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Few creators in comics work their magic with youth movements quite like Brian Michael Bendis.
During his almost two decades as one of the top writers at Marvel Comics, Bendis ushered in the biracial Spider-Man Miles Morales (co-created by artist Sara Pichelli). But before that, he had to kill off the teenage Peter Parker/Spider-Man he’d written for Marvel’s Ultimate Comics line.
The news was devastating to pre-Miles fans. Making Spider-Man into a Spider-Kid had been a big hit once before. Could he pull off the same success twice?
The answer was a resounding yes.
So when Bendis started having top-secret meetings with DC Comics co-publisher Dan Didio in Los Angeles to discuss one of the biggest free agent splashes in a comic-book generation, the question of DC’s teen heroes came up.
DC didn’t “have a line that focuses on the teen heroes,” Bendis says, “just that moment where they are deciding who they are and how the world works.”
Didio decided in that moment that Bendis was the guy to bring back Young Justice — a junior Justice League with a roster of teen DC favorites that includes Robin the Boy Wonder (the Tim Drake version), teen Superman clone Superboy (the 1990s version), super-speedster Impulse and Wonder Woman protege Wonder Girl. The plan was to create a new youthful imprint, called Wonder Comics, built around a new “Young Justice” series, which originally debuted at DC in 1998.
Two years ago, after Bendis announced his arrival at DC, he was flooded with social media pings from fans asking to bring back not only “Young Justice” but also Conner Kent, the Superboy spawning from the now-classic “Death of Superman” and “Reign of the Superman” story lines of the early 1990s.
The Wonder Comics imprint debuted last week with the first issue of “Young Justice,” written by Bendis and illustrated by Patrick Gleason. And the return of the 1990s Superboy is the biggest moment of the launch so far.
Bendis realizes much of the initial attention of Wonder Comics will be geared toward the return of the cocky clone Conner Kent/Superboy, a character with many fans despite being away from DC continuity for some time. “Young Justice” will explore where Superboy has been.
He says fans should know the character is in good hands with Gleason on art duties. “Every time I looked at anybody involving [Superboy] they just looked at me [and said], ‘Don’t mess it up,’ ” he says. “Patrick, who is as deeply rooted in the modern DC Comics as any artist, is coming with me to make sure this is all being done with the proper love and care.”
Bendis will also oversee the retro-nostalgia-fueled “Wonder Twins” (written by Mark Russell and art by Stephen Byrne), “Dial H for Hero” (written by Sam Humphries and art by Joe Quinones) and a new heroine in “Naomi” (written by Bendis and David F. Walker and art by Jamal Campbell).
Wonder Comics is intended for new readers, but Bendis recognizes that adults who grew up loving characters such as Superboy, Impulse and Robin in the 1990s will probably be interested in these adventures. He says readers new and old should be satisfied. But don’t let the nostalgically designed superhero suits fool you: These stories take place in the here and now.
“These characters are back in continuity and telling a future-forward story that really matters to the DC Universe right this second,” he says. “That is the absolute best way to introduce them to a new audience.”
Balancing out the return of so many fan-favorite characters with Wonder Comics is the creation of a new one: Naomi, a young girl of color in a Pacific Northwest neighborhood where nothing ever happens, yet she is somehow connected to the one time something (involving superheroes) did happen in her town.
Being allowed to freely create new characters at DC reminds Bendis of the time comic-book legend Jack Kirby came to DC in 1970 after years at Marvel and created the Fourth World, which resulted in the making of the New Gods and one of DC’s greatest villains ever, Darkseid.
“This is not the Fourth World, and I would never compare myself,” Bendis says. “But you can’t help but [say] you’ve been given the exact same freedom to do something with it. So David and I and Jamal have been working very hard to build something brand new. The story starts very intimate and small, and it opens into an enormous thing that literally will be added to the DC universe and any writer can play with.”
As for the eventual Naomi/Miles Morales comparisons, and whether Bendis can strike creative lightning twice bringing a new character of color to a major publisher, he says: Stay tuned.
“People are going to see a connection,” he says. “But other than the authenticity which we’re bringing her, people are going to see this is a completely different thing and how exciting that is.”