Looking Back On Volume 1 Of Morrison’s JLA [Review]

JLA Vol 1 Review

I was seven when this series was coming out, and to call it revelatory would be an understatement.

As a Marvel kid, and an avid reader of Venom’s many solo series (which should say it all), my only reference point for the DC heroes at the time were re-runs of Superfriends on Cartoon Network. I saw the DC heroes as old fashioned. Dorky. Lame.

Then I saw the cover for the trade paperback for Grant Morrison’s JLA Vol. 1, and that paradigm was blown out of the water. Superman, a severe look on his face, pointed at the logo. Wonder Woman, alert and ready to strike, brandished her lasso menacingly. Batman, teeth and fists clenched, looked like he would break every bone in my weak little body if I didn’t buy the book immediately.

As with any Grant Morrison work, every page of every issue bombards you with huge ideas. The pace was frantic, but never rushed. The plot was straightforward enough. Alien superheroes called the Hyperclan have come to Earth to save it from itself. It starts out innocently enough with the Gobi desert being turned into an oasis, but then they start executing supervillains without a trial. That’s when things start getting crazy.

Satellites explode, people run at the speed of light, and the superheroes rely on normal people to save the world. It was like no comic I had ever read. Every page was a challenge to my former DC-bashing self. “Go ahead. Call them lame. We dare you.” Not only were the DC heroes cool, but they could (and funnily enough, later would) beat the shit out of the cast of Mortal Kombat any day.

From the Flash’s infinite mass punch, to Wonder Woman holding her breath to fight in space, to Aquaman giving a martian a telepathic seizure, every character in the book got to do something mind-blowing. More than that, though, they did all this mind-blowing stuff as if it were nothing. There was no boasting about how cool they were, because it went without saying.

These characters were so cool they didn’t even realize it. They talked and acted like grown-ups, or at least like a kid’s idea of what ideal grown-ups should be like; they could fix any problem and overcome any obstacle. It’s a fantasy, of course, but I didn’t know that at the time.

I still enjoy reading it sixteen years later, though of course in a different way than before.
Some things haven’t aged well (Superman’s mullet being the main offender), and the story occasionally moves too fast for the art to keep up, but overall, what worked then still works now.

Yes, things that seemed serious are now absurd, but that’s the beauty of JLA-it works on some level regardless of what age you are. When I was a kid, reading this book made me feel cooler than everyone else. Now, it brings me back to the first time I saw Batman defeat four invincible opponents with a box of matches.

Of course Morrison intended it to be that way. “Kids could read it to feel like adults and adults could read it to feel like kids.” was the way he described it in Supergods, and I think it’s apt. It’s a balance I think more cape comics should strive for.

Take Identity Crisis. The kid in me doesn’t want to read a book about a violent rape, and the adult in me can’t take a story about violent rape seriously when there are people walking around in superhero costumes. It doesn’t work on either level because the elements that make it up are so at odds with each other.

JLA pulls it off because everything is in balance. It’s serious enough for the death of a character to mean something, but not so serious that we can’t have marauding angels invade San Francisco in a spaceship. It knows it’s a superhero comic, and rather than try to cover itself with self-serious melodrama, it proudly flaunts it’s absurdity for all to see. If you can’t stand the heat-vision, get out of the kitchen.

Kids feel grown-up, and adults feel like kids again. This is what superhero comics are supposed to be, and it’s why Morrison and Porter’s JLA run remains one of the greatest of all time. This is the beginning of that run. What else do you need to know?

A COMIC BOOK BLOG RATING

Pros Cons
What part of “Infinite Mass Punch” was I unclear about? Story occasionally moves a little too fast.
Rating
90%

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