Superhero 101: The Justice League

The Justice League

The Justice League looked a bit different in the comics than it does in the upcoming film.

In recent years, fans of superhero squads have had the pleasure of seeing Marvel’s best-known supergroup come together on the silver screen in The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron. The DC side of things, save for the abysmal Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, has yet to see some of its most famous heroes together in one film. That will soon change, with Justice League set to hit theaters this month.

The Justice League, as depicted in the movie, will see Batman and Wonder Woman recruit The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg to create a formidable legion of supervillain-thwarting power. It’s been a long time coming. Sure, the Justice League has appeared in nine straight-to-DVD animated movies since 2008, but DC’s heavyweight collaboration of superheroes will enter live action for the first time this year.

The film takes place a few months after the events of Batman v Superman, and we know, based on the team of heroes alone, that it won’t necessarily be exactly faithful to the origins of the squad as depicted in the comic books. That may or may not be a bad thing. But what’s clear is that the pressure on the adaptation is intense, given the high-profile nature of the cast and the heroes they depict.

Let’s take a look at the Justice League’s origins, as told by the comics.

The Justice League came about in 1960 as a reimagining or reboot of sorts of the Justice Society of America, a superhero squad formed by All-American Publications in the 1940s. The publisher merged into National Comics Publication in 1944 and would later become known as DC.

Julius Schartz, a legendary DC editor best known for his work with Batman and Superman, hired Gardner Fox to create the Justice League. Fox, the creator of the Justice Society and DC’s Multiverse, took what he had learned from his work and applied that toward writing the new team of superheroes, alongside the artistry of Mike Sekowsky. The Justice League’s first appearance came in The Brave and the Bold #28, a series that DC used as a shared space to dabble with potential arcs.

The Justice League, as conceived by Gardner, had seven founding members: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter. Quite the heavy-hitting list. All of those are virtually household names at this point, save for Martian Manhunter (apologies, MM).

The Justice League

‘The Brave and the Bold #28’ / Writing by Gardner Fox / Pencils by Mike Sekowsky / DC Comics

Superman is basically the strongest superhero in existence, Batman is the vigilante Caped Crusader with cool gadgets, Wonder Woman is kind of a mix of both Superman and Batman, The Flash moves faster than the speed of light, Green Lantern is a master of willpower, Aquaman can communicate with sea life telepathically, and Martian Manhunter has shapeshifting and telekinesis abilities. So, yeah, it’s safe to say the Justice League was stacked top to bottom from the very beginning.

While both The Flash and Green Lantern were also founding members of the Justice Society, the Justice League was created with vastly different intentions. The Justice Society came to life in order to promote each character’s individual comics, whereas the Justice League was born as a designed team, specifically brought into one story to work together.

After just three issues within The Brave and the Bold, the Justice League earned its own series. Justice League of America #1, “The World of No Return!” released in November 1960. The issue proved to be one of the best debut issues for DC, introducing readers to Despero, a supervillain who makes it his primary mission to take down the Justice League.

The Justice League

The original seven heroes coming together / DC Comics

In an effort to foil Despero’s plan of taking over Earth, The Flash must play a game similar to chess, but with Justice League heroes acting as the pieces. If The Flash moved the characters to free squares, Despero would release his friends and depart Earth, but if they landed on the other squares, the heroes would be forced to leave Despero alone and be banished to different dimensions.

Naturally Despero employed some trickery, causing The Flash to lose. Wonder Woman and Superman were banished to a world filled with dinosaurs. Green Lantern and Aquaman had to stop a superweapon from destroying a water planet, and Batman and Martian Manhunter had to stop a different planet from a missile strike. Each member escapes their own banishment and, in the process, demonstrates how the team was constructed to work together.

One of the interesting things about the Justice League is that for the first two years of their existence, readers weren’t sure how they came to be. In The Brave and the Bold the Justice League was already an organization, and the group’s formation is not addressed in early issues of their dedicated series. Perhaps even more interesting is that throughout its publication history, differing origin stories have been told.

First, in Justice League of America #9, published in 1962, a flashback suggests how the squad came to be. The Appelaxians, an alien race, arrived on Earth in meteorites to battle for the chance to reign supreme over their home planet. There were seven of them, and to decide the winner they had to see who could take control of Earth first. The seven heroes who would become the Justice League caught wind of the contest and took action. Each superhero worked individually at first, but the last alien could be defeated only if the heroes worked as a singular force.

The experience led to a powerful lesson. The heroes, as strong as they were by themselves, would always be more formidable as a team.

The Justice League

The Big Seven / DC Comics

That served as the Justice League’s origin story for more than 15 years. Yet in Justice League of America #144, a different theory emerged. According to documents uncovered by the Green Arrow — a later addition to the squad — the Justice League formed after Martian Manhunter was rescued from a group of aliens by the other six heroes.

Still, the original founding story has been the one referenced the most throughout the series. Using the Justice Society model of a large cast, heroes such as the aforementioned Green Arrow, the Atom, Black Canary, Hawkman, Firestorm and Captain Cold joined the Justice League. For a time, even Superman’s foe Lex Luthor was a member of the superhero squad.

The Justice League has gone through numerous iterations, including a recent Rebirth in 2016, which made two active Justice Leagues: one containing Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg and two Green Lanterns (yes, it’s a bit confusing) and the other featuring Batman, Black Canary, Lobo, Atom, Vixen, Ray and Killer Frost.

Today DC refers to Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Cyborg and Aquaman as the Big Seven and the core lineup.

The adaptation obviously looks to draw on the best-known members of the Justice League, and we hope this iteration of the Justice League has an origin story as fascinating as those of the comics.

While Marvel may be the king of comic book movies, it has to be said that without the Justice League, we may not have the sorts of interconnected Marvel movies we do now. After the success of the Justice League, Stan Lee was urged to create a superhero squad for Marvel. The result was the Fantastic Four and, shortly after, The Avengers. end

Justice League opens in theaters November 17.


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