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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Apparently Epoch is coming back in this upcoming story: Revisiting DC One Million.
I think the Earthquake was a year or two later (around 1999?) but yeah, the JLA on hand to help would have practically negated that entire storyline. They probably touched on it during it, but no doubt it was a throwaway remark about leaving all that suffering for Batman to sort out....!

Does anyone know where the lyrics at the start come from - "Never thought I'd see an angel but seeing is believing..."?

Grant couldn't make his love of the Silver Age and its kooky ways any clearer at the end of this story. "To the good old days!" indeed.

Actually, I presumed when I read this in '97 that Tomorrow Woman was a rehash of a 60s heroine. Even though the 'sweet spot' this series was published in would have allowed that, it wasn't so.

I think that Morrison loves creating these one-shot or side characters for his story-telling needs, then has no use for them anymore. Then because they are attached to a hit series, they are revived by other writers without his consent. The results are usually disappointing.

Well, sometimes a character and a particular story are intertwined. Some of the Seven Soldiers would be problematic to continue, as we got their whole self-actualisation arc in that story, but others were only starting. Which characters are you thinking of anyway? I haven't come across too many that were revived. But I didn't read recent Prometheus appearances (Thank God!) or Giffen's recent Doom Patrol.

Comics are rife with characters that go downhill once they pass out of the hands of their creators. I'm sure it's a very sore spot with them. It takes a lot of skill and thought to make them work again, like Moore did with Kirby's The Demon, for instance (and Swamp Thing himself, come to that).

Oops, just seen your post Rob. We'll soon get another example of Morrison's concepts being continued by another writer. Great link there. A rare DC solicitation that's getting me excited! Check out the Toy Wonder on the cover.

From the article: But DC One Million showcases one of Grant’s greatest skills as a writer, which is to tell you only the bits of the story that you absolutely need to know, and then to let the reader fill in the rest with their imaginations. Because if the writer and artist show you everything, it has a tendency to get boring. If the reader is able to fill in the gaps on their own, the story can be potentially endless.

At least he gets it...
Figserello said:
I think the Earthquake was a year or two later (around 1999?) but yeah, the JLA on hand to help would have practically negated that entire storyline. They probably touched on it during it, but no doubt it was a throwaway remark about leaving all that suffering for Batman to sort out....!

They actually addressed it in JLA #32 -- an issue by Mark Waid:

And his girlfriend, it looks like...

I don't even know what a 'maven' is, but Waid is definitely a 'continuity maven'. No bad thing.

JLA #6 “Fire in the Sky”

Image from

This two-parter reminds me of the apocryphal story concerning the only instructions Stan Lee gave Jack Kirby for the renowned Galactus Trilogy in Fantastic Four #48-50. “Have them meet God” he’s supposed to have said.

Similarly, our heroes here face down no less than the Heavenly Hosts themselves, who of course present a challenge worthy of our team. Zauriel is a renegade angel with his own reasons for leaving Heaven and entering our plane. However, certain forces amongst the heavenly host cannot let him continue to exist, as he knows certain things they’d rather keep a lid on.

Zauriel quickly falls under the protection of the JLA and San Francisco is soon besieged by warlike winged folk and their higher technology. Increasing the pressure on the team, the Flash is trapped in a teleporter malfunction between the Watchtower and the site of the confrontation, and Superman is kept busy trying to stop the Moon crashing into the Earth.

Although it is a high energy story with a wonderfully realised force of opponents that push the JLA to their limits, there is room for a lot of playful metaphysical conjecture too. Part of the backdrop to the story concerns the manipulations of Neron, a powerful Lord of Hell at that time. We are told that we can see him if we can understand that Hell is all around us, “in the angles”.

Grant is drawing on certain Western visionary traditions in explaining our relationship to Angels and Demons. Neron’s dread kingdom existing in a vase of flowers in a hospital is perhaps a literalisation of William Blake’s claim that it’s possible…

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

From Augeries of Innocence

While looking up Bohm’s Implicate Order theory for the Tomorrow Woman issue, I noticed that it’s been linked to the ideas of an 18th Century visionary called Emanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborg’s ideas were definitely an influence on how Angels and the Heavens are portrayed here. Swedenborg believed that we exist in the same space as angels and higher orders of life, but we are much too limited in our perceptions to see things in their totality.

Some entertaining info on Swedenborg’s life and thought here.

From that link:

Swedenborg also believed that, despite its ghostlike and ephemeral qualities, heaven is actually a more fundamental level of reality than our own physical world. It is, he said, the archetypal source from which all earthly forms originate, and to which all forms return, a concept not too dissimilar from Bohm's idea of the implicate and explicate orders. In addition he too believed that the afterlife realm and physical reality are different in degree but not in kind, and that the material world is just a frozen version of the thought-built reality of heaven.

The matter that comprises both heaven and earth "flows in by stages" from the Divine, said Swedenborg, and "at each new stage it becomes more general and therefore coarser and hazier, and it becomes slower, and therefore more viscous and colder."’

Zauriel warns the JLA that everything heavenly is so much purer than Earthly materials that the songs would fracture our eardrums and drive us mad, and the oxygen would boil our blood. Really tellingly regarding the differences in temperature that Swedenborg indicated above, Zauriel warns them that all flesh burns at the touch of heavenly forms.

Swedenborg also believed that on our death, our lives could be read in our heavenly forms as a book, and Morrison introduces the idea that as far as the Angels are concerned the world as we know it is a book. This aligns with it being an inferior limited version of their reality, as novels in our world are much less complex and comprehensive than the actual world. (Books are after all, a mere 2 dimensional coded representation of a truer reality.) The comparison with a book makes us wonder what kind of reality could be so much broader and more comprehensive than our reality as to make our existence seem to the higher beings as a novel is to us.

Swedenborg also asserted that the angelic beings who exist on the higher planes are nourished by information, as we are by food. Remember Kyle had to provide the denizens of Void's 'place that isn't a place' with concepts in exchange for the technology the JLA needed to get back to their Earth. Perhaps if Void had read her Swedenborg, she'd be better able to articulate the metaphysical origins of her powers, without getting scoffed at!

So Morrison does seem to have a particular cosmology behind what he’s doing. One I am of course grossly oversimplifying. I’m sure Morrison would rather we came away wondering about the different levels of reality and perception that might exist rather than simply ticking off certain documented schools of esoteric thought.

In any case, there's a lot of fun metaphysics crammed into this high-concept superhero tale!
So if the earthly plane is a book, and we're reading about the JLA in a comic, are Asmodel and Zauriel ... us? Is this a Morrisonian retelling of that old JLA story where Cary Bates and Elliot S. Maggin showed up from Earth Prime as a hero and a villain?

One thing I'd forgotten until my rereading of this story is how human Morrison makes Zauriel. It's really counter to type for this sort of character, who is often portrayed as aloof and beyond the concerns of Mortals, with a characteristic stodgy speech pattern. Instead, Morrison has Zauriel being sarcastic, taunting a fellow angel by mimicking him ("Blah, blah. blah...") and when Wonder Woman tells him to watch her back, he quips, "I'd pay money to watch your back.") He's not a typical comics cipher, he's someone who chose mortality and intends to act like it. As an Angel Come to Earth, Zauriel is a far cry from the brooding Bruno Ganz... even if the end of the story hints that his motives are similar to those in Wings of Desire after all.
Well, Morrison has twice put himself in his stories!
Yep. It's not like the trick is new to him. ;)
As for Zauriel, who as we all should know, was going to be called Hawkman (IV?? V???) except that DC altered the character so badly that the name was deemed unprofitable, I would like to know if it was influenced by John Travolta's Michael or Nicolas Cage's angel movie whose title escapes me!

It's Superman who, after preventing the moon from crashing into the Earth, then physically grapples with an archangel, even as the Man of Energy, that truly becomes mythic. In fact all of them could be described as god-like by their actions against the angels.

We see Neron negoiating with Abnegazar and Ghast, with their brother, Rath, regenerating from being destroyed in Swamp Thing #50. They were the Three Demons from the original Justice League #10-11.
Cage's angel movie was called City of Angels. It was a remake of Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire, which I mentioned above. Zauriel could be based on Wings, but not City of Angels, since he appeared in 1997, a year before the film was released. But I suspect Morrison would go to the source, regardless.
Kevin Smith's Dogma implied that certain angels were jealous of God's favor of humanity and that you couldn't bear to hear or see God's true essence, hence Alan Rickman's wonderful portrayal as the "Voice" of God. Anyone who claimed that God spoke to them were speaking to him or they were drunk!
Michael could be an influence though. It came out very shortly before Grant would have written this.

Is this a Morrisonian retelling of that old JLA story where Cary Bates and Elliot S. Maggin showed up from Earth Prime as a hero and a villain?

I keep finding out that things Morrison gets so much kudos for doing were actually there in the DCU long before he came along! That looks very like a basis for Seven Soldiers of Victory. Grant teased in interviews that the Seven Unknown Men were 'characters' who'd all appeared in DC comics before, but when you read to the end, it's pretty clear that they are writers, so Maggin and Bates must have been two of them. My guess is that Meltzer is the 8th of the Seven Unknown Men, based on his need to 'update' the stories with the rape and the shame and the humiliation!

So if the earthly plane is a book, and we're reading about the JLA in a comic, are Asmodel and Zauriel ... us?

Perhaps that's a little too literal. I think it's Morrison using the external fact of 3D comicbook guys reading about these 2D heroes as a metaphor to explore the idea that perhaps our world is a simplified aspect of a higher life-form universe. I can't imagine how a 5D being would interact with our world, and vice versa, but I know how a 3D person (me) interacts with the 2D world here (The DCU), so the metaphor gives me some inkling. Of course if there's a cosmology of us higher beings, Grant is a very high deity and we are just lowly animating spririts in the DCU. They don't really live until we bring them to life with our imagination. Heavy, Man!

Yep. It's not like the trick is new to him. ;)

Well, you may wink, because Morrison does come back to this kind of thing again and again. Sometimes, as here, it is very veiled. I only noticed the bits about The Book on the second readthrough. Morrison doesn't have a consistent cosmology of how we relate to the DCU. Is it 'Grant Morrison' or the yellow aliens that interacted with Animal Man? Then what about the Seven Unknown Men and the legion of invisible readers that Zatanna gets in touch with in SSoV? Or the angelic Monitors in Final Crisis? Or even the Angels here?

What the metaphor stands for is the thing, not the current metaphor itself.

Back to Swedenborg on the Angels language:

he describes these telepathic bursts of knowledge as a picture language so dense with information that each image contains a thousand ideas. A communicated series of these portrayals can also be quite lengthy and "last up to several hours, in such a sequential arrangement that one can only marvel."

Sounds a bit like Grant's many volumes of 'picture-language' exegesis to me...

I also noticed that Zauriel had a great handle on the vernacular. Given that their own language is so complex, getting the local dialect right, complete with sarcasm and well-pitched jokes, would be as simple to them as reciting the first 10 cardinal numbers would be to us, or naming all the geometric shapes that a 10 year old knows.

As for Zauriel, who as we all should know, was going to be called Hawkman (IV?? V???) except that DC altered the character so badly that the name was deemed unprofitable

Creating a whole new Hawkman with a whole new origin would have been madness at that point! Or maybe not. Maybe it would just be a case of asking 'who's filling the hawkman-shaped gap in the JLA these days?' Simpler than trying to make them all somehow the one true Hawkman.

Morrison was in on the joke, as Aquaman mistakes Zauriel for 'Katar' when he sees him first.

We see Neron negotiating with Abnegazar and Ghast, with their brother, Rath, regenerating from being destroyed in Swamp Thing #50. They were the Three Demons from the original Justice League #10-11.

So that's who they were! I love these factoids. Excessive footnotes would have taken me out of the story back in 1997, so I'm glad they underplayed all this. You don't need to know it to enjoy the story, but it adds another layer if you do... Perhaps this is why footnotes went out of fashion?
My first exposure to Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast was the JLA/JSA/Legion crossover Gerry Conway wrote around '77 or '78. It was pretty much my personal "Golden Age" of comics, and so the demons three have a special place in my heart. I was thrilled to see them again here!

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