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

Yay! Photobucket bats

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

I do appreciate your remarks, Travis, but I thought I'd just reply to your comments in 'defensive mode', as they typify a very common complaint against Morrison's work, and now is as good a time as any to address it.

One the one hand - I understand where you're coming from. Stoner stuff is fine by me, as one of the reasons I read comics at all is so that I don't have to do drugs. I can blow my mind without lining the pockets of some CIA middle-man. :-P

On the other...

First of all sentient clouds aren't a million miles from science fact.

Morrison is writing superhero comics. As such, character and story are revealed through action and conflict. There's usually not a lot of space to develop the concepts he brings in beyond just naming them. It's good that they are from the margins of popular science (or avant garde art, or wherever) rather than just rehashing ideas from old comicbooks (snore!). We can just chuckle at them and read on, or we can look them up as I've just done, and see that there is some real-world reference behind them. Learning while reading a comicbook. The very idea!

Second of all: With the Phantom hitting 75 next year, superheroes in their present form have been kicking around for three quarters of a century! That's tons of stories with 'normal' science and depending on a 'normal' worldview, and a 'normal' cosmology. There has to be a little room for 'a place that's not a place' style conjecturing to broaden out the ground these stories can cover.

Let's face it. Western comics take for granted that we all subscribe to a particular worldview, which has come to us in a direct line through the Enlightenment, Judeo-Christian religion and back to classical stories and beyond. That's a lot of received beliefs that are every bit as 'far out' and 'strange' as anything Grant sticks in a comic. Just because millions of 'people like us' buy into those beliefs and concepts doesn't make them any less strange when you analyse them. Christianity for one is loaded with really weird, challenging concepts that historically scared the living piss out the establishment and those who were convinced that their own worldview didn't need to be questioned. Why should comics readers in the 21st century by denied some thought-provoking reality-bending fun of our own?

Similarly, ideas like “everywhere that isn’t a place” are day-to-day concepts in Eastern thought, and would be used as a tool in Zen meditation.

I'm with you to a certain extent on calling 'pretentious'. I grew up on a mountain, amongst simple farming folk and very far from such crazy thinking, but there's also a degree of discomfort in having what we feel is our 'normal' worldview challenged, and Grant is good at hitting that nerve.

I'd also have to beg pardon for the particular reading technique I'm using going through Grant's work. Sometimes a throwaway 'pretentious' remark doesn't have much behind it. Other times it's worth noting, storing away and seeing later that another throwaway remark elsewhere illuminates it. Again, these are stories of action and conflict, so long explanations can't be part of them, but remarks and phrases scattered throughout can be pieced together into some kind of commentary on this life we're in. Often I can't tell when I'm holding a particular phrase or comment up to view for the first time whether it has any weight in the bigger scheme of things or not, so I have to take them all as I find them and see if they open up later.

eg Those manifold/hexagon remarks only start to make sense when put side-by-side. Otherwise, sitting on their own in the midst of high-energy superhero narratives, they remain 'typical Grant Morrison gibberish' - at least to those of us not versed in multi-dimensional Math. My default position is to allow that a lot of what Morrison puts in his books mean something beyond kicks for stoners. The fun is in figuring out, (or imposing!) the meaning.

I have to also add that I'm convinced by now that myself and Grant have very different methods of cognition and expression. He thinks and talks very fluently in metaphor, images and symbols, - ideal for a comics writer - but I'm looking for meanings and systematic logic amongst it all, and I think there's always going to be a gap between what he's trying to express and what I can read in there!
Actually, I said I enjoyed the sentient clouds thing. I wasn't dismissing that at all, so there was no reason to go "defensive mode" on that

But I do stand behind the “everywhere that isn’t a place” remark.

Learning while reading a comicbook. The very idea!

I learn stuff all of the time from comics, from reading a Showcase comic I finally get what the Cadmus Project was all about.
Well, I just drew a line between ‘Stoner’ and ‘Acid trip’ and from there launched into the spiel I deemed appropriate at this point. JLA is pretty much the work of a writer at the top of his game. Still, ‘pretentious’ concepts like the “everywhere that isn’t any place” did become rather more sophisticated and subtly expressed since this series, and I don’t mind if he stumbles along the way in finding a mode of discussing abstract concepts that serves his purposes.

I learn stuff all of the time from comics, from reading a Showcase comic I finally get what the Cadmus Project was all about.

You.

JLA #5 - Woman of Tomorrow



The bulk of this issue covers Tomorrow Woman’s short tenure as a member of the JLA, preceded by a short section showing the extensive ‘interview process’ that resulted in her recruitment.

Actually, the opening section is a fairly rare look at the JLA in their less intense moments. Later writers possibly indulged in these more, but Grant keeps the focus on the action when he’s at the helm. The character moments tend to happen in the white heat of conflict.

The JLA section opens at the funeral of Metamorpho, the Element Man. In a wry commentary on these things (that has perhaps since gone beyond a joke) no-one turns up except two figures that Philip will no doubt identify. And Superman, of course. The preacher muses that no-one takes these things seriously any more. I’m sure Metamorpho has returned since this. In a further wry commentary, his epitaph reads “Not dead, only changed”.

Even Superman leaves with unseemly haste when he discerns a teleport signal that he can ride to Batman’s Cave, from where he can teleport to the Watchtower. Nice scenes follow of how comfortable Bruce and Clark are with each other. Superman says hi in passing to Tim, who’s engaged in ‘building a better Batmobile’. It reminds me that Grant has never done much with Tim.

At the Watchtower, Clark interrupts a conversation between Kyle and Flash about his mullet hairstyle. Clark is obviously bigger than embarrassment, but the two youngsters feel bad about it… Their relationship has progressed to a friendly rivalry, nicely symbolised by a ring-generated X-box style 3D fight game they are playing.

Once everyone gets over the excitement of Clark’s new look (none of them declare that they are consequently leaving the JLA – heh heh!), it’s down to business.

Actually we can just about slot Millar’s ‘Lost Pages’ segment in here, which was presented in the Secret Files and Origins #1 of Sep 1997. Superman insists that they put him through the same admissions processes that they will put all likely candidates through, so he is tested by each of the team in turn, and we find out a little bit more about his new powers. Actually they are hard to define, being “Electromagnetic” rather than simply Electricity-based. The blue outfit is a ‘containment suit’ it seems. The payoff in Millar’s story occurs when they send their report off to Batman, who’s busy in Gotham. His immediate response, without looking at it, is ‘Of course he can join - he’s Superman.’ Batman obviously puts as much store by Clark’s long years of experience and good judgement as in his superpowers.

The punchline, echoing the one in the opening of the interview section of issue 5, is “Tell Damage we’re sorry to have kept him!”

Image from www.comicvine.com
As evidenced here, Damage still rolled up his jacket sleeves about half a decade after Miami Vice ruled the fashion world, and deserves all the scorn that can be heaped on him.

Back in issue #5, we then get a series of apparently unsuitable candidates. The character I got the biggest kick out of, both when I read it first and now, is of course Irish-American cold-blooded murderer Tommy Monaghan. “I kill super-people. For money.” Perplexingly, he's merely dismissed by J’onn J’onnz, rather than held for police questioning. Come to think of it the moon is probably outside most jurisdictions.

As he leaves, he says that he only made the trip to use his X-ray vision on Wonder Woman, and it was worth it! Morrison has a knack for getting a quick handle on pre-existing characters that wander across his stage.

This was the first of two ‘crossovers’ between these top-level creators and their respective ‘babies’. Damage is indeed a joke, who keeps apologising for the …damage… caused by his rather unfortunate superpower – damaging things. It was only on my third reading that I realised that it was he who caused the ceiling to later collapse, giving Tomorrow Woman a great entrance, when she steps in to telekinetically hold it up.

Which is where we’ll leave it for now…

Rob, (and everyone else) feel free to comment on earlier issues if you feel like it.
Grant Morrison should stick to real science! Y'know, like "luck glands" and "negative zones" and "ultimate nullifiers." :P

I've found the work of Grant Morrison to be a good argument for re-reading the comics in one's collection from time-to-time... even those which may not have held much appeal the first time through. Morrison's work not only "reads" better in "satisfying chunks" (as we've discussed before), but readers themselves often to experience works differently after undergoing whatever life experiences they may have gone through after their previous read. Sometimes one will find he has outgrown certain stories; other times, he may have gained a new appreciation.

Tomorrow Woman's other main appearance was a one-shot for the "Girlfrenzy!" fifth week event.
I just read issues 1-4, and thought I'd point out a few touches that I really liked:

The titles of the stories: "Them!" "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "War of the Worlds" and "Invaders from Mars." Morrison is using the titles -- all classic SF movies (and fiction) -- to subtly say: Here's a classic invasion story: none of this shades-of-gray stuff here: it's Us vs Them.

The white martians: In the lettercol for issue 2, some of Howard Porter's designs for upcoming issues were printed. Under a picture of a white martian, was just printed: "???" -- so as to keep readers in the dark that these creatures were already in the book!

I think Morrison's Wally West is one of the reasons he resonates so well with a segment of fandom. Morrison lets Wally stand in for the reader -- particularly the disaffected reader -- in a way that brings him clser to our hearts, even as he tries to push Kyle out. (And the fact that Wally eventually accepts Kyle makes it easier for us to accept him, too, I think.)

The destruction of the JLA satellite.
Particularly this passage:

"Fantastic debris spills into the darkness.Spirit jars, a giant hourglass, deadly playing cards.All the trophies of countless forgotten adventures, emptied into a well of endless ink.

Kanjar Ro's Gamma Gong slices overhead, and is gone."


That passage says two things to me: One, Morrison remembers and acknowledges JLA history. But two, he's interested in putting some of it back into play. Maybe not for him -- I don't think he ever addresses these missing artifacts again. But it's a gift to some other writer, having Kanjar Ro's Gamma Gong floating out there in space.

One more thing: Anyone know the name of the bad guy the Hyperclan executes in the first issue? Me neither. Morrison gets the idea that they're willing to execute evildoers without needing a sacrificial lamb to make his point. He's just a random bad guy -- some unnamed bruiser whose loss doesn't diminish the DCU one bit.
Jeff of Earth-J said:
Tomorrow Woman's other main appearance was a one-shot for the "Girlfrenzy!" fifth week event.

She also appeared in a JLA 80-Page Giant that was a pretty good issue, from what I recall. Plus, she was a somewhat prominent supporting character in the latter issues of Busiek & Bagley's Trinity.
I have no idea who the two people at Metamorpho's funeral are.

JUST KIDDING!

The sullen brute is Java, a neaderthal trapped in suspended animation, found by Rex Mason and revived by Simon Stagg. Java hated Rex because he too was in love with Sapphire Stagg. In fact it was Java, on Stagg's orders, that abandoned Rex in the pyramid where he became Metamorpho.

The baby, whose name I forget, is the child of Rex and Sapphire. He had the ability to transmute matter elementally with his touch. In fact he liquified Java's arms!! Now he had robotic limbs. IIRC, this happened in a Metamorpho mini around his Justice League Europe days. Java probably brought the baby out of his loyalty to the Staggs. He probably wanted to make sure Rex was really dead. You know how these neanderthals are!

What I found amusing was the three prominent statues of Barry Allen, Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen. Then it was to reinforce the fact that these classic heroes were gone and that Wally, Kyle and Connor are now THE Flash, THE Green Lantern and THE Green Arrow. Now it just reinforces what the preacher said!

T.O. Morrow and Professor Ivo; opposite sides of the same coin. One dreams of the future, the other wants to be there in the future.

The creepy/cool thing is that Superman overhears Kyle's comment in the Watchtower from the Bat-Cave!

The line-up of applicants span from the Golden Age (Plastic Man and Max Mercury, Quality's Quicksilver) to revamped Silver Agers (Supergirl and Guy Gardner) to spin-offs (Artemis and Steel) to legacies (Green Arrow III) to the then new wave (Hitman, Damage and Aztek).

Tomorrow Woman outshined Supergirl? And coming out of nowhere? Did Batman even interview her?

I'll let you explain "IF"!
Regarding the non-gray Us VS Them set-up of JLA 1-4, yeah, I thought Morrison did make it clear unusually early what the danger was. Sustaining the period of 'maybe we're wrong and they might be good guys' would be more typical of modern comics and would emphasise the 'grayness'. I liked how despite all their powers the JLA are still dependent on goodwill from the populace. It's Morrison's job to find chinks in their armour like this.

Good point about Wally. Subtle, no?

I've found the work of Grant Morrison to be a good argument for re-reading the comics in one's collection from time-to-time...

I think the idea that we have to read and talk about just the latest round of comics to be published is a nefarious capitalist plot!

I've loved our looks at Avengers The Initiative (whatever happened to everyone that was reading that?), Marvelman and of course the various big runs of the Mozzer so far to be great fun. We've all got tons of great books lying out of the way, forlorn and unread, when they could be wowing us all over again!

Even the decent, never mind great, creators put stuff in their work that's meant to be looked at in relation to the bigger whole, rather than just read and tucked away half-forgotten until next month's issue vaguely reminds us what's going on.

With JLA of course, 13 years is quite a long time, so it's interesting to come back and see how it's changed! For the most part I only read these comics once on a monthly basis and tucked them away, so its like discovering a whole new tranch of comics. The storylines were pretty 'bigtime' though, so I probably remember them better than a lot of the other stuff I read in 1997.

Of course thanks largely to this board, I now know a lot about the history of the DCU, references to which Grant underplayed in his issues, so as not to scare off the neophytes. As Philip and Rob show above, they are there and well thought through.

And there are many aspects of the ties between JLA and Morrison's wider output of which I was blissfully unaware of back in '97. Which you will be subjected to in due course. :-)

You might want to expand your JLA collection this time around Jeff. If you haven't got it already, I'd put DC One Million, illustrated by good old Val Seimeks, at the top of the list. A real landmark crossover, in many ways. I'm intending to read as many of the tie-ins as I can get my hands on when we come to it. (Over 2/3 of them as it stands right now.)

Tomorrow Woman's other main appearance was a one-shot for the "Girlfrenzy!" fifth week event.

Watch this space...

More good stuff, Philip. Specially the schematisation of the applicants. Worth your weight in Promethium!

More on Tomorrow Woman and "IF" shortly.
Briefly…

JLA #5 then jumps forward past Tomorrow Woman’s selection to Superman praising Tomorrow Woman for her hard working heroism. We already know that she is a plant put there by the two mad professors. She’s a synthetic lifeform, programmed to create a devastating brain-scrambling electromagnetic pulse which will kill the JLA when activated.

We get the commentary from the Profs that she’s been with the the JLA for a week, but that still doesn’t quite allow time for Epoch spending a week terrorising the US. The JLA have been kept busy fighting the “IF”, a devastating phenomenon that pops up and creates havoc and destruction on its journey eastward across the country.

Later in the issue, Batman learns that it ‘escaped’ from US military labs after they’d confiscated it from Epoch’s arsenal. That’s the information that I’m using to place these events after the JLA/WildC.A.T.s crossover. For this to work, we need to allow a week or ten days between the interviews and Tomorrow Woman actually joining. That way, she gets to fight alongside them for a week and also allows time for the events depicted in the Girlfrenzy one-shot. Including Epoch in that week would be a bridge too far. What the hell, these comics only came out once every four weeks, so its not a big stretch to allow that the action in one is spread over the best part of a month!

We definitely don’t see how Tomorrow Woman's manmade mind and body got around Superman’s electromagnetic senses, not to mention Batman’s characteristic suspicious and hyper-intelligent consideration, or the attention of two telepaths of varying skill on the team. We have to allow that she was so well made by the Doctorally-Endowed Duo that she passes their scrutiny. That’s the story we’re given.

As chance would have it, Batman works out that yes, the only thing that would neutralise IF would be a huge EM pulse. The crux of it all is that she willingly sacrifices herself to destroy the “IF” rather than continue to live and be a danger to her new colleagues.

Given that a lot of the issue is taken up with the interviews etc, Tomorrow Woman’s brief arc is even less than an issue, so we are left with the bare bones of a modern fable about a mere machine that makes the incredible journey from automaton to a thinking, morally-focussed, self-directed ‘person’, capable of sacrificing herself for the good of those she’d grown to love and admire.

Simple, but profound, in a comicbooky way. And affecting, too, especially when we see that she had no other life or experiences beyond fighting alongside the JLA. All she did was periodically return to a dingy old shed where the Professors switched her to ‘standby’ mode.

"IF", we learn, stands for “Implicate Field”. Googling the term, it seems to have been coined by Morrison for this issue. However, I’m pretty sure it derives from a combination of two largely ‘pseudo-scientific’ concepts; Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of Morphic Fields, and David Bohm’s theory of Implicate (and Explicate) Order. Both theories, in different ways, hypothesise a deeper unseen order to the universe than scientists currently allow: an order that directs materials and processes towards ever more complex systems. This is problematic for us, as the "Implicate Field" in this story seems to be a force for destruction and chaos, rather than creating order and sustaining complex systems, such as life, thought and perception.

Still, it’s clear from a quick squiz of the wiki pages that Morrison is familiar with them both. For one thing, both theories use holograms to illustrate how single units can embody the whole – a concept which Grant seems to work into the structure of much of his storytelling. Stuff for me to study further while waiting for the bus, methinks!

Actually, it's not a coincidence that Tomorrow Woman's story involves something called the Implicate Field, if it does represent those two theories. The whole story illustrates order, meaning and consciousness arising out of seemingly inanimate materials, just as those theories may possibly do. Morphic Fields and Implicate Order may be the answer to the fundamental question asked at the climax of Morrison’s first Doom Patrol story:

“Why is there something instead of nothing?”

Tomorrow Woman's tragic tale illustrates personhood, love, morality and self-sacrifice all coalescing together from the diverse bits and pieces lying around Prof Ivo's dingy old shed. An illustration of Implicate Order at work ...


Philip Portelli said:
Tomorrow Woman outshined Supergirl? And coming out of nowhere? Did Batman even interview her?

Well, to be fair, Supergirl was practically out of nowhere at that point, too. Her Peter David-written series had just begun in a Sept. 96-dated issue; JLA 5 is dated May 97, so she'd been around for just 8 issues at that point.

But I'd agree that the story's biggest leap of logic is how quickly the JLA allowed a complete unknown into its ranks. Again, it's a very Silver Age style plot device. Accepting it, regardless of logic or sense, is the price of admission.
And who knows what happened in panels we didn't see, or between the panels, rather?

This issue in particular has a lot that we don't see happening; the battle with Epoch, Aztek and Green Arrow's apparently (from later issues) successful interviews, Superman's insistance on being tested, Batman's very involved conflict with the Glass People of Paris Island, Tomorrow Woman's whole adventure in the Girlfrenzy issue.

Instead, just about everything that isn't TW's journey from machine to 'person' is excised. Morrison isn't taking us by the hand from frame to frame, scene to scene, here. We don't see any of the JLA's assessment/decision-making for Tomorrow Woman's inclusion, so it could be plausible, for all we know.
You might want to expand your JLA collection this time around Jeff. If you haven't got it already, I'd put DC One Million, illustrated by good old Val Seimeks, at the top of the list.

I have several the #1,000,000 issues, but not that particular one.

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