classic counterpart as this new world develops, but as of now it feels disappointing. By far the most controversial element of this new team is the addition of an aged-up Jon Kent as this Legion’s Superboy. Bendis first unveiled this choice in the pages of Superman, with it eventually being revealed he would join the Legion. Many fans of the Super Sons book, featuring Jon and Damian Wayne, were upset as this put a wrench in that dynamic. However, there is another controversial element to this inclusion. In this continuity, Jon Kent is the first Superboy to join the Legion of Super-Heroes. Clark Kent no longer has his past relationship of joining the Legion as a teenager. It is something fans of classic Legion may be disappointed by. Ultimately, Jon Kent now finds himself as the newest member of the Legion, and his inclusion may be critical to the book’s success. Jon is, quite literally, the next generation of the DCU. While Clark’s time on the Legion is near and dear to fans, he hasn’t had his Legion membership for significant stretches of time. After John Byrne’s Superman reboot in 1985, Superman did not even know the Legion until Geoff Johns’ Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes returned that continuity in 2007, meaning Superman skipped two entire Legion continuities. Cutting Clark out once more and replacing him with his son is an important decision that places the Legion’s fate in the hands of the next generation. If a Legion of Super-Heroes audience is to be built again, the current group of younger readers who love Jon is a key element.
Every choice this team has made in rebuilding the Legion once more has been in the interest of not only reaching out to classic fans, but also building up a new audience among current younger readers. It is these choices that are the fundamental success of this first issue. The last Legion continuity attempted to form an audience by literally regressing the franchise in every way. The team was an aged down version of the same exact Legion from the 60s and the creators were hit writers from the Legion’s past. It was an attempt to turn back the clock in a franchise about looking to the future, and it failed so catastrophically that it led to a massive 6-year absence. All of the choices made by Bendis and Sook do the exact opposite of this. They have crafted one of the most diverse teams in comics, led by a hit young character, clearly defined the Legion as an important piece of the broader DC Universe, and are looking toward tomorrow instead of yesterday. The book’s execution may have momentary weaknesses, but this is a world worthy of the 31st century. Only time will tell whether this Legion of Super-Heroes will reach people; the book could fail and the Legion may vanish once more. But in its striking freshness, this book extends a welcoming hand to all. There is a future, and should you accept it, you will find a shining tomorrow unlike any other.