JLA: Vol. 4

As much as it pains me to admit, a part of me is glad I’m finished with these Grant Morrison JLA trades.

Now I realize that this is an extremely popular run in comics, so before people start hurling things at me let me explain.  Morrison is a great writer.  He crafts stories that are thoroughly engaging and develops his characters to be as complex and intriguing as possible. I’m not arguing that.

That being said, I found those strengths were not on full display in these stories.  Morrison’s strength as a writer lies with taking a single character and allowing the reader to delve head-first into their psyche in order to gain a new perspective on their personality and better understand what makes them tic.  With an ensemble comic such as JLA, it becomes virtually impossible to do this.  There are no fewer than eight primary members, with others floating in and out of rotation.  Add on top of that a myriad of new super villains for the heroes to face off against, and there become simply too many people involved in the story.

I didn’t dislike these trades per se, as they certainly had moments of brilliance.  Overall, however, by the time I had finished reading I didn’t feel as though I had much of a deeper understanding or respect for the individual heroes.

All, that is, except Batman.

Morrison is quite skilled at writing Batman (a fact that makes me eagerly await reading his run on that comic).  Surrounded by brightly costumed heroes with any number of superpowers, Batman is, ironically, the shining light in these stories.  He serves as the perfect foil within the group, the less cosmically-centered individual who can help keep the rest of the JLA grounded.  Despite his lack of any real superpowers, he is able to command the respect of every member of the JLA, despite his less-than stellar personality.

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No, Batman doesn’t exactly employ the typical manners and niceties so often seen in superheroes, but then again, that’s just not who he is.  He dwells in the shadows and the night, fighting the ugliest sides of humanity without any of the fanfare or shining lights of his fellow heroes.  He has faced down innumerable villains and triumphed, without the aid of any special powers.  For this, it seems he has earned the respect of his fellow JLA members, who accept that while he’s not the most personable, Batman is a man who means business and can get the job done.

Grant Morrison shows this rigid drive throughout the JLA comics, with Batman always on the fringes of the group but still serving a vital purpose.  His opinion is much-respected, and he apparently has the ability to single-handedly decide whether a hero can continue being a member of the JLA or not.

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Granted, it’s entirely possible that Batman just took it upon himself to make this change, but it’s unlikely any of his fellow members would fight his decision.  Batman is tough and unyielding, but that’s perhaps what makes him so powerful. He has a set moral code and won’t allow anyone on his team who doesn’t share his values.  Murder, even of criminals, is not tolerated, and Batman has no qualms about removing Huntress from the team for a clear violation of this belief.

Batman’s overall role in this incarnation of the JLA seems to be a grounding presence, drawing the attention of the League back to Earth.  Other members of the JLA are from other planets, and so have taken it upon themselves to defend not only our entire universe, but every universe in existence if need be.  Their focus is on multi-universal patrol.  Batman doesn’t share this belief, and believes the League’s focus should instead be on the single planet they have sworn to protect.

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Batman’s feelings are in direct opposition to the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman, who believe it is their duty to protect anyone and everyone they can.  While Batman’s opinions may seem brash and unfeeling, they’re actually quite in line with his character.  Although a member of the JLA, for the most part the concept of inter-stellar travel and alien invasions is foreign to Bruce.  He largely deals with ground-level assaults from human villains, and some of these intergalactic battles are simply too vast to easily comprehend.  Although Batman almost always ends up aiding in the fight, it’s not his first instinct.  This key difference draws a line between Batman and the rest of the League.

Morrison seems to continue the concept of Batman as the “other”, a hero who doesn’t really fit in with his so-called peers.  This differentiation not only makes Batman the most interesting character in these comics, it also highlights Morrison’s true talent.  Honing in on a specific character and developing his minute personality traits is Grant Morrison’s bread and butter.  While it made for a handful of interesting Batman appearances in these stories, overall there were just too many characters for Morrison to focus on.  His JLA stories are still better than most could have written;  they simply lack that special touch that usually coincides with a Morrison comic.

-Jess

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