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Granted, JLA is a Mess  
— But It's Not All His Fault

(This  Stripped column originally appeared in the July 16-22, 1998 Long Island Voice. Click on the artwork for a larger image.)

by Beth Hannan Rimmels

'NUFF SAID:

"Vampires are just cynical inventions by trashy comic book companies used to exploit an adolescent obsession with sex and death. I read a book on the subject once."

 —Teenage girl

"Forget books, darling. Stick with comics."

 —Vampirella in Vampirella #1

Grant, Grant, Grant, I think you're working too hard. Take some time off, kick back, relax, get some rest before you burn out.

Don't get me wrong — I adore Grant Morrison's work. The Mystery Play was brilliant. His Animal Man was really cool. I haven't had the time to read The Invisibles, but everyone I trust raves about it. His incarnation of Doom Patrol was far more original than most attempts to revamp an old group.

His version of JLA, however, has left me cold. Maybe there was too much expectation about a Vertigo writer taking over one of the best-known superhero teams. Maybe it's just taken him longer than usual to find his groove, since the more recent stories are more engaging than the first ones.

First strike against JLA was a small one: a very conventional, very predictable threat against the Earth in the guise of aliens who want to "help" humanity forces Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Flash and Green Lantern to recreate the Justice League. Gee, like that's never been done. Still, I cut Morrison a lot of slack because getting a new series off the ground is a formidable task. For example: After an awkward opening, Garth Ennis' Preacher has never wavered in its kick-ass, in-your-face stories that raise genuine questions about religion and faith. However, I hated the "let's make sure we're all clear on what happened" plot device Ennis used in the first issue of Preacher. But he obviously wanted to start the series with the image of Genesis screaming out of heaven and possessing Jesse Custer while incinerating his congregation. (Ennis also had a fair amount of back story with which to hook Tulip and Cassidy with Jessie, so Ennis is excused.)

Morrison, though, doesn't seem to really have a feel for his characters. They read like cardboard cut-outs. Now, that's not entirely his fault. The poor guy got saddled with Superman's transformation to a blue-energy being right around the time JLA launched, plus the new Green Lantern and Green Arrow, who both whine about living up to their predecessors' reputations. He also had to deal with Wonder Woman being dead for a couple of issues when John Byrne killed her off in her own title. Plus he had to tie into the latest inane über-crossover DC forces on all its titles. What was he thinking with the recruitment scene? Yeah, like the epitomes of truth, justice and the American way are ever going to invite hit man Tommy Monaghan to audition for membership. Tommy's "Hey, I only came along to check out Wonder Woman with my X-ray vision. Now I can die happy" was just embarrassing, not funny.

Far too many things don't make sense, such as when the angel-made-human Zauriel responds to Martian Manhunter's question with "Telepathy! God! Thought I was back in the Pax Dei with the voiceless choir." Excuse me, but that sounds vaguely like he's using the Lord's name as an epithet or at least point of exclamation — now is that what we expect from someone so recently an angel?

The dialogue has been rather leaden, and what is it with Morrison's grammar obsession? A bad guy says they will be erased, so Wonder Woman stomps him and says, "Really? By whom?" to which Martian Manhunter replies, "Your grammar is impeccable, Wonder Woman." Huh? In another issue, Batman chides Robin for bad grammar. Sorry, but Tim Drake is a boy genius who had attended private school, so why would he speak like he's been poorly educated? Tim's never sloppy.

This month's issue really shows the cracks in JLA with its guest appearance by Dream from Neil Gaiman's Sandman. Dream had a brief stopover at JLA headquarters in an early Sandman issue, but afterward Gaiman said in interviews that he didn't feel it worked very well and that blending Sandman with the mainstream superheroes of the DC Universe would not happen again. I suspect Morrison was allowed to do this crossover in part because he is a Vertigo writer, but they should have held to the original dictate. Dream's "You may call me Sandman" does not work for any regular reader of the Sandman series. Sure, it's one name among many he's been called, but it's not a name he has ever told people to use. The story is totally pedestrian: A creature is trying to take over the world via people's dreams and a young boy's dream of Superman could be the key to stopping it. You could drive a truck through the plot holes, such as comments that people will start dying in a few hours if they don't wake up. Excuse me? True, people who fall asleep in cars or similar situations are in danger, but the average person who fell asleep at their desk would die slowly of starvation — unless there's a reason that isn't clearly stated.

At the same time, Morrison's been scripting the Vampirella monthly series with Mark Miller, and the result is a vast improvement. The dialogue is snappier. Vampirella's using ingenious methods to wipe out other vampires, including bullets with crosses carved in them and a priest who turns rain at a cemetery into holy water. Miller's talented, too, but I won't believe he's carrying Morrison, who's just too talented for that.

I suspect he's been forced into a plotting pretzel in JLA by the weight of history and DC's self-imposed commercial constraints. It's a shame we'll never see what he could do with JLA if freed of all such burdens. That's the JLA everyone would remember.

Media Connection: On 'Nuff Said this week, hosts Ken Gale and Ed Menje talk to Marie Severin, who Bill Gaines called the conscience of EC Comics. She did illustrations for Esquire magazine and penciled Dr. Strange, The Hulk, Sub-mariner, Kull and, of course, Not Brand Ecch, as well as many other comics for Marvel. 'Nuff Said airs from midnight Sunday to 1 a.m. Monday on WBAI-FM (99.5).

 

Column © 1998 Long Island Voice. JLA © 1998 DC Comics. Vampirella © 1998 Harris Comics.