Justice League: a comic-book history

It is one of the most brilliantly bizarre and imaginative images that could only ever come from a comic book; a team of colourful superheroes fighting a giant alien starfish. With this image, adorning the cover of issue 28 of The Brave and the Bold, the Justice League made its debut on to the world.

Created in 1960 by famed comics writer Gardner Fox, the Justice League has been a central hub of DC Comics ever since its inception, with many a Justice League series being a flagship title for the famed company and many of the most brilliant comic book covers being taken up with those beautifully crafted images featuring top-tier characters from DC characters coming together to fight evil. Debuting three years before The Avengers, but only getting to the big screen five years *after* their Marvel equivalent, the Justice League is what happens when you put every DC character in the  room together.

Making their bow in the Silver Age, in fact the Justice League owe their existence to the Golden Age. During the now classic era of superhero comics, the team-up title at the centre of DC Comics was in fact the Justice Society, which Gardner Fox was also a key component in creating. That team-up lasted until 1951, their title cancelled due to a slight drop in the popularity of the medium, although several members of the original super team would be incorporated into the League, with the JSA themselves still sticking around through the silver and bronze ages in various forms, and being visually represented in both Smallville and Legends of Tomorrow, such is their standing in comic book culture.

Asked by the higher-ups at DC to relaunch the Justice Society, instead Fox, inspired by the use of league tables in sports, decided to rebrand the main team as The Justice League, putting the biggest characters within the DC empire as the key team members. Debuting in the famed issue of The Brave and the Bold in 1960, the initial team would consist of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, The Flash and Martian Manhunter, although Batman and Superman would not be key members of the team, hence their absence from the famed cover, something that would not be the case when the cover was paid tribute to in the final part of “Origin”, the six part arc that functioned as a new origin tale for the team when DC launched The New 52 in 2011.

As the years went on, the likes of Denny O’Neill, Brad Meltzer, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid and Geoff Johns would take over various incarnations of the title, all with their own interpretations of the characters and their portrayal in the DC universe, whilst artists such as Jim Lee, George Perez, and Ivan Reis have rendered their epic adventures with their gorgeous stylings. The characters have also been at the heart of many animated series and movies, with Hanna Barbera’s famed Superfriends from the 1970’s, as well as the Bruce Timm produced Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, both of which spun-off from the massively successful and critically acclaimed Batman and Superman animated series from the 1990’s.

Attempts were made at a big screen version in the mid-2000’s by George Miller, but this was abandoned due to the WGA Writer’s Strike, and the film would become one of the most famous unmade projects in Hollywood. Many of the characters have, of course, been at the centre of their own movies, with Batman and Superman having been a main source of big budget blockbusters by Warner Bros, Wonder Woman being the star of one of this year’s biggest movies, whilst live action television shows like Smallville and the plethora of DC properties produced by Greg Berlanti have featured some of the most famous and little known characters dotted throughout; until this year, Smallville was the only place you could find a live action version of Cyborg, whilst both Smallville and Supergirl brought their own interpretations of Martian Manhunter to the screens (the latter featuring a wonderful performance by David Harewood in the role).

Most infamously, 1997 saw an attempt at a television series featuring several League members through a television pilot that has become regarded as one of the worst attempts at bringing the characters to the screen. Described by some as “Friends with superheroes”, the pilot starred Matthew Settle, David Ogden Stiers and David Krumholtz, while featuring characters such as The Flash, Martian Manhunter, The Atom, Ice and Fire. Unsurprisingly, it was never picked up for a series and has taken on a level of infamy similar to that of the Roger Corman-produced Fantastic Four.

This year will see Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon bringing the famed team to the big screen, on a massive budget thankfully, as part of the current DC cinematic universe which began with Man of Steel. The new movie adheres to The New 52 and recently launched Rebirth era of DC comics with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman leading the team, with Green Lantern being absent, at least for the time being.

Coming as part of a cinematic universe that has, for the most part, divided opinion, the jury is out on whether the film will succeed or fail, but the Justice League is a part of such a rich heritage of comic mythology that just the notion of seeing the characters on-screen is an exciting prospect in itself, and for that alone the film is anticipated on that level.

What is your favourite Justice League comic? What did you think of the film? Let us know!

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