JUSTICE LEAGUE UNITED #0 is a new hope for C-listers.
For thirty issues, Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man was the little series that could. Recently, it left the scene as one of the few titles under DC’s “New 52” banner to retire on its own terms- story completed, talent unalienated, and readers left satisfied. Likewise, DC’s Green Arrow series was widely considered something of a train wreck- until Lemire arrived on the scene and brought back the Oliver Queen we know and love.
But now, Lemire faces an even greater challenge. Since The New 52 began, while Justice League and Justice League Dark have enjoyed success, DC’s been trying to find footing for a third major team, so as to introduce readers to heroes beyond those you might find on a kindergartener’s lunch box. Justice League International was their first attempt. Justice League America was their second. Both never quite captured the public’s imagination. Can Lemire succeed with United where his predecessors have failed?
A team book has certain hallmarks to let you know that this is going to be a fun book. Justice League America was all business. But here, the chemistry between teammates indicates that we’re in for a lighter ride than JLA previously offered. It’s all in how the characters come together: the way they talk to each other, the way they fight together, and how well they complement one another. Martian Manhunter, Stargirl, Green Arrow, Animal Man and Adam Strange aren’t the most obvious founders for a super group, but after one issue it’s not hard to imagine spending a lot more time with these folks.
Lemire’s put a lot of work into getting Green Arrow’s voice just right: and here, it pays off in spades. Although he shows up late in the story, his arrow-sharp wit steals the scene from the story’s central group, Animal Man, Stargirl and Adam Strange.
But hey, don’t get me wrong. Ollie is great here, but he is by no means the star of the show. That title goes to newcomer Miyahnik, Jeff Lemire’s original character whom we know will soon become the First Nations hero Equinox. She’s introduced in a separate but parallel plot to the main group, much like Cyborg was back in the New 52’s first Justice League arc. There, Vic Stone was the story’s most compelling character. Miyahnik fills a similar role here. I can’t wait to get to know her better.
Let’s talk about that ending, though! One of the most important parts of writing a book, especially a new one, is to leave readers excited for the next issue. The last scene of Justice League United #0 takes us across the universe, where the stoic as ever Hawkman is about to engage with a fan favorite bad guy. Lemire doesn’t have to beg readers to stick around for JLU #1. Just the promise of this fight will do it for him.
I’m a little sick of the in medias res opening scene for comic book arcs. Sure, it’s an easy way to pull readers in to a new story. But once you start recognizing it, you start seeing it in practically every comic you read. Let’s try and come up with some more varied ways to start a story, can’t we? Animal Man’s first issue was brilliant and inventive, and succeeded in pulling you right into its world through a magazine interview with Animal Man. So we know Lemire knows how to change things up. Let’s see more of that.
Back when this book was being called Justice League Canada, readers considered it kind of a joke. The first five issue arc of this series keeps the name, and enforces that fun-book-look by gently poking fun at its own setting. But the Canadian jokes we see here are as easy as they are cheesy. South Park this is not. And even if it were, well, I’d just as soon watch South Park instead. You don’t get points for going after easy targets, guys.
And while Equinox’s introduction is engaging, it’s not the only time this issue borrows from Justice League #1. Two unlikely, somewhat tense partners stumble upon a secret alien invasion, as a team forms around them and a newcomer discovers their destiny. Sound familiar? It should, because it accurately describes both of these books. I won’t even talk about how even Justice League apes this entire convention from the 1980s “Invasion!” storyline, a loan which becomes even more apparent with the discovery of Lord Byth’s cohorts in United #0.
Oh, whoops. You caught me talking about it. How embarrassing. Let’s go to the verdict, shall we?
If you’re like me, you picked up Justice League United for one reason: Animal Man. The saga of the Baker family was easily one of the most engaging of the New 52, and watching Lemire’s Animal Man begin the next chapter of his life is too promising a prospect to pass up.
But, his prominence on the cover and in the story aside, it’s immediately apparent that this book is not Animal Man. Buddy Baker’s previous book was a mature title by every definition of the word: graphically, narratively, and psychologically. United goes far out of its way to assure readers this is a book much more in line with the first arc of Geoff Johns’ Justice League: if not intentionally in plot structure, then certainly in tone. This is not going to be a deep book. It’s not going to be a book that changes anyone’s life. But it is going to be a fun book. And isn’t that enough?