Timelines collide in DC Comics’ six-issue miniseries Justice League vs. the Legion of Super-Heroes, reuniting Brian Michael Bendis and Scott Godlewski for a super-powered showdown. The DC Universe’s two premier superhero teams assemble across space and time when they realize a Great Darkness is coming to engulf all of reality in both of their timelines. As the Great Darkness bears down on the DCU, the fate of the universe hinges on the rise of the powerful Gold Lantern, the Legion’s newest and most mysterious recruit.
In an exclusive interview with CBR, Bendis and Godlewski dived into the storytelling logistics of putting together the biggest DCU team-up in years. The pair also teased the seismic significance of the Great Darkness and Gold Lantern Corps. Also included with this interview is a preview of Justice League vs. the Legion of Super-Heroes #1, written by Bendis, drawn by Godlewski, colored by Ryan Cody, and lettered by Dave Sharpe, with the issue’s standard cover by Godlewski and Cody and variant cover created by Travis Moore and Cody.
The term “Great Darkness” is one that comes with a lot of weight and expectation when it comes to the Legion of Super-Heroes. In crafting this jam session between the greatest heroes of the 21st and 31st centuries, what made you want to invoke such a weighty term from the top?
Brian Michael Bendis: You’re right, it is a weighty term.
Just to age myself right off the bat, when I was really discovering comics, graduating from high school, and had already determined the course of my life, not only was there Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns and other massive milestones going on, this was also at the height of the Legion being the Legion. On top of just being a great idea, well-executed for decades, it was also in this vortex of everything great that was going on — particularly with DC Comics during this time. There was not only this eventful, futuristic comic unlike everything else but there were also major attempts to push the whole medium forward in this book.
One of the things inside of that was there was this looming Great Darkness that’s coming. It just so happens that, in the original [Great Darkness Saga], the payoff was fantastic. It went on for a long time, you had no idea who the Great Darkness was, and when they revealed themselves, it was solid. That doesn’t always happen in comics. They really did surprise and delight the audience and I remember reading a lot of Legion fanzines, like Legion Outpost, at the time. Someone brought up, in their analysis of The Great Darkness, that it was a great theme for the Legion. The payoff was great but the idea is that the Legion was staving off the darkness and if we wake up every day and there’s no Great Darkness, then we’ve done it. That’s how you live your life. That thing alone felt different, like a theme, that it just so happened that the Great Darkness is a thing they have to deal with but it’s also their job.
It’s been decades since The Great Darkness Saga. With this reconstructed DC Universe, after all the reboots, we’re in a different logic and truth. I thought let’s celebrate what the Legion is, put the Great Darkness back into their world and also have it connect to the greater DC Universe because if there’s a difference in the Legion between comics now and then, it’s that there’s an overall universe to contend with, it isn’t just [contained within] the book. Having the Justice League and Legion meet each other at that moment, it’s like, “We’ve got a big problem here. Nice to meet you, but holy shit!” It wasn’t just about doing the Great Darkness again. The Great Darkness actually meant something: it was along the lines of Crisis. It’s beyond the story of that.
Both of you are no strangers to team books but you’re taking the two biggest teams in the DC Universe and putting them together for this. How is it balancing all those voices, as a writer and artist, and making sure everyone gets their just due?
Scott Godlewski: The editor is probably doing as much work as I do — just getting me the amount of reference I need for everything. As far as putting stuff on the page, it’s like doing seat planning for a wedding. You have to determine who’s going to go where. There’s a mental exercise to it that you really don’t get on a lot of other books. Until you do it, you don’t believe it but a team book is totally different from a solo book. It’s all about logistics. It sounds boring but there’s math to it almost in just finding the right layout of stacking people but it’s a ton of fun because I like math.
Bendis: When I was a younger creator, it seemed like an impossible task. I wasn’t wired for it. I dedicated a great deal of my life just to the art form of the group book. Scott’s right, it’s a completely different way you think about how the story is structured and with the Justice League and Legion of Super-Heroes, not only are there a lot of members, but each of them could be or are the lead of a solo title. They have enough story within themselves to lead this whole thing. There are forty people standing around that could lead the title and it’s about who’s perspective is most interesting at this moment. I learned that doing X-Men and Avengers and that’s really the key.
I think I stole this from Roy Thomas but, when there are six people standing around, you have to decide whose perspective is the most interesting or is the omniscient perspective the most interesting. At the same time, if there’s someone whose perspective is the least interesting, you have to figure out why they’re standing there. There were certain X-Men comics where Colossus was in the background sometimes grilling hot dogs. He could be doing anything. I realized that maybe in the script nobody referenced Colossus so the artist figured to give him something to do.
I go through the story from as many perspectives as possible to see what they think of this. Is it interesting at the moment or will it be interesting later because it could be important later? I make sure nobody’s being ignored, and if they’re not being dealt with at all, why are they standing there? It gets harder with more members — when it’s six people in a group it’s easier to wrangle, but when it goes from six people to 34, it’s a little harder to get them all on the bus. That’s the part I like to dance around and Legion always felt that way. There’s this one group and another group and a third group that could be doing something even more interesting. It’s balancing that expectation with actual solid storytelling where everyone is getting their due.
[With Justice League vs. Legion of Super-Heroes] it’s not just dealing with different perspectives but they’re from different planets, perceiving information and the environment differently. Some can breathe on Earth better than other places and some can’t: that changes their perspective on this.
In terms of perspective, if there’s a hero that can stand up against the Great Darkness, it’s a hero literally powered by light and you’ve got Gold Lantern front and center in this first issue. Does he have his own hero’s journey through this?
Bendis: We were thrilled that the introduction of Gold Lantern went over so well. It was easily the highlight of our run on Legion of Super-Heroes. People were really digging the idea of it or were tentatively interested. The whole point of setting him up was to get to this story, which is a grand origin story, not only of this person but of the legacy of the Lantern Corps and what it could evolve into a thousand years from where we are now — particularly with what we call this age of heroes, the modern DC Universe. It does a couple of things. It’s a thing in the DC Universe that connects the timelines and immediately shows you where we’ve gone from. We introduced a new hero and see his hero’s journey but at the same time, within his hero’s journey, is the looming threat of the Great Darkness.
While you’ve worked together before, Brian, I’m going to put you on the spot and ask what made Scott the perfect artist for this book?
Bendis: I’m just a huge fan of Scott. His work just speaks to me. I look at it in the same vein as Stuart Immonen or Sara Pichelli, people I’ve worked with a great deal. There are certain people, when the art comes in, it makes you feel a certain way. It’s exactly what I wanted it to be, always with a little extra something that I’m impressed with — things I would not have thought of that makes the whole thing better. Scott is excellent and this is a hard book, no joke. It’s a very difficult book to illustrate. I wince whenever I hand in my scripts because the easiest thing that I’m asking for is hard. I know it as an artist and I’m also drawing again so I’m hyper-aware of what I’m asking people to do are some things that I can’t do.
He returns the pages, and no matter what’s going on in his world, they look amazing and effortless. That’s really the job, to make it look like it took nothing and that it was fun. He takes sometimes thirty elements on a page and lays it all out in a way that is so accessible and clear — and that’s also the job, to be clear — and fun. It’s all there and I admire it so much. Every gig I ask if he wants it is a little harder than the last. It’s like a Jenga of a creative relationship asking, “How far I can push things until he stops returning my calls?” I’m delighted that he always responded enthusiastically to these assignments.
Godlewski: As a creator, I think Brian is one of the most generous people I’ve worked with. He’s a superhuman being, but as a collaborator, every script opens with, “This is what I’m thinking but if you think a better way to do whatever is on the page, do it.” That’s really the most you can ask for from a collaborator, to be able to add to things. That’s the whole point. You start with an idea, and through collaboration, the weakest parts fall away and hopefully, you’re left with the strongest version of what you were hoping to achieve.
We started with Young Justice and you just fall in love with those characters and most of that is due to Brian and the way he portrays them, and it’s the same thing with this book. I wasn’t super-familiar with Legion but I have all the stuff on my wish list now. I want to go back and get everything. Being so far-flung into the future and sci-fi heavy, there’s a strange, magical undertone to the way everything in Legion feels. It’s really unlike anything else I run into in comics and I am super excited to be on board, especially with him on this particular book.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Scott Godlewski, Justice League vs. the Legion of Super-Heroes goes on sale on Jan. 11 from DC Comics.
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