JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA: ROCK OF AGES | Comic Review

With one week left until the Snyder Cut is released, today we’ll be looking at a comic that mirrors Snyder’s original plans for what would follow Justice League.

Published by: DC Comics
Written by: Grant Morrison
Art by: Howard Porter, Gary Frank & Greg Land
Year: 1997

Collects: JLA #10 – 15

CONTENTS
– Background
– Plot
– Review


BACKGROUND:

The original plan for parts four and five of Zack Snyder’s five-film DC series from the time before he started shooting Justice League have recently been revealed. While I won’t write up every beat here, the basic outline is this:

Lex Luthor assembles a squad of supervillains to counter the Justice League, systematically take them down, and work out the Anti-Life Equation: something that gives the owner complete control over all life. This culminates in the arrival of the New God of Evil, Darkseid, who takes the Anti-Life Equation for himself, and uses it to force Superman to submit to his will. 

Years later, Batman leads a resistance that consists of Flash, Cyborg, Mera, Deadshot and the newly introduced Green Lantern. As they fight for survival against Superman and the forces of Darkseid, the Flash is tasked with travelling back in time to deliver a key piece of knowledge that will help the League unite the world, defeat Luthor and the supervillains, and halt Darkseid’s invasion. 

There’s a whole thing about how Batman getting Lois Lane pregnant is a key part of the story but I won’t get into that right now. 

This obviously isn’t the plan anymore. In part because those films are no longer scheduled to come out. And in part, because things like the Batman/Lois Lane romance were removed before filming on Justice League began, and the upcoming director’s cut features characters like Deathstroke and Joker, rather than Deadshot. 

Anyway, when looking for comics to read on the lead-up to Zack Snyder’s Justice League, I found the Grant Morrison story Rock of Ages, which looks very much like it could have been the basis for Snyder’s plan. It features Lex Luthor’s formation of an ‘Injustice League’, time travel hijinks, and a future where Earth has been enslaved by Darkseid. 

However, the Justice League in question is a bit different from the ones depicted in the movies. 

We find Superman, for instance, at a point in time where he is completely different from the Man of Steel we commonly know. Still Clark Kent, but with a different set of powers, Superman’s abilities here are far more energy focused, and to contain the raw power within he is forced to wear a striking containment suit.

Aquaman is the same one we all know and love, but at that stage in the 90s where he had a harpoon for a hand. 

The Flash and Green Lantern are legacy characters Wally West (former sidekick Kid Flash-turned main Flash) and Kyle Rayner (the fourth main human Green Lantern Corpsman after Hal Jordan, John Stewart and Guy Gardner). 

Green Arrow is in a similar situation, as he is the son of previous Green Arrow Oliver Queen, who at this point in the story has died in the line of duty. 

Aztek is a character created by Morrison and Mark Millar a year prior to this story’s publication. His name is Uno, and he is the chosen champion of the Aztec God Quetzalcoatl, trained to defeat the evil God Tezcatlipoca. While Uno himself is just a highly capable and physically fit man, he wears a magical suit of armour that gives him the usual superhero powers, among others (you know, your strength, speed, flight, energy blasts, etc). 

Finally, Batman and Martian Manhunter are their usual selves. 


PLOT:

What starts as the Justice League facing off against a mysterious set of evil doppelgangers branches out into a series of greater threats.

Lex Luthor has formed the Injustice Gang with the intention of putting the Justice League in their place. But alongside chaotic forces like the Joker and Ocean Master, Luthor also has an ace up his sleeve – the philosophers stone; an item of great power that can make nearly anything he thinks a reality. 

As the Justice League prepare to take the fight to Luthor and his lackeys, Aquaman, Flash and Green Lantern are thrust into a jaunt across the timeline by the New God Metron. 

Landing in the future, they learn that whatever happened between Luthor’s Injustice Gang and the members of the Justice League has resulted in Earth falling under the rule of Darkseid and the New Gods of Apokolips. 


REVIEW:

Grant Morrison’s run on the Justice League is often cited as a high point of the team’s history. In fact, quite a lot of Morrison’s work is cited as a high point of whatever property they touch. I for one am quite partial to their limited series, All-Star Superman

But then there are things like Rock of Ages, like Final Crisis. Things that highlight Morrison’s particular style, in the way they are so entrenched in the cosmology and rather wild science-fiction beats that the DC universe sometimes leans into that you have to really be into DC to jive with it. And to be honest, I don’t know that I am. 

Sure, I like the heroes of DC. I’ve read several stories that I love. I’m a fan, certainly. 

But then I read things like this and at times it just feels… impenetrable. There’s so much to take in, and while I understand it all, I don’t connect to it.

It’s a lot. 

Amen to that my friend.

That’s not to say it’s bad. Morrison’s works, particularly their time on JLA is acclaimed for a reason, and I can see why people would like this. 

Firstly, regardless of whether you connect with it, the plot and the basic story elements are just cool. It’s got a lot of that comic-book wildness that some people really love, from time travel to battles between gods, evil doppelgangers, and interesting villains. The stakes are almost always high, which is fitting for a team book where near every character has godlike powers. 

The characters are well written, as Morrison clearly taps into each of their unique voices, regardless of how integral they are to the comic. Their varying abilities are used in creative ways and highlight how each member has earned their place among their fellow titans (although it does border on the ‘Batman’s the best at everything’ trope every now and then, which I’m not in love with).

The art is similarly strong. While Howard Porter’s style here is a bit ‘nineties’ (less refined perhaps than the art that can be found in the modern-day) the level of detail and storytelling is just great. The panels are filled with background details that help carry on the story beyond what’s going on in the foreground, such as a particular scene where Superman takes an angry bystander out of earshot, and while we read the words of the other Leaguers, you can see Superman allaying the bystander’s fears and coming to an agreement in a way only Superman can. Unfortunately, the last issue is drawn by Gary Frank, who is one of my personal favourites, so in hindsight, I wish we’d seen more of it, but Porter’s art suits the story being told. 

Each chapter of the story, from the prologue where the Justice League fight their Doppelgangers, to the conflict with the Injustice Gang, to the dystopic future where Darkseid rules all have their own unique flavours, and as a whole, the book really highlights the dedication and the high level of skill that Morrison puts into their work.
But as I say, there’s something about it that I just can’t connect with. Despite being a big fan of things like Doctor Who, the science-fiction jargon takes me out of it, and there are parts of the story that I honestly don’t know if they actually line up or if I’ve just missed something.

I’ll forgo the usual ‘Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down’ rating here and just say if you’re a big big fan of DC and haven’t read this, you’ll probably enjoy it. If you lean more towards a passing interest, maybe not. I’d say I’m somewhere in the middle of that, and it wasn’t for me.

But it certainly has its merits, I’ll give it that.


Anyway, thanks for reading! Are you excited about the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League? Let me know in the comments below!

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