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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Kyle also battles what seems to be a future version of Doctor Alchemy who possessed (or was possessed by) a Philosopher's Stone which was different from the Philosopher's Stone from The Demon, not to mention Harry Potter!
Philip Portelli said:
Kyle also battles what seems to be a future version of Doctor Alchemy who possessed (or was possessed by) a Philosopher's Stone which was different from the Philosopher's Stone from The Demon, not to mention Harry Potter!

Well, we are told that Kyle fights someone weilding a 'synthetic' stone, so it's not the same Stone. Looks like Morrison is retroactively saying the Stone in the Dr Alchemy story wasn't the real thing.

I figured you'd identify that french-beardy guy. Where had he appeared with the Stone before this?
At the end of Kyle’s epic Grail quest, he finds himself on Wonderworld.

Given Morrison’s ‘blink or you’ll miss it’ hyper-compressed storytelling here, the wonderfully designed Mote has some advice for Kyle that we’d do well to heed:

“You should take time to see and remember these wonders…”

Everything is thrown at us pell-mell here, and it’s tempting to rush through it to see what happens next, but Morrison has devised a world that seems to be the farthest reaches of where cosmic comics can bring us. Surely the giant Super-gods in their global fortress are, to use my favourite Latin phrase, the Ne Plus Ultra? They traverse the entire space-time frontier at hyperlight speeds, protecting all creation from the eternal abyss. Further, their leader wrestled with chaos for a billion years to tame the original world. He is not just the father of his race, he’s Adam ONE, first of all Adams. He’s the Sine Qua Non if I can throw in my second favourite latin phrase while I'm at it.

(Adam One seems to wear the same kind of giant metal suit, rusted by ages, which Superman had to use at the climax of Final Crisis: Superman Beyond. This makes sense as Superman, metatextually, stands in the same relation to the heroes that came after as Adam One stands here.)

The members of the Theocracy around the table seem to be avatars of incredibly fundamental principles – the first father, the first mother, the absolute cold and the burning infernos of space and of course, death himself (Why the long face?). The God-analogues we have been matching our JLA to are much more sophisticated and nuanced and humanised.

I like that their analogue of the Flash is called the Glimmer. Further away, lost in an immensity, even faster and harder to spot than a flash! Like the original Flash, too, he has gone into the dark, and his teammates await his return...

Kyle’s experiences seem to be the superhero version of what we’re told transcendental communion with the infinite is like. Kyle identifies with the Mote, but then realises that both he and the Mote are miniscule compared with the Super-gods of the Theocracy! He is merely as ‘a mote in God’s eye’. All of Rock of Ages keeps disconcerting us and shifting the ground from under our feet. In this way, Morrison's narrative structure seems designed to simulate an unquantifiable encounter with greater powers.

And yet, Adam One mentions the ancient Gods that created him, tempting us to imagine that there may be vaster and more momentous worlds even than Wonderworld, and this intimation is another doorway into wonder. Just as terrible events involving the usually awe-inspiring New Gods are almost beneath the notice of the Theocracy, perhaps there is a level of existence as far again above Wonderworld.

Meanwhile back on Earth in 1997, the JLA are doing what they always do and working towards a solution to Luthor’s ‘corporate takeover’. As with the Key story, however, their ‘winning’ may result in an even greater defeat.

We begin to see how this might transpire when GL, Flash and Aquaman find themselves back on Earth, but ‘15 years later’ and see that it’s looking very like Darkseid’s home planet Apokolips…
JLA #13 Rock of Ages Pt 4 Wasteland



Kyle, Wally and Arthur have flung themselves back to as near the Earth of 1997 as they could. Their travel method was the Glimmer’s giant hyperwheel, which seems to be one up on Gardner Fox’s Time Treadmill that often featured in Flash comics. Once again we see that matter, energy and thought are all essentially the same thing. At hyperlight speeds, our three heroes become ‘vibrations’, and are not much more than consciousness when they arrive in Darkseid’s conquered Earth of 2012. These spirits then enter the bodies of their 2012 counterparts, who must then get together and organise a JLA resistance to meet these trying times.

The rest of the issue shows them coming together with Conner of this time period, Azteka, Argent (Who?), a young-looking Amazo and the Atom. Not to mention Wonder Woman, hale and hearty and as formidable as ever. They find out that Superman effectively committed suicide after having to kill Lois Lane, and Batman has been a captive of Desaad for the past 8 years.

We discover that Batman managed to somehow turn the tables on Desaad in that time, and he is now masquerading as Darkseid’s lieutenant, even fooling Darkseid himself. Just when they all get together, Darkseid himself arrives on Earth…

Darkseid isn't just a pantomime villain here. We actually see, over and over, all the destruction, death and despair that he wants to bring to the world. In this story he embodies those things and is inseparable from them. That’s one way he is handled differently here than in Byrne’s Genesis (and probably Countdown, too!)
Argent was a member of what passed for the Teen Titans in the late 90s, along with teammates like Risk and Joto. She was a half-alien (?) who controlled a silver energy. What I remembered most about this was that the "teenified" Ray Palmer joined them and he could become a giant (how original!!) and the story arc where the now-adult Original Teen Titans co-starred in along with the Mad Mod!

Wasn't there a Kid Amazo storyline somewhere?

I admit that when this first came out, I was more interested in the Injustice Gang part of the tale. But now I appreciate the subtlety of Morrison's plot and his tremendous gift of foreshadowing in parts 3 & 4. As you noted, there is the Infant Universe of Qwewq that I now know so well! His future JLA work, DC 1,000,000 and Final Crisis are all hinted at here.

And we see Batman as the World's Greatest Escape Artist and Morrison's high regard for his ability to survive where Superman does not. Hidden commentary over Wally and Kyle's future statuses?

But no matter what happens next, Darkseid IS!!
I've been sidetracked for a little while between being busy with work and having lots of other comics to read thanks to the NYCC, but I just read the first two chapters of Rock of Ages, issues 10 and 11. A few thoughts:

The introduction of the evil holographic duplicates is depicted from a similar angle as the cover of issue 1: This is very much the downside of gods to look up to: Gods who look down on us like we're insects.

I don't think I caught on my first read-through that the reason why Kyle's arrow splits when Connor shoots it is because Batman just explained the principles of a hologram to him -- that each part contains all the information of the whole. So Kyle immediately puts that information into his bag of tricks, letting Connor fire an arrow that splits into hundreds.. Nice work!

It's interesting from a mythological perspective that Circe's costume looks like it incorporates a chastity belt... but given what we later learn about Dr. Light, perhaps she's just talking no chances.

I really liked the parallel -- Circe turns men into beasts, and supermen into men. That fits with Morrison's thesis that it's not just powers that separate the heroes from us. It's their ethics and morality.

Seeing Matches Malone again was my favorite part of the book the first time I read this. It had been years since he'd appeared, I think, and he was a major part of the Batman mythos as I was growing up. Plastic Man was a bonus, but Matches ruled that scene.

The idea of Bruce Wayne vs Lex Luthor in corporate shenanigans blew my mind at the time ... once more Morrison taps a character's hidden strength. It's such a promising idea.
Oh, I should also mention that Wally was injured during part one of this story -- I'm pretty sure it was because of the Morrison-written story in Flash's mag, called "Dead Stop," I think. He broke his leg, but eventually figured out how to heal it with the speed force -- and I think that's the story where his Speed Force-derived costume makes its debut, as well.
I recall Wally breaking his leg, but what I can't recall was how different his Speed Force outfit was from his previous one.

About the first two parts, I loved the scene where Connor rages over the chaos and gets his "Ollie" on with the others watching bemused, even Batman. And the one where the guy argues with Kyle over responsibilty and who happens to resemble Ollie, causing Superman (of course) to be the peacemaker.

It was a bit odd to see Plastic Man in JLA, even though it was not a secret that Morrison wanted to include both him and Captain Marvel for their historical importance.

Matches Malone was/is a great part of Batman's crime-fighting arsenal, allowing him to mingle with the Underworld. Also did anyone notice that Robin was wounded in his cameo? That's a running theme of Morrison's!
Hidden commentary over Wally and Kyle's future statuses?

Now that you mentioned it - definitely. Grant obviously liked these two. They embody youth being amazed at the wonders of life in the JLA and youth who's accustomed to wonders (a very 21st century archetype, that!).

It's clear in retrospect that Hal was at that time on a journey back to the top table of Superheroics, even though it wasn't too clear to the fans. Morrison would have been on the inside track, so there are some indications that Kyle's ultimate story won't be a happy one.

In the same vein, Wonder Woman's return from the dead is just taken as a given...

Both she and Aquaman have strong central roles in these Darkseid issues, which balances out how they have been largely sidelined up to now.

It's interesting from a mythological perspective that Circe's costume looks like it incorporates a chastity belt...

Glad to see those visits to the Burlesqyue shows aren't being wasted...

I'm pretty sure it was because of the Morrison-written story in Flash's mag, called "Dead Stop," I think.

Emergency Stop, I think, Rob (according to my handy Morrison reading list.) I wondered about that. A lot of other comics were fitted around part 1 of RoA. I meant to say earlier, but the Zauriel story was part of an informal crossover with Flash and (Waid's?) Wonder Woman comics. Neron appeared in all three and there is a throwaway line in his JLA appearance that the Supreme Being was distracted with events elsewhere. It is Neron, apparently, who 'kills' Diana!

Looking forward to your comments on parts 3-6, Rob. I wanted to approach each arc of JLA as a single unit, to save me doing issue-by-issue reviews, but I thought I'd make an exception for Rock of Ages, as there is SOOO much in each issue.
That's a great cover to issue 13 by Porter, isn't it? I'd imagine it might have been the strongest of the 'Face' covers that DC used that month. Good old J'onn!

JLA #14 Rock of Ages, Pt 5: Twilight of the Gods



This is another great comic, but again it is so different from the rest as to represent almost another sub-genre from the other 5 episodes. Not only is it an apocalyptic countdown to the end of all-that-is, showing us the heroic deaths of the JLA, but it’s in REAL-TIME too! 12 minutes 37 seconds is probably how long it takes to read the whole comic. So not just the content, but the form of this saga keeps changing and knocking us off-guard. In part 3, Kyle lost track of time on a grand quest and we felt real relief along with him when he met up with his teammates, even though they’d only been separated for 8 story pages! Here, 8 pages is about 5 minutes, and every hard-hitting second counts!

In Byrne’s Genesis Metron only had a handful of Mother Boxes and they had to draw lots to see who would go with him to the Source. Of course the lot-drawing wasn’t random at all, as only the marquee names (plus Donna ‘Trenchcoat’ Troy) got the trip to the edge of the cosmos, further eroding any ‘realism’ in the story. Although I can see that Morrison picked this band of resistance fighters largely because of their connections to the JLA series of the time, they do feel like a ragtag bunch – the random survivors of Darkseid’s brutal takeover.

(I spotted the Genesis-era Teen Titans comics in the bargain bin this afternoon, and seeing Argent, I couldn’t help but pick them up. I think it’s that story where they meet the original Teen Titans, Philip!)

So I have a number of questions.

• Why does Orion remake the whole universe with his Genesis Box, when Darkseid has already been defeated?

• How does destroying the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997 lead to Darkseid taking over?

• The Black Racer is used very effectively here, largely by presenting the whole comic from his point of view. I’m pretty certain that the next JLA trade collection we look at has the Dream story, and if you are going to bring in the Endless, why isn’t it the pretty little Death of that series that ends everything in JLA #14?
A few thoughts on issue 13:

I love how you compare Kyle's journey to a Grail quest, Figs -- you're right, that matches up very well. IThe guy in the tights with the beard on page 3 looks like a cross between Dr Alchemy (the stone), Abracadabra (the bald head and beard -- he was bald in those days) and believe it or not, Aquaman (in Craig Hamilton's undersea camo costume, a sentimental favorite for me). Elements like the shifting seas, I guess. Also, he's making cars with eyes, which once scared the living daylights out of me on an old Sid & Marty Kroft show (Wonderbug) where a magic dunebuggy turned evil for the episode, growing bushy black eyebrows over its headlights. But Morrison's not it my head, and he couldn't have known about that.

Back on page 2, our introduction to Mote is very interesting -- his outline essentially forms a panel border, indicating he's on another level of existence from Kyle.

Porter provides a few Marvel analogues on the splash page, with altered versions of Mr. Fantastic, the Human Torch, and perhaps even a rocky crystalline Thing overhead. Invisible Woman is not to be seen, but that's hardly unusual.

Morrison had the best handle of anyone on Superman's new powers -- he absorbs the heat & force from the explosion, but not the light. That's a John Broome-worthy trick!

It was quite something to see Jemm Son of Saturn after more than a decade. Come to think of it, Plastic Man had been pretty dormant before his appearance in issue 12, as well.

I regret dropping Aztek after the first couple of issues, so I've never been privy to his whole story.

Kyle helpfully gives us half a pronunciation guide to the palindromic universe of Qwewq: "Koowee..." so I'm guessing it's "koo-wee-ook," though I've been pronouncing it "Kwook" for years -- well, sort-of pronouncing it, since I've never actually said it out loud. There's also a trapped fifth-dimensional imp here, and if I recall correctly, one of those will come back on the JLA, too.

The understatement of being lost in the realms beyond space & time -- "you would not be comfortable there" -- makes me smile.But not as much as the hilarious picture of Aquaman being told he's about to accelerate so fast he'll become pure hyperlight information.
Originally, it was going to be J'emm, Son of Mars but they decided to go with Saturn because, IIRC, that Mars was pretty well-documented by this time to have another native show up. I know the maxi-series had Gene Colan artwork, there was a kid involved and Superman was around as well. J'emm made an appearance in Crisis On Infinite Earths, then went straight to Limbo until JLA. But if anyone knows differently...

I still don't understand Darkseid's motivation. Does he really want to rule an universe populated with mindless drones? How does the Anti-Life Equation benefit him? He's already the total ruler of Apokolips and he seems not to enjoy being around sycophants. Does he want the battle with those who oppose him? Is all he looking for is a challenge?

I find it interesting that in this future, Bruce Wayne is Batman, Arthur Curry is Aquaman, Princess Diana is Wonder Woman but Wally West is not The Flash and Kyle Raynor is not Green Lantern. I guess when you replace a hero, it makes you replaceable, too.

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