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…

 

(1224 - 240113)

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Jeff of Earth-J said:
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.

John Totleben, as well -- his eyesight was failing him for years.
I generally try not to comment on artwork since it's a gift I lack. Basically, I likes what I likes. Porter's initial issues were very complex and I do see the similarity to O'Neil. I have some Nemesis issues from Eagle Comics along with Judge Dredd from after I discovered a real comic shop and was trying to access more types of books. If you look at the back of the TPB, which I will assume is an early try, the poses are a bit stiff, Wonder Woman looks too stripperish and he follows the then trend of having Superman be on steroids. All of which were improved on as the series progressed.

The first appearance of the Hyperclan was effective yet, for alien heroes wanting our trust, they sure looked freaky. You'd think they would all be photogenic, like the invaders from V!

Poor Superman. Always the voice of reason, but always shut down when he doesn't say what the people want to hear.

Yes, I did notice Wolverine, Gog and Dr. Doom. I figured by now that was old news!

Also when I see eye-blasts from everyone, I'm thinking Kryptonians, Daxamites or Martians.

Metamorpho's "death" did anger me a little as he was a cool character and since his return, nothing good has been done with him in current continuity. A personal note: Brave & Bold # 57 was probably THE first Silver Age key issue I ever got from a yard sale for $3 when I was 12.

Great to see Superman not be deceived again by "assurrances". Loved Batman's pride that his gizmo prevented Supes from hearing him. He looks inhuman, has already solved why the people are against them, declares war on the Hyperclan and figured out what the numbers on LOST mean (and got Evangeline Lilly's phone number!) But he's not a team-up guy!

Another big clue was when the Hyperclan raised up the city of Z'onn Z'orr. Why not just call it Martian City?

How did Aquaman get to the Pacific as quickly as WW? Why is the hostility? Ignoring a world wide JLA distress call because he's in a mood! How Sub-Mariner of him!

The temptation of J'onn J'onzz and the defeat of the JLA are handled very well.

I just noticed the front of Batman's jet looks like the Batmobile!

Using kryptonite to take out Superman. Now it's a Justice League story!

"Best not risk the flames.." Batman "is only human, after all!" Words to live by!

Protex's under-estimating of what Batman can do plus that smile from Superman makes his pain worthwhile!

The Hyperclan's defeat was due to a failure to comprehend the bonds between these seven heroes. That they will never surrender, no matter what. That they will win, despite the odds. Batman vs 5 Martians. It should have been a bloodbath but once Batman is prepared, they're going down.

J'onn as the final judge and the ironic nature of their "imprisonment" is both fitting and, quite frankly, dangerous!

Off to American Dreams!
I figured by now that was old news!

Well, excuuuuse me!

The temptation of J'onn J'onzz and the defeat of the JLA are handled very well.

There is a bit of a mad Morrisonian jump between when Zum and the big guy return for a rematch with GL and Flash and when we see our two heroes in the 'flower of pain' or whatever its called. I figured that the readers were having so much fun, they didn't notice.

Loved Batman's pride that his gizmo prevented Supes from hearing him.

"Hh"

It's also good storytelling, as it partially explains in an unobtrusive way, how Batman is able to move amongst the Martians undetected later, but I'm not sure if there is such a thing as Martian Super-hearing. Fun to think that Batman decided that if he was going to be in a team with Superman, the first thing he had to get was a device that allowed him to "Commissioner Gordon" Clark at every opportunity.

Off to American Dreams!

Not so fast, Robin! My little chronology tells me the 'current JLA' story in JLA 80 page giant #1 is next, even though it wasn't published until July 1998. Apparently it leads into the recrutiment drive in issue #5.


Image from www.comicvine.com

I think I have this, but stored safely at my parents house faaaar away, so I can't say much about it. This from the Chronology:

J'onn disguises himself as Brain Wave in order to convene, infiltrate and capture many members of the Secret Society of Super-Villains. The Society is shown as an extensive underground network. NOTE: In this story, the Watchtower is built and the JLA announce their recruitment drive. Interestingly, Per Degaton appears in this tale.

It's written by Millar again, so it's interesting to see a whole subset of JLA stories being produced by him.

There are also a few other stops before American Dreams, including apparently, JLA/WildC.A.T.s, a fun time-travel story.
No one read the 80-page Giant? A pity, as I was kinda hoping we'd hear something about the issues that I have to pass over due to my extreme distance from the comics in question. I was looking forward to seeing how other writers' work interacted with Morrison's.

Never mind. Onwards!

JLA/WildC.A.T.s - Crime Machine


image from www.comicvine.com

The reading order gets a little congested around here! JLA #5, published in May 1997, is the first to depict Superman’s new ‘Reddy Kilowatt’ persona*, however during the course of that story they deal with some leftover kit from their battle with Epoch, The Lord of Time, even though that adventure wasn’t seen until the JLA/WildC.A.T.s crossover in September of that year.

And it gets even more complicated! When the crossover begins, everyone is obviously up to speed with Superman’s new costume. However, they only seem to be seeing it for the first time in the early pages of JLA#5. Morrison’s script for #5 seems to indicate that most of them are seeing it for the first time, but Millar’s little ‘Lost Pages’ section of the JLA Secret Files and Origins #1, which is definitely meant to slot into the early pages of JLA #5, confirms this.

As we shall see, the JLA’s encounter with Epoch the Lord of Time takes about a week, during which America is completely taken over by the time-travelling despot, and we’ll have to mentally slot it into issue 5 somewhere when we get to it. Just to complicate things a bit more, the special Girlfrenzy: Tomorrow Woman one-shot was set during the events of JLA #5 also (as it could only have been…)

This congestion was one of the things giving me pause before jumping into the JLA again. (Another thing was that the ‘much-loved’ copy of JLA:American Dreams that I got out of the library was missing the key first 5-6 pages of issue 5, adding to my confusion.)

I think it may have been a combination of the JLA’s huge initial popularity, coupled with the sense that Morrison was skipping over meaningful moments in the JLA’s growth at this time in his rush to the next great idea that led to other writers to fill the perceived gaps. It would seem Morrison’s storytelling had its own logic, and the gaps were better left unfilled, but we’ll get to that presently.

In any case, the JLA/WildC.A.T.s crossover is great fun. Unlike a lot of other 64 page single stories, this one seems to work on the basis that that’s still not quite enough space. I often find 64 page one-shots to break down into 4-5 story beats that the writer has lazily expanded into a longer length, but this little package jams the pages with incident, cracking dialogue and entertaining character moments. The whole thing begins smack-bang in the middle of the JLA’s 4-dimensional battle with the time-travelling Epoch and builds up from there.

More on the actual content of this graphic novel anon…

*Thanks Jeff. I had to look him up!
No one read the 80-page Giant?

I did not. I eventually got burned out on what I call Marvel and DC's "fat books."

I didn't read the JLA/WildC.A.T.s crossover, either. :(

*Thanks Jeff. I had to look him up!

:P
JLA/WildC.A.T.s - Crime Machine opens in an era of DCU history that I didn’t know much about back in 1997. Young Wally West, in his Kid Flash gear, is confronted with a futuristic killer who is about to blow him away with high-tech weaponry. It’s Epoch, the self-styled Lord of Time, who has mastered time-travel in the future and is now trying to use the technology of many future eras to make himself absolute ruler of the Earth.

The narration is from the Flash of our JLA, and we learn that he does have a memory of this meeting, but a hazy one due to a knock on the head at the time. The Justice League of '1997' then intervenes, although young Wally obviously doesn’t immediately recognise Superman. The narrative seems to attest that this encounter was always part of Wally’s experiences. There is a certain philosophy of time-travel in this story that many of Morrison’s stories - and often his whole metaphysics - revolve around, and this is an early indication of how the story will pan out.

From there we learn that the JLA have gained control of Epoch’s time-cube and are chasing him through time, popping up seconds after he appears in different eras. Batman has quickly worked out that with time-travel they’ll never be too late!

Even though it’s an incredibly eventful opening we do have a moment to dwell on the personal aspects of time travel, as Kyle and Wally discuss how different and more serious young Wally seemed all those years ago.

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They run Epoch to ground in 65 Million BC, but his growing control of the fourth dimension is giving him near godlike powers, and he has created a soliton particle that creates a dark nova in space above the Earth - which turns out to be the event that causes the extinction of the dinasaurs. He draws power from this to hurl the JLA and their time-cube into the future while keeping its engine in 65m BC. Fortunately our heroes realise that the engine is made of tough stuff and they only have to dig it up from wherever it settled.

For the first time in our chronology, Grant starts to make explicit within the story that he means the JLA to be seen as a pantheon of Gods. Their search for the drive unit is witnessed by a Roman centurion called Marcus who tells his incredulous comrades about it. He describes Green Lantern as delving in the Earth with a great green plough, which strikes me as particularly potent mythical (fertility) imagery. His conviction that they are Gods is reinforced when Superman recognises him from the air. “Small universe. See you later, Marcus,” he says. (It would seem Marcus will go on to be the Alpha Centurion in the then current issues of Superman.) Marcus closes his tall tale with the question: “What if they were gods and Olympus were real?”

Of course the Olympus of the DCU is the JLA Watchtower, which we’ve been told in New World Order was being made from very symbolic Promethium. Again Morrison must have been emphasising the God-like qualities of the JLA with this term, as Promethium itself doesn’t sound like a very practical material to make a clubhouse from. It is highly radioactive and emits powerful X-rays, and in fact used to be used for the glow-in-the-dark elements of watch faces!

Just in case we miss the association with Gods and saviours, the year they get stranded in is 33 AD, a portentous date for us (nominal, in some cases) Christians!

So it’s all pell-mell from the first page, and almost every frame has something entertaining and fun happening in it. (For example, we learn the team dig up a total of eight tools and weapons dropped by time-travellers in the past during their hunt for the drive engine.) I picked the three frames shown here almost at random, as a taster of how fun-packed they all are. And things go even crazier when they attempt to get back to 1997. You guessed it... they head down the wrong trouser-leg of time to arrive in the rough and ready urban nightmare of the 1997 Image universe. Now the action really starts.

We later learn that Epoch’s tampering with the fundamentals in 65 million BC has led to the whole Image alternate universe being generated. Right now, the “fluctuations in the quantum foam” are causing mass-mutations of the Wildstorm populace into typically monstrous Image-style bad guys, who the WildC.A.T.s are having to contain with their customary extreme prejudice. Of course the whole book is a comparison between the rightous old-school Justice League and the much more morally gray WildC.A.T.s.

For the most part the comparison is to the detriment of the WildC.A.T.s. Long before they appear, Flash has already noted, regarding Epoch:

“Back when I was a kid, there was one rule you could always rely on: Gun equals bad guy.”

In return, Grifter manages to get a dig in at our square-jawed superteam’s name and ethos:

“Great name though guys: it says what it means and it’s not afraid to get laughed at...”

The traditional punch-up that precedes team-ups follows. Grifter realises early on that his Bat-costumed opposite number is leagues beyond him in prowess, and decides to literally sit out the confrontation. Sensible guy.

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Once the introductory formalities are over, all that remains to save the entirety of existence as they know it.

Which will be discussed in Part the Next.

No one read the 80-page Giant?

 

Oh I did read it...back in '98 so it isn't real fresh in my memory, and obviously nothing happened there that resonated with me 12 years later.

Also, I did not read the JLA/WildCATS one-shot either. I loathed that version of Superman, and it wouldn't be until Joe Casey's WildCATS run starting in 2002 that I actually enjoyed them.

Nuts! I just went down to my basement to pick up the early issues of JLA so I could join in -- and wherever the are, they're not where I expected them to be. I've got two of the later trades up here in the office, but until we get there, all I can do is keep lookin'...
Ah, well. Can’t be helped. I’ll try to convey the experience of rereading them as best I can.

Thanks for checking in anyway, Rob. I may as well mention that as I slope into the second half of this "Morrithon", that any and all comments are appreciated, even of the “I’m still reading along, but got nothing to add” variety. It’s a long slog, sometimes.

(Apropos of very little: Me and the wife once went to the finishing line of the London Marathon, late in the day, just with the intention of cheering on the stragglers finishing hours after the main group had dashed home. It was impractical to cheer everyone as they limped towards the finish line, so I hit on the policy of only cheering those in superhero costumes, who were quite numerous, it must be said. See how I connected “Marathon slog” and “superheroes” there?)

Even “I didn’t read this because of the attire of one of the participants” is appreciated too, although it’s hard to imagine any other creative field where this objection would be tabled!

So to wrap up this unusual crossover….

It occurred to me that Superman’s smurf-skinned demeanour saved the WildC.A.T.s from wondering why the owner of Clark’s Bar in their world should be the greatest hero of this new world. Clark’s Bar was, I think, created by Alan Moore, and I noticed that the WildC.A.T.s refer to ‘Tao’s Crime War’ which was also part of Moore’s run on WildC.A.T.s. Fun to see Morrison referencing his creative ‘Daddy’ once again!

Green Lantern and Void journey for answers into a “transdimensional space”. Void describes it as “everywhere that isn’t a place”. Perhaps it corresponds somehow to the ‘supercontext’ in Grant’s more conceptual work, which lies above and beyond the world on the comicbook pages. The world between the panels, perhaps? Certainly, 'the hole in things' has become a powerful concept in the latest Batman storyline. In any case, the inhabitants there give answers in exchange for concepts and designs that graphic artist Kyle easily provides.

With the know-how now to cross back to the DCU, and bringing the WildC.A.T.s along, the JLA find that Epoch has been ruler of at least the USA for a week. The people are living in fear of the terrible war machines and sentient clouds that Epoch has brought from the future to control everyone, but after a short period undercover, the two superteams reveal themselves and bring the fight directly to Epoch, who is becoming more abstract by the moment.

Semeiks manages to make Epoch particularly Kirby-esque, with his jagged teeth and ever-present coruscating Kirby-crackle. Semeiks may have been an odd choice for the JLA’s first venture into the Image-verse, but he serves the story really well. Morrison’s script was obviously very demanding and he fills the panels with lots of little details and good reactions from the cast, while still making the story flow easily. It might have been fun to see this story in full-on Image mode, but it’s hard to think an actual Image artist would have served the script as well.

Epoch is about to become a big bang-like explosion, but the JLA defeat him by programming the Time-cube to bring him back to 65 million BC, where he becomes the Soliton Particle/Dark Nova that wiped out the Dinosaurs in the DCU.*

As Batman says “And you can’t stop it. It already happened. Tactical manouvres.”

Thus Epoch is beaten.

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I like Grifter’s little whistle there as they wait.

This solution is actually central to Morrison’s whole cosmology. All time is fixed. Everything is laid out in the timeline. It’s impossible to go back and stick something in the past, because it’s always been there. The Invisibles turned on this conception of the universe, as does The Return of Bruce Wayne. I was hoping to see examples of Grant using JLA to get across his key ideas in a fun and simple way, and this is one of them.

Although it makes for quite clever time-travel stories in Morrison’s hands, it is another argument why writers in a shared universe shouldn’t be too strictly bound by continuity. Morrison really wants to get across convictions he has about space-time, even in a fun superhero story, so he uses this model of time travel in his stories, which insists the past can’t be changed. That shouldn’t stop another writer from having fun stepping on that Triassic butterfly, though….

Other key imagery that we get here is the Dark Sun motif, which recurs in Grant’s work again and again as an eclipse, or a black hole. The Time-cube being that particular shape ties into discussions elsewhere in Grant’s work about a cube being the simplest way to illustrate 3 dimensions, so it’s where you start if you are going to add a fourth dimension. SSoV thus had dice as symbols of power and there too, King Ra-man discussed hexagons as representations of 3-dimensional cubes (“Suns”) which built on The Masters otherwise impenetrable exclamations about ‘manifolds’ in Ultramarine Corps.

Because of gun-toting 'hero' Grifter, much is also made of Batman's disapproval of guns, which becomes quite central to his current run on the character.

It’s all connected, as we shamans say…

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This one-shot was inexplicably published as part of the JLA: Classified – Ultramarine Corps collection, so it’s another reason to ‘buy into’ that, if you haven’t already. Grant’s JLA are always fun to spend time with - no matter what their sartorial choices!

As Grifter says after he returns to the Wildstorm U: “Helluva nice people, I thought!”

*Since this book was published, scientists have settled on the idea that it was a huge meteor crashing into the present day Gulf of Mexico that caused the extinction event in question. Another reason why continuity can't be watertight is that writers are always tempted to give new reasons for events like the extinction of the dinosaurs, the beginning of life on Earth or the ascent of man, and the DCU probably has dozens of reasons for each by now...

Similarly, there are several Atlantis's sinking in Doctor Who and various reasons for the beginning of the Fire of London (All involving the Doctor)!
"I’m still reading along, but have got nothing to add at this time." :)

Green Lantern and Void journey for answers into a “transdimensional space”. Void describes it as “everywhere that isn’t a place”.

This is one of those things that stoners, and, I guess, Mr. Morrison thinks sounds really deep but comes out sounding pretty lame.

The people are living in fear of the terrible war machines and sentient clouds that Epoch has brought from the future to control everyone, but after a short period undercover, the two superteams reveal themselves and bring the fight directly to Epoch, who is becoming more abstract by the moment.

Ah, I do love it. "war machines and sentient clouds"! Only in comic books and acid trips!

I'm still reading along, but have very little to add. Then again I usually have very little to add.

Found 'em! I'll be catching up soon, especially since I'll probably be skipping the specials & such.

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