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The JLA: Grant Morrison & the Return of the Pantheon

JLA #1: the Return of the Classic Lineup
JLA #1: the Return of the Classic Lineup

Grant Morrison is a god. At least that’s what I thought in the late ‘90s. Morrison could do no wrong as far as I was concerned and I read everything he wrote. I was hooked on the Invisibles. I loved Animal Man and the Doom Patrol. I’d even read Kid Eternity and Sebastian O. Morrison was my jam. Then news trickled down that Morrison was going to re-launch the Justice League of America. I was excited at the idea of my favorite writer taking over one of my all time favorite books that had unfortunately become unreadable by 1997.

I’ve always had a love for team books. When I was young and I had a limit of what comics I could buy I always gravitated toward team books since I could get more bang for my buck. I could read multiple characters and the storyline tended to be bigger and earth shattering in nature. Yet the ‘90s were not kind to team books. Editorial fiefdoms were holding their big heroes back from being in team books so we were getting B & C list heroes filling out the teams. They weren’t all terrible, some were, but it just wasn’t what I wanted in a team book. Apparently I wasn’t alone. I’d grown up with Avengers rosters that always had at least one if not all of the big three- Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man. My Justice League books as a child had always included the trinity- Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman as well as several members of the seven originals- Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Flash, and Green Lantern. This morphed during the JLI years but Batman was still a mainstay as was the Martian Manhunter and the book just rocked.

By the ‘90s at Marvel we had Force Works, a Black Knight led Avengers with matching leather jackets, and of course the disaster that was the Crossing AKA the young Tony Stark story. Luckily they righted their ship and gave the Avengers to Kurt Busiek and George Perez. At DC the Justice League was floundering with Extreme Justice, Justice League Task Force and the main book looked like a bad version of Infinity Inc. with Metamorpho in charge. I didn’t recognize the book; none of the original big seven were present and the stories went nowhere. Something had to change and luckily DC was willing to let Morrison revitalize their flagship book.

I was excited but also nervous. I didn’t want a Vertigo JLA book and even though I loved Morrison I was worried that’s what we would get. After all Doom Patrol started as a mainline DC universe book before it was moved to Vertigo and outside of continuity. I wanted a return to the classic JLA, the glory days of my youth when team books were larger then life and all the big heroes were there. After reading the first issue I never had to worry again. Morrison may be the master of writing both to suit a big company agenda as well as for his own personal art. He can seamlessly bounce from Joe the Barbarian to All Star Superman, the Invisibles to New X-Men and his writing never falters, he is able to morph his style to what he is writing unlike other writers who morph their books to their voice, even when it doesn’t work with the characters they are writing.

JLA exploded off the pages. Morrison established the seven-member pantheon of the gods. It was a return of the classics- Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman. Then we had second-generation heroes with Wally West as the Flash and Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern and by issue nine we had the Conner Hawke Green Arrow, an homage of course to Ollie Queen being the first recruit to the JLA back in the original run.

These were the A-list heroes of the DC Universe who dealt with world shattering events. In the first year alone they repealed an alien invasion, fended off Asmodel and his Bull Host of God’s Angels, and took on the Injustice League. Luckily this was right before comics changed and we started getting the multi-part arcs that were written for the trade paperback. Morrison gives us a beautiful one off issue of the ill fated hero, Tomorrow Woman, and the two part alternate reality issues where the Key attempts to take over the world with only Green Arrow able to save the day.

Joining Morrison for this ride was Howard Porter. Stylistically Porter did a nice job with the Justice League. He can draw epic action as well as quiet moments. Although he was dealt a blow by the fact that this was not the best of times for some of these characters in their solo books. We had Superman with a mullet and then electric blue Superman, ZZ Top Aquaman with a harpoon for a hand, Wonder Woman in a thong, the all black Batman costume, and Green Lantern with a giant mask. The Flash and Martian Manhunter thankfully were left in their classic attire. Porter cleaned up some of these tragic fashion decisions and did a stellar job of giving weight and gravitas to Morrison’s story and his art became cleaner and his story telling captured Morrison’s grand plan for the JLA.

Without a doubt the Justice League franchise needed some new blood and new direction by 1997. Luckily Grant Morrison was willing and very able in righting the ship. He returned the JLA to its epic status and brought the book back to its roots with modern storytelling. JLA became a phenomenon and is to this day the framework DC uses when rebooting the book, from Meltzer to Johns, and currently Bryan Hitch. Every incarnation since 1997 owes Morrison a debt of gratitude. Now can we please get Martian Manhunter back on the team.

JLA Volume 1
JLA Volume 1


John Burkle holds a BA in Political Science and a MA in Education. He spends his day teaching Politics and Government as well passing on a love of comics to the next generation. When not teaching he reads as many comics as he can, both current and…

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