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November 11, 1997

The Justice League of America, Back And Better Than Ever!

by Chuck Miller

The new incarnation of the Justice League of America (actually, it's not so new any more; it's been around for a year now) is, I think, the best I've ever seen. And that's saying a lot. I've been a loyal JLA fan for more years than I'm going to admit to; in fact, the first superhero comic I ever bought was a Justice League -- issue number 110 or 111, I think. And I always loved the "Super Friends," which was basically the JLA, dumbed down for us dopey kids (watching those old shows today on the Cartoon Network, I find it hard to believe I was ever THAT dumb!). Any time a bunch of cool superheroes get together in a club, it excites me tremendously.

And after many, many years, the JLA has been returned to its former glory. The Justice League has been everything from comic relief to a pitiful cadre of second-stringers, but now, thanks to writer Grant Morrison, it is once again an exclusive club for the "World's Greatest Superheroes."

I think Morrison's interpretation is the best EVER. Admittedly, he didn't have a terribly high standard to live up to. Everyone knows that comics were not properly written until about the mid-80's, when they started using cuss words and more realistic sound effects for crying ("A- huh-huh-huh!" instead of "Bawww!"), but the renaissance ignored the JLA. In DC's post-Crisis universe of the mid-80's, "Justice League of America" was an honest-to-God "funny book," more akin to "Three's Company" than anything else. Some of the stories were memorable and amusing, sure, but it wasn't the JLA I wanted. And after Keith Giffen and company left, it wasn't even FUNNY any more! It was just sad; pointless, boring stories about pointless, boring superheroes (I mean, come on, who actually LIKES the Elongated Man, for God's sake!?!).

As far as I was concerned, the JLA had never been done properly. For one thing, to my mind, the Justice League was not a group, like the Fantastic Four. They didn't live together, nor did they even work together on a regular basis. They were members of the world's coolest club, meeting once every month or so to stomp some bad guys who was too formidable for any of them to take on individually. That was the idea when the group first appeared in "The Brave and the Bold" so many years ago, and that was how they were portrayed throughout the 60s and 70s. And the reason it was the coolest club in the world was because the best heroes belonged to it. I wouldn't want to belong to any Justice League that didn't have Superman and Batman as members.

So the glory days of the JLA were also the days when comic book writing was still "primitive," before Alan Moore and others came along and worked their magic and revolutionized the medium and so on and so forth. During various crises and shakeups during the 80s, Batman left, Superman left, Wonder Woman left...In short, all the cool heroes that made it a cool club. Writers wanted to experiment, to see what could be done with lesser-known heroes like the Elongated Man, Power Girl and Blue Devil. Well, let me tell you something: THERE'S A REASON THOSE CHARACTERS AREN'T WELL KNOWN!!! NOBODY LIKES THEM!!!

On the other hand, just about everybody likes Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Grant Morrison, bless his heart, understands this. His JLA is the cool club it was always meant to be. The core members are the original seven from "Brave and the Bold": Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter (admittedly, Flash and Green Lantern are different guys these days, but they are legitimate heirs to their respective franchises). Yeah! Other new members include the cool new Green Arrow and a Grant Morrison creation whose solo book got canceled recently (and unjustly), Aztek the Ultimate Man.

Of course, just throwing great characters together doesn't guarantee a great story. Fortunately, the name Grant Morrison generally does. He is best known for his extremely twisted work on the Doom Patrol and Animal Man a few years ago. Now he is proving that he can handle more mainstream characters; the writing is still twisted, but it's twisting in a slightly different direction.

Morrison says that his goal for the JLA was to "restore the sense of bloody wonder." This he has done. He looks at these characters in ways that I never would have occurred to me, and comes up with things I never realized I always wanted to see. It's the little things in Morrison's writing -- a word here, a gesture there -- that make all the difference, that make the characters more human, more believable, more fantastic (Lex Luther, dumbfounded and stammering when he believes he has killed Superman; the new Green Arrow's derogatory remarks about his father's boxing-glove arrows; the awe with which Green Lantern regards Batman -- the guy with the most powerful weapon in the universe is SCARED of a guy who dresses as a bat!).

And, for the first time ever, the Injustice Gang is something more than an easily-dispatched collection of third-rate super-crooks. Morrison is very good at picking up on terribly obvious things which have somehow eluded a couple generations' worth of comic book creators. The new Injustice Gang is composed of the arch-enemies of the members of the JLA: The Joker, Lex Luther, Ocean Master, etc. This makes a far more formidable team than Legion of Doom rejects like the Scarecrow and Solomon Grundy.

The World's Greatest Superheroes are back! Do yourself a favor and get with it. Nothing lasts forever, you know. One of these days, the editors will once again grow weary of interesting stories and cool characters, and revamp the JLA by discarding the current membership and recruiting Brother Power, Black Lightning, Geo-Force, Steel and other members of the Legion of Lame-Ohs. So get it while it's hot, friends, $1.95 a copy, monthly from D.C. Comics.


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