Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Legion Returns! Justice League United Annual #1

Justice League Unlimited Annual #1
A review by Kyle "Metropolis Kid" Benning
"The Infinitus Saga: Part 1 of 5"
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Penciller: Neil Edwards
Inker: Jay Leisten
Colorist: Jeromy Cox
Lettered by Dezi Sienty & Taylor Esposito
Editor: Brian Cunningham
Assistant Editor: Amedeo Turturro
Cover by Andrew Robinson
Variant Cover by Rod Reis

The issue opens in Moosonee, Canada with Mon-El confronting Martian Manhunter, leader of the Justice League United, who has under his protection the child known as Ultra the Multi-Alien. Mon-El reveals that he has traveled across space and time to destroy the child, and if he fails the Legion of Super-Heroes will die. Martian Manhunter and Mon-El square off in a super-powered battle while JLU members Equinox and Alanna Strange protect the child. J’onn reveals that he has no idea who Mon-El is or who the Legion of Super-Heroes are, but he will die before allowing harm to come to Ultra. Mon-El quick dispatches Martian Manhunter while Alanna switches places on Rann with her husband Adam Strange. Equinox temporarily subdues Mon-El, giving her just enough time to inform Adam Strange that the rest of the JLU is in space assisting Hawkman. Adam Strange mentions that he thought Hawkman was dead, just as Mon-El breaks free and informs them that he is sorry, but he has no other choice.

Jump to the Polaris Star System where the other members of the Justice League United team, Green Arrow, Supergirl, Animal Man, and Stargirl are searching for someone amidst the Plexus-6 Pleasure Station Casino & Brothel. Green Arrow mentions once again that Hawkman died and that they are searching for whoever stole his Justice League Transmitter. Supergirl plays bad cop and starts a brawl with the alien riff-raff aboard the space station until they flush out the small alien who has Hawkman’s JLU Transmitter. The small alien, that according to Animal Man “looks like an Ewok,” reveals that he got the Transmitter in a trade with a Khundian Merc co-worker. He claims the mercenary liberated the Transmitter from a temple on the Thanagarian moon Ryngor, where Hawkman’s body is in the possession of a cult led by Byth.

Back on Earth, Adam and Alanna Strange once again swap places on Rann mid conversation with Mon-El, distracting him just enough to allow the Martian Manhunter to knock him out. Just as J’onn begins to read Mon-El’s mind, Brainiac-5, Phantom Girl, and Saturn Girl intervene. Cooler heads prevail, and Brainiac 5 proceeds with a history lesson of what the Legion of Super-Heroes is, where/when they come from, and divulge the terrible tale of the planet-destroying entity known as Infinitus. Brainy recounts how the massive being Infinitus arose out of a cosmic doorway in the Polaris system, doing his best Galactus impersonation and swallowing up Thanagar and Psion, and in doing so, slaying billions. The Legion and United Planets scrambled to stop the monster before he engulfs his next target, Rann. Brainy was able to identify and match Infinitus’ unique time energy signature to that of Ultra the Multi-Alien, and now he along with Mon-El, Phantom Girl, and Saturn Girl have ventured to the past to stop Ultra.

Meanwhile, the other members of the JLU have called in a favor to Sardath of Rann, who has used Rann’s Zeta-Beam technology in conjunction with Stargirl’s staff to transport the team to the Thanagarian moon Ryngor. As Buddy Baker makes a long distance phone call home to his wife to tell her he won’t be home for dinner, Byth subdues Supergirl and Green Arrow before confronting the rest of the JLU team with his loyal soldier…Hawkman! Alive and in the flesh!

Back on Earth in the Great White North, Brainiac 5 finishes his tale and informs Martian Manhunter that he has allowed them 24 hours to determine how or why Ultra is fated to become Infinitus, and prevent it, or the other members of the Legion will join their comrades in the past, and together destroy Ultra the Multi-Alien in order to save the lives of billions in the future. Just as Brainy provides Martian Manhunter with this ultimatum, their conversation is interrupted by a distressed Green Arrow, who warns Martian Manhunter that Byth is involved and that he wants Ultra, and that Hawkman is alive, before having his transmission cut off when the battle resumes on Ryngor. Byth rambles on about being the master manipulator and having planned everything, including every step the JLU has made since being founded, and creating Ultra, all to usher in the “True New Universe” and finally break the paradox loop. His agents confront the Legion and remaining cast of the JLU on Earth as the issue closes with Byth’s promise “I performed the ceremony right before you arrived…it’s too late to stop now! I have opened time and space. And soon, from that remarkable child…Infinitus will be born!”

To be continued in Justice League United #6! 

Closing Thoughts:
The issue, like all annuals, carries an extended page count, and despite a couple of full page splashes and two page spreads, the story is fairly dense and a hearty read. It has a lot of the aesthetic that make a Legion comic great: Time Travel Paradoxes, a do or die situation, a plethora of alien worlds, a little mystery, and a whole lot of action. I have not been following Justice League United at all, but Lemire does a great job of cuing new readers into what is going on, and has some really nice character moments that establishes the dynamic between certain team members really well. Green Arrow is the leader, Supergirl is a hot head and who hasn’t yet embraced the role of team member, and Martian Manhunter is a force to be reckoned with as a worthy toe-to-toe foe of the very powerful Daxamite Mon-El. In Brainiac 5’s account of the destruction Infinitus wreaks on Thanagar and Psion we get to see a ton of Legionnaires in action including Star Boy, Phantom Girl, Element Lad, White Witch, Lightning Lad, Shadow Lass, Blok, Bouncing Boy, Duo Damsel, Shrinking Violet, Lightning Lass, Ultra Boy, and more. The story is an enjoyable read, and very well paced, hats off to Jeff Lemire. He did a great job of transitioning back and forth between the two groups of characters in the story, and starts the issue off with a bang. He does a great job of mixing action, plot development, and character moments throughout the story. The art is hit-and-miss at times, but it is a whole lot more hit than miss.

During my first reading of the story, I had one sticking point with the writing, and it was with the characterization of Mon-El. After seeing his growth and development as a more level-headed and poised character during the New Krypton Saga and Adventure Comics/Legion of Super-Heroes volume 6 pre-New 52, I was thinking as I read along that it was a little disappointing to see him reduced to the “angry powerful guy.” However, it is revealed later in the story that this seething anger results from him believing that Shadow Lass had died at the hands of Infinitus. She didn’t and this revelation relieves a lot of his blind rage. So one of my initial complaints ended up being an even greater appreciation of Lemire’s great grasp on the characters. I really enjoyed his little Star Wars reference, it’s small, but a nice little nod to pop culture, something that used to be really prevalent in comics during the 70’s and 80’s and is few and far between nowadays.

Most of the art is well proportioned and very detailed with interesting and engaging panel layouts, which really overshadow the few stiff panels and occasional wonky anatomy instances (Martian Manhunter’s fists). Edwards and Leisten do a pretty solid job of capturing emotions with their face expressions during the character beat segments of the story. I’m not real familiar with either one of their past work, but I am disappointed that they won’t be the team on the art duties for part 2 of the story. They really seem to have a grasp on the Legion cast and bring a lot of excitement and enthusiasm in their approach to bringing the characters to life with their art. There have been rumblings of DC about to have another Universe ending or expanding event in the vein of a “Crisis” level event, most people believe that will be spinning out of Future’s End. It will be interesting to see if this Infinitus Saga will just simply be a 5 part self-contained story, or if its resultant ramifications will contribute to this upcoming shake-up of the DC Universe.

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