JLA: Archives Vol. 1, JLA: Rock of Ages, JLA: World War III
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Daniel's Comic Book Column # 3, January 2002
by Daniel P. Dern (ddern@world.std.com)

"For a good place to start, try the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA. "

Since I'm going to be spending a lot of time (and web-inches and words) on one topic this month, I'll quickly give just one recommendation, and a related thought, and then off we go!

This month's Recommended Title: BATMAN: THE 10-CENT ADVENTURE. (DC Comics, available now, price: ten cents!)
At ten cents -- one thin, non-silver dime -- it's a bet you can't lose. OK, this is the lead-in to a story arc across half a dozen or so of the Batman and Batman-related titles (the folks at DC are no fools), but you get your dime's worth.

This month's Budget-Saving Tip: As I said in my first column here back in November 2001, I'm trying to make recommendations that won't necessarily run you more than ten bucks a month... but I'm also suggesting lots of trade and hardcover collections and books that cost way more than that.

One legitimate way to get access to some of these would be to find a friend who's got them. (Or to chip in with friends for stuff -- something I'm still trying to figure out how to do.)

Another is to try your local library. Mine, for example, has a fair number of comic book hardcovers and trade paperbacks, I'm discovering. Many libraries are willing to buy things at the request of patrons (cardholders). And Internet-enabled inter-library loans are a great tool to master.

(Lastly, there's eBay, Amazon.com's "used" listings ... and you can ask your local comic store to look out for things.)

OK, on to the main spiel.

Trade Collections Make Great Starting Points

Over the past year or so, I've found myself talking to friends who had stopped reading comic books, for whatever reason, and when they ask me what I recommend these days, while there's no shortage of good and even great stuff, I find that my "start here" recommendation is the Justice League of America (JLA), in particular, several of the trade reprint collections. Why? Because these books are solid double-thick malted rushes of adrenaline and excitement, chockful of (remember, this is my opinion, your mileage may vary) great action, dialogue, art, plots -- the works.

(I'm prepared to consider suggesting the Marvel trade paperback of J.M.Straczynski's recent work on Amazing Spiderman, The Amazing Spider-Man: Coming Home, which I recommended in my December 2001 column here in SFRevu.com -- but with only six or so issues, then what?)

Plus, the Justice League stories are full of enough characters that most anybody who's interested enough to consider reading a comic book will recognize several of the characters -- but they're not so tightly tied to the convoluted story arcs of the individuals characters that the out-of-touch reader will wonder what the heck is going on.

(Granted, there's the blue-energy Superman, and -- for some -- yet another new guy as Green Lantern, and Aquaman's got a hook where one of his hands used to be. But any comic reader has learned to take this stuff in stride.)

And these puppies are fun. They're a great read -- and a great re-read.

So I'm going to spend the bulk of this month's time and space on the JLA, under the category: REPRINT/COLLECTION(S) OF THE MONTH. (To make sure of what I'd be saying, I went and reread them all -- and a good thing, too, as I'd lost track of or mis-remembered sundry details in the content or in the creator credits.)

The Justice League of America was the first super-group of DC's "Silver Age" period. I remember (semi-vaguely -- I was eight years old when the team first appeared -- initially the "try-outs" in DC's "The Brave and The Bold"  #28. more info on this particular issue, by Mitchell Brown. No, don't go there until you're done with this, or you may never get back. Thank you.)

DC's "The Brave and the Bold" and "Showcase" comics were often were the "try-out" vehicles for characters and groups, as an alternative to having them guest-star in "somebody else's" title). It only took the JLA three issues of tB&tB before they got a title in their own right. Great covers, great (if you were somewhere between nine and fifteen, which I was) plots -- Starro the Conquerer (think big starfish with attitude) (here's the LEGO version), Kanjar Ro spacenapping the JLA in his space boat, three-eyed, big-headed Desparo playing Justice League chess. Heady stuff for us kids under the age of ten with a dime to spare (especially if we were willing to share our comics with friends, to stretch our buying/reading power).

With a little luck, persistence or web-searching, you can relive your past or see what you missed, with JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA ARCHIVES Volume 1.

JSA #3At a current cover price of $49.95 -- and that's assuming you can find a copy -- this may be more than you want to spend, but somebody you know may own a copy, or you may be able to get it through your local library.

The League had a mix of cosmic adventures and -- often responding to letters people sent them -- mundane and not-so-mundane ones right here on Planet Earth.

Since then -- like most heroes and groups, to be sure -- the League's gone through changes, including the Giffen/Templeton years, which often got a bit silly (I enjoyed those, but not everyone did), the usual changes of roster, multiple groups (Justice League International, Justice League Europe, etc.), having their headquarters go from cave to satellite (which got blown up, natch)... and then things somehow ground to a halt.

Until, thankfully, in 1996, four decades after DC kicked off the Silver Age with Barry Allen as the (then) new Flash, Mark Waid, hot on the heels of his grim but overpowering DC mini-series  KINGDOM COME (well worth it, but that's another story for another column -- and probably NOT a good starting place for newcomers) stepped in and brought the JLA back with a vengence, with the three-issue JUSTICE LEAGUE: MIDSUMMER'S NIGHTMARE, with co-writer Fabian Nicieza.

(As of January 8, 2002, Amazon.com shows a few copies in stock, with more promised on the way, list price $9.95, only a buck more than when I bought my copy.)

And soon after, the fun continued, with Grant Morrison at the writing helm for a wonderful while (more about some of Morrison's stuff next month), stunning art by Howard Porter and others.

The main players: Superman, Batman, J'ohn J'onzz, Wonder Woman, Flash (Wally West), Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner, a.k.a. "Crab-Face Guy" because of his mask), Aquaman, Plastic Man, Huntress, Oracle (Barbara Gordon, formerly BatGirl), Steel (John Henry Irons, introduced in the long but good "Death of Superman" story arc a few years back in the Superman titles -- but you don't have to know this.)

Plus, at times, the Atom (Ray Palmer), Green Arrow (Connor Hawke, Oliver Queen's son - but check out Kevin Smith's QUIVER mini-series from DC for the update on the "late" Ollie), New Gods Big Barda and Orion, and lotsa other guest stars (Morpheus, Animal Man, the Justice Society, to name a few).

Somehow I'd blinked, and not seen the first issues on the rack at The Outer Limits in Waltham, Mass., the comic store I've been shopping at for 15+ years. Fortunately, I found the MIDSUMMER'S NIGHTMARE collection, and quickly had Steve, OL's proprietor, add "JLA" to the list of title to order and save for me.

Waid, Morrison & Co. brought the JLA back to basics: small (mostly) group, big (big!) threats, both group fights and breaking up into smaller sub-teams. Fabulous art! Cosmic world/universe-scale threats -- often even overlapping, e.g. during the ROCK OF AGES "arc" several characters got sent off on a wild ride by Metron (of the New Gods). Character interaction galore. Old villains. New villains. Think condensed adrenaline.

The style, Morrison's in particular, can take getting used to; at times it seems choppy -- like a series of film clips in trailer mode. Sometimes it seems like an important scene somehow gotted dropped between the two panels you just read. (Re- and re-re-reading helps.)

Can you tell I love these?

As with many of their other popular titles, DC's been making the Justice League stories available in trade paperback collections, usually coming out with a new collection a month or so after a major "story arc" has finished, so you can as a rule follow a given story from start to finish with a single purchase.

Written by Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Mark Millar, and Devin Grayson; art by Howard Porter, Mark Pajarillo, Walden Wong, John Dell, and Marlo Alquiza; cover by Porter and Dell

Written by Grant Morrison; art by Howard Porter, Oscar Jimenez, John Dell, Chip Wallace and Ken Branch; cover by Porter and Dell. Green Arrow! Tomorrow Woman! The Key! Zauriel!

JLA: ROCK OF AGES (JLA issues 10-15)
Written by Grant Morrison; art by Howard Porter, Gary Frank, Greg Land, John Dell, and Bob McLeod; cover by Porter and Dell.

The Injustice League, Metron, Darkseid, the Philosopher's Stone, and a whole lotta shakin!

 JLA: STRENGTH IN NUMBERS (JLA issues #16-23, also NEW YEAR'S EVIL: PROMETHEUS #1, plus the lead story from JLA Secret Files #2)
Written by Grant Morrison, Mark Waid and Christopher J. Priest; art by Howard Porter, Arnie Jorgensen, Yanick Paquette, John Dell, David Meikis, and Mark Lipka; cover by Porter and Dell. Several shorter story arcs, including Adam Strange and a guest visit from Lord Morpheus, a.k.a the Sandman.

JLA: JUSTICE FOR ALL (JLA issues #24-33)
Written by Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Mark Millar, and Devin Grayson; art by Howard Porter, Mark Pajarillo, Walden Wong, John Dell, and Marlo Alquiza; cover by Porter and Dell

The Shaggy Man and his Ultra-Marines. The kick-serious-butt JLA/(new) Justice Society "Crisis Times Five" super-team super cross-over.

JLA: WORLD WAR III (JLA issues #34-41)
Written by Grant Morrison and J.M. DeMatteis; art by Howard Porter, Mark Pajarillo, John Dell, and Walden Wong; cover by Porter and Dell.

Grant Morrison's last story arc before handing the reins over. The Injustice Gang returns. Mageddon. The Armies of Man. (Read this, then go back to Midsummer's Nightmare and Rock of Ages.)

TOWER OF BABEL (Sorry, can't find a URL on the DCcomics.com site) (JLA issues 42-46, plus JLA 80-page Giant, and JLA Secret Files #3)
Written by Mark Waid, Dan Curtis Johnson, Christopher Priest, John Ostrander; art by Drew Geraci and Howard Porter.

Tensions rise, things get weird. "Tension and dissension."

JLA: DIVIDED WE FALL (JLA issues 47-54)
Written by Mark Waid; art by Bryan Hitch, J.H. Williams III, Javier Saltares, Phil Jimenez, Ty Templeton, Doug Mahnke, Mark Pajarillo, Mike S. Miller, and various.

Twisted fairy tales and fractured identities.

You could pick up the whole lot of the JLA trade collections (excluding the ARCHIVE, that is), for about a hundred bucks, assuming you can find them all, of course.

If, in the interest of your budget, you asked me to recommend my favorites of the lot, I'd say AMERICAN DREAMS, ROCK OF AGES, JUSTICE FOR ALL, and WORLD WAR III. If I could only hand you one, I'd probably choose ROCK OF AGES, but it wouldn't be an easy choice... better you should find somebody who's got the lot and borrow them.

Thanks for your patience. I hope I've piqued your curiosity (let me know!). Next month, back to a wider swathe, with luck.

Daniel P. Dern 

Daniel P. Dern is a free-lance technology writer. He was previously Executive Editor of Byte.com.
He can be reached at:  ddern@world.std.com /(www.dern.com)

2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu