Too Many Long Boxes!

End of Summer

How To Write the JLA
Like Grant Morrison

(Personal to Mark Waid)

by Michael Hutchison


Is Mark Waid up to writing "JLA"?

Dumb question, right? We're talking about one of the hottest names in comics. This is the guy who gave us "Kingdom Come," who took Wally West from a swinging bachelor with an inferiority complex and made him the competent Flash he is today, who (against all odds) found a way to restore Adam Strange to greatness.

And he's told some excellent Justice League stories so far!

He did some stunning work on Justice League Quarterly, where he often used the Keith Giffen JLI and then added enough serious action and poignant moments to create some of the best stories of that entire era. Such as "4NZ", in which the JLA spends an entire hour trapped in I.Q.'s lab waiting for a virus to transform one of them into a killer. Or "When Titans Date", the Seinfeld-inspired short tale in which the JLI is spying on Ted Kord at a restaurant (one of my favorite stories of all time). Or the heartbreaking tale of Professor Ivo, who steals the superpowers of the JLI in order to commit suicide before his immortality leaves him in constant pain forever. Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that he also wrote one of the best Elongated Man stories EVER.

Since then, Mark has written "JLA: Year One", which used the original JLA members. "Brave and the Bold", the six-issue Green Lantern/Flash team-up, employed many Silver Age concepts such as a chapter format and pseudo-science that wouldn't stand up to a 12-year-old's analysis but made for some fun stories! And cementing Mark's eligibility for writing the JLA are his previous fill-ins, including the Julian September and Adam Strange stories.

When I ask whether Mark Waid is up to writing "JLA," it's not a matter of Mark's abilities but audience expectations. This audience has been on the Mostly Morrison diet for the last three years, and I don't think they want a change in direction.

So, for Mark Waid (and all the other writers who may do fill-ins), here is a simple way to write a JLA story just like the kind Grant Morrison used to make.

Make Up Nonsense That Sounds Cool

Mark Waid researches the latest science and use it in his stories, such as that whole "split photons work in tandem" experiment used in the Julian September story. While this is cute, it's not what the fans go for. They want a modern Dr. Seuss who will invent Thneeds, Once-lers and Sneetches.

Grant Morrison makes up stylish words that mean nothing.especially if Metron is anywhere in sight. Omniwhen. Ubernow. Metazone. The trick seems to be to randomly throw together prefixes and nouns and then keep the ones that sound cool. No definition is ever necessary. Just sprinkle them here and there for effect.


Grant Morrison
Gibberish Generator

Please note that the generator doesn't seem to be working correctly in Netscape.
I'll fix it when I figure out how!

Batman Is A Supreme Being

I know, Batman's supposed to be just a human being who pushes his mind and body hard. However, it's up to you to portray him as a demi-god.

Batman must be all-knowing. This goes beyond being the world's greatest detective, who can solve a mystery with the barest of clues. Now, Batman is able to figure out a plot without any evidence whatsoever. It's almost as though the writer were sneaking him the upcoming scripts so that he can look cool.but that's a preposterous idea.

Occasionally Disband the Team for No Reason Whatsoever

Yes, this advice sounds severe, but disbanding the JLA is apparently no big deal.

I know, you probably remember that great scene in "Justice League of America Annual #2" where Aquaman announced to the world that the JLA was disbanding, thus ending its years and years of faithful service. The organization which had been the cornerstone of the DCU since the Silver Age began was no more. Heady, dramatic stuff, yeah.

However, since 1983 the Justice League has been shut down numerous times. Recently, while discussing the need for a stronger team at the end of "Rock of Ages", Superman disbanded the JLA. He could have just said, "We'll take a five-minute recess to go grab some more people," but no, he disbanded the organization!

In the last incident, he disbanded the team for a couple minutes, long enough to shut down Amazo with a bit of illogic that even the Nomad probe wouldn't fall for!

So throw out the phrase "disbanding the Justice League" whenever you need to create some drama where there is none.

The JLA is an Eight-Member Pantheon, Plus Whomever You Like

Superman! Batman! Wonder Woman! Aquaman! Flash! Green Lantern! Martian Manhunter! Aztek!


This actually is a much older concept than the current JLA series. It's been a long-standing tradition that the writer of JLA gets to draft a character or two that he likes into the membership. Len Wein brought in Elongated Man, Red Tornado and Phantom Stranger in rapid succession. Gerry Conway enlisted Firestorm, Vixen and Steel.all characters from books of his which were canceled in the DC Implosion a few years well as Zatanna. Like Conway, Grant Morrison elevated his minor character to JLA-level even as Aztek's book was canceled.

And in-between the "Legendary JLA" and today's "Iconic JLA", there was a full decade of team line-ups which, whatever their merits, just weren't worthy of being called "The World's Greatest Super-Heroes."

Sadly, Mark Waid has only been working on successful books that sell, so there aren't any Mark Waid characters sitting around waiting to be used. Perhaps, going back to the Justice League Quarterly days, it's time to make Booster Gold a member again?

Superman! Batman! Wonder Woman! Booster Gold!

Works for me.

Resist The Urge To Include Depth and Characterization

This is going to be a tough one for the guy who made me care about Professor Ivo, but it's vitally important that JLA not involve any talky scenes. You can do little character bits, but nothing of any real depth.

Christopher Priest broke this rule in JLA Secret Files #2, you may remember. It showed Superman, Batman and Aquaman relaxing at the Kent farm while they discussed the new membership. They gave due consideration to many of the members proposed by fans. Zauriel got in an argument with a nun. Steel's kid and a friend teleported to the Watchtower because ANY kid with access to the moon would. Guy Gardner tried to crash the proceedings (tying into his friendship with Steel) and was quickly evicted.

Last I heard, Christopher Priest still couldn't sit down from the spanking. (*slap*) "No no no, Christopher James Owsley Priest! Bad bad bad! You don't waste pages like that! How many times have we told you: don't (*slap*) put (*slap*) character development (*slap*) in JLA!"

Occasionally, Remember to Emphasize Why Fishboy Is So Essential

Mark Waid himself said it in an interview with Cheeks the Toy Wonder: "I can't imagine why anyone would ever actually put Aquaman on the team from the get-go, if he knew JLA would last another forty-plus years. Don't get me wrong, I like Artie just fine--but scratch me down on the long, long list of JLA writers whose greatest monthly struggle is giving him SOMETHING TO DO."

Thanks to Superfriends, generations of kids have put Captain Talkstofish right up there with Superman and Batman as one of DC's staple characters. (Had they known how influential Superfriends would end up, I'm sure DC could have convinced them to put another twenty or thirty characters on the show, to be seared into our collective memories!)

Morrison needed the "Big 7" as his anchor JLA team but had to face up to the fact that one of them was Aquaman. Solution: Emphasize time and again that Arthur's king of the oceans and they take up more volume than the land on our planet. (By this logic, Alaska is a superpower, but never mind.) Ignore the fact that none of this really makes him one iota more effective when it's time to defeat Starbreaker or Mister Nebula.

That's all the "advice" from me.

And Mark, if you should happen to read this…I know you're going to do a great job.

All characters are ™ DC Comics
This column is © 2000 by Michael Hutchison
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