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)
I just wanted to drop a line and let you know how much I'm enjoying this thread, (even long after the fact). I hope it's just on hiatus and will be coming back soon. If Adam Strange is getting in the way, just forget about him, most people do. ;)
I noticed that JLA: Earth 2 hasn't been slotted in yet. I got the impression that it was set before the recruitment drive but I could be wrong. (It's been about a year since I did my JLA read through.) If somehow it got overlooked, definitely get a copy. As far as I'm concerned it's Morrison's best JLA work.
So far, my favourite issues were the Key storyline and Waid's Julian September two parter.
Some quick thoughts on the storylines:
The White Martians - I remember when this first came out being disappointed they retconned away the Earth/Mars War and made the antagonistic Martians white instead. They did retcon the Earth/Mars War in JLA: Incarnations but apparently the White Martians existed previously. Who knew? :)
Morrison starts right off nailing the characterization in the middle of the action; no time for subplots here. Batman has some awesome moments. Everyone gets their time in the sun and I found I even liked Kyle Rayner in this context.
Tomorrow Woman - I liked the interplay of Ivo and Morrow but otherwise found this one a little lacking.
The Demons 3 - The angel host was a pretty cool idea and this did a good job of showing that Superman was still super. I would have liked to have seen more about how the "Demons 2" were coping without Ghast.
The Key - I quite liked this one but then again, I'm always a sucker for a well done alternate reality story. I thought the "liquid covering" of the Flash was quite cool and might make an interesting element in a costume modification. The villain counting on the heroes to win was a genius idea.
Rock of Ages - This one seemed to be all over the place. I guess that's kind of the point. It had lots of foreshadowing and sneak peaks and lots of time jumping, but the whole trip just seemed kind of pointless. The Darkseid parts were good but didn't really seem fresh and the Injustice Gang part seemed to go on too long. I don't know, maybe the idea of Metron sending them someplace for no real reason just soured me on the story.
Count me among those who thought this was too early to expand the membership. Also, disbanding the League so that the membership can be expanded is an idiotic idea. At least most of the times this is done they try to come up with a reasonable in-story reason, fail utterly, but at least they try.
Prometheus - An interesting villain addition, (although the Wrath immediately came to my mind as well). I thought melding the Ghost Zone with the ability download was a bit of a misstep though. It just seemed like they'd be better in separate characters.
Julian September - I really liked this one; hard to top the ending to that first part.
JLA: Incarnations - I highly recommend every issue of this series.
Someone said that when MM was giving Vibe his, "the League leads", pep talk that it fell flat. I didn't think so. They might not have been the most powerful heroes but they stepped into where they needed to be. Just because they didn't have all the DCU's big guns, doesn't mean the other League's weren't effective and lets face it, right after Crisis a lot of the big guns were navel gazing.
After this series, when Waid left for CrossGen, I was hoping that Ostrander would step-in. This series showed me he had a good handle on the League.
Anyway, looking forward to more opinions and reviews.
Thanks Sdhun. I appreciate the appreciation post in my appreciation thread! I've enjoyed writing it and learned a lot about DC and comics by doing it, but a few words of encouragement don't go amiss. The old board showed us how many people were reading along, but on this one I'm dependent on posts like yours to let me know if anyone is enjoying it. (That's a hint to other lurkers btw!) Good to have you with us.
Yes, my little detour to Rann has been taking a bit longer than I expected and it would seem from the responses there that you are about right in your estimation of interest in it. Bah! Your advice to forget him comes a little late as I've just about reached the point in Adam's history where Waid took up the baton in JLA #20, so both threads are about to dovetail nicely. My quandry is which thread to put Waid's Adam Strange in.
I'm using the chronology up there in the opening post to place the tie-in issues, and it places JLA Earth2 after Grant leaves the main series. Perhaps it's just based on its publishing date. I'm planning on using it as an excuse to cover the non-Morrison JLA stories published between JLA #41 and JLA Earth 2. I'm really really looking forward to reading Quitely's JLA. Can't come quick enough!
What is this Earth-Mars War of which you speak? I loved reading about the original arctic Martians for Philip's JLA-JSA team-ups thread. Actually there is a lot in the books we looked at there that were seminal in Morrison's early DC reading, and which his own work builds on and draws from.
Yeah, Ostrander's Incarnations was a great series. I'll have to look out for the few I don't have. The way he developed a single coherent story using done-in-one tales of all those different versions of the league was quite masterly. It's a great Justice League series no matter how you cut it. Alas, everything 'League' has been rebooted since it came out, and it's about to be rebooted again now, so it will hardly be collected anytime soon. The similar and ultra-recent DC Universe Legacies has now met the same fate!
From a plot point of view, I couldn't quite see why Metron sent Kyle and co into the future either, but I'm happy enough with my thematic explanation. He represents the quest for knowledge, which by definition means a journey into the unknown, where you don't know what you are going to find out, or how it will shake your world and stretch your beliefs. Rock of Ages is this JLA at its most Morrisonian.
Regarding expanding the membership, we know that Morrison only did 41 issues, and its likely that he was aiming to finish up around the turn of the millenium anyway, so he knew he was reaching the halfway point and wanted to move his plans along. Expanding the JLA in 1998 is very like instituting Batman Inc in 2010, in that he is trying to reach out beyond the pages of the comic at hand to affect the rest of the DCU. Expanding the JLA was his way of 'infecting' the rest of the DCU with their positive, noble attitude. It very much ties in with his philosophies as expounded in his other comics. Which isn't to excuse bad plotting if it doesn't convince some of his readers.
It's safe to say that Morrison sometimes cruises on the goodwill of his readership, getting away with moves that would seem sloppy if by another writer, because Grant gives such good value elsewhere.
For what its worth I'll be coming back to this thread very shortly, to look at Waid's Adam Strange issues and then on to the end of the Justice for All TPB. I want to do that justice too, as it is one of Grant's few 'collaborations' intersections with Neil Gaiman's work.
Then I'll have to figure out how to approach DC One Million. I wanted to cover most of the crossover titles briefly, but it may be a big project. Is anyone interested in covering some of the issues for me?
Before that though, I'm hoping to finish my Micronauts thread, as the end of that is in sight, and I'd like to wrap it up. I prefer starting reading projects to finishing them, (obviously!)
So much for the progress report. Watch this space.
What is this Earth-Mars War of which you speak?
It took place in the original Justice League of America issues 228-230. It involved the (green) Martians launching a sneak attack on Earth while the big guns were all unavailable. The League manages to fight them off with the help of a returned MM. After the war, MM has to stay on Earth, as he's no longer wanted by his people. This brought the Martian Manhunter back to the league after he'd been away for the better part of 100 issues. It was the first time the satellite headquarters was destroyed and the first time the league was disbanded, (this time by Aquaman, the only founding member available). It's also the storyline just prior to the dawn of Justice League Detroit... but don't hold that against it. ;)
I believe issue 4 of JLA: Incarnations retconned the war as the green martians were all supposed to be dead in the new continuity.
DC continuity was in a 'sweet spot' when Morrison took over JLA, and he made much of it. He was able to introduce old concepts as if they were new in a way that didn't put off new readers, and he was able to tell brand new stories with some of them, as he did with the White Martians.
He also for the most part, picks concepts that hadn't been used in years, so he isn't re-imagining stuff that has only recently been re-imagined, which would alienate recent writers or readers. Such messing about harms the 'fictional fabric of continuity' in any case.
I thought the "liquid covering" of the Flash was quite cool and might make an interesting element in a costume modification.
I happen to be reading Morrison and Millar's Flash at the moment, Sdhun, and they do pick up the notion of the liquid mercury suit Flash found himself wearing in the Key's alternate world. Wally specifically mentions it as his inspiration when he makes himself a suit of pure Speedforce that allows him to walk and run when his legs are shattered. Despite what I said about sticking with the JLA going forward, I'd like to take a quick look at those Flash issues, as they are concurrent with these issues of JLA and they are both very much of a piece.
It doesn't look like I'd have to spend a lot of time or discussion on them. They are just good superhero comics, rather than anything too deep. I'll try to write them up between Strength in Numbers and DC One Million.
The Martian Manhunter returned to prominence with that story, helping start Justice League Detroit, participating in the Crisis, suffering through the destruction of JL Detroit, playing a major role in Legends which led to him becoming the anchor of the team in its Justice League International/Justice League America/Justice League Task Force era.
In fact, Post-Crisis, J'onn never left the JLA! In several stories when they referred to stories from the issue #70-200 period, he was drawn in as a substitute for Superman, who was NOT a JLA member though he visited a lot!
Though as a counterpoint, Identity Crisis happened during the Satellite years and J'onn was not seen.
JLA # 20 - 21 Mystery in Space / Strange New World
On my Adam Strange thread, I’ve already briefly summarised the contents of Waid’s 2nd storyline of his 4-issue fill-in of Morrison’s JLA.
As I remarked over there, I have reservations about what Waid has done with this story. The contrast it makes with the Julian September story is revealing. That tale seemed to be Waid working towards the Morrison JLA template. Like many of Morrison’s, it built on unconventional, marginal areas of physics and mathematics, and gave us an original, fun adventure where we as readers didn’t know what to expect around the next corner – things like Batman’s memorable disappearance just as he’s about to solve everything, or the Martian Manhunter pretending to be the King of England in an America where the war of Independence has been lost. Like many of Morrison’s best JLA efforts, the story pops with ideas and doesn’t depend on us knowing much about the characters going in.
As Julian September was brand new to us, and created with that numerologically distinctive name specifically for this great little story, there was a freshness to everything that we don’t normally see when some supervillain is getting his 104th showing.
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.
Nevertheless, Julian September was entertaining and fun, and the story played intelligently with some clever concepts in a comicbooky way.
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.
Yes, the 1990 series Man of Two Worlds had made a hash of the Adam Strange status quo. But so what? The JLA series didn’t exist to fix continuity issues outside its own pages. No comic should! 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.
Rather than setting out to tell us a story with its own meanings, theme and message, Waid set out to just tinker with a DC property and leave it ...what? Better set up to launch its own comic? When I’m reading a story, I don’t care about the sales DC might get on some future as-yet-unknown series.
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.
The very idea that your readers would be interested in the tinkering you are doing with some old Silver Age concepts for their own sake is one that has led many comic series down unproductive blind alleys that have only alienated new readers. I was a new reader the first time I read these issues of JLA, and although I’d puzzled my way through many of Grant’s wild JLA scripts up to this, I did feel that this was the first comic in the series that built on knowledge I didn’t have. It was just a subconscious quibble I had at the time.
However, I had the same feeling a few years later when I read JLA: Jacob’s Ladder, the tabloid-format adventure drawn by Bryan Hitch. Unlike with JLA 20 & 21, I knew straight away that I was reading something that depended for its dramatic impact on the reader recognising arcane and obscure elements of a continuity that I knew nothing about. I was disappointed for myself, as I’d just paid big money for it, but also disappointed for DC, as it was clear they were going down a route that would involve simply the recycling of old concepts rather than presenting exciting new concepts more in tune with the first years of the 21st Century.
And who wrote JLA: Jacob’s Ladder? Oh yes - Mark Waid!
I’d pinpoint JLA #20 – 21 as when the Reconstruction project started to go wrong, and I’d pinpoint JLA: Jacob’s Ladder as the point where I realised myself that it had gone wrong.
Interesting thoughts on the Strange issues, Figs. I remember liking them when I first read them, specifically because it was cleaning up the mess other writers had made of Adam Strange. So yeah, it was definitely built with older readers in mind. But it pleased this one, at least!
The JLA tabloid you're thinking of was called Heaven's Ladder, I think, not Jacob's Ladder -- and again, I adored it. I haven't actually read it since, but it was the first comic in years -- decades -- to give me the feeling of what it would be like to have Barry Allen back. Much more so than the books which have actually done that job, I must add.
I can't seem to find my copy of Heaven's Ladder -- these big ones get stored in odd places! -- or I'd reread it when I got a chance.
Oops! Heaven's Ladder. Sometimes I forget to google when the red mist comes down over my vision. :-)
I figure I'll only be going over this ground once, so this was my chance to vent on a particular bugbear of mine. Waid's efforts happened to be what offered me that chance. His 'Mystery in Space' isn't that bad a JLA tale, but I do object in principle to the approach behind it which I have all sorts of problems with.
Where to start? First of all, 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.
Second, stories like this only alienate new readers. I'm speaking from experience here. What did I care about some character that last starred in his own comic before I was born? 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.
Third, I know that superhero comics are all about wish-fulfillment fantasies and power-fantasies, but a story about how the death of someone we love can be reversed just by wishing it so is going too far. Superhero stories have their own oddball way of showing us truths, but I don't like it when they show us comforting lies.
Fourth, Gail Simone wrote recently that she never retcons changes that she doesn't like. 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.
Fifth. What exactly was the point of this re-set? It must have obvious that as soon as anyone started telling more stories about Adam, the status quo would have to be put through the blender again. What have we got since? Rann in a permanent state of war and military emergency. Does it still exist, even, or has it been blown to smithereens yet? Again, stories are about what happens next, not about what happened decades ago.
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?
Sixth, 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.
Prefiguring Johns' Green Lantern is an awful thing to do, in my book. Note that Johns' GL typifies so many of the problems I have with modern DC comics that I mention above; Building stories on other writer's capital, comforting lies for fanboys, denial of personal growth change and evolution. The very idea of reverting to the past just by waving a writerly wand. We even get the Flash at the end of JLA #21 TELLING us that Adam is so great, rather than letting his actions speak for themselves. A very Johnsian cop-out.
Johns looks like Waid's long lost love-child by this reading, doesn't he? What have you done, MARK! This story prefigures everything that I hate about modern DC comics!!!
... OK, calm down Figs.
Even your appreciation of these two JLA stories is fuel to my ire, Rob. You were reacting to seeing the old toys laid out again, rather than what was going on in the stories.
I don't remember much about Heaven's Ladder, except my disappointment when I realised the route DC was taking. DC does this periodically. Makes small steps forward and then reaches back to the core fanboy audience, thus ensuring that their comics stay in their little cultural ghetto.
Another example was Kevin Smith's Green Arrow revival. That was a chance to reach out to a huge audience familiar with his name from cinema, but all we got were callbacks to old comics. I should have loved it as it was callbacks to comics I loved - Moore's and O'Neill's - but I could see what they were doing. Or rather not doing.
This latest reboot in September will be similarly half-hearted and will end with DC re-establishing complex old continuity to keep the shrinking fanboy market happy. Just watch.
I’m hoping to look at Heaven’s Ladder later on. I’d like to give it another chance. Obviously next time, I’ll have some clue what all the callbacks are to, and I needn’t feel so pointlessly excluded from the party. I still won't give a hoot if 'Barry' turns up though...
An interesting parallel with Adam's "return" to basics was that Superman was back to his caped Man-of-Steel self, thanks to the Millenium Giants storyline that left no impression on me! :-0
Best line of the story: Kyle: "You were counting on all this coming together? Wasn't that one hell of a gamble?"
Adam: "If I'd contacted the Seven Soldiers of Victory it would be a gamble. I brought the Justice League. That's a plan."
Luckily he brought eight really powerful JLAers. He could have ended up with Batman, Green Arrow, the Huntress, Plastic Man and Aquaman!
I get what you're saying, Figs. Bringing Alanna back does not negate Adam's actions in Man of Two Worlds. It merely ignores them. Also Alanna's mother is absent.
But you did say no one used Adam Strange for eight years after Bruning so something had to be done. A return to Adam's Silver Age-ish status quo is not the ending of his story but a new starting off point, though I'm not that familar with what happens to Adam next.
As for the JLA, I recall hating Orion in this story. Kirby's New Gods star now a snarling, drooling Dog of War! How the mighty have fallen indeed!
What's funny, Figs, is that I liked the story and you hated it -- but I can't disagree with a thing you said.
And Phil, you're right -- that exchange is one of the real highlights of the book.
Perhaps 1997 Rob liked the story, and 2011 Rob agrees with my points? :-)
Actually 2011 Figs liked the story well enough, too. It's not terrible, but I just jumped on the opportunity to go off on one. Running a continuity-driven universe demands a certain care and rigour to do it right, and this story seems like a classic example of how to do it wrong.
I noticed Superman was being 'reset' too, but there's a difference between just slipping into some old clothes and dragging your dead wife out of the grave!
Reddy Kilowatt has left the building, in case you are reading this, Jeff!
I'll be continuing my Adam Strange thread into the Noughties, because I'm very curious as to what DC did with him after this reset. That will be the proof of the pudding. Planet Heist was supposed to be quite good actually.
Orion gets the short end of the stick in this story, and he's made to go and fetch it by Wonder Woman! Bring him to heel, Diana!
Adam's shonky control collars worked surprisingly well on on New Gods, I thought.
And did Adam drag them to Rann by the Zeta Beam? Does it work instantly now? I'm sure he didn't plan all this 4 years before...