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Brian Michael Bendis and Scott Godlewski talk new epic 'Justice League vs Legion of Superheroes'
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Comic Books

Brian Michael Bendis and Scott Godlewski talk new epic ‘Justice League vs Legion of Superheroes’

A giant-sized superhero tale with action, dialogue, and threats galore.

A battle is brewing in DC Comics’ new series, Justice League vs Legion of Superheroes. Created by writer Brian Michael Bendis (Action Comics, Checkmate) and artist Scott Godlewski (Dark & Bloody, Justice League), the six-issue miniseries features two superhero teams, a huge cast, and a giant-sized threat known as the Great Darkness looming over everything. If you like huge epic stories and superheroes galore, this is your bread and butter.

Justice League vs Legion of Superheroes is also an incredible work in how it divvies out dialogue to so many characters at once, especially on multiple pages in just the first issue alone. It’s an impressive feat pulled off thanks to how Godlewski plans the logistics of a page, as he told me last week in an interview over Zoom. It’s just one element that makes this book stand out.

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The other reason why this book should be on your radar is the story, which Brian Michael Bendis explained at length in the very same interview. The iconic scribe also touches on how the series harkens back to old favorites, how it fits into his own comics experience as a youngster, and challenging himself to build a truly expansive superhero story.

Justice League vs Legion of Superheroes #1 is due out January 11.

Brian Michael Bendis and Scott Godlewski talk new epic 'Justice League vs Legion of Superheroes'

DC

AIPT: To start, for fans who may not have been keeping up with both series is this new reader-friendly? Are there any titles that they should read before they dive in?

Brian Michael Bendis: Well, you tell me but the idea is that everything’s reader-friendly and particularly something like this. You absolutely cannot introduce a storyline called Justice League versus Legion of Superheroes without making it as absolutely reader-friendly as possible. I believe I said to Scott as our template I brought up like X-Men/Teen Titans, the Simonson as one where there are two universes smashing into each other and you’re never confused by what’s going on and what they’re thinking about. JLA/Avengers was another one I looked at where there’s a lot going on, on camera and off camera but it’s all clear. Like I think that was our number one goal, clarity, and fun, and if you’re lost you’re not having fun.

Legion has always been a dense read even in its formative years, denser than other books, right? And as comics have matured and the language has changed, Legion has really gone with that. And it’s always been at the height, but it always about celebrating the characters and celebrating the story, it’s always been very clear where we are and what’s going on. We wanted to make sure we introduced both Justice League and Legion of Superheroes as ideas.

Also, they get to meet each other. So they get to introduce themselves at their basic level, which is great. That’s the best thing about a team-up is that when we’re all getting to know each other. So there’s information being shared in a normal way, not in a clunky way. No one knows anything. But also, you got to remind an audience, the Justice League is different things, people have different ideas about what the Justice League is. But this is a Justice League with Black Adam on it. For someone who doesn’t know, we’re doing that in the book and that has to be explained.

AIPT: Or Black Canary or the Gold Lantern, for instance.

BMB: Anybody. It’s about finding whose perspective. A scene is the most interesting where we can get the most information from in the most entertaining way.

Brian Michael Bendis

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Right. Something that blew me away was yes, there’s a lot of dialogue, but the way the layout works with the dialogue is great. What went into making that work, because I’m looking at it, and I read a lot of comics, and I’m thinking this was not easy.

Scott Godlewski: Yeah, it’s a different kind of work than a typical book. I don’t know if harder is fair. But I’ll say the level of focus that you give something like this is more intense. It’s putting on a different hat. It’s not drawing a cool thing. It’s being almost a manager. You’re figuring out logistics and almost drawing up a sports play. Putting everybody in the place that they need to be in order to get the best result.

AIPT: There are some artists that do an exceptional job, I would call it blocking, putting the characters in the right position. This issue does new things that I’ve never seen done before where we’re seeing characters laid out differently, but it all makes sense. I kept thinking like, “God, what does Bendis’ scripts say? Did he go into incredible detail?”

SG: Very rarely is there ever any stage direction. No, again, it’s feeling things out. The further you get into a project, the better handle and the better feel you have for a character. It’s easier to imagine this scene and where they’re going to be, how they’re going to be reacting to. Who they’re going to be grouping with. It makes it more interesting to me as a creator. It’s another level of involvement, just another level, it’s a little deeper than a regular solo book, or a regular superhero title because this is not that.

Brian keeps saying there’s, what, eight, nine League’s, and there’s like 32 Legionnaires. There’s a lot of people to keep track of. I’ve got some sheets printed out, and I’ve got all the characters listed out and I’ll go back through them and I’ll count what’s there and what’s on the page that I’m drawing and make sure: who am I missing, who’s not here?

BMB: Every one of these characters could lead a book. They have enough story in them to be the lead of a series and often are the lead of a series. Almost every one of those characters has or will have solo title and Legion has in the past shown that to be the case as well. These characters all have that much meat on the bone story-wise. So whose perspective is the most interesting, all of that gets put into the story engine, and also a lot of these characters are beloved fan favorites. You want to make sure that the people who actually can get their moment with the character that they want.

They want to experience the group but they’re also here because you want to make sure that everywhere you can a moment is offered or a moment they haven’t seen before. And that’s I think my favorite thing about like any kind of team-up or crossover is that it opens the door to all kinds of new interactions that you haven’t seen before not only for the characters themselves, but like for the readers like oh, “I’ve never seen Timberwolf and Batman. I would like to see that.”

DC Preview: Justice League vs. The Legion of Super-Heroes #1

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: I know it’s hard enough with one team but you’ve got two here, it’s like you guys are challenging yourselves times 12.

BMB: There are certain storytellers in comics and outside of comics that are very inspiring for this. Like I was always a big fan of Robert Altman films where there would be like many characters on screen like Nashville — yeah I’m comparing Nashville to Legion of Superheroes. Yeah, I did that. But there’s a storytelling engine where there’s a lot of stories going on at once and they’re all given an equal amount of weight. And the balance is very clear, like you’re never lost in it. No Way Out is a modern version of that where there’s a lot going on, but you’re never confused where you are.

That comes with a lot going on behind the scenes to make sure you’re not lost. We spent a lot of time on that part of it. So I was thrilled when you mentioned that, I think you’re talking about that spread with the teams meet.

AIPT: Yeah, it’s so clean.

BMB: I threw him like two or three examples of other people who have accomplished it, right? Here’s how it’s been done. Because when I do that it makes me feel better. Like this is hard. But oh, look, Kurtzman did it in 1967. I think we can pull it off.

SG: [Laughs]

BMB: The other day, someone posted a couple of Legion meal gatherings from classic things. And it fits right in with what you’re talking about. So not only does it have the teams meet but we can see them all and it looks cool. But also there’s a history of spreads like this that we’re harkening back to.

DC Preview: Justice League vs. The Legion of Super-Heroes #1

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Continuity sleuths are probably thinking does this connect to the 1982 Legion of Superheroes story with the “Great Darkness” by Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen. Is there any truth to that? 

BMB: I’m gonna let that story play out if that’s okay. It is 100% influenced by that story. The big answer is the Great Darkness I think is one of the great ideas of all of comics and I remember very clearly as a child reading my Legion, fanzines, and Legion outpost and like all this analytical thought about what was going on in the Legion.

At the time in the ’80s — this is when I grew up — and when I was in high school Legion was at the height of its powers and really blowing my mind and this is also at a time where DC Comics was at the height this is Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Swamp Thing and there was Legion right there in the forefront of this massive explosion of creativity and so I would analyze this stuff and really look into it and for the Legion this idea of the Great Darkness did two things: number one, something’s gonna pay off right? Then it did and it was a huge payoff, one of the great payoffs of all of comics right?

But in the analysis, someone had pointed out that the real brilliance there is that the Great Darkness was also the theme of the book. The Great Darkness never had to show up. We just had to make sure it didn’t show up. We wake up every day, like us, we wake up every day and your house isn’t on fire, “oh good.” For the Legion there’s no Great Darkness today. We did our job. The Legion works. A theme to it is our great power and great responsibility moment is we make sure there’s no Great Darkness so that theme is absolutely being celebrated and borrowed. But there is a new Great Darkness.

AIPT: For a book like this that has such a huge cast I immediately think of great TV shows like Oz where characters get bumped off left and right, so I want to ask is this the kind of series that we might lose a character or two?

BMB: There are characters who are in the crosshairs, we wish them well and the best.

AIPT: I love the idea of Triplicate Girl and how it was used in the first issue. From both your perspectives on the team, what does it mean when she says the team is overkill?

BMB: That’s the critique of Legion. Going back to even that classic Legion posters, “Oh, that’s a lot. Good lord.” Right? Some people think that about like My Hero Academia, there’s a lot and then you dive in and it’s such a ferociously rewarding experience like on levels and levels and levels. We’ve had people the whole pandemic doing a legion reread, and you can see there’s enthusiasm and terror, and it’s fantastic. Then you get to something like five years later, and the payoff is enormous. It’s huge. And that’s something that comics do that no one else does. It’s amazing.

What I love about the Legion is that they’re all from different planets. They’re all coming to the team with a completely different perspective. And one person can look at this and say, “this is overkill.” And one person can look at this and go “this is not enough, we need twice as much as this.” They all see it differently. And you want to like offer that as often as possible. Their senses are different, their perspective, their perception of reality is different while they’re standing there you’re standing next to someone who sees the world completely different than you.

AIPT: Scott is how do you perceive that overkill statement?

SG: Oh man I don’t know that I could add a lot to that, you take one look at a roster shot and you go “how can you follow anything that’s happening here?” First, I would imagine for a writer and for a writer as skilled as Brian who’s able to handle something like this you can look at that roster and see a goldmine of story opportunity.

BMB: Going back to your Triplicate Girl question–going back to my age when I was reading Legion hardcore–they were doing fascinating things with Triplicate Girl to Duo Damsel and you go “they lost one?!” My sci-fi brain exploded with, “What does that mean? Like what does it feel to like lose a third of yourself?” That alone captivated me so we’ve been playing a little bit with that even going back to our Future State Legion storyline.

We made it very clear there’s one that didn’t make it and then when we opened up for those who paid attention, we open up this series and the third one is gone, not to spoil you’ll find out what happens, for some people will add a little level of tension. It’s kind of like a Hot Tub Time Machine when the guy lost an arm. You know the guy is losing the arm. How? That’s kind of where we are with that.

DC Preview: Justice League vs. The Legion of Super-Heroes #1

AIPT: When I was reading the Triplicate Girl story part I thought, “Is this Brian just having fun with cool sci-fi tropes and time travel and whatnot?”

BMB: As often as possible, yes. When you’re in writers rooms with other comic creators where we’re like–both at DC and Marvel–when you’re in those rooms time travel becomes a debated subject like some editors f-----g hate time travel just as an “I won’t even look at a time travel story.” Others see it as that it’s like magic and electricity and all these other things that are absolutely part of the engine that that pulls and pushes this universe around.

I’m celebrating all the ideas of time travel, to me, it’s a lot of fun. It’s always a way to open up a story I mean all these characters think about is the future. They’re gonna get to take a peek at it and I don’t think that’s like harmful as so much as it’s inspirational.”

AIPT: I like that a character asks about whether it’s okay to ask about something from their future.

BMB: A great conceit is that the Legion knows a lot about the Age of Heroes. And then something happened then there’s this cloud where they don’t know what happened. Like in history there are cloudy elements of world history, things that didn’t get recorded or are not as well recorded as other things as civilizations have had. There’s a lot of stuff they know and there’s stuff they don’t so, you can ask me how long you’ll live, but they don’t actually know the day he dies. So that’s a fantastic conceit for us.

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