Explaining Rock of Ages

As some of you know, I’m a shameless Grant Morrison fanboy. One of the major reasons I like Morrison’s work is because it is more complex than your average superhero story. Unlike many comic book writers, Morrison does not spoon feed explanations to the reader. They are also not afraid to engage with complex fictional elements like alternate realities, higher dimensions, and time travel. Personally, I love this and I love art like this because it engages my brain, gets me to think, and allows me to draw conclusions that bring me in touch with my inner-self and why I enjoy the art in question.

Unfortunately, this is not for everyone and has opened Morrison up to their most consistent criticism: Their stories are too confusing. One of Morrison’s most divisive stories in this regard is Rock of Ages which spanned JLA issues #10 through 15. This story is constantly brought up when readers make the claim of Morrison being too confusing or too much. Therefore, I’m going to attempt to explain the more confusing elements of Rock of Ages. This is being done to show that most of the answers are actually there and to illustrate how Morrison’s writing style works. I doubt I’ll change any minds, but let’s get to work.
Kyle This is Going to Take Forever to Explain

The Basic Plot:

The first thing I want to do is go over a general recap of Rock of Ages. I will say that the basic plot of Rock of Ages is actually not THAT complex. Essentially, it’s two common superhero plots in one: The Ultimate Hero Team vs. The Ultimate Villain Team AND The Alternate Dystopian Future. Think The Super Friends fighting the Legion of Doom meets Days of Future Past.

Basically, there are two plot threads to follow in one story. First, Lex Luthor forms a new Injustice Gang to destroy the Justice League. Lex is using a powerful artifact called the Philosopher’s Stone to manipulate Jemm, Son of Saturn, who is using his psychic abilities to control the members of the Injustice Gang and mess with the Justice League. Eventually, Lex realizes the Stone is even more powerful and can be used to manipulate reality. The Justice League is troubled by the Injustice Gang’s attacks, but Batman devises a strategy to defeat them.

Second, the alternate future storyline comes in when Metron warns the League that Darkseid is searching for the Philosopher’s Stone and will conquer creation if he finds it. Metron sends Flash, Aquaman, and Kyle Rayner through space and time to try to find it before Darkseid does. However, Metron tricked them and sent them on a wild goose chase to the ends of space and time. When they try to return to Earth, the three heroes accidentally arrive 15 years in the future. This future is dark because the JLA defeated the Injustice Gang and destroyed the Philosopher’s Stone which allowed Darkseid to conquer the universe. The heroes stage an attack on Darkseid so they can return to the present and prevent the JLA from destroying the Philosopher’s stone.

Those are the two basics plots within Rock of Ages. Because they are both built from common superhero plot tropes, I don’t think they are too out there. I believe that the confusion comes from the hows and whys of the story. Like, how did Morrison reach their conclusions? Now that I have covered the basic plot, I’ll go over the things that I found to be the most challenging.

1) What was that cosmic wave at the end of JLA #10?

At the end of JLA #10, the first issue of the Rock of Ages story, J’onn comes across a wave of cosmic energy that causes him great distress and despair:

This may be a bit confusing to readers since in the next issue J’onn is fine and the cosmic wave isn’t mentioned again. However, it wasn’t intended to be mentioned again in Rock of Ages. The cosmic wave is the Godwave from the DC crossover Genesis. That moment in JLA #10 is actually just a bit of editorial upkeep to signify that the Genesis crossover takes place between JLA #10 and #11. They probably felt this was necessary because both Genesis and Rock of Ages use the New Gods. However, this may have added to reader confusion since Genesis was released a little after Rock of Ages (editorial mistake or delayed comics?) and would definitely be confusing to new readers since Genesis was from 1997 is not the most well-known or well-regarded DC crossover. In the end, though, it is just a moment of editorial upkeep that unfortunately may have contributed to confusion.

2) Why does the destruction of the Philosopher’s Stone allow Darkseid to conquer the universe?

To me, this is the big question and its answer unlocks the entire story. First, we need to establish what the Philosopher’s Stone is and why it can manipulate reality. We are actually given the answer by Metron in JLA #11:

Metron explains that the Philosopher’s Stone is like a handheld version of all of reality. Everything that has ever existed, currently exists, and will exist as well as everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen is reflected within the Philosopher’s Stone. This allows anyone who holds it to bend reality to their will. Their thoughts change the reflection within the Philosopher’s Stone which, in turn, changes reality.

Great, so that’s how it works. Why does destroying it allow Darkseid to win? In JLA #15, Metron says this:
Conditions That Permit Darkseid

What he’s saying is that by working his will through the Philosopher’s Stone, Lex is creating the conditions for Darkseid’s victory. How? Well, it seems that the Philosopher’s Stone is sensitive to the intentions of its user. We learn this in the story’s conclusion. Rock of Ages ends with Joker stealing the Philosopher’s Stone to cause havoc on Earth. J’onn uses his psychic powers to temporarily make Joker “sane” while he still holds the Stone. In this moment, Metron notes:
Decide the Future for Good or Evil

So, the fate of the universe is in Joker’s hands? Great! However, because J’onn is making Joker “sane” and because Lex urges Joker to use the stone to resurrect the people the Injustice Gang had killed, Joker actually saves the universe by making a decision for the greater good:
Joker Saves the Universe

By using the Philosopher’s Stone for good, Joker sets reality back on the “right” course. However, this would never have happened if the JLA destroyed the Philosopher’s Stone when they first got their hands on it. That Stone was still tainted by the “evil” of Lex’s will. Since Lex tainted the Stone (reality in miniature) with evil, he also tainted all of reality with evil. And who is the god of evil? Darkseid. Tainting reality with Lex’s evil created an evil reality (Darkseid’s reality). Destroying the stone solidified this evil reality because it could not be changed without it. Only by using the Stone with pure motives could cleanse reality and prevent it from creating a world where evil (Darkseid) triumphs.

3) Why is Metron evil and then suddenly good?

It may be a bit strange that Metron first shows up as evil and tricks the JLA only to end the story as a good guy helping them fix reality. The answer to why this is goes back to my answer to question #2. Metron gets tainted by evil just as the Philosopher’s Stone does. Metron is a god and exists, more or less, outside of linear time. When reality is changed to evil by the taint of Lex’s will, Metron turns evil just as he’s meant to do in the reality where Darkseid wins. By preventing the Stone’s destruction, reality resets and Metron returns to normal without the taint of Darkseid’s evil.

And essentially… those are the explanations to the things I found to be the most confusing aspects in Rock of Ages. There may be more elements of the story that confound readers since this is a plot that deals with time travel and dimensional travel. If there are any other confusing moments, please bring them up and I will do my best to unpack them. However, my point is that all of the answers to Rock of Ages are there. They are just given to you in small moments so it takes some concentration and interpretation to reach them.

Inevitably, someone is going to say, “well, I should not have to do that to understand a comic.” Someone always says this when talking about or debating Morrison. To me, it’s not a question of HAVE. In this life, you actually do not HAVE to do anything. It’s a question of want. Personally, I want to take the time to understand Morrison’s work because I find the task of doing so to be engaging and meaningful.

That holds true with Rock of Ages. At its core, Rock of Ages is a story that says, “reality is built on our intentions.” If our intentions are bad then reality is bad, if our intentions are good then reality follows suit. It takes active concentration and thought to maintain good intentions just as it takes those things to unravel this story. The fact that I had to put the work in to get there makes this story more meaningful to me then if Metron popped up in a panel and just explained: “Thinking good thoughts into our world makes it good while thinking bad thoughts makes it bad.” There’s just more art to the way Morrison does it even if it requires more from the reader.

So, yeah, it does bum me out when people write this story off due to its complexity. Not only do they miss out on all of the above, but they also miss out on a lot of other cool elements and Easter eggs that can be found throughout the story. For instance, when Mote takes Kyle through the Museum District of Omnitropolis:

Mote highlights different exhibitions to Kyle and implores him to pay attention to them because they actually all correspond to future threats the JLA will face. But, because they reference future stories, Kyle misses the importance just as readers might unless they do a re-read.

Or, the fact the the dystopian future JLA is headquartered in Detroit:

Rock of Ages is complex, yes. It takes some work to fully understand. However, I believe it’s worth it because its a rich, textured story with a lot of fun concepts and Easter eggs in play. This was a long one, so thank you for sticking with me!


I’m looking forward to reading this post in more detail! I like some of Grant Morrison’s stories (I love All-Star Superman), but so many of them just have me feeling confused and like I’m missing something, so I love that you’ve taken so much time to put this together. :slight_smile:


Thanks! Hopefully, it’s illuminating.


Thanks for that. Could you consider doing something similar with Scott Snyder run on Justice League?


No prob! I could try with Snyder’s Justice League, but, admittedly, I haven’t read all of it. I was on a financially forced break from comics at the time. But, if I find the time to get through it and break it down then I’ll tag you!


Nope, I never heard you mention it.

Sounds like most comic book writers.

We do not all have to enjoy the same writers, but thankfully this is not the usual “some people are stupid thus they do not like Morrison.” He is the RPM of comics in many ways.


Yes, it is a confusing mess that jumps around too much. I gave it two tries already. I am not giving it a third.

Sounds like you are saying lots of hidden meanings and this is a very “Morrison work” that should appeal to his fans and not the people who dislike his work.

It might make me respect it more (should not be hard), but if I was going to enjoy reading it that would have happened years ago.

That image reminds me of why I did not like it. I find the art to be boring and not fun.

I disagree highly.

Love these types of stories. If anything held my interest it was this.

I hate these.

Why do we bother trusting this guy again. This is par for the course.

Wait, whose accident? Did Metron accidently send them 15 years in the future, or did the heroes accidently come back on the wrong date?

Now I highly remember why I did not like it. How does winning and then destroying the stone mean Darkseid rules the universe? It does not help that Darkseid is most famous for getting beaten up by Clark, and he is so boring. I know this was written before the Darkseid craze (but after Stas made him famous), but he is so repetitive.

And this reminds me of why I do not like Morrison’s work. Instead of being fun it is just confusing. In contrast I am better off just reading non-fiction when I want that like the recent book I read on the Pacific War and getting into the debate of whether Ernest King was right to relieve Jack Fletcher from command.

We are fighting a god from another galaxy while I am dressed as a bat. Of course this is out there.

Ditch the words “may have”.

You know what they say- “If you can’t trust Metron who can you trust?”
Boring speech, and I have already forgotten it. Something about macguffin being powerful.

So the explanations are separated by four issues. If this is so important why not put them closer together?

You are saying Stone was already made evil and and it had to be made unevil and destroying that made it impossible. It might be easier to just find another source of unlimited power, since they grow on trees.

No. Metron is a villain who occasionally helps us for his own purposes.

Wait, doesn’t that explanation mean the JLA should have been turned evil too? Why did Lex not simply use it on us instead of fellow villains or use it on both? Why not use it on Darkseid? For the smartest man on Earth he sucks at using stones to their full potential.

None of that is confusing. They go through time and space like travelling on a sea across continents.

I much prefer answers to not be there, so we have to figure them out without any confirmation. It is why my favorite play is Henry Iv Part 1 We do not know if Hal and Falstaff hate each other like each other, Falstaff loves Hal and Hal hates Falstaff or Hal Falstaff and Falstaff hates Hal. There is no certain answer. All we can do is get evidence and accept that life does not give you all the answers. This is probably my biggest problem with Morrison, it is just Shakespeare lite without the constant fun of most comics.

I will say it. Even with ambiguity the reader should know the basics for what is going on. Back to Henry IV Part 1 even without the understanding of Hal’s relationship with Falstaff I can clearly tell why The Battle of Shrewsbury is happening and what the basic plot.

And I want a comic that gets into deeper issues than how a stone works, like when Princes of Darkness got into the duty a hero has to be a higher standard, My Heroes got into being a good offspring, Black Vengeance on self sacrifice, Justice League of America on self-forgiveness, and Dark Knight Returns on deontological ethics. These things actually affect day to day life. When I want to do an analysis with comics that is what I use. So yes. I do not WANT to spend any time figuring out how a rock works when the answer is that it was already evil.

The way to hell is paved with good intentions.

So all this work for a message I have known since I was 2?

Quit being so focused on what other people say. Just enjoy your comics.

And I presume you missed out on The Adventures of Prince Achmed. Oh well, we all miss out on great art. Quit focusing on what everyone else thinks. Art is objective.

I cannot read that small text. Use individual panels.

So story is good at praising itself. This is a classic part of love-it-or-hate-it. Waste of time for some and fun detail for others that already correspond to how reader is feeling.

Same, this comment took a while. Well that a fun whose up for Chinese?



I’ll give you that many comic writers work with time travel and other dimensions (especially these days). However, the “unlike many comic writers” was meant for the spoon feeding explanations. Comic writers, in particular, are overly concerned with explaining everything. It’s probably part of the preoccupation with trying to make things easy for new readers (which they kind of fail at anyway). The most extreme example I can think of is Roy Thomas. Don’t get me wrong, I like Roy a lot, but half of his stories are spent explaining continuity and who everyone is instead of actually telling his stories. Many writers don’t go to those extremes, but make sure to take time to feed you what they wanted you to take away. Morrison doesn’t.

Really? I remember you strongly disagreeing with my assessment of The Dark Knight Returns (and your pic comes from the animated version of that story). I would classify DKR as an alternate dystopian future. It’s not the full-on apocalypse that is presented in Rock of Ages, but a President-for-life Reagan in control of a Superman who lost his way probably qualifies.

The heroes of Wonderworld allowed them to use their version of the cosmic treadmill to send them back. Unfortunately, inter-dimensional travel is not an exact science.
Metrons Signal
They used Mother Boxes that were linked to Metron to try to find their way back. It did take them to Metron. Just 15 years into their future.

You could, but I doubt that would have time travel, alternate dimensions, and colorful characters in costumes. Things that I think of as fun.

No. As I mentioned, Metron exists outside of linear time as a god.
Metron What is Future

This means that if you change Metron by changing the nature of reality then he is changed past, present, and future. Therefore, he would be evil in the “present” even though Darkseid doesn’t win until the future. This is not the same for the JLA who do exist in linear time.

Far be it from me to defend Lex Luthor, but he couldn’t use it on Darkseid. Darkseid was trapped in the Source Wall at the time a la the Genesis crossover event. As for why he didn’t use it on anyone else, Lex didn’t know what it was at first or what it could do. At first, all he knew was this:

The “alien” in the basement he’s referring to is Jemm. So, initially Lex just used it to control Jemm to manipulate his psychic abilities. Lex found out what the Stone could truly do later on and used it to amplify Dr. Light’s abilities. Also, in Lex’s defense, he did think he was winning without using the Stone to its full extent.

These points seem to be conflicting with one another. First, you’re saying that you don’t want all the answers and then you’re saying that readers should have all the answers. Which is it?

The answer was that Lex made it evil by using it for evil intent. It’s not that it was already evil. If that were true then Darkseid would have already conquered reality.

What’s the point of doing anything then?

Fair point. The message is simple, almost childlike. The best messages usually are. A lot of Morrison’s work is about how imagination and thought actualizes itself in the real world. It is easy to forget that when you are going through day to day life. It’s easy to get lost in harsh realities that make you forget that the way you think about things informs your reality. The message is simple, yes, but the way it actually works is vast and beautiful. That is what Morrison’s work communicates to me.

I like that you keep telling me not to focus on what others think and then you admit to taking a while to comment on what I think…

Look, persuasion is one of the main reasons for communication. The reason we have message boards is to communicate. The point of my post was to try to convince people who write Rock of Ages off that it really does have merit. In the beginning, I said I doubted I would succeed, but I genuinely did feel like communicating it anyway. In doing so, it reminds me of why I like it and maybe I end up getting through to a couple people. Whether I do or not, I won’t lose sleep over it or enjoy the story any less. But saying “just enjoy your comics”… I mean I do, but what’s the point of communicating about them unless we are going to have a discussion about them?

Again, cute.


Give a monkey a keyboard and it is bound to type a sentence eventually. Both DKR and Kingdom Come are dystopian futures that also paradoxically take place in modern day (at the time). This makes them feel more like alternate history. The real odd case is “Same as it Never Was.” I presume this is because they used Donnie, the lightest of the turtles. His alternate world was so dark, while the other three had such lighthearted adventures that it was really shocking. Considering “Exodus” was probably a likely finale the writers were throwing everything while they could.

You’d be surprised.

All of these are in history studies. In fact since nothing is certain when contemplating the world not taken it is effectively Morrison on steroids.

No they do not.

To do good.

Because you wrote in a place for discussion, so I discussed it. That is what we are here for, sharing our opinions on DC. We do not have to agree, but talking, debating, and socializing is fun. Remember, we are social creatures.


Thanks for the write-up. Morrison’s JLA, and this story in particular, is something I intend to read at some point. I didn’t know it was considered inaccessible. Maybe your guide here will help.

Yeah I think I was one of the people recently saying this. Unlike you though, the re-reads don’t bring me the enjoyment they bring you. It feels like having a conversation with someone and repeatedly asking “come again?”, which is usually frustrating for both parties. My issue with (some, not all of) Morrison’s work isn’t so much misunderstanding an event or plot point. I can literally go pages without understanding what the hell I’m reading, which I find rather unpleasant.

Judging by your comments, maybe I enjoy being “spoonfed”, but I don’t view it that way. I just simply think that not everything is for everyone. I look at it this way, it’s not just the folks that have a hard time understanding or connecting with the writing that are missing out, the writer is also missing out on a potentially wider audience by not making their style a bit more accessible. Morrison is uber-successful, so they don’t really have to worry about that though :slightly_smiling_face:.


The ones I like bring me enjoyment. I have no idea how many times I have read “My Heroes” after all. For the ones I don’t like only if the penciler did a very good job.


Well yeah that goes without saying. I meant re-reading due to confusion.


Morrison’s JLA is my all time favorite run on a comic series. Easily the most fun I’ve had reading a monthly series. I’d never heard of anyone calling it ‘inaccessible’.


Yes. They do.

But, you just told me that good intentions pave the road to hell, and I can be pretty certain that bad intentions will do the same. So… how is this possible? No intentions?

Yes. Thank you for saying what I said at the end of my last post in a different way!

I wouldn’t say that Morrison’s JLA run is considered inaccessible. The first storyline, at least, is universally regarded. However, Rock of Ages is a story that comes up time and time again when people claim Morrison is inaccessible.

I will admit that your comment was fresh in my mind when I wrote this. But, you are far from the first person that I’ve heard say this and will likely not be the last, so you are in good company and (just so you know) this wasn’t a call out.

I think I’m trying to debate against the notion that something being difficult to understand makes it bad. I understand that not everyone enjoys unraveling a complex story the way that I do, but I also don’t believe that a complex storyline is a mark against a story. I also believe that by making the stories less complex or more accessible, they wouldn’t be the same. Some of the magic would be lost. A wider audience wouldn’t be worth that to me. The best I can do is write these posts to act like a sign that says: “The magic is here.”

But, I’m not going to go after you if you really just don’t like it.


Thank you. I tend to not go after anyone :joy:.

As Batman said in Josstice League, “I don’t not like [it]”. I respect Morrison, for their widespread appeal among comic readers, and their seminal Superman output. Funny enough that their work on my favorite character has been what I found most enjoyable by them.

Maybe not in a general sense, but it certainly can be for those readers you mentioned that didn’t enjoy unraveling it.

And that’s fine. As long as you find that audience, that’s the most important thing.

Hey, since I saw you take requests up there: If you ever find the desire to do so, I’d be interested in a breakdown of The Green Lantern Seasons 1 & 2.

Always a pleasure!


I’ll add them to the list and tag you if I get to them!


Much obliged!


Hey you know what?

Between this topic, and @AlexanderKnox previously suggesting similarities between Zack Snyder’s apocalyptic world in Justice League and the Rock of Ages story. I decided to to start my dive into Morrison’s JLA.

Just read issue #1, and I love it. I can tell this will be a page turner. Will check in here once I get to the Rock of Ages arc.

Thanks for the push!


Hey, glad to hear it! I ranked it as my favorite Justice League run back in the day. I haven’t changed my mind on that since (though, I’d probably consider adding Bendis’ run at this point). Hope you continue to enjoy it!


Really? Much as I like Bendis, I felt it was kind of a mixed bag, like he didn’t have enough runway to properly tell his story and tie stuff up. I liked it, but ended up with some unanswered questions.


I liked that he continued storylines from his Superman run and Naomi. Also (and maybe a hot take here), there truthfully aren’t that many GREAT Justice League runs outside of the 10 I listed in my ranking. The book faltered in the 90s after Giffen/DeMatteis exited and was sputtering right before the New 52 relaunch. So, do I think Bendis could crack that list flaws and all? …Yeah, possibly.

Edit: Though, admittedly, I need to read through all of Scott Snyder’s run to get a proper assessment on that.