If there are two types of stories Brian Michael Bendis is known for telling, they tend to be team books and books focused on young characters. Both of those types of characters come together in the two books we spoke with Bendis about last month, “Young Justice” and “Legion of Super-Heroes.” We talked about the large casts of characters, his collaborators on the books, and what is next for him at DC. Spoiler alert: he’s not done there anytime soon.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
One of the things about writing “Legion of Super-Heroes” is that you have a bit more of a blank canvas than a lot of other creators do because your characters aren’t popping up in other titles. You know there’s not a Bat event six months down the road that needs Cosmic Boy to be doing this for it to be set up for. So you have this relatively blue-sky approach to write in a Legion of Super-Heroes, which allows you to tell your story in a more complete way.
You and I spoke right when you came to DC and you teased “Legion.” So what’s a word or a phrase that you want your Legion run, when it’s all said and done, to be remembered by? Is it legacy? Is it cooperation? Is it fracture?
Brian Michael Bendis: I think the theme of “Legio”n has always been legacy and that’s why even while you were expressing that question, which I agree with, there’s two things that popped in my head. Number one, one of my favorite things about writing in a shared universe is, oh, there’s a Batman event coming and you’ve got to deal. It’s fun to write. It’s almost like you see online, people have writer prompts where it’s a chicken and an alien. Write something. That’s what it feels like sometimes your shared universe. The real world of the DC universe affects your world. And then there’s this Legion book that reflects back on that age of heroes from a completely different perspective. So if anything, it’s almost like the uber event of DC all the time.
When you talk about what’s going on in the DC universe, this is how it pans out in Legion. That’s how I felt when I read it as a kid. And that’s how I pivot every scene I’m doing. It’s oh, how interesting. That’s how they saw us. Or, oh how interesting. That’s how the age of heroes was perceived by certain cultures and other cultures perceived it differently. And for us, again, as history buffs of the real world and us knowing full well that some of the history books were written by the winners. And some of the history books were written with a different perspective than we might share now. And reflecting on that for Legion in the DC universe is interesting. How they perceive Batman in the Legion of Super-Heroes is completely different than how we perceive it now.
That’s a lot of fun too, to be able to play with perception in that way. Is there a character that, I’m not asking for big-time spoilers here, don’t worry, but is there a character that you can’t wait to dig into how they’re perceived in the 31st century?
BMB: Yeah. It’s Mon-El and it’s a mixture of… Mon-El’s perspective is my favorite of all time.
I thought you were going a different way with that question. Sorry. Mon-El and his legacy and his connection to Krypton and Earth is going to be an enormous curtain pull back on a lot of stuff about the Legion of Super-Heroes and I’m very excited about that. Also, because that character’s got a different legacy with different audiences. For the Supergirl TV show, he’s a rascal. Even when I first said we were doing Legion and people went, ooh Mon… Their response to Mon-El was different than mine and I got very excited about that.[As for your question] We’ve already revealed Planet Gotham so if anything, that accentuates how the legacy of Batman is a planet and that planet isn’t oh, it’s all Crime Alley. It’s a legacy of what the Wayne family brought to the entire galaxy to show more and more of that as we go.Continued below
Yeah. Planet Gotham has been a really fun part of the book so far as has the little teases about Damian Wayne and his future and all of that. And I know that you’ve done a little bit of Bat writingin “Batman Universe” book and when I was a kid before I understood how comics were put together, I never gravitated towards the Legion. As a kid, I was a Batman kid. And there wasn’t a Batman in the Legion of Super-Heroes. Do you have plans to incorporate more of the Bat mythos into Legion?
BMB: This is plenty. There’s more coming. Every time we visit Planet Gotham there’s going to be more and more, but that’s… There’s so much to the DC universe and there’s so much stuff we’ve added to it for Legion that you want to leave it to the new as often as possible.
The perfect example is Gold Lantern is a character that with that appearance comes a whole lot of what happened to the Green Lantern Corps and what are they now. Everywhere you turn in Legion, every door you open, there’s an enormous world of legacy and characters to deal with.
Well, that was part of my question is that I feel like one of the challenges for a new reader hopping onto Legion is just the sheer volume of characters. And you’ve combated that by adding some more to the mix. And I love the new characters. I love Golden Lantern so far. I love the look of the new Doctor Fate. So when you’re putting together the book, how much for you is about adding new characters to this world versus exploring these characters that have been out of the spotlight for a while? Where do you find the balance between adding new and re-inventing or building up the old?
BMB: You go by instinct and sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m wrong, but my gut has done me well, in the long run, a lot of the time. So I do go with it. And with Legion, I remember one of the thrills of Legion was it was kind of lean-in reading. It wasn’t all spelled out for you on the first page and a giant recap. It was, no, figure it out. You’ll figure it out. Even five years later, oh no, you got to figure it out even more. Part of Legion is a puzzle and letting that puzzle unfold and dropping the reader right into the middle of the story versus walking them in was an interest… I’m kind of having my cake and eat it too because Legion Millennium walked us up to the front door. And then drop it right in the middle of it. Now you’ve got to figure out who everybody is.
It’s exciting. I know it’s not for everyone to do that, but those who do it get very inspired and charmed and delighted by the experience. Comics are a very unique experience so anything you can do to add to that unique experience, I think is a plus. And so we’re in between issue #6 and #7 now. So here’s where you really get to feeling that… Locked into it. And then also people hearing within issue #6, oh no, he landed the plane. It’s all there. It’s good. You can go read it now. It’s all there. So I’ve gotten a lot of that feedback lately, so I feel good about the choices we made.
But I knew the first issue we were going to get a who are all these people and then by issue #6 you go, oh, I’ve met a lot of these people. And then we have a very cool two-issue arc coming with “Legion of Super-Heroes” #8 and #9, which was specifically set to give a little spotlight to each character. And in this instance, it’s an all-star jam. It’s 44 amazing artists, all coming to Legion to do one page focused on one character, and the artists actually pick the character. So you tell me who you want to do. And then I will put the story puzzle together. And we had this really fascinating thing that happened where the first 30 artists, no one picked the same character twice.Continued below
BMB: It was literally like… And I’m so glad I have witnesses to this. The editors all saw it happening because you’re like no way. Because I thought the worst thing that could happen when you offer dozens of artists, they’re all going to pick Saturn Girl and then I was going to have to like ask them to pick other people. But it ended up the best version happened where everybody raised their hand for the one they felt the strongest by, and then they drew it accordingly. And so we’re about to head into… The second arc of Legion is really going to let you explore all the new characters and the classic characters that we’ve made newer.
Yeah. One of the things I think has been a really brilliant device on your part is by having that opening page of a different character each time. Even though that might be the only page in the book that they are the focus character on, it just gives you a sense of who they are. And I know I really appreciated it in the first few issues when I was getting my feet wet with these new interpretations of characters to have that. And I’m very much on board with those art jam issues. Is there an artist whose work went a totally different way than what you thought when you handed them the script for that big art jam?
BMB: Yes and no, but it’s a mixture of artists that that’s kind of what they’re known for. That’s what I was excited about. What I’m most excited for people to experience is how it feels when it all weaves together. It’s at the printer now, so we have it and I actually sent it to all the artists, so they could experience it as well. It’s a very unique read. Even for jam books, it’s very precious and unique. And I was excited to see it.
What was cool was, and I didn’t mean it to be as manipulative as it was, but when Art Adams and Kevin Nolan signed on that just made most of the other artists go, oh shit, I better draw my ass off. I’m in the book that Art Adams… And I’m never that manipulative to start, but once it starts happening, I do lean into it and start sending everybody Art Adams’s pencils and stuff, just because I know it’s driving everybody crazy that they’re in a book with him.
There wasn’t a page where I wasn’t just smiling and delighted by the choices that were made. And also I think I was most impressed with… I told a lot of the artists that you can either do a pin-up or a storytelling and most picked… And I thought they’d go for a pin-up. They wanted to tell a Legion story. And I was very excited about that as well.
It’s interesting you say that because I think that Legion is almost like a secret handshake among comic fans and that if you’re a Legion person, you’re a Legion person. There was no in between. You’re in or you’re out. So to see all these artists come together to do a character that they love is a very cool thing.
BMB: And I will tell you, we started this process before the lockdown. This was a project we started in a funner world. And then when everything went to hell, I went oh, all this is going to fall apart. Everyone’s going to be dealing with their family and not be able to do their page or whatever. So I was braced to come up with some kind of plan B. And before I could even broach the subject with anybody, about 12 of the artists wrote me privately and said, we’re still doing this right because I really want to do this? And I really need to spend a day in the 31st century.
And it all came together. And so it really felt like die-hard Legion fans. And also, I don’t want to embarrass anybody, but there were a few artists who I did not know what a deep Legion fan they were and how emotional they got with me about just being part of this. I’ll let them tweet about it if they want to tweet about it, but I was genuinely surprised about how emotionally connected some of my peers were to Legion as I am.Continued below
That’s very cool. I do want to shift over to Young Justice for a second because I think Young Justice has been such a fun book and it’s a book that did something I never expected it to do, which was you are fighting with continuity on the page. You are going round by round against continuity. And I love that shit. To me, comics is messy and that’s the fun of it. The fun of it is that things don’t always connect and having to explain to my daughter who is a big Green Lantern person, I’m like, oh no, there are thousands of Green Lanterns. And they don’t always line up and who should be where at the right time and all that. So fighting with continuity is something I’ve always really enjoyed.
BMB: I deeply appreciate what you’re saying. And I do… You have to roll up your sleeves for… I’ve done this both at Marvel and DC, where you’re like, you know what, I’m leaning into it. This is a big mess and I’m leaning in and I do agree with you, the mess is part of the fun. But it’s got to be the right characters and the right story. And with these characters, it absolutely is. And speaking of legacy, these are true legacy characters living in the now, under the deep shadow of the legacy that they’re in. Plus there’s all this multiverse mishigas, which was the original title of the book, going on around them. So I did. When I very excitedly grabbed “Young Justice” and then saw, oh, there’s a bit of a mess here. Ignore it and push forward or lean into it and make that…
And it just seemed that the mess itself was symbolic towards what it feels like to be an older teenager. The real world feels like a big fucking mess and I didn’t have anything to do with the mess that was made. And I’m supposed to either clean it up or be part of it. No one asked for my vote. And I’m just here now. And it just feels like a real truth. But particularly I’m writing an issue right now with [co-writer] David [F. Walker] about Cassie Sandsmark, and her legacy to the Pantheon and it just feels very real like “I’m about to go to college and I don’t know why.” And so it all feels very real to me. So it’s really about that more than it is about fighting the continuity. It’s about, ooh it’s a mess. What can we learn from the mess?
The fight really comes on Twitter because Twitter, when you’re in the middle of it… And this is a long haul, this is a 15 issue explanation. Some readers immediately go to a dark place and think you’re going to erase everything that ever happened. And then you get to the end and you go, oh, not only did you not erase it, you made it all about it. Everything that ever happened to these characters mattered. Everything you bought mattered.
So it’s nice to reveal that to people, but I wish I could… And I know it’s the internet and it’s humanity and people always assume the worst is… But rarely is that our goal. Our goal is to get to the good stuff. So it was nice as the book has progressed and people see, oh, everything that ever happened to Conner Kent mattered, is exciting to people who love that character.
I came of age… I’m 38 years old, so I came of age in the ’90s with a lot of these characters debuting. And so when the book was announced, there was a lot of nostalgia on my part, just because I love seeing Connor Kent and Tim Drake and these folks, running around doing their stuff. But when I dug into the book, I was surprised at how much heart was there from the very beginning. There was this real, tangible love for one another in there. And that’s not always something we see in superhero comics or especially with teams. A lot of times the teams are there to act as emotional foils on each other, not as an emotional unit. And I really appreciate that you did that. And I’m wondering if that came from the way you read the characters in the past, or if that’s something you wanted to add to their tradition going forward?Continued below
BMB: Other people have said this to me, so I appreciate what you’re saying. And it’s funny because I feel like I stole that. It’s like with Superman, you get Kryptonite, you feel like you stole it. It’s not writing. I stole someone else’s awesome idea of Kryptonite. With Justice, it felt like they were always very emotionally connected to each other and very emotionally with each other, no matter what version of Young Justice we’re talking about, even the cartoon version or the other comics that were out of quote-unquote continuity. It always felt like, well, they really love each other. And they’re really a family that found each other. And that’s always kind of been the theme that I’ve been running through other team books. That was part of my Avengers one as well is that they’re not the family they were born into, but this is a family they’ve made.
And for these younger characters, all of which have a really fractured relationship to their legacy, their real legacy is each other. And so I do, I feel like every time they’re hugging each other, it’s kind of like a stolen moment. It’s also a reflection if I may, and this is where the internet comes in, in a positive way, I feel this is how the audience feels about these characters. You all love each other and they love… If anything, there’s not a version of the characters that someone hasn’t dedicated a website to their fictitious romantic relationship to each other. Whether it’s Connor and Tim or Connor and Cassie, whatever the mixture is, there is a fan base that wants them to be romantically together. So those people you always know on some level you’re going to disappoint them because everyone wants everything. You can’t be everything to everyone.
But what I did take away from that is how emotionally connected the audience is to these characters which I feel as well. So I just leaned in hard. And also I was writing the characters healing from a pretty dark thing that happened in my life. And now when I look back and particularly those first six issues, and everyone’s just hugging the shit out of each other, I just wanted to hug everybody. I’m Connor and I’m hugging everybody. And so I see that now, but I wasn’t that aware of it when I was doing it.
I’ve also really appreciated all the new additions you’ve made to the team. I love seeing the other Wonder Comics’ characters pop in there. I love seeing Sideways pop in there. It’s been really cool to see these characters be added to the history. And I know that the core of the book is the smaller team, but are we going to be seeing more with those auxiliary characters going forward?
BMB: Yes. The plan is and I meant to get to this by issue #6. I took to issue #15, but the idea would be that it’s not just the core and it’s not always the core. It’s they call each other when they meet each other and whoever can show up shows up. And sometimes it might be a team of Connor and Sideways and Wonder Twins and another will be a classic Young Justice team but with Arrowette. So it’s basically any of the teen Legacy characters that know each other can call each other. And I’m excited about issue #19 and #20, you get to really feel the mashup feel of it. And also some of them know each other really well. And some of them don’t know each other really well.
And that’s really additive particularly… Because as you said, you said the magic word. And it’s funny, when I first started Young Justice, some of my peers went, holy shit, “Young Justice” is a nostalgia book. That just makes a lot of people feel old. Like, oh yeah, it is. It is flat out. Of all the books I’m writing, “Young Justice” has a nostalgia audience to it. And that’s great, but there’s also a new audience that only knows it from the cartoons or only knows it from what they’re buying right now. So you want to be very reader-friendly and having characters like Naomi not know a damn thing about Cassie and getting to know her while the other characters are there having already lived through her history together is… You get to have your cake and eat it too. You get to have a long legacy history of the character and you get to live in the now with them.Continued below
I really loved the tone that was set throughout the Wonder Comics books. And I love how all of the different books felt sort of on… If you took it in isolation, they all felt very unique but when you took them together, there was a real synergy connective tissue to it. Do you have plans to do more Wonder Comics titles in the future?
BMB: We have a couple products brewing because Naomi’s success. We’re doing another run of that. Also, Jinny Hex. We have a project with her coming. A lot of readers have really raised their hand about new characters in the existing universe. Like DC, but oh, let me follow Naomi. These are almost like ambassadors into the larger shared universe for newer readers or just people looking for a perspective different than Batman or Superman. It’s like seeing the DC universal from a different perspective. And a lot of these characters offer that. So we’ll be doing that.
But what I was excited about while we were putting together the initial run of Wonder was that they would all be individual, but at the same time there was a theme and all of those books were very affected by the legacy of Superman. Superman shows up in every one of those books, but only a reader would know that. Not the other characters. So I thought that was an interesting thing that Superman is like the connected emotional threat.
When you and I last spoke, you had just started at DC. I think Young Justice had just come out maybe. And I asked you what was different about working at DC than Marvel?
BMB: What did I say?
You had said that the way the books were put together is very different, just from a nuts and bolts perspective. But now I’m curious, you have a couple years under your belt, you’ve written every corner of the DC universe, at least a little bit, whether it’s because of an event book or whatever else. How are you feeling about writing in the DC universe a couple years in? What’s different to you? What’s still exciting about it to you?
BMB: Oh, well, it’s funny. It’s similar to Marvel in that it’s a surprise what works and what doesn’t work. You want everything to work and you try your hardest and everything, but it’s art and alchemy and sometimes it’s just that magic sauce that gets you there that you weren’t even aware of.
So I’m delighted beyond measure that “Batman Universe” went over so well. It was the thing I was the most scared of when we were talking last. I’m like, oh, I hope people like this Batman. This is not the Batman they’re buying right now. And either they’re going to be into it or not. And I was thrilled that so many people were. And also how interesting it is, how open the DC audience is for new characters coming in. New villains and heroes to come in and build the universe.
So I’ve really been excited about that and leaning into it a little harder than I even was going to. I think when we spoke last time, I was all about bringing in the new characters, but it seems that now looking back, that’s the stuff I’m most proud of, wherever I was additive is what I’m most proud of. So you’ll see in “Superman” and “Action,” in almost every book, there’s going to be additive new characters, both heroes and villains.
You are the king of the Twitter tease. You like to post a panel here or there that gives people a hint at maybe what’s coming, but we haven’t had a real good Bendis tease in a while.
BMB: Only because I’m not sure when things are shipping and I didn’t want to like… You know what I mean? I think that cover we just put out of “Legion of Super-Heroes” #10. That was a pretty good one with John and Saturn Girl embracing because anything that involves romance in the DC universe, you’re looking for trouble online. Anything. So I was both happy to tease that and delighted by the response because it’s Jon Kent and anything with Jon Kent, someone’s going to give you the business. So I’m happy.Continued below
And is there any character you haven’t been able to touch yet? Someone you cannot wait to get your hands on?
BMB: Oh, that’s a good question. I’ve touched them a little bit, but then what happens is you go, oh, I would like to go there. I wrote some Flash coming up in Young Justice and I went, “oh, I like him.” So there are quite a few characters that just dancing around them a little bit has made me even want to write them even more.
And again, it’s the house of Batman. David Marquez and I just finished a Batman short for “Detective Comics” #1027. And it’s one of those great DC jam books. And I’ve seen some stories in it, and it’s going to be a great collection and I got to write the whole Batman family there for the first time and that was deeply exciting. So I’m excited to put that out there, but yeah, there’s like a million characters I haven’t written yet. But what’s funny is that you were focusing on between Young Justice and Legion there’s like 58 lead characters. I’m okay with what I have.
And just so you know, there’s a large conspiracy theory brewing online that you’re leaving DC. Can we put that to bed right now?
BMB: I’ve got a contract. I’m under contract. I’m good. We’re good to go. I mentioned that there was an end to my Superman run and from there it builds a whole long thing. No. May I say for those who are looking for more positive news, DC has been excellent about keeping the doors open this whole time. So even during the downtime where books weren’t shipping, we were making comics. And so we’re, if anything, in a very healthy place where there’s a lot of products and a lot of new stories and new characters coming out, coming your way. So yeah. I’ve got JINXWORLD books, Wonder Comics books, Superman, Legion. There’s all kinds of goodies.
All right. That’s what I like to hear.
BMB: No. I’m here.
Thank you for your time again. Please stay safe.
BMB: I’m hanging up with you because I have an editorial call about some super secret cool thing that’s coming in 2021.