Some of this Morrison reading project has been fairly heavy going.  The Filth, The Invisibles, and Seven Soldiers of Victory are meaty lumps of sequential narrative.  On top of that, the modicum of research some of my posts have necessitated has felt a tiny bit like work here and there*.

So I’ve been saving up Morrison’s JLA for when burnout beckons and I need some simple 4-colour superhero fun. 

That moment has arrived! 

JLA was my introduction to the mainstream DCU.  Even though the stories weren’t designed to be read in conjunction with the rest of DC’s output at the time, reading about these central characters each month gave me a good handle on where the DCU was at back then.  I loved this incarnation of the team.  Morrison’s deft handling of these characters in their team book and his portrayal of them as a group bound together by mutual trust and respect allowed them to have a strong presence when they appeared as a team in other books, or when other writers borrowed the reins. 

Because I have a fondness for this period of DCU history, I’ll probably be taking side-trips to appearances of the JLA in other comics during Morrison’s tenure as chief custodian.  Such was my fanboyish enthusiasm for the JLA that I eventually bought many of those appearances, including events like JLApe and Day of Judgement.  These summer crossovers might have been knocked at the time, but they are veritable models of restraint in light of DC’s publishing practices since DiDio took over.

Here is a chronology of Morrison’s JLA and the storylines that intersected with it.  I’ll be using it to decide the reading order and possible side-trips.  Let us know if there are any glaring errors on it.  I’d love to read through every appearance of the JLA during 1996-2000, but unfortunately, most of them are amongst the comics I had to leave behind when I made my big move.  If you would like to chime in with commentary on JLApe, Paradise Lost, Day of Judgement or any of the other stories in the chronology, be my guest.

JLA was stratospherically popular back when it hit the stands, so it’d be good to hear what you all thought of it at the time and how you think it reads now. 

If possible, I’d like for all the early posts to focus on the first 2-3 storylines rather than ranging too far ahead.  Not really for SPOILER reasons, but just to keep the discussion from getting too general.  I don’t think we have to worry about spoiling later developments, though, as most of us have probably read this series already.

Given I’ll be branching out to the work of other writers, it seems right to begin the discussion with Justice League: Midsummer’s Nightmare, written by Mark Waid and Fabian Niceiza.

*Ironic, given where I wrote most of them…

 

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JLA: Incarnations

According to the chronology I’ve posted up there, the next stepping stone on our way from Midsummer’s Nightmare to Morrison’s JLA is a scene from Ostrander’s JLA: Incarnations, a series which did for the Justice League much what Legacies is currently doing for DC superherodom as a whole.

It shows us the league at different stages of their history, as that history looked in 2001 when this was published. Part of it’s remit is to paper over the disparity between Waid’s Justice League: Year One wherein Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman aren’t key players in the League and Morrison’s JLA, where they are seemingly the linchpins of the group. I only have issues 2, 5,6 and 7 of 7.

Issue 2 is an episode from when the League existed as in Waid’s Justice League: Year One. Batman is watching them at work and thinking of how he would watch the other kids through a fence while he was a child. Ostrander generally depicts relationships between the League team members as warm and respectful. Superman and Batman especially, are more respectful of each other than we generally saw in the comics DC published in the immediate post-Crisis period, which were heavily influenced by the suspicions between the two that propelled much of Miller’s Dark Knight Returns.

I’d even go as far as to say that the summer of 1996 saw a ‘soft’ reboot come into play, where the two became more cordial towards each other. The comics were letting a little bit of the Silver Age in! By 2001 their friendship and respect for each is other is being depicted as going back to the earliest days of the League.

Issue 6 is of most importance to this JLA thread, but I'd like to pause on issue 5 as it touches on a few things that have come up in our various 'sidetracks.'


Image from www.comicsvine.com

Issue 5 covers the Crisis on Infinite Earths itself. The League here consists of a bunch of nobodies. J’onn tries to tell them that as the Justice League, everyone looks to them for leadership, but it doesn’t really wash. These things obviously ebb and flow. In Final Night, Captain Atom’s League is similarly a marginal player in events. Here, J’onn may be the heart of the team and the others look up to him and depend on him for maturity, but he isn’t really a ‘leader’ as such. I guess he’s fundamentally too much of an outsider.

Ostrander includes a short story of Barry Allen’s experience as he runs to his death on the treadmill in COIE. Drawn by Norm Breyfogle, it’s a powerful piece of comicbookery that does justice to the passing of a great comics character. As Barry starts to break all the laws of physics he begins to become one with the universe itself, and experience all of his life behind him and his friends' futures in a single instant.

Wally becomes one with the Speed Force, and once again we are seeing superheroes as myth and fundamental forces. Speed is life, after all. Atoms in motion are warmth and change and growth. As Wally’s experience becomes transcendental he reaches out to himself and his friends at every moment of their lives and becomes a part of all the heroes and villains who have ever accessed the Speed Force. He has become Mercury, the messenger of the Gods, the god the first Flash’s hat was meant to signify. Mythology is deep in the DNA of the best superheroes!

His little monologue hits on many of the reasons why the DCU of this era had an aspect of 'realism' that I think was thrown away around the time of Infinite Crisis.

Barry, take it away:

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Here was a period when time and death worked in this superhero universe much as it does in ours, which added something to the stories. It seemed as if heroes could really die, like Barry, Ollie, and Hal, and lose their way, like Hal had. Notice Barry's parting remarks to his sidekick that Wally will be better than him. That each generation should strive to surpass the one before it is natural and healthy. In the present post-IC, post-FC DCU, where Wally has again been relegated to ‘also ran’, this natural progression has been stunted and halted. (Is Wally dead yet, anyway?)

Just before we return to Wally for some more transcendental picture-poetry, I may as well point out that for many of us, that final turn on the treadmill is the only thing that makes Barry Allen great. That and stepping aside to let the younger generation have a go. It’s the Great Circle of Life!


Photobucket


Fandom has essentially turned away from a universe where time and death have brought wisdom and humanity to the central characters and embraced a new order where such fundamental cornerstones of human existence can be wished away. That doesn’t reflect well on their maturity, in my view…
I noticed that, too. Wally is no longer THE Flash, just another speedster following Barry. All of his future (and past) achievements downplayed for the "Real" Flash's return. I missed Barry, of course, but I accepted and supported Wally in his new role. He was the first Teen Titan to graduate to the JLA, something he was trained to do. It's ironic that in New Teen Titans, he was portrayed as a reluctant hero. But after his "promotion", he matured slowly and in definite stages, finding his new place among the JLA!

The Flash as Mercury (or Hermes, as I prefer the Greek gods over the Roman) is the most obvious one to make. Merely compare any depiction of the Messenger-God to the Golden Age Flash!
I'm glad we've moved off GL and back to JLA. Defending HJ in the wake of ET was yesterday's ax for me. Today's would be, I guess, the "Rainbow League of Lanterns" or whatever they're calling it, which I've tried to become interested in on three seperate occasions and failed.
Philip Portelli said:
The Flash as Mercury (or Hermes, as I prefer the Greek gods over the Roman) is the most obvious one to make. Merely compare any depiction of the Messenger-God to the Golden Age Flash!

Well, I did mention the tin hat! The advantage of using the Roman name is that it’s a synonym of…. Quicksilver!

On a superficial level, the connection between Hermes and the Golden Age Flash is obvious, but when I was connecting the JLA with their classical counterparts I did pause with the Flash. At first, it’s hard to see the connection between a fast superhero (who didn’t have much else going on than speed) and Hermes, messenger of the gods and diety of trade, writing and sundry other human practices. Barry’s transcendent death goes a long way toward filling that gap. Yes, the lightning on his vest symbolises speed, but the path of the lightning is also the fastest route from the Heavens to Earth, a path the Gods’ messenger would take. Barry descends to Earth once more in a lightning bolt at the beginning of Final Crisis.

The connection between Heaven and Earth is probably the reason why Zeus and Thor, as senior deities, both command the lightning. In fact I’ve read an argument that they are the same god, altered over the years as the tribes moved west from “Indo-Europa”, wherever that was Photobucket. Odin, a kind of seeker/shaman/Merlin figure to begin with, doesn’t really equate to Zeus.

The connections between American superheroes and some of humanities oldest stories run deep. This is important…

Jeff of Earth-J said:
I'm glad we've moved off GL and back to JLA. Defending HJ in the wake of ET was yesterday's ax for me. Today's would be, I guess, the "Rainbow League of Lanterns" or whatever they're calling it, which I've tried to become interested in on three separate occasions and failed.

The thing is, that I'm kind of steering this by the seat of my pants. I can't read everything and then decide what is most relevant to the direction I'm going. I have to decide on a thumb-flick. I could make the argument that the context of DC's editorial practices and in-universe history leading up to JLA is important, but on the other hand it's clear that part of Morrison's ground-breaking approach was to take all that with a pinch of salt.

Also, Morrison is great and all, but to keep things interesting for myself, I have often been using his work just as a lens through which to view large swathes of stuff that have interested me over the years*. I've used this reading project to lift all kinds of stones and see what's crawling around underneath.

As a comics fan I've been fascinated by the popularity of Johns' recent stuff, and have been trying to work out what its themes and messages are. I've read everything of GL almost up to Blackest Night, even some of the Corps stuff. While it obviously doesn't really light my fire, I am interested in unpicking just what it is in there that's turning me off. I'll read to the end of Blackest Night, but I'll be finished with the Johnster after that.

Another thing is that I'm a damned relativist. It's hard to look at something just there on its own and say "This is X". I've always found you can say more about something by comparing it to something similar. So in that sense, comparing the late 90's JLA with DCU stuff from earlier in the decade, or from a decade later seems worthwhile to me, as does comparing a phenomenally successful comics writer like Grant with equally successful writer Geoff, or comparing the former's insular and derivative Batman with the latter's equally insular and derivative Green Lantern.

The beauty of this particular board is that discussions can go down side-alleys and back again without anal-retentive types tearing their hair out, (which happens on other boards), so I've been taking advantage of that. As poor old Barry Allen showed us earlier in the thread, everything is connected, after all! Bear with me, is all I'm saying...

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, the JLA. Specifically John Ostrander's JLA: Incarnations

Image from www.comicvine.com


Issue 6 has the first reference to 'our' JLA. Ostrander's second tale covers the dissolution of its previous incarnation - Justice League International, which was headed by Wonder Woman and affiliated to Captain Atom's Extreme Justice (where's the eye-rolling smiley when you need it?) and J'onn J'onnz' Justice League Task Force. From a look at the chronology in the link above, it looks like that tale was never properly told, with the 3 books seemingly just running out of steam and readers; ending on a whimper, not a bang.

Ostrander manages to fit a fairly plausible reason for the dissolution into 20 pages or so: Captain Atom leads a pre-emptive strike on criminal-friendly state Bialya, which goes wrong and leads to the UN shutting the whole JLI down. In a nice commentary on then-recent comics history, Ostrander chose to call his tale "Authority".

The epilogue has Batman and Superman meeting to discuss their roles in any future Justice League. It’s only a page long, so here you go:
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It is a nice link between the two versions of the League appearing in issues 6 and 7 respectively, and it accords well with the cohesive over-arching story of the League itself that Ostrander manages to structure around all the different versions of it. However, it’s just a bit out of kilter with both Midsummer’s Nightmare, where no mention is made of the former League, even though they are toying with the idea of starting a new one, and with Morrison’s JLA, where Batman is quite reluctant to get involved at first. I’d place it after Final Night, where Captain Atom mentions his League, and before Midsummer’s Nightmare, where no-one says ‘How can we be the Justice League, when there already is one?’.

I’ve said elsewhere that the story the author is telling now should be more important than continuity outside it, so I’ll have to wear this slight disconnect. Ostrander’s story is a good one. The main artist is the commendably proficient and under-rated Val Simeiks. Ostrander too is under-rated, in my view, and it’s good to see him get his teeth into a story cutting through years of central DCU lore. Issue 7, in particular, brings us a fine replication of Morrison’s League and its storytelling style, although it doesn’t really do anything new. The closing page is a heartwarmer, with humanity getting a precious 48 hours without natural calamities, a few nights unbroken rest for everyone, partially as a result of the League’s hard work on our behalf.

It occurs to me now that the League chronology I’m using will probably have to be revised to account for the new post-IC, Legacies etc continuity. You can bet it will have to contain Waid’s Black Canary version of the League as well as a Wonder Woman version! Every attempt to simplify leads to more complexity! Sadly, these reboots also mean that continuity-dependant series like JLA:Incarnations don’t get issued as collections once their moment has passed.

If they live by the sword…

Next up: The Big Seven officially sign up to the Justice League of America! JLA – Secret Files and Origins #1. Brought to you by Grant Morrison himself!

…Or is it?

*And I've used The Micronauts to get to those parts of comicbookland that Morrison just can't reach!

Captain Atom's Extreme Justice (where's the eye-rolling smiley when you need it?)

Will this work?   Plus, if it ain't EXTREME!!! it ain't...well this is a family board so I will refrain. I think read a couple of issues of Extreme Justice back in the day.

 

The main artist is the commendably proficient and under-rated Val Simeiks. Ostrander too is under-rated, in my view, and it’s good to see him get his teeth into a story cutting through years of central DCU lore.


I agree on both accounts. Especially, about Ostrander. He always seems to have a nice long vision of what he wants to do with a series. Look at his long runs on Suicide Squad, The Spectre, and Star Wars.

It occurs to me now that the League chronology I’m using will probably have to be revised to account for the new post-IC, Legacies etc continuity. You can bet it will have to contain Waid’s Black Canary version of the League as well as a Wonder Woman version! Every attempt to simplify leads to more complexity! Sadly, these reboots also mean that continuity-dependant series like JLA:Incarnations don’t get issued as collections once their moment has passed.


I find as I get older, the less of a slave I am to continuity. I enjoy it, just up to a point. I don't need every story ever told to be able to fit. I just know that they don't. I do want some though, just not so much. Does that make sense?

I don't think I ever read Extreme Justice and the thing I remember most about JL:TF is the Martian Manhunter transgender issues!

It plants the seed that Batman would want to create a League that he could manipulate and control, use them to bolster his war on crime and keep tabs on them at the same time.

Zeus wasn't the god of thunder. He was the king of the gods and the judge of humanity's fate. Moreso, he was the sky-god who sent both good and bad weather. He was the ultimate forgiver and condemner. He guarded the household and had oaths sworn to him. The lightning was his weapon but his resposibilties were endless. He had more in common with Odin, the Norse sky-god and ruler than Thor, the Aesir's enforcer!
Regarding Ostrander, his Spectre was a great acheivement. It got a little cyclical as he kept it on the road so long, but I loved that it got an ending. Did anyone here read the last issue? I've never been able to get my hands on it.

I'm really frustrated that the Suicide Squad Showcase never materialised.

I find as I get older, the less of a slave I am to continuity. I enjoy it, just up to a point. I don't need every story ever told to be able to fit. I just know that they don't. I do want some though, just not so much. Does that make sense?

No-one could accuse me of being short-winded, but that's a pretty good summary of my own position.

It plants the seed that Batman would want to create a League that he could manipulate and control, use them to bolster his war on crime and keep tabs on them at the same time.

It=Justice League Task Force?. That's interesting. Was Batman always hovering around and tut-tutting during the run?

Zeus wasn't the god of thunder. He was the king of the gods and the judge of humanity's fate. Moreso, he was the sky-god who sent both good and bad weather. He was the ultimate forgiver and condemner. He guarded the household and had oaths sworn to him. The lightning was his weapon but his resposibilties were endless. He had more in common with Odin, the Norse sky-god and ruler than Thor, the Aesir's enforcer!

I love how definitive and authoritive your answers on the old pantheons are. It's as if they weren't just stories told about deities, that shivering half-starved tribes-people made up to help them make sense of the universe. You know that they changed over centuries to account for historical, cultural and political shifts that people went through? And that often when two tribes met, they would combine and amalgamate their differing pantheons instead of bickering over religion all the time?

Another change was that the Gods started as distant powerful entities that affected who lived and died. As people became more sophisticated, they become more humanised figures that lusted after women and argued with one another. Fundamental Sky-Gods became slow-witted "enforcers" or whatever the new stories dictated. "Zeus commanded the Lightning" you state categorically. Well, yes, but there was a reason that he is depicted with those bolts rather than great rivers or the rains, or the sun. At least my guess goes some way to explaining the why, and explaining why the lightning on Flash's chest might have more significance than just a cool design.

Odin and Zeus being similar is like the similarities between Lions and Australian Marsupial Lions. They both ended up filling the same niche, but got there by very different routes. Odin's path as Man become enlightened sorceror (superman), become God, become All-Father is a very different story to Zeus'. Odin took the path UP the lightning bolt, instead of down. It's a much more empowering and philosophically profound story and maybe that's why the Norse elevated him to the top seat...

The Germanic tribes equated Zeus with Thor, for what its worth. Scholars now think Tyr and Zeus are aspects of the same God developed in different directions, and that Tyr was the Father God to some, before Odin and Thor became more popular and supplanted him.

These stories had to constantly change and adapt so that they stayed relevant to each generation and a changing world. When it comes to the deep appeal of superheroes and their connections to ancient mythology, it's probably wiser to look at the original fundamental forces that the old gods embody rather than the colourful and particular story characters that eventually developed from those original forces.
Sorry, I meant the scene from JLA: Incarnations where Batman confers with Superman over the need for a new League.

Zeus and Odin had many similarities. Both supplanted their fathers who supplanted their fathers. Both fathered the next generation of gods, usually with goddesses other than their wives. Zeus sired Ares, Hephaestus, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Dionysus, Aphrodite (depending on the source), Persephone, Hebe, the Nine Muses as well as heroes like Perseus and Heracles. Despite what Stan and Jack told us, Odin begat Thor, Balder, Hod, Tyr, Heimdall, Bragi, Vidar, Vali and Hermod. Loki was Odin's blood-brother, not his step-son.

Granted there are differences as well. Zeus the supreme male deity took over areas that worshipped a Great Goddess, usually by having him bed her. I am well aware of the faults of Zeus but that does not supercede his duties, roles and functions in Greek mythology. For all his baser instincts, he is still a peer to Odin more than Thor.
"depending on the source" is the key phrase there.

Hmmm, as with the comics continuity, you seem determined to make it all match up, and determined to ignore the processes by which these stories (contingent, flexible, symbolic) are put together, and the deep-seated human need for meanings that inspired both superhero comics and ancient mythology.

Historically, Tyr was the Father God before Odin came along and became his father. None of the stories you cite reflect this.

I dunno, do you look at the story of Jesus and see a profound mystery of personal salvation, or do you see a story about a wizard with the power to raise himself from the dead?

(I'm an atheist, more or less, but even I can see the profound mystery etc in Christ's story.)

I bring Our Lord into it, because Odin and Tyr and Zeus and Athena were all similarly solemnly worshipped as living deities before they became the fallible, human caricatures in their mythological 'soap operas'. Their original stories similarly encompassed theological and metaphysical mysteries just as we're told the Gospels do.

Your citing of chapter and verse from the mythological canon makes no reference to this. Actual Gods and superhuman characters in a Jack Kirby story (which Norse and Greek Gods were debased to by the end) are two different things.
Of course, they were worshipped as deities, thousands of years ago. The myths were created to explain why the world operated the way it did. How were humans created from clay or trees? Why do the seasons change? What IS the lightning? But their humanization does not negate their original meaning. According to scholars, from the various interpretations that I've read, these personalities also served a purpose, to teach lessons and solidify local histories. The linking of Rome to Troy is one example.

Later uses of the Greco-Roman gods were as metaphorical analogies, allegories made easier to understand. Faith in these beings grew less important than understanding what they represented.

Getting back to the topic, If Morrison meant for Superman to be Zeus, it was as a Sky-god and kingly figure, not the lustful adulterer from the myths.
Here's the most recent depiction of Superman in a Morrison comic, from Batman #702:


From wiki: Apollo has been variously recognized as a god of light and the sun; truth and prophecy; medicine, healing, and plague; music, poetry, and the arts; and more.

Sounds like our man. Even down to the medical labs in the Fortress of Solitude and Clark Kent's day-job as a writer.

(The God of Music bit might be why Morrison had him sing Darkseid into oblivion at the end of Final Crisis!)

All-Star Superman almost went overboard in drawing the connections between Superman and the Sun.

If the JLA pantheon has an All-Father, it is perhaps Darkseid, the commanding parent that must be defeated if the younger generation is to flourish, much as Zeus and Odin had to kill their parents in the stories you mention.

Regarding Ostrander, his Spectre was a great acheivement. It got a little cyclical as he kept it on the road so long, but I loved that it got an ending. Did anyone here read the last issue? I've never been able to get my hands on it.
I'm really frustrated that the Suicide Squad Showcase never materialised.


I've read the last issue of The Spectre. Not to rub it in, but I thought it was great. I wasn't able to get all of the Suicide Squad when they were originally published, but I've been able to find some decent runs in 50¢ boxes.

 

It=Justice League Task Force?. That's interesting. Was Batman always hovering around and tut-tutting during the run?


That series was all Martian Manhunter driven (unless I am misremembering). It was similar to Marvel's Secret Defenders which came out around the same time, and had Dr. Strange as its driving force. Each arc had a different line-up, and that applies to both series.

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