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JLA Classified #1-3
Grant Morrison, Ed McGuiness, Dexter Vines
DC Comics

Kicking off the Year of Grant Morrison, the first three-issue arc of JLA Classified featured his return to the Justice League after his original run in the 1990s. His earlier stint kicked off a return to epic, Silver Age-style storytelling, as he eschewed the soap operatics of the previous run and portrayed DC Comics' big trademark characters as a pantheon of gods and gave them twisted, metaphysical adventures worthy of their stature. (Quickly after his departure, and even in brief fill-ins by other writers during his run, the focus always shifted away from the ideas and action and back to the characters, as if Morrison was the only one who could pull off the pure blockbuster action properly.) This new story can be seen as a condensed version of his earlier stories, totally compressed and taken to the next logical step, for better or for worse. And, as it turns out, it's a little of both.

Spinning tangentially out from one of his earlier stories, JLA Classified features the Ultra-Marines, a group of government-designed super-heroes who formed their own floating nation, as much as it does the actual League, who have gone missing. The first issue informs us of this by asking, "Where is the Justice League?" in enormous font on the front cover. In fact, each cover is more outlandish than the last, so much so that I wonder if Morrison wasn't giving himself some variation on the "Julie Schwartz Cover Challenge," in which the definitive Silver Age editor gave his creators a bizarre cover image and asked them to build a story around it. The entire book has a Savage Silver Age flavor to it, with retro and nouveau existing together in a silly and sinister world where Batman takes a flying saucer to Pluto to visit an infant universe and Gorilla Grodd picks at the bones of his devoured human hostages while wearing a crooked little crown.

With Morrison in full Pop Splendor mode, he needs an artist who can, if necessary, out-Pop him, and Ed McGuiness and Dexter Vines certainly hold their own. Working with an always recognizable style that is equal parts graffiti-manga (like Humberto Ramos, Skottie Young), Batman the Animated Series, and classic super-hero, he has further refined his style for this story, with touches of Frank Quitely and Jamie Hewlett as well. The characters are simple and iconic, but the storytelling is as wild and dense as the action. Just as the fundamental logic of the story is pushed to the breaking point (and some times beyond) it seems that some of the anatomy is pushed a little too far for the sake of design. Twelve-panel grids crowd some pages, some panels radiate out of a central point of action, others crash and crumble. It's sophisticated stuff for a mainstream comic book, but not nearly on the same level as We3, which came out at the same time. And it's nice to see McGuiness on an exciting, super-hero action comic that is actually worth reading, something I don't remember seeing since his days on Mr.Majestic and Deadpool.(No, I'm not forgetting Batman/Superman or whatever its called).

Gorilla Grodd, fierce and mighty gorilla terrorist, brainwashes the Ultra-Marines and steals their floating city, but the Justice League is on a mission in another universe, presumably ours (!), leaving only Batman and a young side-kick to save the world. The exploits are fast and nutty, with vaguely defined super-powers often touching on Morrison's favorite themes, including liquid software and the creator trapped in creation, and most sensationally; he introduces us to the robot JLA, a fleet of android counterparts for each of the seven members. As with his earlier run, although these incredible ideas are exciting and fun, the characters and the story get lost beneath them all. I was reminded of a short Invisibles story that I re-read recently, "And We're All Policemen," which has a constant barrage of strange and incomprehensible information, yet the story flows, the characters shine, and the ideas are, to a degree explained. Although, the stories are very different and serve distinct purposes, I see "Policemen" as the more successful of two works in a similar vein.

Morrison's other work, while often containing the similar flood of concepts from beyond, are always grounded with a human element to the story, usually great loss, and this is nowhere to be found. The only truly human moment in the story is a two-page bit about Superman's diary which made me wish that Morrison would put as interesting a spin on the rest of the League as he did with the action sequences. But, this is a Justice League book, and I shouldn't expect anything but gorgeous pop action, and this is it, in its purest form.

-- Jef Harmatz

The ADD Blog by Alan David Doane. Trouble with Comics Reviews of comics and graphic novels. Commentary about the artform and industry of comics. Get back to the main page.

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