Thursday, September 13, 2007

Grant Morrison's JLA Classified 3

[This is the last of three posts talking about why Grant Morrison's JLA Classified 1-3 are my favorite three superhero comics.]

Morrison's dialogue: "Dawn arrives before dawn / in the morning of destruction"; "I love it when you bark orders at me, Diana" is met with "Hmm. I've heard that about you, Arthur."

McGuinness's panel design: a page spread of staggered, tall panels; a tiny box around a distant satellite with a line for the zoom-in on they guy we otherwise would not have noticed was standing on it; four small boxes at the bottom of the page to show feet taking off; little panels staggered down the page and getting larger showing Jonn reforming, then flying up from the bottom of the page to the top.

McGuiness even makes Aquaman look cool, as he leaps from a plane; I did not think anyone could make Aquaman cool.

The JLA have been a sub-plot for two issues. When they show up here they each are introduced, and shown in cool fight scenes, and they even get those little flags with their name on them. This is a device I have always loved. I makes you feel like this could be someone's first comic book ever, a nice thought, since this is such a good one.

The guy with the cosmic keyboard can restore Green Lantern's weakness to yellow by saying "Edit. Cut. And Paste." He is an evil DC editor who revises continuity. Hilarious.

Ne-bol-lah is revealed to be a time travelling baby universe all grown up, and Gorakio was beingcontrolled by a little girl that Aquaman saves. All fun. So this post is a list of stuff. Sue me.

One moment in particular stands out. Grodd ties Batman up and is roasting him. Batman gets out and beats him. But we do not see how Batman escapes. Unsympathetic readers would not necessarily be out of line to call that an error, or to call me a Morrison apologist. But to me this is great. You know how Batman escaped being tied up? He is Batman. He always does that. Any further explanation would just belabor the point that, to borrow Miller's fantastic and much maligned phrase, he is the God-damned Batman. One panel later Batman kicks a very sad and bateranged telepathic Gorilla in the crotch and says "There goes the dynasty." Morrison just skips the cliche and goes straight for the absurdity. A lesser writer would have offered an explanation.

Compression is often what makes Morrison great. One character is identified as "The disgraced 'schizophrenic Superman' of Greece." The quotes are doing a lot of work there -- did a newspaper call him that? Why? It suggests this whole wacky back-story in a few words -- again, a lesser writer would have felt the need to go into a whole thing about it.

Two final big picture things.

One: all of this turns out to be a prologue to a larger story, Seven Soldiers. This great story opens up something else, connects to something larger. By pointing to something bigger than itself it seems ever better, because more is on the way.

Two: Out of nowhere, this story has a moral, stated by Superman just so you know to take it seriously. Superheroes who kill are bad news. This does not make much sense in the context of the story -- does this make them more susceptible to the Sheeda? -- but it does not matter. Morrison is really dismissing books like the Authority. Why? Because, as Superman says "These 'no-nonsense' solutions of yours just don't hold water in a complex world of jet-powered apes and time travel." JLA Classifed 1-3 both shows you and tells you a moral I care about a lot -- Superhero Comics Should Be Fun. Because the real world is not enough fun, and in fact, it seems our world, or a world very much like ours (corrupt, no superpowers) grew up to be this story's bad guy. The enemy of imagination is depressing reality.

The story ends with a vision of superheroes being sent in our world. Ostensibly they are to save it from crime, but really they are going in to save it from a lack of jet-powered apes and time travel.


Jason Powell said...


Because it’s a slow day at work I’m going to write a long reply to your analysis of a comic book I never have read and never will.

1. “they even get those little flags with their name on them. This is a device I have always loved.”
It kind of makes my heart smile to see you say this, because I have always loved this device too. In my re-read of Claremont’s ‘80s X-Men run (which I know I promised to blog about and you and others promised to read, sorry I never did it) I was noting how often he does this. Usually it’s a big splash of the X-Men and some team of opposite-numbers, and I always think it’s so cool. Two of my first X-Men comics are Claremont issues that utilize this device on the opening splash (241 and 242, both drawn by Silvestri back when he was AWESOME, dammit). They were both helpful and just kind of cool.

A couple years back I read an online review of a comic somewhere that made a disparaging comment about a modern-day comic that used the “little captions with names on them.” The critic seemed to think they were too “retro” or dated a device, and I think he even maybe referred to them as “Claremont-esque,” using that term not as a compliment. Grrr.

So I’m glad that fun-loving comic reader such as yourself recognizes that the name-captions are cool, and fun. ‘Cause dammit, they are!

2. “So this post is a list of stuff. Sue me.”

Maybe I should just post like this about the Claremont X-Men comics. I like posts that list fun stuff. Of course if I did every Claremont X-comic published between ’76 and ’91 that could get tedious ... Hmm. Man, I wish I was rich. Then I could just commission Neil Shyminski to write a book about Claremont for me. In the meantime, you write very entertaining lists of stuff, Geoff, so I wouldn’t fear any litigation if I were you.

3. “A lesser writer would have offered an explanation.” “a lesser writer would have felt the need to go into a whole thing about it.”

I’m seeing this type of compliment a lot lately (or so it feels like, maybe I’m just becoming particularly sensitized to it) and it’s starting to make me intellectually uncomfortable. It seems like a distant cousin of the straw man argument. I’m not sure I see the point of discussing how a “lesser writer” would have handled it, ‘cause – unless you actually have a copy of JLA Classified as written by Jeph Loeb and can point and say, “see, Loeb showed how Batman escaped,” -- aren’t you just kind of making stuff up? Like, “See how much better Morrison is than this Platonic ‘lesser writer’ I’ve constructed?” Sorry to get on your case about this – actually, it’s funny (or perhaps it’s not), I think the first time my brain started worrying at this particular notion was when I listened to one of your Comic Geek Speak appearances, where you were praising David Aja (is that his name, the Iron Fist artist?) and you said, “Iron Fist could be drawn by a much worse artist and it would still be cool. So WITH David Aja, it’s just amazing.” And it just hit my brain in a very weird way. I just kind of thought, wow, what a bizarre way to compliment somebody. It’s like saying, “You are so much more talented than if you weren’t!”

I know I’m nit-picking, but it’s only because on the whole I admire your writing style so much, the things that bug me tend to jump out in stark relief. If I were reading the work of a lesser critic, this stuff wouldn’t even occur to me.

4. "These 'no-nonsense' solutions of yours just don't hold water in a complex world of jet-powered apes and time travel."

Great line. You really make these comics sound attractive, Geoff. Alas, I have learned from bitter experience that I invariably enjoy what critics write about Grant Morrison more than I actually enjoy Morrison’s writing. For some reason, a lot of comics-critics I've read seem able to extract all the cool bits that they like in Morrison comics and present them in such a way as to paint a picture in my mind of an imaginary comic book more attractive to me than what I experience when I actually crack a Morrison book open. It’s an odd thing. In any case, I’ve really enjoyed this trilogy of posts, Geoff. I promise not to sully or diminish my experience of your fine writing here by ever opening the actual work under consideration.

RAB said...

"Superheroes who kill are bad news. This does not make much sense in the context of the story -- does this make them more susceptible to the Sheeda?"

It actually does make sense within the story. The Sheeda spine-riders are like jockeys riding humans as if they were horses -- a comparison made explicit by the line "when they dig in with their spurs, you have to obey" in the previous issue. There are indications in this mini and in Seven Soldiers that the hold of the Sheeda can be broken if they try to push their subjects too far against their own innermost nature, like trying to make a horse run into a burning building. When Beryl shouts "Cyril, you can't fight bloody Batman, he's your hero!" this enables the Knight to throw off his rider, because she's absolutely right. Another example of this is Mo Colley refusing to hurt Lil Hollywood right before he gets shot in Manhattan Guardian #4.

The point here is that the Ultramarines made themselves better potential weapons for the Sheeda by their willingness to kill. Superheroes who were really at their core morally opposed to killing would not have been such useful weapons; they would have resisted Sheeda orders to use lethal force too strongly, and might have been able to overcome their riders the way Cyril did.

troy wilson said...

Actually, Morrison does explain how Batman escaped. Bats says: "I had help. When you trashed Warmaker's jet-suit you overlooked Scott Sawyer, its disembodied pilot."

And on a previous page, Grodd says, "Snuff" ...I thought I smelled something...

That something, we discover, was the disembodied pilot.

troy wilson said...

The moral? Even the goddamned Batman needs help sometimes.

Geoff Klock said...

Jason: point 3: I see how you see sentences like that as weird, but they make perfect sense to me. There are writers who have so many good ideas (Grant Morrison and Matt Fraction) that they can just toss a pearl into the mix like it was throwaway. Not everyone can do that. Many writers have less ideas and when they get one, need to spin it out into a whole thing, or they will not make a living. I see how you see that as a straw man, but it makes sense to me.

The Aja comment is easier for me to defend. Many people around here and elsewhere tell me (and I used to be like this) that if the writer is great they don't care about the art as long as it is servicable. My point was that the writing was great on Iron Fist, and that would be enough to make me want to buy it -- but it ALSO has perfect art. This comment is aimed at getting the really picky people interested.

"I promise not to sully or diminish my experience of your fine writing here by ever opening the actual work under consideration."

I love this sentence. I want to put it on my resume or something. On the back of a book. Everyone should do that! That would be awesome!

Troy -- yeah, I saw that but I am very unclear on how a "disembodied" guy can undo ropes. That was not explained. I should have mentioned that in the post. So my point about Morrison skipping explanation still stands, I think, though maybe less well.

Troy Wilson said...

I assumed the disembodied guy could make parts of himself solid like, say, Kitty Pryde or Vision - the key word, of course, being 'assumed.' I have no doubt that the disembodied guy helped out somehow, because the goddamned Batman would never admit to receiving help he didn't actually receive. But yeah, I agree that your point stands - on one leg instead of two - because the exact nature of the help isn't spelled out.