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Committed: Grant Morrison’s JLA is a great birthday present

Last week I finally read a large chunk of Grant Morrison’s ’90’s run on JLA. It was something I’d been really looking forward, saving up to read when I felt like I deserved it. I knew it was going to be good, I just didn’t realize how much so. It was my birthday last week. Well, not quite my birthday, the day after my birthday, but I still wanted to keep celebrating in a low key way, so I took a very relaxing 2 hour hot bath and I dived into Grant Morrison’s run on JLA.

I had this whole plan about what I was going to write this week. I kept thinking of things to add to it, making odd notes and discussing it with friends. But I sprained my ankle on Friday and right now pain makes thinking hard, so you’re not going to get that article. It might seem as if I write these Wednesday pieces in a completely random and haphazard way, and in a way that’s true. I do want to talk about comic books organically, about how they impact every day of my life… But sometimes I want to write about things that aren’t just a part of the surface of my life, but are part of the bones and structure of it.

I’ll tell you this. Being a woman reading about female superheroes is one of those big picture parts of my life. It’s too big and gritty for me to write about it when I’m altered like this, but I wanted to talk more about women at work, being single-mindedly immersed in the job of heroing. But right now my brain is all fogged with hurting and this is too important a subject to just let it slip out, unformed. Maybe I’ll find other ways to write about it when I feel better, more elegant ones. Right now, instead, I’ll tell you about how terrifically engaging it was to sit in the bath for nearly 2 hours and read Morrison’s JLA.

Over the years, a few people have told me to read his JLA run. They know that I like the Justice League and Grant Morrison, and that I missed some good comics in the ’90’s. Back then I wasn’t really following writers, but artists. Because of that oversight, I missed some good books and these JLA’s are among them. I’d been looking forward to finding some completely uninterrupted time to read them and I was wise to do so. Once I got started, I really didn’t want to stop, in fact I had to add more hot water to the bath twice in order to stay put. And it was worth it.

In retrospect, despite some occasionally dodgy art, it is blatantly obvious why everyone talks about these comic books. Right away I found myself totally engaged in every single character, even people I’d rarely heard of before. This is far from just a vehicle for DC’s big guns, and while this is some of the best characterizations of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, it is the rest of the crew who just shine. If Morrison’s JLA were a movie, I’d tell him that the casting was terrific. I’ve read quite a lot of Morrison over the years and he definitely has a knack for writing relatable characters with unique voices. What he does is particularly difficult to do with a team book. One reason I usually like solo books more is because it is often easier for the writer to give you more background on a single character, where the focus isn’t as dispersed.

Somehow Morrison makes it look natural. While I read Morrison’s JLA I lost myself in the stories of each character and the act of intertwining their dramas never felt forced or clunky, he lets events unfold at a perfect pace. He manages to give us just enough of each character’s story to get us hooked and invested in their future, we care. Morrison’s ability to create sympathetic characters aside, he simultaneously gives us just enough inside information about everyone (even the most unlikeable characters) that he keeps the tension constantly taught. And not just for the heroes, the universe is also so intricate, there is so much rich content hinted at. If I’d been reading these comics back when they were coming out, I’d have had to know what the characters did next, and definitely would have been reading more DC books. Morrison could have made me buy all sorts of solo titles because he did such an effective job of hinting at all sorts of backstory and excitement to come. There’s a slew of ridiculous detail, covering every aspect of each story.

Over the years, I’ve come to associate the kind of attention to detail and swashbuckling abandon that Morrison invests in these JLA comic books with creator-owned comic books. I’m not used to this kind of intimate, relaxed, human writing on corporately owned characters with massively constrictive continuities. There was nothing about JLA that reminded you of the importance of any given character or their history, they just interacted like people, each one with their own unique, distinct voice and journey.

Wonder Woman’s warrior mentality and god-like roots, Superman’s do-gooder omnipotence, Batman’s uncompromising mistrust were all absolutely and completely refreshing. He writes them like they are, i.e. How I see them. And he manages to make me look past that blue Superman thing! It is just insane. Not only that, he made me like long-haired, one-armed Aquaman, a lot. But it’s the little characters who surprised me, like Green Arrow’s son is forced to step into his father’s shoes (or arrows) and discovers himself in the process, Green Lantern’s replacement Kyle Rayner is brash and stupid, but funny and excited too, or the new Flash, Wally West, with his rapidly growing battery of skills. I’m wasn’t a fan of them, but the way Morrison wrote them enthralled me. He took untried young, new heroes and let me travel with them on their journey, learning who they were by excelling at their work. With their predecessors dead and out of action, these new guys sold me on the new. It made me question why the old guys had to come back, why would we ever bring back dead characters if we had such rich new pastures? Instead of tiptoeing around established icons, Morrison wrote the characters iconically, straightforward and human, committed to their work, their team, and their humanity.

32 Comments

Did you get through his whole run Sonia or just some arcs?

I read the first three trades pictured above; “New World Order”, “American Dreams”, and “Rock of Ages.”

Hmm. Maybe I need to give these a spin.

I quite enjoyed his run, and you would also do well to check out the Mark Waid JLA stories in that era as well, they feature the same cast and tone and are a lot of fun.

I also think these comics are awesome. I love how Batman single-handedly takes down the white martians when the entire League is out of commission. (After they dismiss him as not a threat for because he lacks super powers.) I also love how we find out Batman has a contingency plan to take down each member of the League. Electric Blue Superman still looked silly though.

Great choice. Its my fave run of JLA and my favorite portrayal of Batman.

Great review, and belated happy birthday. This is the book that made me a lifelong superhero (and Grant Morrison) fan. I really agree that the character interactions are what makes this book gold. I especially liked the friendship between Green Arrow and Green Lantern, the two youngest guys on the team. This isn’t just a comic about a group of faceless superheroes bashing supervillains (something that team books can devolve into), it’s about who these people are as individuals, and how they work as a group.

1-41 = one of the best team books ever. Also liked Porter.

I have quite recently read my whole Jla run (1-125) and must say only Waids “tower of babel” was worth keeping. (besides Morrisons run of course)

While Porter was on and off, this is a good run. I do recommend not to read it too fast or in one sitting, ‘cuz the pace is too tiring. A couple slow issues here and there would have been good. Also tiring, that evert.single.storyline. was about the world’s end.

About a month back I loaned New World Order to a friend who mostly knew Marvel and had very little DC knowledge. She loved it so much within a week she ordered the next 3 TPBs.

It’s good to see this series brought to everyone’s attention every now and again. I started collecting heavily around the time Tower of Babel came out, and it was a real treat to discover what came before when I started picking up the trades. I know not everyone liked the stuff that came later, but Trial by Fire and Obsidian Age are probably in my top 10 favorite books. The Kelley/Mahnke books felt like a wonderful combination of art and writing, as good for me as Morrison’s run.

I took a very relaxing 2 hour hot bath

I have a stupid mind. I immediately tried to imagine having the time to take a two hour bath, and then said to myself, “Nah, that would suck, the water would get too cold.” But I guess I could just let some water out and run more hot water… but then I’d probably only end up burning myself.

I think my brain may be my own worse enemy.

I love it when Batman says “Nuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!”

MAGGEDDON IS COMING!!!

AAAA!!!

I really loved Orion’s dog!

What a fantastic run that was, the later stuff is excellent too. Don’t forget the DC ONE MILLION crossover and the EARTH-TWO GN with Frank Quitely.

It really felt like the JLA to me despite how whack the DC Universe was at the time compared to the standard model. It is such a shame that Superman pulling the moon and wrestling an angel was Electro Glide in Blue, instead of the

But still, it was quite Silver Age in a way, while still being mega-awesome-extreme.

And long-haired, one-armed Aquaman is my favorite. I even wish they had stayed with the harpoon strapped to the stump, the way it was on the first cover.

Superman fighting Asmodel was one of the best scenes in Morrison’s JLA run, and I think it’s a testament to his writing that he makes it work in spite of the electric Superman foolishness. That opage still gives me chills.

Just to warn you, the quality gets awfully variable after “Rock of Ages.” DC One Million, the Sandman issues, and the better chapters of World War III were the highlights of the latter issues for me. Also, be sure to. Read the Earth 2 graphic novel, which was my favorite JLA story.

I’ve long said that the only good thing to come out of Electric-Blue Superman was how Morrison used him in JLA.

I also second Jay B. in sticking with the series through Mark Waid’s subsequent run, as it’s quite good as well.

I’ve yet to read the earlier parts of Morrison’s run, but I read two of the later JLA runs: Syndicate Rules, from 2004, and Crisis of Conscience, also from that year. Any of you read those two?

My least favorite of Morrison’s big runs, but that’s definitely not an insult. Morrison’s JLA (and to a lesser extent, I suppose, his Frankenstein) is why I couldn’t get into Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE. Its reputation as the “crazy” book of the DCnU stems from its having, what, one-fifth as many out-there ideas as JLA was pumping out on a month-to-month basis. Also, it’s the only portrayal of Wonder Woman that ever really convinced me that Diana counted as a “big gun.”

A Superman wrestling an angel by any other costume would be just as awesome.

yes, DC ONE Million is fun reading. (the JLA issue and the series proper)
In my opinion, Earth 2 was good but not great.

Tom Fitzpatrick

December 8, 2011 at 5:01 am

And it was because of Morrison, Plastic Man was finally taken seriously.

In a funny sort of way.

Happy B-day, Sonia!

Tom, stupid question because I’m not near my collection: Did Morrison make Plastic Man a “better” character, or did Kelly? I seem to remember Plas taking a bigger role after Morrison moved on than during his run.

This is a good excuse for me to go back and read the whole thing again.

In my opinion it only gets better from here. World war 3 did everything an event should do, but in the span of a single series, and really was Kyle Rayner’s final hour. Plus Porter gets more comfortable in his art and does much better than his earlier work.
“We’re the JLA Guy, we ARE the professionals”

@Thumbs Do you maybe mean Kyle Rayner’s finest hour, not final?

I think for sheer excitement this run peaked with Rock of Ages, but DC One Million was a lot of fun.

Tom Fitzpatrick

December 9, 2011 at 5:13 am

@Joshschr: I can’t remember, but I do know that since Plastic Man’s appearance in JLA made him more popular in use, than before JLA.

Go figure! ;-)

@Bill K, yes, yes I did.

Yeah, this series was a favorite of mine. And although I haven’t read it in ages I remember being totally confused with Rock of Ages. haha…

Aquaman had some good moments and Hippolyta joining (along with all the 2nd stringers) was a plus. One of my favorite stories was the one that had Batman, Huntress and Plasticman teaming up. I alway love it when Batman and Huntress are featured together, but this was a nice spin as she was constantly out of her depth.

[…] X-Force. It’s a visual treat and the world spanning cast recalls Grant Morrison’s epic work on JLA. It’s not great and I’m admittedly not the biggest Avenger fan but this book definitely […]

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