Prior to Justice League Vs. The Fatal Five and Justice League Infinity, the JLU Tie-In Comic summarized lingering plot threads.
Although it’s toned down and more accessible to all ages than its Cartoon Network-run namesake, DC Comics Justice League Unlimited remained an entertaining, albeit light, tie to the much-loved anime series during its run from 2004 to 2008. Without ever reaching the heights of previous anime-style titles like the Batman Adventures, JLU The core creative team of Adam Beechen and Carlo Barberi delivered two and a half years of character-driven, action-packed material. Sometimes tied directly to the events of the series (while outright contradicting it at other times), it was an enjoyable diversion for fans between episodes.
After the release of Beechen and Barberis, the series turned to rotating creative teams. It opened the door to JLU story writer/editor Matt Wayne to step in and write several issues. A former comic book writer and editor, Wayne’s contributions tie directly into the animated series with several storylines that closed out a few unresolved or open-ended stories and character beats from the show’s final season.
Wayne’s first number was Justice League Unlimited #37, released September 2007 with art by longtime DCAU comic artist Min S. Ku. Titled “High Spirits”, it was apparently a follow-up to the JLU episode “Dead Reckoning”. It featured the return of Boston Brand aka Deadman and also introduced the Specter to the series, with the spirit of vengeance unleashed before being confronted by Batman and Shayera. Wayne’s experience with the series’ more complex writing is evident from the outset; the stakes are higher and the emotions more vital. When Batman is forced to relive the death of his parents, the moment is pulled straight from his depiction in the JLU episode “For the Man Who Has Everything”.
The issue ends with the revelation that the Spectre’s rampage was caused by the witch Tala, then in the process of “reforming” after her apparent disappearance in the two-part television series finale “Alive!” and “Destroyer”. This is ultimately unresolved, with the details of his return unknown, but it brings back hints from the creative team that Tala sabotaged Brainiac’s attempt to recreate from these later episodes. It stands to reason that if she was able to do that, her story might not be completely over yet.
The ties to the series are clear from the start in Wayne’s second issue, JLU #38 “When bad girls do good.” Featuring artwork by Dario Brizeula (the first anime-style title to feature his art but certainly not the last), it takes a moment from “Destroyer” as its starting point. In this episode, the Justice League finds themselves teaming up with the surviving members of the supervillain cooperative, the Secret Society, to stop Darkseid’s invasion. After the day is saved, the size-shifting villain, Giganta, kisses the Flash before fleeing. This moment is the root of the problem, seeing Giganta attempt to win the Flash’s affection by fighting crime alongside him. As expected, things are not going well.
Drawing inspiration from a surprising character beat would suffice, but the issue also brings reporter Linda Park, last seen flirting with an unconscious Flash in the episode “Flash and Substance.” Linda’s affections are finally reciprocated here and the two ostensibly begin courtship (no surprise given that she and JLU Flash, Wally West, had been married for almost a decade in the main DCU at this time). It’s a little disheartening that Gigantas’ turn didn’t catch on, but it shows the title’s clear potential to follow tracks that would otherwise be left in the ether.
Wayne contributed to the latest issue of JLU comic with #46, “The Dork, G’nort, Returns.” Alongside Barberi’s return, just months before his breakout run on Marvel’s Deadpool began, this issue was a Green Lantern-centric story drawing little from any episode of the series. Despite being closed, it’s run with a mix of new materials and inventory issues – some of which look like they’ve been held back for years – Justice League Unlimited managed to circumvent a totally unworthy ending by bringing an actual series writer on board to create stories pulled directly from the series, giving it more prominence than it otherwise might have had.
Although not available in any collected edition or digital format, the push to other JLU the issues of the thematic collections bode well for this eventuality. As lost key pieces of the Justice League Unlimited narrative, they fully deserve it.
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