JLA: Heaven's Ladder
Mark Waid, writer,
Bryan Hitch, penciller
(DC Comics, 2000)

Someone has stolen the Earth.

It is with such a mindbogglingly improbable premise that JLA: Heaven's Ladder gets its start. And our heroes in the Justice League soon learn that it's not just the Earth, but dozens of planets which have been stolen from their orbits and preserved -- with atmospheric conditions, gravity fields and even tides intact -- in a complex chain of machinery within a massive alien craft.

The heroes quickly discover that they've been abducted by an eons-old race of scientists, beings so logical that they've never conceived of anything simply on a matter of faith. Now, the species stands on the brink of its own demise, en masse, and the concept of an afterlife -- something which cannot be studied or proven -- has them paralyzed in terror. So they have seeded various worlds in the universe with "sleepers," beings whose purpose is solely to develop concepts of life after death based on the primitive cultures they find there. And now it's time to gather in the sleepers, combine data and "build" their afterworld to those specifications.

It's a complex storyline, and even DC's large-format publication may not leave enough room to deal with it all. And it is perhaps a little too neatly handled, with our JLA heroes once again proving that, no matter how powerful or omnipotent their adversaries, they can handle it.

The great success of this book is writer Mark Waid's ability to write such extremely large concepts into so small a tale -- and make it work. Ditto for artist Bryan Hitch, who not only created visions of immense scale in this book, but he also drew what may be one of the best, most definitive versions of the JLA team. You can believe these characters -- the big guns: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Plastic Man and the Flash, with the Atom as a tag-along bonus -- are up to the task of crises on a godly scale, and yet they still seem very much human.

What more can you ask for? A good story on a cosmic scale with incredibly good artwork to carry the load. Heaven's Ladder is worth the climb.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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