The Many Origins of DC Comics' JUSTICE LEAGUE

The Many Origins of JUSTICE LEAGUE

How many times can you tell the same story? When it comes to super-heroic origins, the answer is: quite a lot. One of the recurring themes of the super-hero genre is reinvention. Every few years, the origins of the big characters get tweaked and tricked out, updated for that decade or generation. That progressive motion makes such adjustments as during which war Iron Man was injured and exactly when Captain America emerged from the ice. At DC, the theme of reinvention has been a constant in the past seven-plus decades, and the most visible expression of that in some time arrives with the debut of the new Justice League #1. We thought that it would be appropriate to look at the various iterations of the Justice League origin story and see how they’ve been re-expressed over time. 


The First Time
: The Justice League appeared for the first time in The Brave and the Bold #28 in 1960. Inspired by the earlier Justice Society (both fictionally and creatively), the League included Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter. In this adventure, the League already exists, and all of the members have signal devices when Starro attacks. In a bit of a humorous turn, Superman and Batman ditch the League because they’re already involved in cases (Superman is protecting Earth from meteors and Batman is chasing down a team-up of two unspecified villains in Gotham).


The League runs two more issues in TB&TB before moving over to Justice League of America #1, but there’s still no origin tale. That in fact doesn’t happen until issue #9 (February 1962), when the League recounts the adventure to Snapper Carr. In a bit of hilarity, considering the new “five year” timeline, this story-swapping-session takes place on the THIRD anniversary of the League, according to the issue. Here we find out that the League first came together after each individually battled an alien Appelaxian, invaders that were using Earth as a battlefield to determine a ruler for their kind. The Appelaxians came in seven different forms (Stone God, Fire Giant, etc.) and Aquaman, Green Lantern, Flash, Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter came together to defeat the Wood King. Superman and Batman combined on the final alien, and the seven ended up forming the group.


And that’s the way that it was for YEARS. Justice League of America #200 from March 1982 (twenty years later) restated this origin as the League tangled with the Appelaxians again. This time, the seven original Leaguers teamed up with the heroes that had joined later (Green Arrow, Atom, Hawkman, Elongated Man, Red Tornado, Black Canary, Zatanna, Firestorm) to take the monsters down.

However, change was on the horizon. 


: Among the many effects of the Crisis on Infinite Earths was the removal of Wonder Woman from the earlier part of the timeline. With Wondy not making her public debut in the Post-Crisis DCU until near the end of Legends #6, that meant that the original version of the origin could not have happened. In Secret Origins #32 from November of 1988, we find out that in the new timeline, the first female member of the League was Black Canary. It was she, along with Aquaman, Green Lantern, Flash, and Martian Manhunter that formed the team; Batman and Superman were held out at a much greater distance. However, the Appelaxians are still present, though their monstrous natures have been retconned to “battle forms” that the humanoid aliens take on to carry out their battle.


That version of the origin stuck until the release of JLA: Year One #1 in January of 1998. By this time, the wildly successful Grant Morrison revamp of JLA was in full swing, and DC capitalized on it by revisiting the team’s beginnings in a twelve-issue series. Written by Mark Waid (who incidentally edited Secret Origins), the mini kept the primary conceits of that story but greatly expanded them. Waid fleshed out the characterization of the League, weaving in new elements of alien paranoia, Aquaman’s difficulty with the surface world, and Black Canary’s conflicted emotions over her place as a heroine and successor to her mother. More retconned views of the League’s early days came in the JLA: Incarnations mini-series of 2001; the seven issues each took on a particular “era” of the League, drawing connections to DC’s then-current continuity.

Rolling Retcons: While few other attempts to totally retell the origin of the League occur, it’s noteworthy that the League’s history has been affected by a number of “rolling retcons”. As changes have been made to various characters, those tweaks have been rolled into the League. Most notable are Hawkman and Hawkman, whose shifting backstories have necessitated at times the creation of alternate traitorous Thanagarian imposters to explain how they could have been members at varying points.


The biggest instance of this came as the end of Infinite Crisis #7 in 2006. In the “New Earth montage”, we see that Wonder Woman was put back into the story of the League’s founding. Going further, there have been multiple depictions of the founders and who might have been in the original line-up. In the Justice League of America series that began in 2006, there are contradictory elements in issues #0, 2 and 12 that indicated two possibilities: Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman were founders alongside Flash, GL, Black Canary, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter, or else the Big Three joined the Other Five soon after. Issue 12 actually seems to take Black Canary out completely. However, even with all this, there was never a full issue devoted to sitting down and straightening out the League’s history for New Earth.


Granted, there have been several League #1’s over time. Nevertheless, for the most part, the history has been vaguely familiar. Forget all that. The new Justice League #1 promised to upend that notion and give you a whole new blueprint and roadmap, including some shifts in what characters are there, once again. How long that remains the official history is anyone’s guess. But at 51 years in to the history of the League, we’re guessing that no matter what happens, the team will go on.

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