Monday, May 21, 2007

Man V. Superman

Well, I've finished rereading Grant Morrison's JLA run (I skipped over the JLA/WildC.A.T.S. book and the "One Million" storyline--and have yet to reread Earth 2) and a few things jumped out at me.

First of all, this is the book to see how Morrison applies the various hints of a theory in Flex Mentallo. The entire run is all about the tension between regular humans and superheroes with the two bookend stories both ending with regular humans helping to save the day. Hell, the end of "World War III" is right out of the end of Flex Mentallo.

One of the hallmarks of the series was Morrison's treatment of Batman, a regular human who plays in the big leagues (he also focuses quite a bit on Green Lantern throughout, who is also really just a regular guy with no superpowers--is there really a difference between his ring and any of the equipment Batman uses other than power and the fact that Batman actually invented all of his stuff?). In the first story, Batman saves the day and continues to exert a dominance over the team throughout the run.

Hell, nearly every story involves the idea of a human saving the day.

--The white Martians? Batman.
--Tomorrow Girl saves the day by becoming human.
--Zauriel becomes mortal to help save Heaven.
--Green Arrow stops the Key.
--Batman and Lex Luthor square off in "Rock of Ages" while, in the future, Green Arrow and the Atom take down Darkseid.
--Catwoman takes down Prometheus (who is basically a normal human who uses technology and brains to do what he does)
--Starro is defeated because of a human who resists his powers
--The whole Ultramarines story is about the conflict between basic humanity and what superpowers can do to people
--"Crisis Times Five" has, at its core, non-superpower solutions as JJ Thunder commands his genie and Kyle comes up with the way to stop the genies
--"World War III" has humans become superheroes to fight Mageddon

Very rarely does Superman punching something actually solve the problem--not to say that it doesn't help, but the more basic message is that human ingenuity is what saves the day. We all have it within ourselves to be heroes, basically.

Of course, this is an idea that is handled more directly in New X-Men where literally anyone can wake up one morning and find out that they have a superpower and humanity will die out within three generations to a new superpowered race.


Last night, I reread my favourite story (aside from Earth 2, but does it count?) from the run: "Crisis Times Five" and loved it again. Probably the most complex and compressed story of the lot as Morrison juggles five plots that seem unconnected, but actually all stem from one. I remember when I first read part one in issue-form, I put it down and went "And what the fuck just happened?" Morrison just throws information at you and it took me a couple of readings of the whole four-part story to actually figure out what happened, because things happened so fast. What's interesting is how Morrison uses elements from the past like Johnny Thunder's genie, Quisp and Triumph to tell a very modern story.

You can see a lot of his narrative tricks show up later in New X-Men where he had more freedom because of the soap opera, never-ending-story nature of the book. Here, things like the two-part future story in the middle of "Rock of Ages" is about as close as we get to him pulling anything big where the seemingly main story takes a back seat to something else. I mean, what else would you call something like "Assault on Weapon Plus"? Not that these little tangents aren't important, but they're also just that: tangents.

The only other times you see that in this run, really, is the fill-in issues (there are eight: six written (or co-written) by Mark Waid, one by Mark Millar and a tie-in to the "Day of Vengeance" line-wide crossover). Waid's first four-issue fill-in doesn't really address any of the lingering threads of the series beyond playing with the line-up Morriso debuted in the previous story. Millar's fill-in issue left me puzzle when it first came out, because it ties in directly to Morrison's stories, referencing Hourman's appearance at the end of the Ultramarines' story and his prediction for "Crisis Times Five." Now, Millar's one-off is actually one of my favourite superheroes stories in that simple way (the ending is genius), but it also left me wondering if it counted. In the story, to fight Amazo, the League ups its ranks and discusses a recruitment drive, but that goes nowhere, really, beyond that issue.

There were also problems throughout the run of Morrison having to work around characters' titles--things like Superman's electric costume, Wonder Woman dying and getting replaced by her mother, the Flash having all sorts of problems, etc. He did totally ignore the whole "No Man's Land" fiasco in the Bat-titles, and I wish he had been able to ignore that shit more, because it really hampers his run, in spots. And it adds a pseudo-element of realism that really isn't there. It appears realistic that because of problems, some heroes would be absent for the first part of an "adventure" and then return mid-way once those issues are resolved. The best example of this is when Wally was replaced as Flash by, what, his future self or alternate reality self or some other stupid-ass-lame idea. Anyway, that meant he was absent for the first four parts of "World War III," but showed up for the final two (really, just the last couple of pages of part five). Now, if you follow the books, it makes sense in that his situation was solved in his book during this storyarc--except, um, the events of the storyarc cover, like, a day. Maybe two. I can understand why Morrison would use the character again, but it just fucked things up. A problem that didn't really happen on New X-Men where he was given carte-blanche almost, even with Wolverine--and sometimes used X-characters from other books.


Overall, a fantastic run with some great stories that walk a very fine line between past and present. I may write up a few thoughts on Earth 2 later after I've reread it.