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)
Again, I’d have to lament the literalness amongst the fans and ‘custodians’ that leads to this kind of thing.
I'm not quite following what you mean by this... I guess I must be too literal a reader. ;) If you're suggesting that metaphor should just stand as metaphor, isn't that defeating the purpose of something like JLA? JLA was the bedrock of a (supposedly) internally consistent universe. It wasn't something off on its own like All Star Superman. It reflected changes in the status quo from other titles and other titles were expected to reflect changes that were made in its pages. Its like rights and responsibilities in society, if you accept one than you also accept the other.
I, personally, don't think a writer should be held hostage to rigid continuity going back decades but if they're working on something like the JLA they should observe continuity within their frame of reference. If they're going to reflect something, then they should reflect it, they shouldn't get to cherry pick things so that they're going to observe this but not use that, when the items are coming from the same source.
If you're suggesting that sometimes it's better to keep things vague, no argument here, although that does kind of defeat the purpose of a fact card.
If there was a previous story that stated explicitly that Adam was a dupe of Sardath's breeding program* then its fine to state that on one of these fact cards.
My problem is that as far as I know there wasn't any such confirmation in the comics before this. There was just a suggestion and a suspicion of it. Any new writer coming along could develop it as he/she chose. Part of me enjoys these fact cards, and I like the idea of the known facts of the current/recent continuity being gathered together in one place. If continuity didn't keep changing (as it must) then there wouldn't be much need for these cards. Certainly DC uses them to make recent changes to the status quo more concrete in readers minds - to reiterate what they are currently doing with the character.
I also like to think that DC as a company keep actual files of these fact cards so that writers can scan them if they bring a character into their story. That's probably very naive of me, I know!
But here the fact card is just used to make a concrete truth out of an assumption that the laziest of readings of recent Adam Strange comics would lead to. The DCU is about stories and fact cards are extremely secondary to leaving storytelling options open going forward.
Don't forget that Moore's idea of Adam being Sardath's dupe came from the mouth of a very crafty fascist enemy of Adam and Rann who was at that moment fighting for her life and reaching for whatever conversational gambit would throw Adam off his game. Moore's story was about Adam reassessing his position in a more grown-up fashion. The suspicion and suggestion was all that was needed in that story.
To say that Adam was fooled for all those years, in all those great Fox/Infantino adventures and Justice League team-ups, is a drastic change to the very foundation of the Adam Strange mythos and there'd need to be a damn good story/character development reason to establish it as fact. Here it's just a lazy assumption passed off as fact, but you can take it that from this point on, Moore's ambiguity and Bruning's side-stepping of the issue are steamrolled over by the lazy, uncritical reading.
The 'literalness' I'm bemoaning in this case is that of readers who read the sentence in a comic (in this case, in Moore's Swamp Thing) and think it must be true in the fictional world then so. Dramatic context, character driven dissembling or anything like that, remotely demanding of a reader, just doesn't come into it with the literalists.
I completely agree with you regarding continuity in the JLA by the way. It was sold as being central to the continuity of its day and its relationship to the rest of the DCU was part of its fun. Further, continuity is necessary in so far as a writer can do so much more in 22 pages with a character and world that the reader already knows much about than having to establish these from scratch. I have a lot of time for continuity, but it can't be the be all and all of the DCU.
*would that we all could be so duped...
The DCU is about stories and fact cards are extremely secondary to leaving storytelling options open going forward.
Somehow, I don't think DC would give a second thought to contradicting a fact card. :)
The 'literalness' I'm bemoaning in this case is that of readers who read the sentence in a comic (in this case, in Moore's Swamp Thing) and think it must be true in the fictional world then so. Dramatic context, character driven dissembling or anything like that, remotely demanding of a reader, just doesn't come into it with the literalists
Ah, I see. I didn't quite grasp what you were trying to say in your previous comment.
I think comic book writers have a difficult row to hoe when they imply things or intend to have a statement taken as a lie or sarcasm. This can be done somewhat through context but so much of it is at the mercy of the artist. I suspect that for everything that's interpreted the way the writer intended there's much more that goes right over most reader's heads. Some misinterpretation will always be due to oblivious readers but I don't doubt that much of it is due to a peculiar limitation of the medium. All that being said Figs, I tend to agree with your assessment in this instance.
Modern monthlies seem to take about a week to write, and a month to draw. It's a shame, then, that most readers take 10-20 minutes to read them and then put them aside. (Perhaps to argue on the internet for weeks about what happens in each comic.)
The limitations you mention are there, but its still a strange artform from that perspective!
While I'm on a break from this thread, here's a great blog post that summarises a lot of what I've been trying to get at here, regarding how the generational aspect of the DCU stood in the mid-nineties. Whereas I'm just blethering, he has a PhD in cultural discourse, or some such!
Hey fellas, hope you don't mind if I join in the discussion here. Found this site today and am very impressed with your incisive observations (sorry if that sounds insincere, I assure you its not!)
Bit of self promotion first, I've got a Grant Morrison website called Deep Space Transmissions that's hopefully got some interesting background reading for you on this topic, featuring as it does an interview archive and a comprehensive listing of unpublished projects. Try 1990-2000 for the interviews, there's a lot of JLA stuff there. Pop along sometime, I hope you enjoy it!
Few bits and bobs to add to what you've been talking about so far -
Figsarello - You're views on Morrison and Johns are, in my opinion, absolutely on the money and one of the most succinct summations of the differences betwen the two I've ever read. I realize it was in reference to Waid's Adam Strange story but that thing about trading on the past without banking anything for the future is bang on the nose. I'd never taken to Johns' Green Lantern even though it seemed to be aimed squarely at me (i.e. grown adults who've been reading super hero comics for most of their lives). Couldn't ever put my finger on why I didn't like it and yet loved Morrison's similarly continuity-driven Batman stuff, but by George I think you've got it.
Couple of random bits to add to the mix - In answer to someone's post from a lot of pages back, the villain who the Hyperclan atomize in #1 is called Judgement (I think). he was the brother of the terrorist from Giffen and Dematties' Justice League #1 and fought Gerard Jones' moribund second-stringers somewhere near the end of their run - another shout out to the League's previous incarnation.
As quite a few contemporary interviews show, World Without Grown-Ups was part of Morrison's original plan for the regular series but, for some undisclosed reason, got spun out into its own comic and assigned a different writer. He gets a special thanks in the credits. Interestingly just a couple of years previously Morrison asked to pitch for the Teen Titans and was shot down because Dan Jurgens' relaunch had already been green lit (according to Eddie Berganza's intro to the JLA: Deluxe hardcover). Of course, in a nice bit of karma, Young Justice, for all intents and purposes the late-90's Teen Titans, grew out of World Without Heroes.
One of the characters from Dan Jurgens' unsuccesful relaunch, Argent, has popped up in suspiciously prominent positions in both Morrison's JLA (during Rock of Ages) and in Final Crisis. Her powers also visually closely match the 'magic mirror' seen in the Invisibles, leading me to suspect (based on no evidence whatsoever) that she may be a character from Morrison's pitch he gifted to Jurgens, as he would similarly gift the Alpha Lanterns to Geoff Johns many years later in the run-up to Final Crisis.
Looking forward to the thread starting back up!
Hi there Deep Space Transmissions. Really good to have you along. Thanks indeedy for the encouraging words. This thread has been dormant a while, so I only noticed your post last night while skipping through looking for something else. Of course we welcome all contributors. That's the name of the game. Especially ones who bring the constructively factoidal goods as you have above. You have embarked on a similarly massive Grant Morrison project to my own folly, so you'll probably appreciate that a bit of postive feedback from the right people goes a long way!
Your site is an excellent resource, and I'll be sure to have a good scrounge around there as I get the time. Can't believe I haven't come across it before now, although I might have read the interview where Morrison mentions Holden Caulfield on it a while back, and then couldn't find it when I went looking for the quote. I'd recommend anyone reading this to give it a look. Your JLA annotations for JLA #5 are devastatingly comprehensive! I couldn't figure out where that 'Seein' is believin'' quote came from!
Interesting story regarding World Without Grown-Ups. That makes Young Justice kind of a rare Peter David- Morrison collaboration, by a certain way of looking at it.
I will indeed get back to this thread, hopefully soon enough. At the moment, I'm stalling in trying to figure out how to approach DC One Million, as it's so bloody big, but I want to do justice to what the whole project achieved, and how much fun it was to read at the time.
Do have a look at the other threads in my Grant Morrison reading project and feel free to comment on any of them. There are a few questions peppered throughout that you might be able to address, seeing as you've made Grant your Mastermind Specialist Subject...
I've yet to see any evidence that Millar is a great comics writer or even has that potential. The only work of his I've enjoyed was the first volume of The Ultimates, and I really think most of the reason there is the gorgeous Hitch art. I loathed and despised Wanted, and Kick-Ass represents everything that's wrong with comics today to me.
Honestly, I think Millar has gotten by on the premise "he's from the U.K., so he's hip and edgy" that I've noticed after the advent of far, far, far better writers like Moore, Ellis, Morrison, and Ennis.
Perhaps there are lessons here for Millar - a great comics writer in danger of pawning his creative soul to the hollow dream factory of the movie business. Heh heh!
Due to circumstances beyond control (ie, my lugheadedness), I had to repost my thoughts on JLA: Paradise Lost, so my exchange with Rich, above, refers to the following:
JLA Paradise Lost
Mark Millar & Ariel Olivetti
Having managed to get these comics transported from my parents’ house all the way to sunny Oz, I thought I'd slot a reading of them in here. They take up the action exactly where JLA #7 ends, with Zauriel standing at the doorstep of the unsuspecting young woman for the love of whom he's given up his immortality and heavenly duties.
JLA Paradise Lost follows the consequences of that decision, and continues the plot of Asmodel's attempted takeover of Heaven, as foreshadowed in Morrison's first Zauriel storyline in JLA 6-7. In advance of Asmodel's attempted coup, he wants to settle the score with Zauriel, who with the aid of the JLA humiliated him. Thus Zauriel and his new ladylove must head to LA to escape Asmodel's wrath. (With Jerry, her current boyfriend, driving the car. ... It’s complicated!) Once Asmodel has tracked him down and kidnapped Shannon, Zauriel has to defend the gates of Heaven from the combined armies of Asmodel and Neron, aided only by J'onn J'onnz, who's there thanks to being temporarily killed by Asmodel in the JLA Watchtower.
The ending is possibly the most literal Deus Ex Machina I've ever read. God - unseen from start to end of this series - simply removes all the power that He'd granted Ashmodel. Without that God-Given power, the Lord of the Bull Hosts is only a few panels away from eternal torment in Hell, in the custody of his recent partner and co-conspirator Neron.
So much for the story, but what about the execution? After the rather marvelous introduction of Zauriel and Asmodel in JLA 5-6, I did find much of this story to be rather sketchy and lacking in polish. In road movie fashion, Zauriel seeks out the aid of a former Golden Boy of Heaven, who gave up his Angelic status decades before for similar reasons to Zauriel. This turns out to be the famous Archangel Michael, once Commander of God’s Heavenly Host, according to some traditions. Michael is perhaps the most disappointing element of this series for me. The ‘Cosmic Teams’ website I link to in the JLA chronology above includes annotations of JLA issues 5-11 by Jess Nevins. There we learn that Asmodel’s name is derived from an Old Testament demon, that the eye-motif on his armour was widely used in Babylonian art and mythology, and his bovine nose-ring and designation as Lord of the Bull Hosts is a reference both to the importance of Bull imagery in Assyro-Babylonian mythology and the Bull being the symbol of one of the four New Testament gospels. The other three symbols of the Gospels – The Eagle, the Man and the Lion – were represented by the other three hosts of Heaven’s military as shown in JLA 6-7. Zauriel was obviously of the Eagle host. That kind of richness and depth adds something to Morrison's comics, even when we initially don't even know they are there. They somehow add value and texture to his comics.
Michael here though, is a thin character indeed, and the story suffers for it. According to his cram-packed wiki page, Archangel Michael, (or St Michael, as he is often known) has reams of mythological, apocryphal and traditional associations and significances. Hugely important in both Hebraic and Christian folklore, Michael has been seen as the military Field Commander of the Heavenly Hosts with his flaming sword, the protector of Israel and the Jewish people and even the Angel of Death, amongst many other attributes. However, Millar’s use of the character draws on none of this rich store of traditions. Really, I have to wonder why he used the Archangel Michael at all, rather than one Millar could have created himself?
Instead we get someone who we are told gave everything up to come to Earth because he’d fallen in love with a Hollywood starlet, who subsequently died. In the build-up to Michael’s introduction we are told he’s someone who became mortal 40 years before, and thus lost everything. Rather than the tragic figure we are expecting, when we meet him he turns out to be an emaciated poseur who has somehow amassed huge wealth and lives in the Hollywood Hills. We should all be so fallen! His degradation is indicated by his biker chic attire and tendency to smoke like a chimney.
Shannon Coyne, the object of Zauriel’s affections, also didn’t impress me much. As part of her introduction, we hear a voicemessage from the poor guy running the restaurant below her flat. Her love of the strays and sick moggies over-running her apartment is threatening the health of his customers and adversely affecting his business. That’s hardly very responsible and charitable of her! I can only presume, based on how Zauriel fell in love with her, that Guardian Angels have no sense of smell!
After Zauriel has failed to stop Asmodel kidnapping Shannon, and he knows that Heaven is about to be attacked, he realises that the fastest way to get to Heaven and confront Asmodel is to die. Committing suicide would get him a one-way ticket to Hell, so Michael understands that he’ll have to behead Zauriel with his flaming sword to observe the letter of the law and send Zauriel to Heaven. Given how complicit Zauriel is in the plan, this seems like Jesuitical hair-splitting to me!
Shannon’s all-too-human boyfriend Jerry has been dragged along and he suggests doing the ‘temporarily dead’ routine whereby he will revive Zauriel after he’s saved the day in Heaven. (Batman, with the aid of various JLAers is able to do the same to J’onn J’onnz in the Watchtower.) Thus, in fine JLA tradition, he does his bit to represent humanity well in the midst of all this divine and superheroic ‘Sturm und Drang’. We have to presume that Shannon somehow witnessed this from where Neron was keeping her in Hell before she returns, otherwise it’s hard to understand her sudden realisation that she loves Jerry and not the alabaster skinned winged Adonis who showed up on her doorstep to tell her that he loved her above all other mortal women.
Some of the plotting is quite satisfying, however. Neron’s reasons for returning Shannon from her captivity in Hell make sense in a comicbook sort of way, and the final few pages set up Zauriel as a JLA member with his own jurisdiction over Los Angeles.
Nevertheless, I remember being less than impressed with this mini-series, and it probably did make me wary of subsequent JLA-branded spin-offs that didn’t have Morrison’s name on the cover.
Given how big a star Millar has become since this was published, and how influential much of his work is, I’d like to come back to JLA Paradise Lost to examine its place in Millar’s body of work generally. I have stated that the religious and spiritual underpinnings of this series seem quite prosaic compared to Morrison's referencing of ancient religions and such esoteric spirituality as Emmanuel Swedenborg’s into his Heaven-focused JLA storyline. However, for all its faults, this series does seem to present Millar’s old-school Catholic faith in consistent terms and I hope to have closer look at that next time.