Friday, July 27, 2007
Fair Trade -- JLA: New World Order
It's a weird thing, but a good portion of the current crop of "super-writers" in the comic book world do not appeal to me. Brian Michael Bendis made me give up reading Avengers after many years (and giving him two and a half years to win me over). Mark Millar's work leaves me feeling cold and uninvolved in the story. And I never cared really for the television shows written by J. Michael Straczynski or Joss Whedon, so it's not surprising that I don't care for their comic work, either.
Very often a writer who falls on that list is Grant Morrison. He has a legion of devoted fans, especially online, who praise everything he does as genius and blast those who criticize him as philostenes. Well, maybe that's a bit of an overstatement, but Morrison's rep is pretty untouchable online, to the point where he is his among his most vocal critics. I first read Grant Morrison back when he was penning Doom Patrol under the Vertigo imprint, and my first impression was that it made no sense. For my benefit, I was 12 at the time. Looking back on it now, it certainly is understandable, but no less weird. A lot of his work reads like the journal of an egomaniacal seventeen year old Honor student, quick to break out the big words and unusual sentence structure to demonstrate just how far superior his own brain is to your own. His New X-Men seemed to me like one big joke, with Morrison laughing his way to the bank.
And yet... he does pull out some gems. I really enjoy All-Star Superman, he helped turn 52 into a big hit, We3 is one of the saddest and most heart-rendingly strange comics of all time, his work on Animal Man is off the charts creatively, Seven Soldiers challenged the idea of what an "event" was, and, yeah, Doom Patrol may be a little bizarre, but it's pretty cool. And I had always heard good thing about his run on JLA, which restored the title to its former "World's Greatest" glory after the rise and decline of the "franchise" days in the 80s and early 90s.
So when I was at Barnes & Noble looking for a gift for my father, I couldn't resist picking up the first volume, priced rather nicely at $7.99.
Our story starts fast, with a new group of super-powered "heroes" arriving from space. The Hyperclan promise to bring about paradise on Earth, fixing all of the problems which the Justice League of America seems unable -- or unwilling -- to address. In a show of tremendous power, crops are seeding throughout the Sahara, and public opinion of the JLA begins to sour. Superman doesn't trust Protex, the Clan's leader, but his motives appear to be benevolent. That is, until an attack on the Justice League satelite and some disturbing information about how the Clan is operating forces the new team -- composed of heavyweights Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, GL (Kyle), The Flash, and the Martian Manhunter into action. (Don't worry, Aquaman shows up too, but he needs a little, how shall we say? Convincing.)
The story itself (and thus, this trade) is short and sweet. In four issues, Morrison crams in not only the new threat of the Hyperclan, but ingloriously ditches the old team, unites the neo-classic group, throws down countless action sequences, fleshes out his take on the characters and their relationships, reveals the true threat, has the big blow-off, introduces the new HQ, and even has time for a little philospophizing at the end. Tales like this work for the Justice League, and Morrison has little problem with either the pacing or the juggling here. There's no reason to have issue after issue of people standing around a table -- these are action heroes, and Morrison and Porter are well to the task, with each character not only having their own voice but little traits which help define them for readers of all experience levels. The bickering between Wally and Kyle is classic, and comparing that to their interplay years down the road in Identity Crisis is thought-provoking (to me, anyway). Furthermore, Morrison is not afraid to show these characters at full power -- ALL of them. When Aquaman dominates his enemy's mind by telepathically tapping into a part of the brain which evolved from marine life, the Aquafan in all of us stands up and cheers.
All in all, for folks like me who made a point to watch Justice League on Cartoon Network every week, and find the title in it's current state to be a little, well, lacking, I cannot recommend this trade enough. It's fast, fun, and full of energy, and best of all it's not even 10 clams. It may not convert you over to being a Morrison-worshipper, but it delivers a ton of bang for not a lot of bucks.