What is DC Comics’ We Are Legends Imprint – AAPI Heritage Month Celebration

The Covers to DC's We Are Legends Books - Spirit World, The Vigil and City Boy

As part of the Dawn of DC initiative, DC Comics have been launching, and relaunching, multiple new series. The aim is to give readers fresh jumping on points for their greatest heroes, and also to expose them to new ideas that they haven’t seen before. One of those ideas is the We Are Legends imprint.

What is We Are Legends?

We Are Legends is the title of DC’s latest imprint, focused on telling stories centred on brand new characters, all of whom have Asian heritage. It launched in May 2023, coinciding with AAPI Heritage Month (that is the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month), and is championing diverse and representative storytelling within the American comics industry.

The purpose of the imprint is, among other things, to introduce new Asian characters within the DC Universe, all of whom are created by fully Asian creative teams. These stories centre on both Asian and Asian-American experiences, but they also take great care not to ‘unintentionally portray a monolithic view of a race’, as lead editor Jessica Chen explains:

In “We Are Legends,” not only are the Asian heroes the leads – because it was important to me that Asian kids picking up these comics see that our stories are worth being told as the main stories – there’s also a wide range of Asian characters of all backgrounds (good, evil, and everything in between).

Jessica Chen (DC Editor) – Warner Bros.’ “Meet Our Storytellers” Profile

In so doing, We Are Legends aims to broaden the types of tales represented within DC’s publishing line, bringing them to life by people with lived experiences to draw on.

The current list of titles included within the We Are Legends imprint are:

  • Spirit World (Writer: Alyssa Wong; Artist: Haining)
  • The Vigil (Writer: Ram V; Artist: Lalit Kumar Sharma)
  • City Boy (Writer: Greg Pak; Artist: Minkyu Jung)

Where Did We Are Legends Originate From?

We Are Legends is the product of creative architect and DC editor Jessica Chen, alongside a stable of creative powerhouses fresh and tenured within the industry.

The inspiration for We Are Legends comes from the Milestone publishing line – which first debuted in 1993 and recently made a return to the scene in 2020. Milestone Comics were produced almost entirely by black creators, and similarly focused on creating a new line of black superheroes. Most famous among these examples are Static, Hardware and Icon & Rocket.

Of course, both of these publishing efforts are born out of the underrepresentation of non-white characters within the mainstream superhero genre. Specifically, they exist to counter the negative effects that singular, often stereotypical examples of representation can cause.

The Road to an AAPI Imprint

Prior to We Are Legends however, it’s worth noting the contributions in this field of Gene Luen Yang. His co-creation Monkey Prince, alongside artistic maestro Bernard Chang, feels like something of a precursor to this imprint, as it began opening the door at DC to more stories that are grounded in AAPI history and culture. Before that, Gene Luen Yang created the New Super-Man Kong Kenan, and his compatriots the Justice League of China.

Looking even broader, DC has a long (if not slightly scattershot) history with diversifying its pantheon. Notable attempts include Ryan Choi succeeding Ray Palmer as the Atom, the introduction of Bunker to the New 52’s incarnation of the Teen Titans (as well as Djinn and Roundhouse in Adam Glass’ run many years later) and many more.

All of that is to say: inclusion and representation are a constant process, not just a one-time push on the publisher’s behalf, but it’s a process that DC seem not only committed to but passionate about furthering.

Not only is We Are Legends carving out space for these new ideas within the existing publishing framework, it’s also making sure that they feel connected to the DCU at large. Xanthe of Spirit World is directly embroiled in an adventure with Cassandra Cain, Batgirl, and John Constantine. City Boy is on track to meet Superman in #3 of his title. The Vigil have repeatedly crossed paths with the Batfamily.

What is Spirit World?

Spirit World #1 Cover
Haining. Courtesy of DC Comics.

Spirit World is a six-issue limited series, starring Xanthe Zhou, the Envoy – a Chinese, non-binary wielder of the mystical arts, who has the ability to travel between the living world and the Spirit World. That is, a realm where the souls of the dead transition to once they pass from the land of the living.

Spirit World, both the place and the book itself, is born out of Chinese culture and mythology. For example, Xanthe fights Jiangshi in the pages of Lazarus Planet – an undead creature often described as a Chinese vampire or zombie.

Xanthe’s unique magical toolset is also derived from the use of Joss paper, which in the real world is burned to provide offerings to deities or the dead. Here, the burning of Joss has a second effect. For Xanthe, when they burn paper in specific forms, such as that of an origami umbrella or sword, that item is summoned into their hands. It’s a fantastic element of character design, blending real life, authentic cultural influences with a dramatic flair that makes the most out of the visual medium that is comics.

This is the first book released under the We Are Legends imprint, and centres on a team-up between Xanthe and resident Liverpudlian magician John Constantine, as they search for a way back to the Spirit World (from which Xante has recently been cut off) in order to rescue a stranded Batgirl.

Alyssa Wong’s script is sharp and kinetic, replete with as many characterful back-and-forths as it is with dynamic action set pieces. On the other hand, artist Haining and colourist Sebastian Cheng bring a visual feast to the table. Their ability to choreograph action, construct highly readable pages (both in pace and composition) and to balance an extraordinary colour palette without it ever feeling overpowering is truly remarkable.

Spirit World is exactly the type of character- and passion-driven project that elevates superhero comics. Set both firmly in continuity while also not feeling chained to or restricted by cameos from the rest of the DCU, this book has launched to both critical and (as far as we can tell) commercial success.

To say I would expect to see legions of Xanthe cosplayers at the convention circuit this year would be an understatement.

What is the First Appearance of Xanthe Zhou, The Envoy?

Technically speaking, Xanthe’s first appearance is in Lazarus Planet: Legends Reborn, which chronicles the initial team-up between the Envoy and Cassandra Cain, Batgirl before the latter is pulled against her will into the Spirit World by a collective. That is, a coalescence of ghosts who, in this instance, are markedly angry with the living.

Is this the First Time DC Comics have Published a Spirit World Book?

No. DC’s first series by the same title was released in 1971 as a horror anthology. Featuring work by comics legends like Neal Adams and even Jack ‘The King’ Kirby, some of that core fantasy-horror DNA remains in the 2023 offering.

What is The Vigil?

The Vigil #1 Cover
Sumit Kumar. Courtesy of DC Comics.

Working out of sight of the superhero community, The Vigil is a team of superpowered individuals, all Indian, who seek to protect the world from threats before their even aware they exist. Run as an off-the-books division of the Indian government, these metahumans – including Saya, Control, Arclight and Dodge – remove technology from the global stage that the world isn’t ready for.

“I took some very broken people, and I broke them a little more in hopes of making something special.”

– The Vigil #1

Much like other nationally-backed super-teams, like Stormwatch or even the Suicide Squad, this casts the team in a complicated heroic position.

They are, on a surface level, working towards the noble goal of protecting the world from dangerous elements, but like those other teams ultimately answer to particular national interests. Whether the leadership behind The Vigil turns out to be as noble as it’s members or its touted mission remains to be seen – and that only adds to the layers of dramatic tension playing out within the book.

Whereas the other We Are Legends books are slightly lighter in tone, focusing more on action-adventure elements, The Vigil is a superhuman spy thriller through and through. It is a book filled with morally complicated individuals, dealing with themes of corruption, otherness and even disability.

What is the First Appearance of The Vigil?

Like most We Are Legends titles, The Vigil debuted in an issue of Lazarus Planet. In it, the one-time-Robin turned resurrected Gotham vigilante Red Hood is investigating a shipment of smuggled, dangerous technology, where he encounters field agents from the team.

Since then, they have shown up in Ram V’s Detective Comics, as they warn Barbara Gordon that her and the rest of the Batfamily are likely not prepared for the nefarious forces at play in the underbelly of Gotham.

Who is City Boy in DC Comics?

City Boy #1 Cover
Minkyu Jung. Courtesy of DC Comics.

City Boy, otherwise known as Cameron Kim, is a teenage metahuman imbued with the power to communicate with and manipulate the reality of cities.

His is a fairly unique powerset, matching his atypical status quo. City Boy does not enter the scene, as many do in these books, looking to save the world. In fact, he’s not really looking to save anything, except his own hide from the cruelty found in the forgotten corners of our cities.

Abandoned by his mother as a child, City Boy has had to hustle to survive his entire life.

It’s only when he stumbles upon an underground experiment that he finds himself connected to the spiritual and conceptual being of the city, at which point the whole game changes. Now, instead of having to scrounge for change in every trash can and gutter he can find, Cameron Kim has a cheat code.

His powers, still being revealed throughout the pages of the series, include a few things. Notably, City Boy has the ability to “disappear” as the shadows of whatever city he’s in swallows him up and spits him back out wherever he wants to go. He can also “see the city” so to speak – manifesting as a sort of x-ray vision that highlights key points of interest through walls, floors and sewers. Currently, he’s used that to find hidden items to pawn, making enough for his next meal, but as he’s drawn further and further into the wider tapestry of the DCU, it isn’t hard to imagine that he’ll start finding more imaginative uses for his power.

There are other, more dynamic abilities at his disposal – but those will remain only hinted at here, for fear of spoiling the twists and turns of the book itself.

City Boy is a fascinating entry into the We Are Legends line, as it completely subverts the expectation that this is a traditional superhero book. Cameron Kim is a gratifyingly real character, constantly making decisions out of the need to make ends meet and get out of each sketchy encounter with his face intact. He is at once both instantly sympathetic and morally complicated.

If anything, reading the first issue felt like diving back into the imaginative shift in status quo caused by the advent of lines like Vertigo and Wildstorm. It occupies that familiar space within the superheroic mythology, while also offering an alternate view on what those stories could be. It eschews the draw to tell an uplifting morality tale in favour of a much more human story about flawed people and what they can do with greatness.

What is the First Appearance of City Boy?

While the other We Are Legends characters all debuted in Lazarus Planet, City Boy bucks that trend by actually showing up slightly earlier. Cameron Kim first appeared in a DC comic on November 29 2022, as part of the Wildstorm 30th Anniversary Special.

In his first appearance, City Boy is trying to move through the city undetected as he steals a few items to later fence. He’s soon accosted by fellow city-person Jack Hawksmoor, of Wildstorm’s The Authority. He then subsequently appears in Lazarus Planet: Legends Reborn alongside DC hero Nightwing.

What’s Next for We Are Legends?

Currently, Spirit World, City Boy and The Vigil are all solicited as six-issue limited series, taking the publication of their issues through to the end of 2023. That will then be followed by their collection in trade paperback (and/or hardcover) format in 2024.

Given the recent spate of DC Comics titles solicited as six issues however, only to be extended (such as Poison Ivy and Green Arrow) it is not out of the question that should these series prove successful then they may well be extended too.

This could take the form of a second arc of six issues, or even a second “season” much like how Milestone are structuring their releases.

And on top of all that, should these titles prove popular it’s hard to imagine that DC won’t follow suit with other new titles in the future.


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