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…

 

(1224 - 240113)

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Philip Portelli said:
If you want to stretch a point, Zauriel could be a counterpart to several Leaguers; winged warrior (Hawkman), sonic powers (Black Canary), otherworldly knowledge (Zatanna) and a different being in love with a human (Red Tornado).

Is Zauriel still around?

As for Hal and Kyle, Hal was much more direct and physical than Kyle who had more creativity and flair.

I believe Zauriel was last seen joining the Shadowpact, shortly before their book's cancellation.
I’m not sure Kyle still uses such creative and imaginative solutions. It seems that given the irrational cult of the personality which the Lanterns have built around Hal, it is probably seen as bad form to use any kind of fancy ring-wielding that makes the adored one look bad. Instead they have all been honing their work on emerald boxing gloves and anvils.

JLA #8-9 Imaginary Stories / Elseworlds.



As the titles indicate, we are treated to alternative versions of each of the JLA here. Continuing on from the cliffhanger in the previous issue, the Key has them all captured and dreaming through their alternative lives or futures. They are all fun and diverting, but not anything revelatory. The Batman future pre-empts the current Batman and Robin storyline, where a former Robin is now Batman, and Bruce’s son is the new Robin. We even get the key phrase here ‘Batman and Robin can never die’ and there seems to be a suggestion, like in the current storyline, that the replacement Batman and Robin don’t have what it takes. They basically fall to bits in facing a returned Joker, who only uses them as a catspaw to draw out the real Batman. It’s the current storyline in miniature.

As the title indicates too, we are getting some commentary on the relationship between the Silver Age, where alternative lives were called ‘Imaginary Stories’ and the DCU of the 90s, where they were branded as Elseworlds. Rather than suggesting one era is superior to the other, both are given equal weight. This comparison of the two eras is played out in the Green Arrow subplot, where Conner has to use his father’s trick arrows against the Key and his robots. As he says, only a fool could use arrows like these, or only a genius, and he has to learn to appreciate how the old school worked to win the day with a boxing glove arrow.

The Key himself is very like Epoch, in that he is counting on remaking the universe to his own design by increasing his consciousness. He had put himself into a coma while the chemicals and drugs he’d devised increased his intelligence. He is unusual for a supervillain in that even though he started as very intelligent, he’s not complacent or self-satisfied with his brains, instead working on making himself even smarter. There’s a great plot twist here, in that he is using the unwritten rules of the DCU to his advantage. He depends on the JLA to wake up out of the dreamstate traps he’s put them in, because they always seem to win. Their waking up will power his ascension to Godhood.

Like Epoch, too, his ascension has to do with expanding his consciousness and increasing his store of knowledge and information (the currency of the higher realms, remember?) Epoch had felt as if he was becoming pure information as he approached godhood. Like Epoch, the Key also notices that as he becomes more powerful, he’s begun ranting to himself like an old school villain.

As with Ivo and Morrow, using old-school grand-standing villains Epoch and the Key like this was a little out of the ordinary in 1997. All these comics are something of a manifesto for the reintegration of ‘campy’ Silver Age elements back into the DCU.
It's been noted that both Hal and Ollie were fans of the Sweet Science, so they incorporated boxing gloves into their repertoire. Also I believe that it took Hal awhile (like Alan Scott) to fully realize what the ring could do while Kyle had the advantage of seeing Hal in action via the news media so he already knew the ring could make constructs.

I'm assuming that the JLA was so exhausted from their battle with the angels that they were easy prey for the Key. It's hard to fathom Superman moving the moon and fighting the divine to just take a nap so quickly.

BTW, J'Onn really took a beating here. I guess Wonder Woman is far more durable than he is.
So early into the series, I found it odd that they were already tinkering with the advertised lineup of the Big Seven. I also came away with the impression that Conner had been put in the story and into the position of saving the day to make us like him. It seemed heavy-handed and never connected with me. It made me wonder how much of the decision-making here was Morrison and how much was editorial telling him which characters he had to use. I thought, overall, Morrison did an excellent job dealing with temporary changes to DC's iconic characters -- Kyle is Green Lantern, the Blue Superman, Diana's mother replacing her as Wonder Woman -- but with Conner, it just didn't work for me.
BTW, J'Onn really took a beating here. I guess Wonder Woman is far more durable than he is.

Well, there was a lot of rightous fire involved. J'onn has a hard time with the burning. He proabably needed to sleep for a week in a bucket after all that, like the shape-changer Odo used to do on Deep Space Nine.

Interesting that J'onn wasn't in this one, as Batman wasn't in the last. The only thing Batman would have been able to do would have been to order the rest about, so with him gone they look much more competant and capable.

All good points B_dog. I was really shocked at the time that the deck was being reshuffled so quickly. I'd have wanted the Big Seven to 'bed down' more too. Perhaps it is by editorial fiat. Recall that J'onn objected to expanding the roster before the original line-up had gelled. J'onn is ALL about the teamwork, but maybe Morrison was speaking through him.

No doubt the policy is to boost failing characters by putting them in bestselling books, and DC were probably as amazed as anyone that weird renegade Morrison had got such a bestselling book up and running.

It's hard to say. The final issue of Aztek came out the same month as JLA # 5 - the recruitment issue and part of it crosses over with that. Aztek had been shown in convincing team-ups with Batman, GL and Superman by that stage, and maybe Morrison wanted to continue his adventures in the JLA, so organised the 'open auditions' as the best way to get him on the team.



In any case Aztek #10 (reviewed here) is a JLA comic in all but name. As well as Aztek's trip to the Watchtower, we see Amazo try to attack Prof Ivo a few weeks later, and the JLA become involved. It ends with Aztek just about to join the JLA, so the ending is probably set around the end of JLA #9. There are a few brief frames showing where Millar and Morrison would have taken Aztek if the series had continued, so it looks like they did have big plans for the character. Aztek obviously wasn't to everyone's taste, but the DCU is that bit poorer for not having more of his adventures in Vanity city documented. Millar and Morrison were doing something a bit different with him.

As to the 'rightness' of Conner saving the day, well for one thing, the doofus archer saving the keisters of the powerful members of the team is virtually a whole sub-genre of superhero teambooks. This one reminded me very much of the time Hawkeye saved the Avengers from being 'Collected' by you-know-who. Further, Morrison manages to make some hay comparing the Silver Age and the 90s. How long was Ollie gone at this stage anyway? It felt to me like a very long time. In any case, Morrison was setting up Conner using the trick arrows as early as the first pages of JLA #5 and Flash's redecorating skills.

I can't help thinking that there might be something schematic in Conner's heroic actions too. The JLA is a closed system that The Key thinks he has figured out. Conner is like an invading virus that upsets the plans, strengthens the system and causes unforseen outcomes. If so, that ties in with a lot of other Morrison books. I, Spider, was another archer in Seven Soldiers of Victory that was actually secretly the Eighth Soldier of Victory all along, and he similarly tipped the scales there. And then the value of humanity is a big concern of this series, so a schmuck with a bow making such a big difference is central to the message of the whole series.



Two things I liked about these issues:

A dig at Gaiman early on where The Key compares his grand scheme with Dr Destiny's sordid little game in the first Sandman arc.

"Dr Destiny... Bah! Dream on..."

A great line, and he even references Morpheus of the Endless. (It also reiterates that these campy old school villains do everything with a competive eye to their fellow supervillains.)

The other is the final iconic frame of Batman outlined against the moon, just after Superman has zoomed off with a cheery "Goodnight, Bruce"

Almost under his breath, given the smaller font, Batman's enigmatic, but wonderfully apropos response is:

"Hh. Clark"

I love how their relationship isn't spelled out here, but we, as readers can project so much into that exchange. 'Open' texts are more fun than being hit over the head.

How long was Ollie gone at this stage anyway? It felt to me like a very long time. In any case, Morrison was setting up Conner using the trick arrows as early as the first pages of JLA #5 and Flash's redecorating skills.

Ollie would have been gone for about 2 years our time, when JLA  #8 comic came out.

 

No doubt the policy is to boost failing characters by putting them in bestselling books, and DC were probably as amazed as anyone that weird renegade Morrison had got such a bestselling book up and running.

I don't DC would have been that surprised. During this time rebooting a book pretty much guaranteed increased sales. Especially, for a flagship title like this. They could have put me at the helm and it would have sold like hot cakes for a at least a few months (no offense to Morrison, who I loved on this series).

Now, I personally had no problem with how Connor Hawke was inserted into the series, but I was always a pretty big fan of his.

As for their fantasies, Kal-El receiving the power ring of Tomar-Re, Green Lantern of Space Sector 2813 (next door to ours, 2814) was set up in Superman #257 (O'72) where the Guardians sent Tomar to prevent the destruction of Krypton but he was blinded by a yellow (of course) solar flare and was too late. The Guardians felt that Kal-El could have been a great GL but the Corps' loss was Earth and the universe's gain. The Krypton shown was definitely Post-Crisis.

Aquaman's appears to have been inspired by Kevin Costner's film, Waterworld. He is no longer a king but a protector and a provider. The Manta Raiders resemble Black Manta's Manta-men from the late 60s Aquaman cartoon.

Wonder Woman relives her non-powered, Diana Rigg period that started with Wonder Woman #179 (D'68), though this seems to take place during WWII. The only thing odd about Steve Trevor's presence is that DC was not putting them together at this time. Baroness Paula Von Gunther was a recurring opponent during WW's Golden Age, starting with Sensation Comics #4 (Ap'42). She was a Gestopo agent and a nasty one at that . After many battles, Diana learns that the Baroness was forced to be a Nazi because of her hostage child. WW saves both and brings them to Paradise Island where Paula becomes one of her staunchest allies and her Nazi past is politely not mentioned.

As stated, Batman's is the old standby "Batman II and Robin II", but with this one Catwoman is the mother and Tim Drake is Batman II. That's a bit strange since Tim Drake has said numerous times he has no aspirations of being Batman's successor. We now have had Batwoman, Catwoman and Talia as the mother of Batman's son. Vicki Vale must really be disliked!

The fact that the Joker always shows up in these future tales must represent Batman's deep-rooted fear that the Joker cannot or ever will be stopped and will always haunt him and his "family".

The Flash does echo a bit his fate in Kingdom Come, though it's weird to see him blue. He does mention Fastbak, a minor New God that foreshadows Morrison's integration of Kirby's Fourth World into his work.

As for Kyle's, beyond the Anti-matter world of Qward and a nice mix of yellow and green, I have no idea.

Green Arrow II never really grew on me. They wrote him so "un-Ollie" that he seemed boring. Plus trick arrows may be silly but it beats seriously wounding or killing your targets, with a lot less blood and punctures!

I liked the Key complaining about the destruction of his Key-men because of the cost to build them. It's about time someone mentioned that!

And the boxing glove arrow gets them every time!!
More great info, Philip. I wouldn't know where to start guessing what was referencing old comics and what was 'just made up'. I'm left wondering whether you or Morrison would win the prize for most knowledge of continuity minutae. Your posts in particular show that Morrison put a load of old comics into this series, but quite innocuously. I can't help but compare this JLA to Meltzer's JLA/JSA team-up that REQUIRED a lot of continuity knowledge to enjoy.

He is no longer a king but a protector and a provider.

Well, Aquaman does have a crown emblazoned on his chest. Traditionally, a true King was exactly a protector and provider, rather than someone who had a big house and everyone scraped and bowed to them!

The Flash does echo a bit his fate in Kingdom Come, though it's weird to see him blue.

I think that's a certain 'liquid metal' that is supposed to be covering him. As in mercury/quicksilver, referencing the Flash's connection to Hermes again.

As for Kyle's, beyond the Anti-matter world of Qward and a nice mix of yellow and green, I have no idea.

Kyle's appearance is satire. Kyle is the only one of these heroes to have originated in the 90's, and as such his fear is perhaps that he'd been created an absurd, fire-arm laden, Image-type cyborg thug typical of the time. (Kudos to whoever created him as an elegant streamlined sixties type hero!) Morrison's reference to the Weaponers of Qward is perhaps showing that even absurd weapon-laden thugs go back further than the 90s.

(I've always thought that Weaponeers of Qward would be a better sounding name for those guys, but maybe that's just me...)

The 'Qwardians of the Galaxy' is a fine pun, and I loved Batman's disparaging comment on Kyle's generation that 'Nintendo has a lot to answer for!'

Green Arrow II never really grew on me. They wrote him so "un-Ollie" that he seemed boring.

I liked him a lot. Not too many superheroes are as well-meaning, thoughtful and pensive. Obviously someone who's hotheaded, violence-prone and full of bluster is easier to write (naming no names), but it's a pity that more writers couldn't get a better handle on the character.

('Conner' is a very old Irish name too, which does no harm.)
I just finished reading this two-parter, and I've got a few things to do for work, so I haven't read anyone's comments yeat (and will reply separately, later), but in a skim, I don't think anyone's covered these points.

Man, does Oscar Jimenez draw pretty. Not being a Porter fan originally, I was really hoping Jimenez would take over the series. (Looking at Porter's art with new yes, I'm glad he didn't -- but I'd love to see more Jimenez work somewhere and see how he's grown as an artist since the mid 90s.)

The cover of issue 9 seems to me a very Iconic sort of JLA cover, with the heroes transformed into the tools of the villain. The example that it reminds me over most is the cover of the original JLA #10, with the heroes growing out of Felix Faust's fingers. (And what's nice is that the Key is literally using the JLA as his tools -- keys to open this other dimension.)

It's interesting, too, that the Key is aware of a metafictive Rule: The JLA always wins. He recognizes it as a law of the universe, and figures out a way to use that to his own advantage. That's a very Morrisonian concept, I think.

Part of the difference between Imaginary Stories and Elseworlds, I think, is that Imaginary Stories were more character-centric -- particularly Superman-centric -- without too many other heroes in the mix. Elseworlds -- while often Batman-centric -- tended to explore the whole universe a bit more, with nods to other DCU heroes. That's also the difference between issues 8 and 9 -- the heroes are in their own separate fantasies in issue 8, and in 9 they all start to blend together.
Jiminez' art is great, yes, but much more conventional than Porter's. Porter's slight artistic weirdness and his staying power over the series makes JLA a bit more special as a series. It does no harm, however, that these tales of alternate realites are drawn by a different artist.

The Key using the JLA as his 'keys' reinforces what I said about Morrison earlier. He thinks strongly in metaphors and symbols, so a character whose gimmicks are keys and unlocking things, becomes someone who can solve problems. 'The Key' functions entirely as a metaphor. Chemical Viruses are the keys he uses to unlock their subconscious, which is fine for me t write down, but really has nothing to do with actual keys!

Rob Staeger said:
It's interesting, too, that the Key is aware of a metafictive Rule: The JLA always wins. He recognizes it as a law of the universe, and figures out a way to use that to his own advantage. That's a very Morrisonian concept, I think.

It is Morrisonian, but I'm learning that Morrison does get big props just for highlighting things that are already part and parcel of the DCU. The first JSA/JLA/Crime Syndicate crossover hinged on there being different 'laws' in each universe which decided who came out on top.
The last issue in the American Dreams collection coincides with when JLA Secret Files and Origins #1 came out. We've already looked at the New Origin and the 'Lost Pages' in it. The final creative pieces concern the Martian Manhunter: a day-in-the-life story, and a Martian Manhunter 'interview' from a DCU superhero celebrity magazine called 'The Brave and the Bold'.

All of the extras point to a particular aspect of Morrison's writing style on this series. It looks like Morrison and his friends Waid and Millar did a lot of 'world-building' and character-assessing for this series. All of the characters have their attitude to the team, and their teammates individually, thoroughly analysed. We saw it on the profiles attached to the Midsummer's Nightmare TPB, we see character profiles here, and there is also more bumf on each team-member as intros to the two JLA collections so far. The thing is that Morrison's breathless pell-mell plotting style doesn't allow us much time to see these characteristics and relationships play out.

To start with the Martian Manhunter, both the pieces here tell us that he is now based in the Southern Hemiphere, in part because they don't have many superheroes. In fact we're told that in the few months the JLA have been up and running, J'onn has become even more famous than Superman below the equator! It's a great idea, balancing a glaring fault in the DCU Earth, when you think about it, and opening up huge avenues for stories. We get a little Southern action here, and I suppose Ostrander ran with the ball a little in his Martian Manhunter series which ran concurrently with JLA, but it never gets more than a brief mention in the rest of the series as far as I remember.

The Brave and the Bold magazine and the whole idea of a superhero celebrity culture are obviously pet ideas of Morrison's, but apart from the 'National Whisperer' articles that we see the Key's bored nurse reading, I don't think much is made of that idea either. Again it's Grant's 'realism' at work - of course there would be this fascination with the tawdry aspects of these celebrity freaks in the DCU Earth if it was anything like our Earth. Grant wouldn't get to really explore this aspect of the DCU until the Bulleteer mini in Seven Soldiers of Victory.

Millar co-wrote the origin story and gets sole credit on everything else in this special, but given what we know about the closeness of the Millar-Waid-Morrison team at this time, it's not hard to imagine that most of the JLA status quo in it was devised in their informal committee. Although it's seen as Morrison's baby, Millar did the specials and annuals, and Waid did the fill-ins, so it stayed within their little group until DC started farming out stories of the cash cow to other writers.

The following factoids are in the one-page 'secret file' sheets on the JLA and some of the foes they'd faced by this point:

Superman - "The moment his presence on Earth was officially declared, a shift occurred in the public consciousness which altered social trends, religious beliefs, street fashions and race relations" Wow!

Batman - "An arrogant aristocrat, Batman treats his teammates as though they were his manservants... [His] relationship [with Wonder Woman] is strained[...] She has no hold over him as she does the others. Batman, especially as Bruce Wayne, is more than accustomed to the company of beautiful women."

Flash - "Wally West has a reputation among his peers as being the most sociable 'A-list' hero, always taking the time to say a few words to the less well-known super-people when they gather for a crisis"

Martian Manhunter - "Tellingly, J'onn is the only Leaguer to whom Batman defers. Green Lantern is his favourite of the group, Aztek is the one he knows has a secret"

Green Lantern - "Regarded by the others as a major player, he describes himself as 'The Rookie'". In relation to Kyle's insecurity we get this bizarre line: "However, as Superman explained over lunch in Vienna, most superhumans owe their positions to chance, himself included, but Green Lantern's doubts are always there" (Methinks Millar is taking the p!$$ here, surely? 'Over lunch in Vienna?')

Wonder Woman - "[...] raised [...] accustomed to the the respect of her subjects and the unquestioning loyalty of others. Her inspirational qualities and tactical experience position her as perhaps their natural leader." It goes on to say that 'certain tensions' and Batman's antipathy work against this.

Aquaman - "Every living thing in the sea knows their King would willingly die for any one of them, as they would for him." Huh? Even prawns? Or plankton? Or ling? Methinks Millar is over-egging it again!

"A broad bombastic man, a peerless warrior King and a truely great storyteller" Add this to comment in Conner Hawke's profile that Aquaman has bonded with Green Arrow II by telling "hilarious, bombastic accounts of his adventures with Conner's late father", and we might have the first appearance of the jovial, bombastic, comically self-aggrandising Aquaman of The Brave and the Bold cartoon? It's certainly a different picture to the normally grumpy and taciturn Arthur Curry that I remember from this time...

Aztek - His piece bigs him up, justifying his place on the team and tries to lay groundwork for how his tenure would play out. He was a good guy, but the shady connections in his background might work against the team. I think they subsequently limited his role as Morrison found he wasn't writing the kind of teambook where long character-driven subplots could be built up.

Green Arrow - "He has recently begun to suspect he was only invited to join because Green Lantern was tired of being the only inexperienced member..." Stir it up, Mark!

The Key - Interestingly here, Millar gives us a take on JLA #7-8 that didn't come through in the finished story. " ...most recently [...] a bid to interface with his conceptual mate, The Lock, and assume control of all space and time." . Did Grant cut that element because it was too much like Ghostbusters, or did Millar make it up because he has a sniggering schoolboy's sense of humour?

We even get profiles of the Injustice Gang and Epoch, the Lord of Time, even though they'd both only appeared on the shelves the same month as this special came out. Both profiles would be useful to readers thrown in at the deep end of their respective stories at the time.

I guess superhero books generally don't have room to develop properly the kind of ideas they'd worked out here, but JLA in particlar definitely wasn't interested. Perhaps that's a pity. but if it had been plotted and written differently, perhaps it wouldn't still sit so high in fan regard. Certainly Meltzer's concentration on the relationships between these icons and longstanding characters led to pretty much a morass!

I can't really move on from this packed little book without mentioning the two double-page spreads by Phil Jiminez that show, respectively, most of the Justice league's membership up to that point, and a huge collection of their foes up to then. Over 220 characters in all! Jiminez out-Perezes his master here. Two amazing pictures, even if the over-inked printing loses some of the details.
J'onn "taking over" the Southern Hemisphere was a good idea but nothing really came of it. I was hoping that he would get some decent villains, at least. But sadly, even though other writers were given this interesting direction, no one followed it. It is a perfect example of Morrison's great ideas that he does not expand on.

I'm pretty sure all the Leaguers have a fondness for Connor Hawke that was based on his irritating, though endearing old man. Oliver was the group's gadfly, always letting them know when they got too full of themselves. Actually, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and even the Manhunter were/are an elitist bunch. They do not think that they are the best to safeguard the world; they know they are! And that responsibility requires them to act not only as heroes to the people but as guardians, acting without the general populace knowing exactly what they are doing.

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