Although Jeff Lemire's Justice League Dark series pulled together a group of heroes with similar skills and interests, the writer's new Justice League United team make-up is about as eclectic as it gets.
As Lemire has delved into the book, which launches in April, the odd mix of characters on the JLU team has inspired some interesting interactions.
For example, Green Arrow and Animal Man have a dynamic that Lemire compares to Booster Gold and Blue Beetle. And Supergirl and Stargirl — although both teenaged blondes — couldn't be more different.
Even more unusual is the setting for the comic. Not only is the team's home base in the remoteness of Northern Ontario, they frequently travel instantly across the galaxy because the team features Adam and Alanna Strange, who've brought their Zeta-Beam transporting technology with them from the planet Rann.
The origin of the team, according to Lemire, happens by accident, really — the story kicks off with Adam Strange searching for Alanna, going to get some help from a few other heroes, "and that just snowballs into this big adventure, and this team forms out of it."
But what can readers expect from the pace of Justice League United? (Hint: Think fast.)
Who is this new teen heroine on the cover? (Hint: She's Cree.)
What does this have to do with the weekly Futures End, and does Booster Gold, who's allegedly Canadian, show up at all? (Hint: Lemire works with Dan Jurgens on the weekly.)
In the first half of our two-part interview with Jeff Lemire (check back tomorrow for more), we asked for the details about his work on Justice League United:
Newsarama: Jeff, the cosmic side of the DCU has really been largely cut off from Earth, with there even being no Green Lantern appearing on Earth since "Trinity War." Is this book’s mix of a cosmic focus and an Earth one meant to bridge that gap a bit?
Jeff Lemire: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I love cosmic stories and spaceman superhero stories, but just like you said, they're often one of the other. They're off in space somewhere in their own little pocket of the universe, and then the things they're doing don't necessarily affect what's going on on earth or the rest of the universe.
So when you have a character like Adam Strange and Alanna Strange in the book, who by nature of their Zeta beams being able to teleport them back and forth, it's a further vehicle for me to keep the book firmly in both worlds, constantly jumping back and forth between Earth and different planets in the DC Universe, and having, literally, a direct connection and a direct gateway back and forth.
So that was just the sort of device that could keep the book linked to the shared universe more.
Nrama: Let's talk about the setting you've chosen for their time on Earth. You're putting them in a remote area of Canada. What was behind that choice?
Lemire: Yeah, when I got the assignment, and we decided we're going to do a Canadian-based version of the Justice League, I tried to wrap my head around that, and there were a lot of different ways I could have approached that. I could try to set it in a city like Toronto or something — but to me, if you're going to do that, you might as well stay in New York or Metropolis or Gotham City.
If you're going to show a different part of the world, or another country, you should try to show something specific that's different from the rest of the DC Universe.
The thing about Canada is that it's a very large country, and the population's very spread out among different regions. Each region in the country really has its own personality and its own culture, you know? From West Coast to East Coast — wherever you go, it's almost like it's its own country.
I could either try to capture all of those flavors, or I could choose one and really try to get it right. So that's what I did. I chose a very specific location, an area of the country that interested me.
It's a really remote section of Ontario, in Northern Ontario, where one of our First Nations is. And it was something I've been exploring in a lot of my work, since Sweet Tooth, is First Nation culture and mythology.
So this really was a chance for me to get even further into that. And quite frankly to also introduce the rest of the world — the people reading the Justice League comics — to a really specific part of Canada.
Nrama: You did some research into the area to prepare for writing about his area, didn't you? As you created this new Cree superhero?
Lemire: I wanted to really focus on one area, and to do that, I really felt like I needed to really entrench myself in that, so I spent a couple weeks up in that area now, in two different trips. So far most of what I've done has been a mix of spending time in the schools up there. There are five schools — three on the Reserve, and two just outside. So I spent a lot of time in the schools, just talking to the kids about what I do and about comics, and sharing my experiences with them, and them with me. Just trying to get to know the youth of the area a lot.
By creating a new Cree teenage superhero, obviously, I wanted to be respectful and reflect their culture and their way of life.
I've also spent a lot of time on the land itself, getting to know more about traditional hunting and trapping and the way of life up there. Those are all things I've taken from there and brought back to my studio, trying to create something from it.
It's been a really amazing experience, actually.
Nrama: I just read in a Canadian magazine that, for the new Cree superhero, you're going to be blending the Witiko, a mythological man-eating creature that pops up in a lot of Cree myths, with the seven grandfather teachings of Cree culture: wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth. But I've also read that you loosely based the character on someone in particular. Can you tell us more about this new superhero? Maybe her name or her powers, or something about the way she looks on the cover?
Lemire: There's a couple things I have to clarify. It was somewhat mis-reported early on that I had based the character on a young teenage activist named Shannen Koostachin, from Canada. I think I was almost, in a way, misquoted. They asked if she was an inspiration, and I said, "Of course, she's an inspiring story." And that turned into me basing the character on her, which is not the case at all. Shannen Koostachin was a young activist from Northern Ontario who did a lot to raise awareness for the conditions of the schools and First Nations, and unfortunately she was killed in a car accident when she was still a teenager. I wouldn't presume to base a superhero character on that story without knowing her family, which I don't. So I just want to clarify that the character is not based on Shannen Koostachin. But of course, her story is an inspiring one.
And as for the powers, her name and the costume, we're really trying to hold off on revealing anything more, unfortunately, until we're a bit closer to the release. We're trying to keep it under wraps for now.
But like you said, I have tried to base her story and her mythologies on various stories and myths and legends from the area where the book is set. So a lot of research went into that as well.
But you can't just take one thing and draw directly from it and make it fit into a Justice League comic. I kind of needed to take lots of bits of different stories I read or heard and blend them into something new.
So yeah, I'm excited about the character.
Specifically, in Canada, the First Nations are often overlooked in pop culture, or in general, and when things are reported about our First Nations, it's often negative things — about the hardships they face and what-not. And my experiences up there were that, yeah, it is a hard way of life up there, but the people are really inspiring and they have a lot of life and a lot of humor. And we can learn a lot from the way they live and the way they look at the land and the world around them. And that's something I want to try to capture and create a positive story around, instead of always focusing on the negative.
Nrama: It's been pointed out that Booster Gold is supposedly Canadian. Is there any possibility that we'll see Booster Gold in this comic?
Lemire: [Laughs.] That's a good one. You know, Booster Gold is Canadian, but if you ask Dan Jurgens, the man who created him, he's not. So I'm going to stay totally away from that one. [Laughs.] I'm working with Dan on Futures End, so I have to be good to Dan.
So yeah, no Booster.
Nrama: Does this tie into Futures End at all, since you are working on both comics?
Lemire: Well, you know, Futures End is a pretty wide-ranging story. It really does touch on the entire DC Universe, five years from now. And for me, that was really fun because, in addition to writing the weekly book, I get to do some stuff in the books I'm working on, like Green Arrow and Animal Man and Justice League United, and sort of project forward, where things may be if I was still writing that book five years from now.
So you will see a bit of that. You will see some of the characters from United in the Futures End story. And hopefully, we'll put an interesting twist on them, enough so it will create some intrigue, where readers want to find out how the things we're seeing five years from now end up happening.
Nrama: How much does what Matt Kindt is doing in Justice League of America set up the premise for United?
Lemire: Nothing. I hate Matt.
Nrama: I know that's not true!
Lemire: I know. [Laughs.] But you know, I really wanted a clean break from what Geoff and Matt had done with JLA, not because I didn't like what they did, but I really wanted this thing to walk on its own legs for awhile.
I feel like the Justice League books — and Geoff Johns and I have talked about this recently — they're so closely linked, the two books, Justice League and JLA, right from the beginning, and then through "Trinity War" and Forever Evil.
And we both kind of feel now, coming out of that, it's the next stage of the Justice League franchise. Geoff will be kind of doing his own thing in Justice League for awhile, and I really want to create my own identity for this team, outside of what he's doing.
And then at some point, I'm sure, when that's established and both teams have their own voice, we can probably consider bringing them back together. But that won't be for a bit.
Nrama: I want to talk about the pace of the comic, because in May, the story introduces a villain called the Unimaginable, but then in June, the story goes to Rann and I assume Thanagar, with Lobo versus Hawkman. So there seems to be a fast pace here, where it's jumping from one thing to the next. I mean, I know solicitations don't tell you everything that's in a comic..
Lemire: Yeah, they're not really a good reflection of what's in the comic.
Nrama: But is this a fast-moving comic?
Lemire: It is. It is a fast-moving story. The Zeta Beams plays a big part in it, in that it gives them instant teleportation across the galaxy.
So you have this team sort of caught up in this fast-paced thing that escalates like a snowball.
Lobo, Hawkman, this sort of rejected alien hybrid create, all these other things — they're all part of one threat, a bigger villain that's kind of behind everything.
But yeah, it does start fast and it really is like a snowball. The others kind of get caught up in everything. And they don't really have time to stop and figure out, you know, really what they are.
Nrama: You mean what they are, as far as a team?
Lemire; Yeah, if they're a team, or if they're not a team. They don't really have time to figure that out until the end of the first arc.
Nrama: This line-up, with Martian Manhunter, Adam Strange, Animal Man, Green Arrow, Supergirl, Stargirl, Hawkman — you're kind of all over the place when you think about what those characters are. It's very different from the vibe in Justice League Dark.
Lemire: Yeah, totally different.
Nrama: What kind of character interaction have you created between them?
Lemire: Yeah, I mean, from a broad strokes perspective, what I really tried to do with the line-up was not only pick some of my favorite characters, but also, I tried to pick a character from every corner, or every pocket, of the existing DC Universe.
So you have Animal Man, who kind of represents the dark or occult books; Martian Manhunter is kind of a link to the old Justice League; Supergirl represents the Superman titles; Stargirl is sort of the young heroes; etcetera.
So you kind of have one character that represents each corner of the DC Universe, and we put them together. So that was sort of the broad strokes thing.
But then the personal interaction has been a lot of fun.
You have Manhunter who is the father figure and the leader, obviously.
And then you have Animal Man and Green Arrow, who have this really fun rivalry and friendship brewing. I'm almost thinking of them as my version of what Booster Gold and Blue Beetle were.
Nrama: Kind of a new version of that dynamic?
Lemire: Yeah, in the old Justice League that Giffen and those guys did, where they were somewhat the comic relief, but they had this great friendship.
And then you have Supergirl and Stargirl, who are both teenage characters, but couldn't be more different. Stargirl's so optimistic and is positive about everything, and Supergirl is much more of a loner, and she kind of thinks she can do everything herself.
These are all really interesting dynamics to play off of.
Then you throw Hawkman in there, and he's just this sort of belligerent, arrogant guy.
Yeah, it's been a lot of fun. I'm kind of finding the relationships as I write the book.
But the funnest one, probably, is the Adam Strange/Alanna Strange dynamic. Alanna will be as big a part of the team as Adam, maybe even more so, and they each have a very different relationship with the rest of the team. So depending on who's on Rann and who's on Earth, the group changes between which one of those two is represented.
So that's sort of the wild card in this thing, and it's a lot of fun to play with.
Nrama: What's it been like working with Mike McKone, and what does he bring to the comic?
Lemire: Yeah, Mike's fantastic, obviously. I was really excited when we found out he could do the book.
His strength, I always thought, was his acting. His characters really have life. You know, the facial expressions and body language and everything else is so strong that, I think, it really compliments my strengths as well, which has always been sort of character-driven stuff.
So I think we're a good pair, in that sense. And I think he's great at doing the cosmic stuff, and the rural, sparse Canadian stuff. So it's been great working with him.
Nrama: Can you reveal yet how the team comes together? You said they don't even know they're a team until after a few issues.
Lemire: Like I said, it's a snowball. It starts with two characters together, doing something completely unrelated that ends up being the first mission and adventure, and they just get caught up in this thing, and it's like a snowball.
And the catalyst for that is Adam Strange, who's introduced as a new character, searching for Alanna and going to get some help from a couple heroes, and that just snowballs into this big adventure, and this team forms out of it.
Nrama: Any final words on your plans for Justice League United?
Lemire: Just that it's a lot of fun.
Unlike Justice League Dark, I think I've really got a better handle on writing a team book now. I just feel like every character in this book is going to have a strong emotional arc over the first couple of story lines. And I'm pretty excited about how it's developing so far. And it's a lot of fun to read, too, I think.