Review: Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 1: Millennium trade paperback (DC Comics)

October 14, 2020

 ·  1 comment

Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 Millennium

I like Brian Michael Bendis' writing, and I like the Legion of Super-Heroes, and having such a high-profile writer on an oft-ignored DC property seems to me a very good thing. But the first two-thirds of Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 1: Millennium is a lot, a real sugar-rush of a start to this book that feels like it gets away from Bendis a little. It evens out eventually — aligned to when perspective character Superboy Jon Kent also stops to take a breath, so maybe some of this freneticism is intentional. To be sure, however, one is very ready for the 30-plus Legionnares to just stop talking for a second about the time that they do.

For all of that, there is not much happening in this first volume — there’s a villain, whom the Legion fights, and what would seem to be a major development regarding the planet Earth, though we’re not told much about what it all really means in specific (or emotional) terms. There’s some fine political wheeling and dealing as well, and the implication of trouble on the rise, but nothing in the way of a real cliffhanger, nothing to make you wonder on the edge of your seat what will happen next.

In a way that’s rather similar to Bendis' first volume of Young Justice, we get a lot of character interaction here but not as much in the way of overarching plot or setting up the status quo, and the biggest intimations about cosmic threats sound suspiciously like they’ll be resolved elsewhere. In other titles I might complain about the opposite — too much plot, not enough character development, but I rather wish Bendis would deliver both, especially when we’re dealing with teams like Young Justice and the Legion of Super-Heroes that’ve been out of the spotlight for so long.

[Review contains spoilers]

What I liked most about Millennium was Bendis' intriguing conception of the Legion. Their origin is not wholly different from Legion(s) classic — Cosmic Boy Rokk Krinn, Saturn Girl Imra Ardeen, and Lightning Lad Garth Ranzz save R.J. Brande from attack — but this time, Brande is the president of the United Planets who had recruited the kids for a youth committee, but was later inspired by the (alt-continuity, apparently apocryphal) examples of Grant Morrison’s JLA and the New Teen Titans to convert them into the Legion of Super-Heroes. In this way, the young Legion is semi-governmental — not beholden to the president, but not an independent organization created by a businessman either, which adds a new dynamic to their actions.

Second, similar to Mark Waid’s Legion (how’s that for a link to a review from 2006?!), the Legionnares are fans of the 21st century in ways both charming and silly. There is much here that’s futuristic, from the 3D tags that follow everyone around and identify them, to the next-level social media that records people’s in-the-moment emotions, to the apparent ease of time travel. At the same time, as Jon Kent notes, the Legionnares have a tendency to “pose” when they practice their superheroics, taking notes from their perception of the “old days,” and they have a litany of ideas about Jon’s life both correct and misunderstood. They’re daring and headstrong but also a little square, and that’s a fun and funny dynamic to read about.

As is perhaps not unusual for a Bendis comic, however, the first three issues of the main series are filled with talking, talking, talking (this after two issues of the rather muddled lead-in miniseries), often without any one character getting to finish a complete sentence. That’s not all bad when it’s Lois Lane and Clark Kent bantering on the couch; it becomes a virtual cacophony when there’s almost 30 characters in the scene. Letterer Dave Sharpe obviously has plenty heavy lifting to do here, but at times when three or more characters are talking in the same panel, I found myself having to trace back the word balloons to figure who was saying what. Usually I like comics by way of Aaron Sorkin, but Legion tested even my limits until Superboy finally sits down for his orientation and the Legion origin recap.

Millennium’s main story involves a tug-of-war over Aquaman’s trident, newly discovered in the future. We’re shown early on that “New Earth” does not have any oceans, the trident seems to be able to conjure water, and it’s not a hard bet that indeed, by the end of the story, the trident has been used to restore the oceans. But that act is a happy accident, and while the Legion seems very pleased about it, we’ve no sense of whose lives were made better by the oceans returning, what problem it solves for the people of Earth, and so on; it happens, and it’s said to be great, but in terms of what the audience feels emotionally, it doesn’t matter.

The closest to a traditional bad guy that the Legion fights here is Tortor, leader of the Horraz Collective, essentially a group of space pirates after the trident. Bendis introduces, but then almost immediately sidelines, longtime Legion foe Mordru, whom I thought was supposed to be a big deal, and I’m not sure if that’s a feint or if that’s a calculated shift on Bendis' part. Also making trouble is Crav, the General Nah of Rimbor (and Ultra Boy’s father), equally after the trident. The end of the book sees Nah threatening the Legion, but again, this seems awfully mild — we’ve no sense of the United Planets having a fragile peace or the like that might make Rimbor’s defection damaging.

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To that end, while I’m glad the team is back in Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 1: Millennium, I wish there had been something altogether more gripping here for brand-new readers, especially, to hang their hats on. As in Young Justice, here there’s vague talk of big-C Crises that’re supposed to affect the Legion, but whether we’ll really see that here or if that’s a shill for Death Metal (or, now, Future State after that), I’m not sure. Unfortunately, those kinds of things tend to leave the individual series high and dry, especially with no big crossover event on the docket for Brian Michael Bendis himself any time soon. I enjoyed when Geoff Johns brought back the classic adult Legion for a period of time, picking up where the most familiar incarnations left off; I’m less enthused for a new Legion to do a rehash of “Great Darkness Saga” (a second rehash, even), though again, I’m happy to see Legion plus Bendis, if it sticks.

[Includes original and variant covers, character studies]

Comments ( 1 )

  1. I have mixed feelings for this Legion run. As a long time Legion fan, I was really excited to see this new incarnation of the team. I love the new look for the team, and I'm resigned to the fact that Bendis is not relying on past stories as he fleshes out the characteristics and personalities and relationships of this team. The art by Sook has been fantastic, and even though he has needed a few fill-in issues, the overall look of the book has remained pretty consistent, which is great.

    But what eats at me is that we have another Legion run which is not very new reader friendly. Having grown up Jon Kent with the team helps tie in the book to the present DCU, but I wish DC would take the time to build the team from scratch so people can come in and not be confused by the huge cast of characters from the get-go. The slow pacing really doesn't help, because nothing seems to really happen until issue 7 or 8.

    Here's hoping Bendis picks up the pace soon. I'd hate for the Legion to be the next title canceled at DC.


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