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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After J’onn, Batman is the first to realise that they are in fact up against White Martians. I have to say, this was the one bad note for me the first time I read this story. I was coming to the DCU pretty fresh, and because of the way Morrison was dancing around issues of continuity that would have bogged down other writers, the story seemed very accessible. However, setting up a puzzle where only readers with prior knowledge could have worked out the solution annoyed me a bit. I would have thought Morrison could have got in some reference to J’onn’s weakness around fire, at least.

I was fairly familiar with DC lore at the time, and I didn't know who the big baddie ended up being, but then again I figure if I am able piece it together it isn't a very good story to begin with. I think anything to do with their aversion to fire would have been too obvious though.  I do agree that this series was accessible to new readers, and it gave them a lot of familiar faces.

Figserello said:
It was a good idea to deal with this question early on. The question itself misses the point of what superheroes are 'for'. Morrison's approach is more ‘realistic’ than the dictatorial bloodbath Moore had Marvelman embark on just a few years before JLA. This comic has a different relationship to reality than Marvelman, or The Authority. As superheroes don’t actually exist, Morrison’s story is more ‘truthful’ in showing us that the role of these heroes is to stand on the sidelines and be there to offer us inspiration, and show us what we can be at our best.

The fact is that the guy speaking those words is an inspiration in the real world and a proverbial model of the best that we can be, known far outside fanboy circles. I like my comics to tell me something about the world I’m living in, rather than the fictional world Snapper Carr is living in (Daddio!). Superman and friends being an inspiration seems like ‘truth’ to me.

I love this notion that superheroes commenting on our world -- the real world -- makes it "realistic," since it runs entirely counter to other "realistic" depictions of superheroes -- everything from great works like Miracle-- excuse me, Marvelman -- to run of the mill stuff like Shadowhawk.
I think anything to do with their aversion to fire would have been too obvious though.

A fair point. The closest we get is a few offhand remarks that certain fire-based superheroes were being neutered. It's v subtle.

Had white martians appeared in DC stories before? What I liked about their depiction here is that Grant is replacing the Martian Manhunter's 50s sci-fi 'little green men' Martian culture with the richer, deeper, more ancient and decadent Martian/otherworldly cultures of earlier pulp sci-fi: that appeared in the pulp tales of Lovecraft's contemporaries and immediate heirs. Slave-mills and pain factories and such. This was exactly the deeper Martian culture that Frankenstein discovers on his trip to Mars in SSoV, (complete with baroque prose descriptions).

it runs entirely counter to other "realistic" depictions of superheroes

It's very central to Grant's take on superheroes, and is probably his main differentiator to Alan Moore. In fact Morrison kind of argues that superheroes are real. Think about how Batman describes the New Gods in Batman #702. Absolute platonic embodiments of real states and ideals. Grant's JLA are in between us and the absolute forms of the New Gods. That's why his JLA in particular, don't bicker and betray each other so easily. They are purer forms of our better selves. Grant has fun showing lesser heroes cracking up when he wants to, but his DC cosmology depends on these guys being dignified, co-operative and averse to violence when they can help it.

Grant has a field day once he gets his hands on this JLA because they are completely a part of our real world; lunchboxes, tv shows, pillowcases, the works. The cynic in me sees them as very successful brands used by a powerful corporation to hook young minds*, but Grant probably sees them as powerful platonic ideals that have harnessed the machinery of lowly corporate branding to spread positive values virally into the culture!

Miracle-- excuse me, Marvelman

I love that he is now and ever shall be ....MARVELMAN! Thank you, Joe Q!

*When I got home last night, my 18 month old daughter pointed at one of my books and asked for "Storee - Soup-mehn!" I definitely didn't go out of my way to identify him to her previously, but she'd picked up on the few times I mentioned his name. She can also recognise "Bat-ma'!" I have very mixed feelings about this, but these guys have quite a scary hold on young minds...
In Justice League of America #71 (My'69), which totally revamped J'onn J'onzz's backstory, we meet the Pole Dwellers, white-skinned Martians led by Commander Blanx. They were engaged in a planet-wide, lengthy civil war with the Desert Dewllers, the green-skinned Martians led by their military-science leader, the future Martian Manhunter. J'onn's exile became political rather than accidental. These White Martians showed no super powers and were easily defeated by the likes of Hawkman and Green arrow. J'onn finally stopped Blanx, resulting in his death. But due to Blanx's actions, Mars was left lifeless, causing J'onn to lament "...And so My World Ends!"

Some survivors fled the planet and J'onn followed. He reunited with his people, all green. He made a few guest appearances in the 70s, not returning to the JLA until 1983 or 1984.
Thanks for the info, Philip. I think it illustrates how JLA was published in a 'sweet spot' in terms of overall DCU continuity. After the COIE reboot, many series were allowed to meander further and further away from what had made DC comics great in the Silver Age. This culminated in a DCU that I regard as something of a watered down mish-mash by the time Zero Hour rolled around. The time was ripe for the next batch of writers to go back to the well and start bringing back strong concepts that had got left behind.

"Fly away Damage, Fly away Triumph; Come back Starro, Come back Blanx!"

As Philip illustrates, many of these concepts had been out of the picture for decades, so they were new and fresh for probably the majority of readers. Further, like the White Martians here, their 'return' could be entirely uncomplicated as the COIE itself ensured that their appearance could be shown to be the 'first' time that anyone encountered them. This is a true sweet spot for writers wanting to bring a little Silver Age magic into their stories, and the mid-nineties benefited from stories that could re-use strong Silver Age concepts, but were still very new-reader friendly.

The Infinite Crisis reboot really muddied the waters in this regard. All sorts of adventures published in the Silver Age became cannon, making issues like the true first appearance of the White Martians incredibly problematic and even frustrating. Further, it means that a potentially blockbusting storyline like Meltzer's JSA/JLA Return of the Legion ends up something of a disappointment to any but the most dedicated of fans. Unlike the villains that appeared in JLA, most villains arrive now with their decades of continuity as part of their backstory. Heroes too, like Batman and poor Hal, had to lug their backstory into every new plot, like albatrosses around their necks.

Like the post-COIE 'anything goes' era before it, the New-Retro era of the mid-nineties had a definite shelf-life too, before the possiblities it opened up would be exhausted.
Side-note: I estimate that we are now ‘over the hump’ in this Morrithon, as the amount of material already looked at now outweighs that left to cover. Yay! Photobucket As much of Grant’s work self-referentially builds on previous work, I’m experimenting with using hyper-links to lessen the risk of repeating myself at length. (In other words to avoid Photobucket ) End side-note.

Rocking up on Morrison’s first JLA arc, it may be worth (self-indulgently) pointing out some of his previous treatments of the League, and how they compare:

His earliest DC work, some text pieces for UK annuals written in 1985, reference Batman and Superman’s strong friendship – a cornerstone of JLA. In The Stalking, some of which depicts a bored Batman watching late-night TV, Batman winces as Johnny Carson gets some cheap laughs at the expense of Superman's red ‘overwear’.

(Tim Callahan mentions these stories in his current When Words Collide column. Thanks for the tip-off, Doc B.)

An early Animal Man issue (#9 Mar 1989) revolves around J’onn J’onnz visiting Buddy to supervise the ‘supervillain-proofing’ of his house. J’onn is perfectly depicted here as the thoughtful conscience of the League, and some nice background is filled in on the fringe benefits of Justice League membership.

It’s interesting to muse on why the ‘Big Seven’ largely don’t have to worry about where their private lives and Justice League business intersect.

I argue that Grant used the Justice League’s appearance during the Painting that Ate Paris storyline, (Doom Patrol #29 Jan 1990) both to show that the Geffin League weren’t much cop as go-to-guys in a crisis, and also to show how Superman, when handled correctly, was in a completely different League (pun intended) to those guys. The handling of Superman is very assured in the few panels he appears in, and driven by a conviction that he is the probably the greatest hero of them all.


The Batman depicted in JLA, the uber-competent lynchpin of this new League and major selling point of the series, is something of a departure from the Batman depicted in Gothic and Arkham Asylum. Apart from the factor of Gothic being about a much younger Batman, maybe it could be argued that those early works were focused internally on his tortured psyche, whereas in JLA he only reveals himself through his highly effective actions and interactions with others. In which case, taken together they are a commentary on the insoluble mysteries of identity. Are we Human Beings, or Human doings? (Warning: Pseudo-intellectuallism meter rising!)

There are a few other appearances of JLA related concepts in Grant’s early work, which I haven’t covered yet.

Most notably, a memorable meeting with the Time Commander in Animal Man #16, (Oct 1989), where the Justice League are depicted as thuggish agents of the status quo, stamping down on Time Commander’s little experiments with reality. It’s a fair charge if they consistently step in to stop the world being changed in any way.
I'll get to my comments on each JLA member but first a personal note or two. I had made the decision to once more buy new comics. JLA, with the Big 7, was a big factor in that, so I was happy with the excellence and the scope of the title.

In 1997, it was a back to "basics" approach for DC with the return of the superstars to the League, but that meant that the previous, "lesser" JLA had to be dealt with. Fire apparently lost her powers and the in-over-their-heads Nuklon, Obsidian and butt-flossed Ice (not our innocent one) are nearly killed. Metamorpho (in an ill-conceived volcanic form) sacifices himself and shows his true worth, crying out for his longtime love, Sapphire Stagg before crashing to Earth and becoming "inert"!

The JLA observes the Hyperclan without prejudice but with concern. Their "proactive" and uber-agressive stance is similar to other characters and stories: Manchester Black, Kingdom Come and the later Justice. The latter also had the antagonists turn the world againt our heroes, causing them to take the offensive.

As for the lineup:
Superman: the Public Face, the moral compass of the DCU, the first defense and our brightest hope. Our faith in him is matched by his faith in us!

Batman: the Secret Champion. The man with the plan. Always says he doesn't want to be there but is always there in the shadows. His technological tools are nearly as important as his physical and mental superiority.

Wonder Woman: Myth made flesh. She walks among gods and waliks with us. The truth is her strength.

Aquaman: More reluctant than Batman but driven by duty. A king that doesn't hide behind his throne.

Flash: the next generation. The sidekick made good. Fast feet, faster mouth!

Green Lantern: the new guy, rising to the challenge, fearful to fail but striving for victory!

Martian Manhunter: the outsider who can look inside us all. Tempted as never before.

As pure and iconic as a roster can be.

More To Follow!
Metamorpho (in an ill-conceived volcanic form) sacifices himself and shows his true worth, crying out for his longtime love, Sapphire Stagg before crashing to Earth and becoming "inert"!

Once again, your attention to the little details does bring added dimensions to these rereadings. I guess I must have read him say that word, but I didn’t put it together. In any case, I only know about Sapphire Stagg through Gaiman’s strip in Wednesday Comics. (I still should have picked up on it though) This kind of ‘Easter Egg’ use of continuity does enrich these comics, so long as not knowing the reference doesn’t make you feel you are missing something important. Metamorpho's possibly last utterance brings a whole lot more emotion into that frame than what’s already there, and it already has a lot!

Their "proactive" and uber-agressive stance is similar to other characters and stories: Manchester Black, Kingdom Come and the later Justice.

Did you notice that the Hyperclan had just fried Wolverine and Gog when we see them roast that generic Image guy? …While Dr Doom stares on in horror.

Loved your little summaries of what each character brings to the JLA. Interestingly, Aquaman is the only one we see being asked to join the new JLA in this first arc. Again this somewhat contradicts his appearance in the origin story in JLA: Secret Files and Origins. (As an aside, someone decided that Millar's ‘Starro’ story belonged in the the ‘Greatest Justice League Stories Ever Told’ collection – possibly to Morrison’s chagrin. Less royalties for him!)

And now, a word about Howard Porter.

In threads like this one, it’s probably best to keep a few general topics in reserve in case there’s not much to say about later instalments of the story, so I was going to leave JLA mainstay Howard Porter until a later post. However, there’s a good reason to bring him up now.

I think JLA benefits from having a consistent artist for virtually all of its run. Consistently ‘pretty good’ at that. He does have quite a unique style, which I’d guess isn’t to everyone’s taste, and I’d also guess that his artwork on JLA is the work of an artist still developing his craft.

I say ‘quite’ unique, because a) I hate to be bound by rules, man, and b) there is an artist whose work Porter’s has many similarities with, but that artist isn’t of any ‘school’ I know of. That artist is classic 2000AD genius Kevin O’Neill. O’Neill uses a similarly angular, spiky style, which comes into its own when portraying extremes states of emotional or mental distress or truly outlandish, alien imagery.

American readers are probably most familiar with O'Neill as the artist on Marshall Law and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. His single greatest contribution to comics is probably his work on Nemesis the Warlock for 2000AD, which I’d urge everyone to get their hands on. Here is what seems to be a self-portrait, from that great Pat Mills-written series.

Photobucket

I love the withering commentary in there of the artist’s lot!

His depiction of Nemesis himself is something to behold. Check out this handsome devil:

Photobucket

I bring O’Neill up at this point, because like Porter, his spiky style lends itself naturally to portraying angular-headed aliens. There’s something very “O’Neillian” in Porter’s depiction of the White Martians.

Photobucket

I can’t say if O’Neill was an influence on Porter, but I know that O’Neill is a self-taught artist, whose art developed primarily as a tool to tell stories on paper, rather than as a continuation of western artistic tradition, as it would be for artists who learn art more formally. O’Neill created his own tradition. I see a lot in Porter’s work that suggests to me he is similarly more self-taught than many artists of his generation.
I think that comparison of Porter to O'Neill is pretty apt -- now that you mention it, I see a lot of similarities.

I don't know whether Porter was self-taught or not.. at least the first time he learned to draw. Sometime after his JLA run, he cut his hand up something awful, ruining a lot of the nerves there. He's had to essentially re-teach himself how to draw!
That's a terrible story, Rob. The poor guy. I don't know anything about him other than that he drew JLA. I did wonder why his apparently only contribution to superhero comics seemed to be a very commendable complete run on one of the best and most central DCU comics of its time.

Before I leave New World Order, I just wanted to comment on the first page and the last page.

The story opens with a scene in the White House. The text is almost entirely in the form of a self-obsessed, self-pitying, self-important monologue from the President himself. He’s complaining that one of his whiskey-sodden Generals has insulted some foreign ‘Jumped-up bandit...Presidente’, making more work for him to repair the damage.

It’s a far cry from how the President is usually depicted in superhero comics. Captain America bowing his head to George W at the end of Busiek’s Kang War Saga comes to mind.

It’s very typical of a 2000AD ‘graduate’ to present someone in power in these unflattering terms. It gets worse the more you think about it. The General himself obviously put his love of whiskey and his own stupidity or arrogance ahead of international peace and harmony, whilst who knows what kind of junta-backed dictator the ‘Presidente’ himself is that the Leader of the Free World is so keen to keep on good terms with.

It’s a bit of political colour and realism to ground a far-fetched story of alien invaders and super-people, but at the same time, Morrison is possibly kicking off the whole run with a depiction of how the Great and the Good here in the real world behave. This is what the people we are expected to look up to and idolise are really like behind closed doors. This is consistent with the depiction of his JLA pantheon being much more worthy of our respect and admiration, even if they aren’t real.

Ideal beats real, here. It's yet another argument for why these heroes ‘matter’ in ‘real-life’

The last page is in keeping with the wide-screen summer blockbuster feel of New World Order. We find out that J’onn’s ‘methods, punishments’ consist of making the would-be world conquerors assume the same lives of quiet desperation that we all have to live as ordinary folk, with only half-remembered dreams and intimations of their former glory to trouble them. You have to wonder if J’onn put as much sadistic thought into the other 69 ‘lives’ as he put into the guy we see on the last page. As a fire-loathing Martian he is doomed to live out his life as a slightly troubled fire-fighter! This special fate is reserved for the leader, perhaps.

It’s a last minute shock ending, like in the summer blockbusters it evokes and the Sci-Fi classics that Grant namechecks in the chapter titles, leaves us unsettled and wondering about possible sequels.

Morrison ends this wonderfully imaginative escapist fantasy with some strangely unsettling narration that brings us back to our own uncertain, melancholic and troubling everyday lives.

“So Bob Grey checks his mail and feeds his bird and he goes outside. And joins the human race.”

When I looked closer at the opening and closing pages of this fun superhero tale, I realised that they have a connection, and that connection lifts the whole collection up a notch or two in philosophical intent.

There is a mode of belief that holds as one of its central tenets that this world we are living in is a crude trap. Everything in it is false and debased. Certainly its institutions and power-structures are most corrupted of all, based as they are on the completely erroneous notion that anything of this Earth is capable of being perfected. The foolish and petty POTUS on the first page may be an illustration of this.

Another tenet of that belief system is that our Earthly forms, too are part of the trap and we are actually beings of incredible knowledge and power stuck in shells that are virtually incapable of perceiving our true glory as part of a divine godhead. In other words ‘the Human Race’ are like the pan-galactic superbeings on the last page, only dimly aware of our true inheritance, which has been robbed from us.

So Grant is bringing some heavy Gnostic philosophising into this seemingly light and entertaining superhero yarn.

As he does.

There is also a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ reference to some major DCU cosmology in this arc. At one point the White Martian leader taunts Superman with the claim that we humans were meant to be like the very gods, but their tampering with our DNA in the development stage left us incapable of moving beyond a primitive state. Again, this is sounds like a Gnostic creation myth, where we are denied our true destiny because of the tampering of malevolent, powerful entities back in the earliest times.

It'll be up to ourselves, then, to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and acheive our potential. This may be a running theme of this series.
I wouldn't've made the Porter/O'Neil comparison, but I can kinda see it. I didn't know about Porter's accident, but Stephen Bisette and Michael Thibodeax are two other artists whose work has unfortunately been limited by physical disabilities.

I say ‘quite’ unique, because a) I hate to be bound by rules, man, and b) there is an artist whose work Porter’s has many similarities with, but that artist isn’t of any ‘school’ I know of. That artist is classic 2000AD genius Kevin O’Neill. O’Neill uses a similarly angular, spiky style, which comes into its own when portraying extremes states of emotional or mental distress or truly outlandish, alien imagery.

 

I think that comparison of Porter to O'Neill is pretty apt -- now that you mention it, I see a lot of similarities.

I guess that is just one the things that makes us all of different. I really like Porter's art, but I couldn't stand O'Neill's art on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. (One of the 2 things I disliked about that series.)

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