Wednesday, 13 February 2013

JLA: New World Order

Grant Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell
JLA: New World Order (1997)
Grant Morrison's Invisibles pretty much drove me away from comics, or at least mainstream American comics. It probably didn't help that most of the titles I regularly read were either cancelled or by some other means encrappened towards the second half of the nineties, but The Invisibles really drove the nail into the coffin - the equivalent of a long haired 1970s teenager walking to school with a Gentle Giant album under his arm, obviously no bag so as to ensure all can see what a deep thinker he is, what an untameable and sexy intellect lies beneath those spots; Robert Anton Wilson recycled by the man who, without any apparent trace of irony, later likened Alan Moore's Watchmen to sixth form poetry in a move bearing some comparison with that time Russell Brand called Justin Lee Collins an unfunny fucker.

Aside from the obvious point that twenty-three really is just the number that stops twenty-two getting its soup all over twenty-four at numbers' dinner time, and nothing else, mystical or otherwise metaphysical or philosophical systems with no basis in objective reality are fine whilst they provide a useful way of viewing the world - note emphasis on word useful. I suppose the neo-Discordian bollocks of which Morrison is clearly a fan might be viewed as useful if you prioritise tattoos, hallucinogenics, piercings, and Genesis P. Orridge over things of real value; or if you really need to differentiate yourself from those sheep who wear black clothes and listen to the Sisters of Mercy without actually being like really profound or understanding how there's no such thing as coincidence because it's all connected blah blah blah yap yap yap bellyache bellyache bellyache rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb ...

So when Grant Morrison went mainstream, taking over the Justice League of America comic in 1996, I was somewhat hopeful of his having noticed that The Unreadables was in fact complete bullshit and that he might have thus decided to turn over a new leaf in a flurry of contrition. Unfortunately Aztek, another mainstream superhero title he created at roughly the same time, turned out to be pants so I didn't bother with JLA. The idea was fine, and I always liked the approach John Byrne took with his big, bold reinvestment of golden age comic heroes, an approach which gave even titles like Alpha Flight a peculiarly mythic quality; but, for Byrne - who in case anyone needs reminding is pretty much beyond reproach as a comic artist - big and bold was his thing rather than an angle.

I guess Grant Morrison was finding his feet with JLA, experimenting with the mainstream and its attendant lack of irony as opposed to deconstructing the mainstream; and the problem is that it's just not very good. The art is functional - although Superman with a mullet is a terrible idea - but the dialogue and narrative lack the snappy flourishes of even drivel like The Invisibles. It reads like a comic book trying to get in touch with its own inner-1983 issue of Firestorm the Nuclear Man.

Thankfully he went on to much better things, but this was a real low point; and it probably wouldn't have been quite so bad if this lumpen humourless bollocks hadn't been the replacement for Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis' wonderful predecessor.


  1. To be fair to Morrison, it wasn't the replacement for the Giffen/DeMatteis version (which is, as you say, wonderful), but for the follow-up to the follow-up to that, which featured characters like Bloodwynd ( ). That character, and that version of the League, was created by Dan Jurgens, who was also the one who decided that the Supermullet was a good idea.

    Morrison's JLA gets better as his run goes on -- Rock Of Ages is actually very good -- but the mid-late 90s was his first nadir, yes, and for the reasons you sum up (he's going through another poor patch at the moment, but between about 2001 and 2010 was turning out wonderful stuff all the time).

  2. Interesting and thanks for the info. I was a bit vague on what happened post-Giffen (and couldn't be arsed to look it up) - at the moment that mid-period Morrison material, I'll buy if I see it cheap in Half-Price Books (which is actually fairly frequently) but it seems a bit of a step too far to actively seek it out, although I'm very curious about his run on The Authority. Odd really - I can't think of another author (comics or otherwise) upon whose work I've been so divided. Possibly it's because when he's good, he's absolutely amazing which throws the hack / wank into such unusually sharp relief - I actually have trouble thinking of any comic books I've ever loathed quite so much as The Invisibles, possible exceptions being Joe Matt's autobiographical Peep Show or 1990s zine Vogarth.

    1. His run on the Authority consisted of ghost-writing a couple of the better issues of what was claimed to be Mark Millar's run on the title. He did also start an actual run on it, in 2005 or 2006, but that only got as far as the first or second issue, before stuff got in the way.

      Keith Giffen, three or four years later, did a ten or eleven issue miniseries that had Morrison credited as co-plotter that was meant to complete Morrison's unfinished storyline and tie it into whatever the latest re-re-rebooted version was, and that was OK, but the only thing I remember about it was one issue where, for good and adequate reaons, DeMatteis did the dialogue and the two of them just parodied their own JLA style.