With DC’s Justice League turning two score and five this year, we look back at the evolution of the super-team.
This year marks the 45th anniversary of the DC Universe’s most prolific superhero team – the Justice League of America (JLA), now known as just the Justice League.
Though Marvel’s Avengers seem to be hogging the limelight these days (and will continue to do so with the release of Avengers: Age Of Ultron this year), the JLA and its accompanying franchises – which include (deep breath) Justice League Europe, Justice League International, Justice League Dark, Justice League Elite, Justice League Task Force, Justice League United, Justice League Extreme Justice, and even the Super Friends – will always have a special place in the hearts of DC purists.
The Justice League comprises the crème de la crème of the DC Universe. On paper, the mere presence of DC’s “Big Three” (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) is already an instant crowd-puller, while other members like the Flash, Green Lantern and Aquaman can hold their own as well.
Next year’s Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice will be the first step towards a Justice League movie in 2017, so it shouldn’t be too long before DC’s premier super-team gives the Avengers a run for their money.
For now, let’s take a look back at how the league came about, and its subsequent evolution over the past 55 years.
Dawn of justice (1960-1986)
Before the Justice League was created, there was the Justice Society of America (JSA), a team of Golden Age superheroes that included Green Lantern (Alan Scott) and The Flash (Jay Garrick). In 1960, DC Comics was flying high thanks to the successful rebranding of those characters, among others, and writer Gardner Fox was called upon to create a new team based on the JSA.
And thus, in the pages of The Brave And The Bold #28 in 1960, the DC Universe had a new super-team that comprised Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman, Flash and Green Lantern (for the record, both Superman and Batman were mere super-pedestrians in this issue).
The honour of gathering these big names in one title goes to, er, a giant starfish named Starro The Conqueror. While this may seem lame compared to the world-conquering threats of today like Darkseid, Starro was not an ordinary starfish, but an intergalactic conqueror with a bizarre domination plan that requires deputising and augmenting three Earth-born starfish to do its bidding. Well, it WAS the 1960s after all.
Anyway, first among our heroes to get wind of Starro is, of course, Aquaman, who “hears” of the conqueror’s impending arrival from a ... puffer fish. Realising that the threat is beyond his abilities, Aquaman sends out an SOS to other superheroes, with four responding.
Despite the absence of Superman and Batman, you would think a team comprising Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern and the Martian Manhunter would be more than a match for four starfish; but our heroes are given one heck of a fight before finally overcoming the three augmented deputy-starfish.
During the fight, one of the starfish succeeds in mind-controlling the entire population of Happy Harbour, except one teenager – Snapper Carr (who eventually becomes an honorary member of the JLA) – whose immunity apparently stems from his exposure to calcium oxide, or lime, when he used it on his lawn earlier. And so, Starro was eventually defeated with a few barrels of lime. No, really.
Unbelievable or just downright corny? Whatever your thoughts about the JLA’s formative event, you can rest assured that they (and their adventures) have evolved by quantum leaps.
After gracing three issues of The Brave And The Bold, the team earned its own regular series – Justice League Of America – which lasted for 27 years, spanning 261 issues and three annuals.
The team-ups and crossovers made the JLA exciting. Whether it was the periodic meet-ups with the JSA, Freedom Fighters or the All-Star Squadron, “the more the merrier” perfectly sums up the JLA’s adventures. One often overlooked contribution by the JLA is how its successful run beginning in 1960 soon “inspired” Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to come up with their own super-team – the Fantastic Four!
League of laughs (1986-1996)
While the first version of the JLA gave us many cataclysmic moments and even made “Crisis” a household name in the DC Universe, it lacked one essential ingredient – hilarity! Yeah, apparently, fighting an alien starfish bent on world domination does not qualify as funny.
Gathered post-Martian-invasion in JLA #230, the last team to represent JLA V1.0 (Aquaman, Zatanna, Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man, Vixen, Gypsy, Steel and Vibe) was makeshift at best, and in my opinion, the worst roster in JLA history!
Hence, the decision to disband the team (JLA #261) was wise, and within days a new team (comprising Batman, Guy Gardner, Black Canary, Mr Miracle, Oberon, Captain Marvel, Martian Manhunter, Blue Beetle, Dr Fate and Maxwell Lord) was formed in conjunction with the Legends miniseries.
Under the creative guidance of JM DeMatties, Keith Giffen and Kevin Maguire, “Version 2” was not only super, but international and funny to boot! This decade-long era (spanning 113 issues) injected a humorous angle into saving the world, with the Dark Knight also showing why having no super powers is not a handicap when he decks Guy Gardner with one punch!
Grant us Justice (1997-2006)
That funny streak eventually ran out of steam, and in 1997, British scribe Grant Morrison was given carte blanche to revamp the Justice League. The first stage involved geographical reinstatement – with “America” replacing “International”.
However, the biggest change was Morrison’s personification of the JLA as divine representatives, reflected in the induction of the likes of Zauriel, Big Barda, Orion and Aztek.
The core characters (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) remained in charge, and the evolving roll call included Huntress, Oracle, Steel, Plastic Man, Green Arrow (Connor Hawke) and Tomorrow Woman.
This also-decade-long era (spanning 125 issues) offered several classics, i.e. Tower Of Babel (#43-#46), a “What If” Wonder Woman-Batman romance (#90) and Crisis Of Conscience (#115-#119).
Infinite influence (2006-2011)
A year after the events of Infinite Crisis, The Big Three gathered to form a new League. They identified heroes who they felt would fit the JLA profile, such as Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Black Canary, Red Arrow, Red Tornado, Vixen, Black Lightning and Hawkgirl. Under the creative vision of Brad Meltzer and Ed Benes, this new team was like “old school meets modern hip” as they went up against truckloads of revamped JLA villains.
Amidst the usual crossovers, team-ups and spin-offs, the most glaring aspect of this team was how certain members (namely Green Arrow and Hal Jordan) tended to lean towards extreme justice – prompting the Cry For Justice limited series. Unlike Identity Crisis, which revealed how certain League members were mind-wiping villains (and Batman), Cry For Justice delved into the whole “the end justifies the means” argument, with Green Arrow brutally ending the threat of Prometheus (who happened to kill hundreds of thousands civilians in Star City) with an arrow right between the eyes.
The Super Seven (2011 onwards)
The company-wide relaunch of the entire DC universe via the New 52 in 2011 was kick-started with a new Justice League title with a (sort of) new team comprising Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Superman, Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. The New 52 flagship title was a huge success with Geoff Johns writing and Jim Lee drawing, as the team came together to fight Darkseid (a far cry from Starro, eh?), and deciding to form the Justice League to combat future threats like that. (Fun fact: The Flash suggested they call themselves the Super Seven, which, thankfully, did not happen.)
The initial wave of New 52 books also saw the introduction of two other Justice Leagues, including the supernaturally inclined (and awkwardly named) Justice League Dark, and Justice League International. The latter has since been cancelled, to be replaced by Justice League Of America, which in turn was later relaunched as Justice League United.
The Trinity War event in 2013 had the Justice League clashing with Justice League Dark and Justice League of America. This led into the Forever Evil event which saw all three Leagues clinically taken apart and imprisoned by the Crime Society, paving the way for a new hero to save the world ... Lex Luthor, who was later accepted into the Justice League as well!
Since then, Luthor has been operating as part of the league, a true testament to the constant evolution of one of the greatest super-teams of all time.
** An earlier version of this story noted: "Truth, justice, superheroes: Justice League turns 45!" We have since corrected it to "55".