Even in the late 90s, when Morrison and Porter were working on JLA, there were still a number of classic DC characters in relative limbo. Morrison is something of a traditionalist when it comes to superhero comics, so it made sense that he would want to expand the Justice League roster, and that he would want to do so by incorporating classic JLA members. But not all of them were still active in the DCU or available to him if they were. So Morrison decided to use new characters, each with varying degrees of success, each with varying degrees of newness.
JLA #5 is the beginning of the team’s membership drive. They decide to add the super powered android created by T.O. Morrow to the line-up. No, not the Red Tornado, but a new character known as Tomorrow Woman. She was sent to the Justice League as a living bomb, built by Morrow and Professor Ivo to infiltrate the team and destroy them. While the details of the story are interesting (her claim that her abilities come from having a four lobed brain), it ultimately turns into an issue of free will, of whether an artificial intelligence can have it own humanity. It’s a bit trite.
It’s also a little problematic in that the Justice League had (and, really, still does) a gender issue. Adding a female character only to have her exposed as the creation of two men seems like a bad idea, even if she eventually overcame her programming to prove that she really was a hero. That last bit is a nice story, but it doesn’t change the fact that a) she was built and controlled by Morrow and Ivo and b) she dies at the end, sacrificing herself to save the Justice League. The Justice League really needed new, high profile female members, so having even that possibility taken away was unfortunate.
Beyond that, Tomorrow Woman seemed to have potential. There could have been plenty to say about her unfortunate origins. She held her own with even the most powerful members of the team. And her journey to realizing her humanity wouldn’t have been weighed down by some convoluted, ever changing backstory (*cough*Red Tornado*cough*). She would have made an excellent addition to the cast.
I honestly can’t remember what Hawkman’s status was when JLA #6 came out, but given how frequently he was a convoluted mess of stories, it’s probably safe to assume that either he wasn’t available or Morrison had no desire to try to untangle him. Instead, Morrison introduced Zuriel, his stand-in for Hawkman, and if you weren’t sure that’s what he was, Aquaman straight up says as much. But instead of a Hawkman from space, Morrison gives us a Hawkman from heaven; Zuriel is an angel. And while Hawkman is constantly reincarnated and destined to be with the reincarnated form of Hawkgirl (wasn’t she Hawkwoman at one point?), Zuriel gives up his immortality to be with a human woman.
Unfortunately for Zuriel, heaven doesn’t really allow its angels to just quit and hang out on earth, so a veritable army of angels comes after him. The Justice League decides to get between them, in part due to the actions of an overly zealous angel named Asmodel. In a nice bit of symmetry, Neron, DC’s equivalent of the devil, is also pulling some strings, one of which involves trapping the Flash in a transporter and preventing Superman from getting to earth from the Watchtower.
The battle between the Justice League and the angels is epic and every member of the League gets a moment to shine. This was the moment when I realized that this run could be something special, that it had the bad assery of The Authority, but with more dynamic characters.
But while Tomorrow Woman seemingly had untapped potential, the ground never seemed as fertile for Zuriel. To a certain extent, it felt like everything that needed to be said about him was said in these two issues. He ended up getting his own mini-series after this, but I barely remember buying it when it came out, let alone what the story was like.
Zuriel does not join the team at the end of his arc, but he is still alive, and would eventually get a spot on the roster when the line-up doubled in size.
The third and final new version of an old character actually gets to stick around, perhaps in part because he’s not an analog like the others, but an actual legacy character: Connor Hawke aka Green Arrow.
Back in the 90s, Oliver Queen died. He’d get better, of course. But in the meantime he was replaced by a son he met just before he died. I liked what little I read about Hawke, even if DC regularly attempted to white wash him (his grandmother was Korean). Morrison would play up his social consciousness, akin to how Oliver thought yet less distracted by the world around him. If Oliver was a crusader for social change, he was often sidelined by ridiculous superhero problems. Hawke, with less baggage, was less distracted, at least in the JLA.
Like Tomorrow Woman, Connor was chosen to join the team when they expanded their line-up. Unfortunately, his first day happens to be the same day that the Key has knocked the entire team unconscious and hooked them up to a crazy dream machine that has them all stuck in alternate realities. Oh, and if they actually figure out what’s going on and manage to work together to free themselves, they’ll be giving him access to supreme power.
The Key has robots to help him, not to mention a giant laser cannon of a gun shaped like a key (see how that works?). Green Arrow is outmatched, particularly when the Key blasts the quiver off his back. In desperation, Connor goes to the JLA trophy room and gets his dad’s old arrows, which is wonderful, because it’s mostly the ridiculous, gimmicky arrows that we all know and love from classic Green Arrow stories.
This is part of what makes Morrison’s JLA work: he embraces the weirdness of the earlier stories. He doesn’t point out how ridiculous it would be for a grown man to fight crime with a bow and arrows, let alone arrows with, say, an arrow with a boxing glove on the end. We have made a tacit agreement with superhero comics. We made it as soon as we started reading them. We re-up every time we open a new issue. There are certain things that we don’t question, that we’re okay with regardless of how little sense it makes. Morrison expects that you’ve signed this agreement prior to reading his work and hits the ground running. If you’re going to stop and wonder about he logistics of a scene every time something crazy happens, this isn’t for you.
I mean, he’s fighting The Key.
Needless to say, Green Arrow saves the day. He also gets a little bit closer to the father he barely knew.
While regular artist Howard Porter does a nice job with the first three issues of this collection, guest artist Oscar Jimenez draws the Green Arrow/Key two parter. I’ve always been a fan of Jimenez’ frenetic, organic work: he excels at drawing movement and even his inanimate objects kind of look like they’re made out of flesh. He had an all too brief run on The Flash in the 90s, a book he was perfect for. He does an excellent job creating the alternate realities that each of the League members inhabits for the majority of this arc. His Aquaman, in particular, stands out.
I went into detail about Porter’s art in the last part of this series. You can see him getting more confident with each issue. His pin-up quality image of elctro-blue Superman fighting the angel Asmodel is epic. In fact, his work over issues #6 and #7, the Zuriel story, really take his work to the next level.
If this book has a flaw, it’s that Morrison, Porter, and Jimenez were saddled with the aforementioned electro-blue Superman. This was part of a story line going on in his own books which is, of course, the problem with a shared universe. This felt like it should be a series set outside the confines of continuity in an effort to keep it timeless and iconic, but that’s just not realistic for the flagship title of the DCU.
Issue #9 ends with a tease for the next story arc: an evil Justice League! What will our team do?