Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz famously said, “My, people come and go so quickly here.” That quote could easily be applied to the cast of Justice League of America, a book that was launched barely a year ago and is now ending its run next month already. We barely knew the team of J’onn Jonzz, Stargirl, Catwoman, Vibe, Katana, Hawkman, Green Lantern Simon Baz, and Green Arrow before they were caught up in the crossover frenzy of Forever Evil, which will (presumably) disband their ranks, as this book picks up after the team is no more. The final issue of Justice League of America hits next month; Justice League United spins off the ending of JLA, but is actually coming out before the end of JLA. I know, it’s confusing.
I will say that I automatically liked this book better than Justice League of America, and we are just one issue in, despite using many of the same cast members and essentially being a sequel series of a sort. The premise of JLA was that the U.S. government set up a super team to take down the “big seven” of the real Justice League should the need arise. It’s a storyline that was done better on the Justice League Unlimited cartoon about ten years ago, and with writer Geoff Johns leaving the title early on, JLA just never really gained its momentum again. I guess I can see why the powers-that-be at DC decided to just start from scratch… again. Plus, hey, a new #1 issue never hurts in the sales department. Getting a hot writer like Jeff Lemire to take the reins also probably prompted another good reason to start over.
Originally announced as Justice League Canada, DC had a change of heart and re-titled the book Justice League United, although the team’s headquarters will still be in Canada, they have a native Canadian member (a Cree Nation heroine named Equinox whose back story is touched on in this zero issue, although she doesn’t actually meet her future teammates just yet), and the logo now has a cute little Canadian maple leaf in the letter “D” of United. Maybe they were afraid they’d become a punchline like Alpha Flight at Marvel, who knows? The main storyline is still called “Justice League Canada”, so they’re not totally shying away from the concept. I guess JLU has a better ring to it than JLC.
The book opens with the team attacking a space station where aliens are doing experiments on kidnapped children of various alien races. At this point, we see that the team consists of former JLA members Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, and Stargirl, along with newcomers Supergirl, Animal Man, and what appears to be Adam Strange. From here we flashback to “three days before” – it’s obviously some time after the events of Forever Evil, and although the outcome of said crossover is not really referenced too much, it’s fair to say the good guys win, but the JLA splits up as a result. Now seemingly forced to get by signing at fan conventions (that was fast), Stargirl and Animal Man encounter what at first they think is a crazy fan, but it turns out to be none other than Dr. Adam Strange, in his first New 52 appearance. Not quite a space jockey yet, but just an anthropologist who was working a dig in northern Ontario when his assistant (and girlfriend) vanished into thin air. Ignored by the regular authorities, he seeks some help of the superheroic kind.
Adam Strange convinces the two heroes to check out the site where his girlfriend vanished, and of course, aliens attack, as they tend to do in these circumstances. Luckily, two of Stargirl’s former JLA teammates, Martian Manhunter and Green Arrow, show up to help when Stargirl activates her JLA distress call (seriously, Vibe and Katana were too busy to show up?). Now, this is where the book gets fun, and is very, very reminiscent of the classic late ’80s/early ’90s run of Justice League International, from the writing duo of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis (who are currently writing Justice League 3000) where the emphasis was as much on comedy as it was on superheroics. Green Arrow openly mocks Animal Man and his powers, Stargirl snickers, and J’onn has to be the straight man and remind everyone that they’re in public and have to behave like grown ups. I could have sworn we were dealing with Blue Beetle and Booster Gold here in an old issue of JLI.. and that’s a good thing. Another reason it probably reminded me so much of the classic JLI years is no doubt due to the art of Mike McKone, who got his start years ago drawing issues of the Justice League International team. His art has only improved with time, and it was welcome to see his pencils again after what seemed like a long time.
Although there is nothing Earth-shatteringly new in this book, it has an old school charm that is fun to read, and so far I like this team, and although future members Hawkman, Supergirl and new character Equinox haven’t joined yet, we know they’re coming. Writer Jeff Lemire, who just completed the recent run of Animal Man, brings a different tone to this book, and shows how much range he has as a writer, as this book reads really differently from Animal Man, despite the fact that the character is a main cast member here. With so many of the New 52 books being hell bent on being so much “darker and grittier”, it’s refreshing to see one that seems intent on being light and fun. For now, that’s enough to get me to stick around.