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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I think it's

funny you make this statement...

I do think it was Morrison-lite, as there wasn’t the same conviction to Waid’s use of the clever ideas that we get in a Morrison story.  No matter how outlandish the idea or how comicbooky it is presented, Morrison’s ideas are built on beliefs of his, or deeper philosophical positions that he wants to explore.  Think about the Gnostic underpinnings that I pointed out to the opening and closing sequences of New World Order.  Those short sequences work as the top and tail of an entertaining superhero blockbuster, but also reveal deeper foundations than mere entertainment.

... and then go on to make this statement.

 

This Adam Strange/ JLA adventure of Waid’s however, is too obviously more concerned with fixing continuity and fanservice than entertainment.  It’s entertaining enough, but it’s clear from reading it that entertainment isn’t its primary raison d’etre

So basically, it's ok for Morrison to have other reasons for writing a story than pure entertainment but it's not ok for Waid to have another reason?

 

In Morrison’s issues the characters are lifted from their own comics as is, or in the case of concepts that weren’t used after the changes resulting from COIE, Morrison reconfigured them to suit the story he set out to tell.

This isn't true at all.  Morrison did retcons all over the place.  The next storyline actually is a pretty egregious retcon of Starro who had a pretty prominent storyline in JLI during the Giffen/DeMattis years, well after Crisis.

I’m going to thump my soapbox here, and declare that this is the point where DC’s Retro-Silver Age Reconstruction project went awry.  Morrison was showing that in order for it to work the comics had to replicate the wealth of ideas and the continuous surprising of the reader, and the establishment of the heroes as icons who tended to be more noble and honourable than most of us.  Waid here is succumbing to the notion that you replicate the Silver Age, by returning the characters to the status quo they had then, and repeat the adventures they had then.

 

Wow... shows how different points of view can be.  In my mind, Morrison was reestablishing the status quo of the Gerry Conway satellite league.  Granted, Morrison tends to have better dialogue but he also has storytelling ticks that cause the stories not to flow as well.

 

Waid is only spending capital built up by Fox, Infantino and even Moore. He isn't banking any for the future, if you see what I mean.  All of Morrison's stories up to now broadened the type of stories and the concepts of the DCU. This one only retraces past glories.

I didn't really care for the Adam Strange story, don't really remember why, (guess I'll have to get my copies picked up from storage and find out), but I take issue with this statement.  Morrison was mostly reintroducing old concepts with the exceptions of the angels, (which was a way of introducing a Hawkman substitute), Prometheus, (who had echoes of the Wrath aimed at the JLA instead of Gordon), and some of the time lost adventures during Rock of Ages, (which he didn't actually give a good reason for in-story).  Basically, I see Morrison's JLA output as an exercise in rebuilding using a lot of concepts that had lain fallow or as you call it, "capital built up by Fox, Infantino, and Moore".  In the same sense, Waid's Adam Strange story was a way of rebuilding Adam Strange after an ill conceived retcon.

 

I’d read Moore’s story before this, but I knew as I was reading that, that I was getting a very fresh spin on an old concept.  Further, whether I knew it consciously then or not, that tale was about pushing forward into the future; knowing that you can’t go back to innocence, and recognising the rewards of maturity.  Adam's return to pre-lapserian innocence is an insult to any adult's intelligence

Maybe I'm forgetting something important, but I didn't really see this as voiding Moore's work, more of repairing the damage done by that awful prestige mini-series.  I find it hard to embrace the idea that a character should be stuck with actions that they did previously that were out of character to begin with.  If it was done as a natural progression, I'd probably agree with you, but I don't have a problem with voiding something that was out of the blue and out of character.  Just to open up another kettle of fish, this is the same reason I think Green Lantern Rebirth was a good idea.  If his initial descent to evil had been set up well and been an in character progression I probably wouldn't have been ok with it but given that it was done out of the blue, out of character, by a last minute editorial mandate, I have no problem with them absolving him from guilt.

 

You have to respect that the character went through what they did, and that the readers experienced it with them. People grow and change depending on what they live through. No-one just reverts to an earlier happier phase of their existence.

I agree with this to a point.  Writers should work with what has come before, if what has come before makes sense.  Stories should not be thrown out because you don't like them but if they're not true to the character, that's a different story.  Taken to an extreme, I would think this attitude would lend itself to more bending and twisting and bad stories than anything else.  Plus, though retcon is often used as a dirty word, (or abbreviation as the case may be ;)), I think the notion that reality periodically goes through alterations is kind of interesting.  I like my retcons explained in-story though; no retcons for the lazy. :)

 

Again, stories are about what happens next, not about what happened decades ago

I disagree completely here.  Some stories are about what happens next but that's not the only legitimate type of story.  I personally loved JLA: Year One, Batman: Year One, the GL/Flash - Brave and the Bold, and many of the LOTDK stories.  In fact, pound for pound, I think the quality was probably higher on LOTDK than most of the concurrent bat titles.  Stories set in the past can be period pieces, they can examine character, spotlight something small that might have been missed, or give a new perspective on an important event/story.  That's not even taking into account circular stories that Moore was fond of playing with.

 

As much as I hate the Bruning story, Adam as an unwanted emigrant single parent is as good a starting point for stories as any.  It does move Adam's story forward logically, and put in those terms would have had a lot of resonance in the last few decades.  The great (almost unrealistic) love he had for Alanna does logically have the loss of it built in as a possiblity, so its a natural development.  Considering that they will never recapture the feel of the old Fox stories (minor masterpieces), why just bring back the surface details?

But the surface details would be all they would have been bringing forward in that case, as that oblivious coward wasn't Adam and I'm assuming they wouldn't want to tell stories about the new coward Adam.

Alanna's return, which restores the 60s status quo, prefigures the ghastly 21st Century reversal of all the good growth and change that characterised the late 90s DCU.  What Waid did with her, Johns would do with Hal and Barry in the 00s

I almost choked, "good growth and change in the 90s DCU". 

Things are very much in the eye of the beholder.  I will agree that SOME good growth and change did occur but I would say that there was more bad change that occurred than good change.

Man, you have a hate on for Green Lantern.  Let me ask you a question, do you honestly believe the GL mythos is stronger without the Corps?  As much as Geoff Johns has made Hal the preeminent GL, since Johns has come on board, the Corps is not at the whim of Earth men as much as it was as recreated under Kyle.  Also, I wonder if your disappointment at Kyle being shuffled aside and Hal coming back without being defined by guilt is interfering with your looking at the stories objectively.  I don't like everything Geoff Johns does, in fact I thought issues 4-9 and pretty much everything after the Agent Orange arc in the new GL series were pretty weak, but GL: Rebirth and most issues through the Sinestro Corps War were good solid stories.  Not to mention, enjoy the direction or not, having the emotional entities opens up a lot of story potential.  (Personally, I think they went overboard with the rainbow corps but the entities themselves are a cool concept.)  Anyway, mini-rant off.

 

Building stories on other writer's capital, comforting lies for fanboys, denial of personal growth change and evolution

Ok, just to get in that last swipe at the dead horse.  Personal growth, change, and evolution can only occur if the person (or character) is involved.  If I put on a suit and call myself Bill Clinton, it doesn't make it so and should not be included as part of Bill Clinton's personal history, (except maybe as, hey, some nutjob was impersonating me ;)).  Sudden, out of character actions are not evolution.  This can get complicated in comics when other things that do have an evolution to them get built on foundations that don't.  I think it's unfair to knock the motivations of writers that are doing fancy dances to try and reconcile both issues on this basis.  If you don't like the story, that's one thing, but getting upset about a retcon that's trying to keep the baby and throw out the bathwater on principle is something else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just to make things confusing I decided to "change my name" mid discussion.  I'd been trying to keep things consistent with my email and elsewhere, but Sdhun just "sounds" awkward in this kind of forum.  Formerly Sdhun signing off... continue discussion. :)

Your new handle is more in keeping with the gravitas and seriousness we like to project here in Cap's Comics Cave.  Photobucket

 

Thanks for the well thought out commentary.  Like all public discourse, I guess I have a position that gets stated in black and white and then on examination there are lots of grey areas.  I'll try to add some shading to my views.  Obviously I'm not going to change anyone's mind if its made up, but hopefully I can attempt to make my own position on comics and continuity clear, so that people understand it, if not agree with it.

 

So basically, it's ok for Morrison to have other reasons for writing a story than pure entertainment but it's not ok for Waid to have another reason?

 

"Entertainment + .... " is what I expect from all my comics.

 

Morrison's JLA comics up to this point have been Entertainment ...

 

+ commentary on Utopias

+ pop culture commentary (specifically Superman and Batman as icons of popular culture, which I consider to be outside fanboy culture.)

+ Miltonic/Old testament/ Gnostic theology

+ philosophical discussion on where AI becomes a moral self-driven being, (and those oddball theories of the universe that Morrison avers to during the Tomorrow Woman story).

+ a very particular concept of the nature of time in a time travel story.

+ the 1,001 ideas that Rock of Ages blasted at us

 

All those things are outside the closed-in world of comics continuity, and gave a freshness to the contents.

 

'Mysteries in Space' gave us Entertainment + Comics Continuity, and very little else.

 

Yes, my problem is with continuity as sole subject matter of a story.  It doesn't tell me anything about the world out here, or help me look at it with new eyes.  It freezes out possible new readers by making them feel like they've missed half the point, and contributes to the ghetto-isation of our hobby.  The "Yay! Alanna is back!" ending of Mysteries in Space depends on the reader having read comics from the 60's and 70's.

 

By definition, overusing continuity in comics makes the comics dated, and off-putting to casual modern readers.  No-one tried to make it work, but "Unwanted refugee single parent" is much more relevant to our times than "Blond white guy that steps in to solve foreigners' problems, 'cause foreigners are stupid."  I'm sure that isn't the white supremacist message that Waid wants to put out there, but those kind of in-built attitudes are a function of reverting to story set-ups that worked in the 50s and 60s.

 

This isn't true at all.  Morrison did retcons all over the place.  The next storyline actually is a pretty egregious retcon of Starro who had a pretty prominent storyline in JLI during the Giffen/DeMattis years, well after Crisis.

 

I wondered about that.  The JLA's 'founding myth' would have been too important to ignore for a whole decade. 

 

The story is the thing.  I can’t stress that enough.  Most of the stuff Morrison uses hadn’t been seen since before COIE, so he’s free to remodel them according to the story at hand.  His ‘sweet spot’.  In the case of stuff like Starro, I can easily shrug my shoulders.  Giffen’s stories aren’t part of the story Morrison is telling.  Continuity lovers say it should be, but the fact is that Marvel and DC stories constantly ignore certain past stories and elevate others depending on the story they are telling. 

 

It’s the only way these decades-long, multi-author ‘miser’s coat’ fictional universes can work.  Some writers try to pretend it isn’t so, and do all sorts of in-story gymnastics to make everything join up, and some writers concentrate on the story at hand.  In the case of JLA, continuity-wise, they match up excellently with the stories that were being published around then, and really well of course with Millar and Morrison’s Aztec and Flash and with DC One Million.  As you go out from those issues that JLA has to synch with, it becomes less important to me how they match up.  I’m sure Philip has pointed out loads of ways this JLA status quo doesn’t match up to the Justice League comics post-COIE, but Morrison would have been simply crazy to start aligning his stories with half-forgotten, possibly not-that-great-in-the-first-place, stories from years previously.  He left that up to the Secret Files and Blah Blah that were aimed at the fanboys.

 

The retcons you mention aren’t the same as what Waid did in Mysteries in Space, by the way.  Morrison merely changed the status quo while at the ‘drawing board’ and then presented them as a fait accompli in the story.  The re-instatement of the World’s Finest team as best buddies is probably the biggest of these.  I’m so glad we didn’t get issues and issues of soul-searching and heart-to-heart conversation as ‘Clark’ and ‘Bruce’ patched up their Bromance!  JLA is so enjoyable largely because of that relationship at its centre, but their relationship would have been weakened by a lot of discourse on their differences, even if they’d patched them up.  The retcons that Morrison does are all in service to the story. 

 

In ‘Mysteries in Space’ the story is in service to the retcon.  That’s a big difference.  (Our terminology is a bit off here of course.  Morrison retcons a lot of stuff ‘at the drawing board’ but what Waid does with Adam and Alanna is a kind of in-story ‘back-to-basics’ relaunch.)

 

If there was a good story about Adam happily married to a not-dead Alanna, then Waid’s manoeuvrings would be partially justified.  Part of my beef is that Waid then didn’t have such a story to tell about Adam.  Even if someone did have a good Adam-Alanna story to tell, I wouldn’t be interested in two whole issues showing why she is back.  A frame or two would be enough, if that.  Ironically, Waid’s story does cement Alanna’s death in Man of Two Worlds into the ‘text’ of DCU continuity, but notice that both Eve and Alanna’s mother are just handwaved away.  If ‘Man of Two Worlds’ has to be addressed in-story, then what about Eve and Banteirr? I say Alanna’s death could and should have been just as easily handwaved away.

 

I appreciate this chance to develop my thoughts more clearly and I'll address the rest of your post in a bit.  Obviously, we approach superhero comics very differently, but I hope we can still be friends...

 Photobucket

Wow... shows how different points of view can be.  In my mind, Morrison was reestablishing the status quo of the Gerry Conway satellite league.  Granted, Morrison tends to have better dialogue but he also has storytelling ticks that cause the stories not to flow as well.

 

I like hearing stuff like this, because I have big gaps in my DC knowledge.  The more I learn about comics history the more I’m learning that everything is just a reformulation of what was done before.  Even the great Bronze Age stuff that I loved as a kid. 

 

But to address your point:  Conway’s JLA era rather than the Silver Age was indeed Morrison’s true touchstone in doing the JLA.  It’s the era when he really got into DC comics as a kid.  Again, what he uses from the past is in service to the story.  DC’s Big Guns watching over us from space is his starting point for great stories, and for what he wants to do with the Justice League conceptually as avatars of our better selves.  At no point does Morrison expect us to cheer just because he’s ‘put the band back together’. 

 

We cheer because of the music they make, ... to continue the dodgy metaphor.

 

The whole point of Waid’s story, and why he got that cheer from Rob and many another, was just because he’d put the band back together.  The actual music of what this re-instated Adam Strange would do, wouldn’t start for another half-decade, and even then they’d changed the line-up considerably by that time!

 

guess I'll have to get my copies picked up from storage and find out

 

It’s more fun that way...

 

Basically, I see Morrison's JLA output as an exercise in rebuilding using a lot of concepts that had lain fallow or as you call it, "capital built up by Fox, Infantino, and Moore". 

Morrison uses the DC properties here as starting points not end-points.  He does use them in such a way that new readers don’t feel left out.  I picked the ‘capital’ phrase very carefully.   Morrison tries to put as much into the bank as he takes out.  There are lots of new concepts and worthwhile updating of old ones so that they work a little better in a modern context.  The evil geniuses that robbed banks and got foiled by the Justice League in the 60's make better sense in teh 90s as barely socialised geeks who are constantly in competetion with each other over who can best 'hack' the world's greatest superhero team. 

 

With the central heroes, as Moore did with Adam Strange, he asks how all that accumulated backstory makes them different now, and they are a richer read for it.  Batman and Superman are uber-confident elder statesmen of this game.   Kyle, Conner and Wally are dealing with issues of stepping into daddy’s shoes.  That’s building and going forward from what was done before.

 

Waid is taking the shortcut of saying – “look this is just like it was before!  Isn’t it great?”  What has he added to the Adam Strange mythos?  How has he updated it for the 21st Century?

 

In the same sense, Waid's Adam Strange story was a way of rebuilding Adam Strange after an ill conceived retcon.

I know that the ruins Bruning left Adam in is a sore point with longtime readers.  (It is with me too!)  But a simple reset to an earlier happier time, isn’t the right way to fix it, unless you are going to just reboot it altogether.  It feels like a cheat to me.

 

“Again, stories are about what happens next, not about what happened decades ago”

I disagree completely here.  Some stories are about what happens next but that's not the only legitimate type of story.  I personally loved JLA: Year One, Batman: Year One, the GL/Flash - Brave and the Bold

 

Sorry I wasn’t clear here.  I love all those stories too.  I think Brave and the Bold might be Waid's best story I’ve read, not that I’ve read much of his ongoing work.  What I meant to say is that stories purportedly set in the present should be about going forward, not endlessly looping back.   Too many resets and the stakes keep getting lowered in a fictional universe, and the charcters and readers are cheated of growth and evolution.  (I know this contradicts what I’ve been saying about ignoring continuity when the story demands it, but I manage to keep this contradiction in my head fine! )

 

But the surface details would be all they would have been bringing forward in that case, as that oblivious coward wasn't Adam and I'm assuming they wouldn't want to tell stories about the new coward Adam.

 

We all have bad days!

 

I almost choked, "good growth and change in the 90s DCU". 

Things are very much in the eye of the beholder.  I will agree that SOME good growth and change did occur but I would say that there was more bad change that occurred than good change.

 

I’m happy to leave it at that for now.  JLA was my big buy-in to 90s DCU.  If a lot of concurrent DCU comics were crap, as I suspect they were, then so be it!  Morrison made lemonade with the lemons if so.

Man, you have a hate on for Green Lantern.

Rumbled!

 

Let me ask you a question, do you honestly believe the GL mythos is stronger without the Corps?

 

I see where you are going with this question.  The factor that is often left out of these discussions is the factor of time.  When Kyle came along, GL had been on the road for 30 years.  Kyle as only GL allowed it to stay on the road for another decade and a half.  That’s just what’s involved in telling sustained narratives without repeating yourself.  Then Kyle as single GL has to give way to something else.  I’m happy with the reinstatement of the Corps being the way forward.  It’s as good a generator of stories as any, and obviously presents us with core GL elements.

 

I’m very unhappy with the convolutions Johns put the property through to try to make it look so like the pre-COIE Corps.  That’s denying how change and growth really works. 

 

And surely Johns could have found a way to bring back the Corps, without making Hal such a charmless thug?

 

Also, I wonder if your disappointment at Kyle being shuffled aside and Hal coming back without being defined by guilt is interfering with your looking at the stories objectively.

 

I don’t have that big an attachment to Kyle. I loved how he was handled in JLA, but I’ve never bought a new comic with him in it, only back-issues that tied into the big crossovers, and those years after the fact, when they were cheap!  I really am more interested in writers, and to a lesser extent artists, than characters for their own sake.  The story is the thing to me, and a good writer is a better guarantee of that than what character they are using.

 

I was very much prepared to give the new Hal a fair go when he came back.  I wanted fresh strong new stories.  I’d heard good things about Johns’ Stars and Stripe and JSA.  I’d read and enjoyed quite a few Hawkman comics.   I’d even bought into the hype preceding Infinite Crisis that a better DCU would emerge from it.

 

Once I started reading,  I found much that didn’t sit right with me.  I have stated elsewhere on the board, including on this thread what I found problematic about Johns’ writing.  I think I approached them ‘as comics that I wanted to be entertained by’ more than anything else, rather than starting to read them with the expectation that I would find them terrible.  I read all of them, in order, up to the end of Blackest Night and many of the Corps comics, so I’m not just talking from a few impressions.  I’ve earned the right to my opinions.

 

I think I’ve given my reasons as best I can.  I tried to lay out what I see going wrong rather than merely saying “This Sucks!”  I think if you analyse what Johns is actually saying with his various creative choices, his GL is quite dodgy.  There’s no humility, no humour, it’s pompous and takes itself relentlessly seriously.    There’s a huge tension between what we’re told about Hal Jordan and what we see him do.   Obvoiusly, the politics of the comic are completely anathemic to me too!

 

It staggers me that my views aren’t shared by more of my comics-reading peers, but I’ll just have to live with that!  Johns GL is DCs most successful book these days.

 

But I’m happy enough that Hal Jordan haunts this thread.  During the JLA’s heyday, Morrison deliberately ignored him for the most part, but Hal lurked around in the background of the DCU, either dead to the heroes, supposedly dead, or as the undead Spectre.  What Hal became once he got the blood flowing in his veins again looks like everything Morrison and friends were trying to avoid with their JLA.

 

Speaking of Hal's connection to the JLA, I’ve recently got my hands on my copies of Johns’ “Day of Judgement” so hopefully we’ll get to discuss those in their proper time too.  Expect fulminations aplenty.  Or maybe not. 

 

If I put on a suit and call myself Bill Clinton, it doesn't make it so and should not be included as part of Bill Clinton's personal history, (except maybe as, hey, some nutjob was impersonating me ;)). 

I like this argument.  But deciding who is actually an imposter wearing someone else’s clothes and what is in continuity and what isn’t looks like too much work for me.  If DC say it’s in continuity, I’d rather take it from there.  (Adam can have a bad day!)  Some retcons are elegant and fruitful, but most of the good ones build on what has transpired in the comics rather than just try to airbrush it out. 

 

Thanks to bad writing and ill-thought-out editorial mandates a lot of crap happens to the characters we love.  In a strange way that’s one ‘advantage’ comics have over other forms of fiction.  In other fiction, people’s lives have an ‘arc’ where things pay off down the line according to some kind of artistic, aesthetic rules.  In comics, things might look like they are going one way, or that they’ll always go one way, but suddenly bizarre writing/editorial interference means they go off in some disastrous unforeseen direction.

 

It’s bad art, sure, but it happens to replicate what goes on in life rather than what goes on in art.  So in a strange way it reflects real life better.   And just like life, it’s how the characters deal with it and move on from it that matters.  In real life, we don’t have a godlike Mark Waid or Geoff Johns to set it up like it was and make it all better.

Morrison's JLA was the pivotal DC book of the 90s. Heck, it pulled me back in to comics. DC made a lot of changes, good and bad in that period. (As did Marvel, to be fair) Great comics built on new takes of established characters and themes. Morrison, Gaiman and Moore wrote amazing, innovative and creative stories based on the "capital" laid out in the Silver and Bronze Ages.

Yet Waid, Busiek and now Johns continue this trend of building on the past to construct a new future. Where there are problems is when they either contradict the past they are tapping into or say something is no longer "valid" only to have another writer reinstate it.

As I said before, I grew up with Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Oliver Queen and Ray Palmer but DC emphasized over and over again that Wally West, Kyle Raynor, Connor Hawke and Ryan Choi were the heroes of the future until these same writers wanted to play in their own childhood sandboxes instead of designing a new playground.

I don't think it's fair to claim that Morrison's JLA is "Entertainment +" and Waid's JLA is merely entertainment. one of the things that I loved about Waid's JLA is the way that Waid's brought modern science into the DCU. The Atom story that came out at the same time as the Adam Strange story, the universes on a string story in the oversize edition- these were really cool concepts that Waid brought into the title. His + may have been different than Morrison's but it's not like he was simply recapitulating the past.

I need to work on my clarity it seems ...



 

I am only comparing Waid's Adam Strange story here - JLA 20-21 Mysteries in Space - with the issues of JLA that preceded it. In particular, I jumped at the chance to highlight the two very different approaches Waid himself used in the fill-in issues JLA 18-21. 

As you point out, Waid was more than capable of bringing in other 'pluses' than continuity to his stories.  My point was that Mysteries in Space was Entertainment + Continuity, and for me, I prefer other additives than continuity alone. Further I'm saying that making continuity the 'point' of superhero stories limits the market they can appeal to, makes comics as a whole uninviting to new readers and limits ambition as to what can be done with them.



 

Waid's quantum probability story immediately before Mysteries in Space was a perfect example of how to do comics that are fun and accessible, that use ideas from beyond the ingrown world of comics continuity. I'm not saying there should be no continuity, just that it should only be another ingredient in the mix, not the whole raison d'etre of a story. 

(I know it's hard to see these arguments if you've spent your whole life immersed in continuity.)

 

As for Heaven's Ladder, I only stated my single lasting impression of it - from the point of view of someone who wanted to enjoy more DC comics at the time, but was put off by the attitude that I should cheer just because they've brought back some old stuff.

It looks like I'm bashing Waid here, but it's just that his two very different stories side by side, in the middle of a series which has a particular ethos towards continuity, gave me the opportunity to discuss something central to modern superhero comics.



 

There is one excellent line at the end of Mysteries in Space that highlights Waid's writing skill. When Adam presents toddler Aleea to Alanna for the first time he says:

 

"She has your ....everything. She's you!"



 

It's not hard to infer from that sentence that Adam was reminded of his beautiful lost wife every time he saw Aleea. Every breakfast time, during every day, and at every goodnight kiss for several years.


That's all the love and heartbreak, despair and consolation, that Adam must have felt towards his daughter, rolled into one hastily blurted out little sentence. Real single parents who've lost their partners must experience those every day. That's real emotion brought to us in a funnybook.

Before we leave Waid's first stint as JLA writer, I wonder what will be considered his masterpieces in the long run?  Any contenders?  I've a feeling they'll be his long runs on series that I haven't followed.

As I said before, I grew up with Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Oliver Queen and Ray Palmer but DC emphasized over and over again that Wally West, Kyle Raynor, Connor Hawke and Ryan Choi were the heroes of the future until these same writers wanted to play in their own childhood sandboxes instead of designing a new playground.

 

I did invest a lot in those 2nd (3rd?) generation guys too.  Border Mutt's reference to my fondness for them made me realise that I was reading their stories just in my early twenties.  Like them, I was starting to try to fill the shoes of those who'd previously been my seniors and I was trying to learn to be an adult like I had perceived them.  I was trying to be a good employee, a good manager of people, a good adult sibling and son who now had to deal with my family adult-to-adult. OK, my girlfriends of the time didn't end up in the freezer, but at the same time, I had a lot to learn in that department too!

 

I think I subconsciously identified with Wally and co for those reasons.  They were stumbling through early adulthood too, comparing their performance with adult role-models who were no longer around to hold their hand.  This only occurred to me yesterday evening!

 

(What they couldn't take on board was that they were better than their predecessors in almost every department.  They'd learned from the best, and their predecesors had paved the way for the new guys to excel them!  That's a very common story.)

 

To everything there is a season.  Kyle and co perhaps weren't going to be around forever.  There is a logic to Hal and co being back now, as they are the adults, like I'm supposed to be, and I have a feeling I'm smack dab in the middle of the demographic 'bulge' in comics readership, and we are supposed to read about adults now.

 

My big problem is with how they handled the return of the 'original brands'.   It looks like they went out of their way to replace Asians, African-Americans, Mexican-Irish (lol) and even under-represented Gingers with blue-eyed WASPs.  That's a terribly retrograde look for the 21st century, and the market will react against it, if only on grounds of fashion/trends in entertainment.

After Barry-Flash became the poster boy for the "lasting effects" of the Crisis and Wonder Woman was downgraded from the First and Best Super-Heroine to The New Hot Chick, at least from a marketing POV, the 90s were fraught with realizations by DC that its heroes were not merely older but outright OLD! They (briefly) killed the Man of Steel, only to expand his cast of supporting characters and (briefly) crippled the Dark Knight to experiment with "modernizing" the Bat with new identities.

Hawkman was eventually merged with a younger counterpart then was sucked down by the weight of confusing and overburdened continuity. The Atom became a teenager until one day when he wasn't. Aquaman lost his hand, grew a beard and finally became interesting until they replaced him with a younger, far less interesting man which got his book cancelled!

Mike Grell who revamped Oliver Queen in Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters brilliantly, made one crucial mistake. He had Ollie actually turn FIFTY! Thus he was no longer hip, revolutionary or liberal. He was now a cantankerous and self-righteous old guy going through a mid-life crisis.

When the 90s Green Lantern #1 came, we all notice Hal Jordan now had grey temples. It was revealed that Guy Gardner used his ring to keep him young but not Hal. Hal was old, DC said, and had to be replaced, even though it was DC's decision to portray Hal and Ollie, but not Carol or Dinah (for obvious reasons) as much older than the other heroes. Which made Bruce Wayne seem like a botoxed, plastic-surgery addicted, striving for youth narcissist since he was supposed to be a contemporary to Old Man Hal and Ollie!

Instead of being leaders and mentors, they became madmen and vigilantes. And were both killed off, supposedly for good but when they returned it was as younger men (for obvious reasons)! I wonder could Flashpoint have featured Wally West and Blackest Night Kyle Raynor and tell the same story? 

Superhero comics are like a long movie, where different viewers come into the cinema at different times and the sort of movie they think they are watching, and who they cheer on, depends on when they came in...

 

Your ponderings about their relative ages, Philip, while fun to consider, I file under "irrelevant" when it comes to reading the stories they are in. 

 

We just have to accept that their pasts as they see them are always changing, depending on the axe the particular writer has to grind.

 

eg Spider-man did lose 5-10 years somehow during the OMD embroglio.  Or else he's someone approaching middle-age whose life has been in a holding pattern for decades.

JLA #22-23 IT / Conqueror.

 

In a very recent interview to mark the release of his book Supergods, Morrison made the following statement about his time as writer of JLA:

 

"The fears are what it’s all about. When I was doing Justice League, the writing was all about how you can marshal these forces of the human imagination against your depression, and against your fears for the world. It was very therapeutic for me. I feel better about life now, but I still use my characters to talk about the way I feel, and we feel, collectively."

 

That aspect of his JLA project is front and centre in this tale, in which the current Sandman seeks out Superman.  He asks Kal-El to help a young boy who seems to be the last hope for humanity against an ancient evil that is about to conquer us all in a nightmare of fear and nihilistic despair.

 

Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern enter the boy’s dream and help him to send the Conqueror packing.  In the waking world, Batman susses out how the giant alien star-creatures that are causing everyone to fall asleep are related to the star-shaped face-huggers that this incarnation of the JLA faced in their ‘first’ adventure in JLA Secret Files and Origins The rest of the Justice League take on the first of the colossal invaders in a more eyeball-to-eyeball fashion.

 

It’s a fine little story with lots of pleasing elements, and I don’t want to over-analyse it.  With its dream-setting and overwhelming Cthulhu-esque villain it seems to be dealing with some pretty big issues.  The Conqueror could be depression, which Grant has said he was struggling with when he wrote much of this series, or it could stand for the way the modern world seems to grind us all down and deny our individuality and worth as human beings.

 

This is the only time I think that Morrison worked directly with Gaiman’s Sandman mythos, and he writes Daniel the new Dream-King beautifully, giving him his own distinctively Gaiman-esque poetic speech patterns.

 

When Zauriel tells Daniel he’d heard that Morpheus teh Dream-King was dead, Daniel replies:

 

”Dream cannot die, nor am I Morpheus.” 

 

There’s poetry there and personality too, in the detachment Daniel’s phrasing betrays.  

 

The only other connection between Morrison’s work and Gaiman’s that I’ve found was possibly in Doom Patrol #25, which seemed to be a sequel of sorts to the Dr Destiny sequence in Gaiman's early Sandman issues.  The story concerns a Materiopticon the Patrol own which they are told to destroy following the recent capture of Dr Destiny by the Justice League.  That story was dated August 1989 and Gaiman’s story of Dr Destiny and his Materiopticon (or Dreamstone) wrapped up in July 1989.  The two stories were released so close together that it’s hard to think it may be a coincidence, but then again, they are probably too close together for Morrison to have read Gaiman’s tale before writing his...

 

Back to this tale, which my collection titles ‘Return of the Conqueror’.  Early on, we see Michael Haney, the boy who is struggling in his dream against the Conqueror, trying to bring a barely-recalled Superman to life on a copybook page.  It’s one of those recurring ideas in Morrison’s work: the notion that if Superman didn’t exist, we’d have to invent him (which we did!)  Part of All-Star Superman cut to a similar scene of Siegel and Schuster, stuck on a sadly Superman-free world, creating the Man of Steel during the Depression. The thought of this benevolent guardian of the weak coming to save him is all that Michael has to protect him from the Conqueror. 

 

In another very recent interview posted on You-tube to mark Morrison’s upcoming reboot of Superman with Action Comics #1 in September,  Morrison refers to Superman as “Our greatest ever idea as a human species, if you ask me!”

 

 

These JLA issues dramatise the strength of this great idea and its power against nihilism and despair.  Superman does save Michael and help banish the Conqueror, but the boy has to believe in Superman and drag him up out of his subconscious.

 

Like the first Millar/Morrison Starro story, Superman shows his true courage by facing his enemies divested of his super-powers.  It’s something that is so brave, it stretches our belief that anyone could be so noble or foolhardy, but being so much more noble and self-sacrificing than the rest of us is what makes the fictional creation Superman so powerful.

 

There are so many great moments in this story.  One such is when Superman first meets Daniel.   Kal is normally the embodiment of certainty and strength, but something about Daniel unnerves even him, and he stammers.

 

This is a powerful scene, as the fictional Lord of Dreams (and Lord of Fiction itself) comes face to face with one of the most recognisable icons of contemporary world culture.  Of course these two have some kind of connection beyond their meetings in the DCU.  Superman’s fictionality is incidental to his power.  There’s something going on here that is bigger than a hoaky story about an alien invasion.

 

There are other moments where the fictionality of the DCU creates dissonance in our minds,  and makes the story seem to become something bigger.  As Zauriel struggles against the massive Space-Parasite the oaths he cries out have a more striking power than what we usually get: comicbook phrases like ‘By Odin’s beard’, or ‘By the Source!”

 

His “Great God!” and “Christ give me strength!” jump out of the page.  They remind us that even though Zauriel is fictional, the theology he springs from and the God he draws strength from are from a living religion, one lots of us believe in.  Where we might pray or cry to God with phrases like that, we can’t be sure anyone is listening.  Zauriel, however, knows that God exists from his own experience, and his exclamations ring unusually clearly and with direct meaning, rather than being just the empty oaths they would be in any other situation. 

 

It’s just one of the many things that make this little story seem to come to life on the page.

 

(Thanks to Doc Beechler for the links to both those interviews.  It's strange how I put off reviewing these issues for months and when I do get around to them, there's these handy supplementary materials when I need them.  I mightn't have quite 'got' what Morrison was doing in this story if those interviews hadn't been fresh in my mind.)

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