Pop Quiz: since the inception of the (not really) “New 52,” how many Justice League series has DC Comics sent off to the presses? For those snarky assholes who “need” to have this put into context, DC is mere months away from celebrating three years of editorial despotism…I kid, DC, I kid. In that time, they’ve launched six of ‘em. Justice League, Justice League Dark, and Justice League International were all part of the original batch. The first two can still be located on store shelves, International made Booster Gold the team’s leader. Unlike Booster, I don’t need to be from the future to fill you in on how well that went over with readers.

I hear ya, Guy.  The thought of taking orders from Booster Gold doesn't sit well with me either.

I hear ya, Guy. The thought of taking orders from Booster Gold doesn’t sit well with me either.

Then, in 2013, we were served up another pair in Justice League 3000, and the recently canceled/retitled/reformulated Justice League of America. It’s the latter of the two that is somewhat essential to understanding 2014’s Justice League United. See, JLA was couched on the premise that those at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. were uncomfortable with the actual Justice League’s (see: Superman…Batman…other well-known/actually competent heroes) unwillingness to be at the beck and call of the good ol’ Stars and Stripes. On the off chance that Bruce and Supes deviated from America’s playbook, there’d be a fighting force funded by the American Dollar to defend our way of life…and take down the Justice League, if it came to such.

I know what you’re thinking, after all the heroes the Justice League snatched up, the talent pool’s seemingly shallow enough to put up a “No Diving” sign. And you’re probably right. Landing Martian Manhunter is fine and dandy, but when one’s rounding out the roster with the likes of Stargirl, Katana, and Earth’s least experienced “ringslinger,” Simon Baz…you’d be better off scouring the skies for a Kryptonian that took the scenic route to Earth. Anyway, the team was thrown together, but was later disbanded following the events of Forever Evil, as the American Government needed a “patsy” to pin the whole mess on.

I LOVE Katana, okay?  Fantastic outfit, awesome sword...and also, sadly, another minority character that had her solo book canceled in the last year.  Still, is she really on "that level" to take on Wonder Woman?  Gonna hesitantly say "No."

I LOVE Katana, okay? Fantastic outfit, awesome sword…and also, sadly, another minority character that had her solo book canceled in the last year. Still, is she really on “that level” to take on Wonder Woman? Gonna hesitantly say “No.”

Originally, the JLA was merely going to relocate to the land of moose and maple, with the book’s title becoming Justice League Canada, and Torontonian Jeff Lemire taking the writing reins (supposing writing is a horse). Presumably, the creator of such masterpieces as Sweet Tooth and Trillium discovered that even the bedraggled B-list assortment of heroes he’d inherited would still make short work of righting the wrongs in a nation where “sorry” is bandied about incessantly, and fisticuffs are restricted to those wearing ice skates. So, the book also took on a cosmic element, (because there’s always things to fight… IN SPACE!) and a nondescript title in Justice League United.

Whew. I realize not everybody needs that much context, but that’s how we end up at JLU. See, whether we like it or not, Justice League titles aren’t constructed for a niche audience like Swamp Thing or All-Star Western. They’re engineered for a broad market appeal…and this makes them more susceptible to the larger machinations of DC’s “tie-in and team-up” corporate mentality. Keeping that in mind, just what spurred me to “pull” it from the get-go?

Well, it all starts with Jeff Lemire (Animal Man, Trillium). Setting the book in his homeland, thereby offering up some new scenery, was a plus. Allowing him to bring along the titular characters of his “soon-to-be-concluded” arc on Green Arrow and his “critically-acclaimed, but wrapped” series Animal Man certainly helped, too. And the icing on the cake? The promise that colorist Marcelo Maiolo, best known for his fantastic work on Green Lantern Corps (as well as Lemire’s run of Green Arrow), would be joining the title. It seemed like this indie-tinged title was set from the “get-go.” However, this “slow burn” book overwhelms with far too many plot lines at the outset, and will have readers less-versed in DC canon Googling stuff like “Nth metal.” For a writer that’s made a reputation keeping character motivations on a personal level, and favoring character interactions over DC Universe jargon, it was a semi-puzzling move, to say the least.

Lemire, in addition to being a fantastic writer, is quite a wonderful artist in his own right.  Here's his variant cover for JLU #3

Lemire, in addition to being a fantastic writer, is quite a wonderful artist in his own right. Here’s his variant cover for JLU #3

The confusion begins with the arbitrarily-labeled #0 issue. Why do it? If DC was interested in providing an “origins” issue for those that came out after “Zero Month” in September of 2012, then the recently rolled-out Grayson would have gotten one. It didn’t. Front cover confusions aside, turn to “Page 1” and you’ll find that the book opens in media res, but on a scene that doesn’t actually “happen” until the closing pages of Justice League United #2. Nor does this glimpse of the future create any sort of “a-ha” moment when the scene arrives in the proper chronological context.

Not unless “Oh, here’s the scene they arbitrarily placed at the outset of the series so I could have the all-too-common pleasure of being confused, and they could kick this title off with the wonderful ‘X DAYS EARLIER’ trope” counts as an “a-ha” moment for you.

If you overlook this stumbling block out of the gate, the opening conceit is fairly straightforward. *MINOR SPOILERS* We have Stargirl and Animal Man doing a signing at a convention center in Toronto, when they meet a man named Dr. Adam Strange. Strange’s a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, who just so happened to be on a dig in Moosonee, Ontario when his grad student Alanna Lewis found herself getting “beamed up.” Despite the prevalence of superheroes and other things that frequently defy logic, the authorities refuse that Strange is doing anything other than cooking up a tall tale.

Can't tell if Animal Man's reaction is one of having been at a convention for hours on end, or of disbelief towards Strange.

Can’t tell if Animal Man’s reaction is one of having been at a convention for hours on end, or of disbelief towards Strange.  Then again, having to sit next to Stargirl for any extended duration would likely do the trick.

Presumably after convincing Strange to buy the “VIP Meet and Greet” package, which includes tickets to the afterparty, a photograph, and a cursory investigation into a missing person, Stargirl and Animal Man follow him to the site…where they are promptly attacked by aliens. And you know what, despite Lemire, of all people, knowing the sort of dark shit that Buddy Baker’s been through…he has Animal Man and Stargirl look way out of their depth.

Thankfully, Stargirl (who also apparently doesn’t put much faith in Animal Man) flipped on her JLA emergency transponder…to which only two JLA members respond: Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter, who make short work of the hostiles. The source of the aliens? An underground bunker, where the remaining aliens discovered there mutter a cliché along the lines of it “being too late to stop the process anyway,” launch a monster against the team, and beam up to report in to someone named Lord Byth.

But wait, there are more characters to follow: in space, we finally meet Alanna. She’s being held in a cell amongst other prisoners from across the galaxy, and is attempting to unite them against their jailer, the infamous Lobo, when Hawkman appears from the shadows to fight him.

HawkmanmeetsLobo

Hawkman: Derpy, dumb, and currently eatin’ the spacecraft equivalent of pavement.

If all of that wasn’t enough, we also get a fleeting glimpse of sixteen-year-old Miiyahbin Martin, who lives near the dig site, and is of Cree descent. Lemire promised to make an addition to the team that reflected the area, and Equinox, as Miiyahbin is otherwise known, appears to be that individual. Though you wouldn’t know it from the minute page or two per issue currently dedicated to her plot.

Did I mention that there’s a lot going on? That’s just the first issue. With all of that out of the way, the plot becomes a bit easier to understand, though not easier to swallow. See, in a galaxy really, unbelievably far away, the representatives of a bunch of planets perpetually ensnared in war decided to create a symbol of peace across the universe. The object in question? An infant created with DNA from every planet. A superbaby. And that Lord Byth fellow? He ran off with the research for this being he calls “Ultra, the Multi-Alien,” hoping to perfect the project, and use said infant to his own decidedly awful ends. That underground vault near the dig site? That was their spot to collect/deposit DNA samples from Earth. Does our new Justice League end up being tasked with stopping Lord Byth, and saving the baby? Of course they do. But…I guess if you’re going to delve into some decidedly wacky stuff, one might as well go “full bore.”

If you've never used a jetpack before, the smartest thing to do is: 1. Use the jetpack 2. NOT use the jetpack

If you’ve never used a jetpack before, the smartest thing to do is:
1. Use the jetpack
2. NOT use the jetpack

While the plot sounds like something Jack Kirby and Jim Starlin cooked up, it’s not without some of Lemire’s more signature elements. Since he worked on Animal Man, Lemire has made it clear that he enjoys reviving characters that have fallen into obscurity over the years. In JLU this comes in the form of Adam and Alanna Strange (she is his wife in previous incarnations). Yes, the archeologist stumbles upon a laser gun and jetpack in the bunker, in case you were wondering who that Flash Gordon-esque character was on cover/promo art.

We also get Lemire’s signature sense of humor, much of which comes in the form of dialogue from/between Lemire’s two previous projects, Animal Man and Green Arrow. I audibly snickered when Oliver Queen pouts that “Traveling to Canada was bad enough—I do NOT do other planets,” after his group is teleported to Rann. Oftentimes it feels like Martian Manhunter is playing the role of “group chaperone” on an intergalactic field trip from Hell, and it makes for a fantastic group dynamic. Also, if you were worried that there wouldn’t be “Canada jokes,” you can rest easy. Poutine, hockey, and a near-constant below freezing temperature all find their way into the opening issues.

It's bright, it's fun, and funny, to boot.  It's also from the first two issues, before the art took a noticeable dip.

It’s bright, it’s fun, and funny, to boot. It’s also from the first two issues, before the art took a noticeable dip.

However, one of the defining characteristics of a Lemire title (whether it’s his doing, or DC’s) has been a near-perfect pairing of writer and artist. Travel Foreman expertly channeled the bizarre horror feel of Animal Man and Andrea Sorrentino captured the darker tone of a “down-on-his-luck” Ollie like no other could for Green Arrow. However, I’m not 100% sold on Justice League United’s penciler, Mike McKone (Fantastic Four, Teen Titans)…and it’s not for any of the “usual suspects.”

Stylistically, McKone reminds me of Guillem March or Mikel Janin: a bright and clean, animated style that aptly suits the fun nature of the title. Sure, McKone might not quite share Janin’s aptitude for drawing faces (Green Arrow’s nose and mouth never quite look “right”), and some characters (Animal Man, Adam Strange) look certifiably better than others (Stargirl, Green Arrow) but when one considers ALL of the weird and zany stuff this book encompasses, perhaps a little slack can be dispensed in McKone’s direction.

There's just no ignoring that brow and that nose.

There’s just no ignoring that mouth and that nose.

It would appear McKone’s does not suffer from a shortage of talent or experience, but of time. Indeed, while the first two issues look great, the most recent two have a drop-off in quality that is difficult to ignore. The culprit? Well, a bit of sleuthing in the credits yielded that while McKone handled his own inking duties on the first two issues, he shared such with two additional inkers on #2, and one additional inker on #3. Coloring duties were also divvied up between Maiolo and The Flash’s new colorist, Andrew Dalhouse. Characters lack the definition they had in earlier issues, and the color palette takes on an oddly subdued tone, to the extent that the color seems sapped from all the character’s faces (save Martian Manhunter, who now merely seems “Sea Green”).

You know what extra help and progressively sloppier pencils point towards? It’s speculation, but I’d wager McKone is having trouble meeting DC’s deadlines, and it’s bolstered by the fact that (from what I’ve gleaned) he hasn’t handled “month-in, month-out” penciling duties for an ongoing “big two” title in a while. Whether this means that McKone needs to get in the “swing of things,” DC needs to cut him a break, or locate an inker who can take after McKone’s own inks, I don’t know.

Note when we get to the latter two issues how pale everybody is, and the recycling of expressions from frame to frame.

Note when we get to the latter two issues, we encounter a recycling of expressions from frame to frame, on top of several other issues.

So, with “in flux” visuals and a writer gravitating somewhere outside of his usual stomping ground, you’re probably wondering if Justice League United manages to eke out my stamp of approval (which, sadly, is not a literal one). With the book this close to the closure of its first arc, and the title not exactly hitting its stride due to Lemire getting tied up laying the foundation for a “space epic,” I’d advocate for the trade, as there’s still enough to recommend the book. With that in mind, if the disparate plot lines continue to finally converge like they did in the third issue, if the art issues are remedied, and Lemire bothers to have Equinox actually join the team (spying on them in the woods does not constitute such), this book could join the upper ranks of my pull. Until these pieces come together, it’ll merely remain Justice League Untied.

Justice League United can be purchased at your Local Comic Shop or on Comixology.

Overall Score
92 %

Justice League United is a title still preoccupied with laying down groundwork, and has yet to establish a consistent quality of artwork. That being said, it retains Lemire's trademark sense of humor, doesn't take itself too seriously, and McKone's art is great (when he's the one doing the inking).

Writing 95%
Pencils 90%
Colors 92%

About The Author

Growing up, Nick White dreamed of a career with the Chicago Bulls. This is because he was young and stupid, and his parents were of the "you can do ANYTHING" mentality.

When he was older, and probably not a whole lot smarter, Nick purchased Alan Moore's From Hell on a whim (that in itself probably says a lot). He was astounded to find that comics were as bizarre and twisted as his beloved Twin Peaks. After that he bought Batman: The Black Mirror strictly on the cover's aesthetics (Who the hell is Scott Snyder?" he said) and hasn't looked back since. Except, of course, in situations that necessitate such.

When he's not "busy" playing Castlevania or harassing Zander about what he ought to be reading, Nick continues to work on his makeshift shrine to Jeff Lemire.

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