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The Justice League are the forebearers of the superhero team as we know it. If we’re being honest, superhero comic books in general are indebted to the League more than people realize - along with many DC heroes, they predate the entirety of the Marvel Universe.
With DC finally bringing them to the big screen, we thought it was about time to breakdown our Top Ten Justice League stories of all time.
There are no crises here, no new frontiers and or kingdoms to come in this countdown as we're drawing a line between overall DCU stories and then JL-specific. If you want the greatest DC stories of all time, you can find those right here.
"Origin," Justice League (2011)2 of 12
In the wake of Flashpoint, the "New 52" had a lot to live up to. So what better way to kick off a new era than with Geoff Johns and Jim Lee set the standard for things to come?
In their first six issues, Johns and Lee established a new dynamic for the team, adding Cyborg to the squad and having them face off against parademons from the jump. While some might argue that DC’s recent revisionist approach to the era might undermine the work here, the story serves as a foundation for everything that’s come after it and for DC’s cinematic universe as well.
"No Man Escapes The Manhunters," Justice League of America (1977)3 of 12
Steve Englehart only wrote Justice League for a year, but he evolved the way these stories were being told. Green Lantern is framed for killing a planet inhabited by billions by the Manhunters and the League - sure of his innocence - sets out to prove it.
Englehart and artist Dick Dillin throw everything at the League as they face off against the Manhunters and a series of death traps. Englehart gives his characters unique opportunities to thrive while peppering in bits of past continuity and also setting up future stories at a time when continuity wasn’t quite as considered as it is now. But the story’s impact has remained echoing through future stories as well as the League’s animated endeavors.
"Justice League of America," The Brave and the Bold (1960)4 of 12
This is the one that started it all - and I mean, all. If not for the Justice League, we might not have the Marvel Universe either!
Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky give us the formula for superhero team books to come and while many readers might find the storytelling of the Silver Age hard to parse, it’s extremely telling that little has changed on a more macro level. The Justice League was born out of Silver Age weirdness and the best creators have made sure that remains a part of its legacy.
"Tower of Babel," JLA (2000)5 of 12
The bigger they are, the harder they fall and the Justice League are no exception. Mark Waid and Howard Porter’s “Tower of Babel” stands as a great examination of Batman’s role within the league, the larger DC superhero community and just how prepared the World’s Greatest Detective really is.
Of course, Batman isn’t the villain here but Ra’s Al Ghul’s systematic takedown of the League using Batman’s methods is telling (and honestly, a lot of fun). Detractors frequently wonder why Bruce is so revered throughout the DCU and Waid perfectly shows up why.
"The Tornado's Path," Justice League of America (2007)6 of 12
In the wake of Infinite Crisis, “Tornado’s Path” serves a solid origin story for the League. Brad Meltzer and Ed Benes brings some necessary diversity to the cast, adding Vixen and Black Lightning while also catching readers up on the characters’ whereabouts as part of the One Year Later event.
Meltzer doesn’t reinvent the wheel here but rebuilds the foundation of the League on mutual respect, friendship, and heroism around a deeper look at Red Tornado and his new-found humanity.
Justice League: A Midsummer's Nightmare (1996)7 of 12
Many of Mark Waid’s stories involve depowering the League in some way and “A Midsummer’s Nightmare” with artists Jeff Johnson and Darick Robertson is no different. Dr. Destiny strips the heroes of their powers and gives them to the rest of the population so the League are allowed to live normal lives for once.
But the strength of putting The World’s Greatest Heroes in this situation is that it allows Waid and the characters to come to terms with what it means to be a hero and how they can overcome their situation despite the odds stacked against them. “A Midsummer’s Nightmare” reminds us that the Justice League is more than a set of costumes or powers - it's the willingness and need to see good and do good in the world.
Justice (2005-2007)8 of 12
Justice is undeniably one of the best Justice League stories of all-time in part because it serves as an update to the classic Superfriends cartoon. It’s the Justice League versus the Legion of Doom, trying to stop the end of the world.
While that’s a pretty basic premise, the concept is elevated by Alex Ross’ iconic art. Ross’ own Kingdom Come has served as a highwater mark for DC stories but even he grew tired of its influence, wanting to instead focus on feats of great heroism rather than superhuman warfare. By taking the campiness of the Superfriends and playing it straight with incredible art to boot, Ross, co-writer Jim Krueger, and co-artist Doug Braithwaite embrace the potential of the DCU and remind readers that even the most madcap stories can have stakes and pathos
"Divided We Fall," JLA (2001)9 of 12
“Tower of Babel” may be good but “Divided We Fall” is better. Mark Waid gets some help from Bryan Hitch as the League as separated from their alter-egos and only Plastic Man can put them back together again!
While the premise might not seem to have the stakes or drama of other stories on the list, it provided a great canvas to explore what makes these characters heroes but also what makes them relatable. Waid has always had a knack for understanding the cores of the characters he writes when he’s at his best and “Divided We Fall” puts that skill at the forefront.
"Justice League: A New Beginning," Justice League (1989)10 of 12
Maybe one of the strangest Justice LEague line-ups but undeniably one of the best. JM Dematteis, Keith Giffen, and Kevin Maguire’s Justice League International brought together a who’s who of benchwarmer characters like Mister Miracle, Blue Beetle, Guy Gardner, Fire, Ice, and more.
With a lack of the somewhat stodgy icons of Leagues past, the creative team was able to bring a lot of levity to the proceedings and still balance them out with big action beats. For many readers, this was the moment that they fell in love with characters they had only a passing interest in before. And of course testing Batman’s limits with a new cast of characters is always fun as evidence by him punching out Guy Gardner in the first arc.
"ROCK OF AGES," JLA (1998)11 of 12
Grant Morrison might have started his run with Howard Porter with a somewhat 'back to basics' approach but by the time he got around to “Rock of Ages,” all the weirdness and fun that the Justice League could embody was on full display.
Darkseid is the League’s tireless antagonist and that’s no different here except the Big Bad has won and the heroes must utilize every single weapon in their arsenal to win the day. Morrison’s reverence for comic book history and willingness to dive back into the tricks and tropes of previous eras gives readers a taste of alternate realities, time travel and the Fourth World. It’s equal parts history lesson and a celebration of the DCU.
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