Acclaimed “Green Arrow” and “Animal Man” writer Jeff Lemire has joined forces with rising star illustrator Neil Edwards to combine his love of Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen’s “Legion of Super-Heroes” and a dare from DC Comics editor Mark Doyle into an epic story. After introducing Ultra the Multi-Alien to the New 52, Lemire brought the heroes from the 31st Century to our time for “The Infinitus Saga,” a new storyline which started this week in the pages of “Justice League United Annual” #1.
The story, which features a suspiciously pre-New 52 looking Legion, technically kicked off earlier this month in “Justice League United” #5 when Mon-El, another Lemire favorite, arrived at the Justice League’s headquarters in Moosonee, Ontario with the shocking news that the 31st Century has been destroyed by Ultra, who is, in our day and age, under the care of Martian Manhunter.
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Lemire discussed his run with the latest incarnation of the iconic superhero team, sharing his thoughts on its roster members and hinting at the names of some of the 30 Legionnaires that will appear in the arc and assuring readers, he’s got more JLU in the works.
CBR News: A few years back, you did a “Strange Adventures” story featuring Ultra the Multi-Alien which, if I remember correctly, was a direct result of a challenge by Mark Doyle. At the time, did you think, “In a few years, I will write a Justice League/Legion of Super-Heroes crossover with Ultra the Multi-Alien as the catalyst?”
Jeff Lemire: That’s right. Ultra the Multi-Alien is kind of notorious throughout the whole DCU as a character that no one could make cool, and I took the challenge. [Laughs] I ended up falling in the love with that character. He’s so pathetic, you can’t help but love him. [Laughs] When I got “Justice League United” and started moving it in a cosmic direction, he was one of the first characters that I thought of to incorporate in some way.
Of course, I’ve played around with the original creation now, and turned him into something completely different, but yes, to answer your question, he was one of the first characters I had my eye on in terms of bringing him into this book.
And there wasn’t a lineup of creators waiting to use him?
You’d be surprised, actually. Keith Giffen and Dan DiDio had some plans for him somewhere else, so I had to wrestle him away.
Are you enjoying exploring his relationship with Martian Manhunter?
I love Martian Manhunter. He’s obviously a lot of things; he’s an extremely powerful character, physically, but he has this very soft, cerebral almost maternal personality, which is a really great contrast. I love having that come out, not just with Ultra, but with Stargirl, as well. I love the family dynamic that is developing with the team. Manhunter is kind of the father figure to some of the younger characters, and Supergirl, Stargirl and Equinox are his teenage daughters — and they are all extremely different from one another. Buddy Baker is a lot of things: He’s comic relief, he’s a best buddy/brother to Green Arrow, and another father figure for Stargirl. I like letting these relationships develop and not forcing things. I like to see how the characters react to one another and play off one another and build up from there.
And really, if I can go back to Manhunter, he really has no reason to be that connected to humanity because he’s not from Earth. He’s from another civilization. But he cares so much about his teammates and, really, everyone on the planet. He’s so protective. He’s fascinating and one of my favorite characters, for sure.
Another character I know you love is Hawkman. Years ago, when you were writing the Atom co-feature in “Adventure Comics,” I asked if you would be bringing him into your story, and at the time, the answer was, “No.” Fast forward four years, and you get your chance to write him — and you kill him after four or five issues. Was that a difficult decision?
Not really, because if you’re reading “The New 52: Future’s End,” you know he comes back. He’s not dead. It’s pretty fun, what I have planned for that character. There’s definitely more to come with Hawkman.
You mentioned your Buddy Baker/Ollie Queen bromance, and that’s a relationship that I am really digging. Having written both of those characters in solo books, have you enjoyed integrating them into a team dynamic?
It’s very different writing them in a team setting — really different than their solo books — but I feel like I know both characters really well. I get to explore different sides of them than I got to do in the solo books. In the team book, like I said earlier, it’s more about seeing how they react to different characters and fit into a group as opposed to being focused on their own things. But at this point, it’s almost second nature to write those characters.
Traditionally, Supergirl is an immature character and the one that needs coddling, but in “Justice League United,” you have Supergirl pushing Stargirl to greatness and finding her superhero way. Is Supergirl a natural role model?
Supergirl is an interesting character, too. She really doesn’t fit in with the group at all. She’s very strong-headed and very self-reliant, so the biggest challenge for her is to concede to the group mentality and go along with the plan. [Laughs] She feels like she can do it herself. And in many ways, she can, because she is so powerful.
And then you have Stargirl, who is really the opposite. She’s the ultimate team player and she is always so positive and willing to go along and help out where she can, so there is obviously some conflict between those two. When you have three teenage female characters on the same team, it’s going to be interesting to pair up all of these different personalities.
â€¨I think my favorite line of your run, so far, is when Equinox asks Allana Strange,” Do you think we’ll get to meet Wonder Woman? Ever cool.” [Laughs] With Miiyahbin just finding out she has superpowers, and Alanna not sure what is happening to her, they really do make excellent entry point characters for your story. But with all due respect to them, isn’t J’onn J’onzz going to need a little more help protecting Ultra from the Legion of Super-Heroes than Adam Strange’s wife and superhero newbie?
I can’t reveal what’s going to happen just yet, as that’s part of the story, but clearly, the team has been split. You definitely haven’t seen the last of Adam. Adam and Alanna are caught in this weird loop now, where they are randomly changing places, and that’s going to continue throughout the arc to the point where it starts to drive everyone a bit crazy, including me. It’s fun. I think I did mix up a few times which one was where in the scripts. That’s a fun little device and keeps everyone on their toes.
But yes, the team is split up. There is an away team that’s out in space right now, and there’s Manhunter and the others back on Earth. The story is going to get pretty big, pretty quick, with a lot of characters coming in, so it’s good to keep things a little compartmentalized at first so that we can still focus on different characters and not have 50 superheroes in one panel.
You were really able to focus on Equinox in “Justice League United” #5, as it was basically a solo story. We’ve discussed her at length, but you must be jazzed to finally see her taking shape and playing such a major role with the Justice League.
She’s a character that I put a lot of effort into creating, and I spent a ton of time researching her. It was really important to me to bring a new voice to the DC Universe, and I really wanted to introduce one that represented a part of Canadian culture that traditionally isn’t represented really well. I wanted to bring that culture to a wider audience, and I felt a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure to do it right. I feel like that the response I’ve received has been very positive and I am very proud of the character. Now that she’s been established and I’ve revealed her origin and everything, it’s fun to move beyond the set-up stage and have her be a part of the bigger DC Universe and see how she reacts to everything, and how they react to her. There is still a lot of fun coming with her. In the Legion arc, she’s just getting her head around the Justice League, and all of a sudden, 30 superheroes from the future show up. It’s overwhelming, but like you said, she’s a great entry point for readers because it is an overwhelming kind of story.
Were you a fan of “Legion of Super-Heroes” growing up? Did you have a favorite run or storyline?
Yeah, the Paul Levitz/Keith Giffen run on “Legion of Super-Heroes” and the Marv Wolfman/George Perez run on “The New Teen Titans” were the two books that really got me into comics when I was a kid. I have a huge affection for the Legion and especially that run, and I followed a lot of the different iterations of the Legion after that. I thought Dan Abnett/Andy Lanning run on the book was a real high point. I loved that. And I really loved when Keith Giffen did the dystopian “Five Years Later” arc, too. I love bringing all of the affection I have for these characters and putting them into this story. It’s surreal to write all of these characters after reading them for so many years. It’s really fun.
On the final page of “Justice League United” #5, Mon-El arrives from the 31st Century. Is he a favorite of yours, and if so, is that why he is the first to arrive in present day Canada?
Yeah, I always liked him. It’s hard to say why you like a certain character when you’re a kid, but for whatever reason, I was always drawn to him. I remember there was one of Giffen’s “Five Years Later” issues, I think it was #4, and it had this really iconic Mon-El cover, which I loved. I remember re-drawing that cover a number of times as a kid. I really liked that character, so when it came down to write the script, I knew one Legionnaire would come back first, and it was definitely going to be him.
You mentioned 30 superheroes are coming to Earth from the future. Any teases on which ones we might see?
The Legion is a huge team, which is the fun of the Legion, but also can be the drawback because it’s hard to focus on certain characters without losing the others. I try to give everyone at least one moment over the course of the story but certain characters rise to the top, just naturally.
In this story, Mon-El obviously has a big part. Brainiac 5 is a pretty major player. He’s another favorite character of mine. Wildfire and Dawnstar become pretty big players as well. As you saw in the “Future’s End” story, they’re in the Justice League five years from now, and in this story, we see how that happens.
But like I said, everyone has a moment. There are some fun scenes with Timber Wolf and Animal Man. [Laughs] There is a bunch of fun stuff. It’s really fun to see the Justice League characters playing off against the Legionnaires. There is a lot of fun stuff to be mined there.
You have a new artist joining you on the series, Neil Edwards. What does he bring to the project?
He’s a great young artist and he’s done a great job. It’s a very challenging story to draw because there are just so many characters. There’s a half-a-dozen Justice Leaguers and 30 Legionnaires. And near the end of the story, they’re often all together. That’s not an easy thing to ask an artist to draw, but he’s been a real gem about it.
Finally, you have a number of projects at the moment, with DC, Marvel, Valiant, Dark Horse and Image. Will this arc be the end of your run on “Justice League United”?
â€¨No, I have one more story that I want to do after the Legion story. I’m working on it right now. Beyond that, we’ll see how things unfold, but it’s definitely not the end.
“Justice League United” Annual #1, written by Jeff Lemire and featuring art by Neil Edwards, is available now.
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