I have a long list of trades sitting on my bookshelves that I’m slowly working my way through. One of these was a collection of JLA (1997-2006). Because I wasn’t reading that many comics in the late 90s, I missed my chance at jumping on board the Grant Morrison, Howard Porter, and John Dell issues, but at some point I bought the A New World Order collection of the first four issues. I enjoyed it, and decided that I would get the trades if I could do so cheaply. But when I got the Tower of Babel collection (which was probably the third trade that I got), I was hooked. I finally started buying the monthly issues, starting with #103, which was part of the “Pain of the Gods” storyline. Of course, the series then ended with #125. In the meantime, I was still getting trades. It took a while, but I finally got everything up to when I was getting the monthly issues.
I’ve spent the last year or so catching up, reading a few trades back to back. The Grant Morrison/Howard Porter stories are fantastic, and redefined what these heroes could be in the DCU. Mark Waid and Bryan Hitch’s work was interesting. But then came Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke.
I thought no one could top Morrison as far as idea/story, but I was wrong. Kelly/Mahnke take what was built before to another level. The stories are bombastic and personal at the same time. On top of that, we got some meanderings into moral and subjective territory (“Golden Perfect”), and the beginnings of the Wonder Woman/Batman relationship, to name just a few things. Also, Mahnke threw in some wonderful visuals and gags.
There are many things to love about the run by Kelly and the artists involved. Here are some items from each story that I loved.
- The scene where Bats and Diana are sparring while Batman makes call after call (he’s multitasking).
- Also, this:
“Bouncing Baby Boy”: Besides generally believing in Plastic Man, Batman even told PM that out of everybody in the group, he thought that PM would be the best father. This relationship would play out some more in a future story.
The Obsidian Age
- After the JLA have been sent back in time, Batman initiates a replacement protocol to bring in others as JLAers, but the best part (as a Nightwing fan) was this:
- I love it when Nightwing gets a chance to shine with the League. He even puts loudmouth Green Arrow in his place:
- When I first got to the introduction of the ancient, Atlantean League, I thought how cool it would be to read more stories of their exploits in the DCU, but of course they’re the adversaries of the story.
- I mentioned the WW/Bats relationship, and here is where we find out that Batman has a crush:
- The ending to issue #73 where Flash is captured by the “bad” League and his legs are torn off! (I actually missed that the first time I read that page and was still shocked at the image when I looked at it again.)
- In fact, the time-displaced JLAers all end up dead. Not sort of dead. Not pretending to be dead. They are killed in the past. Oh sure, they get better through magic, but it takes 3000 years! That was ballsey storytelling.
- Finally, after the resurrection and the day is saved, we get this beautiful father-son moment:
Rules of Engagement
This story gets a little heavy-handed regarding politics, but it’s still an interesting examination of what happens when superheroes interfere with a sovereign entity, even if it is an alien one, and the debate the League has among its members was interesting to read. Meanwhile, Diana keeps pressing Bruce to talk about them. Speaking of relationships, Martian Manhunter has formed a partnership with Scorch to help him overcome his issue with fire, and they end up kissing at the end of the collection.
Trial by Fire
- The whole Scorch thing turns out to be really bad for J’onn, but starts out having a positive effect on the world, and even Batman. On a visit to Arkham, all of his rogues are in dispair over what they’ve done. In fact, Joker is crying, begging to die. Batman’s response?
- Later, when it’s revealed that a genetic block that was removed turned JJ into Fernus, Superman tells the League what we’ve all known, but few want to admit:
- The JLAers do what they can to stop Fernus, but he’s just too powerful. So much so, in fact, that even Batman doesn’t know what to do next.
- Fortunately, Plastic Man is back to help save the day, proving that the faith that Batman had in him was justified, but it was really Scorch who was the hero and the only one who truly sacrificed to keep the world safe. While the whole “Fernus was a genetically separate entity than J’onn” bit allowing J’onn to be absolved of sin was a bit of a cop out, it was interesting to see how bad ass a Martian can be.
The Tenth Circle
Speaking of bad, let’s talk briefly of the Chris Claremont and John Byrne arc, The Tenth Circle.
I will admit, when I had read that Byrne was doing JLA, I almost jumped on board with the monthly issues then, but a friend warned me it wasn’t that great. Boy, was he right. After reading such engaging stories before this, The Tenth Circle was boring schlock. It felt so dated, and the dialog was stiff, and there was nothing inventive at all here, not the least of which was the vampire antagonist. Sheesh. Who knows, perhaps there was some editorial meddling that brought this arc down, but somehow I doubt it. What an unfortunate way to end such a good reading run.