Tales from the Long Box Vol. 2 # 5: JP Revisits Millennium # 1

Every weekend this summer, we’ll be bringing you a new instalment of a 12-part series of reviews of meaningful comics found in the collections of our writers. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.

These reviews, then, are the tales of those collections: illuminating characters, artists, writers – even eras – in addition to the personalities of the very owners of those fine collections.

Millennium # 1
Writer: Steve Englehart
Artists: Joe Staton and Ian Gibson
DC Comics

Twelve years before the world rushed head first into the new millennium wrapped in a worried state over political unrest in the Middle East, the threat of Y2K, and the all-consuming despair of a losing Toronto Maple Leafs hockey franchise (maybe it was just me), DC Comics had their own harbinger of the soon-to-come 21st century.

The 8-issue mini series, Millennium, was the comic book publishing company’s 1987 summer blockbuster, a follow-up to 1985’s highly lauded Crisis on Infinite Earths series. Millennium would work much the same way as its super heroic predecessor with various chapters tying into the monthly issues of other DC titles.

Written by long-time comic scribe Steve Englehart, arguably most famous for his acclaimed 8-part Batman story that ran in Detective Comics in the late 1970’s, and illustrated by Joe Staton, also a veteran of the industry, Millennium told the story of mankind’s evolutionary accent into Godhood. Well, for a planet with a population of over 6 billion, ten individuals would get the chance – a pretty exclusive club.

Englehart and Staton had just written the dissolution of the Guardians, blue-skinned, male dwarfs who ran the Green Lantern Corps in the page of the monthly Green Lantern comic. The creatures, along with their female counterparts, the Zamarons, had left this plane of existence in order to find some kind of higher learning. In Millennium, two of these entities return, proclaiming that their mission was to bring about the evolution of man.

The main story itself ran weekly, a fresh idea at the time, and while it wasn’t particularly innovative, there were some subplots and ideas inherent in Millennium that were truly forward-thinking.

In the months leading up to the release of the first issue, DC started publishing full page advertisements in their various comic books marketing the series. Englehart had incorporated a sub-plot detailing the betrayal of mainstay, popular heroes. One of the more famous ads showed an image of Lana Lang, Superman’s high school sweetheart, alongside Perry White, his current boss at the Daily Planet. Under their pictures ran the tag line: One of these people will betray Superman. A riveting thought. Indeed, in the series, readers discover that the Manhunters – the Green Lantern’s arch nemesis – had placed sleeper agents within the fabric of the supporting characters of DC’s greatest heroes. Some of these people, who readers had known all their lives, were not who they had believed them to be. Of course, this was a major revelation, negating, in some cases, decades of characterization and story. The hook, as well as the heat left over from the Crisis series, had people buying Millennium in droves.

Another aspect that was pioneering at the time was the physical make-up of the chosen ten. They were from all walks of life and deliberately written against white, male-hero stereotypes. Utilizing a “united nations” approach, Englehart included an Australian aboriginal girl, a South American gay male, a Japanese man, a Chinese woman and a young, English girl of Jamaican descent, among others. Calling themselves The New Guardians, the group would get their own monthly series at the conclusion of Millennium.

Interestingly, The New Guardians would fail in terms of garnering public interest and, more importantly, sales. The series would only last for twelve issues. The characters that made up the team, for the most part, have since fallen into obscurity, an interesting commentary at the time about the roles gender, sexual orientation and race played in the comic book community.

DC’s comic universe today, however, boasts many characters that fall into the “minority” camp with a lesbian Batwoman currently finding herself at centre stage in a sold-out Detective Comics run. Renee Montoya, the new Question, is both gay and of Hispanic descent. Both Black Lightning and Mr. Terrific, of African American descent, have taken leading roles in Justice League of America and Justice Society of America as well. Perhaps the strange plans of the Guardians and the Zamarons, as written by Englehart, have taken hold in the real world, after all.

In fact, both the Guardians and the Zamarons have since come back into prominence in the current Green Lantern monthly comic book and the DC Universe in general – more evidence that nothing is ever permanent, no storyline ever unyielding, no character ever “written off” when it comes to comics. This summer, DC’s big event series, Blackest Night, which boasts the tag line that states “the dead will rise”, takes the spotlight and both of those two races will play a major part in the storyline.

Although the “tied selling” of big, crossover events that find story threads taken up in the titles of other monthly series is a generally out of favour these days, Blackest Night will still have a number of offshoot titles for collectors to choose from. You can probably bet that none of the Global Guardians will be seen in any of them.

Then again, don’t bet the house.

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