Back Issues: Justice League doesn’t always feature A-list

From the Big Seven to promising newcomers

Ezra Miller in a scene from "Justice League," in theaters on Friday. (AP Photo)

The Justice League has been through many origins and iterations, from the Super Friends to the streets of Detroit to an out-and-out comedy.

Tonight, DC Comics’ flagship team arrives in theaters, featuring a roster of Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg (and probably, at some point, Superman).

The team debuted in 1960’s “The Brave and the Bold” #28 with a lineup consisting of Wonder Woman, Aquaman and the Flash alongside Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter. Superman and Batman were also summoned to deal with the threat of Starro the Conqueror — a giant starfish who got a lot more menacing in later years — but had their own emergencies to tackle.

A few months later, the team received its own ongoing title, primarily featuring the original five and eventually adding Green Arrow and the Atom to the ranks.

When DC rebooted Wonder Woman’s origin in the ’80s to bring her to Man’s World in contemporary times, she was replaced as a founding League member by Black Canary. The ’90s continuity-adjusting event “Zero Hour” revealed one more founder, Triumph, a magnetically powered hero inadvertently erased from the timestream during the League’s first adventure.

Those early years were revisited in 1998’s “JLA: Year One,” a terrific 12-issue series by writers Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn and artist Barry Kitson.

In the early ’80s, Aquaman disbanded the league and reestablished it with members who could give it their full attention. He was joined by Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man, Gypsy, Steel, Vibe, Vixen and Zatanna — fun characters but not exactly the A-list.

That team eventually fell to the machinations of Professor Ivo and was replaced by a new squad manipulated by Maxwell Lord into becoming the Justice League International (which eventually split into two teams — one for America and one for Europe). Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, this era of the League delivered laughs alongside superheroics.

With a roster of Wonder Woman, Blue Devil, Fire, Ice, Metamorpho, Nuklon, Obsidian and Power Girl, this League was eventually disbanded, paving the way for offbeat writer Grant Morrison to bring back the Big Seven, albeit with new versions of the Flash and Green Lantern who’d taken over their legacies in the ’90s.

Under the title “JLA,” Morrison pitted the team against larger-than-life challenges, from alien superheroes with near-unlimited power and a dark secret to rebel angels and an apocalyptic threat known as Mageddon. Blending DC’s powerhouses with League newcomers like the Huntress, Oracle and Zauriel, Morrison crafted one of the finest runs in superhero comics history.

A number of top-flight writers followed Morrison, more or less keeping the Big Seven-plus format for years. Eventually, the League fell apart over secrets revealed in the “Identity Crisis” storyline, but once again, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman came together to rebuild it.

Eventually, the top-tier roster gave way to newer, younger heroes, with the League consisting of Nightwing (later taking over as Batman), Jade, Donna Troy, Supergirl, Jesse Quick, an alien Starman and even Congorilla by the time DC hit the reset button with the New 52.

In the first title of the semi-rebooted line, “Justice League,” Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern and Aquaman united against an extraterrestrial threat, this time alongside Cyborg instead of Martian Manhunter. The intergalactic despot Darkseid was the villain, and one his lieutenants, Steppenwolf, will be the League’s main adversary in the film.


Recommended Reading

* “JLA: Year One” — A look behind the scenes and between the stories of the Justice League of America’s earliest adventures.

* “JLA” by Grant Morrison — Starting with a classic-yet-contemporary version of the League and expanding to include new, sometimes surprising members, even the fill-in issues by Mark Waid contribute to one of the greatest runs in superhero comic history.

* “Justice League: Origin” — The most recent retelling of the League’s origin and likely a significant influence on the film as rookie heroes unite to stop an invasion from Apokolips.