Artist: Mike McKone
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: May 14, 2014
Every superhero team is its own little oddity. Ever since the JSA in the 1940s, readers have been blessed and subjected to all forms team-ups and assemblages. For the most part, team books follow an underlying formula that works fairly well. They require interactions with characters who are unfamiliar with one another or who need to grow existing friendships. Most feature the brawler, the comic relief, the cynic and maybe even a telepath. Then all of this should be wrapped in a story that plays to the strengths and weaknesses of every character (for example, Aquaman probably shouldn’t fight in space). Oh, and if you feature big names like Batman or Superman batting cleanup, that helps.
Writer Jeff Lemire (Essex County, Sweet Tooth, Animal Man) and artist Mike McKone’s (Exiles, Avengers Academy) Justice League United possesses all of the requisite qualities that make superhero team-ups a pillar of the industry, but at rare moments, it goes above and beyond. With its cast of relative B-listers, every character has a panel, page or sequence that reveals how background heroes often ignite the best stories.
The Lemire and McKone bring together a team we’ve never seen before. Stargirl and Martian Manhunter, arguably the most well-known supes in the book aside from Hawkman’s short appearance, are still shouldering wounds from Geoff Johns’ Forever Evil event, but that crucible has made them a cohesive fighting duo. Animal Man and Green Arrow, as the titular characters of Lemire’s other DC work, act as a subdued Laurel and Hardy, taking friendly jabs at the pointlessness of each other’s abilities or superpowers. The most exciting addition to the JLU lineup is Adam Strange and his love interest, Alanna. Strange stands out as one of the more compelling cosmic characters in the DCU, but he’s been unfairly sidelined in the past. We now see Strange for the first time in the New 52 universe, and Lemire’s take on his origin story is a compelling one that sets up the current conundrum our heroes face.
In last month’s zero issue, Strange tracked down Stargirl and Animal Man at a local superhero meet-and-greet, where he verbally vomited up a curious tale about the unexplained vanishing of his teaching assistant (and apparent love interest), Alanna. Fast-forward to this issue, and we realize that her disappearing act was caused by Zeta Beams transporting Alanna, and eventually our ragtag team, to Rann. Here, an evil mastermind known as Byth, a recurring villain in Silver Age Hawkman stories, has been collecting the DNA of races across the galaxy to form the ultimate species, which — we can only assume — will be used for nefarious ends. The last page’s reveal could leave readers a little confused, but the most ardent of Lemire followers will stared wide-eyed at its implications.
Justice League United #1 is equal parts prison break and all-out superhero slugfest as it draws us ever closer to the conclusion highlighted in the opening pages of the zero issue. McKone’s pencils are detailed and crisp, though at times the action can feel a bit lifeless. But the story moves at a breakneck pace, pausing at moments for a telling interaction or sequence between two characters, and has already crammed a lot in just two issues. That’s a good thing.
Lemire has crafted an impressive debut; the characters feel comfortable with one another and the script is honed. Lemire has already created fascinating narrative threads with Rann, a few Silver Age characters and a strong collection of heroes and heroines that have a great story to tell. This is an oddity worth reading.