While each individual member of the core members are iconic in their own right the Justice League truly sits among the most iconic franchises in the comic book industry. The Justice League comics have taken a life of their own as big tone setters for the state of the DC Universe. Even with all the giant adventures Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and Cyborg have, it does not get bigger than the Justice League. It has long been where many of the biggest events in the DC Universe unfold.
Now if you ever wondered how to get into the Justice League comics I’ve put together a new Starter Guide that will give you a good foundation to understand the premier team from DC Comics.
MORRISON AND PORTER’S JLA: NEW WORLD ORDER
Issues: JLA (1996 – 2006) #1 – #4
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Howard Porter
Inker: John Dell
Colorist: Pat Garrahy
While there are many comics before and after it that showcased DC’s Big Seven in action they were never better defined than during Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s JLA run. Morrison and Porter laid out the foundation that even today’s Justice League comics are based on. They did that by making sure the reader understood who the pillars of the DC Universe were. There were no questions about Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter being DC’s Big Seven. As soon as you see them on screen together by the end of JLA #4 you understand this is it. These are the ones everyone turns to ultimately save the day in the biggest crisis imaginable.
JLA: New World Order is also important in bringing together these characters that have been through so much at this point. Superman was still fresh off dying in his fight with Doomsday and being brought back to life, while still rocking his mullet haircut. Batman was similarly coming off the events of Knightfall arc. Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter also all had their own things going on. It was all part of a period where we had Justice League America, Justice League Europe, and Justice League Quarterly filling the market. Morrison reigned it back so that the JLA can be the foundation these seven heroes created that helped elevate the rest of the DC Universe moving forward.
Another important thing that Morrison did with JLA: New World Order was to further establish Wally West as Flash and Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern. While they’ve each had the roles for a while at this point having Wally and Kyle saving the day alongside Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the others truly meant something. It made the clear statement that Wally and Kyle deserve to have the same standing as the other icons of the DC Universe.
Porter also does an excellent job capturing the style of each character at that time. As mentioned before, these characters had all been through a lot by the time JLA started. That included changes to their overall character designs. Porter was able to mesh all those changes together to create a look that made the Big Seven all feel part of the same DC Universe.
CONWAY, DILLIN, AND PEREZ’S JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA: DARKSEID CRISIS
Issues: Justice League of America (1960 – 1987) #183 – #185
Writer: Gerry Conway
Artist: Dick Dillin and George Perez
Colorist: Frank McLaughlin
At this point we have had countless Crisis events that have happened throughout DC Comics history. But even for however many Crisis events we’ve had it does not rob the special ones from continuing to stand out. That’s exactly what “Crisis on New Genesis,” “Crisis Between 2 Earths,” and “Crisis on Apokolips” that all made up one big Darkseid-centric story, which took place in Justice League of America #183 – #185, stand up to the test of time. As the story for the 1980 team-up between the Justice League of America and Justice Society of America there was an immediate sense of scale for how big of an event this Crisis story was.
This three-part Crisis story is truly a masterclass of how to write an event. There is not a single wasted panel by Gerry Conway, Dick Dillin, and George Perez. Even with juggling the large rosters of both teams Conway found a way to capture each character voice. And at no point did it come across as either Justice League of America and Justice Society of America were the superior team. Both teams needed to work together with unique combinations of smaller squads in order to overcome the Crisis that Darseid had created for the DC Universe.
This story is also notable with the first part of the this story, Justice League of America #183, was the last issue of the series that the legendary Dick Dillin would draw before his untimely death. Dillin really defined this incredibly important era of the Justice League of America, having drawn over 100 issues of this series at that point. His sense of scale truly captured how big this entire story felt from the moment you open up Justice League of America #183.
That sense of scale was continued by the legendary George Perez, who would draw the final two parts of this Crisis story. Like Dillin, Perez is just a master at capturing the iconic designs of every character that is on page. You just look through the pages and immediately understand this is how these characters should look. Perez also does a fantastic job translating those designs into how it plays into how powerful and skillful each character is.
KRUGER AND ROSS’ JUSTICE
Issues: Justice (2005 – 2007) #1 – #12
Story Writers: Jim Krueger and Alex Ross
Script Writer: Jim Krueger
Artists: Doug Braithwaite and Alex Ross
The Legion of Doom has always been a fascinating concept that makes sense with how many superhero teams exist in the DC Universe. Recently we’ve seen the Legion of Doom regain their prominence thanks to the work of Scott Snyder, James Tynion and their team of artists during their Justice League run. Where we see the best of a full on war of the Justice League and Legion of Doom is in Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, and Doug Braithwaite’s Justice twelve issue maxi-series.
Working as an homage to the SuperFriends cartoon, Ross, Krueger and Braithwaite take the concept of the Justice League vs Legion of Doom to its ultimate level. From the beginning we see what would happen if all the iconic villains of the individual members of the Justice League team-up to systematically take out the heroes under the Legion of Doom banner. Over the course of Justice’s twelve issues we see how the Justice League all must step up to take on their united villains. That includes big step up moments from usual Justice League alternates Green Arrow and Black Canary.
Having the focus be on the heroism that exists in the DC Universe opened things up to explore the SuperFriends campiness and play straight with the concept. Within this war between the Justice League and Legion of Doom we see the greater DC Universe explored. The importance of the DC Universe being a family is shown as we see how the superheroes must come together after being thrown off their game by their villains. The use of the Teen Titans and Green Lantern Corps further elevates the story of Justice touching the entire DCU.
Above all, Justice most stands out because of Alex Ross’ phenomenal artwork. Every character that is brought into the Justice story comes across as iconic. The story all just feels larger to life as you see the real emotion on characters’ faces from both sides of this conflict come through the artwork. With such a high quality artwork the way Ross and Braithwaite makes the story flow so well is truly stunning.
WAID AND PORTER’S JLA: TOWER OF BABEL
Issues: JLA (1996 – 2006) #42 – #46
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Howard Porter and Steve Scott
Inker: Drew Geraci and Mark Propst
Colorist: Pat Garrahy and John Kalisz
The argument if Batman could take out the entire Justice League has been ongoing for a long-time. That is where the JLA storyline by Mark Waid called “Tower of Babel” provides the greatest example to back-up Batman’s side of the argument. With this story we see Ra’s Al Ghul obtain all the plans that Batman created to take down each member of the JLA. Ra’s is almost successfully uses the plans to take out the entire JLA. The problems with Ra’s use of the plans just came down to having Batman as a wildcard and his own hubris among other problems.
While the JLA are able to overcome all of Batman’s plans to take them down that Ra’s used and defeat the villain everything is left out in the open. With the team’s ties to Batman broken we see a very interesting topic being tackled as if these contingency plans should be in place in case the JLA go rogue or one of their bodies is used against the world when they pass away. Given how powerful each member of the JLA is there is a strong argument made. At the same time Waid tackles the level of trust a team must have in each other for them to properly work together. The way it is all tackled makes “Tower of Babel” such a fascinating look into what it means to have these God-like heroes watching over the world from above in their satellite headquarters.
Along with that, Waid does a very job examining the team dynamic. Particularly with the veteran and newbie Justice League members. On the veteran side we have Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter. On the newbie side we have Wally West’s Flash, Kyle Rayner’s Green Lantern, and Plastic Man. How their perspectives are brought into play with this story that almost breaks the team makes everything going on even more fascinating in “Tower of Babel.”
JOHNS AND LEE’S JUSTICE LEAGUE: ORIGIN
Issues: Justice League (2011 – 2016) #1 – #6
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Jim Lee
Inker: Scott Williams
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
The New 52 is a controversial era in DC Comics history. To Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s credit they took on the challenge of this new continuity as a chance to modernize the Justice League franchise. Starting with “Origin” we get a new take on the first meeting and team-up of the Justice League for the modern era. Through that we get to see how this version of the team becomes the pillars of the DC Universe once again. With how many Justice League titles are on the market “Origin” is able to serve as a good modern start to understand the importance of this team.
More importantly “Origin” acted as the graduation story for Cyborg, who was upgraded to full-time Justice League member. He joins Wally West and Roy Harper with that honor, as Nightwing has only ever been a reserve member save for the time he was Batman. Those were big shoes to fill for Cyborg as he took up the always important seventh chair of the Justice League. Johns and Lee used “Origin” as a strong launching pad for Cyborg to find success with the upgrades they were able to give him that made sense for his character background.
In addition, “Origin” is important as it set the tone for how Justice League should always be viewed as DC Comics premier comic book series. Johns and Lee did that by having the Justice League’s first opponent be Darkseid right out of the gate. Having Darkseid be the first villain the team comes up against gives the reader an understanding to expect big event-level stories from this series moving forward. And the fact that the Justice League don’t defeat Darkseid, rather they just find a way to survive, sets the foundation for an even bigger story you get to see develop over the course of this run.
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