Although they may have not been the first super-hero team-up, DC’s Justice League is its most iconic. Not withstanding what the Marvel bullpen across town have done with the Avengers, the Justice League are the original super-hero super-group, even when they’re something less than the “Big 7.” Spawned out of the earlier super-team the Justice Society of America, the Justice League have eclipsed the JSA and become the flagship team book of the DCU since early on its history.
Over the years the Justice League has evolved, expanded, and on a couple occasions even been defunct for a time. With all those stories to go through, it’s a daunting task to find where to start without getting lost — or worse yet — disenfranchised. With Where Do I Start?, we come in and pinpoint the big 6 of the DC’s Big 7. Keep in mind we’re not counting various related teams like Justice Society of America or Justice League International — those deserve their own entry later on this year.
JLA: Year One: Taking a cue from the seminal Batman: Year One, this 12-issue series shows Mark Waid, Brian Augustyn and Barry Kitson barreling into the founding year’s of DC’s resident super-hero team. This isn’t the JLA’s first origin (or its last, if you’re reading Johns & Lee’s Justice League), but JLA: Year One has been the one to beat since it was first published. Waid & Augustyn really show how the team is as much about the personal dynamics between the group as the universe-sized threats they faced. The one glaring flaw is the omission of Wonder Woman from the group, but the expert approach to this makes me almost forget about her.
DC: The New Frontier: Taking the Justice League back to the 60s in which it was spawned to tell this super-hero period piece was a stroke of genius by cartoonist Darwyn Cooke. Unlike other heroes that seem perpetually trying to stay away from their early origins, DC: A New Frontier shows how coming of age in the 60s really showcases the diverse origins and impact these characters can have. Green Lantern Hal Jordan is firmly in focus here, but my vote for best characterization is Wonder Woman.
JLA: Rock of Ages: Although Grant Morrison came onto JLA in a flash, it wasn’t until later arcs that he really began to settle in and deliver breakout work. The “Rock of Ages” arc is the first real intersection of Morrison’s wilder fringe work like The Invinsibles with his unabashed love for super-hero comics, mixing Lex Luthor, Metron, baby universes and the Philosopher’s Stone. Despite being labored by a cast that includes variants of famous heroes (Electric Superman!), the book stands on its own as a epic in JLA history.
Kingdom Come: Although billed as a universe-spanning story, Waid & Alex Ross are actually did an encompassing JLA epic with the blockbuster Kingdom Come series. Set 20 years in the future where the original JLA have largely passed the baton to a new generation of heroes, rising turmoil and unrest bring grey-haired Superman, an aged Batman and others to get the band back together and do what they do best. This series really revives the majesty of DC’s heroes, one of the things that sets them apart from Marvel and other hero universes.
Justice League of America: The Greatest Stories Ever Told: Early Justice League stories have a varied track record of quality, but this streamlined collection hits upon most of the early highpoints and is a steal for under $20. Featured in it is the team breaking up, betrayal from the inside, and the inspiration behind the mind-bending Identity Crisis from a few years back. It also includes Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMattieus & Kevin Maguire’s comedy-tinged relaunch of the title from the mid 80s that became so popular it split off into its own title that echoes to this day. This book is a good book to have if you want to get a taste of the JLA’s early years.
JLA/Avengers: How can a seminal JLA book be the same one in which they’re sharing space with their cross-company rivals the Avengers? By showing just how different they are. Kurt Busiek and George Perez team up to deliver what has become one of the pinnacles of their career — and of both teams — with a universe-jumping crossover that still has time for intimate character moments.