Don't be fooled by the big #1 on the cover; "Justice League United" #1 is actually part 2 of the title's opening 5-part story, having begun last month in "Justice League United" #0. So while this isn't the first issue of the series, it's certainly going to draw in interested readers thinking it is. But whether you judge this as the series debut or the second issue, Jeff Lemire and Mike McKone's comic feels average at best.
In many ways, "Justice League United" #1 is a standard, "this is what superhero books are like" comic. A team of heroes -- some who have worked together, others who are new to the mix -- are banded together on short notice to stop a new alien monster. And for most of the book, that stopping action consists of attacking the bad guy over and over again. There's also a subplot in a distant star system, as different bad guys plot and scheme.
It almost goes without saying that there's nothing terribly new about what I just described there. While that's not necessarily a problem in its own right, it does mean that the book needs to set itself apart by the telling of the story, the style of the comic rather than the basic plot beats. Frustratingly, I don't think Lemire ever hits that. We certainly know that he can do it -- his "Animal Man" run had a very distinctive voice -- but here it's superheroes by the numbers. We've got the bickering duo, the novice learning his new abilities, and the surrogate father/daughter relationship. It's that last one, between Martian Manhunter and Stargirl, that feels the most interesting here. In their limited interactions here you can feel the close bond between the pair, and above all else it's what the title should be pushing. Animal Man and Green Arrow (both of whom Lemire's written solo titles for) are actually more than a little generic, and that's both surprising and frustrating. Adam Strange is fine as the wide-eyed neophyte, although given time that's promising to get old. Meanwhile, Alanna and Hawkman's sequence near Thanagar is somewhat forgettable, and new character Equinox has no role here after being introduced last month. But all in all, it's just not quite there. Characters spout chunks of expository dialogue, and the plot just plods along. This feels less like a book that shifts from one plot idea to the next because of a strong flow, and more because that's simply what needs to be done.
McKone's art is nice, although it's got a few issues here and there. I've been a fan of his over the years, and on the whole his figure-work is clean and consistent. Every now and then, though, some oddities crop up. Why is Alanna's face only visible from the nose down on page 3, for instance? It's an odd crop in the panel, one that should have been reworked. Likewise, Adam's face at the bottom of panel 5 doesn't fit into the panel allocated; it feels like art where McKone ran out of room and just didn't get around to drawing it all over again.
Still, when McKone's art does click together, it's fun. Adam Strange zooming out of the hatch on page 6 looks energetic and has a little fun with the curling smoke trail, for example. I also like when the strange creature the team is fighting gets attacked after being turned into wood; there's a ridiculous amount of detail there, one that perfectly brings that impact to life. Scenes like these are where McKone's doing fantastic work; hopefully the smaller, quieter scenes will start to get the same amount of attention before long.
"Justice League United" #1 could certainly be worse, but it could also be much better. This is nothing new or even exciting. If things don't shape up quickly, this is going to be a very easy title for readers to forget about, and that is definitely not something that anyone involved should want to happen.