Monday, September 10, 2007

Grant Morrison's JLA Classified 2

[Continuing my look at why JLA Classified 1-3 are my favorite superhero comics of all time. Last post had the broad points about all three issues, so this will just have details.]

More panel layout fun: 16 panel grids over three pages leading to one big splash page, Batman walking around Beryl in a circle so that we see him at several points, a page of tall panels, a pair of symmetrical trapezoid panels that are close ups on the eyes of villains, panels chaotically overlapped, panel gutters destroyed because a character is freaking out, a panel whose gutter is fire, and fire shaped white.

As for subject matter, Morrison has McGuinness drawing fun iconic close ups in those 16 panel pages: sexy lips, Clark's glasses, skull shaped smoke to show poison, the Flash emblem, Superman's famous chin, Superman's famous S-Curl, Superman's blue eye, Jonn's red eye, Black Death's purple eye, Green Lantern's emblem, Flash's ear thing, Aquaman's belt logo, Wonder Woman's tiara, everyone in black silhouette with colored emblems. Those icons tell the story, and the little boxes remind you they are trapped in a smaller universe, a universe without superpowers, our universe. In the end McGuinness does a great JLA splash page.

Plus Beryl is suspended Mission Impossible style with lines holding her ankles, knees, waist, head and FANTASTICALLY her pony tail (I have blogged on this detail before). Grodd gets a little crown and later a machine gun, Nebolah appears in a fantastic design, and we see the Sheeda for the first time. These things are just great. I do not have a more complex way of putting that. They are just fun and nothing else. And Beryl contacts another universe through a payphone. I think that is fun.

Morrison is again on point: "his thoughts are like mad dogs running through his skull"; "they told me you were educated on the streets. Were these the streets of Princeton?"; "Who's up for blowing away a few bad monkeys?"; "When their spurs dig in you have to obey"; "Gorillatropolis"; "I've always wanted to eat Batman. But now ... I don't know where to begin."

I will admit this is not much of an argument. This is more of a list of stuff I like. My point is that each 22 page issue is packed with all kinds of fun details, and that is why these comics are my favorite. Subtext is important, and has other virtues, and will get a book into my top ten, but my very favorite things are the ones like this. Things that exemplify a genre in a fresh way are the only things that can beat out books like the first 14 issues of Planetary that are very smart about more complex things like genre relationships.

I do not know if I believe what I just wrote, but I am going with it for now, and will keep thinking about it.


Marc Caputo said...

That's one of my favorite pages - those little items, set against the silhouette, say everything about the characters and I freaking love it!

Marc Caputo said...

I've been thinking about what you've wrote here and it brings up a set of responses.
First of all, I've been afraid to read Planetary simply because I picked up the first 20 issues off of reading your book and the remaining ones after. As the book progressed, you found fault with it and I didn't want to have that color my reading. Well, I decided to read it twice; once was just a blast-through, just to get it read for the action and plot. Then I wanted to read it for subtext and thematic elements. I have to say that I did not find the fault with it that you did - and that was based on how I read the comics history being referenced. I didn't see, for instance, the fact that the main villains (referencing the FF) as being a metaphor for age transition. I think that reading it that way worked extremely well for your thesis, but on my own, I didn't see it that way. I would put the whole run in my top 20-25 simply for how Ellis puts together a grand adventure, how he uses comic and pop culture history as a way of understanding how related we are to the multiverse and how a comic can play with the reader's notions of what constitutes heroes and villains.
I've always loved JLA:C 1-3 for its sense of humor, fun and how perfectly a writer/artist can be in sync. McGuinness is always good, especially with something like Superman/Batman. But when he's illustrating a writer like Loeb, who is more surface-oriented than Morrison, he's making the writing look good. When Morrison works with McGuinness, they're working together to elevate the form. That's the element that makes JLA:C land a notch above S/B, even though I love them both. Maybe that's why the Morrison New X-Men ultimately failed for many, like you (and to a lesser degree, me) - there wasn't enough time or reason or urgency to find or for Morrison to find someone who would elevate the form. And so the run is, as I've said before, a noble failure. JLA:C is a success on any level you'd care to measure it on.

Geoff Klock said...


I have talked Planetary to death. It is fair that you do not see it my way.

That is a good point about Loeb and McGuinness.

Ping33 said...

Reading your recap is good. I was struck by two things of the JLA:Classified 'arc' when I read it (back when it came out)

1) it's lightweight quality - It just didn't seem to matter at all (yes yes... how much does ANY comic 'matter', matter to what?!) It just felt like an episode of Justice League Unlimited rather than a JLA issue (with all the weight of continuity there-in)

2) How much it seemed that Grant was hammering home his own personal contributions to the DCU. I've thought this with other creators too (Kurt Busiek's Triathlon and Songbird... BMB's Jessica Jones) When I read the series I just kept thinking that Grant was trying to re-assert his own concepts back into continuity.

Hell I even bristled at the mission impossible riff... maybe I was just in a bad mood for about 3 months, but I never quite understood why you held it in such high regard Geoff. I think the key thing here is the idea of goofy fun. I couldn't get past the goofy and you couldn't get past the fun.

Matt Brady said...

The big villain is named Nebuloh (or sometimes Neh-Bu-Loh, I think), the adult universe of Qwewq! That was an awesome concept.

This arc may have seemed "lightweight", but it unofficially began the Seven Soldiers saga, and was revealed to matter later in that series. And while it could be Morrison focusing on his creations (the Ultramarines), he does end the story by exiling them from the DC universe, so it's not like he was trying to make them more visible and get others to use them.

Lou said...

"I do not know if I believe what I just wrote, but I am going with it for now..."

Now that's a bit of genius right there.

I've always enjoyed authors re-asserting their own contributions to a shared universe like DC's, gives the works as a whole a bit of a through line. Specifically in this case, Grant was able to string Qwewq from JLA ( where I believe it first appeared) to JLA:C to Seven Soldiers, thus linking all the stories together, if only in a peripheral way. That's kind of the point of DC being a single shared universe, yeah?