Graphic Novel/Comics Review

JLA Classified: New Maps of Hell

(2006) Warren Ellis and Jackson Guice, Titan Books, 7.99, trdpbk, 144pp, ISBN 1-845-76250-9

This volume collects JLA Classified issues 10-15, all of which (and this book) sport lovely covers by Michael Stribling. Across the depths of time and space comes the ancient artificial entity, and self-styled God of Terror, which calls itself Z, a being of almost limitless power that once decimated the Martian population. One by one the members of the Justice League are witness to incredible acts of destruction and find themselves drawn into an intrigue which seems to involve Lexcorp and, therefore, President Lex Luthor (which clearly dates this tale to pre-Crisis days - why it's taken so long to get into print is anybody's guess...). Their major clue is an ancient piece of writing known as the Tharsis Text which tells the story of civilizations 'tested' by a powerful entity which destroys those it considers too weak to exist. But the text also contains a memetic virus which, decoded and understood, could itself release the power to destroy worlds. When Z makes planetfall will our heroes be able to stand against its awesome might, or is the Earth destined for destruction?

I've long admired the work of Warren Ellis, but hardly ever for traditional superheroics, more often for comics like The Authority and Planetary. However, I have to say that this story demonstrates the best of what the JLA has to offer, certainly in terms of the scope of the threat that they originally banded together to fight (that is, the reason for having created such a super-team in the first place, all those decades ago). It's also a damn fine piece of writing, with sensitive and well-informed use of the characters, and a thoughtful dose of science fiction concepts that would be familiar to readers of, say, Alastair Reynolds. Jackson Guice's artwork is superb and wonderfully complements the scope of the story. It recalls, somewhat, the work of Frank Miller and Klaus Janson, without being in the least derivative and even, in its framing, has a hint of Neal Adams about it. Highly recommended

Also available for JLA fans at the moment, and tying in with the concentration of attention on the JLA from Identity Crisis through the Infinite Crisis, is JLA: The Greatest Stories Ever Told (2006, various writers and artists, Titan Books, 11.99, tpb, 192pp, ISBN 1-84576-305-X), with a lovely Alex Ross cover. As I always say, whether or not these really are the greatest stories ever told is up for debate, and I think that because of the events leading up to the Crisis that this volume probably does err in its choice of stories to reflect the themes of superheroic identities and protecting them through the use of mind-wiping techniques. Having said that, it's justified, in context, that younger (or perhaps just 'newer') readers should be able to read the old stories involving such wonderful-yet-hackneyed devices as "amnesium" (no superhero should be without it!). The stories presented here stretch from 1963 to 2002 and showcase the work of such as Gardner Fox, Denny O'Neil, Dick Dillin, Marty Pasko, Gerry Conway, George Perez, Grant Morrison, Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke. Well worth a look.

Tony Chester

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