The Justice League of America. For decades, they have been the comic book super-team, a terrific collection of heroes who gather together to help the world. They’re famous to generations of kids from cartoons ranging from Super-Friends to the acclaimed Justice League Unlimited and bringing young fans into comics. They’ve gone through a lot of changes over the years and not just in membership. They’ve been everything from the big guns of the DCU to a whacky comedy to a third-string team to back being the tops. That’s shifted a lot with DC doing various retcons but the basic idea is still strong with the biggest heroes gathering to face deadly threats.
With Warner Bros preparing to bring them to the big screen, the JLA is rising higher in prominence and many newbie comic book fans are naturally eager to check out their past adventures. Needless to say, there’s a lot of history in 50 years and some of it rather complicated thanks to how DC has altered so much. While some comic book buffs may know these, newcomers may not realize there’s a lot more to know about the JLA than you think. Here are 10 things about DC’s super-team you may not have realized before now and showcasing their wild legacy.
10. They’re Not the First Superteam
True, DC is trying to put out that idea but the fact is that the JLA had its share of predecessors in terms of teams. There was the Seven Soldiers of Victory, a team of second-rung heroes who hung together and early Marvel heroes would band up in what would later be termed the Invaders. The big one, of course, is the Justice Society of America, made up of the heroes of DC’s Golden Age which included those early versions of Superman and Batman. Heroes faded out of popularity in the 1950’s but made a comeback and so the idea of the JLA formed (“League” sounded much better for the time than “Society.”) It would turn out the JSA lived on an alternate Earth and for years, team-ups between the two teams were a popular event for fans. The epic Crisis on Infinite Earths changed things so the JSA existed in an earlier time than the JLA but still stuck around to help out. Now, in the “New 52” universe, it’s stated that super-heroes only began to appear a decade ago and the JLA were thus the first but many fans prefer to remember a time when the JLA were inheritors of a greater legacy to highlight how great they are now.
9. Their First Enemy Was a Starfish
The JLA’s origins may shift a bit with the idea of them forming together to face an alien invasion. However, in comics, the very first enemy they faced was shown on the cover of Brave and the Bold #28: Starro, a giant alien starfish. You read that right. It might sound crazy but it actually worked as the monstrous creature could fire off smaller “stars” that would stick to people’s faces and bring them under his mental control so the JLA had to stop him. Starro would appear numerous times since, even taking over New York City and London in his attacks and even made an assault on the Avengers in the big JLA/Avengers crossover. He may laughable at first but one nightmarish future showed him conquering the entire universe so this is one fish you shouldn’t take lightly.
8. They Helped Create Marvel Comics
That may sound a bold statement but it’s true. From the start, the JLA was a huge sales winner for DC as fans loved seeing so many heroes gathered together. One person who paid attention was Martin Goodman, publisher of what was then a line of monster/sci-fi comics who demanded a super-team of his own. As there were no heroes in the line, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby decided to create their own: The Fantastic Four. The success of that book would lead them to create Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk and others and soon enough heroes to forge the Avengers. Thus, the JLA basically helped create their own competition although it wouldn’t be until 2003 that the two teams finally met in an epic crossover event that fans adored.
7. Their First TV Appearances
Most know the JLA thanks to the fantastic Cartoon Network series but they had a shot at live action before… although it’s not best to remember. Legends of the Super-Heroes had the JLA fighting the Legion of Doom with cheap FX, Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin, shot on videotape and even laugh track. That was followed by another special which was a “roast” of heroes. To say it’s cheesy is to cut it a break as it’s almost painful to watch for its campy aspects and cheap-looking costumes that show how some comic book outfits really don’t work that well off the page.
Bad as it is, it might be topped by a JLA pilot CBS made in 1997. Teaming Flash, Green Lantern, Fire, Ice and Atom, David Ogden Steirs as the Martian Manhunter and a lame foe with ultra-cheap FX, it’s even worse than it sounds. No surprise it was passed over although it’s become a cult fave among comic-con goers simply for its sheer awfulness. As bad as any live-action JLA movie might become, it can’t reach the depths of pain of these two efforts.
6. They Had An Annoying Mascot
Before Scrappy-Doo, Wesley Crusher or Jar Jar Binks, there was Snapper Carr. Created as the idea of a character readers could relate to, Snapper was a clear example of what happens when an adult tries to imagine what a kid is like. From his “hip” dialogue (“Like, crazy, man, what a gas!”) to his habit of snapping his fingers constantly, Carr grated on readers as he helped the JLA on their first case and was made their official team mascot. While some of the annoying traits were toned down, you still had a teenage kid hanging out with Earth’s greatest heroes in meetings which was more than a bit off. Thus, more than a few fans were happy when he was tricked by the Joker into giving away the location of the JLA’s first base and had to give up his membership. Surprisingly, DC brought the character back years later, more mature and able to teleport with his snaps and even becoming a member of spy agency Checkmate. Still, the man has to rank as possibly the most annoying teen sidekick in comic book history and a drag on the JLA’s early days.
5. Their Origins Keep Changing
Given DC’s history for retcons, it’s no surprise the JLA has endured some changes. The original story was the core Leaguers (Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman) coming together to stop an alien invasion and forming the League afterward. When DC first revised their history after Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wonder Woman was said to have arrived years after the first wave of modern heroes. Thus, her place was taken by Black Canary in any League histories. In 1994, DC introduced the idea that Triumph, a newbie hero, had actually gotten the JLA together but fell into a portal that erased it from everyone’s memories, eventually returning himself but the whole thing didn’t take with readers.
Then in 2005, DC adjusted their timeline again to say Wonder Woman had been a founding member of the League, rendering all those stories moot. And now, in the “New 52,” the League (with Cyborg taking the place of Martian Manhunter) came together only six years ago to beat back an invasion by Darkseid. So don’t complain if the upcoming movies “change” how the team comes together as DC has been doing that for years.
4. They Were Basically a Sitcom
In 1987, DC allowed writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis to take over the book and give it a fresh spin. While they had big names like Batman and Martian Manhunter, the team was made-up of lesser-knowns like Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Guy Gardner and others. The two took the wild idea of turning the League into a comedy, firing off wild one-liners amid whacky situations. The team was made Justice League International with more members like Fire and Ice and really taking off. While the era is popular because of that good mood, some have cited it as doing some long-term damage by turning the League into a joke and acknowledging how they were a disaster waiting to happen. Indeed, when the duo left after five years, their successors had trouble making these same goofballs a believable super-team in serious situations. Still, most cite this as a high point of creativity for the book and many a fan enjoys reading to get those “BWHAHAHAHAHA” days back.
3. They’re In the Marvel Universe… Sort Of
Back in the 1970s, Marvel decided to poke some fun at their competition by having the Avengers take a trip leading to an alternate Earth. There, they encountered that world’s heroes, the Squadron Supreme, every one of whom was a not-so-subtle expy of a Justice Leaguer. You had Hyperion, the sole survivor of a dying world with amazing powers; Power Princess who hailed from an island of female warriors; Doctor Spectrum whose alien gem could create energy constructs; super-speedster the Whizzer…you get the point. They popped up numerous other times in various ways to send up the comparisons even more.
The Squadron did get attention with a series where, to repair their damaged Earth, they basically took over the world only to realize too late they’d become the very tyrants they long fought against, a story that’s still acclaimed. Some members crossed over to the regular Marvel Earth for a time before returning home and they got an edgy reboot in the 2000’s. Overall, however, most consider their existence justified by the moment in JLA/Avengers where Hawkeye dismisses the League as “a bunch of Squadron Supreme wanna-bes!” If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, many a creator has flattered the JLA.
2. The Franchises
You think there’s only been one Justice League? Think again. When the JLI thing took off, they soon got a spin-off book of a team set in Europe so you’d have the JLA and JLE working together or separate missions. In 1994, DC decided to expand that with Justice League Task Force as Martian Manhunter led missions of low-level Leaguers across the world on behalf of the United Nations. Meanwhile, was one of the many “get the bad guys first” teams that abounded in the ‘90’s with more “edgy” missions. All three books competed for attention that withered and all were cancelled for the “big guns” return of JLA in 1996.
Confused? Just wait. Eventually, there came Justice League Elite, another type of “strike force team” which lasted 12 issues. Also, Formerly Known as the Justice League and its sequel brought back the JLI era team in a more fun-filled series. Then there was Cry for Justice, a mini-series of another “strike force” team that only went seven issues and is not well regarded. When the “New 52” took over, we had the regular Justice League but also a JLI that only lasted 12 issues. Meanwhile, the government formed their own JLA team to do their own jobs while another JLA series has just been launched. Yeah, it’s pretty complex and shows that the “JL” label seems slapped on any team wanting to make a big splash.
1. Justice League… Detroit?
In 1984, DC made a controversial move to try and “liven up” the book by having Aquaman (upset that major heroes didn’t aid against an alien invasion) disband the team and reform it only with those willing to give it their full attention. That meant himself, Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man and four new heroes: invisible Gypsy, super-strong Steel, animal avatar Vixen and…Vibe. Considered to be the worst Leaguer of all time, Vibe was an arrogant jerk who was a walking stereotype of Latino culture and whose skills included vibrational powers and breakdancing. Seriously.
Instead of an orbital base or big HQ, this League worked out of a bunker in Detroit, trying to be a more “common man” approach and basically just didn’t get along very well. Even in the book, it was pointed out how much of a joke the public considered them so it was little surprise their tenure ended with Vibe and Steel killed and the team disbanded. Still considered probably the low point of the book’s history as it’s hard to be “common” with the JLA.