Morrison’s JLA – Part 3
2 volumes. 20 issues. 1 post. Less recap, more insight. Let’s do this.
Strength In Numbers sees a new villain, Prometheus, take apart the team; the JLA stopping a mad science experiment from destroying the laws of probability; a quick stint as slaves on the planet Raan under supposed hero Adam Strange; and a trip into dreams to stop Starro the Conqueror from, uh, conquering.
Justice For All finishes the run up to Morrison’s ultimate JLA story with a few more short arcs and one good crossover. We get the military-industrial-superhero complex gone wild under General Eiling and the Ultramarine Corpse (another awesomely horrible Grant Morrison name), a labored story from Mark Millar, a team-up with the Justice Society to repel an invasion from the fifth dimension, a tie-in to a Batman event, and a brief look at what the pale martians have been doing since their defeat in issue four.
So, what’s notable in these issues? Well, first things first: Batman totally gets beat in single combat by Prometheus. The entire concept behind Prometheus is kind of a twisted Batman: instead of good parents gunned down by criminals, Prometheus has criminal parents gunned down by police. Instead of honing his body to perfection, he programs his nervous system by inserting CDs into his helmet. Instead of a dark hole underground, his hideout is a crooked house in the infinite white expanse of the Still Zone.
All that, and Prometheus beats Batman in a fight which happens mostly off-panel. I was talking to Ryan Macklin (from the internet) at GenCon about Batman and he suggested that Batman’s character sheet would have two abilities:
- Batman always ties
- In case of a tie, Batman wins
Apparently that doesn’t apply here. It’s an odd beat to the story, but it works to make Prometheus seem like a real threat. Morrison really takes advantage of the team book structure here, allowing a villain to take down a character that is known to be ‘the best at what they do’ to set up a threat which can eventually be beaten by the team as a whole. It wouldn’t work as well in a solo book, but it’s one of the best scenes here.
The warped probability story is also one that sticks in my memory, and it’s not event a Morrison plot - Mark Waid fills in for a few issues through these volumes, including this arc. The sheer absurdity of the pseudo-science setup where a scientist breaks the natural order of the universe by manipulating the split halves of seven protons to control probability gives the entire thing a Silver Age feel that ends up working pretty well. This kind of crazy setup is so key to the comic feel, any game system should really help setup that kind of story.
Speaking of high concept: a star fish from space shows up and conquers North America through dreams. This arc provides a line quoted in Icons that got me thinking about this whole superhero/comic/game setup. Icons looks at this story where Superman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman go into a dream in which they’re powerless as a statement about resolve. I don’t really see that, the story is all about the iconic nature of the heroes. Sure, they have resolve, but the story is really about the belief a kid has in the heroes to save him, and how that belief grants them the power to do it in this crazy dream state.
The other high point of these volumes is the conflict with the fifth dimension. Morrison manages to tie together Mr. Mxyzptlk, an old Aquaman villain, a forgotten Justice League Task Force character, and Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt into a great plot that actually gives every character something to do. This kind of reincorporation is the halmark of continuity comics, to create that feeling in the moment at the table is a real challenge.
A lot of the stories in these volumes focus on the nature of the team, expanding the roster and reincorporating aspects of continuity. A superhero team game could have a roster of characters with a few being chosen for any given session. Sure, Batman is an amazing hero, but if he’s not in the spotlight he can be taken out by Prometheus. Maybe the GM has to use characters established in past sessions by default too, spending some kind of points to bring in new threats. Villains we’ve seen before come back in new plots, heroes guest star, it’s all in this crazy shared authorship world.