Instead of calling him Superman of Earth 23 can we just call him SPOTUS?
JLA: New World Order
When I think of the Justice League, I think of Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s run on JLA. The first Justice League comic I read was the first nine issues of their run which was collected in a trade paper back titled “New World Order”. I might have seen a few episodes of Super Friends, but that was nothing compared to this. Superfriends was like a cave painting compared to this. Superfriends was crude stick figures smeared on a rock wall, and JLA: New World Order was the real deal. JLA: New World Order branded the idea of what the Justice League was onto my impressionable young brain, and I never got over it.
Morrison’s take on the JLA was to go mythic with it. Before Morrison started his run, the Justice League was a low level team. It was splintered into groups like Justice League Task Force, Justice League Europe, and the unforgettable “Extreme Justice”. These groups were collections of lower level characters, no offense intended to Captain Atom and Booster Gold. What Morrison did was take the biggest, most powerful and most popular characters, and he put them all together. His idea was to portray the JLA like a superhero pantheon, a group of spandex wearing gods living above humanity on their Olympus‐like Watchtower on the moon. Each of the members of the new JLA corresponded with one of the twelve Olympians, and this approach infused the comic with archetypal power. Rather than a comic about obscure, unknown superheroes, JLA became a comic about a pantheon of superheroes. They fought the kind of epic, world shattering threats that were on their mythical level.
JLA: New World Order was my introduction to this mythic take on the Justice League. The comic opens up on a full page spread of a massive UFO hovering over the White House. A team of alien superheroes “The Hyperclan” walks out of it. At first, they seem like saviors. They claim to come from another world that was “destroyed by negligence and greed and profiteering”, and they’ve come to Earth to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself. Their leader Protex is never not smiling in a blatantly sinister way, and his golden hair and skin makes him look like the golden god that he’s pretending to be. The Hyperclan is a warped version of the JLA.
The threat of the Hyperclan escalates very quickly. First, they turn the Sahara Desert into a lush, green oasis with artificial rains and transplanted fertile soil. Second, they execute a bunch of supervillains, including one that looks suspiciously like Wolverine and another like Doctor Doom. It barely takes five pages for The Hyperclan to become like the Authority, willing to radically change the world but also serve as judge, jury, and executioner. Obviously, killing people is a big time no no for the Justice League, and this comic is sort of like the JLA versus the Authority, except that the Hyperclan very quickly show their hand and their intentions to basically rule the world.
The art is definitely very 90’s, and there are probably a lot of people that are turned off by that style, but there’s something about it that I love, and I genuinely think it isn’t just nostalgia. Porter pencils the characters in this book like they’re almost too big, too iconic to be contained by the panels. The inker John Dell gives everything these thick, black outlines, and Pat Garrahy’s colors make everyone look slick and glossy. The effect is that the superheroes in this comic seem like they’re made out of plastic, which sounds like it’s a weird thing, but it’s a kind of weird that I like. It’s like they’re not quite made out of the same matter as us mere mortals.
There are big, explosive action sequences in this book, and some of them are on the list of my all time favorite supehero moments. For instance, there’s the fight between The Flash and Zum, the Hyperclan’s kind of awesome bad guy speedster. Morrison plays with the idea that as The Flash approaches the speed of light, his mass “will increase towards infinity”. This is a very real concept in general relativity…the closer you get to the speed of light, the more your energy converts into mass. The Flash hits Zum in the face with the force of an object almost breaking the light speed barrier, and knocks him into orbit. It’s a moment that opens up a whole world of possibilities when it comes to the Flash’s powers, and it makes you realize the mythic level of this character that’s so much more than just running really fast.
The action sequences in this book are all shooting for this heightened, mythical level. Morrison has these amazing captions that read almost like poetry, saying things like, “Fantastic debris spills into the darkness; spirit jars, a giant hourglass, deadly playing cards, all the trophies of countless forgotten adventures, emptied into a well of endless ink.” It’s almost like these snippets of verse amplify Porter’s explosive imagery, giving it another dimension of epicness that it couldn’t reach on its own. Morrison doesn’t overdo it with purple prose, though. He knows when to let a moment breath and be silent, like The Flash’s near light speed punch, which is just a fist in a sea of light, or Metamorpho shooting out into space as he tries to save everybody aboard the old Justice League satellite.
This story isn’t all huge action though. There’s also a lot of character moments. Aquaman and Wonder Woman bicker with each other. Aquaman doesn’t even want any part of the Justice League, and Wonder Woman doesn’t have any time for his “posturing”. The Flash has “a serious problem with this guy who’s Green Lantern all of a sudden”, and throughout the book the two insult each other. Martian Manhunter, maybe the most obscure character on the team, gets what might be the most emotionally powerful moment in the book where he seriously considers joining the alien Hyperclan. Superman and Batman have this great scene where Batman is flying in his personal fighter jet, and Superman is flying alongside him. Batman knows Superman can fly way faster than his military plane, but Superman says, “I’d rather stay and talk.” This line speaks volumes about Superman and Batman’s relationship, about the respect that they have for each other as they talk strategy, and it shows you without telling you why they’re the World’s Finest. Without these character moments, the mythological action would be nothing but spectacle, nothing but empty sound and fury.
I don’t think it’s possible for me to talk about this comic without mentioning what might be one of the greatest moments in Batman history. By the midpoint of the story, the Justice League has completely failed to stop The Hyperclan. They’re all strapped into the legitimately terrifying “flower of wrath”, a torture device with petals that fold you into a smorgasbord of jutting needles. Even Superman is manacled to a chair with a sliver of Kryptonite slowly poisoning him to death. The entire Justice League has been captured…except for Batman. Batman breaks into the Hyperclan’s base, and he takes out A‐Mortal who is the Hyperclan’s own underworld god. Protex doesn’t take him seriously, he thinks he’s just “a pathetic, fragile creature”, and there’s this amazing panel where he’s shouting “He’s only a man!” in frustration while Superman has this look on his face, this look of super smugness that says it all. Batman has figured out that the Hyperclan are Martians, and he takes most of them out with fire, their only weakness.
This entire story pivots on Batman being underestimated. What makes this moment one of the all time best Batman moments is that here, Batman is the ultimate underdog. He’s “just one man” and he should have no chance against an entire team of Superman‐level enemies, but as Superman put its, he’s the “the most dangerous man on Earth”. When Batman gets the drop on the Hyperclan and surrounds them in a circle of fire, when the world’s greatest detective deduces their identity and their weak spot, it’s glorious. He’s just a man up against gods with nothing but relentless determination, some expensive gadgets, and his wits, and he comes out on top. It’s pure Batman. When they get around to making a Justice League movie, they should just try to adapt this scene if it’s possible, because it makes it clear why Batman is so important to the Justice League even though he’s the only one of the main seven that’s just a powerless human, that’s “only a man”.
JLA: New World Order doesn’t end with the Justice League rounding up the thousands of invading White Martians. It ends with Superman talking directly to the people of Earth and telling them to fight, to use fire to drive back the alien invasion themselves. The story ends with the world saving itself. He used this idea again in“World War Three”, his last story on JLA where humanity’s superhuman potential was unlocked, and the entire human race flew into space to fight Mageddon. In many ways, this is the thematic core of Morrison’s run on the JLA.
Yes, the Justice League is a group of spandex wearing gods looking down from their Watchtover over the whole planet with x‐ray eyes, but the series deals with the question of “When does intervention become domination?” Morrison’s JLA run emphasized that the answer was that they were an ideal for humanity to strive for and not a council of rulers. They represented a potential within the human race that would one day be unleashed, but until then, the JLA would be there to smooth out the speed bumps along the way. Or maybe I just like to read about superheroes punching stuff. Either way, JLA: New World Order imprinted the idea of what the JLA could be on my brain, and I’ve been drawing cave paintings ever since.
HUGE thanks to everyone that supported the Original Sins: Young Avengers story that Ryan North wrote and Jordan Gibson colored and Clayton Cowles lettered and Wil Moss edited and I drew. Means a lot. Here was maybe the funnest page to draw because I got to just go nuts and draw a fun wrestling hold.
GALEX ultraviolet image of the interacting galaxies M81 and M82
A GALEX ultraviolet image of the interacting galaxies M81 and M82, which lie 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. The gravity from each galaxy dramatically affected the other during their last close encounter, 200 million years ago. Gas density waves rippling around M81 make it a grand design spiral. M82 is undergoing a starburst at its core, creating glowing fingers of hydrogen.
Credit: NASA, ESA, and D. de Mello (Catholic University of America/GSFC) & NASA/GALEX