This one almost killed me. Seriously. It turns out that no other book demonstrates how good DC comics can be, but also the horrible depths that they can fall to the way that Justice League does.
So before I start I need to give you some Justice League context.
1960-1984 – The “Let’s All Be Superfriends” Years:
well for DC in the 1940’s with the Justice Society, and so DC decided to do it again in the early 1960’s to coincide with the resurgence of the superhero genre. The book originally starred Superman, Batman, Flash, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and the Martian Manhunter. This is important to remember. The line up changed over the years, with some members going away for extended periods of time, and some new blood joining. But the core premise was always that this was earth’s premier super team, and so it always had a core roster of earth’s A-List heroes. They did bring lesser known heroes onboard occasionally (Green Arrow, Red Tornado, Firestorm, Zatanna), but for the most part, this book focuses on big epic adventures, and didn’t spend a lot of time dealing with its heroes personal lives. Although this era is fondly remembered, I find that when I reread these stories very little sticks with me, and it comes across as a faceless blur of spandex.
1984-1986 – The “Why are there homeless people on the team?” Years.
At the time, Teen Titans and X-Men were selling like crazy, and so DC attempted to add some teen angst drama to its flagship book. The old JLA disbanded, and a new team was formed, composed of the 3 LEAST popular members of the old team, a spoiled trust-fund baby, an offensive Latino stereotype, and a homeless person. To no ones’s suprise, everyone hated it, and it didn’t last long.
1987 – 1996 – The “Never met a cheap laugh we didn’t grind into the ground” Years:
And now the strangeness begins. There’s some context to note here. DC’s Crisis On Infinite Earths megacrisis happened in 1985-1986, and it really did a number on JLA continuity (If Wonder Woman is just becoming a hero now, how was she a founding member of the JLA? If Superman is a fairly recent hero, how was HE a founding member of the JLA? If Hawkman is just arriving from Thanagar, who was the guy wearing wings in the JLA in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Questions, questions. ) For now, DC decided to ignore a lot of those issues, and rebooted the team again, this time calling it the JLI (Justice League International).
For this version of the team, they went for a combination of veterans (Batman, Martian Manhunter, Black Canary), recent A-listers who had never actually been part of the JLA before (Guy Gardner, Captain Marvel, Dr. Fate), and new faces who were a prominent part of the new universe that DC was creating at the time (Dr. Light, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold), etc. They also decided to make this book funny. Yes, funny.
Although the line up changed a lot, this was the direction of the book for much of the next decade, as well as of its sister books, Justice League Europe, and Justice League Task Force. Although there are some good stories from this decade, I found that the increasing focus on comedy, as well as the ever decreasing focus on having A-listers on the team, made the JLA pretty much irrelevant.
1996 – 2006 – The “Magnificent 7” Years:
DC apparently agreed with me, and in 1996 decided to bring the band back together. So
now the JLA was Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, the new (at the time) Green Lantern, and the Flash (Not the original silver age Flash who was a founding member of the original JLA but his young partner who was originally Kid Flash but took over when his uncle died in the Crisis On Infinite Earths. Except for the fact that we just found out recently that he didn’t die and he’s now back.) After an initial mini-series by Mark Waid, DC brought Grant Morrison on board to write this new JLA. And it was epic. Huge battles, huge concepts, huge EVERYTHING. The only personal issues that the JLA faced in this book were the ones that had to do with the team. This remains a high benchmark for the concept, and remains my favourite incarnation of the league.
2006 – 2010. The “I’m sure we’ll figure it out eventually” years.
It’s no secret that the League has struggled creatively in recent years. Revolving creative teams, and revolving team rosters, have devalued the League’s effectiveness. James Robinson seems to be trying a lot of interesting things in today’s League, but I can’t say it’s doing much for me. That being said, the concept is still a sound one, and eventually the League will be on top again.
Which brings us to the books. Although there are MANY JLA trades out there, most of the ones I own have to do with the Magnificent Seven incarnation of the League. I’ve got a LOT of them, so I’m splitting this into several posts.
JLA – The Magnificent Seven Years as written by Grant Morrison (New World Order, American Dreams, Rock Of Ages, Strength In Numbers, Justice For All, Rock Of Ages, World War 3)
So as I mentioned earlier, this a League full of A-List heroes, tacking A-List threats. I have never been quiet regarding my criticisms of Grant Morrison’s writing, and so it was a great pleasure to discover just how much I still loved his run on the JLA when I reread it recently. I have never felt that Morrison was a character writer. I don’t mean concept, he’s great at those. I mean character. But character is a BIG part of why this book works so well, and I think that a part of it was that Morrison didn’t have to focus on it much. Because this wasn’t a book about how Superman gets through the day with Lois, and the Daily Planet, and all of that nonsense, Morrison was free to focus on loftier concerns (How does Superman deal with having every single hero on earth look up to him?) There are character moments here, but they all are related to how these characters deal with each other, not how they deal with their own private lives.
As I mentioned before, Morrison’s League dealt with universe-destroying threats on a daily basis, and this book remains a highlight in the history of the League.
JLA – The Magnificent Seven Years as written by Mark Waid (Tower Of Babel, Terror Incognita, Divided We Fall)
His League is of a slightly smaller scope than Morrison’s is. He’s using continuity more than Morrison did, and character interaction is slightly more front of mind in his run. Which brings us to “Tower of Babel“, the highlight of his run. Not only is this one of the great JLA stories, it’s also one of the best Batman stories of the modern era. Although Waid’s run wasn’t very long, it’s still holds up extremely well as a worthy successor to Morrison’s arc.
JLA – The Magnificent Seven Years as written by Joe Kelly (Future Imperfect, The Golden Circle, Obsidian Age Vol. 1 & 2, Rules Of Engagement, Trial By Fire)
At the time, Joe Kelly had a well-regarded run on Superman, and so I guess it made sense to throw him the League. But he had some pretty big shoes to fill. Although I remember thoroughly disliking his run when it first came out, upon rereading it’s obvious that was just a reaction to some of the small changes Kelly made, as opposed to his run overall. It turns out that this was a solid run, with a bigger focus on character development than either Waid’s or Morrison’s. Of course, the highlight here was the incredibly ambitious Obsidian Age arc, a sprawling epic of time travel, death, and betrayal, with some beautiful art by Doug Mahnke. Probably the biggest misses here are the new characters that Kelly brings into the team. They never really gel with the existing cast, and didn’t seem to serve any real storytelling purpose other than for Kelly’s own ego.
JLA – The Magnificent Seven Years – The Rest. (World Without A Justice League, Tenth Circle, Pain Of The Gods, Syndicate Rules, Crisis Of Conscience)
Joe Kelly was the last regular writer on this version of the JLA, and the rest of the run was a rotating cast of different creative teams. Most of this was absolute crap, with the worst of the bunch being a truly awful excuse for a vampire story by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, who seemed bound and determined to make you forget how much you loved their X-Men run when you were a kid.
Crisis Of Conscience, Syndicate Rules: KEEP. World Without A Justice League, Pain Of The Gods, Tenth Circle: CULL
JLA – The Magnificent Seven Years : Odds & Ends (JLA: Earth 2, Superpower, Age Of Wonder, World Without Grownups, Secret Origins, A League Of One, JLA Year One)
Because this version of the Justice League was so popular, DC pumped out an endless amount of one-shots, mini-series, and tie-ins. Most of these were wretched, and are covered in my next post. But there were a few that actually still hold up well today. Age of Wonder was one of many Elseworlds JLA titles from this era, and honestly the only one worth a damn (Justice League as Steampunk scientists: Hooray!). Although Year One, and Earth 2 still gets a lot of praise, A League Of One was a pleasant rediscovery, and I would go as far as to say that it’s one of the best Wonder Woman stories of the past decade.
Next up: Lots of really bad Justice League stories!