Grant Morrison Trade Post: JLA One Million & JLA Earth 2

jla one millionI’ve been slowly making my way through Grant Morrison’s mainstream DC Comics work starting with Animal Man and working up through The Flash and JLA. I’ve reabsorbed the first two JLA Deluxe volumes, but already reviewed those here and here, so it seemed like a good time to jump over and do JLA: One Million and JLA Earth 2.

DC One Million was an event that took place in November of 1998. The idea was that these characters from the far future — the 853rd century to be exact — would be around when the one millionth issue of Action Comics was published in “real time.” The heroes from the future came to the past to tell the originators that they were celebrating Superman Prime coming out of the sun after a long time. So, many of the JLA members went to the future where they were accused of being imposters while a plague ran through the present day. It was all pretty crazy and a tip off of the kind of event Morrison would create when he did Final Crisis a decade or so later.

I was a huge fan of this crossover drawn by Val Semeiks when it happened and have collected even more of the tie-ins in the ensuing years, though there is an omnibus that looks pretty rad. Anyway, I read the late 90s/early 00s trade that’s part of the JLA line and it’s a pretty weird reading experience thanks to the lack of covers between issues, slap dash creative credits and bouncing around between the main series and the tie-ins. The story itself is basically perfect for an event because much of the future stuff takes place in the tie-ins while the main series deals with the future heroes trying to save the present. The downside of that is that it feels like you’re reading about half a story when going through this particular trade.

As far as signature Morrison moments and ideas go, this book is jam-packed with them. You’ve got the idea that the superheroes we know and love essentially turn into gods who can not be forgotten, no matter how hard some try. That legacy idea is huge throughout his DC work. There’s also a quick appearance by General Eiling and his Ultra Marines who appear in JLA Deluxe Volume 3, but more than that Morrison takes equal time to shine the spotlight on the big guns as well as a ragtag group that includes Steel, Huntress, Plastic Man, Barda and Zauriel who are trying to save humanity. But more than anything — and the moment that stuck with me for decades after the fact — is the idea that he gives Superman a happy ending in regards to Lois. As a die-hard and longtime Superman fan, this meant — and continues to mean — a lot to me.

JLA_Earth_2I was less enthusiastic about JLA: Earth 2 by Morrison and Frank Quitely, the team that worked on New X-Men and All-Star Superman together later on down the line. This 2000 graphic novel came out towards the end of Morrison’s run on JLA which ended that same year and reintroduced the idea of the Crime Syndicate — evil versions of the Justice Leaguers — to the post-Crisis continuity.

See, back in the day when there were multiple Earths, the Crime Syndicate came from Earth 3 where good and evil were backwards. Instead of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman being heroes, Ultraman, Owl Man and Superwoman were big time baddies. In Morrison’s version, instead of coming from Earth 3, this gang was part of the Anti-Matter Universe. They referred to the regular DCU as Earth 2, hence the title.

The story itself follows Anti-Matter Lex Luthor (a hero) as he travels to the regular DCU reality to recruit the JLA into going back home with him to help out. They do so, but in an act of cosmic balance, the Crime Syndicate — which also includes Johnny Quick and Power Ring — gets transported to the regular DCU where they cause havoc. However, both soon realize that good and evil naturally triumph in each reality and return home.

Of all of the Morrison DC comics I’ve read so far, this one feels the most straightforward and “normal.” There aren’t any huge twists or mind-bending elements aside from the fact that certain universes only allow for certain elements to win out. It’s well-told and brisk, but not exactly what you’d expect from the man who had Superman fight an angel to a standstill. It also looks perfectly Quitely. It’s big and bold and mean at times (he draws the best sneers in the game). His is a style I wasn’t big on at first, but once I started seeing the incredible detail included, I completely switched around to uber-fandom.

I think part of the reason I didn’t really latch onto this story is that I just can’t get into stories where characters are just super, duper, completely and totally evil. And that’s exactly what the CSA members are. They murder and oppress citizens with impunity for no other reason than they can. In other words, they’re as far from a sympathetic villain as you can get. I’m guessing this was done as a way to shine a light on how good and amazing our heroes are, but I just wasn’t feeling it at the time. Still, it’s a fun, quick and oh-so-pretty adventure.

Books Of Justice: JLA Deluxe Volume 2

JLA DELUXE EDITION VOLUME 2 (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Howard Porter with Val Semeiks, Arnie Jorgensen, Gary Frank & Greg Land
Collects JLA #10-17, Faces of Evil: Prometheus #1, JLA/WildC.A.T.S. #1
As with the previous volume, I was once again surprised with how much Morrison packed into so few issues. I remembered the Injustice Gang story, the one where GL, Aquaman and Flash travel to Wonderworld and then to a possible future where Darkseid has taken over, but did not realize they were all happening at the same time. This is one helluva yarn to unravel and that’s before we even get to the Prometheus story. Wow, so much going on here. All other comic book writers–especially ones who want to write big time superhero team comics–should take notes for reference instead of throwing out yet another boring retread of old villains without much new thought or spark.

While a group of super villains coming together to put an end to the heroes might not have been the most original idea of all time–and seems even less so after the past few years of that being the go-to plot for villains–Morrison twisted it just enough by putting Lex Luthor in charge and having him use hostile takeover (read: business) tactics to destroy the JLA. He also, thankfully, didn’t just go with whatever Super Powers lame-os that seemingly everyone else who does this story. I fully expected to see Cheetah instead of Circe, but Circe makes so much more sense. As it turns out, the Injustice Gang series acts as a kind of book end for the other stories I mentioned. Kyle Rayner really gets to shine in an issue before Morrison moves the spotlight over to Aquaman. He does such a good job of giving everyone their due diligence.

But, my favorite aspect of this story is the Darkseid Is possible future. I am a sucker for these kinds of stories because they really get to play with our heroes in ways that just can’t be done in modern comics. Superman’s dead, Batman has been forced to kill, Flash is a fat guy, GL’s a zombie, but more interestingly, Argent has become a hero! Most of you might not remember Argent, but she was one of the characters in Dan Jurgens’ relaunch of the team in the late 90s. Seeing a guy like Morrison show her in such a cool light made me really re-think that character and reinforced the idea in me that there are no bad characters just bad takes on them. Apparently, no one else was paying attention because she hasn’t done much since Devin Grayson’s Titans book (I think).

And then the JLA disbands…but not really. It was a hokey trick that didn’t need to be there. Besides, it wound up just being a restructuring that brought in new members. And you know what? Morrison didn’t put the team together by having our heroes looking at pictures and weighing their options or all meeting up by happenstance and deciding to join forces, THEY WERE JUST THERE! I’d like those potential super hero team writers to take note of this too. We don’t need to see how the team is put together. It’s boring. Just put them together and if questions arise (or better yet, if mysteries abound) answer them as you go. I don’t want to see how next season’s Steelers come together, I want to see them play football! Wow, I’m punchy today, but I think it’s because this stuff all seems to basic and obvious and yet we’re inundated by boring and bad team books all the time.

Anyway, we’re introduced to a brand new villain named Prometheus thanks to his one-shot that then carries right into the next issue that introduces the new team. Prometheus might be one of the greatest villains of the 90s with his ability to download everything from building schematics to marital arts moves into his brain, but I do have one question, how did he get their moves on camera, especially Batman? Ah well, maybe he used his Cosmic Key. Like Zauriel, Prometheus has been mostly mishandled, but I think he could use an upgrade and come out swinging. He had the one-shot not too long ago, has he appeared since? The whole “he doesn’t have VILLAINS programmed in his brain” conclusion is a little Silver Agey, but wound up being fun anyway. I’m still not clear if Catwoman being there was her own idea or Batman’s but that sure was good luck if not planned.

The book ends with a comic I’ve never read before, but enjoyed: JLA/WildC.A.T.S.. I’ve gone on record several times as being a fan of the Wildstorm Universe, so seeing the ‘Cats interact with the Big Seven and written by one of my favorite comic writers is a treat. However, this book won’t blow you away. It’s kind of your standard inter-company crossover, but with Morrison’s crazy brain working on the reasons why they’re crossing over. Even so, I’m glad it’s included in the book to make sure everything he did with the team is collected.

Reading this book not only made me want to get the other two volumes of the JLA Deluxe series, but also get all of the DC 1 Million issues and read the whole thing as one big epic. It would be nice if DC put something together with all the one-shots in the correct chronological order with the main miniseries, but since I haven’t heard anything about that, maybe I’ll just put my own together and bind that shiz up. I’m going to keep my eye out for them as the con season heats up and will maybe get to them after getting my Justice League collection bound.

Books Of Justice: JLA Deluxe Volume 1

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!

Trade Post: Gen 13 Road Trip, Space Usagi & JLA/Avengers

GEN 13 VOLUME 2: ROAD TRIP (WildStorm)
Written by Gail Simone, drawn by Alvin Lee, Carlo Barberi, Sunny Lee and Kevin West
Collects Gen 13 (current series) #7-13
I’ve had a long and tumultuous history with Gen 13. I first read about them in Wizard in the 90s and got very interested. I picked up an issue at the shop which immediately hooked me and I set out to collect every Gen13 appearance from there on out. This might sound odd to some people, but Gen 13 was basically my Teen Titans or New X-Men because they were young, fresh characters who also happened to be super powered beings with what seemed like the whole world against them. What teenager couldn’t relate? Anyway, I read that book through it’s pretty terrible completion and then the completely awful Chris Claremont relaunch. So, when the whole WorldStorm thing happened in the WildStorm universe, I was curious but cautious to see what Simone’s plans were for Gen13. Then the book hit and I was disappointed once again. The kids were some kind of super powered sex proxies. Or something. I read one issue and was out.

But, I’m one for second chances, so when I saw the potential to read this second volume, I figured what the heck. Road Trip jumps around showing the kids still getting to know each other while facing bad guys and what not. Many of the previous plot points are retread like Sarah Rainmaker being a lesbian and Cat being a nerd who now has a hot body. Eventually it’s explained that the Gen13 kids are anomalies in the universe because of Captain Atom Armageddon and WorldStorm. In the end, as a fan, I appreciate that explanation for why they seem so vastly different compared to say the Authority whose history seemed exactly the same before and after, but in the end there wasn’t enough of interest here to keep me really interested. It’s not a bad book if you’re new to Gen 13, but if you’re a fan I would imagine it’s like watching a remake which just keeps reminding you how much you want to go back and rewatch the original. Maybe when I go home in a few weeks, I’ll bring a stack of Gen 13 comics back with me.

SPACE USAGI (Dark Horse)
Written and drawn by Stan Sakai
Collects Space Usagi: Warrior #1-3, Space Usagi: Death And Honor #1-3, Space Usagi: White Star Rising #1-3, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #47 and Usagi Yojimbo Color Special #3
I’ve never read an Usagi Yojimbo comic before. Not that I haven’t wanted to, it just seems like a difficult comic to just jump into, even though I’ve heard good things. My biggest exposure to the character was the highly coveted Usagi figure in the Ninja Turtles toy line that I didn’t get my hands on until last summer’s yard sale season kicked off. I figured this far-flung future sci-fi comic would be a pretty easy entry so gave it a shot.

Overall, it’s a pretty good book. The first story follows Usagi as his king is killed and he has to keep the prince safe while fighting all kinds of baddies. The second story is the weakest because it’s got way too many Star Wars references. Now, I know that chunks of Star Wars were taken from the classic hero story, but you’ve got the good guys teaming up with a smuggler in a crummy ship who then infiltrate the bad guy’s headquarters. There’s even a scene with the whole group in a room trying to get information until they’re surprised by relief. The third story was also pretty good and threw a good number of curveballs that I wasn’t expecting. My favorite story is the one which brings the original Usagi to the far future for a few minutes. It’s just a fun little thing that put a smile on my face.

Aside from the Star Wars riffs, I found these stories to be of a pretty great quality that kept my interested throughout. Sakai’s art looks deceptively simple at times, but turns out to be really intricate. He’s go a great mix of cartooning and comic art that makes every panel fun to stare at. Anyone know a good place to start with the regular Usagi book aside from the beginning, of course?

JLA/AVENGERS (DC & Marvel)
Written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by George Perez
Collects JLA/Avengers #1-4
It’s kind of crazy to think about how much DC and Marvel played together throughout the 90s. There was DC vs. Marvel, Amalgam, All Access and then a series of one- and two-shots bringing Captain America and Batman, Green Lantern and Silver Surfer and Darkseid and Galactus together. There’s been a pretty long dry spell lately, but the last great meeting of the two gigantic comic book minds was the long-awaited and highly anticipated JLA/Avengers from 2003 and 2004. But when it hit, I was definitely one of the people with a huge question mark hanging over my head. At the time, I was in college and only read comics whenever I went home which was about every 3 or 4 months. I think this book ended up coming out late which meant that I was reading them even further apart.

But, sitting down and reading it all in a few sittings was a joy. Yes, it’s a complex story. There’s big cosmic people playing games that effect both universes and even combine them for a time. As someone who reads through trades and comics pretty quickly, I felt like this book really gave me my money’s worth both in terms of the epic story and also in Perez’s artwork which is fantastic. I think he’s one of the few (only?) classic artists who keeps getting better. I loved his stuff in Legion Of Three Worlds last year.

Anyway, Busiek’s able to combine huge, sweeping and well choreographed fight scenes with smaller geek out moments like The Thing showing up in the Batcave or the Captain Marvels fighting alongside each other. If you’ve got a favorite Avenger or Leaguer they most likely show up in the book either throughout or during the crazy time warping battle at the end (what up Guy Gardner Warrior?!). While reading through that last issue I was struck by how complicated the script must have been and how easy Perez made it seem. I don’t remember a single time when I couldn’t keep up with what was happening on the page (at least visually, like I said, the story gets pretty dense). There’s also some fun stuff in the third issue in which the two teams seem to have been having a JLA/JSA Earth-1/Earth-2 relationship with the Avengers since the beginning. Of course, something’s not right. JLA/Avengers isn’t just for diehard fans of either series, but I wouldn’t recommend if for a complete newbie. Getting some of the history under your belt might be a good idea before diving into this bad boy, which makes sense considering how long it took to get from the page to the fans’ hands.