JLA Classified (#1 – 3) – Grant Morrison

5 out of 5

No one writes superhero cataclysmic calamity quite like Grant Morrison.  It became so ingrained to the writer’s style – the hyper-compressed, huge, world-rending ideas that stack on top of one another endlessly, only to wrap back around to where things started – that he would somewhat fall into a rut during the 52 years that required a jarring deconstruction of formula (via Batman) and a return to some indie books to, in my mind, rediscover what worked so well in the books that made Grant’s name – like JLA.

JLA Classified, which was intended to be a Detective Comics-y side story title to the main JLA book, occurred during the peak Grant years, but it was still a celebrated return at the time; his second dip on a Justice League book.  And though there’s definitely some interesting subtext to the construction here which I completely missed, JLA:C is ultimately another integral chunk in the writer’s best offerings, with that subtext making it even more impressive: commentary; a standalone, badass 3-issue mini-series that blows the comic covers off of maxiseries that try for the same scope; a nod to and continuation of other DCU books Morrie had worked on; and something of an introduction to his then-upcoming Seven Soldiers as well.  When Grant is working on all cylinders… lordy.

And Ed McGuinness, an artist whose big and blocky work has often felt rather gimmicky to me, does an astounding job here, solidly limned by inker Dexter Vines and given just the right amount of pop by colorist Dave McCaig and, importantly, balanced by letterer Phil Balsman’s careful page control.  So whereas these wild page designs would often render a comic distracting, here they work in absolute concert with Grant’s fast-flowing script to create absorbing, exciting panels that very truly explode off the page.

JLA:C features baby universes and uber-compressed sci-fi, resurrected old-school heroes and villains, Batman-is-God actionry, and another end-of-the-world scenario that somehow seems more pressing – in Grant’s hands – than any previous end of the world scenario.  The JLA – except Batman – is distracted in said baby universe while Gorilla Grodd usurps the Ultramarines (refigured from Morrison’s previous JLA run) to turn the world into his playground, requiring Bats to build a robot JLA as a distraction in order to buy time for the real deal to show up and kick requisite arse.  Such is the confidence of this book that it doesn’t have to deal in pretend cliffhangers: the end of issue 2 pretty much promises that the JLA are going to save the day, and we restlessly tear into the third issue just to see masters of the craft show us how it’s done.

The whole thing is a delightful blur of Grant’s ace abilities to stuff all of the most important things in almost between panel lines of dialogue that somehow sound cool while also dropping all the info you need, then tasking the artists to fill in the visuals for what the words don’t cover, creating that groovy synthesis of type and pictures that the best comics provide.