Where does one begin when discussing a Grant Morrison comic?
It’s a problem I’ve had on a number of occasions now. I always really like his interpretations of a story and have plenty to say on the subject, but I never know where to start. I pretty much just jump in, ramble on for a few hundred words, and hope I find my stride eventually.
Hey, it’s worked for me so far, right?
JLA: New World Order approaches a story in only the way Morrison can. The Justice League of America is being reimagined, but Morrison doesn’t bore us with the typical backstory explanation of how it came into being. There are constant threats to Earth’s survival; a defense is needed. Hence, the Justice League.
In this particular story, it would almost seem that the JLA is unnecessary. A small group of aliens referred to as the Hyperclan descends on the planet with a veritable “we come in peace” speech, claiming to have witnessed destruction on their own home planet and wishing to spare Earth the same fate. They claim they will create a paradise for all of Earth’s inhabitants, and wish to help in any way they can. They ask for nothing in return.
Sounds almost too good to be true.
Well, that’s because it is.
It is quickly revealed that not only are these aliens seeking to take over the planet, but they are, in fact, very close to one particular JLA member.
The Hyperclan are from J’onn J’onzz’s native planet, and share all of his superpowers. Once this is realized, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, J’onn, Green Lantern, Flash, and Aquaman unite to defeat the invaders (using their well-documented weakness to fire as the primary weapon).
With this the story ends, with a teaser than the aliens may not be gone for good, and may have infiltrated the minds or bodies of a number of regular humans.
And so it goes.
Were this any other writer, that would be the end of the post. A fun read about a bunch of heroes saving the world. End of story. That’s never the case with Grant Morrison, though.
Morrison’s talent lies in the details he leaves within the comics, subtle hints for a reader to pause and consider while she’s enjoying the story.
My favorite such moment occurred when Batman and Superman are paired off to go investigate one of the alien bases.
Batman is different than every other member of the JLA in this trade. He doesn’t have superpowers of any kind. He’s simply a man who’s trying to make the world a better place.
This aspect of Batman’s character isn’t often addressed in comics, nor do we get to see Batman openly acknowledge this “difference” between himself and his allies. Every time Batman teams up with the JLA, his life is at risk perhaps more than any other person’s. He lacks the special talents that make fighting these world-threatening invaders even a remote possibility, yet he charges head on anyway.
What’s more, despite lacking superpowers, Batman proves himself to be a keen detective and ultimately invaluable to the team. Other than J’onn J’onzz, Batman is the only person who realizes what the aliens are and by extension, what their vulnerability is. Using this knowledge to his advantage, Batman is able to capture numerous assailants while all of his teammates are captured elsewhere.
It’s a small aside, but it plays in heavily to who the Batman is and just how formidable a man he can actually be.
After all, it’s not every human who could keep up with the likes of Superman.
Morrison’s subtle characterizations are always well done, but I admit I enjoy his commentaries on larger world issues even more. He often manages to instill his own opinions into a comic while still making it feel completely organic and original. I wasn’t expecting it in this trade, and truth be told I have absolutely no proof whatsoever that this was his intent, but I was particularly struck by one comment made by Green Lantern in the middle of a fight:
In the midst of battle, Kyle Raynor wonders to himself: “What is it with super-villains nowadays? What happened to crazy jewel heists and dumb traps? Now they murder your girlfriend and stuff her in a fridge for kicks. The old Green Lantern had it easy.”
Had any other writer created this aside, I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it beyond it being a reference back to a prior Green Lantern story, helping to tie it into the broader DC universe.
But this is Grant Morrison. The same Grant Morrison who created a self-aware comic book character with Animal Man and allowed that same character to question his creator on just why stories were written the way they are.
I don’t believe Morrison included this reference by accident. I think he chose to make a commentary on the brutal and unnecessarily violent deaths of female characters in comics, using the especially disturbing death of Kyle’s girlfriend as an example. By comparing this crime to the violence of old, when stories focused on theft or silly contraptions meant to ensnare the hero, Morrison is calling out his contemporaries for creating such horrific scenes. Kyle’s comment really is true: the old-timers had it easy.. The writers were a lot kinder to them.
As with just about every other Grant Morrison story I’ve read, this one left me wanting more. Luckily, there are no less than five more trades written by Morrison coming up on “the shelf”, so I can hunker down and read story after brilliant story. If they’re anywhere near as exciting and thought-provoking as this one, I’m in for a real treat.