Even though Howard Porter’s figures take creative license with human anatomy and have horribly dated hairstyles, JLA #1-#4 (“New World Order”) is an important comic arc and a very entertaining superhero story. It was the first comic done in the “widescreen” format which used splash pages and big panels to tell a sequentiall story on a cinematic scale. Later comics, such as Marvel’s Ultimates and Wildstorm’s Authority, perfected this form which became an huge part of superhero comics in the 2000s showing up in books ranging from Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men to Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman . Grant Morrison’s run on JLA also had a huge influence on Bruce Timm’s Justice League cartoon. The show’s pilot even used the same villain (White Martians), and both teams had similar lineups and suffered from their share of internal squabbles. Finally, JLA marked Grant Morrison’s return to mainstream superhero comics after previously focusing on more surrealist books like Animal Man, Doom Patrol, and his magnum opus Invisibles. In “New World Order”, Morrison showed he could handle group dynamics well and plot a story with larger than life characters to fit Porter’s big panels and punchy action sequences. “New World Order” might not be the deepest storyline, but it does an excellent job reintroducing the Justice League’s big guns to a new generation of readers in the same way the Justice League animated show did to viewers in the early 2000s.
Unlike recent iterations of the Justice League, Grant Morrison builds the team organically and doesn’t use the “fight, then team up” cliche that was prevalent in Geoff Johns’ first arc of Justice League. He starts with the current lineup of Superman and B-teamers like Metamorpho, Nuklon, and Ice Maiden before bringing in the heavy hitters as the White Martian threat is revealed. Along the way, Morrison isn’t afraid for the team to butt heads, especially concerning the most inexperienced member Kyle Rayner. Even though fighting alongside Wonder Woman and Superman freaks him out, Kyle handles himself quite well against the White Martians creating some manga-influenced mecha constructs to fight them off. He also builds a rapport with The Flash (Wally West), the second youngest member of the team as they joke about Simpsons reruns while saving each other’s lives. In “New World Order”, Kyle Rayner is a stand-in for newer comics fans, who have seen a lot of dark times recently (Kyle’s girlfriend’s death, Hal Jordan changing to Parallax) and aren’t used to a “classic” Justice League lineup.
Along with using Kyle Rayner to give the audience someone to empathize with, Morrison and Porter use nostalgia to attract older fans, but they are not held captive by it. For example, in homage to the late Barry Allen, Wally West uses a Flash Fact about the Speed Force and escape velocity to take down the White Martian’s speedster Zum. There is also a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Superfriends cartoon when a White Martian asks Aquaman what he can do other than talk to fish, and Aquaman promptly gives him a seizure by shutting down his basal ganglia (the fish part of the brain). Batman and Superman also get a wonderful two page spread where they fly and talk, and Batman tells Superman that he is the only metahuman that he trusts. However, unlike the Silver Age Justice League comics, the Justice League makes some tough choices towards the end where Martian Manhunter lobotomizes the White Martians in a scene which mirrors the White Martians’ execution of supervillains in JLA #1. This scene adds some moral ambiguity to the team’s heroics and shows that the Justice League might use some less than ethical tactics to protect humanity.
Howard Porter’s use of big panels and single and two page spreads creates an overall tone of the Justice League being gods on Earth . In JLA #2, when the team splits up to take down the different Martian transmission stations, he gives each character a large square panel of them leaping into action and showing off their power sets with their name in big letters, courtesy of letterer Ken Lopez. He also excels at drawing horizontal team shots of both the Justice League and White Martians. Inker John Dell adds little details like the crackles on Wonder Woman’s lasso and speed lines for the Flash that contribute to their action scenes. Porter does a great job showing off effects of The Flash’s speed on the landscape around him, like a “wobbling” Mount Rushmore when he is racing Zum. Colorist Pat Garrahy utilizes a softer, almost sickly color palette to depict the White Martians (who are masquerading as the alien superhero team Hyperclan) in contrast with bright, powerful colors for the Justice League. Garrahy makes great use of blacks and greys as Batman sneaks around and looks for ways to neutralize the White Martians, whose true identity he deduced from his plane crashing. Howard Porter’s figures might be blocky and a little too muscular (Flash has three triceps on one arm), but his pencils capture the god-like power of the Justice League as they struggle with and eventually defend Earth from their would-be conquerors.
The best part of JLA “New World Order” and probably his entire run is Grant Morrison’s redemption of and characterization of Batman. It is in JLA that he transforms from Batman to the “Batgod” seen in Morrison’s Batman run and used in many an Internet flame war. Up to this point, Batman had take quite the beating between having his back broken by Bane in Knightfall, getting replaced by the sociopathic Azrael, and never bringing his parents’ killer to justice in the Zero Hour event. Morrison sets these problems aside and turns Batman into the smartest man in the room, who happens to be underestimated by the White Martians because he is “only human”. From his dramatic entrance courtesy of Porter and Garrahy’s dark color palette to his hanging a White Martian with the words “I know your secret” around his neck, there is no shortage of great Batman moments in “New World Order”. His greatest moment is when he defeats the White Martians with a box of matches and gasoline. Batman distrusts superhumans (except Superman) and their wars just as much as the general public, but understands he has a responsibility to protect Earth as well as Gotham so he compromises and works with them to take down larger threats. Morrison makes this distrust along with his lack of superpowers the reason why Batman is always five steps ahead of the other members of the Justice League and has a solution for every no win scenario. In the words of Superman to the White Martian leader Protex in JLA #4, Batman is “the most dangerous man on Earth”.
From gorgeous spreads showing the team in action to little character moments like Martian Manhunter thinking about meeting people from his home, the first arc of Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s JLA is the perfect mix of the epic and human. It is fitting that Batman as the only non-powered human is the crux of his run and gets the some of the biggest moments in the arc. Morrison also returns DC’s greatest heroes to their former glory and takes a shot at the highly derivative heroes of 1990s Image Comics with his characterization of the Hyperclan (White Martians in disguise), who are basically superpowered fascists that use the media to poison humans against the Justice League. Grant Morrison’s philosophy for the heroes of JLA can be summed in a single sentence from Superman towards the end of the final issue, “To catch them if they fall.” Even though the majority of the Justice League has godlike powers, they will not force any kind of agenda on humans, but will let them evolve at a natural pace and intervene if anyone threatens to impede their progress. If any Warner Brothers executives read this, feel free to use this story arc as the basis of a Justice League film.