I missed out on Grant Morrison's first go at the Justice League. A combination of
Onslaught and a couple Spider-clones sent me screaming from comics in general. I've
spent the past few years catching up. I managed to pick up all of Morrison's run on JLA
in trade form and came out of it feeling impressed and not a little happy. JLA: Classified
#1, Morrison's much hyped return to the team with artist Ed McGuinness and inker
Dexter Vines recreates that feeling pretty well.
The blurb on the cover shouts "WHERE ARE THE JUSTICE LEAGUE?" Good
question, since the only real Leaguer we get in this issue is Batman. That's plenty for me,
my friend. Morrison's Batman is a return to the frighteningly intelligent Batman of his
original run. This Batman knows exactly what's going on, who's behind it and how to fix
it. Just stay out of his way. Morrison quickly gives you all you need to know about the
most likely unfamiliar Ultramarines. Jack O'Lantern is the loveably Irish comedic relief,
Warmaker One the sharp soldier, Squire is a plucky sidekick and Goraiko is... difficult to
get. Each Ultramarine has a distinct personality and power. All of them are likeable.
Grodd himself is kind of wonderfully evil. "And I suppose you're wondering what
happened to the hostages..." Grodd growls. "I ate them all!" Morrison went the Geoff
Johns route and made a gigantic, talking ape a true monster. Add on rock solid dialogue
and you have a winner.
I'd be horribly, horribly remiss if I didn't touch on McGuinness's art here. This is sharp
work. From the shadowed introduction of the team on the first page to Jack O'Lantern's
hilariously expressive mask to Grodd taking down Jack O'Lantern, McGuinness is on
point. What's interesting is what he didn't show. Scattered throughout the issue are people
draped in shadows, obviously dead, to shadowed gorillas (complete with Splinter Cell-
esque night vision gear!). There's a palpable sense of horror in here, which is a sharp
contrast to McGuinness's cartoony style. His Batman is majestic from his first
appearance, permanently scowling and draped in shadow. This book looks good. The
panel layouts tend to resist the typical squared-off grid, resulting in skewed angles,
characters breaking panel borders (see the second and third pages for the easiest
example), panels made out of bubbles, shockwaves and Bat-symbols. Batman's first
scene, for example, resembles a flying Bat-symbol approaching the reader, as if it was
flying off the page. All of this, plus the attention to the small details, adds up to a high-
impact, high-energy read. You want to speed through the book to see what new visual
that McGuinness and Vines are going to throw at you, but you also want to slow it down
to fully appreciate the craft. Good isn't the word for this book. It's positively beautiful.
This issue opens with a simple introduction of what's going on and who's involved. In
other hands, this would be clumsy exposition, but Warmaker One's succint lines read
more as a mission briefing than the writer breaking down the story for the reader. "Who
needs the Justice League?" he asks. "Shock and awe, gentlemen." Two sentences set the
stage. The JLA is out of the picture, but that's no problem. The Ultramarines are going to
put down the villains with a quickness.
The issue is paced nicely. It jumps from scene to scene with breakneck speed. The
dialogue helps here, as it avoids the typical exposition and explanations that a lot of
comics used to be plagued with. Knight uses a microwave gun on Grodd and pauses mid-
explanation to say "Oh, never mind" and get back to the action.
This comic works on every level. The writing is top notch, the art is even better and the
Batphone appears. It's got a full stock of killer one-liners (Batman on the JLA: "They got
lost saving somebody else's universe. Typical."), incredible panels and pinups and a good
mix of action, speed and mystery. Highly recommended. Four out of five stars.