Comic Book Review – Millennium

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Millennium (1988)
Written by Steve Englehart
Art by Joe Staton

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Life is going about as usual in the DC Universe when the peace is interrupted by the return of two strange figures: one Guardian of the Universe and one Zamaronian. These two ancient cosmic beings are on Earth to warn of the threat of the Manhunters and the coming of a group of special humans called The Chosen. The heroes of the DC Universe are split into groups to travel the globe and contact the Chosen while protecting them from the cult-like Manhunters.

Millennium was DC Comics’ follow up to Legends about one year later. Instead of being a more thematic based storyline, this is much more in line with what we think of when it comes to a modern shared universe crossover. The total number of parts is 45 with eight weekly Millennium issues and tie-ins to the respective books that came out that week. As part of this reading series, I am only focusing on the core mini-series for each crossover and ignoring tie-in issues unless essential to understanding the overall event. That said, it can get very confusing to ignore all the weekly tie-ins when reading Millennium.

For example, at some point early on in the story Booster Gold turns to the side of the Manhunters, but not in the pages of the main mini-series instead in his book. Not having that moment made his switch a bit jarring during my reading. My reasoning behind this mode of interpretation is that I am a firm believer that an event’s core title should be the only essential piece of text, save a one-shot here or there. So no matter how confusing any of these readings get I am committing to this mode of interpretation.

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Steve Englehart was the writer of Green Lantern Corps at the time of Millennium’s publishing and had been prominent while esoteric presence in comics since the 1970s. Englehart had made his name at Marvel as a writer on Doctor Strange and as co-creator of Master of Kung Fu. He had decided to quit comics at the end of his Marvel tenure when he was convinced to come onboard with DC to do some work on the Justice League of America which is where he first planted the seeds of the Manhunters conspiracy. His work on Green Lantern Corps saw the series phase from being a solo title focused on Hal Jordan to a team book where the spotlight was shared by Lanterns John Stewart, Katma Tui, Kilowog, and more.

Artist Joe Staton is someone I have had mixed feelings about for years. His first prominent work was on DC’s Justice Society revival in Adventure Comics, a run that I love due to my personal feelings about the Golden Age heroes. He bounced around after settling into Green Lantern under the authorship of Marv Wolfman, where he co-created The Omega Men. He left but came back when Englehart was writing on the book, and the two worked together on that series and Millennium. Staton’s art in this event’s core title leaves much to be desired which may be because this was being published weekly. It was quite a workload and a lot of characters to illustrate so I can see how the quality might degrade to keep up with deadlines. But the art is the least of Millennium’s worries.

Almost from the start, you can feel how irrelevant and ignored this event is going to be after it ends. The agenda of the Manhunters is entirely unclear from the get-go. Do they want to stop the Chosen? Do they want to conquer the Earth? Do they want to destroy the Earth? I don’t understand what the threat is. In many ways, the Chosen storyline feels distant and unconnected from the Manhunters much of the time. There is also an attempt to tie in the legacy of the Manhunter name in DC Comics with Mark Shaw, one of the former name bearers, playing a small role in the story. He is introduced early on but then his arc is resolved in the pages of Suicide Squad which feels like a missed opportunity. There is also the question as to what the Manhunters are. Their origin describes them as androids constructed by the Guardians of the Universe but later when Booster Gold and Firestorm turn they are referred to as being Manhunters.

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If you are a fan of Battlestar Galactica, you will see some similarities because the big hook for Millennium in its marketing was that every DC hero would learn that someone in their personal life will be revealed as a Manhunter in disguise for years. Most of these reveals are forgettable because the superhero they are attached to didn’t have a significant supporting cast. Two of the more prominent ones are so ridiculous the writers on these individual characters pretty much erased this from continuity as soon as Millennium concluded.

The first was Wally West learning his father is a Manhunter. This is incredibly confusing because the series would lead us to believe that Manhunters are robots, so I have no idea how the biology works here. The second is Superman’s childhood friend Lana Lang. The creative team on Superman at the time rolled with the punches and reworked the lore of the Manhunters so that Lana was not one, but rather a brainwashed sleeper agent, as were all Smallville residents born at the same time. By playing the Manhunter angle this way, they were able to leave it behind quickly.

The legacy of Millennium is almost non-existent. The Chosen were spun off into a series called New Guardians which lasted a year, was canceled, and forgotten. It wasn’t a horrible premise, but the execution was so awful and sloppy that there was no buzz behind the book. It also felt like an attempt to be contemporary in the most awkward of ways. A villain named SnowFlame was introduced who snorted cocaine for his power. There was also The Hemogoblin, an AIDS vampire. These didn’t play as well thought out and were part of what led to the book’s demise.

The series also came at a time where DC Continuity was still being figured out so that appearances by Hawkman and Hawkgirl feel out of place. Infinity Inc., the children of the Justice Society, were running around alongside the Justice League but without any clear explanation of what the context of the JSA had been in a post-crisis world. Prominent characters and teams like The Outsiders, Captain Atom, and Firestorm date the series considerably as they have not been concepts that have maintained popularity since. Add to this editorial interference about keeping the Teen Titans and any mature reader title characters out of Millennium, and it doesn’t feel like a complete picture of the time.

Millennium is an entirely forgettable story, the first big dud to come out of DC’s attempts at crossovers. Next up we’ll be looking at a very different, more contained story with Cosmic Odyssey.

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