I needed a break from writing about Wonder Woman, and I guess I'm not spiritually ready to do my Aquaman post yet. Instead, I decided to do this. I want to break down my ten favorite runs of my favorite superhero team: The Justice League. There was a lot to choose from in their 56 year run, but I trust I picked ten runs that are at least worth a peruse. Without further ado, here are my ten favorite Justice League runs:
10) Dan Jurgens' First Run- Justice League Spectacular, Justice League of America (Justice League Vol. 1, 1987) #61-77
This is a selfishly nostalgic pick, but I'm going with it. The Justice League Spectacular written by Dan Jurgens was my introduction to the Justice League. I read with interest and curiosity as Superman lead a team of heroes I'd never heard of before to take on The Royal Flush Gang. From there I became well-acquainted with the likes of Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Ice, Fire, Maxima, and, of course, Guy Gardner. Jurgens' run was also closely tied to the Superman books during the Death of Superman, so I got to see this rag-tag team stand with Supes in his darkest hour. In the aftermath of Superman's demise, Jurgens got to create a new line-up where he brought in brand new '90's heroes: The Ray, Black Condor, and Agent Liberty. This ensured that the Justice League continued its time honored tradition of using the team to try and promote the new heroes of the age. Jurgens run was also an attempt to turn the book back into a straight up superhero book, and turn it away from the humor and satire of the Giffen/DeMatteis years. You would have to say that he succeeded. Not the most spectacular (heh, heh) pick on my list, but it's still an enjoyable read... and it is only my number 10.
9) Brad Meltzer's Run- Justice League of America (Vol. 2, 2006) #0-12
This pick might get me some heat. Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis is a bit controversial, and his run on the Justice League gets critiqued for doing things like spending way too much time on Red Tornado. Regardless, there was a lot that Brad Meltzer did well. The man has a talent for characterization and making superheroes seem believably human. His run did some great character work for the likes of Black Canary, Vixen, Red Arrow (Roy Harper), and, yes, Red Tornado. Black Canary finally got to take a leadership role in the team, Vixen was definitely better served in this tenure with the League than in her first go with Justice League Detroit, the Red Arrow/Hawkgirl pairing was a fun twist for both characters, and The Red Tornado's search for humanity is a time-honored sci-fi story troupe. The Lightning Saga is a classic Justice League/Justice Society team-up with the Legion of Superheroes thrown in for good measure. Even if you can't be sold on Meltzer, Ed Benes' does some pretty artwork, right? Honestly, Meltzer's run is the highlight of this volume of the Justice League of America. It was all down hill from there until The New 52.
8) Joe Kelly's JLA/Elite Run- JLA #61-76, 78-90, 100, Justice League Elite #1-12
Joe Kelly's not for everyone, but I don't think his Justice League run gets the credit it deserves. He successfully carried the torch passed on to him by Grant Morrison and Mark Waid by delivering Justice League stories that were large in scale and fun. Okay, sometimes he got carried away and went over the top, but that's still fun. Obsidian Age, in particular, exemplifies what he brought to the table. The story altered Atlantean history and split the group between the past and present to save Aquaman's home. Kelly also played with the idea of a Batman and Wonder Woman relationship that had been popularized by the Justice League cartoon of the time. He gave the Amazonian Princess and the Dark Knight Detective some epic romance scenes. Moving into the Justice League Elite phase of his run, Kelly juxtaposed the classic superhero morality of The Justice League with the darker, morally ambiguous ideals of new characters like Sister Superior, Manitou Raven, and Major Disaster. This worked as decent commentary on the trend of mature-themed hero books of the time like The Authority. Kelly's not always my cup of tea, to be honest, but he churned out a solid, fun JLA run. After him, the JLA volume never felt relevant again.
7) Denny O'Neil's First Run- Justice League of America Vol. 1 #66, 68-75, 77-83, 86, 115
Denny O'Neil was a pivotal creator in DC's transition from the Silver to the Bronze Age. His work on the Justice League reflects this. He added some much needed characterization to the team. Under O'Neil, Green Arrow became the outspoken, childish hot head with killer facial hair that we all know and love. Prior to this, every member of the League had the same righteous, congenial personality. O'Neil started a trend that would allow us to tell them apart. He brought Black Canary to the team to replace Wonder Woman, and kicked off the epic Green Arrow/Black Canary romance. O'Neil also gave birth to the Satellite League era by moving the teams headquarters to Earth's orbit in issue #77. I only stall O'Neil at number 7 because his Justice League villains never really became iconic and many of his plots were pretty vague. Regardless, Denny O'Neil's run is important to League history and moved them into the future in a way that would allow them to survive the changing tastes and moods of the comic book scene of the 1970's and '80's. He deserves his place on this list and in the history of great DC creators.
6) Mark Waid's JLA Run- JLA #18-21, 32-33, 43-58, 60
I'm a big fan of Mark Waid. He had a close working relationship with Grant Morrison starting with his editorial work on Morrison's Doom Patrol. This probably helped lead to him writing filler issues during Morrison's JLA run, and then to taking permanent writing duties after Morrison's departure. There couldn't have been a better choice to take Morrison's place. Waid begins his proper run with the acclaimed "Tower of Babel." In this story, Ra's Al Ghul steals Batman's plans to incapacitate the Justice League and sets them in motion against the team. This story is the natural conclusion to Batman's paranoid, loner behavior of the era, and had ramifications that were felt across the DC Universe for years to come. "Tower of Babel" alone would earn Mark Waid the number 6 spot, but his other stories weren't half bad either. Waid had the Justice League confront fairy tale legends and even their own alter egos throughout the course of his tenure. Even his filler issues are pretty decent showing his love and appreciation for classic Justice League stories. My only real gripe with Waid's JLA run is that it didn't last long enough. Wanting more made me track down the issues of Justice League Quarterly and Justice League Task Force he contributed to. All that and I haven't eve mentioned Kingdom Come. Whenever Waid touches these characters, it's worth reading.
5) Len Wein's First Run- Justice League of America (Vol.1) #100-114
For my tastes, Len Wein's run embodies the best of the Justice League's Satellite years. Wein had a way of reaching into the history of comics and bringing things back to be interesting and relevant again. He kicked off his run with the classic Justice League/ Justice Society team-up that answered the question of what happened to the Seven Soldiers of Victory after the Golden Age. This story is so epic in scale that it became the main inspiration for Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers revamp. Later, Wein brought back the heroes of Quality Comics to create Earth-X where the Nazis had won World War II. This proved that the Multiverse could be used to create alternate histories as well as alternate versions of the DC heroes. This story was also revamped by Morrison in Multiversity, and will become the main source material for The Ray's CW Seed animated series. Wein, like Meltzer, also had a soft spot for the Red Tornado. He added the android to the team and furthered his characterization through his quest for humanity. Wein's run doesn't get the attention or fanfare it truly deserves, but, if you haven't heard it before, let me be the first to tell you that it's truly wonderful. Check it out.
4) Geoff Johns' Run- Justice League (Vol.2, 2011) #0-50, Justice League of America (Vol. 3, 2013) #1-7, Forever Evil #1-7
I'm thinking I may get yelled at for how high up the list this run is, but I'm going to stand by it. Prior to The New 52, Justice League of America was floundering and struggled to seem important. Because of The New 52 and Geoff Johns, Justice League became the flagship book of the DC Universe. Every storyline of this run is epic in scale. It kicks off with an invasion from Apokolips, continues into a war between Atlantis and the dry land, screeches into the titanic Forever Evil where the entire team looks down for the count, then revives them to deal with a metahuman epidemic, and ends with a war between Darkseid and The Anti-Monitor. Each threat and battle feels so vital and so dire that you couldn't help but applaud Johns for understanding that that's what this team needed to make them the centerpiece. Every story plays like a blockbuster, and every cast member seems larger than life. It's like mainlining the original concept of The Justice League of America. It gave me the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship I always wanted, and the Cyborg/Shazam friendship I never knew I wanted. Yes, Geoff Johns is a bit overexposed, and, yes, he utilized a great deal of compressed story telling in his run. However, it's still one of the best, and if you think that this run won't be used as the main source material for the movies then you're crazy.
3) Gardner Fox's Original Run- The Brave and The Bold (Vol.1) #28-30, Justice League of America (Vol. 1) #1-65
Gardner Fox was a comic book genius and the co-creator of the Justice League of America. Reading his run , you may feel like his stories are outdated and that his plots are too formulaic. However, keep in mind that this run invented all the things that are great about the Justice League today. Gardner brought the following to The Justice League: The Multiverse, the annual Justice Society team-ups, the voting process for new members, and the wonderful rogues gallery. Starro, Amazo, Professor Ivo, Despero, Kanjar Ro, Amos Fortune, The Key, The Crime Syndicate of America, and many, many more became perpetual threats to The Justice League and Earth at large. No other Justice League writer has ever been able to successfully introduce so many new villains. That's what I really respect Gardner Fox for the most: His imagination. What his stories lacked in characterization and nuanced plot structure, he made up for in pure, unadulterated imagination. Aliens, time travel, alternate dimensions, magic, luck... Nothing was too unbelievable for Gardner to take on. Along with his partner in crime, Mike Sekowsky, Gardner created The Justice League and everything that makes them great. Every other creator on this list owes a lot to their run.
#2) Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis' Justice League International- Justice League (Vol. 1, 1987)/Justice League International/Justice League of America #1-60, Annual #1-5, Justice League Europe #1-35 (and I know there's a lot more material that I'm not listing, but I'm tired so take pity)
This is the most atypical run on this list, but that's what makes it so great. Giffen and DeMatteis supposedly wanted to do a back to basics Big Seven run with their Justice League. Unfortunately, they were not allowed to use most of the Big Seven because creators wanted to keep control of their babies following Crisis on Infinite Earths. Only given Batman out of pity, Giffen and DeMatteis had to make due with the likes of Blue Beetle, Guy Gardner, Booster Gold, Rocket Red, Martian Manhunter, Ice, and Fire. Considering what they had to work with, the two writers did the only thing they could do: Treat the team like the farce that it was. Their run on Justice League became an intelligent and amusing satire on both the superhero genre and the world at large. The team dealt with problems like intergalactic home shopping schemes, cosmic interior decorators, and what happens when you build a casino on a living island. The characters were all so lovable and flawed that it was hard not to think of them like real people. The run became so popular that it spawned the spin-off Justice League Europe that was just as good as the original. I should also give credit to Kevin Maguire who lent his beautiful artwork to the early story arcs, and to Gerard Jones who co-wrote Justice League Europe with Giffen after DeMatteis decided his plate was too full as it stood. Justice League International is the most unique and the funniest Justice League run ever written. If you haven't read it yet, it's a must.
1) Grant Morrison's JLA- JLA #1-17, 22-26, 28-31, 34, 36-41, JLA One Million, JLA: Secret Files & Origins #1, JLA/WildC.A.T.s, Prometheus one-shot, DC One Million #1-4, JLA: Earth 2, JLA: Classified #1-3
Yes, I'm a Grant Morrison fanboy, but his run is definitively the best. It's everything that is great about The Justice League put on a grand scale and delivered to you wave after wave. It gives you The Multiverse ("JLA/WildC.A.T.s" and "JLA: Earth 2), a classic Justice League/Justice Society team-up ("Crisis Times Five"), a post-apocalyptic future ("Rock of Ages"), new members galore ("Woman of Tomorrow," Imaginary Stories," and "Camelot"), and even manages to make every person on Earth a superhero by it's finale ("World War III"). Morrison successfully revived the concept of The Big Seven. He managed to gracefully work around and with whatever else was happening in DC Continuity at the time including having to use blue lightning Superman. His work on JLA even connects with almost everything else he's done in the DC Universe: The Seven Soldiers of Victory, Final Crisis, All Star Superman, Multiversity, New 52's Action Comics, and his long run on Batman. You can't fault the choice in artists, either, with Howard Porter, Frank Quitely, and Ed McGuiness bringing all of this to life. Morrison's JLA epitomizes everything I love about The Justice League and left the door open for Mark Waid, Joe Kelly, and, to a degree, even Geoff Johns to follow suit. All three owe successful components of their runs to Grant Morrison. If you only ever read one Justice League run in your lifetime, this should be it.
Alright, that's my list. Feel free to leave a comment to agree with me, disagree with me, or share your own list. I love this team and I've spent so much of my life reading them and discussing them. It's what I love to do. Let's start a dialogue. There are no wrong answers. Until next time, I'll be monitoring my Justice League signal device. Later!