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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It amuses me too.
Yeah, but Johns doesn't have a cool rendering of himself in a white suit flipping his fans a double bird on the home page of his website. That would make him "edgy."

Chris Fluit said:
I'm amused that when Grant Morrison plays with preexisting characters and concepts a la his Batman run, it's genius, but when Geoff Johns does it it's insular and derivative.
I struggle to see the relevance of that statement to the topic at hand.
I just think that some of these guys, while talented, have developed cults of personality that blind many fans to flaws in their writing (something which every writer has). Moore with his "take my ball and go home" demeanor, Ellis with his gutter mouth and palpable contempt for fans (real or show), Gaiman and his leather jacket (whether he's in Buffalo, New York in winter or the Bahamas in July, and Morrison with his general weirdness (of which that home page is an example of). They all foster affectations that people eat up.

Again I will say that they are all extremely talented. I read just about everything Ellis and Moore put out and enjoy most of it immensely. But they all have put out some crap along the way. No biggie, but there's a large portion of the readership, or at least a very vocal portion, that seems to believe they are above criticism because they're so avant garde.

Johns, on the other hand, seems very mundane and down to earth in the interviews I've read, and even when there is a correlation between his output and others as Chris commented on, he's the one that's considered milquetoast.

Figserello said:
I struggle to see the relevance of that statement to the topic at hand.
Playing the man, and not the ball, perhaps?

Well, I can't speak for anyone else, but all that posing is extremely peripheral to what interests me about any of them. Gaiman's 'persona' gets on my goat the most, but that has more to do with the all-wise 'above-it-all' voice he adopts in his actual writing.

Obviously I don't think Morrison is above criticism. However, if I do go easy on his occasional clunkers, its just the amount of fun I have reading his stuff. His bird-flipping, etc doesn't affect my view of him one way or the other. (Although there was a time his persona did put me off his work, as I've mentioned once or twice)

These days, I do find a lot of what he says in interviews fascinating and worth thinking about, if not actually believing, but I wouldn't be too interested in anything he had to say if I didn't think his work was good. I can't speak for the rest of his fans, but they probably feel much as I do. Apart from the ones that wear aluminium hats.

Geoff Johns needs defer to no man in weirdness, intensity and originality of vision. His guy-next-door, baseball cap-wearing persona probably deflects people from seeing it, but his Green Lantern is a truly far-out, messed up, overwrought body of work. Like outsider art, as some critics have pointed out. I salute that.

Whatever about his everyguy persona, I just happen to think that he has used this remarkable saga to share some laughably dodgy views on geo-politics, sexual politics and personal morality, as well as evince a very weak handle on how human beings actually relate to each other.

How Daxamites relate to each other doesn't really interest me...
Figserello said:
Playing the man, and not the ball, perhaps?

My point exactly.
They may be unique characters with vastly different motivations but they are not original concepts. I could create a Hurricane Katrina survivor/social worker who struggles to reunite kidnapped children with their families while dealing with his medical school girlfriend who has a hidden past and then uncovers an alien ring and lantern, which bonds with him, giving him amazing abilties, grey colored energy creations and a new mission to protect innocents from an outer space drug dealer/slaver as THE GREY LANTERN! He may be a new character but could not be a new concept!

The Grey Lantern copyrighted 2010 by Philip Portelli! So there!

Dagwan said:
Philip Portelli said:
But those are just variations on the Green Lantern theme, which might I add, got REALLY repetitive after a while. What's next, Brown Lanterns, Grey Lanterns, Maroon Lanterns, Burnt Umbre Lanterns and whatever's left in the Crayola 64 box!

Sorry, but you're wrong. It's kinda like saying that a character who's a teacher isn't a new character because there's already a teacher character. Just because one aspect of a character is similar or even identical to another character doesn't mean the entire character is.

Each one of the other Corps characters is a distinct character. Larfleeze is nothing like Atrocitus is nothing like Hal Jordan is nothing like Amon Sur is nothing like Dexx-Star is nothing like Indigo-1 is nothing like...

The only thing they have in common is some kind of ring. I guess that means none of the Legion of Super-Heroes was an original character, either.

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I think a character might be derivative in at least three senses: that it's a spin-off of an existing character, e.g. Batgirl, that it's modelled on an earlier character, e.g. the Silver Hawkman, or that it's a legacy character, such as the android Hourman. (The latter two categories aren’t always distinct.)

Spin-off characters often derive part of their appeal from their relationship to the source character: again, Batgirl is an example. But I’m not sure this need always be the case: I suppose Guy Gardner is a spin-off character, but I don’t know it would be true to say that his appeal is derivative of Hal Jordan’s. (Could one say his appeal is derivative of the appeal of the Green Lantern feature?) Be this as it may, legacy characters sometimes owe their legacies to characters who aren’t particularly popular, such as the Golden Age Mr. Terrific.

The Silver Age Flash, Green Lantern were all updated versions of Golden Age characters, but this wasn't central to how they were marketed to readers when they were introduced. That is, DC didn’t expect readers to pick up their comics because of their links to the Golden Age heroes. Conversely, the latest Blue Beetle wasn't closely based on previous versions, but his being the inheritor of the Blue Beetle mantle was a factor in how he was marketed. He was presented to readers as the replacement for the Blue Beetle who had just been murdered.

Johns has contributed a number of new characters to DC aside from his Green Lanterns, but the ones I can think of are legacy characters (Star-Spangled Kid, Cyclone). I don't know being a legacy character keeps a character from being fresh, though. I’ve not read Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., but it seems to me if you wanted Marvel or DC to do something fresh and different, it’s the kind of thing you’d be hoping to see them try. Moreover, like the Blue Beetle, legacy characters aren’t always very close to their legators in conception. A character like the android Hourman is effectively a new creation. (Although he could be considered an updated version of the JLA’s Red Tornado.)

Marvel has introduced non-recycled characters in recent years in team books (e.g. Darwin). It's harder to think of non-derivative features set in the Marvel or DC U launched in the last six years, but I can think of a number from the preceding decade - Vext, Young Heroes in Love, Aztek, Chase, Lab Rats, Runaways. Some of these were partly creator-owned. But unfortunately none won lasting sales successes. Apparently the current audience is either more interested in long-running characters, or more easily re-interested in them, than it is in wholly new creations.

The Sentry was a prominent Avenger for several years, but he was disliked by many readers. DC gave the latest versions of Manhunter and the Blue Beetle their chances, but they failed to catch on.

(expanded)
Rich Lane said:
Figserello said:
Playing the man, and not the ball, perhaps?

My point exactly.

What I think, subjectively, about Johns laughable views and weak handle isn't really the point here. The point is that both Morrison and Johns work in a very particular context that affects all of their DCU work. They can only use a limited number of properties, they are reluctant to introduce major new characters or concepts. As Luke points out, even if they did, new series based on new concepts have a tough time in today's market.

Johns and Morrison are always going to be worth comparing as they are arguably DC's biggest-selling writers, and definitely two of the most important superhero scribes going today. Particularly interesting is that, even though they obviously have vastly different approaches and concerns, as Chris points out, they end up doing what on the face of it looks like much the same thing.

Green Lantern shares much with Morrison's Batman run. Both are extended studies of where you can go with heroes that have so much backstory weighing them down. Both return almost exclusively to previous villains and allies and situations for story material. Both are trying to integrate previous incarnations of the character into some kind of classic version. Both main characters are trying to process years of trauma and guilt to try to break through to a better future.

I'd argue that the constrictions both writers feel acting on them have dictated a large part of the subject matter and content of both series.

I'd also have to clarify that the following statements I made about Green Lantern earlier were meant to be objective statements of what is going on in those comics, and not value judgements:

I've said it before, but we're in a new phase of superhero narratives now. Where things fit into continuity - great! Where they don't - who cares? They'll redo it back again shortly, or sideways, or something. Writers are much more insistent now on only using properties that already exist, so they have to keep resetting and rebooting and retconning the same characters.

How many new characters have Geoff Johns and Bendis created in the last 6 years? You could count them all on one hand. Note Bendis was determined at first that his one major new character - Jessica Jones, should just be Spider-Woman with a sore head.


This isn't a jab at Johns or Bendis. They are wise not to bring in new characters and concepts if they can help it, given how things stand. They both like working for their respective employers and don't want any bones of contention developing with them.

Morrison too largely avoids bringing new characters into his DCU work. He has brought a few new characters into Batman and Robin, but they are largely reflections of the Joker and Batman themselves. His Batman, before that was studiously obsessed with previous Batman continuity, no less than Johns' Green Lantern. Morrison even shunted a New God villain into pole position as Batman's adversary when he needed something more cosmic than Gotham City could provide.

The writers keep subconsciously coming back to the restrictions of working with the same tired properties over and over, making them get up and shamble around yet again for us..

I don't think anyone would argue with this statement. Zombie's have never constituted whole subgenres within superhero comics before this decade and now they are everywhere.

Batman himself crawls out of his grave to keep the show on the road at the end of Batman RIP. Morrison's Seven Soldiers is an extended essay on the conditions in which modern comics are made. In Klarion's origin we see that his people make their dead parents get up and work for them after they have lived their lives. Mister Miracle there is forced to live and die through a plethora of lives, some demeaning, some dignified. Just like a lot of DC and Marvel properties. We even see this great escape artist, and symbol of freedom itself, serving as jailor, as Joe Kelly depicted him in 'Last Laugh'.

So I didn't mean those sentences as a dig at Bendis and Johns. Its just what writers do these days and Morrison does the exact same things.

Likewise Still, its constantly banging against the borders of its constricted world

Morrison's Batman is completely about this. Everyone returns, everything comes around again. Batman is stuck in a maze of all his past adventures that he has to figure a way out of. - "Gotcha!"

Previous writers have killed off, one by one, the good characters, (and Hollywood-schooled Johns is too canny to gift DC with any new ones) so within the story the laws of physics and metaphysics have to be bent every which way and laboured over for dozens of issues to bring them back. Everything in this sealed off universe is thus backward looking rather than moving forward in any kind of sensible way.

OK, this applies more to GL than Batman, even though Batman obviously has ultimately no way to transcend the limitations of being a modern DCU comics superstar.

Having read Green Lantern up to the introduction of Larfleeze, I could go into chapter and verse on why I think Johns handling of a similar type of self-referential hopelessly closed in storyline is executed less satisfyingly than Morrison's Batman . There are the laughable views and weak handle that I mentioned earlier, but they are outside the scope of this argument: which is the kind of stories that the industry is now bringing us.

The big difference is that Morrison's Batman tries to include all the versions of Batman before and expand the possibilities. Cerebral Detective, violent vigilante, space hero, friend of Superman, father-figure, loner, time-traveller. Johns is insistent on closing down all the various ways of viewing Hal Jordan. Green Lantern is just like this! he seems to be saying. All those multivarious pasts under different authors happened just like this. That removes a lot of the fun, as far as I'm concerned.

Morrison allows in the text that the very notion of someone having all these adventures is crazy - which seems like a sensible approach to me, whereas Johns plays it so straight it comes out the other side of sanity.

I'm amused that when Grant Morrison plays with preexisting characters and concepts a la his Batman run, it's genius, but when Geoff Johns does it it's insular and derivative.

Sorry. I just love that sentence. Its all subjective, I suppose.
You make some good points, Luke, about characters like the new Blue Beetle and Hourman being so different in conception. However, their stories always come around to meeting the characters whose shoes they are filling, or their loved ones. Certainly all their friends in the JLA/JSA etc. Those stories were fresh when Stargirl and Starman came out in the 90s, but even that freshness has worn out. We've read all those stories about the hip young kid meeting the old duffer and learning respect for them.

Which is probably one of the reasons the new Beetle and Atom didn't catch on too.

I have to stress again that I'm not making value judgements on the stories here. The world has never seen a fictional universe like the DCU or Marvel before which has been telling these interconnected multi-authored stories for over 70 years. That's something to marvel at, but given the restrictions the stories work under presently, they can't continue to pump out original, satisfying stories indefinitely.

The readiness of collected editions has probably added to the pressure. It's not like the 50s Superman stories which could just redo the same stories every 4-5 years as they'd imagined their market had been replaced. The preponderance of readers who have been reading for 30+ years is also warping the stories these days.
Anyway, at the risk of paying way more attention to JL:AMN than it deserves...

Another extract from Morrison’s introduction to Midsummer’s Nightmare:

The new Justice League has to justify its existence in a more sophisticated and suspicious world. And, as in KINGDOM COME, the emphasis on heroism and hope is tinged with a bracing hint of end-of-the-world paranoia. We can no longer blindly accept the super-people as our saviours. Their very presence in the world raises moral and ethical questions which MIDSUMMER’S NIGHTMARE attempts to explore

The reference to Kingdom Come is pertinent. That book was something of a game-changer in showing that there might be a way back to the Silver Age through 90’s excess – a path which Geoff Johns (him again!) has been making a career out of ever since. Ross himself was something of a prophet in pushing his fondly remembered “blue-eyed white boys + Wonder Woman” version of the league when it wasn’t really fashionable, and the industry was still half-heartedly trying to progress to a more modern-looking pantheon. Ross must be very happy now (...you’d think?)

In any case, Kingdom Come certainly laid the ground for the various retrospectively focused series that began arriving in the second half of the 90s, JLA included. In fact, JL:AMN shares more than a few plot points with Kindgdom Come, and in retrospect seems to be trailing along in its coat tails. The other 90s classic that JL:AMN siphons some unearned gravitas from is Gaiman’s Sandman. The story begins with Morpheus’ brother Destiny, and ends in a confrontation with Morpheus' first supervillain opponent, Dr Destiny.

The bit about the superheroes’ presence raising ethical and moral questions highlights why Midsummer’s Nightmare is an inferior work to Kingdom Come. If that's what this story is ‘about’ then it’s about nothing. There are no such things as superheroes. Sad, but true. So a book examining the ethical and moral questions they raise has nothing to say to us about our world. This is always a risk you run with stories whose main purpose is merely to set up the pieces and move them around their fictional universe.

Kingdom Come had lots to say about our world, including respect for older generations, their responsibilities to youth and so on. When I first read JL:AMN I decided at the time that it was perhaps about good friends finding each other. This story does depend on the extra-textual awareness that these people belong together. But that is extra-textual and I think I might have been too kind in my assessment, carried away as I was by enjoyment of Morrison’s JLA proper.

Earlier Phillip said: “My feelings about "Midsummer's" was to emphasize that the Big 7 were destined for great things and get readers into the idea of them being a team."

This hits on some pertinent points. Actually, JL:AMN highlights why Grant was probably right to skip the getting together in issue 1 and charge into the action. Within the logic of the DCU itself, this team is ridiculously arbitrary. Morrison stepped up to the challenge of showing why a mere mortal like Batman was included, but some of the others could be questioned.

Once the team is up and running the question doesn’t matter that much, but in JL:AMN, the reader has to wonder why, when he hoodwinks the team, Dr Destiny puts his hoodoo on two young fellas he’s never met. Why is it this seven, in particular, that are brought together?

To be fair, Waid answers this with the multiple appearances of characters called ‘Destiny’. Heh. Brought together by destiny. I get it now...

Morrison’s JLA has that initial line-up because they are the seven most recognisable separate heroes in the DCU. Anything else is just fanservice.

Phillip again: “It was my first real experience with Kyle Raynor. It made it seem like "Green Lantern" was the member and it wasn't important who he actually was!”

Considering how little

a)the untroubled 50’s Hal Jordan,
b)Green Arrow’s hard-traveling companion,
c)Parallax and
d)Johns angry chin-punching jock

have in common, it clearly isn’t important who “Green Lantern” actually "is".

Since I'm being a bit sore on Midsummer's Night, it's probably only fair to throw in an opposing view. Greg Burgas gives it a lot of weight in his "Comics you should own" overview of Morrison's JLA. He says it prefigures a lot that went on in the main series and set up the final villain to boot. (He doesn't mention that the double Destinys also prefigure one of Morrison's few dabblings with the Endless.) So there's that...

Fascinatingly, Waid also prefigures the scenario of Caveman Vandal Savage taking an interest in the contents of a crashed space-rocket, exactly as happened the first issue of Return of Bruce Wayne.
Great discussion, guys!

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