An incredibly important part of revitalizing interest in a franchise is a big opening – the kind that keeps people talking for a long time after it releases. When Morrison did it with the X-Men in 2001 with E is for Extinction, it became one of the most talked about books running, and still spawns countless discussions to this day. When Hickman did the same for the X-Men in 2019 with House of X/Powers of X, it brought a franchise that had once been the highest selling of all time back to its rightful on top of the industry. When Bendis started his Avengers run in 2004 with Avengers Disassembled, it was instantly unforgettable and something that people had to talk about. With the launch of the Legion of Superheroes in 2019, Bendis seemed to want to capture that kind of energy, announcing a prologue miniseries titled Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium with an all-star lineup of artists and one of the most striking covers of the year. What actually resulted, though, was an incredibly forgettable two-parter that killed so much momentum of the Legion of Super-Heroes ongoing just months later.
This first volume of Legion of Super-Heroes starts off with Millennium before the actual story starts. This makes sense from an outside standpoint – it leads into the events of the first issue, and it depicts the DC future timeline in a way that would allow newcomers to understand exactly where the Legion stood in relation to the characters they know and love. The problem is, it’s incredibly boring. The entire book is a series of conversations overlaid on top of art that’s mostly stellar. Surprisingly, the main exception to the art is the artist on the first scene of the book – Jim Lee. Lee is very good at certain things, but 8 pages of a heartfelt conversation between women has never been one of them. Bendis dialogue laid on top of Jim Lee artwork looked bad in their first collaboration on Action Comics #1000, and it sets a horrible first impression for this book that it never really manages to fight through.
The first scene is not nearly the only problem with this miniseries, though. The point of view character throughout this initial miniseries is Rose and Thorn, an incredibly obscure Superman villain that had not appeared in over a decade before Bendis brought her back for a small role in Action Comics months before this series launched. For new readers, who would not have that context, this choice of a main character would be nothing but confusing. There’s no reason to care about this random supervillain who has just figured out that she’s immortal. There’s nothing to be attached to, as Rose takes a tour of some established DC futures with nothing but art changes and an ugly “THEN…” to denote shifts in setting.
Her powers are ill-defined, her origins are ill-defined, and she’s legitimately unlikeable based on how Bendis writes her. What’s worse is that interesting moments she has, such as a confrontation with Terry McGinnis (Batman Beyond), fall short almost immediately as Bendis turns every scene into a back and forth conversation where he uses as many of his grating writing tics as he possibly can. I’m someone who generally appreciates what’s become known as “Bendis dialogue,” but it’s overbearing to the point of ruining the book here. The best part of Millennium beyond the first scene is the art, as powerhouses such as Dustin Nguyen, Nicola Scott, Andrea Sorrentino, and Jeff Dekal create gorgeous scenery and worlds of wonder that we only get the briefest of glimpses into. Sadly, when you have to slow down and read the words on top of the art, it ruins the entire experience.
Now, in fairness to this book, Millennium is only two issues of prologue, and the Legion only appears in it for a single two-page spread. The actual Legion story begins in the Legion of Super-Heroes ongoing, of which the first 6 issues are collected after Millennium. So those issues could easily redeem this frustrating opening, making this a proper introduction to the Legion for fans old and new alike. Now, do they? Well… the answer’s a bit more complicated than a simple yes or no.
The proper Legion of Super-Heroes book is, to say the least, incredibly inconsistent. It gets off to a very rough opening, becomes surprisingly enjoyable only for it to fall apart, then picks up some momentum again before finally collapsing under the weight of its own poor pacing. And this is all just in one arc!
Let’s start with what doesn’t really work here. For the entirety of the first issue, the Legion feels overwhelming in a way that isn’t enjoyable. All the characters feel like they’re supposed to have unique personalities, but we only ever get tiny snippets of them that make them nearly impossible to differentiate. The best way to describe it is that it feels like you’ve joined a new friend group and everyone just makes inside jokes and talks amongst themselves, and you feel lost and left out. And this is coming from someone who’s read a solid amount of Legion before this book. This feeling continues throughout the book for longer than it should, broken up by a second issue that spends most of its time barely focused on the main cast.
There’s a really fun idea of Frichtman tags, which are in-universe tags that hover over people and provide their names and relevant information. However they’re used abhorrently throughout the series, rarely legible to the reader. It almost feels like we’re being taunted – there’s several times where Jon says that he wouldn’t be able to remember every Legionnaire’s name without these tags, yet readers who would have a very similar problem are not given that courtesy. I don’t really get why this is withheld either – lots of books use name cards to introduce characters – a notable recent example is Tom Taylor’s Suicide Squad, which did it for all the new cast members to start the first issue. However, we’re a full arc into Legion of Super-Heroes and I still don’t know who all the Legionnaires are.
I’m also generally frustrated about how straight this book is. The Legion’s fandom for a very long time was made up of a lot of queer people, similar to the X-Men. There was a huge amount of subtext around characters’ sexualities, and writers would even mention at panels that certain characters were intended to be gay. A reboot in 2019 would have been the perfect time to solidify the queer experience into the Legion – I’d like to think that a thousand years in the future queer relationships would be normalized and common. But we don’t get any of that. There’s one straight relationship confirmed on panel, and one hinted at to be explored in the future. What’s worse is that there’s a tease for a queer relationship – there’s a full page of Brainiac-5 looking suggestively at Chameleon Boy – that is deliberately subverted, and revealed to actually be a plot-relevant scene unrelated to any characters’ sexualities. Bendis did a great job making the Legion a lot less white, but that’s a very surface level change – especially when most of the characters aren’t even humans. The performative diversity of this book ends up feeling incredibly hollow as a result, and it’s something that I feel taints the entire thing.
Speaking of the surface diversity of this book, there’s some serious issues with how race is treated in this book, and it’s something that ruined a lot of the experience for me. I was really excited when I saw the new designs for the Legion – especially because of Ultra Boy, who looked like a South Asian. Obviously he’d be an alien and not actually South Asian, but having a character that just looked like me was such a great feeling. This all fell apart incredibly quickly when we learned about his backstory – specifically his barbarian warlord father. Because brown people haven’t had enough of being painted as savages, right? This was such a visceral turn off for me that I almost put the book down in its entirety right then and there. There’s also the Horraz, who serve the same purpose as Orcs in Lord of the Rings or any other fantasy settings – including the really troubling racial subtext behind them. The idea of a race that’s all evil is incredibly outdated and something worth confronting, but Bendis just introduces it into this book with no regard for what it says. When even Dungeons and Dragons has admitted fault in their portrayal of races like this, a modern reboot of the Legion of Super-Heroes just going back to this trope without any care makes the book stand out in a very bad way.
There’s still some legitimately good stuff in the book. Despite all my complaining about Millennium, Bendis manages to make Rose and Thorn feel like a legitimately positive addition to the cast of the series. Her role as the Legion’s liaison with the leadership of the United Planets is greatly enhanced by the context Millennium gives her, showing that she is someone intimately familiar with the Age of Heroes that the Legion is trying to emulate. When I read Millennium I was considering adding in a disclaimer here that this trade would be read better if one skipped the first two issues but honestly I think that Bendis’s usage of Rose and Thorn here makes it worth the read. She feels like a fully formed character and adds a very welcome perspective to the book that Jon in his naivete cannot provide.
Any time we get some serious focus on just a few Legionnaires rather than the whole roster is a massive improvement. Like I said earlier, this book feels like Bendis has complete characterizations for each character in his head that we only get to see glimpses of, so it makes sense that the book is a lot more enjoyable when we get to see more than just glimpses. This includes the recap pages each issue, which are from the perspective and in the voice of one Legionnaire retelling what happened in the previous issues and putting their spin on it. In addition, the two-parter that depicted the origin of the Legion was a genuinely fantastic experience – it clearly defined who the three founders were as people and what motivated them, and it explained why the Legion exists at all. This is another reason that Millennium ended up being worthwhile, because the context that it gives you for the entire future of the DCU leading into the Legion shows why these people would want to emulate the Age of Heroes. It also had some genuinely enthralling worldbuilding – the Science Police, the United Planets, President RJ Brande – everything fits into the world we’re seeing and enriches it. I really have to give props to Bendis for this.
I also really have to compliment the art team. Ryan Sook and Jordie Bellaire are an incredible combination throughout the book. Sook does a fantastic job making the characters distinct and expressive, and Bellaire turns every scene into a spectacle. Bellaire also does a fantastic job keeping the art style consistent when Mikel Janin comes on as the artist for the flashback issues – I barely noticed a change in the art style because the coloring kept everything cohesive. The Legion has a distinct visual identity now, something where if you looked at a page you’d recognize it. The book oozes style, in a way that makes it feel larger than life.
Ultimately, I don’t know that this book is successful at being a groundbreaking fresh take on the Legion, and it’s not something that I feel can be recommended without disclaimers. With that being said, the good parts of this book honestly do make it worth the read. Even if one doesn’t find it as enjoyable as I did, there’s things to chew on and look forward to. Given this launch, I can’t say that the future of the Legion looks to be in good hands, but it does look to be in caring hands – Bendis might not be the writer most capable of developing a new fanbase for this oft-forgotten franchise, but he clearly wants to and is trying to, which means something. The biggest takeaway from this volume is that the Legion has a distinct, memorable identity, something that I feel can be used and improved upon by future stories. I genuinely am looking forward to where it goes.