Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #153: JLA: Earth 2 by Morrison & Quitely

When it comes to superhero comics, Grant Morrison is an essentialist: everything and everyone just is what they are, purely, without the slightest admixture of anything else. His Superman has the closest thing to no personality, being the embodiment of selfless virtue. Even his Batman is little more than a set of quirks and assumptions, the man who already did anything you can think of. And he generally doesn't care that much about the rest of the Justice League to make them much more than a firm jaw and the usefulness of their powers.

JLA: Earth 2 is from the high period of Morrisonian superheroics: it was originally published in 2000, long before the latest universe-restructuring that it prefigured, and features the art of Morrison's regular superhero collaborator, Frank Quitely, who as usual draws everyone as seen from about a foot below their faces and with a budding sneer on their faces. As usual for a millennial Morrisonian superhero comic, it's full of Big Moments and very much not full of any quieter interstitial moments or linking material: it's all eyekicks all the time.

Also as usual for Morrison, he's taking one of the odd lengths of string cluttering up the back issues -- here the evil Crime Syndicate (formerly of Earth-3, moved to the titular Earth-2 here because this was the period when DC officially had only one Earth) -- and treating them utterly straight, daring the modern reader to blink and call them silly. And so there's "Ultraman," the evil Superman, and "Owlman," the same for Batman, and "Superwoman," who is the vanishingly rare evil female version of someone that wears slightly more clothing than her good counterpart. But, since evil is worse than good, they're not nearly as impressive as their Earth-1 counterparts: the Flash analog is a drug addict, the Green Lantern stand-in is dumber than Guy Gardner, and even Owlman is more of a jumped-up street thug than a Morrisonian mastermind like the real Batman. So, after a minimal bit of build-up at the beginning, they're not that impressive or frightening: just the biggest thugs on a planet of dumb thugs.

The only way these villains can win is through luck and the forces of the universe -- Morrison, again, is an essentialist, so the good guys win because it's a law of the universe. Ah, but Earth 2 is in a different universe, where the opposite laws apply, isn't it? And so Earth 2 works itself out like superhero algebra, as Morrison squares both sides and solves for X. It's a quirky, surprising take for a big superhero story, so kudos to Morrison for always amusing himself first. But I do wish he could find his way back to the anarchic glory of Arkham Asylum for his standalone graphic novels; that was only separated from this one by a decade, and it's already been longer than that since.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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