Just look at that sample art. Immense, isn’t it? Bryan Hitch surely drove himself nuts adding all those detail lines to a spacecraft that dwarfs a planet. Earth, as it happens. No wonder DC decided back in 2000 that this needed to be seen at treasury size, Hitch the only artist accorded the format other than Alex Ross, which shows how highly DC considered Heaven’s Ladder.

“My God, it’s stealing the Earth,” says Superman of the craft able to swallow several dozen Earths. Indeed it is, and the JLA are taken along for the ride, but almost immediately we hit a snag. The Earth is one of many planets abducted by the mysterious device, and the problem is how to convincingly present JLA members to scale against such an unimaginably huge background. It’s a problem not even an artist as talented as Hitch can solve, and in places he’s left presenting unconvincing dots from which dialogue balloons emerge, before switching to close-ups.

Mark Waid’s explanation of the device’s purpose is both clever and novel, and he also ensures that some JLA members who might be presumed lost and surplus to requirement in the scenario do have a role to play. He involves other planets that feature in DC mythology, primarily used in The Legion of Super-Heroes, and sets the JLA loose on them, explaining along the way what each civilisation considers heaven to be. However, just as with the art there’s a logical flaw with the plot, in that the foes the JLA are set up to fight are actually the people whose views are aligned with the JLA, who consider the abduction of planets to be wrong.

Heaven’s Ladder is an unusually cerebral JLA story, but even Plastic Man providing some good jokes – the fat lady one is a corker – can’t disguise that this hard science fiction story is also plodding and dull in places. Hitch does his part to prevent this with consistently good art, but the nebulous nature of the enemy doesn’t work, and neither does the idea of introducing faith as a central plot item, then having no-one challenge the concept, presumably for fear of offending.

If you’d prefer not to buy the original treasury version, DC reissued Heaven’s Ladder as a comic in 2011, where it’s paired with a Green Lantern story drawn by Hitch.