Justice League of America


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Justice League of America #200 © 1982 DC Comics. (Cover art by George Pérez.)

Justice League of America

(pop culture)

Just imagine! The mightiest heroes of our time … have banded together as the Justice League of America to stamp out the forces of evil wherever and whenever they appear!” So screamed the text of a DC Comics house advertisement in 1960, promoting The Brave and the Bold #28 (March 1960). In that story, the first superhero team of the Silver Age (1956–1969) was established, and Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and even Superman and Batman came together as a group to fight crime. Their legacy would last well over forty years to the modern day. And the current Justice League of America, now known as JLA, still contains the same members, even if some faces behind the masks have changed.

The Justice League was the brainchild of DC editor Julius Schwartz, who saw the smash revivals of Flash and Green Lantern as a time to update and reintroduce one of DC’s most venerable older superhero groups, the Justice Society of America. Schwartz wanted the new group to have a different name, as he related in The Amazing World of DC Comics #14 (1977) when he said, “To me, ‘Society’ meant something you found on Park Avenue. I felt that ‘League’ was a stronger word, one that the readers could identify with because of baseball leagues.” Schwartz assigned famed Golden Age (1938–1954) sci-fi writer Gardner Fox to script the new series, and artists Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs to illustrate the book. After two further issues of The Brave and the Bold, the JLA was awarded its own title with Justice League of America #1 (November 1960).

The early Justice League of America stories showcased the creative team’s ability to introduce exciting new villains, such as Starro the starfish alien conqueror, power-stealing android Amazo, mesmerizing three-eyed alien Despero, tubby Professor Fortune, magician Felix Faust, Dr. Light, the Royal Flush Gang, Queen Bee, and many others. At the group’s mountain hideaway “Secret Sanctuary”—outside Happy Harbor on the East Coast—hot DC stars were welcomed in as new members. Green Arrow joined in issue #4 (May 1961), while the Atom came along in #14 (September 1962). The team even had a hip-speaking teen sidekick named Snapper Carr, who managed to help his super-buddies often.

The origin of the JLA wasn’t revealed until issue #9 (February 1962), wherein the team members fought alien champions from the planet Appellax. But the most memorable stories from the Justice League’s early days came with issues #21-#22 (August-September 1963), which saw the heroes reuniting with their forebears, the Justice Society of America. As had been seen in The Flash #123 (September 1961), the JSA lived on Earth-Two, while the JLA lived on Earth-One. Piercing the barrier between the Earths enabled the two teams to fight super-criminals together. The team-up proved so popular that the stories—most of which included the word “Crisis” in their titles—became a yearly event in Justice League of America.

Fox and Sekowsky left the series in 1968, and writer Denny O’Neil and artist Dick Dillin came aboard as replacements. Dillin penciled 120 consecutive League issues until his death in 1980, whereupon George Pérez and other artists took over. More heroes joined or were offered honorary memberships in the JLA, including Hawkman, Black Canary, Elongated Man, Red Tornado, Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman, Zatanna, Firestorm, the Phantom Stranger, Adam Strange, the Creeper, Metamorpho, Sargon the Sorceror, and others. Some resigned or took leaves of absence, including Green Arrow and Wonder Woman. The team moved their headquarters from the mountain to an orbiting satellite, constructed using Thanagarian technology (from Hawkman’s home-world) and requiring members to use transportation tubes to gain entrance.

In 1984, the Justice League of America series was radically revamped. The team disbanded after a Martian attack, and then reformed with Aquaman as the leader. Headquartered in a bunker in an abandoned Detroit factory—and later in the original mountain base—this Justice League was full of newcomers such as animalistic Vixen, second-generation strongman Steel, chameleon-like Gypsy, breakdancer Vibe, and a few old-timers. The team didn’t click with readers for very long, and Justice League of America was canceled with issue #261 (April 1987).

During 1987’s Legends miniseries, some of the “Detroit” Leaguers were killed, and a new JLA was formed. Members of the new Justice League series (debuting May 1987) included Batman, Martian Manhunter, Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Mr. Miracle, Green Lantern/Guy Gardner, Captain Marvel, and new heroine, Dr. Light. Joining shortly thereafter were Booster Gold, the Creeper, Captain Atom, Ice-Maiden/Ice, Green Flame/Fire, Big Barda, Dr. Fate, and Russian hero Rocket Red. A mysterious benefactor named Maxwell Lord helped run the team, getting them international diplomatic status.

The new series proved popular with the fans, largely because of the humorous ways its creators played with the heroes. J. M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen never took the characters too seriously, and penciler Kevin Maguire proved adept at facial reactions that conveyed more than dialogue ever could. The popular series was renamed Justice League International with issue #7 (November 1987), and then Justice League America with #26 (May 1989). Multiple spin-offs were soon published: Justice League Europe (1989–1993), which became Justice League International (19931994); Justice League Quarterly (1990–1994); Justice League Task Force (1993–1994); and Extreme Justice (1995–1996). These comics filled the stands, with each book spotlighting a different crew of superheroes operating from Justice League embassies throughout the world. Eventually though, the various series’ popularity tapered off, and with Justice League America #113 (August 1996), all the Leaguers were out of work.

A few appearances passed by, and another series was launched with a shorter-titled JLA issue #1 (January 1997), written by one of comics’ leading names, Grant Morrison, with art by Howard Porter (though the characters in the book still referred to their group by its full title most of the time). This time the big guns were brought back to confront earth-shaking menaces and galaxy conquerors, as they had at the beginning; unlike the one-issue Silver Age tales, however, these stories usually took four to six issues to tell. “Hot” creators came and went on the series; JLA held its own in sales. This time the lineup included Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Plastic Man, although membership would grow and expand to include many of DC’s large roster of heroes, including Huntress, Steel, Zauriel, Aztek, Tomorrow Woman, Orion, and many others. More recently, a new Hourman, Faith, and Manitou Raven (a redesign of cartoon Super Friends member Apache Chief) have joined. This League operated from the Watchtower, a high-tech base on the moon, and ex-Batgirl Oracle helped them with information for their missions.

With its own series a solid seller for DC Comics, JLA was free to branch out again. A maxi-series of JLA: Year One (1998) retold the formative year of the team, retroactively inserting Black Canary in Wonder Woman’s spot, according to revised DC continuity. In 2003, a miniseries called Formerly Known as the Justice League reunited the “comedy-era” team of DeMatteis, Giffen, and Maguire to relate new adventures of the second-rate squad. The series was a surprise sales hit, and further volumes were announced. Writer Paul Dini and painter Alex Ross also delivered a treat to fans with the tabloid-sized JLA: Secret Origins (2002) and JLA: Liberty and Justice (2003). And a new comic book series debuted in January 2002; based on the popular Justice League cartoon series, this comic targeted a younger audiences, and was titled Justice League Adventures.

Following the success of Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Alan Burnett pitched a Justice League series in 1998. The following year, Warner Bros. commissioned the show for the Cartoon Network. Justice League played it straight when it debuted on November 1, 2001. The core group included Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern/John Stewart, Martian Manhunter, Flash, and Hawkgirl. In 2004, the Justice League animated series was revised and retitled Justice League Unlimited; many more DC universe superheroes joined the League in this version, which ran for three more seasons. Since then there have been direct-to-video animated films, including Justice League: The New Frontier (2008), based on writer/artist Darwyn Cooke’s critically acclaimed comics series, and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010). And a version of the Justice League has appeared on several episodes of the live action television series Smallville, including Aquaman, Black Canary, Cyborg, Green Arrow, Impulse, and the Martian Manhunter.

A new Justice League of America comics series began in 2006, initially written by crime novelist Brad Meltzer, and continued by the late Dwayne McDuffie, who was one of the leading writers of the Justice League animated series. The JLA now had two headquarters: a satellite known as the new Watchtower orbiting the Earth, and the Hall of Justice, in Washington D. C., inspired by the Hall of Justice in the Super Friends TV show.

In 2011, DC Comics announced that it was relaunching its entire line of comics, starting with the new Justice League #1, published on August 31, 2011. Written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Jim Lee, it features a roster including Aquaman, Batman, Cyborg, the Flash, Green Lantern, Superman, and Wonder Woman, among others. —AM & PS