JLA: Rock of Ages
by Grant Morrison,
John Dell, Howard Porter
(DC Comics, 1998)

The Rock of Ages storyline, which collects issues #10-15, kicks off with an audacious claim to be the ultimate JLA adventure. It very nearly succeeds in that respect. Grant Morrison tells an engaging if sometimes confusing split-level tale concerning time travel, the philosopher's stone and a glittering cast of enemies. With a little patience, it's a quite decent adventure.

The premise is a setup for a battle royale between a Wonder Woman-less JLA (she "died" prior to this adventure) and Lex Luthor's Injustice Gang. Luthor has his hands on the philosopher's stone, a gem of incredible power that he can bend to his will. He uses it to send hard-light constructs to the JLA Watchtower to distract the league. Then the Genesis Wave hits the Earth, and various and sundry spectacular confrontations between the bad guys and the good guys ensue. To spice things up a little, Luthor has surrounded the watchtower with 12 nuclear warheads set to go off.

Of course, Batman figures out the mastermind behind the attack and plots a strike against the Injustice Gang, which includes the Joker. Metron, or an evil version of him, makes an appearance and informs the league that they have to locate the philosopher's stone and destroy it before it fall into the hands of Darkseid.

After splitting up to tackle the enemy on different fronts and having some vague, loopy adventures through time that don't really add anything of significance to the plot, Aquaman, Green Later and the Flash regroup at a point in time 15 years removed from the start of their battle. Darkseid has succeeded in taking over the Earth and destroying many of its heroes.

The three manage to achieve a pyrrhic victory over Darkseid and travel once more through time to the present, albeit aged beyond their years, in order to get a message through to the league not to destroy the stone. The hero Aztek works frantically to disarm the nukes while Batman, Martian Manhunter and Superman attack the Injustice Gang's satellite tower. Plastic Man works from inside the Injustice Gang as a counterspy, though his simply being accepted into the gang stretches credibility just a bit.

The destruction of the stone is what's responsible for this mess and for Darkseid's taking over the Earth, though exactly how it ushered in such a monumental event is unclear.

The biggest problem is keeping all the plotlines straight. They come together, pull apart and run parallel for a bit, then come back together again, but without benefit of smooth transitions.

The dialogue is at times about as subtle as a stomach pump, and the action, while eyepoppingly drawn with a generous and loving hand, is hard to follow at times, though some major action sequences are very well done. The strong visual content is one of the book's strengths. The heroes have rarely looked more powerful and heroic and just plain fantastic. The colors are deep and rich, though the women don't look quite as good as the men.

The book's most serious weaknesses are its confused plot lines and actions that don't quite make sense, such as Luthor sending hard light constructs to wreak havoc when he could have used such a powerful stone to do even worse damage, or why the time traveling leaguers would encounter a future version of Wonder Woman when she was deceased in the present.

The JLA suffers greatly from the absence of Wonder Woman, but perhaps it's nice to know how integral a player she is for the league, which really is not the same without her. However, an Injustice Gang with Luthor and the Joker, and Darkseid on the side, is too juicy to pass up. This is good old-fashioned comic book fun and a fairly compelling read in spite of the holes in the plot. Highly recommended.

- Rambles
written by Mary Harvey
published 29 March 2003

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