Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review # 84: "JLA by Grant Morrison - Volumes One and Two"

With sales sagging on Justice League, DC made the wise decision of blowing the property up and starting over with a single team of heavy-hitters. The classic lineup of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, The Flash (Wally West instead of Barry Allen) and Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner instead of Hal Jordan) was back together. From there, DC took a gamble with lesser-known artist Howard Porter and arguably another with writer Grant Morrison.

Morrison at the time had a resume that was mainly off-beat including obscure character Animal Man, an bizarre interpretation of Doom Patrol and the mega-selling Batman Arkham Asylum graphic novel. While, yes, his work on Batman was very successful (and would become more successful down the line), it was set in a crazy house and was definitely not traditional superhero fare.
His appointment on JLA turned out to be a stroke of genius. Morrison was and still is easily capable of handling more traditional superhero characters, but there's always a slightly off-kilter undertone to his work. He and Porter become a great team right off the bat as the art is drawn from dynamic angles. It fits Morrison perfectly and aids the opening story greatly.

The introductory arc features the arrival to earth of a superpowered group calling itself the "Hyperclan." Their intentions seem good, even as they confront members of the JLA, but things quickly get ugly as they take to policing the world and executing criminals on live television. Of course, things aren't quite what they appear as the Hyperclan starts to control the minds of all of earth and goes about killing its heroes. We get our first taste of Batman awesomeness as he deduces the true identities of the Hyperclan and smirks like a bad ass when he lets them know that they're nicked. Further adventures pit the JLA against evil angels from heaven, including my favourite moment of these two volumes.

See, Morrison had been saddled with Blue Superman, what I consider the last gasp of 90s comic stupidity. For those who don't know or who may have blocked it out from their memory, Superman transformed into a being of energy and was contained to a suit with a Cyclops/Gambit/Havoc 90s-style headdress. It was a deliberate attempt to try to make him look cool, thus making him look completely uncool. Seriously, it was worse than the post-death mullet (also included in volume one.) Here I am not ready to take this version of Superman seriously, when he starts fighting an otherworldly being and Flash - looking on in awe - says "This is the guy who said he couldn't live up to his myth. He's fighting an angel." From then on, I don't care if he's blue.

Volume Two puts the heroes up against some villains most people are more familiar with, including a new Injustice Gang made up of Lex Luthor, Joker and... a bunch of guys I don't recognize. (Give me a break, I don't read much DC.) Lex has launched an effort to bring the Justice League down from the inside using various means, one that ends up with Aquaman, Green Lantern and Flash traveling to the futuristic year of 2013 to take down an earth that's been disturbingly conquered by Darkseid, probably the highlight of this arc. The will-sapped future (of 2013) plays to Morrison's strengths of depicting the unusual.

In the end, Luthor's schemes are halted mainly by the always-preparing-for-anything Batman. Morrison's time on JLA is recognized as the time when Batman's planning skills began to take over the character. While it's cool that the Caped Crusader is one step ahead of the opposition, I already feel like it's becoming laughable. "OK, the team's in trouble. What incredible scheme has Bruce Wayne already cooked up that he hasn't told anyone about yet?" Two volumes in I am worried that this is going to become a crutch and actually makes me a little more reluctant to check out Morrison's run on his solo title. Is it always like this?

But that's not going to knock down how great these two volumes are. While some of the 90s trademarks grind me down a bit (Wonder Woman dies in her own series as a stunt nobody ended up caring about, for instance,) its influence is apparent. The greatness DC produced with its banner characters under Morrison kicked the crap out of Marvel's "Heroes Reborn" and ultimately led to two extremely important Avengers series at its competitor (the back-to-basics Avengers under Kurt Busiek and George Perez - the best run for that title ever in my opinion- and the New Avengers under Brian Michael Bendis which made it popular enough to spawn a movie franchise.) It also led to Morrison's game-changing work on X-Men and his job overseeing all things Gotham.

This is a hearty recommendation to anyone. You already know all of these characters. Enjoy as Morrison and Porter have some fun stretching them to their limits.

Rating: 9.5/10

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