JLA Revisited.

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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  • I think I've mentioned before I have a love/hate relationship with the work of Grant Morrison; if I like it, I like a lot (and vice versa). I bought his JLA run through issue #16 and read it more than once. I came to appreciate it more then second time through in quick succession than I did at first on a monthly basis. As different as it is from Gardner Fox's run, I see a lot of similarities. Morrison's stuff was pretty far out there, but so was Fox's if you think about it.
  • I get that he's not everyone's cup of tea, but I'm wondering where the HATE comes from.

    Having immersed myself in his output over the last 18 months, I find it hard to see anything that's to hate (as opposed to dislike, maybe). Granted, as you've just stated, his work doesn't go down well in 22 page installments read each a month apart. But then, I don't see anything wrong with writing towards the less ephemeral form of collected books - and writing towards a more discerning market than the often plain stupid monthly superhero market.

    He comes up trumps in just about every department I can think of. Works well with other creators, often bringing the best out of them. He's very respectful of continuity and has even invented whole meta-metafictional cosmologies to explain why it doesn't always line up. He actually bends over backwards trying to allow the gnarliest fanboy to fit all these stories into one universe.

    He does the icons well - probably the best Superman and Batman of the last 20 years. He tries to push the stories forward rather than circling in the past.

That's just his servicing of the brands. He's also parleyed his mainstream popularity into challenging and groundbreaking works that push the form and let great artists shine. He's constantly pushing at what the market will accept. Seaguy probably tanked at the outset, but it's built up its audience. I think that book has nailed the shallowness and stupidity of our era perfectly, with absurd humour rather than preachiness. Respect for it will only grow.

    Reading his really longform stories, you realise early on that he's mapped out where he's going. That's a great feeling. (I haven't read his X-men all the way through yet. It might be an exception...) 

His characters are warm and human - they all speak with different voices.

    Final Crisis might have seem way to stripped down in terms of characterization, and way too alienating for the reader, but it was a fascinating experiment to get away from the tropes that have built up over several decades of company-wide crossovers. I would point readers towards the current Batman RIP - The Missing Chapter to see some of the characterisation blanks in Final Crisis being filled. There's nothing new plotwise, but Batman has never seemed so human and vulnerable as he does in these comics. Morrison's writing has real heart.

    Morrison's stories are full of great ideas. OK, you needn't actually believe that the universe was created by selfish Gnostic demi-urges, but it's fun to entertain the thought for the space of a comic or two! It's healthy to allow that our received beliefs might be mistaken. We wouldn't be having this trans-global conversation on the worldwide web now if people hadn't occasionally cast aside their preconceived notions over the last 500 years.

    I can see annoyance that Morrison isn't bringing his full panoply of skills to each project he does, and irritation when his experiments don't hit the button, but I don't see how you can hate stuff that is done with such obvious reverence for comics heritage and such excitement at the possibilities of the artform.

    For myself, I was put off by things like Arkham Asylum and some parts of Zenith, that seemed to be someone thinking they were clever and just showing off, but looking over the vast bulk of his output, I see all he has been trying to do is communicate his ideas and do justice to the characters and situations in his stories. Sometimes he doesn't manage it, or maybe leaves things not 100% tied up in his rush to his next great idea, but the good does outweight he bad in practiacally everything he's done.

    This isn't really aimed at you, Jeff. Obviously you've given Morrison what the Australians would term 'a fair go', but I'm just baffled that Morrison gets such a hard time in some quarters.

    Perhaps the above is just a list of what's to admire in an overview of his work and some of the individual comics fall down in specifics.

    So what works of his do you hate so much?
  • This isn't really aimed at you, Jeff.

    Oh, I know that. I don't really "hate" him (despite the fact that I used the term "love/hate relationship"). I guess it'd really be more of a "love/not my cuppa" relationship. He's a very experimental writer and sometimes his experiments don't work for me, that's all. I think I first came to this conclusion when I bought and read (don't ask me why) Kill My Boyfriend. I was not the intended audience for that one, lemme tall ya! OTOH, I think his All-Star Superman is absolutely brilliant!
  • Hopefully, once my next couple crazy weeks have ended, I'll be able to follow along with this one. I'm sure glad the other threads are around for whenever I get around to rereading all that other Morrison (and actually finishing The Filth)!
  • Haven't you heard? This is Life. The crazy weeks never end...
  • Oh, fudge.

    Well, once I'm back from the last in a seemingly endless string of vacations, I'll pull out some JLA. And get to rereading it alongside The Unwritten, Scalped, and The Filth.
  • What're these "vacations" of which you speak?

    "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." -Groucho Marx

    Check out the Secret Headquarters (my store) website! Comics and Games for Everyone!

    Listen to WOXY.com, it's the future of rock-n-roll!

  • ... and how do you get more than one in a row?
  • When I was wee, we'd sometimes go on long drives of a sunday afternoon. I remember one time we pulled up at a petrol station and Dad got talking to a German guy who was on a caravan holiday around Ireland with his family.

    Who were they, we asked when Dad got back to the car.

    "They're holidaymakers," said Pops.

    For the longest time, I thought 'Holidaymaker' was an actual paid occupation.

    Perhaps it is, and Rob is one.

    He's a very experimental writer and sometimes his experiments don't work for me, that's all. I think I first came to this conclusion when I bought and read (don't ask me why) Kill My Boyfriend. I was not the intended audience for that one, lemme tall ya!

    Back not-really-on-topic, I am surprised either that you bought Kill Your Boyfriend, or that you were surprised by its contents. It did exactly what it said on the tin. Perhaps you were in your boyfriend-kiling phase at that point, Jeff? (Interesting slip there with the title, :- O )

    Or it could have been that fantastic Phillip Bond art.

    I'll save my defense of KYB for when I post on it, but you've got me thinking on how best to approach it. I think I'll have to bone up on Bertold Brecht and Agit-prop before I go there. I will say, in my current estimation, its one of his weaker efforts.

    Actually, I suppose I've got tunnel vision at this stage when it comes to Morrison, and I think the the Golden Apples of the Sun shines out of his rear, but I don't have to go far to see how some of his stuff would offend or slightly disturb people with conventional views. I was raised as a pretty standard Irish Catholic and there were things in Zenith and Arkham Asylum that really disturbed and jolted me when I read them as a teenager. Its part of their point, but sometimes when a writer manages to evoke an unpleasant reaction in the reader, its still unpleasant, even if its exactly what the writer was aiming for.

    At least visceral (felt in the guts) trumps 'meh', if nothing else.
  • Anyway, enough of that...

    Justice League: A Midsummer’s Nightmare 1-3


    image from: www.comicmastersonline.com

    “It’s been an exciting year for mainstream comics, and as the last decades dour “realism” begins to mutate into something strange and magical, JUSTICE LEAGUE: A MIDSUMMER’S NIGHTMARE stands as a boundary marker and offers a glimpse of the possibilities ahead.”

    Grant Morrison: from his introduction.

    The future ain’t what it used to be!

    If the JL:AMN collection (published in 1996) stands on the boundary between anything it is the that between collected tpbs that have rather hyperbolic introductions by famous people the reader would know, and collections that are put out there to stand or fall on their own merits, as the first collection of JLA New World Order was. There’s some kind of change of mindset behind that anyway.

    From what I understand of it, Morrison, Waid, Peyer and Millar were very close around this time and, as the young Turks in DC at the time, used to bounce ideas off one another. Hypertime seems to have been cooked up by a few of them together and they comprised the four writers who pitched for a Brand New Day style reboot of Superman in 1998 called Superman 2000. It included ideas like rotating yet co-operating writers and a weekly deadline, ideas whose time wouldn’t come for another decade.

    You can read about the Superman 2000 pitch here. In light of various successful projects enacted by DC and the House of (not nessecarily original) Ideas since, it makes fascinating reading.

    In their collective pitch, they describe themselves as “a group of like-minded scribes who were friends before they were partners, who know they share a common vision, who are willing and eager to work as a unit…”, so it is tempting to wonder how much of Grant is in this book apart from his Introduction. It’s certainly strange that the rather detailed character bios at the back of the book look more like they belong in a pitch for the upcoming Morrison-scribed JLA series than in this story, where the characters aren’t even in character for most of it.

    Having said that, the only extra writer credited is a special thanks to Brian Augustyn at the beginning of the first issue. Whatever happened to him? Nicieza is co-writer with Waid on this, but its not clear how the work was divvied up. Perhaps Nicieza was brought in to get the book out there in good time ahead of Morrison's JLA issue one, cover-dated Jan 1997. There's a chance JL:AMN was put together when the powers that be realised that Morrison's run kicked off with the JLA already a team. Morrison often discards the boring 'housekeeping' bits of continuity to get straight to the story he's there to tell.

    Even though this was originally presented in 3 extra-thick upmarket issues, there’s something quite pedestrian about the story. I read it a few weeks ago, but it’s hard to focus on what went on in it. The basic story involves some force activating or ‘sparking’ superpowers in the world’s population while the key ‘Big Seven’ members that will go on to comprise Morrison’s JLA remain stuck in their civilian identities, with only a vague sense of unease to remind them that perhaps things aren’t what they seem.

    They eventually get their memories and thus their powers back and discover that the situation is being manipulated by a powerful being called Know Man, who has imprisoned Doctor Destiny and forced him to bring about the status quo we saw at the start of the story. Know-Man insists he did all this for the greater good, as some terrible force is coming which will need a vast population of super-people to defeat. The JLA members had been hoodwinked partially because Know-Man realised they would try to foil him, and partially because Dr Destiny leapt at the chance to make his old adversaries feel “useless… inferior…”

    When they confront him, Know Man once more makes them lose themselves in nightmares where their powers cause them to become utterly removed from the humanity they protect. They get out of this by each being able to grab hold of Diana’s lasso of truth (of course).

    Before they can properly apprehend Know Man, he tells them that as they have foiled his plans to prepare an army of super defenders for this sector of space, it will be up to them to protect Earth from the “ultimate Warbringer” when it appears. Then he fades away, leaving the newly congregated JLA to muse on how well they worked as a team and how they will need to band together should such threats as Know Man mentioned start to appear. Even Batman admits they worked together with a ‘lumbering grace’, and he begrudgingly offers to assist the team in a limited capacity should the need arise!

    That’s where the mini-series ends and that’s where I’ll end this post.
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