Echoing its rival Marvel’s decision over the past few years to re-orient it’s main team book (Avengers) to become the flagship of its entire line, the upcoming relaunch of DC’s title in the fall puts DC’s primary super-hero team, the Justice League, front-and-center. Dropping the “of America” and putting its two top-selling creators (and staff employees) Geoff Johns and Jim Lee on the book, August’s Justice League #1 promises to be the go-to place to find out what’s what in this bold new era of DC Comics.
Yet this isn’t the first time it’s been done. Relaunches, reboots and revamps have become part-and-parcel of the American comic book businesses. Although newspaper readers might balk if they saw an “All-New, All-Different” Garfield anytime soon, relaunches have been a way of refreshing and refashioning company-owned characters when they begin to weaken; in fact, the entire Silver Age era happened because of DC’s relaunch of Golden age hero The Flash in 1956’s Showcase #4. Appropriately enough, it’s The Flash that has had the highest number of relaunches and number ones at DC with a minimum of six, not counting miniseries like The Flash: Rebirth that ran when the titular title was on hiatus.
But given the Justice League’s new status as the flag-bearer of the DCU, we thought we’d take a look at its relaunches and how they faired.
Justice League of America #1 (October 1960)
Fresh of the successful relaunches of The Flash and the Green Lantern, DC editors pulled out the Golden age concept of the Justice Society of America and, borrowing from the popularity of the National Football League and Major League Baseball, added the word "League" to it. They debuted in the pages of The Brave & The Bold #28, and were put into their own title the same year. Initially featuring the "Big Seven" heroes of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter, the series expanded to show heroes like Black Canary, Hawkwoman and even Snapper Carr. The series ran for 27 years, with its final issues showing a team of B-list heroes set in Detriot with a rotating set of leaders ranging from Aquaman to Martian Manhunter and Batman.
Justice League #1 (May 1987)
During the waning days of volume one, plans were already in the works for a new era and in May Justice League #1 with Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire debuted. The trio brought with them a kind of humor not seen in the halls of DC, and a cast of characters pulled from various Earths as seen in the then-recent Crisis on Infinite Earths. After six issues, the title was first renamed Justice League International to emphasize a more global approach, and then finally split into two books: Justice League America (no "of") and Justice League Europe. The series ended up running for 163 issues in total. (113 for Justice League America; 50 for Justice League Europe.)
JLA #1 (January 1997)
After years of ancillary spin-off teams in the early to mid-90s failed to capture readers’ imaginations, DC gave the keys to the title over to creators Grant Morrison and Howard Porter. Shortening the title to the three-letter abbreviation JLA, the new series focused on a “back-to-basics” approach with a cast comprised of the “Big Seven” heroes which hadn’t been seen together in over 10 years. Morrison brought big ideas to the series such as the team’s allegorical stance as a pantheon of gods and some new heroes like Aztek. The title quickly became DC’s top-selling book for a majority of Morrison’s run, but after his departure it began to lose its foothold at the top of the sales charts despite A-list talent like Mark Waid, Bryan Hitch, John Byne, Geoff Johns and others. The series ended up running for 125 issues, with DC’s future Editor-In-Chief turning out the lights in a final arc showing Green Arrow grasping at
arrows straws to keep the team alive.
Justice League of America #1 (September 2006)
With just five months off, DC’s #1 super team returned to service with writer Brad Meltzer, who just came off the white-hot Identity Crisis series. The first issue featured a who’s who of DC art talent at the time, but as the series went on the stories failed to match up to readers out-sized expectations. After Meltzer’s departure DC turned to string of other veteran writers like Dwayne McDuffie, Len Wein and James Robinson to turn the book around but they were unsuccessful.
Justice League #1 (August 11)
Once again dropping the “of America” part of the name, with this series DC is going all-in as they put their chief writer (and CCO) Geoff Johns with artist (and co-Publisher) Jim Lee. Not much has been revealed just yet of the story, barring its “early days” approach, but DC has promised a new origin for the team as well as an expanded line-up featuring most of the “Big Seven” (no Martian Manhunter), with a double-digit list of other heroes joining the cause. For Johns it's the culmination of his rise in comics (and at DC), and although it's his second run on the title after his largely-forgotten 2005 run, but this is a whole new ball game.