JL of A, JLA and JLU

Am watching episodes of Justice League Unlimited, a bunch of which landed up here thanks to tandavdancer. Had goosebumps during the episode “For The Man Who has Everything”, which was an adaptation of an Alan Moore story from the 1980’s.

(Somewhat coincidentally) Reading Squadron Supreme, Mark Gruenwald’s deconstructionist take on superheroes, featuring analogous characters from the Justice League in a twelve-issue series which sought to address how superheroes would react in a real-world scenario. Yes, yes, I know – Watchmen, Kingdom Come, The Authority yada yada yada, but Squadron Supreme still kicks major ass, and how. Mark Gruenwald, the writer was an avowed Justice League fan – every issue in the trade paperback ends with an essay by a major writer/editor, and in Kurt Busiek’s essay, he mentions his funniest memory of Gruenwald – how he was challenged by the other Mark ( Waid), another Justice League fan about JLA trivia, and how Gruenwald beat Waid by asking him TWO questions that the latter could not answer. Gruenwald channels this love for the classical characters by making a series whose epic contribution to the superhero archetype cannot be encapsulated in a blog post like this. Every subplot, every subsequent issue, every back-story makes you wish that DC had the guts to use its flagship characters the way Gruenwald did, like fallible human beings with powers, instead of walking punchlines. And the strangest bit of trivia – Gruenwald’s will stated that he wanted his remains to be cremated and the ashes were to be mixed in the printing ink for the Squadron Supreme comics. So, in a way, my copy of the trade has a bit of Mr Gruenwald in it.

Come to think of it, I’ve enjoyed the different incarnations of the Justice League that came out as I grew up. The thing to bear in mind is that between my a comic being released and it coming to the stands in India, there is a gap of almost ten years involved. That is to say, in 1992, I was reading JLA issues released in 1984-86. What to do, India is like that only. This was the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths version of the JLA, which had very entertaining multiverse stories, with crunchy cliffhangers that did wonders for my imagination. At that time, I was a little wary of the 90’s issues, the artwork was not that clean, and for a thirteen-year old kid, “clean” art matters a lot.

When I got into the serious phase of my comic-book love, I tentatively started up on the new incarnations of the JLA, which featured characters I had never seen before. Guy Gardner, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold and the Martian Manhunter were the only ones I seemed to know – Fire, Ice, the Green Lantern G’nort, Max Lord – who were these people? What was Justice League International? There was Justice League Europe??? Hello?

And then I read one issue which featured the JLA getting shrunk to the size of fleas, and they all land up inside the fur of Fire’s pet dog, and bwahahahahah, Guy Gardner gets himself eaten by the dog and comes out …the natural way. Some UK reprints led me to the Manga Khan issues. Manga Khan! What an awesome name! What an awesome character! An intergalactic trader who launched into soliluquies at every possible moment, and owned L-Ron the robot ego-booster. AHAHAHAHAH! I learnt that these JLA stories were written by Keith Giffen, the guy behind the zany looniness of Ambush Bug. That explained it!

Quick bit of trivia – Keith Giffen claims that it was him and JM Demetteis who brought “Bwahahahahaha” into popular culture.

Sometime during the early nineties, the JLA kind of faded away. There was this long arc called Breakdowns, which involved a lot of shady things going on after the League’s manager Maxwell Lord was shot at. I totally lost interest by then, and don’t even know what happened then. The next I heard of the JLA was during the Death of Superman saga, where Doomsday defeated the League in one. single. issue. Eh? This was what the world’s premier crime-fighting team was reduced to?

DC realised the iconic nature of the JLA though. It relaunched the series once the whole Knightfall-Doomsday-Artemis storylines were over in the respective Batman-Superman-Wonder Woman books, and the Big Three were brought back into the fold. The writer? Grant Morrison. The early issues of the JLA can only be described in one word ( or maybe two ) – breath-taking. The crises presented to the members were epic, planet-threatening cataclysms, the likes of which cannot just be handled by a Superman or an Amazon princess all alone. These were problems that required teamwork, and specialized powers, and plans and counter-plans and evasive action. All those people who doubted the necessity of having a non-superpowered being like Batman in the group were gratified by the way Batman, a self-professed loner and, within the DC Universe, more of an urban legend than a public hero, was used in the JLA this time around. He was the no-nonsense plan-meister, the one with the back-up firmly in place, at home even in alien worlds among superhuman brawlfests. Mark Waid took over after Morrison, and continued the series with the same hyperactive style. I read this series in white-heat sometime this year, on scans. Need to buy the later issues some time, already have 1-15.

During Infinite Crisis, the JLA was disbanded, mostly because the members’ distrust of each other led to feuds – following Wonder Woman’s public execution of Max Lord ( Read up on IC sometime, for complete details) and Batman’s recollection of his mind-wipe ( ditto Identity Crisis), things reached a point of no-return.

I believe the new One Year Later storyline reforms the Big Three version of the JLA. Brad Meltzer is writing it, so I expect a lot of soppy fan-wankery disguised as first-person narrative. Blah. Though I don’t doubt I would be reading the series sometime. I am more excited about this spin-off series called JLA: Classified, which presents out-of-continuity stories by writers like Morrison, Ellis and Giffen – and it’s rumoured that Garth Ennis will write his last Hitman story sometime soon for this series. Yippee dee yay!

Coming back to Justice League Unlimited, I am taking in the episodes at white-heat. What I don’t like – sometimes characters don’t use their powers realistically enough. Hmm, ok, superhero license, I guess. Part of me gets excited at being able to identify characters like B’Wana Beast, Brimstone, Circe and El Diablo. I like the quirky way in which certain episodes get resolved – and man oh man, does Bruce Timm know how to spice up the female characters or what? Black Canary, Circe and Zatanna look mindblowingly hot.

Wait a minute, I am drooling over cartoon women. Sheesh.