Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Grant Morrison's JLA: Classified 1

[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.]


david brothers said...

This issue is what got me started on comics blogging back in 05. Shoot, the blog was even named "Guerilla Grodd." I've been meaning to go back and do an appreciation of it, now that I'm more comfortable with the blogging thing, but you may have beaten me to it! I may have to work up a response/agreement post after this.

This may well be my favorite established straight superhero comic, too. I'm eagerly awaiting the trade that they're putting out. I was disappointed that it was left out of the 7S trades.

Batman on the JLA: "They got
lost saving somebody else's universe. Typical."

I love it.

Christian said...

They're putting out a trade? Fantastic. I only own #1, which I managed to scavege after S7. More please. I have a couple of questions, brighter minds might be able to illuminate me on.

Is it intentional that the Knight's helmet resemble Prometheus? if so, why?

What are the exact nations they represent? There's America, England, Japan, but what about Jack O'Lantern and 4-Dee?

He design the team after a royal court right? The Jester, The King, The Monk, The Knight and the Squire, right? What about 4-Dee?

He's also using the magical number 7 (there are six Ultra Marines) here too.

Wikipedia also tells me that The Island of the Mighty is a fantasy novel, which, much like Seven Soldiers, ends with the vilain being killed by a spear thrown at such a velocity that it pierces a rock before it hits the villain.

Marc Caputo said...

Too bad the series went down after issue 9. The first 3 were absolutely classic, the next arc (4-9) was fantastic and then it went downhill. PLEASE let us know if you're going to do the next two issues - I want a chance to get into what could be one of my favorite pages ever.

Darius Kazemi said...

I went back and read those three issues after I finished Seven Soldiers, and I thought, "Wow. The whole thing makes so much more sense now."

Mitch said...

This was the first of many things that I picked up at Geoff's suggestion. It actually took me a while to track down all 3 issues, but I'm so glad I did. Super dooper fun.

PS Geoff: I do still check the blog every day... I've been without consistent internet in the evenings for a while, but now I'm back up to speed and should be commenting balls to the wall again soon.

James said...

"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."

I love that. The title that got me buying comics regularly again was New Avengers; I loved the idea of an Avengers team that had Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Wolverine on it.

Matt Brady said...

Great analysis, Geoff. This is a super-fun arc, with Morrison's nonstop action and craziness, and some great lines. I love the scene in the third issue when Superman says, "Your black and white morality doesn't work in a complex world of flying super-apes." Or something like that.

Also, I love the phrase, "everything I want and nothing I don't". I'll have to use it more often, if I find something applicable.

Scott said...

I'm looking forward to going back and rereading this. While I know this was the setup for Seven Soldiers, I'm surprised that no one else has really gone back and mined stuff like Batman's science fiction closet.

I may be one of the few people who kind of like Porter's run on JLA. Sometimes his storytelling lacked but I always enjoyed that his figures felt solid. They had weight and mass. Rock of Ages is one of my favorite stories but I think it suffers a bit at the end with the Greg Land artwork.

Streebo said...

Geoff said -

"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."

Grant Morrison always makes a point to mention that the JLA were modeled after the Greek pantheon.

I'll probably regret trying to say this later - but I always liked the idea that these modern day gods were in one way modeled after the ancient gods. They somehow took on a life of their own and became something new and powerful for the modern age.

Err. . . something like that.

Geoff - Thank you for going over JLA Classified. Your analysis makes me want to go back and read it now! Please go over the next two issues while you're on this! Your analysis always helps me appreciate these stories more.


Streebo said...

Oh - Scott - I grew to love Porter's work too! His figures had a definite form that translated well into the wide-screen superheroics of Morrison's JLA books.

There's only one thing about the art on JLA that I ever wanted changed. I hated the fact that the Electirc Boogaloo Superman was shoehorned into the early issues. I know that Morrison made it work to his advantage - but I feel like it robbed us of an archetypal image of Superman wrestling the angel in issue 6(?). It should have been the red and blue Superman. Bummer.

Scott said...


I've gone in and pasted Wayne Boring Superman images over all of the Superman Blue comics I have.

I'll give you that-- no one could make electric Superman look good.

I can't remember, did Supes still have the mullet at the beginning of JLA?

Marc Caputo said...

Scott: yes, unfortunately.

Streebo: it's really funny that you mention that. I've been rereading "Rock of Ages" for a piece that I'm working on and I said earlier today, "Man. would this have been SO much better if it was classic Big Blue." Which in turn reminded me that if Sean Connery had starred in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", they probably wouldn't have had to make another Bond film (although they wouldn't have gotten to use Lazenby's "This never happens to the other fellow" - postmodernism 15 years ahead of schedule!

mrkvm said...

Geoff, I definitely hope you do posts for the other issues. I remember first hearing you talk about these issues on CGS and cursing myself for sending them off to a friend as something seriously fun to read. Now I can't wait to get that trade and re-read them.