Today, Shelby and Spencer are discussing Justice League United 0, originally released April 23rd, 2014.
Shelby: We’ve seen a few different ways to handle zero issues. Not, “I have no issues, and I don’t know how to handle it,” or “I have issues with the mathematical concept of null value,” but with comic book issues numbered 0. I’m a big fan of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti’s execution of the zero with Harley Quinn 0, which established the character and setting, but more importantly established the tone of the title. Heck, if you really want to explore the gamut of what a zero issue can do, check out our insanely full coverage of DC’s Zero Month two and a half years ago. A zero issue can be whatever the creative team wants to make of it, and Jeff Lemire and artist Mike McKone seem so eager to start this story they just want to dive right in.
There’s something weird going on in Canada. Anthropologist Adam Strange was digging up some very strange bones in Ontario when his grad assistant literally just vanished. The police didn’t believe him, so he turned to Animal Man and Stargirl, who happened to be in town signing autographs (man, how great would it be if ACTUAL BATMAN just showed up at C2E2?). As they visit the dig site, Stargirl calls for backup, which arrives in the form of Martian Manhunter and Green Arrow. They were needed, too, because some aliens show up and a fight ensues. Once the aliens are dispatched, the crew finds an underground layer with more aliens, who bail after deploying some sort of giant fire…guy. The aliens head back to their home base to report the loss of their Earth lab, where Strange’s assistant Alanna is trying to start a revolt with the other alien abductees. She thinks she can pick a fight with the jailer Lobo; luckily for her someone a little more capable steps up.
This issue is a weird blend of known and unknown. Actually, this cast is just plain weird. Animal Man and Stargirl hanging out seems reasonable; they’re both characters who have achieved a Hollywood-style celebrity status, it’s logical they’d be doing signings and appearances together. I don’t know what happened in Justice League America with the fallout from Forever Evil, but the fact that J’onn and Ollie were on the team together is enough of a reason for them to show up together. At the same time, it feels a little like Lemire threw a bunch of B-List heroes and villains in a hat and drew out the team. The plot itself is a little dizzying as well, opening with a battle between the team (plus Supergirl) and the aliens that ends poorly. Then it jumps to the Ontario con, then the Ontario wilderness, then aliens, then more different aliens. It was frustrating at first, but by the end I was excitedly exclaiming, “Wait, is that LOBO?!” Lemire very deftly handles this unusual team by sucking me into the story before I have a chance to really ponder how weird it is.
I think I’m most excited about Lemire’s brand new character, Miiyahbin. Not only is he introducing a new lady hero, she’s a member of the Cree nation. We don’t know much about Miiyahbin, except that she hallucinates (maybe?) encountering a whitago, which I think is a form of wendigo. Without knowing why, she shouts, “Keewahtin!” transforming herself into something new.
I love McKone’s design for Miiyahbin here. Since “keewatin” is the Cree word for “blizzard of the north,” I figure she’s going to have some sort of wintery, Canadian power; the icy blue palette is perfect. Even better, the sort of cape pieces and panel skirt are reminiscent of fancy dress dances done at pow-wows. Look at these beautiful dancers from the Driftpile powwow.
I adore the way both Lemire and McKone are incorporating traditional Native American culture in Miiyabin’s story without relying on stereotypes or being exploitative.
This book is off to a weird start, but it’s already more promising than both Justice League 1 and Justice League of America 1. Combined. What about you, Spencer, what did you think about this weird and gung ho start to the latest Justice League title?
Spencer: I guess this is the most auspicious start a Justice League has had in the New 52, isn’t it? It’s funny, since this roster indeed seems rather mismatched, but as we’ve seen, just because a team is composed of DC’s heaviest hitters or of characters custom picked to fulfill a certain agenda doesn’t mean they’ll be able to work together as a team. Of course, that doesn’t mean this new team gets along perfectly either:
Still, compared to the very real, very dangerous clashes in personality among the Justice League proper, this is just teasing; besides, in the very next panel J’onn reminds Ollie and Buddy to show professionalism, and they immediately shape up. I like that this team has personality but can still manage to work together without making their dysfunction the center of attention, as so many team books seem to do.
Looking at the above image helps to cement some of the real-life reasonings behind this roster: Lemire’s been writing both Green Arrow and Animal Man in their solo books, so they’re obvious shoo-ins. Meanwhile, the last six months of Justice League of America focused exclusively on Stargirl and Martian Manhunter, so it’s no surprise they’re the characters DC wants to feature right now. I’m not so sure about the other three — maybe Lemire thought there weren’t enough blonde people on the team?
Speaking of which, this team is awfully white and awfully blonde, isn’t it? At least Miiyahbin is a conscious effort to provide representation and diversity, but she’s still quite outnumbered. Beyond even ideas of diversity — which are certainly worth discussing in more detail — the members of this team just look too similar. Stargirl and Animal Man share almost the exact same color scheme — they’re practically distaff counterparts — and Supergirl isn’t too far off either. Even J’onn and Green Arrow are both overwhelmingly green — one of them really should have changed.
These are all pre-existing characters, though, so we can’t blame any of that on colorist Marcelo Maiolo, who — much like Oliver Queen himself — followed Lemire to Justice League United from Green Arrow. Just like in that title, Maiolo sometimes punctuates moments of violence by stripping a panel of all colors besides red and white; I don’t know whether Maiolo or Lemire made this decision, but either way, I’m not sure if it works as well in this title as it does in Green Arrow. Arrow‘s a much more technical book, and those moments serve to highlight small movements while in JLU they seem to accompany basically any moment of violence. There was one use of the technique in this issue that really stuck with me, though:
Normally Miolo renders the background red in these moments, but here he makes it green, matching the attacker, Green Arrow. That got me thinking: what if every member gets their own color that shows up in panels like this? I can’t tell whether it’s a silly idea or the best idea in the world, but either way it’s got me unreasonably giddy.
I was also rather excited to see more pages from Mike McKone, whose work on Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans made him one of the first artists whose work I learned to recognize by style alone. What stands out the most about McKone’s work this issue is the body language he imbues his characters with. He perfectly conveys the amusing, yet slightly unsettling eccentricies of Animal Man, and he gives Stargirl an understated, more passive stance that she immediately drops anytime she needs to hop into action. Still, it’s his work with these two doofuses that I enjoy the most:
Could there be two superheroes who are more total opposites? Green Arrow is cocky, while J’onn is simply determined and stoic in pretty much every panel of this book, even smacking aside an attack in the third panel without ever breaking his stride. Still, Ollie’s pose in that same panel also highlights one of McKone’s weaknesses; his action sequences often lack dynamism, looking a little too static. It’s a small criticism, but it’s definitely noticeable.
Overall, Shelby is right that this is a weird book. The characters somehow fit together even though they seem more random than anything, and the story is just odd and surprising enough to keep my attention even though I have no idea what’s going on (I assume Zeta Beams — an integral part of Adam Strange’s Pre-New 52 origin — have something to do with the aliens’ teleportation abilities, but that’s about all I can figure out). Maybe it’s just the unusual setting — the faraway land of Canada — contributing to the weirdness. I may not quite have my finger on what makes this title tick yet, but it should be quite an experience figuring it out.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?