‘Justice League United’: Jeff Lemire readies ‘big, fun space adventures’

April 22, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
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"Justice League United" No. 0 by Jeff Lemire and Mike McKone arrives Wednesday. Cover by McKone. (DC Entertainment)

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This variant cover by Mike McKone for "Justice League United" No. 0 spotlights Equinox, who makes her debut in the issue. (DC Entertainment)

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Equinox is a 16-year-old Cree from Moose Factory, Canada, created by Jeff Lemire and Mike McKone. (Mike McKone / DC Entertainment)

jlu cv0 Justice League United: Jeff Lemire readies ‘big, fun space adventures’

Justice League United includes, back row from left, Supergirl, Adam Strange and Martian Manhunter, and, front row from left, Stargirl, Equinox, Green Arrow and Animal Man. (DC Entertainment)

The move to Canada and the debut of a Cree superheroine may not be the biggest changes for Jeff Lemire’s new Justice League team: The writer says he’s tired of “grim and gritty” and will be moving the heroes toward “big, fun space adventures.”

“Justice League United” No. 0 arrives Wednesday from the Toronto-based Lemire and his U.S.-based British artist collaborator, Mike McKone, and begins assembling a team of DC characters that hail from the stars to the street: extraterrestrials Martian Manhunter, Supergirl and Hawkman, with earthlings Animal Man, Stargirl, Green Arrow, Adam and Alanna Strange — and the newly created Equinox, a teenage girl from Moose Factory, Canada.

Developing the 16-year-old heroine, whose civilian name is Miiyahbin, has been a passion project within his DC work for Lemire, who has explored his native country in creator-owned projects including “Essex County” and “The Underwater Welder.” The writer has traveled to northern Ontario to learn about Cree culture, explore the landscape and visit schools, where he’s talked with students Equinox’s age about comics and more.

She has never before left home, but with Justice League United she’ll be logging plenty of miles between Canada and the cosmos.

PREVIEW: Page 5 | Page 6 | Page 7 | Page 8 | Page 13

In a telephone interview, Lemire delves into the making of Equinox, the team’s dynamics, the New 52 debuts of Adam and Alanna Strange and more.

Equinox is a 16-year-old Cree girl from Moose Factory, Canada, created by Jeff Lemire and Mike McKone. (Mike McKone / DC Entertainment)

Equinox is a 16-year-old Cree from Moose Factory, Canada, created by Jeff Lemire and Mike McKone. (Mike McKone / DC Entertainment)

Hero Complex: In assembling this team, what was the guiding principle, and how does Equinox fit in?

Jeff Lemire: In general when I was putting together the team it was a combination of picking some of my favorite characters who I wanted to write, but also trying to pick someone who represented every corner of DC Universe.

So, you know, you have a street-level hero like Green Arrow, someone from the darker, mystical books like Animal Man, a space-bound hero like Adam Strange, and so on. And then Equinox kind of came from the development to move the team to Canada and, for me, trying to include something in the book that spoke to a specific part of this country that I thought was often overlooked and misrepresented in the media, which would be our First Nations. I thought it would be a good chance to create a positive role model and a positive character based on First Nations mythology and really a combination of different things, but in the end it all came together as Justice League United.

HC: Since you’ve traveled to Cree land researching and visiting schools, were there particular student interactions or incidents that proved informative? What stuck with you from those trips?

JL: It was a couple of things. First of all, the landscape itself is pretty stunning. I’ve always been attracted to themes of isolation in my work – in my independent work and my DC work. The communities I was visiting are extremely isolated. There are no roads in or out. It’s very hard to get to them. So that’s something I’m very attracted to, from a story point of view.

And, like you said, speaking to kids in schools and learning more about their culture, that was pretty informative. One thing I learned was something in Cree culture called the seven grandfather teachings, which are these seven pillars or traits that the Cree community tries to personify. And when I heard those, they to me seemed like a perfect basis to build a superhero mythology around.

HC: How did you arrive at Equinox’s power set – and were there things in that process that you wanted to avoid?

JL: Yes, definitely – it’s a fine line between cliches and accurately representing the place. I wanted her powers to have some connection to the land up there, because the place itself is such a big part of the story and a part of where she comes from. So I wanted her powers to be connected to nature and land in some way, but I wanted to avoid the stereotypical Native American shaman kind of mystical character that you see so often.

Her powers are much more weather-based and connected to the seasons, so they kind of change with the seasons, which is, I thought, an interesting take on a superhero power set.

"Justice League United" No. 0, Page 13. (DC Entertainment)

“Justice League United” No. 0, Page 13. (DC Entertainment)

HC: When you say she’s, in a way, tied to the earth, is she tied to the Green, as Animal Man is to the Red, or will that not be a factor?

JL: I’m going to keep it away from that mythology. I feel like I’ve done enough of that with Animal Man and Swamp Thing. That corner of the DC Universe is pretty specific, and it’s also kind of linked, based on what Scott [Snyder] and I did, to more horror and the dark corner of the DC Universe. I didn’t want Equinox to be from that place. I wanted her to be from something much brighter, much more positive.

HC: Equinox will be coming into a team that includes Supergirl and Stargirl, who, dissimilar as they are, are similarly young and more familiar with superheroics. How might she relate with them?

JL: All three characters are teenage girls, but the similarities between them end there. They’re all very different personalities, and it kind of creates an interesting dichotomy on the team to have these three teenage girls on the team, and each bring a different perspective. Stargirl is someone who kind of embraces the superhero lifestyle, the celebrity of it, and has managed to not go off the rails despite being young. She stayed very positive and in a lot of ways embodies the spirit of the team. Supergirl in a lot of ways is the opposite: She’s much more of an outsider – she’s literally an alien. And she’s always had a hard time finding a place in the DC Universe since the New 52 launched. I see this as her kind of coming into a family with this team, where she will finally start to relate to other characters in other corners of the DC Universe and become a bigger part of the picture.

And then Equinox, in a lot of ways, she’s the reader’s point of view into this world because she’s never left her home and her town and has no awareness of the superhero community before this and no experience with it. So, much like the reader, she’s experiencing all the fantastic and insane adventures the team gets on for the first time, and taking it all in. So they all come at things from a very different point of view, and how they’ll interact with one another, you know, that’s a lot of the fun of the story. I don’t want to spill too much, but they won’t all be friends.

Justice League United includes, back row from left, Supergirl, Adam Strange and Martian Manhunter, and, front row from left, Stargirl, Equinox, Green Arrow and Animal Man. (DC Entertainment)

Justice League United includes, back row from left, Supergirl, Adam Strange and Martian Manhunter, and, front row from left, Stargirl, Equinox, Green Arrow and Animal Man. (DC Entertainment)

HC: You’re introducing the New 52 versions of Adam and Alanna Strange. What sets them apart from earlier iterations, and how do they and the Zeta Beam figure in?

JL: It’s a very different take. The old version is that Adam’s from Earth and Alanna is from this distant planet, and he’s being drawn back and forth. In a weird way, I kind of flipped that, where Alanna is actually from Earth as well, and the two of them are switching places back and forth between Rann and Earth – so they can never be in the same spot at the same time, nor can both of them be in the team at the same time.

So depending on which one is there, Adam or Alanna, their relationship with the other team members is very different, and changes the whole dynamic of the team. And it’s pretty unpredictable as to when they switch.

Whereas before Alanna was almost this damsel in distress, 1950s kind of cliched female archetype, she’s now a much more proactive part of the team and a bit more of a “superhero” than Adam is.

HC: Green Arrow and Animal Man are of course guys you’ve written in solo series. What do they bring to this cosmic-oriented team, and how might these two characters you already know so well get along with each other?

JL: They’ve been a lot of fun. I kind of felt I’d written Animal Man as far as I could in his solo book … so it was either a matter of me not writing him anymore or finding a new take on him. And for me that take was to put him in a team setting and see how he reacts to that.

The way I write Green Arrow in the solo book is a much more grounded, street-level kind of character, not so much the big cosmic superheroic stuff. So this is me getting to explore a different side of each of their personalities and their characters. They kind of have a love-hate relationship right from the start, sort of a fun rivalry. There’s a lot of humor surrounding their growing friendship in the book.

"Green Arrow" No. 17. “The challenge for me, when taking over the title... was really to try to approach it as if it's a first issue,” Lemire said in a statement. (DC Comics)

Jeff Lemire took over “Green Arrow” early last year with No. 17 and is bringing the archer into “Justice League United.” (DC Entertainment)

HC: The shape-shifting alien villain Byth Rok figures into the first arc. Back in the New 52 “Justice League of America” No. 1, Hawkman is seen capturing and presumably off-panel executing someone who he asserted was Byth but who pleaded that he was not. Could there be fallout from that?

JL: There is a connection between Hawkman and Byth and what we saw. I’m not going to hearken back too much to “JLA” No. 1 because I want this story to stand alone. But Byth is someone the League, the former incarnation of the League, is familiar with. There is some history there and definitely some history with Hawkman that I’ll be exploring throughout that arc for sure.

HC: How has your collaboration with Mike McKone gone in launching this title, and were there particular northern Ontario reference materials you shared with him?

JL: Mike’s fantastic. I was really excited when we found that he could do the book. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. I knew that he would go well with the way I write. I tend to stay character-driven, and Mike can capture emotion and acting with the characters, so I thought we’d be a good mix, and I’ve been really happy with the results. He’s done a great job in designing a lot of new things like the new Adam Strange costume, designing Equinox as well – I think he did a fantastic job making her look like a real teenage girl and capturing everything I wanted with that character.

In terms of reference, I sent him a ton of reference photos from my trips up north, and he’s been slowly – not overdoing it – but he’s managed to set a few specific locations into the book, including one of the high schools I visited.

The cover for "Animal Man" No. 29, by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman. (DC Entertainment)

Lemire recently concluded his run on “Animal Man.” For this cover for the final issue, the writer, who also draws his independent work, collaborated with series artist Travel Foreman. It bears Lemire’s distinctive visual style. (DC Entertainment)

HC: Your “Essex County” and “The Underwater Welder” were both set in your country, so I wondered when it came to bringing a Justice League to Canada, was that something you pitched to DC, or DC asked you? And beyond that, what are your hopes for this move?

JL: I love to explore different aspects of my country in all of my personal work. It’s something I take pride in. I love exploring the country through story, so the chance to do that in my superhero work now as well was something I looked forward to.

Originally, I was going to be writing “Justice League of America,” but I really wanted to make this book my own and make it personal and bring something new to it. Bringing the team to Canada was part of doing that, for me, and DC supported it. I hope it’s a story that combines great characterization with really big, fun space adventures. I feel like I’m tired of all the grim-and-gritty superhero stuff, and I want to have some fun again with this book. Hopefully fans will embrace that as well.

HC: Is there anything readers should know about Issue 0?

JL: It’s linked to the larger DC Universe, and it comes out of “Forever Evil” and the old “Justice League of America” and everything, but you definitely don’t need to have read that stuff to pick up that first issue. I think I’ve made it very accessible to new readers, and hopefully they’ll give it a chance.

— Blake Hennon | @BlakeHennon | @LATHeroComplex

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