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It's March, 1957, and Cleopatra: Queen of the Nile, has been brought to life at Dupray's Wax Museum in a spooooooky tale of... wait! No, that's not right at all! It's December, 2015, and Jeff Parker, Travel Foreman, and Hi-Fi, have one last spooooooky tale of Zeta-space so they can finish off their latest DC Comics story-line with a bang.

TO QUOTE T. S. Eliot: “Between the idea / And the reality / Between the motion / And the act / Falls the Shadow”.

Justice League United might be done and dusted as a series, but Jeff Parker still managed to use this final issue to leave the post-Flashpoint DC Universe one hell of a great legacy. Granted, it's got a few spots that felt a little rushed -- after all, I get the distinct impression that he planned on telling the stories of more than two missions before the series came to an end (even without the eleven unrealized recruits shown in the Sneak Peek). But overall we have a magnificent exclamation point on a series that was just getting over its initial identity crisis. It might be just as well, as I'd had my concerns over the missions against the breakers getting a bit formulaic, yet the idea of a core team that recruited others as needed could certainly have been reinvented beyond the breakers story-line, and could even be passed from writer to writer as some fans had been hoping.

Nonetheless, we still get the big finish to the breakers story-line, which not only exposes the secret origins of how Adam Strange got stuck in Zeta Space, but, well, spoiler alert; the issue's title is House of Secrets. We learn some other secrets as well. Story-wise maybe it's a little brief, but it inserts a lot of elements in to the current continuity that we haven't seen before.

Let's start with the House of Secrets, last seen (in human form) in Justice League Dark Annual #2 before merging with the House of Mystery to form the House of Wonders, which exploded in a mystical magical moment and may or may not have been recreated by the World Tree. Which has nothing to do (that we know of) with the House of Strangers, where we've most recently seen Doctor Occult (over in Secret Six), who arguably should be dead somewhere in the House of Secrets, but apparently isn't.

You got all that? Good. But this isn't necessarily the House of Secrets, so much as it is a House of Secrets emulated by a breaker, created by the earlier zeta-beam transportation of an entire planet, which isn't something that should be done. So it could be magic or it could be space-science. Or better yet, a little of both.

What we do know is that the breakers are the result of Rannian space-science back in JLU #10 and have nothing to do with Convergence. And that everything started two months ago in Connecticut where... surprise-surprise... the tale in this issue happened. This House of Secrets is apparently incarnated to resemble the “Old Gaines house” which is likely an awesome reference to Max Gaines, founder of All-American Publications, and the man who for all intents and purposes invented the American comic book as we know it.

In it (the House of Secrets, not the comic book as we know it) we find the first post-Flashpoint version of Abel, who quite possibly holds the record for the most number of “death issues” for any comic book character (Sixteen as of this issue, if we indeed count this issue).  It looks to me like Foreman's rendition of him managed to look more like Mark Hanerfeld than any artist of his day managed to do.

Which is kind of crazy given Foreman's wild and exaggerated style. As I mentioned when the Foreman / Parker team first took over after Convergence, Foreman's elongated style can be a bit off-putting at first. That's still true, especially when the cancellation of the series results in “guest artist” Paul Pelletier having drawn more issues than Travel Foreman when he returns for this final issue. But while the return of Foreman's art might be jarring coming off the tail end of Pelletier's more traditional and realistic war / superhero issues, it works really well when we mix up the pot of space-science with a soupçon of magic.

Stargirl's mask changed at some point though -- I totally missed when that happened, but it works. But the exaggerated expressions of Sardath and Animal Man quickly make Foreman's style feel at home. My only art gripe is how young Alanna looks in this issue -- a lot younger even than she appeared in issues 11 & 12 -- at the same time as Parker firmly establishes her age as 30 (or maybe 29) in this issue. The childlike looks work for teenage Stargirl and Equinox, but somehow Alanna comes off as younger than either of them.

On the story front, the big issue is the whole flashback mechanism. What we get in this issue is Alanna's recounting of what happened two months ago to get Adam stuck in the Zeta-space as a lead in to her big epiphany on how to rescue him. Yet the key to that epiphany -- if I can dance around the big spoiler on what it is -- is a discovery she made in the House of Secrets back before the events of the last five issues happened. Perhaps if we'd had time to have more of the story unfold gradually before the big reveal, there might have been hints here and there that she knew something and was trying to work out how it applied to rescuing Adam. But instead she tells of this discovery and her realization of what it meant in one breath, leaving one to wonder why she didn't act upon it two months prior. Conceptually the story lacked a simple piece of the puzzle explaining why the connection didn't occur to her until “now.” Realizing that the breakers were what kept Adam anchored to the physical plane doesn't really fill that gap.

In the end, the Justice League United still presumably exists, though they no longer have an eponymous series for their stories to be told. There are no more breakers to fight, so who knows whether we'll see our beloved Team Blue (plus Red Adam) together again? But Jeff Parker certainly sent us out in style. I mean, Detective Chimp is now confirmed as existing in post-Flashpoint continuity and he can't be removed. Boom.

This issue reveals several secrets. That's sort of the whole point of calling it House of Secrets. Equinox learns a secret that feels like maybe there's more to be told later, should either Jeff be given the opportunity to do so (Or maybe there's a plan for it to be told in another existing series?).  We get the reveal on the secret of 'What Ever Happened to Adam Strange'. Animal Man and Stargirl learn some secrets that we, the audience, already know, and which may have packed a little more punch had more breaker tales been told before this one (Or may have just been little throwaway tales). The big secret is, of course, Alanna's discovery, which is new to her teammates, but perhaps not to the long time comic fans. What's not a secret, of course, is that Adam loves Alanna. But that's the way the song goes.

It wasn't too long ago that there was a whole lot of huffing and puffing about DC heroes not being allowed to have happy lives. No relationship was allowed to last and marriage was straight out of the question (No pun intended).  Buddy Baker got an apparent pass on the marriage rule, perhaps at the expense of his first born. But now we have Adam and Alanna, literal star-crossed lovers, happily married with nothing but inexplicable space science to keep them apart. It's kind of refreshing to have a series end, albeit prematurely, with a full-on happy ending. Like Louis and Rick, this issue certainly felt like the beginning of a beautiful friendship. (And we're not just talking Strange sexytimes here.)

So we get no Matrix-style Brainiac. We get no Gorilla Grodd. Not a single Teen Titan. No Zatanna Zatara. We don't ever really get to find out who Miiyahbin was calling “command” back in issue 12 (Buddy?). But at least we get the underlying mystery of the series solved. Some canceled series don't even get that courtesy. JLU gets to finish it's story and gets an implied happily ever after to boot.

Perhaps it's just as well that we were forced in to a conclusion before the breaker missions started getting formulaic. But with the tease of Jeff Parker's take on a sorta-kinda House of Secrets (and the House of Mystery still missing in action since Justice League Dark came to a close at Convergence, Gotham by Midnight coming to a close, and no sign of Mystic U news or rumors since August) it's done nothing but make me want more Jeff Parker stories (ideally with Travel Foreman's art) about the mystical side of the DC Universe. Obviously Constantine, Swamp Thing, and the Earth-0 helmet of Fate are accounted for (for the time being), and Gail Simone has a stranglehold on the magical character set, but there's a lot of stories I'd love to see Jeff take a swing at.

So if I may be so bold as to propose some new series...

  • Rose Psychic and the Warriors of Nanda Parbat.
  • Klarion done right (Will Pfeifer is done with him, right?).
  • Harry and Randu Save The World.
  • Harold Allnut and his Magic Stick.
  • The Cursed Redemption of Mister E.
  • Exoristos and Sir Ystin, Defenders of Balance.
  • Zealot: a Million Ways to Kill You All.

Bonus points to Travel Foreman for the little “Fin” ribbon on the last page with the initials of all the creators who contributed to this series' brief, but wonderful run. It was a bit crazy and overcrowded at times, but in the end it was a fun and unique change from the typical superhero fare that I hope finds more fans in trade paperback over the years.

*** Just reading and writing and rambling in the back of the Joker's old Ho-Home-On-Wheels... Keath.

JUSTICE LEAGUE UNITED #16 JUSTICE LEAGUE UNITED #16 Reviewed by David Andrews on January 12, 2016 Rating: 5
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