Saturday, 22 February 2014

On Grant Morrison's JLA


Writing about the collaborations between Grant Morrison and Mark Millar at DC and Marvel was always going to be an intimidating prospect. There's so much about the relationship between the two men that's both highly charged and murkily obscured. Knowing who wrote what and why is often impossible to say with any degree of  certainty, and yet the challenge can hardly be skirted. After all, a book that claims to be about Mark Millar's superhero comics can hardly avoid wading into a whole series of debates and disputes.

For the next few weeks, the posts in the Shameless? series over at Sequart will continue to focus on Morrison's late-90's run on the JLA and, in particular, the way in which he depicted the Batman during the period. Not the most obvious topic for a discussion of Mark Millar's work, I'll readily admit, and yet I hope that the case for taking such an apparently counter-intuitive approach stands up. Should you be at all curious, the most recent post can be found here.

Finally, I'd just like to remind folks that TooBusyThinking will be returning for its final, nine-day run of posts on March 17th. Should you be of a mind to do so, it'd be a splendid thing to have you drop in over the period.

.

16 comments:

  1. Blimey, what a funny-looking League. And of course I shall pop over to Seqart - mind, that's more because I'm a Colin fan than a Mark fan!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Martin:- They ARE an odd looking bunch, aren't they? Porter's art was often something I struggled with at the time, although its clarity and ambition has become far more appealing with time.

      Thanks for the kind words. I hope the evening is going well with you :)

      Delete
    2. The oddest part of this very ungainly image is Supeman's pose - it's as though the artist wanted him to lifting the JLA logo on his shoulders but didn't quite understand how to paste the elements together.

      Delete
    3. Hello Michael:- To compare the cover with HP's work on the recent, and regretable, Justice League 3000 is to see how far his art has come. (It's not his art that makes JL3000 regretable.) Yet there is a brutal quality to his 1997/9 JLA work that can be thoroughly enjoyable; the joyous and yet forcibly primitive shot of Superman and Batman in the Batplane which appeared in JLA#2 helped Morrison to conceptualize exactly what he wanted for the title. But here, yes, for all its strange, oppressive charm, for all its good intentions and ambitions, the demands of the design outran the artist's limitations.

      Looking at it again, it's very early-Golden Age, don't you think?

      Delete
    4. I confess, there is something about his Flash's weird torso which brings to mind Fletcher Hanks.

      Delete
    5. Hello Michael:- But with none of Fletcher Hanks' dawn-of-the-form charm, I fear .... :(

      Delete
  2. Egad...what on EARTH did they do to poor Wonder Woman?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Sally:- I surrender, there's no excuse for that depiction, is there? I think I can respect HP's good intentions, but .... No, it doesn't work at ALL.

      Delete
  3. Couldn't figure out how to post this and had to choose anon. But, for the record I'm Steve.
    I can't understand the popularity of messrs. M & M. A lot of what I have read of their work seems to be done to attract attention to them, not their stories. I have not read this version of JLA, nor do I read many modern American comics but I do know quite a lot about the aforementioned M&M. You really had to be a part of the Scottish fan scene all those years ago to appreciate how the 2 of them got to where they are today, or at least, where they were a few years ago. Most of the stuff from Mr. Morrison is self-serving, done for effect, fancy twaddle. As for Mr. Millar, his material seems derivative and unoriginal, except in his use of cruelty, which is tasteless. Only my opinion. Well, not quite, as there is a body of opinion supporting similar points of view, incl. when I met a much younger fellow comics fan yesterday in the library who wasn't shy in describing Mr. Millar as a "wee t...y" A local insult.
    As for that cover, isn't it a bit of a copy of better artists' attempts to do beautiful superheroes? Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to work. These aren't the heroes I know from years ago and I am sure that is the point. But it leaves me cold.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Steve:- I find myself here in the same awkward position I tend to be in when discussing both men's work with both their supporters and their detractors. I've written with enthusiasm of some of their work - say, the likes of Zenith and All-Star Superman on the one hand, and Superman Adventures and the 1st Kick-Ass on the other. By the same token, I've been - for whatever little it matters- highly critical about other aspects of each man's work. As such, I can only approach each individual example of their work together and separately and attempt to make sense of it in its own terms. I think both have contributed remarkable work, and both have produced comics which are anything but. I agree, for example, that Millar's work has often had problems with what we might, for the sake of brevity, refer to as 'tastelessness', but he's also produced work which is smart and touching. Sometimes all those qualities are confusingly present in the same tales. And if there's work by Morrison that I find solipsistic and undercooked, there's also scripts which are - in my opinion - quite brilliant. The first two years of his JLA, for example, contains a great deal to admire and enjoy. (There's good material throughout his run, actually, but the series does become less remarkable as it enters its third year under GM.)

      By which I mean, my own take is that the question of both men's careers - both working together and alone - is a fascinatingly complex business. I wouldn't want to say that your opinion is wrong. In matters of taste their is, of course, no correct stance. But for me, there's a great deal worth celebrating in each man's work, and a great deal that's interesting even in their less successful outings. More than that, their lives and careers can, I believe, tell us alot about the comics industry over the past 35 years or so, which makes them interesting even when their work might not be entirely to my taste.

      But I can certainly understand why the work of both might leave you cold, and I wouldn't want to suggest that that's an inappropriate approach. It's not mine, but so what? It's yours and that's - obviously - absolutely cool. Personally, I find it interesting to be writing about matters which generate such fierce passions, although it does mean that I fear I end up spending a great deal of my time in the no-man's land between admirers and critics.

      Delete
  4. Howard Porter had a Dick Dillin meets Kirby style that suited Morrison's JLA, but my lord is his anatomy rough going at times.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Dean:- You're right, Dick Dillen had a similarly askew approach, and of course he was best known post-Blackhawk for the JLA. Yet as you imply, Dillen's work, for all its angular stiffness, was never as distracting as Porter at his most challenging.

      I'd never have thought of Dillen in this context, but now I feel a strong compulsion to seek out my favourite examples of his work, the brief period in which he was inked by Dick Giordano on the JLA.

      Delete
    2. One of those subjects that I probably think about more than the rest of the planet is the recipe for the 'most perfect artist' various titles.

      Some of those recipes are easy. Spider-Man is two parts Ditko., two parts Romita and one part McFarlane. The Avengers is three parts Buscema, one part Perez and one part Hitch. Fantastic Four is Jack Kirby with John Byrne to taste.

      JLA is trickier. Mike Sekowsky seemed to be hiding his style a little it. Dick Dillin was an awkward fit. George Perez didn't have an overly long run. Chuck Patton was stuck with the Detroit era. The title ran for decades before it really got an artists that defined its visual identity in Kevin Maguire.

      Delete
    3. Hello Dean:- It IS tough to think of a artist, or team of artists, that would be best suited to the JLA. Though I've found much to admire in Mike Sekowsky's work, his work on the JLA was - unlike, say, his Wonder Woman run - somewhat stiff and clunky. Dick Giordano's brief run as inker of Dick Dillen's pencils brought some interesting pages, although it's hard not to suspect that Mr Giordano on his own would have been preferable. To my mind, the two best approaches to the JLA in the Silver Age came from Carmine Infantino & Murphy Anderson in Mystery In Space #75 and from Neal Adams in his covers to the book and the brief interiors in #94. Hardly substantial runs, I'll give you, and yet both interpretations remain highly enjoyable.

      I too have a great deal of respect for Kevin Maguire, although I do feel that his work lacked at times a degree of dynamism that might have lifted it from "great" to "definitive". Or at least, his action scenes could lack a certain spark; his scenes of individuals interacting were of course constantly beguiling.

      It is odd how few artists have really cracked the JLA. Even Bryan Hitch couldn't hit his stride on the title.

      Delete
  5. Steve, again.
    Interesting points and food for thought, thank you.
    On Nemesis, I would suggest that the premise of simply taking existing characters, using many of them as cannon fodder, all to progress a rather weak story, doesn't seem to me to be the great heights of comics writing. Entertaining occasionally but a waste of some nice art by Steve Yeowell.
    It seems odd to many fans that this pair receive gongs when there are a number of creators in the British/Scottish comics worlds who still go relatively unrecognised by society at large. The idea comes to mind that the gongs must have been for the money they earned. And perhaps to make the powers that be appear cool.

    Sorry, writing this on a tablet and it's taking ages as I keep making spelling and punctuation errors so I have to stop.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Steve - Thanks for your e-mail clarifying that you meant 'Zenith' rather than 'Nemesis'; these things happen to me, they really do, so no worries at all.

      It's funny how the very same text can be seen in quite opposing ways. I think Zenith Book Three is one of the very finest superhero tales there is, and you think it's weak. It's good to be reminded of this process, and as much as possible too. It's all too easy to start believing that there is self-evidently such a thing as a canon, and clearly, there's not :)

      Delete