Jeff Lemire is certainly a writer of two sorts. There is the Lemire of good, who writes and draws comics like Essex County and Sweet Tooth, who writes nuanced dialogue and marries it with deft plotting and smart characterisation, and then there is the Bizarro Lemire, who is one of the leading writers of DC’s New 52 – a title still being plastered on the front of comics, four years after its inception.
Lemire has had his hand in titles such as Frankenstein, Animal Man and now Justice League United. Animal Man initially was one of the touchstones for quality in the relaunched DC universe, harking back to Alan Moore’s gothic horror comics of the 90’s, but very quickly became mired in a terrible crossover event with sister title Swamp Thing, replacing smart gothic weirdness with flat superheroes punching things. It was an enormous shame and it feels as though Lemire has never quite gotten his superhero mojo back from that.
Justice League United #1, which was released this month is a poor comic. Granted, the low level of quality is not entirely down to Lemire, although he is one of the primary offenders, delivering a boring story, with boring characters who achieve and do more or less nothing over the course of the issue. Mike McKone is on hand to provide equally drab art, with generic character designs, and shoddy storytelling techniques. Several of the ‘big’ moments in the story (Adam Strange finally getting his costume is a particular oddity) are sequestered in tiny panels, reducing their importance and diminishing the emotional impact they should have. Even worse, despite the initial concept of the comic being the Justice League, but in Canada, there is more or less no evidence to tell us that’s where the events of the comic are taking place.
I said above that the failure of this comic isn’t just down to Lemire, and it isn’t simply down to McKone either. DC have marketed this issue terrible, slapping a #1 on the front, therefore promoting it as an entry point into the series. However, what becomes very clear on the first page is that this is, instead, Part 2 of a story, with Part 1 to be found in the #0 issue which came out last month. Why DC have done it this way is beyond me, as this comic has neither the clarity, nor the content, to attract and keep an audience beyond this. It’s a huge shame really, as DC Comics drastically needs something which stands out tonally from the rest of the pack, and as hard as JLU tries to be fun and loose (a tone that Keith Giffen nailed in his Justice League International series in the 90’s) it misses far more often than it hits.
Far more successful this month is the debut issue of new series Southern Bastards, from writer Jason Aaron and artist Jason Latour. The story has a very recognisable plot: a middle-aged man returns to his hometown reluctantly, and has to take it back from the evil men who appear to run it these days, bringing to mind a great many Westerns, and both Aaron and Latour know exactly what tone they are going for. All the more impressive is how strong a piece of work it is. Beautifully coloured panels, impeccable storytelling and absolutely cracking dialogue makes Southern Bastards the comics equivalent of a perfect TV pilot. The kind of comic you’ll relish and reread a great many times before the second issue comes out.
Finally, slap bang in the middle of the scale this month comes Avengers #29 from Jonathan Hickman and Leinil Yu, which throws Hickman’s massive long-form Avengers story into the midst of the latest company crossover, Original Sin. This is a tie-in issue in name only to be honest, and owes a greater debt to the Avenger’s sister title, New Avengers, which Hickman has been writing since the launch of Marvel Now just over a year ago. In that, Captain America assisted the newly reformed Illuminati in eliminating a parallel Earth which threatened to destroy their own; as a reward for his initial effort and subsequent refusal to help them any further, his memory was wiped. Now, it all comes flooding back to him. The issue is a welcome return to form for the title which, post Infinity, had meandered through a slightly turgid plot about a Justice League knockoff from a parallel Earth doing evil deeds in the Marvel Universe (a plot that was far too close to Grant Morrison’s fantastic JLA: Earth 2, and suffered enormously as a result). A huge part of the upswing in quality is down to artist Yu, who is vastly superior to previous artist Salvador Larrocca. Yu’s characters are detailed and full of emotion, his action scenes flow well and are clearly structured. For those not reading Original Sin, do not be put off by its labelling here, there are no obvious ties to the big event within and if you have persevered with Hickman’s run on the title this far, this issue will deliver enormous rewards.