JLA Classified: New Maps of Hell
by Warren Ellis and Jackson Guice
You know what I don’t like? Fucking ugly covers that are not at all indicative of the interior art. That is an ugly picture; the garishness of the other five covers would be enough to put me off buying the singles, if I wasn’t a man who waits for trades. It’s the stuff of nightmares.
Anyway, the rest of the book. Warren Ellis turns his storytelling towards the mainstream, giving us a JLA story that requires the whole of the team to take part (rather than a feeble enemy that Superman could take on his own.) He starts with a mystery – Lexcorp employees are dying – that is investigated by Clark and Lois. The sexy banter between the two is hilarious, and I would pay to see a comic with these two doing their Sorkin via His Girl Friday dialogue on a monthly basis. As this is Ellis, we also see Perry White as Ellis Editor, but I find that funny, so we’ll let him off. (He must have had a really bad experience with an editor to keep on doing this.)
Then, to keep the kids interested, we see Batman (all scarred and serious) getting tooled up, one of the Paradise Islands explode (Bring The Explodo!), Flash notified of trouble by his wife (with some Ellis poetry: ‘Three steps. River of speed. I’m the Flash.’) and Kyle as Green Lantern turns up. Ellis deliberately avoids the vestigial problems of Aquaman by cleverly ignoring him completely. Ellis has a good handle on the characters, using the dialogue to give you enough information so fairly new readers won’t be lost, and giving them their correct and individual characteristics.
Jackson Guice does a good job on art (even though he could draw stick figures and it would be better than the covers), given room to breathe with some money shots (Superman flying, Wonder Woman flying, the Flash speed) but still telling the story. It’s not the same quality of gorgeousness that I remember from his Crossgen days on Ruse, but the scratchier feel suits the story. The wordless pages as the JLA go to meet Lex Luthor as President in the White House are done very well, and brought a smile to my face.
The story itself is an Ellis twist on the classic tale of the heroes being trapped in their own nightmares, with a modern flavour (ideas as memes, a Global Frequency feel to the Oracle side-plot) that makes things interesting. The team is sequestered by the villain of the piece – Z, an Authority-like bad guy, with little backstory and a simply defined goal of killing the planet, and enjoyable dialogue: ‘Excellent. You bring me determination and novelty. I love you.’ I don’t know if Ellis has never read this story before, or he thought he had a way of telling it differently, but it does work, despite the familiarity. The heroes are intelligent in their specific ways (I liked the Superman bit, for example), and we get a great line from J’onn: ‘We’re the Justice League. We’ve beaten up real gods and made them cry. You are nothing to us.’ In fact, there is some nice dialogue throughout, my personal favourite being, ‘Stand by for broadband telepathy’.
Ellis may profess to not like superheroes, but he seems to understand them and provide good stories for them to inhabit. His desire to see how comics work allows him to see past the nostalgic connections some writers suffer from, and work out what they are about (even if, in this case, he is following on from Grant Morrison’s interpretation of the JLA: they are the big guns, and they should only be brought together for big, proper reasons, in large fights for drastic circumstances). Enjoyable, mainstream entertainment. Now, if I could just remove the reprinted covers from this trade …