A few weeks ago, DC’s year-long bi-weekly series Brightest Day, which brought long-time Justice Leaguers Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman and Firestorm back from the dead and gave them slight redesigns and adjusted status quos, came to a close with its 24th and final issue.
Around the same time, DC’s other year-long bi-weekly series, Justice League: Generation Lost also came to an end—it also tweaked some former Justice Leaguers’ costumes, powers and origins, and gave them a new status quo (see the very last panel of the series, above).
Meanwhile, Superman’s year-long exile in outer space doing New Krypton stuff and his seems-like-ten-years-long walk around America, a story arc so dull the guy who thought of it checked out halfway through to do more interesting things, is coming to a close, and DC’s letting Superman star in Action Comics again for the first time since 2009.
And Wonder Woman is similarly coming to the end of her J. Michael Straczynski-driven unavailability, and Batman Bruce Wayne has, of course, been alive and returned to the mainstream, present-day DC Universe for quite some time now.
So what’s up with the Justice League of America right now?
The team’s current monthly comic is up to its 56th issue, although during those past 56 issues the roster never really seemed to settle down to something stable for more than an arc or two. After a rough start, writer James Robinson and DC finally have seemed to be able to stabilize the team, using a roster consisting mainly of younger and mostly female versions of the classic Big Seven line-up plus a few Robinson favorites.
It’s a decent line-up, for the most part, but it’s starting to feel wrong with all these other Justice Leaguers now hanging around the DC Universe not being on the Justice League.
One night earlier this week, while I lay in awake in the darkness of my bedroom, waiting for sleep to come, I was thinking about this. Sleep was slow coming that night, so I probably spent a good hour or more lying there in my bed, thinking about the Justice League. Yes, sometimes I the state of the Justice League line-up keeps me up at night, what of it?
What I was mostly thinking was this: If I were, I don’t know, Jim Lee, Geoff Johns and Dan DiDio, and all of me sat down to reinvent the Justice League for a hit series right now—Like, right now, Sunday, May 22—what might that Justice League look like?
As a refresher, here are the pools of Justice Leaguers we’re dealing with:
1.) Blackest Night/Brightest Day returnees Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Hawkman and the new Firestorm (Original Firestorm component Ronnie Raymond fused with Firestorm II component Jason Rusch), plus some other characters newly returned to the spotlight and roles of prominence in the DCU.
2.) Justice League: Generation Lost stars set to appear in an upcoming (but still unsolicited) Justice League International series Booster Gold, Fire, Ice, Captain Atom, Blue Beetle III and the new Rocket Red, and maybe Power Girl, who was hanging around a lot near the end (as were Batman Bruce Wayne and Wonder Woman).
3.) The current, official Justice League of America at the moment, Batman Dick Grayson, Supergirl, Donna Troy, Jade, Jesse Quick, Congorilla and Starman Mikaal Tomas, and maybe Blue Lantern Saint Walker (I quit reading it when Brett Booth took over). So then here’s the League I’d put together right now. Note this isn’t, like, my favorite or ideal League or anything (for one thing, Plastic Man and Captain Marvel aren't on it), it's just what I’d put together if I were DC looking at the pieces as they currently stand and with the idea of putting together what would hopefully be a top ten book and the publisher’s undisputed, must-read flagship team title.
SUPERMAN: Back on Earth and done walking around like a chump, there’s no good in-story or real-world reason not to have DC’s flagship character and perennial JLA character and the DCU’s natural leader back on the team. He left in spring of 2009, by the way, due to the goings-on in his own books, and has since just popped up as an occasional guest-star, as in Len Wein and Tom Derenick’s JLA vs. The Royal Flush Gang fill-in arc, and during one of Robinson and Mark Bagley’s stories, to give his personal seal of approval to the current line-up.
BATMAN DICK GRAYSON: While Bruce Wayne is back from being time-lost and considered dead at the end of 2008-2009 series Final Crisis, and while he’s only starring in a couple Batman books, writer Grant Morrison continues to have big plans for him, plans best isolated from the month-to-month business of a million other guest-appearances. In-story, he’s also busy building his own Justice Leaguer, or perhaps his own Global Guardians, with his international Batman Inc venture.
Additionally, I think that, within the stories, Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson and all of their peers would agree that Grayson is a more natural leader, a better team player and easier to be around than Bruce, and if they’re going to have two Batmen for a while, why not have Dick’s Batman be the JLA’s Batman for a while longer?
It would also have more dramatic possibilities than just putting the regular old Batman back on the team, as we’ve got to see Dick lead a few different incarnations of the Justice League so far, but they’ve all been second-stringer Leagues. It would be fun to see him working with or butting heads with the likes of J’onn J’onnz, Aquaman, Wonder Woman and other, older heroes who know him better as a sidekick.
Bruce could and should show-up whenever he’s needed by the characters or creators—Geoff Johns has used the Bruce Wayne Batman instead of the Dick Grayson a few times for “League business” already, consulting with Superman at the climax of Brightest Day or offering the League’s help to Hal Jordan in the “New Guardians” arc of Green Lantern—but I think I’d have Dick be the dude dressed like a bat who’s sitting in the silver chair with a bat-symbol on the back at the League’s official meeting table.
WONDER WOMAN: Like the other points of the Trinity, she left the League in spring of 2009, although the reasons why weren’t very clear or easy to understand (She wasn’t temporarily bumped out of present DCU continuity by JMS’ story until August of 2010. The JMS status quo is coming to an end, which would presumably put her back into play with the rest of the DCU. Donna Troy, a thoroughly unlikable character who’s hard to explain to people, is currently filling Wonder Woman’s role on the team. From the earlier parts of Robinson’s run, it seemed like he was very much writing her as a fill-in Wonder Woman, so it would be nice to have the real one back in the League.
MARTIAN MANHUNTER: What else is J’onn going to do? Given his activity with the Justice League since at least Crisis on Infinite Earths, it’s usually strange to have J’onn in the DCU and not on some Justice League or other. J’onn has been dead for about a year or two, killed early on in Final Crisis, but he hasn’t actually been on the JLA since the “Crisis of Conscience” arc in JLA #115-#119 way back in 2005. (2005!!!)
I believe he didn’t rejoin the Brad Meltzer-assembled team due to whatever nonsense he was doing following Infinite Crisis—he absorbed too much of Black Adams’ pissy attitude while fighting him in World War III, and then was involved in some government experience in a crappy miniseries, maybe?—but he’s got a new lease on life now, and, following the end of Brightest Day, is more committed to preserving Earth than ever.
So why wouldn’t he be on the team that saves the world every day, the team he founded and spent more time on than just about anyone else?
AQUAMAN: Like J’onn, Aquaman left the team in 2005 in the same story, and never rejoined—he mutated, lost his memory, died and came back to life. Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis are apparently launching a new Aquaman comic, which is probably the best thing DC can do in an attempt to make the character marketable again, but it wouldn’t hurt to put him back on the Justice League. That’s the place most comics readers met him, and the place where he belongs if the idea is to keep him among the top tier of DC superheroes. Also like J’onn, in-story, he founded the team, spent an awful lot of time on it, and doesn’t have another, alternate home book (aside from the Johns-written project, which may not last all that long).
GREEN LANTERNS HAL JORDAN AND JOHN STEWART: I don’t really like Hal Jordan as a character and, despite his co-founder status and the amount of time he spent with the league pre-Crisis, I don’t think he really fits in with the team as well as John Stewart or Kyle Rayner do (In fact, Hal’s not playing well with others and dealing with structure have become an inherent part of his characterization of late).
That said, it seems completely insane to not have the only DC superhero with a movie out this year, the DC superhero with the best-selling comic and the most visible DC hero on the Justice League—especially since he’s a rather natural fit on the team.
I think it would also help keep Hal Jordan more involved with Earth and standard superheroing in general. Lately it seems like all he does is deal with Lantern intrigue in space, and he doesn’t do things, like, go on dates with his supposed girlfriend or fight supervillains or anything anymore.
However, those are mostly real-world reasons. In-story, John Stewart is a better Green Lantern to have on the League. Especially since he hardly ever shows up in Green Lantern…and he’s also the Green Lanterns a lot of folks expect to be on the League, thanks to the cartoon series. And there’s the fact that he’s black, and the JLA needs more color. It’s 2011, green and blue skin or golden gorilla hair don’t count as diversity anymore.
So I’d put both of them on the official roster, leaving it to the particular story to dictate which of them shows up for which mission or whatever. And when something really big is going on, they can both be there.
Hal Jordan hadn’t been on any Justice League for years, due to the fact that he was dead for so long, but he joined the Trinity-led League at the start of the Meltzer/Benes run in 2006. John, meanwhile, left around the time of “Crisis of Conscience.” In 2007, Hal bowed out and gave his slot to John, but John’s membership didn’t last any longer than Dwayne McDuffie’s run on the title. After the aforementioned Wein/Derenick 2009 fill-in and a Blackest Night tie-in arc, John disappeared from the book. Hal briefly rejoined for about four issues at the beginning of the James Robinson/Mark Bagley run in spring of 2010, and then he too disappeared.
Jade has been filling in as the team’s Person Who Controls Green-Colored Energy ever since.
THE FLASH: I honestly don’t care which, Barry Allen or Wally West, but I’m baffled why neither of them is on the League at the moment. I can see DC wanting to keep Barry confined to his own title for a while after his return so that writer Geoff Johns might want to keep Barry Allen in the Flash title only for a while so that he can clearly establish the new old Flash's status quo, new personality and particular take, but, if that is the case, I can’t guess why Wally West isn’t on the League instead.
Basically, there are two dudes named the Flash with identical powers and nearly identical costumes (they tweaked Wally’s Flash costume to better distinguish it from Barry’s during Flash: Rebirth) who have both spent years and years on the Justice League, but currently neither is on the Justice League.
I think either would be fine for use on the team. Barry would be interesting because it’s been so very long since he’s been on the Justice League—decades, our time—while Wally has a personality. Barry’s the prime, “head” Flash, and thus seems deserving to be among The World’s Greatest Heroes for being the original legacy Flash, although if Barry is going to be headlining the next Flash monthly comic, then it would make sense for the book-less Wally to get a part in the JLA cast.
At any rate, both are preferable to Jesse Quick, the former Titan who left the Justice Society of America to serve on the JLA as their speedster.
Wally’s place on the team has been uncertain for a long time now. He left around the time of “Crisis of Conscience,” briefly appeared early in the Meltzer/Benes run before officially joining around #12 in 2007, disappeared for awhile, recommitted in 2008’s #20 and then disappeared again a few months later.
There’s our Big Seven, with Dick in for Bruce, John sharing Hal’s spot and the identity of the guy in red pajamas left undetermined due to ambivalence of me and I assume most readers. But seven is the most boring number! Let’s make this League huge and exciting!
HAWKMAN: I never really cared for this guy, and like his current Conan-dressed-like-Hawkman characterization even less, although it can be occasionally hilarious (I seriously love that scene of him literally striding through pools of blood in Brightest Day). Oh, and some of his Golden Age headgear was funny.
I’m sticking him here because I’m assuming he’s going to be on the next League line-up, based on where his story left of at the end of Brightest Day. Ditto the next dude on the list.
FIRESTORM: Since his story strand ended with a cliffhanger, I assume DC already knows where he’s going next, and I have to imagine it’s a post-Flashpoint Justice League (along with Hawkman, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter).
The original Firestorm had a kind of Kitty Pryde function when he first joined the Justice League, as a younger, point-of-view character, and now that he’s formed by two different people combining, the character again has a new learning curve that hanging out with the Justice League solve.
Like John Stewart, he’d also provide much-needed color to the team. The superhero is now formed by Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond combining; the former’s black and the latter’s white. What color Firestorm’s skin is changes from appearance to appearance, and is sometimes hard to tell because the coloring and art on the Firestorm sequences in Brightest Day were so poorly done. It would be nice if their Firestorm identity had black skin though.
Firestorm has been on a couple different Justice Leagues, including the Satellite Era team and the one featured in Extreme Justice. His last stint on the League was a brief one, between JLA #69-#89 or so (2003-2004).
CONGORILLA: The former big game hunter whose mind is trapped in the body of a giant golden gorilla didn’t officially join the team until around JLoA #41 in spring of 2010, after having an adventure that intersected with that of some other Justice Leaguer ins Justice League: Cry For Justice (don’t read it). Around that time he also gained superpowers, including the ability to grow to various bigger sizes, a power apparently inspired by Cry artist Mauro Cascioli’s inability to maintain the character’s scale in relation to other characters.
Unlike much of the current line-up, Congorilla doesn’t duplicate the powers of another, more popular Justice Leaguer. And since he just got there, it would be a shame to kick him out so soon.
STARMAN: Alien Mikaal Tomas appeared in a single 1976 issue of 1st Issue Special, until writer James Robinson made him a fairly major part of the cast of his critically acclaimed 1994-2001 series Starman. He joined the Justice League at the same time as Congorilla (although he did have a very brief, single-issue stint on Superman’s short-lived Justice League of Aliens). Also like Congorilla, he just got on the League, doesn’t duplicate any more popular characters who make sense being on the team more than him and seems League-worthy, so why not leave him around? Additionally, keeping Congorilla and Starman help validate the current team to a certain extent–that is, they weren’t just a time-wasting, lark of a line-up to keep a JLA comic on the stands until the rest of the line could reorganize itself enough to allow for the “real” Justice League to return.
MERA: I don’t think Aquaman’s on-again, off-again wife Mera has ever actually been a member of the Justice League, not even an honorary one, but she’s certainly appeared in the book and rubbed shoulders with the characters for a long time.
Starting with Blackest Night, Geoff Johns devoted a great deal of attention on the character, transforming her from simply the love interest of a hero into a hero in her own right. After Blackest Night, she appeared alongside Aquaman throughout Brightest Day as his partner.
Why not now have her join the Justice League alongside her husband? Her powers are pretty different than his, so it’s not like there would just be two Aquamen on the team all of a sudden, and her addition would be a fresh one, opening up possibilities for lots of different types of character interactions. The best Justice League line-ups, in my opinion, are the ones that mix the biggest, best-loved characters with new (to the League) characters.
Additionally, Mera is a woman, which would help keep the League from sliding into a default, A Bunch of White Guys and Wonder Woman mode.
DEADMAN: After being alive for a year serving the White Lantern, poor old Deadman got killed again and returned to (almost) the exact same status quo he had at the beginning of Brightest Day. That seems kind of lame. I assume he’ll have some more stuff to do in Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing, but maybe this would be a good opportunity to put him in a new, more superheroic role for a while? Like membership on the Justice League (whom he’s worked with repeatedly, but never earned official membership from).
Of course, the fact that he’s a ghost who can’t bee seen or heard by anyone unless he’s possessing the body of a living person could make serving on a team kind of complicated. Unless…
HAWK AND DOVE: Bird theme aside, I think they fit in with the superheroes of The Justice League moreso than the vigilantes of Birds of Prey. Hawk is a totally asshole, which could make for some interesting interaction with the rest of the team (depending on whether or not Hawkman is on the team; two assholes named after Hawks might be too many on a single superhero team), and Dove is another woman whose kinda sorta pacifism could bring an interesting perspective to the team. Of course, the main reason to put them there would be so that Dove could translate for Deadman, as she is apparently the only person who can see and hear him at the moment.
SWAMP THING: If you’re going to put him in the DC Universe again, why not really put him in the DC Universe? He’s probably the least likely character on this list to actually ever make it on the team, but I think he fits my personal criteria for League membership just fine, and his role in Brightest Day cemented his centrality to the DCU of the moment.
Additionally, this is for all intents and purposes a brand-new Swamp Thing, one without the memories and personality of the Alan Moore-written Swamp Thing, so there’s no reason he can’t be a more superheroic swamp monster.
I don’t know that he would necessarily have to show up for meetings or have monitor duty, but I think putting him on the Justice League would be an exciting, bold move.
Finally, I would officially make BOOSTER GOLD, FIRE, ICE, BLUE BEETLE, ROCKET RED and CAPTAIN ATOM members of the Justice League, even if they appear in their own Justice League International monthly comic instead of Justice League of America. They could function as their own team-within-a-team, or their own distinct sub- or side-League, and still have JLA membership, appearing alongside the other Leaguers and in the main Justice League book as needed. Not every member of the team needs to be in every single issue, after all.
That gives us a pretty big, and pretty exciting, Justice League, stocked with A-List heroes, the folks you expect to see when you open up a comic book called Justice League of America, a bunch of surprise character you wouldn’t expect to see and a some emerging characters who would benefit from the shared esteem of being around all those other heroes.
That’s the Justice League I’d put together tonight, if I were the person at DC in charge of putting together the new Justice League.
Wait a minute. While that is a big League, consisting of 23 superheroes (unless I miscounted), and while there are some hints of diversity there—including five female Leaguers—it’s still a pretty white team, isn’t it? There are more aliens (Martian Manunter, Starman, Superman) and former human beings (Deadman, Swamp Thing, Congorilla) than black folk, of which we’d only have part-time John Stewart and Firestorm, who is actually only half-black.
That’s why I would include some combination of STEEL, BLACK LIGHTNING, CYBORG and VIXEN. All four have been members, and all four left under mysterious (and, frankly, dubious) reasons, and could easily be brought back at the drop of a hat.
No in-story rationale was ever given for Steel’s disappearance from the team. He joined the League in 1998’s JLA #16 and was on the team through 2000’s JLA #42 and JLA: Heaven’s Ladder. When Grant Morrison left the title and Mark Waid replaced him, Steel was simply no longer there (I recall reading that Waid would have used him, as he did in Heaven’s Ladder, but had believed that Steel and a few others weren’t going to survive Morrison’s final arc, “World War III”). No in-story eason for Steel leaving and never rejoining the team was ever given to my knowledge, although he would appear as a guest-star here or there.
Black Lightning never officially joined the Justice League until the current volume of Justice League of America, around 2006 or 2007. His tenure was ridiculously short though. He was gone by 2009, apparently to star in The Outsiders. The title has since been canceled, so it’s not like Black Lightning the character has another book to be appearing in. If the idea is to keep him on The Outsdiers in-story, there’s no reason he can’t also be on the League is there? They have teleporters, after all, and in a JLA with a roster of almost 30 heroes, it’s not like they’d need Black Lightning on every mission.
Poor Cyborg was there even less time. He joined the team in JLoA #41, and was gone by #44. He did appear in some back-up strips in JLoA for awhile, during which he was offered a job at STAR labs. I’m not sure if that is why he disappeared from the team or not (If so, he’s lazy; Superman holds down a full-time job and can be on the Justice League. And jeez, can you imagine how busy Batman Bruce Wayne and Aquaman and Wonder Woman must be?). I don’t see why Cyborg can’t be on the League now, especially since he’s not appearing anywhere else, and there’s no Titans book with a line-up that needs him at the moment.
Finally Vixen had a healthy run on the team back in the ‘80s during the Detroit era League, but rejoined the team at the same time Black Lightning did. She lasted just a few issues longer than he did though, deciding to leave during the Blackest Night tie-in arc that ran in 2009’s JLoA #38-40, after the damage she sustained in Cry. Broken bones heal though.
So I think that’s the League I’d put together right now, if it were my job to do so. Maybe only a third to a half of those characters would ever actually appear in each story arc, unless there were arcs so big a whole army of Justice Leaguers were needed, though, with some of them being only part-timers (Hal and John Stewart) or getting their own League book (the JLI stars).
I’m quite curious to see DC’s post Flashpoint plans, as it does seem like JLoA is going to be canceled and relaunched, almost definitely with a new roster hewing closely to the Big Seven formula. I wonder what line-up they’ll ultimately choose will be, whether J’onn will appear in the main book or in JLI and who will be writing and drawing it.
They screwed up the last book pretty badly by launching it with a poor creative team, including a writer who was only around long enough to write two story arcs (“The Tornado’s Path” and “The Lightning Saga”) and two one-issue stories (JLoA #11 and #12) and an artist who was an unfortunate combination of ill-suited to the material, not very good and unable to keep a deadline.