[Some folks around here have wanted to know why Grant Morrison's three issues of JLA Classified are my favorite comics of all time, after Casanova. So here it is.]
JLA: Classified immediately connects with Morrison's JLA run -- the Ultramarine Corps, which he invented in his run there, are the heroes for this first issue.
There is something quintessentially "superhero" about the JLA, more than any other comic book I can think of, because the JLA consists of characters from other books all on a team together -- with all the smash up of continuity that implies. JLA: Classified goes out of its way to emphasize such a smash up: Batman gets gear to deal with the Ultramarine Corps being kidnapped and says "I'm opening the Sci-fi closet, Alfred. Don't tell my friends in the G.C.P.D. about this." First of all he identifies all the crazy gear he has as "science FICTION" gear even though, for him it is real. He does this, and he needs to keep it secret from the local police, because as far as much of Batman Continuity goes, for the characters in the Batman title, including to some extent Batman himself, this stuff it just that -- science fiction. But in JLA is is just everyday business.
The issue opens with a character speaking a scientific formula for gravity -- the situation is grave, get it? Formula puns. You have to be a little impressed with that. Warmaker One, the leader, then says this -- read this out-loud:
The JLA are AWOL. These terrorists are, quite literally, animals. Wanna bet the International Ultramarine Corps can wrap up this little insurrection in ... what? Let's give it ten minutes? Who needs the Justice League? Shock and Awe, Gentlemen.
I am going to say this and risk looking like an idiot. More than half of the first sentence is acronyms. The second sentences has, I don't know, some kind of rhythm that makes my ears perk up, as does the all the W sounds and images: AWOL, Wanna, wrap, what, who, awe. This has -- I cannot believe I am going to write this down on the internet where I will never be able to take it back -- a kind of poetry not unlike David Mamet. This is Morrison at his dialogue best. And actual poetry will not be far behind, as Goraiko speaks Haiku-type metaphors before smashing stuff. "As a flower opens to the sun / So Goraiko's wrath." "Crushed like autumn leaves in my hands / The bones of bad monkeys." Here also, is Morrison at his best:
My original country is in the cold region of the vampire sun. I was born of the eternal fogs, there is Last Country. Neh-Buh-Loh the Huntsman, am I, master of the Wild Ride. I prepare the way for my Queen of Terror, who will come soon. I will spread at her feet a carpet of skulls. I am of the Other World. I herald the end of this one. Now let us make weapons of these supermen.
Creepy well done, in all the silly.
Ed McGuinness is THE artist for this title. Just as the last issue of the Invisibles made me wish Quitely had gone back and drawn every issue of the series, Ed McGuinness makes me wish that he would go back and draw all of Morrison's JLA. The first thing that strikes you when you see
a Quitely image is the sense of design. The first thing you see in an Alex Ross image is the person he used for a model. The first thing you see in a Bachalo drawing is, if not a cute girl, than a little chaotic puzzle. The first thing you know when you look at McGuinness's drawings is that this is meant to be FUN. The best cartoon you never saw. So Morrison has him draw an English Knight on a motorcycle, Monkeys in jet packs and goggles, a giant telepathic ape, little tiny airplanes, a flying city, a man made of goop, a robot with a "cosmic keyboard" who later gets sucked into a cube of stars, Batman with a red rotary phone, Batman in a flying saucer, Robot Supermen. And that is just the first issue. Fun stuff for a fun artist.
Plus the panel designs are great throughout -- tall disjointed windows at angles, little reaction panels, Grodd's head literally splitting into panels -- get it?-- he has a splitting headache. Concentric circles for the massive reverberation of sound, globs for that "information soup" Morrison always talks about, panels in a cube for guys about to be trapped by a magic cube, Bat-shaped panels, falling boxes for chaotic air movement, panels that zoom out of the background, as Batman does when he arrives.
This is what I want from a comic book -- a big team, and lots of fun in the ideas, speeches and images. JLA Classified is a distillation of what I think the Superhero genre should provide. Everything I want and nothing I don't.
[I may not even need to get into the next two issues. Depends on the response to this post.]