Saturday, August 19, 2006

JLA: One Million

One Million is a big DCU crossover that was overseen by Morrison. Reading this as a linear story is a bit weird because the story branches through various books being published by DC at the time, and major parts of the action were not actually written by Morrison. However, he's clearly dictating the themes and style of this crossover and it succeeds in being one of the best of his JLA stories, going ridiculously over the top with its pop heroics.

If I have one issue with this crossover, it's that it features another alternate version of the JLA. I suppose the whole point of the JLA is that they're so good that the only challenge they could have is fighting themselves. And at least in this case they're not fighting themselves, they're just hanging out together. However, it's still not a fresh idea by any means.

That said, I do love the way that Morrison sketches an entire history of the DC Universe for the next 833 centuries, creating a credible timeline for each of the superhero dynasties. Morrison's great innovation in his JLA run is choosing to take advantage of each characters' archetypal status. Superman isn't so much a man as an idea, and the fact that this dynasty grows up in the future makes a lot of sense.

Superman Returns got a lot of flack for turning Superman into a Christ figure, but it's not a stretch for the character. This book basically lays out a world where Superman is a messiah who inspires many followers who eagerly await his return. Solaris, a being of fire, could be read as the devil, trying to lead Supes' followers away from a belief in light and good, towards a belief in fire and evil. However, Superman's story continues to inspire people and when he does return he's able to form a sort of heaven on Earth. And, like Jesus, he has the dual fact of being both God and man. So, part of his heaven is having Lois back. I also like the way that Superman of the present is surprised that he survives so long, he's not yet aware of the potential he has.

My approach to Morrison's JLA run has been to avoid seeking narrative cohesion and conflict, or character growth, the way you would in most stories. You know that every story will end with the JLA winning and everything being pretty much the same. So, in approaching the stories, you have to learn to appreciate the insanity of the ideas that Morrison puts forth. It's about getting caught up in the absurdity of the story and learning to live by their logic. From a narrative point of view, Green Lantern's ring is awful, because it can solve pretty much any problem. The ring's only limit is the human imagination, and as written by Morrison, you're not going to see a lot of limits on that.

So, if you want to write a situation where our heroes are in peril, it becomes tough. So what you have to do is create situations that challenge the hero and surprise the audience by showing the character thinking outside the box. At the end of the arc, Green Lantern causes Solaris to go Supernova then contains the explosion inside a box created by the ring. This is an inventive use of the power, and because the act has such massive scope, just watching it happen is enjoyable.

That said, Morrison does get some character development in. Over the course of the series, we've seen Green Lantern become more confident and here he even surprises himself by saving the world. It's done in a subtle way, but works. I also like Huntress' questioning of why Batman would put her on the team. She's the most relatable voice on the team, approaching things from the perspective of an ordinary person. The one character I don't like is Plastic Man, his cheesy jokes and pop culture referencing dialogue feel out of place in this epic piece.

The trade includes some of the individual crossover issues, and most of them are actually quite good. I read the first trade of Starman a while back and didn't really like it, but this issue works really well. You get Ted Knight's initial feelings of happiness, that the identity he started lives on into the 853rd century, then his gradual sadness at realizing that this Starman has completely lost sight of the principles he fought for. This issue was actually good enough to make me want to do a reread of that trade and reevaluate the series.

The other cool issue was the Superman dynasty issue. The art in this issue is really poor, but the story it tells is quite interesting. It's a bit of a show, don't tell piece, but it pays off nicely in the final issue of the crossover.

Morrison's own crossover issue, JLA 1,000,000 has a lot of cool things, reading like a computer giving you a Silver Age style narration. It's quite effective in conveying a lot of information in a small amount of space. This would seem to be an ideal way to do digital comics, where you could click on a character and get an infobox telling you who they are and what's going on. I particularly like the intro: "Hello I'm JLA 1,000,000," another example of Morrison acknowledging the reader in the comic. So, on one level it's a distancing device, but at the same time it makes it feel more real. By putting in so many factoids, it gives you the sense that this is really happening and we're just viewers along for the ride. That's one of the things that this whole crossover pulls off really well, Morrison makes it believable that not only does one whole universe of superheroes exist, but that this really is what happens for the next 833,000 years. You could never say something's implausible in a Morrison JLA story, because he's built a universe where anything's possible. Admittedly a lot of that is due more to the accumulation of thousands of DCU stories than his specific writing, but he does play a role.

This is Morrison doing some of his best JLA. There's a ton of crazy concepts and a great resolution to the basic problem, with the switching of objects through time. To pull off a story of this magnitude is quite remarkable, and even though there's a few issues along the way, the quality of the story overwhelms those issues.


Juliette said...

Cool blog! Random props.

Duncan said...

It is a good blog, Patrick. I didn't think much of the first Starman trade either, but - fortunately enough - I'd bought the first two that day (I think I was distressed by delays on Zatanna) and it improves immeasurably.

Also, it's 83,300 years later not 833,000. I think he added another zero in All-Star Superman, though.

Patrick said...

Ah yeah, it is 85,000, and I'm going to have give Starman another look. I'm still distressed by the delays on Seven Soldiers #1, that's taking forever, JLA's a nice substitute, but his work on SS goes way beyond it.

Anonymous said...

I'm coming to this quite late... but I should say that the One Million storyline has held up quite well (can you believe it's over ten years old now?) and also that Starman got steadily better after the first few issues.

Doug M.

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