By: Jeff Lemire (story), Mike McKone (art), Marcelo Maiolo (colors)

The Story: Parents should rejoice in the knowledge that it takes a whole League to handle a baby.

The Review: Blame it on the original incarnation of the Justice League or Grant Morrison’s “pantheon” conception for the JLA, but nowadays, we have a pretty specific idea of what the Justice League roster should look like. Anytime you deviate from that line-up, the thought becomes that this is a lesser or leftovers League, which means they’re already coming from behind from the moment they start out. That’s the position the Justice League United finds itself in.

If you’re not working with the classic League, which can sell itself purely on the names involved, there’s only two ways to make the League work otherwise, which is basically how you make any superhero team work: a great combination of power sets or some great team chemistry. Obviously, managing to do both would be ideal, but right now, the JLU is struggling to generate either, which doesn’t bode well for its long-term success. The Justice League of America had a similar problem and look where it ended up: the bulk of its cast dispersed and the rest shunted to Canada for some inexplicable reason.

While part of the difficulty Lemire’s having is that he paints the JLUers with rather broad strokes (Buddy: “Lightning?! Good thing I can channel an electric eel!”), at least it’s pretty clear what each JLUer brings to the table: J’onn’s wisdom and power, Courtney’s optimism, Adam’s adventurousness, Buddy’s as team player, Ollie as rebel, etc. Lemire sticks a bit too close to these character outlines, but there are moments that feel more authentic, like Ollie looking concerned as he watches the other Leaguers fly after the enemy. Buddy sidles up to him: “You know what happens next, right?”

“…You have to carry me?”

“I have to carry you.”

“God, this is so humiliating. I really need to learn how to fly.”*

In the power set department, the JLU seems lacking, too, even against their very first opponent. It’s hard not to notice that J’onn takes down the big monster all by himself, with a little assistance from Courtney. Ollie’s arrows are almost hilariously ineffective, and between him, Adam, and Buddy, they serve as little more than an early distraction. Between that and Hawkman’s humiliating defeat to Lobo, it’s clear we’re really dealing with an underdog League here.**

It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that unlike the Justice League proper, which is tasked with confronting big, world-threatening enemies, the JLU exists for a different purpose. You wouldn’t trust them to face off with Darkseid and the armies of Apokolips, but they can probably handle an alien baby, even a hybridized one with a wonderfully outlandish name (“Ultra the Multi-Alien…the Slayer of Worlds“). With any luck, Lemire will succeed in making Ultra and its creators a force to reckon with, one that’ll elevate the JLU from watered-down wannabes (Buddy: “Please can we call ourselves the Justice League? Just for now anyway?”).

A major superhero team book like this needs a larger-than-life visual aesthetic to work, and right now, McKone and Maiolo come just a little short. While McKone is still relying more heavily on long-distance shots and small figures than he used to, this issue gives us more of the McKone of old, especially in the first three pages: tight close-ups that let you see the physical and emotional intensity he’s capable of. Those pages also feature the deepest color tones, which are the kind that suit McKone’s art best. I really hope future issues will look more like those pages rather than the ones of the JLU in Canada, which have a slightly miniaturized, washed-out quality to them.

Conclusion: It’s fine, for an alternative Justice League issue, but where are the thrills?

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Well, that’s easy enough—just pick up one of those rocket packs that Adam punked from. Surely, if Adam could master it in about ten minutes, Ollie can do the same.

** That is, until Equinox and Supergirl show up to bolster their ranks.

– Can I just say that I’m a little pissed that Lemire changed Alanna’s origins to human instead of Rannian? That inter-species romance is a bedrock of the Adam Strange mythos, a callback to the John Carter stories, so getting rid of it diminishes Adam’s story more than anything else.