If the history of Zack Snyder’s Justice League makes you think it’s been a long time, think about the comic book at the heart of the movie. DC’s Justice League of America came out in 1960. The team made its first appearance in Brave and the Bold #28 that year.
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It has been relaunched, rebooted, dissolved and remade many times over the past six decades. All kinds of heroes have been in the team’s line-up, and the group’s home has changed from the Northeastern coast of US to the moon and back, with a brief stopover in Detroit during the 1980s. It hasn’t been easy for them.
Because of that, it might be a little intimidating for newcomers to start reading the comic book stories of the team. Don’t worry; you don’t have to think about which comic book to start with any more! It’s better to look at the list below and see which of these 10 ideas feels like the best place to start. Then, you can move on from there.
When someone does the right thing, it doesn’t matter if they say “thank you.”
1. CRISIS ON EARTH-ONE/CRISIS ON EARTH-TWO (1963)
BY GARDNER FOX AND MIKE SEKOWSKY
“The Secret of Sinister Sorcerers! The Challenge of the Untouchable Aliens!” and “The Secret of the Sinister Sorcerers!” were just a few single-issue stories that took place in the first few years and a half of the Justice League. Occasionally, the Justice League would team up with their older counterparts in the Justice Society of Earth-2. This was a break from the norm, but it was still very cute. These stories, which usually took place over a few issues, were rare in those days. Pulp writer Gardner Fox used more creative and ambitious tricks to get in the way of the assembled heroes. This set the stage for the DC multiverse that fans know and love today.
All of this started in Justice League of America #21 and 22 in 1963, when the two teams meet for the first time (through a seance) to deal with a crime spree that spreads across realities. When old-school comic book fans talk about how crazy the Silver Age of comic books was, this is what they’re talking about.
If you like it, read all of the other League/Society crossovers, which keep adding more Earths with each one. They start with “Crisis on Earth-Three,” which introduces the Crime Syndicate, and go up to “Crisis on Earth-X,” where they fight Nazis on a world where the bad guys won World War II.
2. A LEAGUE DIVIDED (1982)
BY GERRY CONWAY, GEORGE PÉREZ, JOE KUBERT, JIM APARO, GIL KANE, ET AL.
As a writer for JLA, Gerry Conway knew what to do for the 200th issue: An all-star artists issue where each artist draws a different fight between an old member of the team and a new one. Where else would you be able to see Brian Bolland (Watchmen) draw a fight between Batman and Black Canary? Then, of course, Green Arrow is grumbling in the background. If Carmine Infantino is the co-creator of the Flash and the Elongated Man, he might want to set up a fight between them. And don’t even get me started on Joe Kubert’s Hawkman vs. Superman fight. It was surprisingly powerful.
You know there’s some story reason why the heroes are fighting, right? That’s something that goes back to when they were first formed. Conway is smart enough to know that the story isn’t what makes the issue popular, and he walks a fine line between giving enough information to make sure everything makes sense and shutting up when a big splash page comes out to make the reader excited. If you can think of a comic that started both the 1990s Image Comics and the Avengers vs. X-Men in 2012, this is it. That’s a good thing.
If you like this movie, you should check out Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, which came out in 2016. In this movie, Superman, Batman, and other heroes fight against another group of do-gooders, and again, it’s not clear which side is on the right side. If you’re into superheroes from the 1980s, the next step would be Crisis on Infinite Earths, which came out in 1985 and features the League and almost every other DC hero of the time.
3. JUSTICE LEAGUE DETROIT: REBIRTH (1984)
BY GERRY CONWAY AND CHUCK PATTON
A lot of people knew what they wanted from superhero teams back in the mid-80s. Justice League was not one of those teams. For some time, books about young people with angsty feelings like New Teen Titans, Legion of Super Heroes and Marvel’s X-Men were popular with readers. The idea of well-adjusted adults working together for the good of all seemed out of date and unnecessary.
Remove all of the big names and replace them with new characters who have problems of their own.
So-called “Justice League Detroit” was not a big hit when it first came out. Truth be told, the series went off the rails pretty quickly after the “Rebirth” storyline. Vibe from The Flash and Gypsy from Legends of Tomorrow were two new members of the team, but they looked very different from how they looked on screen. Just wait until you find out that Vibe’s accent is a story point.
If you like it, check out the rest of the Detroit era, which only lasted a few years before the team was thrown out with a lot of force. From our smarter, more enlightened point of view, it’s a little clumsy and awkward. But bless them, they were trying something new.
4. JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL (1987-1989)
BY KEITH GIFFEN, J.M. DEMATTEIS, KEVIN MAGUIRE, ET AL.
Detroit didn’t work out for them, so DC knew that something big had to happen if the Justice League was going to get back on track. He had an idea: what if the League went global, and with a team that acted… kind of like real people. Keith Giffen was known at the time for his work on Legion of Super-Heroes as well as the superhero parody Ambush Bug. J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire, two newcomers to mainstream comics at the time, worked with Giffen on this project. DeMatteis wrote the scripts and Maguire did the art.
The result was a surprise hit that led to a lot of spin-off titles and a lot of copycats. The series was called Justice League until its seventh issue, when it changed its name to Justice League International. A lot of people think of this book as a comedy book, but that doesn’t show what makes it so good. Yes, JLI was not afraid to be silly when it had to be, but it was also ready to go dark or tell straight superhero stories, too. A lot of emotions were shown in this book, not just the ones that were fun. This made the characters more real to us.
However, the fact that Booster Gold and Blue Beetle finally got their due as comedy greats from this book is also a good reason to buy the book.
For more Justice League comics, check out #26 to 60, as well as the Justice League Europe spin-off title. It’s not as good as the first two years, but there’s still enough comedy, action, and surprises to keep things interesting. The chance to see a Maxwell Lord who’s completely different from the bad guy he’s become is a weird thrill, too.
5. Origin – Justice League (2011)
During the “New 52” reboot, there was a lot to live up to. This means that Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s work on Justice League is a great way to start off a new era.
First, Johns and Lee added Cyborg to the team and had them fight Parademons right away. They also made sure that the team had a new dynamic.
Some people might say that DC’s recent changes to the era might make the work here less good, but the story serves as a foundation for everything that comes after it, and for parts of DC’s movie universe as well.
6. No Man Escapes The Manhunters – Justice League of America (1977)
He only wrote Justice League for a year, but he changed how the team’s stories were told, especially in the story “No Man Escapes the Manhunters,” which is in the book Justice League of America: A Celebration of 60 Years.
They say Green Lantern killed billions of people on a planet called Manhunters. The League, which is sure he isn’t guilty, goes to show that he isn’t guilty.
All of the League’s resources are put into the fight against the Manhunters and death traps. The characters in Englehart’s stories have unique chances to succeed while he adds in bits of history and also sets up future stories at a time when continuity wasn’t as important as it is now.
There have been stories and animated shows about the League’s animated projects for years because of this story.
7. ‘Justice League of America,’ The Brave and the Bold (1960)
There are a lot of things that started with this one – and I mean all of them. It wouldn’t be possible to have the Marvel Universe if the Justice League wasn’t there.
A lot of people might find the Silver Age storytelling hard to understand, but it’s very interesting that very little has changed on a bigger scale.
They were born out of Silver Age oddities. The best creators have made sure that is still a part of the team’s history. It’s called Justice League of America, and you can read about these early Justice League stories there. It’s called “The Silver Age.”