The Splash Page: Defining the reconstructive age of comics in “Legion of Super-Heroes: Millenium” 

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Samuel G. Reece, @_samreece , Contributing Writer

The Golden Age kicked off superhero comics in the 1930s and 1940s. The Silver Age brought them back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The Bronze Age lasted from Gwen Stacy’s death in 1973’s “Amazing Spider-Man” #121 to “Watchmen” and “Crisis on Infinite Earths” in 1986. And then… 

We call anything post-1986 “The Modern Age.” But, 33  years on that seems a little outdated. There have been a lot of comics in those years, a lot of trends in the industry, several reboots and restarts and reimaginings. I’d venture to say that what we used to call the “Modern Age” ought to be known as the “Age of Deconstruction,” a time when we pulled apart the genre conventions of comic books and split them apart. We questioned our heroes and then, when we started to believe in them again, the tragedies of 9/11 thrust us back into an age of disbelief and collective trauma. You can see that sort of thing in those years of the “Ultimates,” of “The Authority” and “Stormwatch.” 

And then, writers like Geoff Johns and Brian Michael Bendis popped up in the early 2000s, and set the stage for what might be called the “Age of Reconstruction.” You see it all the time, now – comics that not only embrace the silliness of comic books, but try to unify and connect disparate strands of silliness and complex continuity. This month alone, Marvel put out it’s 80-year history retrospective in “Marvel Comics” #1000, and a new continuity-spanning series called “History of the Marvel Universe” that, while beautifully drawn, is not much more than a big continuity dump of complicated histories. Both, however, try to unify the complexities, explain them not away but in connection to each other. Obscure Golden Age character Tuk is now retrofitted as an ancestor to various races of superhumans, and it has now been explained that many seemingly unrelated characters have all drawn their source from the mysterious Eternity Mask. 

This “Age of Reconstruction” is in love with the strange and shifting shared universe, and we see that reflected in the kinds of movies we watch, and the way in which the Marvel Cinematic Universe has gone to the bank on the theory that viewers like to see disparate strands brought together. Brian Michael Bendis, whose work on many Marvel properties led the way in the age of Reconstruction. It was Bendis who co-created Jessica Jones in 2001, a character whose comic book origin slots her into the Silver Age of Marvel Comics. She was a failed hero whose exploits weren’t worth showing us back in the day. It was also Bendis that brought her dark and gritty adventures into the pages of his “Avengers” run, merging various realms of the Marvel Universe. Bendis jumped ship to DC Comics a couple of years ago, and he’s been hard at work on a pretty great run of Superman titles, and overseeing the ongoing “Leviathan” event, itself a story about various unconnected secret agencies in the DC Universe being drawn into a single conflict. 

Gone from DC Comics for several years has been the Legion of Super-Heroes, the 1950s team of far-future teens whose utopian world was protected by the legacy of Superman. Now, Bendis is introducing a new version of the team, embracing their wacky and time-travel based continuity, but he’s taking two issues to address some disparate strands of DC Comics along the way. The various possibilities for the future of the DC Universe are all represented in the first issue of “Legion of Super-Heroes: Millenium,” as seen through the eyes of the seemingly immortal sometimes-villain, Thorn. 

Mostly, Bendis does what he does best and most often, spitting pithy dialogue back and forth between characters, focusing on rapid-fire quips, and doing a lot of story-telling in his settings, each of which is depicted by a different artist. (Jim Lee introduces the story, Dustin Nguyen depicts the cyberpunk future of “Batman Beyond,” Andrea Sorrentino gets the dystopian, “Planet of the Apes”-esque world of Kamandi: Last Boy on Earth, and the always fantastic André Lima Araújo gives us the shiny retro-future of Tommy Tomorrow and the Planeteers.) The issue follows Thorn through various time periods as she searches for the answer to the question of her longevity, and mostly spends it’s time once and for all defining just when each of the future worlds take place, and how they fit into sequence with each other. In fact, the eponymous Legion of Super-Heroes never make an appearance in this first issue. Thorn is an interesting choice for a lead character, but her personality never really shines, and long dialogue scenes both drag on and don’t give us enough flavor of their respective worlds. 

We’ll have to wait and see what this new version of the Legion looks like, and what Bendis is going to do with them. He’ll have to do more than his sometimes-pattering dialogue style if he wants to differentiate the many Legionaries (he falls back on that trope in this issue, though in “Superman,” he’s been doing more unique things). But you get the sense that the “Age of Reconstruction” has fully taken hold, and that if DC is this interested in parsing out their various futures, there is a story in waiting that will draw from each of them. If Bendis can pull that off, and connect 80 years of stories set in various far-flung years and timelines, then it will be a great act of Reconstruction.