"R.E.B.E.L.S." is not the book you might think it is.
When Tony Bedard pitched a "L.E.G.I.O.N." revamp to DC Comics over a year ago, he had no idea of the path the project would take. The writer's original vision included a more self-contained storyline with a classic DC villain as the antagonist, and plenty of new characters in the mix. A year and one title change later, Bedard has a new villain and a book with different characters and much greater meaning to the DC Universe.
"R.E.B.E.L.S." centers on Vril Dox, the classic hero/anti-hero from the original "L.E.G.I.O.N." comics, left empty-handed after a mysterious villain has taken over his L.E.G.I.O.N., which stands Licensed Extra-Governmental Interstellar Operatives Network. Think rent-a-cops in space, and a distant 21st century precursor to the 31st century Legion of Super-Heroes. In the new book, Dox needs to get a team together to overthrow the mysterious villain and gain back control of L.E.G.I.O.N., and many of his choices will be familiar faces.
In this in-depth interview, Bedard not only gives CBR a lot of hints and hype about his new launch, which hits stores this week, but also gives much insight into how "R.E.B.E.L.S." became "R.E.B.E.L.S." You rarely get this much insight into the creation of new franchise comic books, much less gorgeous character designs by series artist Andy Clarke.
CBR: Let's talk about the looong development process that "R.E.B.E.L.S." went through.
Tony Bedard: Every writer has that famous character that they love and want to work on, but we also have the D-List characters that we need to write. Like Frank Miller did with Daredevil. The under appreciated gems that need a polish. L.E.G.I.O.N. are those characters for me. I read the original run and loved it. The star of the book, Vril Dox, is such a great antihero and total bastard that I never forgot him. I've also always been a big Legion of Super-Heroes fan, though a lot of those fans are all stuck on one specific era of the team. I like the basic concept and all the different versions of the Legion.
So ever since I got over to DC, I've been pitching a L.E.G.I.O.N. revamp, and for the longest time they didn't bite. It doesn't seem like a natural sell, that's for sure. It's not like the world has this huge need for a new L.E.G.I.O.N. book. But then I sent [Executive Editor] Dan DiDio an email trying to scare up some new work, and I included three quick ideas, including "L.E.G.I.O.N." Maybe it was because of the 50th anniversary of the Legion of Super-Heroes, but Dan finally relented and said it might be interesting. I think I had a pitch on his desk the next day!
Did it help that Geoff Johns is currently putting a big spotlight on Legion of Superheroes in "Action Comics" and "Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds?"
It was over a year ago when I first got Dan interested. Johns' Legion epic helped make readers more receptive to a Legion-based book, but it also affected the development of my series in ways that were unpredictable. What happened was that the book took on a life of its own. What I had planned out for the relaunch had Dox putting together a new team that was even closer to the Legion template than the group he had back in the '90s. I can't give away too much, but in the first few issues you'll figure out why Dox would get a team together that is more specifically based on Legion characters.
But unfortunately, I ended up making some characters too close to the Legionnaires, and with a sudden plethora of Legion material hitting the stands, we made a few changes so that readers know that R.E.B.E.L.S. is its own thing, and not a Legion spinoff or prequel.
In a nutshell, the old series had Vril Dox putting together this interstellar police group L.E.G.I.O.N. from a bunch of characters that escaped from a space prison with him. They set up a mercenary police force. For a fee, they will keep the peace on your planet. But Dox was such a control freak that he eventually replaced his operatives with robots who never question his orders.
At the beginning of my new "R.E.B.E.L.S." series, Dox has been ousted from his L.E.G.I.O.N. command. Somebody else has gotten control of his robot army, effectively conquering all the worlds L.E.G.I.O.N. patrols without firing a shot. Dox has to get a new team together to go after them and get back in charge. This means you'll be seeing some really cool all-new characters. If you're already a Legion fan, you'll know who they're patterned after. But if you're just a new reader who likes wild, hard-edged sci-fi, you're going to love this book and it won't matter a bit if you don't know any old continuity.
When did you decide to throw Supergirl into the mix?
That's another Legion connection. She was in the future for a while, as a member of the Legion, before returning to the present day. That fact ends up being crucial for Dox, because she brought back a message for him from the 31st Century, even though she doesn't realize it. I don't want to say much more and spoil one of the best scenes in "R.E.B.E.L.S." #1, but it will all make prefect sense if you read the book.
How else did the series change as it went through development?
Well, it's a mystery at first exactly who has ousted Dox. Even he doesn't know who his new enemy is, and part of what he is doing is that he is trying to figure out who outsmarted him. I was going to reveal that it was Brainiac because it seemed pretty natural. It seemed like that was a good villain to pit against Brainiac 2, Vril Dox. But, of course, it turned out I couldn't use Brainiac because he had this big storyline coming up in the Superman comics. That was fine with me, though, because "Action Comics" was my favorite book of last year.
But we needed another villain, and the next villain I chose had plans as well. [laughs] I was starting to pull my hair out while I trying to figure out who to use. Ideas were bouncing around like crazy- Mike Marts, who was the original editor on the series, Brian Cunningham, who took over for him, and Dan DiDio were trading villain ideas for the longest time. We finally decided on a new character who is sort of an old character. It'll all make sense soon enough. And while we were brainstorming, the book morphed from this little self-contained book that I hoped would last twelve issues into a potentially major event in its own lawless corner of space.
Let's talk about the switch of names from "L.E.G.I.O.N." to "R.E.B.E.L.S." Longtime DC fans know that "R.E.B.E.L.S." replaced the "L.E.G.I.O.N." book in the '90s. But why not go with "L.E.G.I.O.N." for the new book?
Well, that's another thing that sort of...morphed. [laughs]
Originally, I pitched it as "L.E.G.I.O.N." and then the Legion of Super-Heroes exploded, crossing over into "Action Comics" and all that. And as the plans for the Legion grew, we began to wonder if we would be confusing people who might assume that "L.E.G.I.O.N." was yet another LSH spinoff. We needed a title to emphasize that, despite the distant connection to the Legion, this is its own book. We didn't have to look far, since we liked a title that the original "L.E.G.I.O.N." was renamed. Of course, back then, "R.E.B.E.L.S." was an acronym for: Revolutionary Elite Brigade to Eradicate L.E.G.I.O.N. Supremacy. Now, I just like that it fits Dox's situation - on the run, fighting an uphill battle against overwhelming forces.
How difficult was it to deal with continuity? Characters from these cosmic pockets of the DC Universe have such convoluted, confusing continuity, particularly given the multiple versions of the Legion that informed the original "L.E.G.I.O.N."
What I have planned for this relaunch isn't mired in continuity. It's focused on Dox, who is a hard bastard who runs this interplanetary police organization. No one likes him, but he's the last guy you'd ever want to mess with. You get that right away and then you know what the book is about. He shows up on earth being chased by bounty hunters, and it's clear that he's been cast out of L.E.G.I.O.N. and he has a price on his head. But this begs the question: who put the price on the head? Dox wants to know that, too, so he begins to gather a strike team.
One of his new teammates is my homage to Validus, who is one of my favorite comic creatures ever. All he does is scream and shoot lightning from his brain. So now we'll have Tribulus, who is sort of what you'd get if you combined Validus with Mighty Joe Young.
We also have Strata, one of the original L.E.G.I.O.N. members. She's the conscience of the team, and has worked with Dox before so she knows all of his bullshit. She keeps warning people not to turn their back on him. She has a friend named Bounder, who is my take on Bouncing Boy. I always wanted to see a badass Bouncing Boy instead of playing it for laughs. We also have a few other characters that I won't reveal yet because it will ruin the surprise.
You said you hoped the series would last twelve issues. Do you feel more energized about the changes and think "R.E.B.E.L.S." will have a longer run?
I said that with my tongue-in-cheek, because while this was always planned as an ongoing series, you have to be realistic about the economy right now. But the changes and re-workings have really given "R.E.B.E.L.S." a scope and importance that it didn't have at first. DiDio is really excited about it. When he read the first issue he called me up and told me how much fun it was to read and how well it worked for him. That was the best phone call I've had all year. We're going to make this book matter to the DCU.
Fans of yours will no doubt be happily reminded of CrossGen's dearly departed "Negation," the space opera you wrote to great acclaim.
Working on CrossGen's "Negation" was a momentous experience for me, and I've been trying to recapture that fun ever since. It's not easy, but I'm definitely feeling it on this book. And let me tell you, I lucked out with the best artist on this book. His name is Andy Clarke and is the greatest artist I've worked with in a dog's age. Everyone in England knows who he is because he worked on "2000 A.D.", but I had no idea who he was and how good he is.
A lot of people are going to be floored when they see his stuff. He's so meticulous with the details and rendering. He reminds me of Brian Bolland and Kevin Maguire and Frank Quitely all rolled into one. I hate to even say that because it makes him sound derivative of other people when he's not. He's just great.
Having read the first couple of issues, it seems like you're having a blast writing "R.E.B.E.L.S."
It originated with my pitch, so I feel a sense of ownership. I mean, we're building this book from the ground up, so it's more personal. It's also nice to know we have support from DC Editorial to build this into a true epic. I know "R.E.B.E.L.S." is going to take people by surprise.
"R.E.B.E.L.S." #1 goes on sale this week from DC Comics.