I’ve been debating whether to drop this title or not. It’s written by Jeff Lemire, who also wrote the generally very good Animal Man series (and yes, Animal Man is a member of this team). It also features Supergirl, who I generally prefer over Superman because she feels like an actual character whereas Superman is more of an archetype. While I was initially very excited for a Canadian Justice League team featuring those two characters, the first story arc was mediocre at best. This annual is where that changes.
The Justice League United Annual kicks off exactly where the last issue ended, with the team split into two groups. One group is on Earth, and is protecting a rapidly aging baby with already incredible power. A member of a future team called the Legion of Superheroes then warped into the area, fully intent to kill Ultra. The other team had just entered a bar in space filled with bounty hunters while searching for Hawkman’s stolen body. It didn’t leave me too excited and I almost didn’t pick this up, but with only 3 other books to pick up, I gave this series one last chance to win me over.
The Legion member begins the issue with a brief speech about how Ultra needs to die, and then proceeds to fight Martian Manhunter. The fight is relatively brief yet intense. Soon enough, other legion members show up to explain exactly why they think Ultra needs to die. It’s an epic story involving a universe level threat that not even the entire Legion can defeat. It raises the stakes of the series far beyond anything that previous issues have hinted at.
The bounty hunter bar scene, along with its follow up, is just fun. The banter between the away members is frequently entertaining. Green Arrow suggests they try to play the bar smart, but then Supergirl just starts a fight with everyone in the bar after commenting on how fun it’ll be. This is one reason why I like Supergirl more than Superman – she doesn’t hold back nearly as much as her cousin, has a touch of youthful arrogance as a flaw and yet still prefers not to kill anyone. It later leads to a conflict between her and Green Arrow that could easily become more interesting as the series continues. Animal Man’s wife also makes a brief appearance in a space phone call, which was a nice touch. While the bounty hunter story and the Ultra baby stories don’t sound like they could ever connect, they actually end up directly connecting to each other. That said, I’m not sure how I feel about a moment toward the end regarding Hawkman.
The art by Neil Edwards is good. The fight scene between the Legion member and Martian Manhunter flows smooth, and there’s plenty of debris all over the place. The large panels showing off the universal threat are impressive, with a massive figure showcasing all sorts of red lightning-like blasts and matter crumbling around him. For the most part facial expressions are good, although some of the open mouth moments look more sexual than they do surprised or horrified.
There’s a lot going on in this comic – so much so that while it explains a lot, most people jumping in will be completely lost. While it’s an enjoyable comic with enough jokes and a big enough story to recommend if you’ve been reading Justice League United up to this point, it’s not quite good enough to recommend if you’ve already dropped the title months ago. It is however good enough to convince me to give the series at least a few more issues to win me over. Justice League United took a while to get good, but hopefully it will continue to improve from here.