Jeff Lemire, Mike McKone, Marcelo Maiolo
Jeff Lemire and Mike McKone’s Justice League United #0 presents part one of a five-part story, making issue #1, the second comic DC has released this month, that is wrongfully billed as a first issue. It’s essentially just the second chapter of a quinary story arc.
Following the “Forever Evil” crossover, Justice League United kicks off with a fresh spin and an alternative super team, set in Canada, and that includes several favourite B-list heroes, and 2 new characters never before seen.
Written by Canadian native Jeff Lemire, famous for Essex County, and who’s since gone on to establish himself as an important writer for DC and respectively Vertigo, Justice League United is just good enough, to keep all the DC Comics crazed readers out there happy while keeping the rest of us earthbound types in moderate thralldom. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with these first two issues, but nothing really moves you to the point of excitement.
The good news is, Lemire tells a great story, and he clearly knows the history of these characters well. The dialogue and exchanges seem reminiscent of the Justice League International series of the late 80’s, replacing the Blue Beetle/Booster Gold relationship with Green Arrow and Animal Man instead. Lemire seems intent on focusing more on the character’s playful side, and these first two issues offer plenty of quips and inside baseball. And while the dialogue can sometimes be a bit hammy, the panels are always fun to read. Martian Manhunter is established as the brute force; Stargirl is … well Stargirl; and the Thanagar Hawkman, gets to duke it out with the Czarnian, alien bounty hunter Lobo (making a long awaited return). The sight of Hawkman picking a fight with the anti-hero biker, is the most promising aspect of the series so far. Also appearing is Adam Strange and Alanna, as well as the heavily publicized new character, Equinox. Elsewhere in Canada we finally meet Miiyahbin, who at one point transforms into a monster uttering the phrase “the Whitago is here.” What that means is still unknown.
Of the most important people in line to meet the heroes is Adam Strange,
making his first appearance in the New 52 as an Anthropology professor who asks Animal Man and Stargirl for help after Alanna disappears during a recent dig (think Zeta beam technology). Adam Strange doesn’t necessarily have a glorious history, but he remains one of the DC’s most beloved science fiction characters, and one of the most under-rated. He goes back to the dawn of the Silver Age and reflects a very 1950s aesthetic that is part of the “planetary romance” sub-genre of sci-fi. Lemire is taking full advantage of his character, and using Adam Strange to help explore the cosmic universe (something New 52 is lacking in). Yes Justice League United begins in Canada, but it also moves back and forth between the depths of space. In many ways, Justice League United is a standard comic, featuring a team of heroes who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and who align themselves to stop a new alien threat. But the premise, look and feel here recalls the golden age of sci-fi, and Lemire’s reliance on classic sci-fi as the basis for the series, makes me wonder if he wanted to simply write a series dedicated to Strange alone. The many subplots, both in a distant star system, and on earth, featuring aliens gathering specimens and performing grafts, definitely plays with old and familiar tropes. Unfortunately, Adam Strange is fundamentally flawed here, as his traditional origin story feels very watered down. The problem is, Adam Strange is secondary in a series that he should be leading. Hopefully this will be fixed.
Jeff Lemire also deserves credit for refusing to drag fans through a long setup chock full of exposition. Instead Lemire has launched right into the action, and considering that it was less than a year ago when we had a new Justice League comic that took forever to get going, this is a refreshing change of pace. The plot itself appears to revolve around a simple alien abduction story, but we are left with many unanswered questions in the end. Mystery is good, and mystery mixed with classic sci-fi tropes is great.
DC really needs to deliver something fresh and exciting here. Given the numerous incarnations of the Justice League over the years (including the ever popular Grant Morrison stories), readers want something new. Anytime you deviate from the original line-up, the thought becomes that this is a lesser comic, but with good writing, and a new direction, Jeff Lemire, Mike McKone and Marcelo Maiolo can very well surprise us all. The first two issues of Justice League United, introduces the readers to a wide array of characters, sets up several subplots, and leaves us with bit of secrecy – yet it fails to leave a distinct impression. They seem to have the right idea, but the execution is flawed. Hopefully, subsequent issues will prove to be more satisfying.
Giving life to these pages is artist Mike McKone who has a solid reputation having previously worked with the likes of Warren Ellis on Avengers: Endless Wartime and also on Marvel’s space opera epic Annihilation. Emphasizing his artwork and style is the talents of Marcelo Maiolo, the Brazilian colourist, best known for his work on Green Arrow (also written by Jeff Lemire). A major superhero team-up needs a larger-than-life visual palette, but the art in JLU is a little underwhelming. Considering the usual quality of McKone’s work, and the usual beauty of Maiolo’s palette, I can only guess that they are still not accustomed to working side by side. The visuals here come up a little short, to say the least.