On DC One Million, by Grant Morrison and Val Semeiks

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.

DC One Million #1In 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.

page from DC One Million #1That’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.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics and his transgressive novel Nira/Sussa. He currently lives in Illinois.

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3 Comments

  1. Figserello says:

    Hi Julian

    I’m in the middle of a look at DC One Million myself on the Captain Comics message board. For my money it is probably the best crossover of the 90s, full of great novel ideas, the wonderful optimism you cite above, and then the metatextual discussion of Superman’s place of honour in the superhero pantheon.

    Morrison actually plotted every issue of DC One Million, although the extent to which the creative teams on each comic followed his notes is unclear. Since I’m interested in Morrison, I’ve been trying to look at every issue of the crossover and trying to get across the deeper structure and the different strands of the greater story that can be followed through the different books. Generally I’m trying to see how it holds up as one ‘megatext’. As a crossover that involved every DCU book and that played out in a fairly linear fashion from the start of one month to the end, it’s pretty much a one-off. A study of how all the different creative teams did and didn’t take part would be fascinating and would probably reveal much about how these comics are brought to us (or how they were in the late 90s.)

    Having studied all the comics recently I’ve only one little nitpick:

    Justice Legion Alpha obviously do invoke The Legion of Superheroes themselves, but there are two ‘Legion of Superheroes’ comics in the crossover, starring the 853rd Century Legion, one titled Legion of Superheroes’ and the other ‘Legionnaires’. They are notable entrants in the crossover, as Morrison is mentioned in the credits as ‘Time Trapper’, which is more credit than he gets on the other DC 1m books. Indeed, both comics are of the type that put many readers off Morrison’s comics. They probably cram too many clever ideas and far-out concepts into each comic at the expense of coherency and relatable characters. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing if there’s much to say about them in the final blog in my series of DC One Million posts. (I ordered my posts roughly around the 5 weeks of the series, but there’s such a lot to talk about that I’m going to end up with 6 long posts.)

    You mention Wonder Woman and gender diversity above, but I think the creators hit a bad note with that tie-in, in terms of representation. Maybe it didn’t receive any comment at the time, but I found it problematic reading it recently. Even though it’s a Utopian future where the JLA has inspired mankind to reach its full potential and to make the solar system a wonderful place to live, all we see of Wonder Woman’s legacy is a planet of battling gladiatorial vixens, who live only to fight. That seems a bit unfair, given that Wonder Woman was the only original JLA-er who specifically took on the job of inspiring humankind to be better and more peaceful. Perhaps it would be ok as a run-of-the-mill future Wonder Woman story, but I thought it was problematic here in this series celebrating the JLA members. When you put it beside things like Amazons Attack and Azzerello’s Wonder Woman, it starts to seem that DC consistently use Wonder Woman in a way that portrays strong empowered women as a problem to be fixed. Wonder Woman even got the short straw in Morrison’s Final Crisis, so there is a consistent pattern of misuse of the character.

    Of all the future worlds, Morrison’s use of the elements of the Flash’s Mercury makes for the most interesting reading alongside his Supergods book. Morrison compresses so many of the elements of the ‘divine inspiration’/’speed of thought’ associations that he writes about in Supergods into a single superhero comic scenario in DC ne Million. Both the Flash and Captain Marvel, bearers of the lightning flash of inspiration, appear in the two tie-ins set on Mercury. (Even Captain Marvel’s presence on Mercury, in a story where everything is so schematised, doesn’t make sense unless you’ve read Supergods.) Mercury itself is the planet that relays all the communication and knowledge from the central Solar Computer/Sun to the rest of humanity, much as the god Mercury mediated from the higher realms in classical mythology. In his other writings Morrison stresses the positive aspects of Mercury/Hermes, but here we see the downside of a world where those aspects are to the forefront. The people seem to prize information over knowledge, and knowledge over wisdom or compassion. They are constantly in a rush and seeking the next big thing, even to the extent of harming each other and ignoring those of their number who live in relative poverty. The depictions of the other planets aren’t as easy to tie directly to Morrison’s belief systems. However, the very concept of connecting Superman to the Sun, Aquaman to Neptune etc is a clever one, and reflects what Morrison was doing with his JLA series as a whole. Perhaps there is something of Mark Waid’s scepticism about Morrison’s belief system in his Flash entrant in the crossover?

    Anyway, thanks for this appreciation of DC One Million. It doesn’t get quite enough love, perhaps because there are problems in reading it either in the short form of how it was collected in the single TPB (titled JLA One Million), or in the big baggy multi-authorial form of all 35+ issues. If anyone wants to read the whole crossover, it hasn’t been collected yet, but all the issues are available under one heading from Comixology, which I was glad to see.

    • Good thoughts. Thanks much for the comment.

      I think the crossover issues are fascinating, although a detailed exploration of all of them is beyond the scope of what I’m writing here.

      You make excellent points about (among other things) Wonder Woman. I don’t think there was a lot of complaint at the time — or at least, I don’t remember any. But I think we’ve all become a lot more sensitive about gender in the ensuing years, and what passed without much comment a decade ago often seems wrong-headed now. But as you point out, this specific case is typical of Wonder Woman, and it stems from the central contradiction of the character: a warrior who campaigns for peace.

      Feel free to share a link to your own work on the series!

  2. Figserello says:

    Wonder Woman does reflect on those contradictions in the comic itself. The WW tie-in raises a lot of other questions too. We don’t find out what happened to Diana in the intervening years. Her mother is very cool to her at first, as if she doesn’t care whether she hasn’t seen her for eons or not. In comparison, Superman’s meeting in the future with his mere acquaintance Platinum has much more warmth than the mother-daughter meeting in WW 1m. Morrison’s new 853rd century Wonder Woman was interesting, but is another example of a cool concept of Morrison’s that doesn’t get a story to go with it. (eg She is a step up from Diana, being made of marble rather than clay.)

    As a point of trivia, I was surprised to find that Chuck Dixon and the team of Abnett and Lanning were the writers who contributed most to DC 1m after Morrison himself, at four comics each. They really balance out Morrison’s tendency to present great ideas and rush on to the next one without pause, by giving us some more ‘quality time’ with some of Morrison’s creations – in their Superman and Batman comics respectively. I came away from reading the DC 1m comics with a greater respect for those creators.

    Why some of these characters weren’t used more after this crossover is another question, especially those like Wonder Woman 1m whose potential was hardly tapped.

    Anyway, my series of posts on the whole crossover begin at the following link:

    http://captaincomics.ning.com/profiles/blogs/dc-one-million-week-1

    Obviously, there is a lot left to say about these comics, so any and all discussion on them is welcome.

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