DC One Million was published in September 1998 (the month cover-dated Nov 1998) as a weekly four-issue mini-series – or almost weekly, since the JLA tie-in issue effectively served as an issue of the mini-series. Grant Morrison’s JLA was a top-seller, so DC wisely gave him the company’s next line-wide crossover, which would revolve around the Justice League. The result, mostly illustrated by Val Semeiks, was a wild ride in the same happily manic tone as Morrison’s JLA, only involving all of DC’s titles.
The story itself actually began in the final pages of JLA #23 (Oct 1998), in which a future Justice League arrived in the present. In the extra-long DC One Million #1, we learn that this future League, called the Justice Legion A (for Alpha), was from the 853rd century, which was when DC would hypothetically publish its first issue numbered #1,000,000 – assuming monthly publication was continued. The team members who traveled to the present included future incarnations of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, Starman, and Hourman.
Morrison had actually introduced this future Hourman in JLA over a year earlier, during his “Rock of Ages” storyline (issues #10-15, late Sept 1997 – Feb 1998). And because Mark Waid’s Flash had already introduced a future incarnation of the character (with the alter ego John Fox), Morrison borrowed that character, now redesigned by Semeiks, rather than ignore him and create a new character from scratch.
The name “Justice Legion Alpha” suggested a combination of the Justice League with the Legion of Super-Heroes, a team of very different characters set a mere millennium in the future. In fact, there’s no trace of the Legion’s influence on the team, except in its future setting. However, the “Alpha” of the team’s name (besides achieving the “JLA” acronym) is meant to indicate that this future League is only one of several such teams, each located in its own solar system, as part of humanity’s utopian colonization of space. These other teams aren’t seen, but they evoke the large cast and outer-space setting of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
In DC One Million #1, we’re also told that each member of the Justice Legion A has its own planet, which has been rendered inhabitable using terraforming technology. For example, Flash “runs” Mercury – which is appropriate, given that Mercury is the Roman god of trade and travel, suggesting Flash’s speed. Similarly, Wonder Woman’s planet is Venus, the one planet named after a goddess, just as Wonder Woman is the only female member of Justice Legion A – and was the League’s only female founding member. We might hope for more gender diversity in the far-flung future, but these planetary assignments are still chosen well.
Readers might notice the lack of a Green Lantern on this future team. There’s also no future Martian Manhunter, but because of his long lifespan, his absence represents his disappearance, rather than the lack of a future incarnation. Both of these absences would be important to the plot.
The Justice Legion A also revealed that the original Superman – the one in the present-day Justice League – was still alive in their future, although he’d spent the last 15,000 years in his Fortress of Solitude inside Earth’s sun. Known to the future as Superman Prime (to distinguish him from his many successors), he’s finally about to re-emerge – and it’s this much-anticipated moment (from the future’s point of view) that’s occasioned the Justice Legion A’s arrival in the present. As part of the festivities, which will involve emissaries from many worlds and incarnations of Superman from “a dozen eras,” the future wants the original Justice League to be there too.
That’s the plot’s inciting incident, not some super-villain’s attack. We’ll get to that, of course. But this future Justice League isn’t here to recruit help against some terrible future threat. It’s here to invite the lionized first Justice League to a party – one celebrating the League’s (and especially Superman’s) far-flung legacy.
It’s hard to adequately describe how high-concept all of this is. Imagine a story such as this being pitched to Hollywood. How would you simplify this into a thirty-second trailer?
It’s also hard to overstate how strongly reconstructionist the premise is. The Justice Legion A’s future represents the ultimate triumph of DC’s super-heroes. In any given story, whether bright or dark, realistic or absurd, individual characters may be threatened or even killed. The entire world or even the galaxy might plunge into despotism, or be knocked back technologically. But in the long run, despite these setbacks, the Justice Legion A was here to say that future would turn out okay.
This vision of the future recalls the optimistic, utopian spirit of the original Star Trek. That series even predicted a nuclear holocaust for humanity, yet still argued that the overall trajectory of human history was upward, in fits and starts, toward ever-greater technological and social progress. While many in powerful nations have held this view of human history naively, presuming their culture’s present (with all its cultural idiosyncracies) represents the pinnacle of humanity, it’s a view many historical scholars hold too (hopefully less naively).
Of course, Grant Morrison isn’t arguing for a view of human history in DC One Million; he’s arguing for a view of superhuman history. What Morrison gives us, in DC One Million, is a larger perspective with which to see the darkest, most violent tale a mere bump on the road to this happy reconstructionist future. His 853rd century provides a new context that subsumes all previous DC stories (at least, those in continuity). And that new context, unsurprisingly, reflects his own values.
It’s a marvelous maneuver. DC One Million might not be the finest single reconstructionist text, but it may well represent the strongest in-continuity reconstructionist statement.
Sure, Batman’s back might get broken. He may even die. Gotham City might even be wiped off the map. But they’ll be a new Batman, and a Batman after that, and a Batman after that one too. And instead of Gotham, one will eventually have his own planet. Things might not work out for Bruce Wayne, but no matter what you do to him, Grant Morrison’s provided a context in which that can be incorporated, its darkness and sadness smoothed away and understood within a larger reconstructionist whole.
All of this also has a metafictional equivalent, a statement about the persistence of super-heroes. In choosing the 853rd century based on DC’s publishing schedule, Morrison implies that DC will still be around at that time. To enhance this interpretation, that month’s issues were numbered #1,000,000 (except DC One Million itself). Each (including DC One Million) carried the cover date “Nov 85,271,” and featured a digital design that called awareness to itself, thus gesturing toward future advancements in comic book production. Of course, there’s no way comics in the year 85,271 would happen to look like this, if they (or humans!) would even exist in any form we’d recognize. The copyright to all of these characters would have long since expired, and even if we presume that some version of DC could still exist, it wouldn’t be operating a comic-book universe starring the same characters. But the point wan’t to accurately predict the future. This wasn’t revisionism, after all, with its concern for realism. The point was to celebrate DC’s history and longevity, as well as Superman as the first super-hero. And perhaps to suggest a point Morrison has himself made many times: that these characters will outlive any of us, continuing to grow and evolve as new generations use them to tell their own stories.
After some debate, six of Morrison’s original seven Leaguers – all but Martian Manhunter – agree to go to the future. As soon as the future Hourman does so, however, a program in him operates, shutting him down and releasing a virus from the future that infects both humans and machines – including the future Justice Legion A, trapped in the present.
Elsewhere in the present, the immortal villain Vandal Savage captures three members of the Titans (Arsenal, Tempest, Supergirl, and Jesse Quick) and loading them into nuclear-powered flying Rocket Red suits he’s stole.
The heroes in the present will have to confront these two threats without the core members of the Justice League, who are stranded in the future.
And if things don’t seem dire enough, the mini-series opens with a glimpse of what will soon happen in the present: the nuclear destruction of Montevideo, Uruguay, killing over a million people. We don’t know precisely how this will happen yet, but it certainly promises drama to come.
The issue ends with another ominous scene, this one set in the 853rd century. In talking about this future with the Justice League, the future Starman said that his solar system has two suns – the second being Solaris, “a super-intelligent stellar computer” that had been “one of the greatest foes of the Superman dynasty” until his programming was reversed. At the end of this first issue, we witness the 853rd-century Vandal Savage, still alive, plotting with a Solaris, who has returned to his evil ways.
The two have apparently caused the virus in the present, thus stranding their Justice Legion A in what is to them “prehistory.” When Superman emerges from the sun, the villains plan to make him witness the death of his “oldest friends,” who are now stranded in a future they don’t understand. Solaris say he’ll “tear down the sun and take his place in the sky.” Whatever else the two have planned has to do with an ambiguous “ultimate weapon” that Vandal Savage says will soon be dug up on Mars.
Morrison’s tossing a lot of balls into the air here, setting up an ambitious story with multiple villains working across time to threaten two different eras. We might expect the rest of the story to be, as is common with time-travel tales, split between both eras, despite them not occurring simultaneously. Instead, Morrison focuses first on resolving the present-day plot first, and that’s smart because it sets up what will happen in the future. In a high-concept story such as this, reverting to a more streamlined structure also limits the potential confusion.
Continued next time.