Since arriving at DC Comics in 2010 to write a co-feature for “Adventure Comics” starring The Atom, Jeff Lemire’s projects for the publisher have grown in stature at the same rate that Ray Palmer shrinks his.
The newly-retitled “Justice League United” #0, featuring art by superstar artist Mike McKone, debuts on April 23, and CBR News connected with Lemire to discuss the roster which includes now-Canadian Adam Strange, no-brainers Green Arrow and Animal Man, long-time Leaguers Martian Manhunter and Hawkman and three teen titans in Supergirl, Stargirl and a new character, the latter of which the Canadian cartoonist is keeping top secret.
Lemire also shared his personal history with many of these characters, how Matt Kindt affected his roster and collaborating with McKone, the British artist who started his North American career by illustrating “Justice League International,” a series the Eisner-nominated writer loved in the 1980s while growing up in southwestern Ontario.
CBR News: We have talked about your love for DC Comics growing up as a kid in Canada before, and you’ve mentioned the two big ones for you were the Marv Wolfman/George Perez run on “Teen Titans” and the Paul Levitz/Keith Giffen run on “Legion of Super-Heroes.” Were “Justice League” and “Justice League International” by Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire your introduction to the world’s greatest super heroes?
Jeff Lemire: Yes. That was the one for me, for sure. I remember buying that first issue on the newsstand and just completely falling in love with it. The characters just seemed so human and I loved the way they added humor to the book and used it in such a great way to develop these relationships and interactions. That book was so groundbreaking when you look back on it based on how team books are written now.
Of course, I am working with Keith [Giffen] now on “Future’s End,” which has completely ruined it for me. [Laughs]
I wouldn’t classify you as a humor writer but there is certainly a lighter side to many of your books. Will humor play a role in your run on “Justice League United” as you explore budding relationships apart from the blockbuster-y action sequences?
Absolutely. That’s what’s fun about writing team books. There is big drama and big high stakes action-adventure and there is also really small human moments whether that be through humor or whatever. For me, I think the strength of my writing has always been the emotional content or the character work so I have never been one to shy away from that. Trying to find the right balance between the big action stuff and the human moments is something that I am getting better at.
My run on “Justice League Dark” was my first time writing a team book and I struggled a bit juggling all of the different characters and all of the plotlines. And maybe the human stuff got buried under plot a bit so that was a good learning experience for me that I am eager not to repeat. It’s all about the dynamics of the team and how all of these different characters react to one another.
I have spoke with many writers over the years from Brad Meltzer and Dwayne McDuffie to James Robinson and Geoff Johns about writing the Justice League and getting to form their very own roster. Was the process, as expected, an exciting one for you?
It’s super fun. It’s that fanboy dream when you get to play fantasy GM and you get to cherry pick players for your team. I went with the craziest, most fun team that I could go for and most of those picks made it into the team.
While a pleasant surprise, the inclusion of Green Arrow and Animal Man were not unexpected as you’ve enjoyed previous success with both characters, but there are others that leaped out at me. Can you talk about the role of Supergirl on the team? She was not a character I was expecting.
I don’t really have much history with that character. I hadn’t written her before but I always really like her. It’s one of those weird things where I don’t really know why I like that character so much. I guess when I was a kid, her connection to the Legion of Super-Heroes was pretty cool. I just always liked that character.
And she represents an interesting take on the Superman mythology for me. She is younger and bit more bullheaded than Superman. That’s a fun dynamic to add to the team. And of course, just from a pure power level, she’s great to have because she is the muscle of the team.
And what about Stargirl, again, a character that I wouldn’t have pegged for this team based purely on her relatively shorter history within the DCU?
I didn’t plan on the bulk of my female characters being teenagers. It just kind of happened but it also created this interesting dynamic between the three of them: Supergirl, Stargirl and the new character that I don’t want to talk about too much yet. They are three very different personalities.
And Stargirl and Supergirl, specifically, are almost complete opposites. Stargirl is this optimistic, positive, almost embodiment of youth across the DC Universe and Supergirl is this alienated, headstrong loner. Putting those two together, you get immediate friction and that’s really interesting for me.
And Stargirl also creates a link to the Justice League of America, the last incarnation. I thought that it was good to have a couple of members cross over. She has a really great relationship with Martian Manhunter, as well, which Matt Kindt fleshed out in “Justice League of America” these past few months.
She wasn’t on my initial roster and then I started reading Matt’s stuff and I really liked what he was going for with Manhunter and Stargirl bonding. I felt there was some really rich ground that I could keep exploring with those two as their relationship keeps getting closer and closer. Manhunter almost becomes like a surrogate father to her in a weird way over the course of my arc, as well. That’s something I found really endearing and was a lot of fun to write.
Martian Manhunter was there in 1960 in “Brave and the Bold” #28 and again in 1987 with the launch of the Giffen-DeMatteis-Maguire “Justice League” in 1987. What role will he play in “Justice League United?”
He is one of my favorite DC characters plain and simple. And I think that goes back to his role in various Justice Leagues of the past, especially the Giffen stuff. I always thought he was great with all of the humor going on in that book. To me, he’s always been the heart of the Justice League. And in this team specifically, he really is the core. He’s the leader. He’s a father figure to a lot of them. He is someone that even Green Arrow will respect and Green Arrow is pretty headstrong himself. He’s the rock and he’s also really powerful. His power is often downplayed because he’s almost too powerful but I’m not going to do that. He’s probably the most powerful character in the DC Universe, really.
Hawkman is the headliner in the recently solicited “Justice League United” #2, which features the Justice League heading to Rann — traditionally Adam Strange’s adopted planet. What is his role, specifically in this opening arc?
One of the interesting dynamics of the cosmic DC Universe landscape has always been the animosity between Rann and Thanagar and with Adam Strange and Rann in the book, it seemed like a natural fit to bring in Hawkman in. To be honest, Hawkman has always been one of my favorite characters. I’ve loved Hawkman for a long time. The Tim Truman “Hawkworld” stuff is one of my favorite comics. Exploring Thanagar and his role there and building that up a bit more is something I am really interested in doing in this book.
Hawkman’s such a strong personality. He’s headstrong and belligerent. He’s a bull in a china shop wherever he goes so throwing him into the mix in any group is a another fun dynamic to have on the team.
Is the opening arc going to be based on Rann or are we Canadians going to see some Justice League-ing in the Great White North?
It really does bounce back and forth between Earth and Rann for the first storyline as the team gets caught up in this cosmic snowball. It starts off as a small thing with Adam Strange and just escalates and escalates. The real threat behind it all will be revealed but the ending of the arc is also very dramatic. Something pretty big happens to one of these characters that pretty much changes everything going forward.
Last time we spoke, you confirmed that Adam Strange is Canadian in the New 52, which is awesome. Anyone else going to be carrying a Canadian passport? And are we going to see lots of Tim Hortons and ice hockey in-jokes too?
There are a couple [Canadian cultural references] in the first issue and I hope people get them. I might have gone too far. [Laughs] Adam and Alanna [Strange] are both Canadian and then we’re creating the new teenage character, as well, from northern Ontario, who is Canadian. But I am sure many others will be changing their passports the first chance they have. [Laughs] Martian Manhunter will, of course, fall in love with Tim Hortons donuts instead of Oreo cookies. That’s actually the whole third arc. [Laughs]
And again, I know you don’t want to talk too much about your new character just yet but I know that you have visited northern Ontario a number of times to research the character, as well as your upcoming creator-owned project “Roughneck.” Can you talk about that experience and the feedback you have been getting from the First Nations community in Moose Factory?
The experience that I’ve had going up to Moosonee and Moose Factory a couple of times researching has been one of the most amazing times I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve met some of the best people I’ve ever met and made some amazing friends. It’s been incredible and I’ve really fallen in love with the place. And I think I will be going back many, many times. I spent a lot of time in the schools in both Moose Factory and Moosonee and talking to the kids about storytelling and making comics and drawing, which was really cool. All of the feedback so far has been very positive.
The First Nations in Canada are often overlooked in pop culture and when they’re not overlooked and we do hear about them, it’s often negative stories about different hardships they face so I thought this would be great chance to tell a positive story and create a character that represents all of the positive things of their culture. And learning more and more about the culture has been amazing.
And the name of the character hasn’t been announced yet, right?
And you don’t want to give me that now?
Okay. [Laughs] Then can you talk about working with superstar artist Mike McKone, who returns to DC Comics after six years at Marvel?
Mike’s fantastic at a lot of things but I think his sense of character and facial expressions and body language is so strong that it compliments some of my strengths as a writer, which is always the emotional, character driven stuff. It’s a great mix. Every character really has his or her own personality on the page even before I put dialogue to it.
“Justice League United” #0 by Jeff Lemire and Mike McKone goes on sale April 23 from DC Comics.