The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 14 – DC Comics: The Justice League!

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:

Putting all of their popular characters into one team along with a few fresh faces worked 

The JLA's first enemy: Telepathic Space Seafood

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.

The greatest Justice League tribute band in the mid-westAt 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

The band reunites to play at Aquaman's wedding reception

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.

KEEP

JLAThe Magnificent Seven Years as written by Mark Waid (Tower Of Babel, Terror Incognita, Divided We Fall)

Arguably the greatest JLA run of all time is done, and the question is, who do you get to take over? Mark Waid of course, and he knocks it out of the park.

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.

KEEP

JLAThe 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.

KEEP

JLAThe Magnificent Seven Years – The Rest. (World Without A Justice League, Tenth Circle, Pain Of The Gods, Syndicate Rules, Crisis Of Conscience)

Crucifer is upset because he's in the worst Justice League story ever written

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.

KEEP

Next up: Lots of really bad Justice League stories!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 – DC Comics: Hitman, Joker, and Jonah Hex

The more observant readers among you will notice that I reviewed my Huntress conics in the last post, even though alphabetically they come AFTER Hitman, and therefore should in fact be in this post. That’s true. But only if you live in this dimension. But if you’ve been to Earth 7 (somewhere I travel to often for business), you’ll know that due to baby Kal-El’s being sent to a small farm outside of Windsor, Ontario as a baby, the alphabet has evolved in different ways, and in no way did I make a mistake that makes me look like I can’t spell.

HitmanHitman, Ten Thousand Bullets, Ace Of Killers, Who Dares Wins

This is a mid ’90’s series by Garth Ennis and John McRea that doesn’t get discussed much today, though it was a critical success, and for good reason. It’s about Tommy Monaghan, a Gotham-based assassin who has the power of telepathy, and X-Ray vision. Simplistic as superpowers ago, but pretty much perfect if your chosen field is sneaking up behind people and killing them.

Hitman still stands up today as a well-written, character driven, action-comedy comic. Now, critics of Ennis’ writing will say that it’s got all of the Ennis tropes: Good ol’ boys hanging around a bar acting tough? Check. Lack of a three-dimensional female lead? Check. Lots of violence and gore for the sake of violence and gore? Check.

But I don’t mind. At least for this series. In later years Ennis would take all of these characteristics of his writing style and turn them into full-blown clichés (Cough…The Boys…Cough…) but in this context, they come across as genuine and charming.

Pretty much the only negative thing I can say about this series is that it’s not served well by being part of the regular DCU. Better known DC characters like Batman or Green Lantern rarely appeared, but when they did, they were portrayed as goofy parodies of themselves, and rarely served the story. Currently only a small part of this series is available in trade, but hopefully DC reprints the rest soon.

KEEP

JokerGreatest Joker Stories Ever Told

How is it possible that the Greatest Joker Stories trade is better than the Greatest Batman Stories trade? I think it’s probably history’s fault. With the Batman volume, the editors tried very hard to include stories from every decade, and also limited their option to single issue stories. Great, except that meant leaving out so many truly great Batman stories, and including quite a few that really aren’t that great when you consider them from a big picture standpoint.

All in all, this stands up as a pretty great collection for Batman fans, though I’m still hoping that they eventually reprint all of the stories from the great Joker ’70’s series in one trade.

KEEP

JokerJoker

This is a stand alone graphic novel that Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo did last year to capitalize on Heath Ledger’s performance in the Dark Knight film. Azzarello pulls off a nifty trick here, writing a story that could easily fall into either the Dark Knight continuity, or into mainstream Batman continuity. Great for new readers, but I would also say that it’s one of the better recent Joker stories, though not on the level of Paul Dini’s amazing Detective Comics run from a few years ago. There’s some beautiful painting from Lee Bermejo as well.

KEEP

Jonah HexLead Poisoning, Only The Good Die Young, Face Full Of Violence, Bullets Don’t Lie, Guns Of Vengeance, Origins, Luck Runs Out, The Six Gun War

I’m not really sure how Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have convinced DC to let them continue with this gem of a series for so long, but I’m not complaining. For those of you who were lucky enough NOT to watch the sink-hole of a Hex film that Warners put out early this year let me tell you the concept: Tough, bad-ass gunfighter in the old west, beats up other tough, bad-ass gunfighters in the old west. That’s it. Now, you’d think that would be enough, but no. Gray and Palmiotti constantly outdo themselves on this series, and I really think it’s gotten better as time has gone on. And since most Hex stories are contained to just one or two issues, it allows the writers to have a wide array of excellent artists working on the book with them.

Probably the only time where the series falters is when Hex stumbles into supernatural adventures. Although magic is something that the character has often had to deal with, dating back to the original 1970’s series, I don’t think it worked then, and it works even less now.

KEEP

Coming up next: More Justice League stories than you can shake a stick at! Many of them are terrible.