The long and sto­ried his­tory of the Jus­tice League of Amer­ica.

As the Jus­tice League gets its lat­est Re­birth re­vamp this year, David Bar­nett traces the his­tory of the ul­ti­mate su­per-team

Comic Heroes - - Contents -

Su­per-teams typ­i­cally come to­gether to face off against a vil­lain that none of the he­roes could van­quish

in­di­vid­u­ally. For the Avengers, it was noth­ing less than an As­gar­dian god, Loki. The X-Men’s first mis­sion was to pre­vent evil mu­tant Mag­neto from wreak­ing havoc af­ter tak­ing con­trol of a mis­sile base. The new-found cos­mic-ray-im­bued pow­ers of the Fan­tas­tic Four were given an air­ing to halt the Mole Man at­tack­ing the sur­face world with the aid of gi­gan­tic beasts burst­ing out of the side­walk. The Jus­tice League? They had a gi­ant, one-eyed starfish. But hey, this was the dawn of the ’60s, and the B-movies of the pre­vi­ous decade meant that no-one bat­ted an eye­lid at the likes of Starro the Con­queror, come to Earth to have his wicked in­ter­ga­lac­tic way, so an evil ex­trater­res­trial echin­o­derm was an en­tirely suit­able foe for this gath­er­ing of comics’ finest.

In these modern times when su­per­heroes reg­u­larly band to­gether just to nip down to the su­per­mar­ket for a weekly shop, the idea of the su­per-team is noth­ing new. But back in 1960, it was a thrilling thing for read­ers. The Jus­tice League was the idea of Julius Schwartz, edi­tor at Na­tional Pe­ri­od­i­cal Pub­li­ca­tions (as DC was then of­fi­cially known), who had been grad­u­ally re-in­tro­duc­ing Golden Age DC char­ac­ters since the mid­dle of the 1950s, repack­ag­ing and up­dat­ing them from their roots in the ’30s and ’40s. Su­per­heroes had fallen out of fash­ion in the early ’50s but DC’s revived char­ac­ters were now all do­ing well in their in­di­vid­ual ti­tles: Su­per­man, Bat­man, Won­der Woman, Aqua­man, Flash, Mar­tian Man­hunter and Green Lan­tern. But even is­sue-to- is­sue con­ti­nu­ity was a hap­haz­ard thing in those days, when read­ers could not be sure to find suc­ces­sive is­sues on the news­stand. As for shared uni­verses? Won­der Woman or Su­per­man might reg­u­larly save the world with no sign or men­tion of the planet’s other su­per-pow­ered cham­pi­ons.

Su­per league

Schwartz, in an in­ter­view with writer Roy Thomas for

Al­ter Ego mag­a­zine, re­called the process that led to the birth of the Jus­tice League: “Af­ter The Flash proved suc­cess­ful, they said, ‘What do you want to do next?’. I

said, ‘I want to do Green Lan­tern,’ be­cause that was re­ally a favourite of mine. When Green Lan­tern proved suc­cess­ful, they said, ‘What do you want to do next?’ I said, ‘I’d like to do The Jus­tice So­ci­ety of Amer­ica, but I don’t like the word So­ci­ety, be­cause it’s like a so­cial group, and I want to use the word League, be­cause it’s a more fa­mil­iar word to young read­ers, like the Na­tional League and Amer­i­can League.’ And that’s how that hap­pened.”

Schwartz got to­gether with star writer Gard­ner Fox, un­der whose hand the old Jus­tice So­ci­ety had en­joyed some suc­cess back in the 1940s, and the up­dated base­ball-leaguein­spired ver­sion of the clas­sic su­per­hero team got its first out­ing in The Brave and The

Bold #28, in spring 1960, Starro and all.

The team was an in­stant hit, and by Novem­ber the Jus­tice League of Amer­ica had their own ti­tle, re­volv­ing around the core seven he­roes but adding new mem­bers to the ros­ter, in­clud­ing Atom, Hawk­man and Green Ar­row.

Al­though Su­per­man and Bat­man were the most recog­nis­able prop­er­ties in the line-up, they didn’t even ap­pear on that first cover, and of­ten not at all in the sto­ries, al­low­ing the other char­ac­ters room to breathe and de­velop. De­spite be­ing launched in the white heat of the space race years, the Jus­tice League were also a long way from get­ting their satel­lite head­quar­ters in or­bit around Earth. In the early days they op­er­ated out of a cave (Bat­man’s in­flu­ence?) and were fol­lowed around by a teenager named Snap­per Carr, who be­came the League’s “mas­cot” and, pre­sum­ably, some­one for the young read­ers to iden­tify with in this world of cos­tumed cham­pi­ons.

In fact, it was Carr who put the mock­ers on the cosy cave set-up, in­ad­ver­tently let­ting its lo­ca­tion slip to the Joker. Af­ter ten years of ad­ven­tures, the Jus­tice League had to bid farewell to their sub­ter­ranean han­gout and fi­nally, in 1970, they got the or­bital club­house they de­served.

Leg­endary re­boot

The book’s suc­cess had been out of this world, too, even af­ter Gard­ner Fox’s depar­ture. He was re­placed on writ­ing du­ties by Denny O’Neill, who wasted no time in shak­ing up what would be­come an ev­er­chang­ing ros­ter. Out went Won­der Woman and Mar­tian Man­hunter. In came Black Ca­nary, Elon­gated Man, Red Tor­nado and other main­stays of the ’70s League, and there fol­lowed a stel­lar se­ries of writ­ers in­clud­ing Len Wein, Steve En­gle­hart, Gerry Con­way, Cary Bates and El­liot S! Mag­gin.

The Jus­tice League of Amer­ica ran for 261 is­sues, right up to 1986, with the fi­nal sto­ry­line see­ing the deaths of JLA mem­bers Steel and Vibe and wide­spread res­ig­na­tions as part of the Leg­ends multi-ti­tle cross­over event, which paved the way for one of the most sig­nif­i­cant re­boots of the team in its his­tory.

The Leg­ends cross­over came on the back of the epic

‘Leg­ends’ paved the way for one of the big­gest re­boots of the team in its his­tory

Cri­sis On In­fi­nite Earths, DC’s huge bid in the ’80s to try to make sense of an im­pos­si­bly tan­gled con­ti­nu­ity night­mare that was like a three-way road crash in­volv­ing lor­ries car­ry­ing string, spaghetti and rub­ber bands. Cri­sis had sim­pli­fied the DC mul­ti­verse’s umpteen par­al­lel worlds and brought a lot of he­roes who’d in­hab­ited dif­fer­ent Earths all in one place, mean­ing there could be a fresh new line-up for the new ti­tle, be­gin­ning again with is­sue one. The new

Jus­tice League dropped the “Amer­ica”, and as well as bring­ing in some new – of­ten sur­pris­ing – faces, also in­jected a healthy dose of com­edy, courtesy of writ­ers Keith Gif­fen and J.M. DeMat­teis and artist Kevin Maguire.

The seem­ingly ev­er­in­creas­ing ros­ter fea­tured a long-suf­fer­ing Bat­man try­ing to whip into shape a di­verse team of in­di­vid­u­al­ists in­clud­ing Mar­tian Man­hunter, Blue Bee­tle, Booster Gold, Doc­tor Light, Black Ca­nary, Cap­tain Atom, Fire and Ice, Green Lan­tern Guy Gard­ner, and even Rocket Red. (Who would have thought the Rus­sians could have any in­flu­ence on Amer­ica’s high­est su­per-pow­ered of­fice?)

The tone was quirky and tongue-in-cheek, the di­a­logue snappy as the char­ac­ters bounced off each other. The ap­proach proved pop­u­lar and the book – even­tu­ally mor­ph­ing into Jus­tice League

In­ter­na­tional – ran for five years un­der the Gif­f­enDeMat­teis writ­ing team, and an­other five years af­ter that.

By 1996, how­ever, sales were on the wane, and it was time to go back to ba­sics. Grant Mor­ri­son was brought in to re­vamp the League, which he did by re­turn­ing it to its orig­i­nal line-up. The is­sue num­ber­ing was once again re­set to zero and the ti­tle re­named sim­ply JLA. Mor­ri­son took a big-screen ap­proach to the sto­ry­telling, tak­ing the idea back to its cen­tral con­cept: the team ex­isted to tackle huge threats that no­body else could.

While he was on JLA Watch­tower duty and also writ­ing Aztek for DC, Mor­ri­son was also bend­ing heads out of shape in The

In­vis­i­bles for DC’s ma­ture read­ers line, Ver­tigo, but the ap­proach he took in the for­mer two books was very dif­fer­ent. As he ex­plained to Jay Bab­cock in a 1996 in­ter­view for Arthur mag­a­zine: “What I’m do­ing with JLA and Aztek is go­ing back to the kind of stuff I liked when I was a kid and try­ing to do an up­dated ver­sion of it for kids now.”

Mor­ri­son wrote 41 is­sues and the ti­tle con­tin­ued un­til 2005, when the League again pro­vided the con­duit for an­other big DC-wide cross­over, this time In­fi­nite

Cri­sis. It would mean the can­cel­la­tion of the ti­tle with is­sue 125, but the crew would go out with a bang, quite lit­er­ally, as their or­bit­ing Watch­tower base was sen­sa­tion­ally de­stroyed.

It’s about peo­ple who make each other bet­ter than they can be on their own

So one year later, it was back to where the Jus­tice League had started, as Bat­man, Su­per­man and Won­der Woman met up for drinks and snacks in a cave – this time the one un­der Wayne Manor – and de­cided once again to get the band back to­gether. Oh, and they were putting Amer­ica back in the ti­tle, for vol­ume two of Jus­tice League of Amer­ica. And, from 2006, things went swim­mingly... un­til the New 52 in 2011.

DC likes to wield the broom and make a clean sweep of things pe­ri­od­i­cally, but the New 52 re­set the clock al­most like never be­fore. Af­ter the Flash­point cross­over, ev­ery­thing went back to year zero. The Jus­tice League ditched the “Amer­ica” once again and writer Ge­off Johns and artist Jim Lee started over from scratch, giv­ing the squad a new ori­gin. But it also ex­panded the JL family with an­other stab at Jus­tice League In­ter­na­tional, plus Jus­tice League Dark, in which oc­cult de­tec­tive John Con­stan­tine, never re­ally known as a team player, nev­er­the­less assem­bled a mot­ley crew of DC’s su­per­nat­u­ral char­ac­ters. Then, even more con­fus­ingly, there was an­other Jus­tice League of

Amer­ica ti­tle launched, headed up by Sui­cide Squad’s lead­ing lady Amanda Waller.

Now for re­birth

If the New 52 was meant to sim­plify things, it cer­tainly threat­ened to recre­ate the string-spaghetti-rub­ber band truck smash for the Jus­tice League ti­tles, and it was no great sur­prise to any­one that the whole New 52 uni­verse was cer­e­mo­ni­ously brought to an end, and by Fe­bru­ary 2016

DC was in the throes of yet an­other re-or­gan­i­sa­tion with the ti­tles all be­ing re­launched un­der the Re­birth ban­ner.

This pretty much brings us up to date. 2017 is a big year for the Jus­tice League, not least be­cause the movie ver­sion is set for re­lease at the end of the year – but also be­cause the Jus­tice League gets a Re­birth re­vamp un­der the guid­ing hand of Steve Or­lando. The stage was set for a big come­back with the Jus­tice League Vs Sui­cide Squad minis­eries. Like Mor­ri­son be­fore him, Or­lando wants to take the team back to ba­sics. He told the Comi­cos­ity web­site ear­lier this year: “Ul­ti­mately, putting a JLA to­gether is about find­ing peo­ple who can make each other bet­ter – bet­ter than they can be on their own. And that goes for ev­ery­one. No char­ac­ter in the JLA is per­fect, and that’s a big part of it com­ing out of Jus­tice League Vs Sui­cide Squad, with even Bat­man un­der­stand­ing that there are things he can’t do on his own. His way is a great way, but it’s not the only way... Other peo­ple need to come in and it needs to mean more than what Bat­man can do alone. That’s why the JLA is there.”

Bat­man is the lynch­pin in the new Jus­tice League of Amer­ica, which de­buted in Fe­bru­ary, fol­low­ing a se­ries of Or­lando-penned one-shots fo­cussing on some of the fresh ros­ter, a mix of those who might not nec­es­sar­ily be seen as A-list play­ers plus some fa­mil­iar faces... or fa­mil­iar names, at least.

These in­clude the Atom, Vixen, the Ray and Killer Frost. But the Atom, for ex­am­ple, is a not the Ray Palmer of old, it’s Palmer’s pro­tégé Ryan Choi, cre­ated by Gail Si­mone and Grant Mor­ri­son. The one-shots filled in a lot of post-Re­birth backstory, with Jody Houser join­ing Or­lando to tell the story of busi­ness­woman and fash­ion icon Mari McCabe’s jour­ney to be­com­ing Vixen, for one. Or­lando and Houser teamed up again to tell the story of vil­lain-turned-hero Killer Frost.

Bat­man has al­ready got some vet­eran help in the form of Black Ca­nary and Lobo, cre­at­ing an in­ter­est­ing mix for the new Jus­tice League and a line-up that is al­to­gether more hu­man and down-to-earth than per­haps the “clas­sic” in­car­na­tions fea­tur­ing DC’s big­gest hit­ters. And, in a very neat tie-up right back to the orig­i­nal League, the new JLA ti­tle opens with Bat­man and Killer Frost ex­plor­ing the long‑aban­doned JLA cave from all the way back in the ’60s. But, as Bat­man ob­serves, the cave is just a relic of a by­gone era... The Jus­tice League of Amer­ica is look­ing for­ward now, not back­wards.

Like ev­ery good su­per-team, the Jus­tice League is about be­ing stronger to­gether, he­roes us­ing their unique skills in con­cert with each other to de­feat the per­ils and threats that one hero, even Su­per­man, can’t tackle alone.

Or, as DC’s of­fi­cial blurb for the re­launch says: “This is a Jus­tice League that looks like Amer­ica, that proves Hero­ism can look like ANY­THING and ANY­ONE. From Fe­bru­ary 1960 to Fe­bru­ary 2017, the mis­sion hasn’t changed. It’s just evolved.”

Above left: Cover by Pa­que­tte and Fair­bairn for the sec­ond is­sue of the on­go­ing 2016 se­ries. Above: A lull in the ac­tion in Jus­tice League Re­birth #1 by Bryan Hitch. Above right: Gif­fen and DeMat­teis brought a whole new sen­si­bil­ity to the Jus­tice League in the 1986 re­vamp pen­cilled by Kevin Maguire.

Above: The New 52 re­boot was drawn by fan­favourite artists Jim Lee and Scott Wil­liams. Right: The Re­birth ti­tle by Bryan Hitch in­cludes Su­per­man, Bat­man, Won­der Woman, The Flash, Aqua­man, Cy­borg and two new Green Lanterns.

Above: The 2011 “New 52” line-up, like the orig­i­nal Jus­tice League as Julius Schwartz con­ceived it, in­cluded DC’s big­gest names.

Left: The new­est ros­ter in the JLA on­go­ing se­ries in­cludes Bat­man, Black­Ca­nary, the Atom, Vixen, the Ray, Killer Frost and Lobo.

Above right: Re­birth is­sue 1 vari­ant cover by Tony S. Daniel and Tomev Morey.

Be­low: The Jus­tice League kicked off with this iconic cover to The Brave And The Bold #28 in 1960, and the first se­ries ran un­til April 1987. As well as jug­gling an ever-chang­ing ros­ter of mem­bers, it in­tro­duced some no­table vil­lains, guest stars and con­ti­nu­ity chal­lenges.

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