"Island of the Mighty"
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Ed McGuinness(p), Dexter Vines(i), Dave McCaig(c)
JLA Classified starts out strange. It becomes good, and by the time Batman arrives on stage, it becomes great.
Grant Morrison first jars your attention with the introduction of the Ultramarines. It's not really they who are odd. Although some in their roster are mighty peculiar. Rather what's odd is that Mr. Morrison makes them appear as though they have always been in existence.
The heroes in their levitating city arrive on the scene to face down Gorilla Grodd and his guerilla gorillas. The Ultramarines work well as a team to supplement the JLA like they always do, but readers have really never seen these guys before. Only Morrison could get away with this sort of strangeness.
Perhaps, Mr. Morrison pulls off this trick by forging a bond--or more precisely another bond--between his continuity and pre-Crisis DC history. The bond comes in the form of Knight and Squire. A version of the two heroes was last seen in one of John Byrne's Generations mini-series, but the original version of the heroes was first seen in the fifties during Dick Sprang's run of Batman comics, and yes as Morrison points out they were part of the Club of Heroes: international mystery men who were inspired by Batman and Robin.
Now, some of you may be a little confused by my referring to Mr. Morrison's own JLA continuity as something that is separate from DC continuity proper. This description may be especially troubling for anybody noticing that the Gorilla Grodd seen in the book looks remarkably like the detestable version I complained about when reviewing The Flash. Morrison in JLA Classified through character dialogue makes a comment about the change in character:
"...The hairy bugger's on PCP or somethin'."
Either Morrison satirizes the manic change in a staple DC villain, or he's setting up a things aren't what they seem type of plot, or he sees some potential in that Grodd which I did not see and transplanted him to his JLA continuity.
More evidence for a separate continuity comes from Morrison's characterization of Batman. For one thing, this is Batman. He may once again reappear in Kurt Busiek's run of JLA like he did for Busiek's JLA/Avengers, but Batman hasn't existed in the DCU for years. He seemed to come back just before War Games, but I think that could have been a dimensional incursion from writers from another earth. It would explain why Tarantula was so sane not to mention still alive by the time the story ended.
Now, there is a loon who wears a Batman suit that calls himself Batman, and he seems to have taken over all the Batman titles, but he's a friendless psychopath who allows little girls to be tortured by power drills and then gleefully watches them die. Morrison's Batman is the real deal. He kids with Alfred. He remembers the Club of Heroes. Thought and action are one. He goes out of his way to save lives, and most telling, Grant Morrison's Batman wins. Bonus points for the Dalek in Batman's closet. This was probably a left over from the time Batman teamed up with the Doctor in an imaginary issue of Brave & Bold. Maybe someday, Mr. Morrison will get around to releasing that story out of his head.
Mr. Morrison's tight scripting affects the artwork of Ed McGuinness. I always knew that McGuinness was capable of coherent flowing art. He cut his teeth on issues of Vampirella, and all of them seemed perfectly readable. Seeing his work on JLA Classified once again reinforces my suspicion that the real problem with the Superman books were the incompetent writers not McGuinness. He even tones down his balloony tendencies to produce a fairly impressive Batman. Shame about the ears, but that's the current climate speaking.
Grant Morrison JLA Continuity is absolute. It's like the speed of light. It's a cosmic line drawn in the metafictional sand. There's just no possible way JLA Classified could have been anything but fantastic, breathtaking and an exemplar as to how these heroes became our mythology.
Oh, and if anybody's interested to know who else made up the Club of Heroes: Batman & Robin, Superman, The Gaucho, The Legionary and the Musketeer (Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes Volume One: Batman by Michael Fleisher)
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