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by Bruce Bachand

Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencillers: Howard Porter, Gary Frank, and Greg Land
Inkers: John Dell and Bob McLeod
Letterer: Ken Lopez
Letterer: Pat Garrahy
Associate Editor: Peter Tomasi
Editor: Dan Raspler

Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, Aztek,
Green Arrow, Wonder Woman (?), Atom, Plastic Man and others…

Rock of Ages part 1
This month I am going to look at a quite recent story of the JLA; the “Rock of Ages” storyline that ran in JLA issues #10-#15. The series was just released as a one-volume trade paperback in the past month. As such, it seems fitting to review Grant Morrison’s longest single JLA storyline to date. That way, if you haven’t yet bought or read it you will at least be more informed in your consideration.

The header on JLA #10 bombastically announces that “the ultimate JUSTICE LEAGUE epic begins!” here. Well, that is a question worth pondering. I have read some damn fine JLA stories the past 20 years so I am probably a reasonably capable person to judge this.

I need to get something out in the open right away: I am very disappointed that Wonder Woman had to “die” just before this came out. Her absence is sorely missed and noticed profoundly. It really is pretty lame and misogynist that there have been so few quality women superheroes at DC, let alone the very few that have served in the JLA. I agree with the articles floating around on the Internet that boldly brag that Wonder Woman could definitely stand her ground against virtually anyone (Superman, included!). It is so thoughtful of the Injustice Gang to make an evil counterpart of her anyway. But that remark takes us right into the story itself.

The “Rock Of Ages” (ROA) theme covers 127 pages of comic. Morrison would either hit or miss with this one. You can’t take up a half a year worth of issues of DC’s current hottest selling comic title without repercussions. Fortunately, I think that things worked for the most part. Despite occasional glitches, sputtering, and meandering, the ROA theme turned out to be a really good story. But then, how can you easily screw-up when your supporting cast of villains includes the Joker, Lex Luthor, and Darkseid!
Rock of Ages part 5

Now for an as-brief-as I-can-be synopsis of the story.

The story hinges a plan of Lex Luthor’s to put an end to the JLA via “corporate takeover”. Rather than simply buy out the majority of JLA Watchtower stock, he decides that planting and then detonating 12 nuclear warheads on the JLA’s Watchtower will accomplish the same purpose All this because of his incessant efforts to upstage the Man of Steel (who is now in the JLA again). So much for holding a grudge, eh?

To aid his plans, Luthor reforms the Injustice League with a teeny-weeny bit of help from the Philosopher’s Stone; one of those things that can do anything that the one holding wills that always seems to fall into the wrong hands. Lex uses it to manipulate some villains (including Gotham’ City’s the Joker and an alien with telepathic powers) to carry out his deeds. The JLA combat evil copies of themselves who randomly attack and murder some innocent bystanders. It is Bruce Wayne (aka the Batman) who realizes that it is Lex Luthor behind the attack. He then plots his own counter-takeover of the Injustice Gang. From within!

Superman and J’onn finally discover the satellite headquarters of the Society, or so they think. It is actually a decoy that lures the two heroes into a trap. A trap resulting in an explosion that annihilates the phony headquarters. Lex assumes that Superman died in the blast… to his chagrin.

Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the Flash end up doing some time traveling after a visit from Metron of the New Gods. He informs them of a situation of higher priority that demands their attention: they must find the Philosopher’s Stone in the realm of the transtemporal. The threat of Darkseid finding it first is the cause for alarm. And yet another big player enters the fray!

The threesome are transported to the year 85,000,330 A.D. (not exactly what you could call the near future) and, after a very weird series of events and encounters the heroes arrive at Wonderworld, the home of the heroes of the future. After much haggling, the trio of JLAers are sent back in time. Sadly, they arrive 15 years still in the future from when they left (the year is about 2012 A.D.) and Darkseid has taken over the Earth. Many heroes are dead or incapacitated. Things are not good.

So what do they do? They attempt to take on Darkseid so that they can make it back to the past and stop this future from occurring. And it works. At a tremendous toll, though in terms of deaths.

The three make it back to the past (i.e. the present). Meanwhile, Superman, the Martian Manhunter, and the Batman attack the real space station that the Society is using. Aztek is left with the task of disarming 12 nuclear warheads in 3 and a half minutes. Plastic Man is revealed to be an insider on behalf of the JLA amidst the Injustice Gang.
Rock of Ages part 6

And that is where I will leave things for now. Oh, I will tell you that the JLA disbands at the end of JLA issue #15! For real, too!

Looking at the series as a whole I have got to say that issues #13 and #14 especially “connected” with me. But then again, those “future” stories always have that “oooh” and “aaaaahhhhh” quality to them. Secretly, we all wish that we could see into the future! Morrison’s take of the DC future in 15 years is frighteningly splendid.

Of course, when you add Darkseid to things, you have just added the only character who can upstage any and everyone. Bar none. I think that Morrison has done quite well in his interpretation of the Lord of Apokolips. Not brilliant, mind you, but a good, solid introduction to the character.

It should be noted that the art is EXCELLENT in these issues from my perspective. The team has done a stunning job with Darkseid and the apocalyptic-Earth of the future, in addition to the other issues in the series. Darkseid looks willful, constrained, resourceful, deathly confident, and tremendously resourceful. I also want to go on record of saying that John Dell is one of my favorite inkers. This book has looked great in the inking department since JLA #1. The title, in general, is vibrant, rich, and beautifully textured. If only half of DC’s other books looked this consistently good. Thanks to DC Comics for not cheaping out on the paper that is used for JLA either! It looks and reads great.

The use of Darkseid, the Joker, and Lex Luthor are potentially dangerous moves. All three are vulnerable to suffer from overexposure from time to time. I really think that Byrne did a fabulous job with Darkseid in Wonder Woman a couple of years back. The whole attack off Paradise Island by Darkseid was a really poignant moment for the Amazonians. The current (or future!) attack upon humankind from Darkseid is equally compelling in JLA #13 and #14. Diana once again confronts the dark ambassador of depotism and ends up sacrificing her life in the battle… a battle in which Darkseid also dies!

The momentum of the series was good, though I felt disorientated by the events in issue #12. The whole introduction to this year 853,000,000 A.D. is really bizarre. I realize that it leads up to the big summer cross-over (“DC One Million”) but it did distract from what was already a good story in this readers’ opinion. Let me add my few cents in at this point about DC One Million. If the super-superheroes of Wonderworld get their corporate butts kicked (apparently by an evil figure who makes Darkseid look like a cranky toddler on too much sugar) and then the 20th century’s JLA comes to rescue the day… WELL EXCUSE ME, BUT I DON’T THINK SO! I just have this really bad premonition that the word cheese is important to the telling of this story… though I hope to be proven wrong.

Back to the JLA issues being reviewed.

It is refreshing that my initial groaning over the inclusion of Plastic Man onto the team was poorly grounded. He is being written in such a way, so far, so that he really contributes and brings his wacky sense of humor without wrecking the whole vibe of the new JLA. Excellent work, Grant! And here I was all paranoid like an android that Plas was going to act like a bit of leaven and ruin the whole batch. Silly Bruce.

The Bruce Wayne/Batman of the future is one of the gems of the series, too. He is even more full of determination, resolve, and conviction. He has endured unspeakable horrors from disfiguring torture and yet not only has he survived, he has won as the victor (by pitching a strike-out shot to Darkseid in the process). Bruce is a true rarity. He has no meta-human enhancements. He was born like you and I. Only after a childhood trauma does his life take a radical change of direction. Following the incident, he chooses (or is impelled ) to train and become the very best that he can be. Who knows how many of us readers and writers at FANZING are lulled into complacency, apathy, and mediocrity by our own pampered and relatively peaceful situations. It is confrontation with things and causes much bigger than ourselves that draw us out of our cocoons and force us to become different and more mature people. Bruce Wayne’s world had turned to crap but he had not given up. His spirit was not nor would it ever be broken while he took full responsibility of his faculties. Rather than succumb to Desaad (Darkseid’s head torturer) Bruce responds with greater focus, fervor, and force. And he wins!

Now for a couple of closing remarks that illustrate a couple of critical observations.

Item #1. In JLA issue #10 the Martian Manhunter is shown flying off into space to investigate a very serious energy field that has spontaneously appeared. At the end of the issue he comes in visual range of the field and begins to weep about “no sense of meaning… we are alone…” and thus concludes the issue. The very next issue J’onn appears a few pages into the book and the matter IS NOT EVER BROUGHT UP AGAIN! (This was an oddly-placed lead-in to the Genesis mini-series.) That is bloody odd, y’all! Here we have an impending crisis of universal proportion and then BOOM it is a non-issue… hmmm.

Item #2. How is it that Wonder Woman is dead in the first few issues (as is consistent with DC continuity at that time) but she is in the future 15 years later? This alone should have caused Arthur, Wally, and Kyle to have been suspicious.

Item #3. You mean to say that, in JLA #15, the Flash or Superman (perhaps even Kyle) could NOT have burst into superspeed and stopped the Joker from exercising a single thought while he was in possession of the Philosopher’s Stone? C’mon. In the span of speaking three words he could have been hog-tied, basted, and put on a platter. This is the difficulty of having speedsters in the DC Universe. They can virtually do it all by themselves in so little time. This is really exemplified in Elliot Maggin’s KINGDOM COME novel that has been out for two months (pssst…BYE IT! You won’t be disappointed!)

Item #4. If the cause of the Joker’s insane antics has been determined by J’onn then why not operate on the guy and attempt to alleviate his condition? Uh…. because he has been a DC villain for over fifty years, maybe….. uh, yeah, that’s it.

Final comments. This was a really long series to wait to read in it’s entirety. It took just over 5 months to get all six issues. And it was worth the wait. As noted, I really thought that issues #13 and #14 were exceptionally hot. The art and inking in the books was quite breathtaking. This team really is doing something right, They are on the right path. The cast was vast, the plot was as thick as a Denny’s milkshake, and we are teased about the forthcoming DC One Million story that will come out this summer. All in all, despite some obvious blunders and errors, the Rock of Ages was the new JLA’s first real saga that was as refreshing as a pint of Guinness. Hear, hear! Pour me another.