Monday, June 10, 2013

JLA Classified + more JLA

This is a round-up of a few bits and pieces read as a follow-up to my big readthrough of the whole Morrison and Waid JLA runs.

JLA Classified #1-3 (Grant Morrison & Ed McGuiness) - The first leftover from my JLA readthrough is an arc Morrison did years later for this series, which was intended as a gathering place for orphaned arcs and projects that didn't belong in the then-current JLA continuity. This belatedly picks up the characters from the earlier Ultramarine Corps. arc of JLA, putting those characters in the spotlight. Like Morrison's JLA, this is setting the stage for things to come, namely the Seven Soldiers epic and the Club of Heroes stories in Batman, driving home just how densely intertwined much of Morrison's DC work has been. This is also sheer bonkers entertainment, right up there with the high points of his earlier JLA run, another great example of his dense, elliptical action format at its best. This thing moves at a breathless pace and barely ever pauses, and every page is an invitation to marvel at Morrison's grand concepts, to laugh along with a bit of perfectly timed dialogue, to enjoy the well-calibrated sweep of McGuiness' art and the eye-popping colors that complement it. Love this, especially all the stuff with Beryl/Squire in the first two issues. This is right up there with "Rock of Ages" as the peak of Morrison's JLA work.

JLA/WildC.A.T.S. (Grant Morrison & Val Semeiks) - I skipped this cross-company crossover in reading through Morrison's run on JLA, but it's very much in the tenor of his run, like a condensed version of one of his arcs. Big world-threatening bad guy, craziness ensues, go! It's pretty fun, with the JLA dimension-hopping to team up with some Wildstorm counterparts, briefly fighting each other because that's the superhero convention, then teaming up to stop the bad guy. A lot of it reads like JLA-by-numbers, and that's fine, but the time travel element adds some additional wrinkles, like the great opening scene in which Kid Flash is rescued from the Lord of Time by... of course, Wally West, all grown up now and no longer appending "Kid" to his superhero name. There are also some wonderful scenes in which the baddie, his consciousness expanding as he conquers all of time and space, is overloaded by the sheer amount of information bombarding him. Not a bad extended issue: some typical superhero fight scenes, some nice Morrisonian chaos, a touch of sharp humor especially in the rapport between Batman and Grifter.

JLA: Paradise Lost (Mark Millar & Ariel Olivetti) - A spinoff from Morrison's JLA, centering on Zauriel, a fallen angel who Morrison introduced because at the time he couldn't use Hawkman. Zauriel, like the other Morrison/Millar new character of the time, Aztek, isn't especially memorable, and neither is this miniseries. It's totally credible action using a familiar premise — an angel gives up immortality for the love of a human, then must protect her — but it doesn't zing and careen around with the vitality of Morrison's JLA. The angel arc wasn't Morrison's strongest moment to begin with, and this continuation of that story doesn't add much to it or really do much to justify Zauriel's importance as a character. A few nice moments here, and Olivetti's art is fine, with a bit of a scratchy Vertigo vibe, but it's overall a forgettable story, and Zauriel's love interest isn't much more than a plot device.

JLA Classified #10-15 (Warren Ellis & Butch Guice) - A good basic JLA arc by a very good writer. It's the usual JLA template, the same one that Morrison and Waid followed throughout their runs: big world-ending threat appears, JLA scrambles, saves the world yet again. What makes it fun is Ellis' subtle and brainy approach to this material. Instead of the heroes defeating the villains with sheer brawn and fighting, they do it by outsmarting the enemy, by thinking through the problem and overcoming the threat with ideas. Ellis excels at this kind of conceptual stuff, and he does a great job of placing each hero into a seemingly overwhelming situation, only to have them think their way through it — rarely have braininess and lateral thinking seemed so dynamic or action-packed. Ellis also nails the character interactions, giving some witty dialogue to the various JLAers. The highlight in that respect is the relationship between Clark and Lois, whose gentle, affectionate marital sparring is razor-sharp and sexy as hell, calling to mind old-school Hollywood charmfests like The Thin Man. I'd love to see Ellis do a whole Clark/Lois reporter series based around that repartee. Guice's hyper-realistic art and mastery of facial expressions is a big draw as well, particularly in the aforementioned scenes of downtime with the characters in their ordinary lives. A nice little story, not essential but certainly a fun enough read.

JLA Classified #37-41 (Peter Milligan & Carlos D'Anda) - Originally intended to be a standalone graphic novel, it was cancelled and wound up here years later instead. It's not hard to see why it got shelved, though the idea behind this series is great and there are scenes (mostly early on) that really live up to that potential. It's Milligan's story about Kid Amazo, a cyborg "son" of the JLA enemy Amazo. This cyborg didn't know of his origin, and was going to college with false implanted memories until his father bursts into his life and reveals the truth. Milligan's conception of this burgeoning young villain as an angry, confused teenager is pretty brilliant: he wants to rebel against his father, so of course he becomes a superhero, but then he realizes that the Justice League also just want to control and discipline him, so he swings the other way. His girlfriend breaks up with him so he threatens to kill Wonder Woman. He ponders Nietzsche while trying to define his own identity, separate from his programming. There's some interesting stuff here about the nature of free will, philosophy, growing up, family, and so on. But the execution is spotty. Milligan seems disinterested in the actual JLA, who consistently act out of character, and the ending is a mess, discarding much of what made the premise so interesting to begin with. D'Anda's cartoony art is also nothing special, a little stiff and posed during what should be the big dynamic action scenes. Overall a disappointing read, mainly because the idea is great and Milligan could do so much better with this material if he was in peak form.

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