Cult of Personality – JLA 61

JLA 61

Looking at October’s comic releases, I realized that with Justice League of America #38 comes a new creative team. While writer James Robinson and artist Mark Bagley are hardly strangers to the DC Universe (or the members of its most prominent team), it will still be interesting to see whether or not they can make their run on the title meaningful – for one reason or another, I feel like most creators lose sight of the importance of telling well-balanced, team-oriented stories when given the JLA-reins.

In fact, I haven’t consistently read Justice League of America since the conclusion of Brad Meltzer’s brilliant thirteen-issue relaunch of the series. Meltzer knew how to guide his artists through stories of epic confrontation while still maintaining a down-to-earth, personal tone. To me, this is what the “big team” books should be all about: putting iconic figures in over-the-top, the end is nigh scenarios in order to depict struggles to which the normal guy can relate.

So as I conjured up this mission statement for super-team titles, I tried to think of another example of team-done-right. Rifling through Caffeine Powered’s library, I eventually stumbled across JLA #61. Only vaguely remembering this issue, I had to reread it a couple of times before deciding that it is another exemplar.

This 2002 book is a perfect beginning to the collaboration between writer Joe Kelly and penciller Doug Mahnke. [While Kelly led JLA through its ninetieth issue and then disappeared from my radar, Mahnke has been blowing my mind as of late. Check out his work on Green Lantern if you get the chance]. Plot-wise, the self-contained JLA #61 takes the reader through a giant battle that involves monsters, Gods, Abra Kadabra and even sees Kyle Rayner dissecting five miles of seaboard with his fruity-ring. In short — the book succeeds in creating a problem that requires seven of the all-time greatest superheroes.

But where the issue really shines is in its highlighting of each teammate as a relatable human being (or Martian/Kryptonian/Goddess — but you get my point). From the primary battle the narrative flashes back to the two-minute warning, that time in which the JLA alert signal rings out its warning.

Instead of Superman, the reader sees Clark Kent eating dinner with his wife; Green Lantern is unadorned artist Kyle Rayner, struggling to pay for a cup of coffee; in place of the Flash is Wally West, hyperactive multi-tasker desperately looking for another minute in the day; Martian Manhunter’s constantly linked mind is observed in one of its rare states of unconscious meditation; fanatical Bruce Wayne makes business calls as he helps Diana prepare for perfection, and the typically zany Plastic Man soberly fields a phone call at his office.

Hell, even the King of Atlantis’ vacated throne is seen as the JLA discuss the recently-departed Aquaman. This issue bleeds personality and heart, thereby making these otherwise inhuman characters worthwhile emotional investments.

No, I don’t expect every team-based comic book to contain the sentiment of Touched by an Angel. Nor would I want it to. But, it is nice to think that throwing together the most marketable properties into one franchise isn’t always done in the name of producing inane pieces of visual masturbation.

Unless, of course, you could convince Frank Miller and Jim Lee to work together. Oh wait.

But I guess we’ll have to wait until October to see what Robinson and Bagley bring us.