Old Justice: The Best Justice League Lineups of All Time

By Alex Wedderien The Justice League is perhaps the most iconic super-team in all of comics. With lineups that consistently feature Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and the Flash, the various Justice League iterations have long been some of the most-beloved and highest-selling comics in any given era.

One of the things that makes the League unique, though, is DC's willingness to expand the  roster and feature heroes from outside of the best-sellers list. With big rosters, bigger stakes, and interconnections to the larger shared universe, the Justice League offers an unparalleled take on heroism and humanity.

Nowhere are those things more apparent than in the current Justice League book by Scott Snyder (the second issue of which came out this week), and presumably in the upcoming Justice League Odyssey and Justice League Dark books, too. All three of these comics, under the header of New Justice, expand the league in such a way that it hearkens back to fan favorite eras like the animated Justice League Unlimited or even Super Friends, going so far as to restore the Hall of Justice into modern continuity. It remains to be seen how successful this new run will be, but if these first issues are any indication, there’s a very good chance the current lineups could make this list in the future.

Justice League Dark  by Peter Milligan and Mikel Janin was one of the highlights of the  New 52.

Justice League Dark by Peter Milligan and Mikel Janin was one of the highlights of the New 52.

5. Justice League Dark Vol. 1 (2012)

Justice League Dark was one of the first wave of titles launched after DC’s New 52 reboot, focusing on a team supernatural characters. After the Justice League’s defeat at the hands of Enchantress, the League realizes they need a supernatural team to help tackle the more mysterious elements of the DCU.

Originally featuring John Constantine, Deadman, Shade, the Changing Man, Madame Xanadu, and Zatanna, Justice League Dark also featured a rotation of heroes, including Frankenstein, Swamp Thing, The Phantom Stranger and many others at various points in its forty-issue run.

JLA Year One  re-imagined the League's early days without  DC's  Trinity.

JLA Year One re-imagined the League's early days without DC's Trinity.

4. JLA Year One (1998)

A retelling of the Justice League’s early days without the Trinity, JLA: Year One expands on the origins of the post-Crisis JLA team that hadn’t been touched on for roughly a decade, since 1988’s Secret Origins. This lineup consisted of Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter and the Silver Age Black Canary, which tied the book to the original Justice Society.

The Year One team eventually added both Batman and Hawkman to their ranks, but the original incarnation of the team remains the most iconic lineup of that era.

3. Justice League International (1987)

Spinning out of Legends in 1987, which was the first major DC event after Crisis on Infinite Earths a few years prior, Justice League International had the unenviable task of creating a team of heroes at a time when most of DC’s most popular characters were off-limits due to reboots. The result was a hodgepodge of classic yet underutilized characters, recent DC acquisitions newly brought into the fold...and Batman.       

The genius of JLI’s roster, which consisted of Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, the aforementioned Dark Knight, Doctor Fate, Martian Manhunter, Black Canary, Captain Marvel, Mister Miracle, and many many others. The significance of this was two fold.

First, it added a comedic balance to superhero action, bringing levity to a team that at times took itself to seriously. Second, and most importantly, it gave many characters new personalities that readers could relate to or even take inspiration from, the most notable of which was Black Canary. Now written as a strong feminist character, Black Canary often took issue with Guy Gardner, whose personality was that of a boorish misogynist prone to temper tantrums.

Grant Morrison's all-time great  JLA  run in the late '90s envisioned the League as a pantheon of gods.

Grant Morrison's all-time great JLA run in the late '90s envisioned the League as a pantheon of gods.

2. Grant Morrison's Pantheon (1997)

By the mid '90s the Justice League was long past its best years. It had a focus on newer characters and rotating rosters, and at times it encompassed three separate monthly books. Essentially, the Justice League had lost both its name recognition and focus.

DC, however, renewed that focus by making the League its flagship title with 1997’s JLA by Grant Morrison, with art by Howard Porter. JLA was a real back-to-basics approach to the league - led by five of its original members (Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Martian Manhunter) along with successors of original members Flash and Green Lantern in Wally West and Kyle Ranyer respectively.

Along with the A-list core, characters such as Huntress, Oracle, Big Barda, Orion, and newcomers Zauriel and Aztek rounded out the team, creating a League Grant Morrison envisioned as a pantheon of gods fit for taking on the universe’s most dangerous threats.

1. Satellite Era (1970)

The Satellite Era of the Justice League, named after the team’s relocation to a geosynchronous satellite following the Joker’s discovery of the team’s headquarters, is simply one of the best and most influential lineups in League history. This is the lineup that has influenced an untold number of comics and the entire DC Animated Universe. This is a team that remains to this day the most iconic lineup in many fans' hearts, myself included.

The nearly 200-issue run during the League's Satellite Era is the defining  Justice League  iteration.

The nearly 200-issue run during the League's Satellite Era is the defining Justice League iteration.

In addition to DC’s “Big 7” this massive roster includes The Atom, Elongated Man, Hawkman,  Hawkwoman, Red Tornado, Zatanna, Firestorm, Black Canary, and Green Arrow. The talent on display during this time is a veritable who’s who of '70s-era comics with creators like Gerry Conway, George Perez, Len Wein, and Dick Dillin whose 12-year run on Justice League from 1968 to 1980 remains one of the all-time great superhero runs by a creator on any book.

Lasting nearly 200 issues before breaking up and relocating to Detroit and ushering in yet another new age for the ever-changing League, the Satellite Era remains the most consistent and most beloved incarnation of the team to date.

Alex Wedderien is a writer and pop culture journalist. Find him on Twitter @criticismandwit.

REVIEW: Justice League of America #28 by Steve Orlando and Hugo Petrus

Justice League of America  #28 by Steve Orlando (w) and Hugo Petrus (a).

Justice League of America #28 by Steve Orlando (w) and Hugo Petrus (a).

After the previous issue of Justice League of America setup Chronos as one of the most dastardly villains in the DC Universe, this one went ahead and solidified his terror. What really did the trick for me wasn’t Chronos’ typical villain dialogue, which was well done and included both taunting the heroes and telling henchmen to shut up. It also wasn’t the way Chronos took the fight to the JLA via a literal army of sycophants from throughout history (a classic move used often at Marvel by Kang the Conqueror). What made Chronos so compelling to me was the triviality of his motives. He seemed to embrace and own his status as a straight up bad guy (a fitting motif given our current political climate but that’s another discussion…).

As I noted in my review of issue #27, Steve Orlando is a writer who really lives in the heads of characters he writes, giving his books a more well-rounded feel than most, a sense that even small lines and brief actions matter, even if it’s just to create a more robust picture of what’s happening in this world with these people. There have been signs that Chronos was a petty man from the start, that his motives were entirely vindictive, and that he was messing with the God of superheroes, Ahls, simply to humble the League and take them down a notch for being altruistic, which has been a recurring motif in this run.

By the end of this issue, Chronos all but confirms as much, with Ryan Choi subsequently noting that Chronos had started as a petty thief, a dim man with a chip on his shoulder for being degraded by the superior intellects of first Ray Palmer and now Choi. This is all very much in keeping with behavior we’ve seen from Chronos, and it’s yet another example of what I’ve often said about Orlando’s JLA: it’s a well-wrought and complex run that rewards readers for investing deep levels of focus and attention.

Another thing I’ve really enjoyed about this current arc is that it leans in to being a story of superheroes. Orlando is also a writer with real passion for the tradition of his work, often taking close consideration of continuity when scripting character interactions. This passion shows in the lack of cutesy winking found in JLA. This is a book that takes story very seriously, and, as a reader, it’s hard to not follow suit. Of the talented artists Orlando has worked with throughout this run, Hugo Petrus’ work best embraces this total buyin. There are some truly fantastic superhero panels here, including one of a battle in which Black Canary lunges from the foreground at a foe, giving us a glimpse at an immense and impressive depth of field.

Overall: Justice League of America #28 is the penultimate issue of a book that has been a real treat, and I’m sad that things have to end. Not many of the characters from this team have been teased as part of the League moving forward, with the exceptions being Batman (of course) and Lobo, who is at least involved with No Justice. Still, getting nearly 30 issues with this eclectic and disparate group has been a treat, and issues like this illustrate why. 8.8/10

Zack Quaintance is a career journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.