JLA: Classified #1

Written by Grant Morrison
Penciled by Ed McGuinness
Inked by Dexter Vines
32 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

I loved Grant Morrison’s issues of JLA. They had a great mix of action and crazy, larger-than-life ideas rampaging through the pages every month, and it’s something that was able to hold my attention on a regular basis. It’s been some time since those issues, though, and I couldn’t help but wonder if his opening storyline for JLA: Classified would be able to hit those same levels. Silly, silly me.

The Justice League is missing, and Gorilla Grodd is on the attack in Kinshasa, the capitol city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When the International Ultramarine Corps and the flying city of Superia show up to stop the threat, everything seems to be under control. What no one will realize until it’s too late, though, is that there’s more to Grodd’s attack than meets the eye. And where is the Justice League?

A word that is overused and slightly misunderstood in comics journalism as of late is “decompressed”, talking about books where the storytelling is at a slightly slower pace, letting the story unfold over many pages. It’s often used exclusively as a pejorative, ignoring the fact that any speed of storytelling can be a positive aspect if used properly. Here it’s hard to avoid mentioning the word decompressed, since Morrison’s writing in the first issue of JLA: Classified is a deliberate reversal of that style. His “supercompressed” writing here throws you directly into the middle of the situation, never stopping to really introduce or explain characters, instead letting you piece it all together. It’s a bit daunting for a casual read-through, but becomes more impressive with each reading of the book. This is a comic where the first 15 pages are a massive fight scene, and there’s more crammed into those pages than other entire mini-series contain. There are so many wonderful little snippets of information thrown out for the reader to absorb as well; Batman having a “sci-fi closet” full of fantastical devices, or the location of a very special JLA base, or the history of Neh-Buh-Loh the Huntsman from the Land of the Vampire Sun. Morrison is determined that the reader will get their money’s worth, and he more than succeeds.

Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines provide the art for JLA: Classified and it looks really nice. It’s got a smooth, rounded look, with each character looking distinctive and impressive at the same time. As much as I love the character designs, from the Squire’s hat and long braided hair to the massive sumo wrestler form of Goraiko, what really grabbed my attention was how McGuinness designed the panel structures of his pages. Pages move with their own energy in JLA: Classified, from circular panels exploding out of a central image of a shock wave rippling from Goraiko’s hands, to a page being arranged to have Beryl’s fleeing through the sky track across the page to give an added sense of movement. What really impressed me is that there’s never the sense that McGuinness is “showing off” or getting fancy simply for the sake of doing so; his panel shapes and structures always have a purpose and advance the storytelling. Having the panels in the Rain Room, for example, be shaped into water droplets gives McGuinness a perfect way to jump-cut between several scenes with great quickness, showing how one affects the other in an extremely effective way. Even having panel borders of tight zoom-ins on Batman’s eyes be shaped like his symbol gives these little zoom-ins a sharp edge to them, something very appropriate for the character. This is a beautifully drawn book, probably the best in McGuinness’s career to date.

JLA: Classified #1 is a tremendous success for everyone involved; it’s got a tremendous amount of story material packed into its pages, and McGuinness makes it unfold across the pages wonderfully. For people who have been missing Morrison’s larger-than-life superheroes, they don’t need to look any further. If this is how he wants to approach the Justice League from now on, he’s welcome back in book any time he wants.

Comments are closed.