I posted about Brad Meltzer’s Justice League recently, so I thought I’d go back and reread some of the Grant Morrison run on the title and see how that holds up.

The first volume, “New World Order” — in which the JLA fights a bunch of evil, shape-shifting super-powered Martians — is uneven. The big strike against it is the drawing. Even by mainstream standards, Howard Porter is a shockingly bad artist. I think he’s trying to be influenced by manga, maybe, but jeez, what a disaster. It looks like someone vomited slick primary colors all over a bunch of spastic mannikins. And that’s not even mentioning the layout; all overlapping panels, slapped down almost at random. Really, who gave this guy a job? Blech.

Grant Morrison’s script is a lot better than that, though it has its troubles too. Basically, there’s a certain amount of “hooooo-boy, the League is sure cool isn’t it?” which grows awfully tedious awfully quickly. In that vein, too, there’s a certain amount of telling-not-showing how awesome everyone is. Batman talks at one point about what a tactical genius the Martian Manhunter is, for example, but there’s not really anything in the comic — or indeed, in any comic I’ve seen — that backs that up. Flash mutters to himself about the need to come up with some super-clever tactic to defeat his super-fast, military genius opponent… but in the end he subdues the bad guy by running really fast and hitting him. Also the plot doesn’t entirely hang together. When did the Manhunter switch places with the bad guy, anyway? And why are none of the super-heroes affected by the Martian mind-control? And having character after character realize that they’re fighting Martians (who can be defeated with fire) is a little clunky. And the last scenes, in which the people of earth are inspired by Superman to fight the Martians by lighting pieces of paper and holding them over their heads and looking really serious, as if the entire world has been transformed into one multi-ethnic Rush concert…well, it’s not Morrison’s best moment, let’s say.

Still, it’s not all bad. Morrison is clearly having a ton of fun with the Batman-as-snarky-unstoppable-force, sneering at all the wimpy super-powered whiners around him. This reached a reductio ad absurdum in All Star Batman and Robin, of course, but when it’s played slightly more subtly, as here, it can be entertaining. The panel where Bats wanders in dragging a heap of Martians behind him as Green Lantern (the Kyle Rainer one) mutters, ”only four, Batman? you’re slowing down.” is probably my favorite bit in the book…followed closely by Aquaman declaring, “the sea is my responsibility!” and Wonder Woman immediately informing him that he’s a pompous blowhard.

The thing is, though, that they’re all kind of pompous blowhards. Morrison’s JLA is, by design, invincible — they’re more super than super, more cosmic than the cosmos, they’re just undefeatably, unstoppably awesome. The series is over-inflated; so pumped up it’s ready to pop. There’s certainly a kind of enjoyment in it; it’s fun to see sparks flying and non-stop action and bombastic titanicness. But you lose something too — it’s hard for the heroes to really seem all that heroic, basically. For example, Metamorpho (who I guess was in the previous incarnation of the team) sacrifice’s himself in a desperate effort to save Nuclon and some girl with ice powers; you get to really see him sweat doing it, too — in the way the Lee/Ditko/Romero Spider-Man would really sweat. He’s falling from outer space and trying to make teflon coating, but he can’t figure out how the polymer chains works. He seems like he doesn’t have all the answers, and it makes him extremely sympathetic.

Morrison’s core JLA team, on the other hand, is always not just triumphant but triumphal. Whether it’s Kyle nattering on about how amazing Wonder Woman is, or everybody talking about how great Superman is, the self-congratulation floats about as thickly as locker-room miasma. It’s this insular, clubhouse aura that is the bane of super-hero comics today; Morrison’s super-heroes are, basically, super-fans. You can see why this appeals to the real life super-fans, of course. And you can also see why everyone else on earth was indecently eager to side with the Martians.