JLA DELUXE EDITION VOL. 1 (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison with Mark Millar, drawn by Howard Porter with Oscar Jimenez
Collects JLA #1-9, JLA Secret Files #1
It might seem like I’ve decided to read through my Grant Morrison trade collection since I’m talking about the first two JLA Deluxe Edition books after talking about his Vertigo mini Vimanarama last week. It’s actually a coincidence that has spawned from a different reading project I’ve been doing over the past month or so. Before Lucy was born, I decided to dig out parts of my post-Crisis Justice League collection and give it a read. I decided not to go all the way back to the beginning, but instead picked up right after Breakdowns, which ended the classic Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire run. I had already recently read Justice League Task Force and Extreme Justice, so I just stuck with Justice League America and Justice League Europe/International, reading JLA first up until the Judgement Day storyline, then hopping over to Europe and then reading all the way through to the end of JLA. It was a really interesting experience, especially because I hadn’t read these comics in order when they came out. At some point in my collecting past, I decided to collect all the post-Crisis Justice League books and I’m only an issue or two off by now (a pair of annuals are keeping me from a full run). I’m sure I read most of the issues as I got them, but they were mostly out of order, so the stories were like puzzle pieces in a massive picture of the League in my head put together over several years. It was a lot of fun and I’m planning on getting all the books bound, but after reading through the final issues of Justice League America, I was really curious how Morrison picked up the threads left behind by that and the A Midsummer’s Nightmare. It was pretty great.
Before jumping into my review (this is one helluva long intro, sorry) I want to give a brief history of my relationship with Morrison’s JLA. I remember the exact situation in which I found out about this comic. It wasn’t online or at a comic shop, but in my local mall’s Walden Books. I’d been reading comics for a while, but mostly just stuck with Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and a few others. I got my comic news from the ads in comics, the occasional talk in comics shops and free hand outs. But, at Walden Books, I found this magazine called Wizard. It was issue #57, the Captain America/Iron Man cover by Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. I was blown away by this thing. Not only was it telling me that Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman were all being put on the same Justice League team, but also explained to me this thing that would be called Heroes Reborn and something else called Kingdom Come. Thus started my long-time readership of Wizard that eventually turned into a career. But, my point is that, a half-page (I believe) news graphic in the front of the mag about the new JLA line-up is what drew my attention and captured my imagination. I HAD to read this book.
Okay, time for the actual review! I love JLA. Not only because of some nostalgic pull, but because it’s just a damn comic that burned itself into my memory as a kid. I remembered all the twists and turns, but I also had a really good time on the ride. I’m not sure what it is about some stories that still seem fun and interesting even when you know all the beats and others don’t. When re-reading Alan Moore’s Top 10, I was bored. I think it has something to do with there being enough meat on the bones of the ride to enjoy that keeps you distracted enough so you’re not just sitting there, waiting for the good parts.
Anyway, the most impressive aspect of Morrison’s JLA run, to me, is how fast-paced it is. These stories are all living somewhere in my mind, so stories like the Hyperclan one, or the Zauriel intro or the Connor Hawke fights alone one all seem like these huge, widespread epics, but in reality all of those stories take place over 9 issues. I’ve read the Hyperclan stuff the most, probably, but even so, I liked reading how Morrison handles the characters, how badass he made Batman and especially how he handles Kyle Rayner. I loved Kyle’s ongoing, so it was nice to see another writer treat the character with respect, but also understand that kind of “I’m in awe of all this” nature he had while hanging out with the Justice League. And, of course, Howard Porter has never been better than he was on JLA. Just as the stories themselves have been absorbed in my memory, so have his panels, pages and poses. There’s something so unique and yet iconic about the way he drew these heroes that it’s almost hard to move from one panel tot he next without trying to drink it all in.
From there we get the recruitment drive/Tomorrow Woman story which I kind of forgot about, but still liked it (I wish they would have included her one-shot even though I don’t believe it was written by Morrison, but ah well). That moment where Hitman says he only went there to use his x-ray vision on Wonder Woman is fantastic. After that it’s the Zauriel stuff, which was fascinating and really showed how tough this new League was: they’re fighting angels. Which reminds me, just as his run was kicking off, Morrison had to deal with Electric Superman and I’ve got to say, he retained the character’s general awesomeness, made him a little bit more vulnerable and unsure of himself, but really exploited the powers well. I know it might not be saying much to some people, but I bet these are the best Electric Blue Superman stories around. I mean, he grapples with a freaking angel, you guys. The angel stuff gets picked up again in a later volume which I’m looking forward to getting my hands on, but this was a great intro to Zauriel a character that has fallen to the wayside since Morrison left the book. And we close out the book with the wonderful tale of Connor Hawke fighting the Key and his robots in the Watchtower after the villain has already captured most of the League using only his father’s goofy trick arrows. My only problem with this story is that it’s another one of those “the superheroes are living fake lives with similar but different histories” stories. Having just read something very similar in the pages of A Midsummer’s Nightmare and this being one of the kinds of stories I’m generally getting sick of in comics, I just looked at the pretty pictures and moved on.
Then we get the weird Starro-ish story from JLA Secret Files co-written by Mark Millar back when he and Morrison used to be boys. I do not like this story, but mostly for fanboyish reasons. At least half of this team has experienced a Starro before, so I’m not sure why it all seems so new to them. That bothered me. And then–and I remember having this problem the first time I read the story–the Spectre (who showed the JLA what might happen if they attack this creature with super powers) makes a big deal of them getting their powers back at the end or something. At no point in the reading of this tale did I ever think “Wow, the JLA might lose their powers forever…in a Secret Files story…that’s set before the team even formed.” Stakes like that just don’t work in this kind of story, so that added element of melodrama just didn’t work for me. Plus, it muddied the transition from the previous Justice League America to JLA which was a bummer because I thought it was handled pretty well in those initial issues. Ah well, maybe I’ll just skip that one on my next read through.
Well, that proved to be a lot more involved than I had originally planned, so I’m going to review the second volume in another post. Stay tuned!