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Why Grant Morrison's JLA Run Was The Best Team Book

The original superhero blockbuster; the one that warped my young mind.

 I think I'll always have a soft spot for "Electro-Supes" because of how that costume was used for most of this.

Oh for the days when Kyle was the sole Green Lantern, Wally was the de facto Flash, Aquaman had a beard, a harpoon hand and a 'tude, and Superman had more in common with Tron

Grant Morrison might be better known now for BATMAN and FINAL CRISIS, but my first introduction to the warp savant was in ‘97’s JLA. This was his first high-profile assignment on a big title, and it arrived with a thunderclap.  JUSTICE LEAGUE books prior to this were largely off-shoots of the great work Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire had done to humanize the team in the 80s. You got second and third stringers who were easier to relate to, perhaps, but readers at this point were missing the basics of a league consisting entirely of the Big Guns. And big was, in all regards, the operative word. This was a harbinger of the widescreen comics movement that THE AUTHORITY and THE ULTIMATES would later make famous. Where the previous League had gotten deeply into the member’s psyches, this uniquely opted to leave their personal lives for their individual titles. Hence, Supes would suddenly be electro and Wallace West and Hippolyta would abruptly fill in for Flash and Wonder Woman, with only brief asides to explain why. This book thus felt larger-than-life onto the point of mythic. The threats were the real stars of the show and they were so huge that only DC's biggest names could battle them, let alone comprehend them. == TEASER ==

 Not quite a classical mural, but certainly just as iconic, wouldn't you agree?

The mythic comparison was quite intentional. Morrison had the brilliant idea for his line-up to correspond to the gods of the Olympic pantheon, bringing full-circle the parallels between superheroics and mythology. Since this was never explicitly stated in the comic, I figure I ought to list the analogs for you insatiably-curious Comic Vine maniacs... 

  
Perhaps this wasn't as intricate as the symbolism Morrison used in his other work, but it clearly tapped into what readers wanted, because this series was a blockbuster for several straight years.
 How about Green Arrow and the Atom being the ones to finally KILL DARKSEID in the future?!?!

This run was about 41-issues-long, mostly drawn by Howard Porter, and the arc-for-arc batting average was impressively-high. NEW WORLD ORDER, ROCK OF AGES, WORLD WAR 3, CRISIS TIMES FIVE, ONE MILLION, the arcs introducing Prometheus and the Ultramarines, and even tie-ins like the ’97 SECRET FILES, the NEW YEAR’S EVIL one-shot, the EARTH 2 OGN the WILDC.A.T.S. crossover were all exceptional. Staying on point and objective is actually a little hard because the run was just filled with so many goosebump-inducing cool moments.   

How about Zauriel valiantly shielding a wayward and helpless Triumph from the unstoppable wrath of the Spectre? How about Dream of Gaiman’s SANDMAN casually imprisoning Starro the Conqueror in a glass bubble? How about Superman moving the whole Moon?    

 How about the White Martians GROSSLY underestimating the Batman?!?!
The Hyperclan. The Key. The Injustice Gang. The Lord of Time. Asmodel. The Evil Djinn of the Fifth Dimension. This era of the League boasted a bewildering bevy of bad guys, each with a concept high enough to sustain a series of its own. Morrison drew these menaces from DC's long history, but in a way that always pushed them forward in ways nobody could've predicted.  And that went for the heroes as well. Batman was the most badass I've ever seen him in this series. Readers often question how a mortal man can work alongside gods but, if you read any issue of this JLA, you'll wonder how the gods can keep up with him. He was always prepared, always five steps ahead of every one else and he always handled threats with the same razorsharp rationality. From the classic comics to modern hits, from Elseworlds to the movies, the Batman is the best. This one is the legend.
 
 One of my all-time favorite single issues.
I’d be remiss not to mention the inaugural arc of JLA CLASSIFIED, which was something of an epilogue to this run. It's one of the most creatively-inspiring comics I’ve ever read. There’s some truth to that old adage about distance making the heart grow fonder (or however that goes) and getting a dose of Morrison JLA after five years of going without certainly gave me a much greater appreciation for what I’d missed. The Ultramarines finally returns and got some needed redesigns from Ed McGuinness (his finest work to me, and I’ve followed him since the 96 WOLVERINE ANNUAL!) in a prelude to the epic SEVEN SOLDIERS mega-series. The crazy ideas come rapid fire, the pages are just alive with creativity and everything just feels so new.  I wish Morrison and McGuinness had gotten to work together during this era I'm talking about, because their sensibilities were very finely and uniquely in tune.

So there you have it. If you haven't experienced this JLA before, it's very easy to do so now. Every issue was collected and those trades are almost always in circulation. Much like how the Ultimate Warrior made lil' Tommy P expect every wrestler to be as outrageously intense, this run made an adolescent Pinchuk expectat all big super books to be as mind-bending and awe-inspiring.  However, there's decades upon decade of JUSTICE LEAGUE comics to compare and contrast this with. Do you agree with me? Are these your favorite issues? Or are there other runs you prefer?   

Voice your picks and opinions below in great detail! 

 Tom Pinchuk’s the writer of  HYBRID BASTARDS!  &  UNIMAGINABLE . Order them on Amazon   here  &   here .  Follow him on Twitter:  @tompinchuk 

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Posted by johnny_spam

It was indeed epic World War Three was one of the best JLA stories.

Posted by Chane

Well said. Fully agree, right down to the Ultimate Warrior bit at the end.

Posted by Remixxx

I've always enjoyed the Grant Morrison's inital run of JLA because it involved the Big 7 and it really gave them villians that it took all of the JLA to defeat.  Besides the fact that the story with the martians to me will always standout cause it showed just how badass Batman can be. When all the other heroes were defeated he stood alone and kicked ass.
Posted by RWBcomics

Yeah, the White Martian story is one of my all time favorite arcs. I am surprised it isn't more heralded as one of the definitive Batman stories.

Posted by polluxdioscuros

I'm a BIG fan of Morrison's tenure in the Justice League, you might've mentioned that THESE series also were influential for the coming of the Justice League in it's animated form as well!
 
My only complain is that Morrison didn't got to write into the team Captain Marvel, that would've been awesome, but it's a minor one, the comic book were so good that it even left a good momentum for Mark Waid and Joe Kelly to write good stories as well.

Posted by Emperor Gonzo Noir
@Tom Pinchuk: Oh Tom, you didn't need to write an article about why Grant Morrison's run on JLA was awesome. It's common Knowledge.
Posted by difficlus

Hmmm maybe i should check them out...

Posted by Sawcesome

I've read DC One Million, a decent bit of his Batman stuff, and recently All-Star Superman.  I must now read all of this JLA.  I'm sorry, wallet....

Posted by Sir Duke

Morrison's JLA was the best team book.  Period.  Not the best version of the Justice League, but the best team book.  Claremont's X-Men?  Bendis' Avengers?  Levitz' Legion of Superheroes?  Wolfman/Perez' Teen Titans?  All classics.  But nothing, and I mean nothing, stands up to Morrison's JLA.

Posted by Son_of_Magnus

I love Morrison's JLA in my opinion it blows his work with Batman and Final Crisis right out of the water. Some of my favorite stories ever came from that. Great article Tom

Posted by JonesDeini

I miss THIS Morrison...

Edited by robokungfu

I gotta say the best team book was also by Morrison, but with the world's strangest heroes, The Doom Patrol! 
 
*edit* To reiterate, The Doom Patrol had the best and most imaginative array of strange adventures and villains.  It had the best Doom Patrol line-up that included Crazy Jane (with a different superpower for each of her sixty-something personalities) and Danny the Street (a space-folding sentient street).  The goals of the villains were never like the rest of villainy.  Some were trying to reshape reality, end abnormality, or run for public office.  I think these lines between Cliff Steele and Dr. Niles Caulder sum it up best: "Sometimes it might be nice to just stop a bank robbery or foil a criminal mastermind.  Ya know, like the regular super-guys."  "Nonsense, Cliff!  It's essential that we leave such feeble-minded pursuits to the muscle bound cretins who enjoy them.  Our work is far more important."

Posted by Grendel

Was the initial JLA Classified arc ever reprinted as a trade? I always wanted to read that one.

Posted by LWFuture

Completely agree. Morrison's run was my first real encounter with the Justice League and will always be my personal zenith for that team.

Posted by 4Essence

Being only 20 years old, this team was the first incarnation of the League for me as well; this was my first dose of the team. The American Dream trade was the first comic I'd read with all of them, and I remember after I was done with it, I gave it to my brother and said: "dude, this just felt like a movie. A really awesome movie. Read it!" and he did. That was the first time a comic book had shaken me like that. I read a few more afterward with the big ass roster, but never followed suit with it all. Pinchuck, you just gave me an idea of what I want for Christmas! 
Great Article yet, again. You rock.

Posted by NightFang

Interesting article.  

Posted by The Mighty Monarch

I actually much preferred Mark Waid's following run on JLA to Morrison's. World War III had such an anticlimactic ending for all the amazing build up it was comprised of. 
Plus Waid gave us Tower of Babel, which is an iconic exploration of just how crazy prepared Batman is, and even a bit of how he's able to be so prepared; and Terror Incognita, which was an awesome White Martian story. 
 
I do generally praise the ground Morrison walks, but I just wasn't wowed by his JLA nearly as much as his other stuff.

Posted by batman_is_god
@The Mighty Monarch said:
"I actually much preferred Mark Waid's following run on JLA to Morrison's. World War III had such an anticlimactic ending for all the amazing build up it was comprised of. Plus Waid gave us Tower of Babel, which is an iconic exploration of just how crazy prepared Batman is, and even a bit of how he's able to be so prepared; and Terror Incognita, which was an awesome White Martian story.  I do generally praise the ground Morrison walks, but I just wasn't wowed by his JLA nearly as much as his other stuff. "

I also like "Divided We Fall"
Posted by goldenkey

This run was the real introduction to DC characters.  Sure I had some Batman classics, and a few G.L. and Superman stories.  Namely Death of Superman, and the fall of Hal Jordon and intro to Kyle, I didn't know shit about the other hero's that wasn't common comic knowledge.   I remember reading about the run in Wizard, and grew up watching the Plastic Man cartoon so I was surprised to see he was even part of DC.  I do agree with Mighty Monarch about the anit'-climatic ending.  Everything else was great leading up to about the last five pages.  What I did get tho was turned onto 2 characters that I just LOVE but haven't done that much since.  Promethius and Zauriel.   Being Catholic I loved how they used a gaurdian angel.  It was my inrtroduction to Mark Millar who wrote the side story Paradise Lost about Zauriel.  Promethius had an incredible orgin story that was a direct tie-in to his Almost Taking Out The JLA personally.  Bad luck is what killed that attempt.  I highly reccommend this run.  Great trades.  It was Morrison god awful run of the X-men that followed.  For what ever reason why too, I must be the only person who doesn't like that run.

Posted by goldenkey
@Son_of_Magnus:
I concur.  It crushes what he did on the X-men as well.  Tom never mentioned the Promethius direct tie about he got on the moon, and Zauriel had a side story written from Mark Millar that is great. 
Posted by Lvenger

That was a really good arc. I only read a few issues of it but from what I could see, it was incredibly impressive. The JLA at its best since its preconception IMO

Posted by queenfrost_

Everything Morrison writes turns to gold

Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus

Wow! I never knew Morrison's run on JLA was so good. I may have to do some shopping now...
Posted by Mask of Tengu

I loved this run!
Posted by Mr_Wayne69

They have the entire run in trade... 4 volumes! EPIC!!!!

Posted by Mr_Wayne69
@The Mighty Monarch said:
" I actually much preferred Mark Waid's following run on JLA to Morrison's. World War III had such an anticlimactic ending for all the amazing build up it was comprised of. Plus Waid gave us Tower of Babel, which is an iconic exploration of just how crazy prepared Batman is, and even a bit of how he's able to be so prepared; and Terror Incognita, which was an awesome White Martian story.  I do generally praise the ground Morrison walks, but I just wasn't wowed by his JLA nearly as much as his other stuff. "
Waid's run wasn't as epic as Morrison's but it was just as well written. I love Waids run too.
Posted by Antonio_Blackheart

i thought this team was a great run..
Posted by Mumbles

lol @ blue supes....what a gimmick. set him back 20 years...

Posted by sweatboy
@Sir Duke said:
" Morrison's JLA was the best team book.  Period.  Not the best version of the Justice League, but the best team book. 
In that case i might go off topic here. i've read a lot of JLA but never Grant Morrison's, so i dont know what i'm trying to criticize here, STILL I have to say i dont like bearded "poseidon" aquaman. In the JLA year 1 or annual #1, (the roster was flash, Canary, Martian Aquaman and i think GL) Aquaman is MUCH more different, he is a visitor to this world, (much like WW in a way and the Martian and Aquaman have some bonding time) basically he's so much more INNOCENT, walks into a bar to make friends and almost got his ass whooped. But my first picture of Aquaman was the one with (as Pinchuk says) the " 'tude". It RUINED aquaman the way i see it (but if it made a best seller,..) And Grant Morrison, i thought Batman and Robin was gonna be good, especially with Dick as batman, but OMG it was so GROSS! the faces falling off? And what's it with a pig's face that is associated IN ANY WAY with evil or torture? Pigs are like the underdogs of animals, they're smart AND ferocious, and in medieval times were SO REVERED they represented strength on a knight's shield! But today thanks to BTK and Grant Morrison the picture out there is... ok so that's no reason to hate Morrison (i still think comics could be used for many important purposes and what they did with Animal Man is phenomenoal, and i guess Aquaman and pig in the same post got me there, haven't slept much lately) still,.. I read Frank miller's Batman&Robin the same day and it was SO MUCH better. (partly due to a lingerie clad Vicki Vale) But as for JLA i could not judge not having read. The Pantheon idea,...i see how Tom Pinchuk would like the idea seeing how his book seems to have greek gods in it, but comics had their OWN UNIQUEness to me, i never thought of greek mythology to be something really big or interesting. But i liked comics, and JUST BY comparing the two, you just lose the orginality (new word) comic book characters had. Well that's what i think, doesn't mean it's necessarily true or importnat
Posted by Gambit1024

With what issue did Morrison begin the JLA? where did it end?

Posted by Video_Martian

Too bad the JLA series nowadays is lame...  =P

Posted by Silkcuts

Loved this article!
Your dead on with everything.

Posted by GothamRed

if you're going by the greek pantheon, shouldn't flash be Hermes, since Mercury is part of the roman pantheon?

Posted by Ryonslaught

Tom you made a great December even better! This was a frickin epic run and like you my first grant story...though that didn't mean much till I was holding his new x-men in my hands back in the day :)
 
thanks for the memories

Posted by DHU

Electro Supes is one of my favorite versions of Superman; a very creative revisioning of the character.

Posted by Darkmount1

I never read the comics  when they came out. Probably my closest thing to Morrison-era JLA was the Total Justice toyline. I had Superman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Black Lighting (who I thought was Black Vulcan, whose name I didn't know at the time but had seen a ton of Super Friends reruns and couldn't understand a thing they were saying), Batman (the one with the cannon on his shoulder), Robin, the Flash, Huntress, and Hawkman. Even had the coloring book that tied into it.  But again, I can see why the Morrison run has such a big following.  How much are those new volume printings?
Posted by FadeToBlackBolt
@Tom Pinchuk: Great write-up, and I couldn't agree more. This is my favourite JLA and favourite team book ever (followed by Grant's New X-Men). Batman is the best character ever (imo), and this run really portrayed him at the zenith of his awesomeness.   One of my favourite moments is when Morrison showed just how badass Aquaman could be.
 



Posted by xerox_kitty

I loved this series.  It was pure summer blockbuster movie action in a superhero comic book.  It was great stuff.

Posted by inferiorego

 fixing floating thread

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Posted by Jade1977

I never cared for Morrison's JLA all that. It was basically "Batman, guest-starring the Justice League".

Edited by Harlekin

 Too answer the questions: Morrison had a great run. Mark Waid's Tower of Babel is the best story arc. Have you heard of  Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire?       

Posted by waruikumo

I had never read any of it but the first two trades, until I recently I picked up the set of hardcovers.  About 2/3rds of the way through book 3 and WOW.  I can't agree more with this article.  It is great how the books keep the more modular feel.  This group reconvenes when the $*%& hits the fan, whether superman has his mullet, or electric blue, or normal they come to defeat what ever extinction level event thrown at them.  This ends up allowing the book not only to be amazingly awesome in it's own right, but to cleanly exist within the overarching DC continuity much easier.   
 
The Hardcovers are pretty nice.  My only complaint is there were some strange printing errors in volume 1, like random letters being omitted from bubbles.  

Posted by Eyz

Pretty true!
It sure was a great fun run! 
 
*reminds me I need to get some of those on TPB forms!

Posted by AMS

Yeah New World Order is still one of my top 3 JLA events off all time.
Posted by Mainline

This is one of those series that I have in three different formats and... if they released it in another form... I'd probably get that too. :P

Posted by dondasch

This was the best period of time in my opinion for JLA.  I absolutely loved how Batman went up against the White Martians and ESPECIALLY the one mentioned about the Atom and Green Arrow killing Darkseid !  My favorite part of that issue was when Batman destroyed Darkseid's factories and we see an immortal quote from Darkseid:
 
"How small you are, and yet, you have hurt me."

Posted by Icarusflies

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Posted by Aquamariner

I could not agree more with every word you've said, man.    This was my first JLA too and man was I lucky enough to start loving comics in this era. Nothing that has come afterwards or before can ever, in my opinion, feel as important, as big, as EPIC as this run was. 
 
This is what the Justice League should always be, The BEST of the BEST, not just a handful of nobodies. There are other teams for that.  It's the reason Morrison became my absolute favorite writer. 
 
@    FadeToBlackBolt: Totally agree. And that's because Grant Morisson GETS all of DC's big guns. I'm sure he's the only writer in DC that could work on all of them and always  et it right.

Posted by Sammo21

I just threw up in my mouth a little...

Posted by batman_is_god

Martian Manhunter's parallel (while a godess and not a god) is Hestia, the godess of hearth and home. 
 
MM in many ways is the homekeeper of the JLA, as both he and WW look out for everybody else in an emotional sense (WW in a motherly sense, MM in a team mate sense). Think about after Batman's plans screwed everyone else on the team. It was J'onn that consoled everyone.  
 
Another pont toward his parallel being Hestia is that he is always in the JLA but rarely has his own series. Basically, you only see him when all the heroes are together, similiar to how you only see Hestia on Mount Olympus. 
 
Yet another point is that he helps the team communicate through hispsychic powers. Hestia, as the goddess of home and hearth, was also a consoling goddess.
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