Comics Ate My Brain

February 23, 2005

Who Should Be In The Justice League? Part 2: Show Your Work

Filed under: justice league — Tom Bondurant @ 11:49 pm
Continued from Part 1, natcherly.

The first test of the JLA’s membership came in 1984, when Aquaman disbanded and re-formed the team, leaving only himself, Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter, and Zatanna. They then recruited established character Vixen and new characters Gypsy, Vibe, and Steel II.

Vixen first appeared in Action Comics #521 (July ’81) and joined the League in Justice League of America Annual #2 (1984; let’s say Nov ’84 because the next regular issue was Dec ’84). This would give her 3 years and 5 months’ experience — not enough for the 4-year cutoff but more than Firestorm, Metamorpho, or Black Lightning. However, Vixen was also created by Gerry Conway, who was still the JLA writer in 1984. Therefore, Vixen (like Firestorm) is another case of nepotism.

If we wanted to be charitable, we could have a one-nepotistic-character-at-a-time rule and still justify Vixen’s membership, inasmuch as Conway had Firestorm leave the League before Vixen joined. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Steel was the grandson of a hero from the 1940s, Commander Steel, who was (you guessed it) created in 1978 by Gerry Conway. Thus, although Steel was a “successor” (making him Trait 2 without being Trait 1), he was virtually nepotistic himself.

Regardless, it is probably easier to call Steel (and Gypsy and Vibe, Conway’s other new Leaguers) “inbred,” for being created specifically to join the Justice League by the then-current League writer. If this were any other team, the issue of “inbreeding” would probably not be questioned — again, why be a writer if you can’t create new characters? Given that until this point, all the Leaguers — including Firestorm — had been established and gained some experience elsewhere, though, this sudden influx of new blood was a radical departure from the book’s traditional format. It’s no wonder the second League (or “JLA Detroit,” after its new location) wasn’t well-received. JLA Detroit got about 2 1/2 years before Justice League of America was cancelled with #261 (April 1987).

The next incarnation of the team came just a month later, in Justice League #1 (May 1987). This Justice League (no qualifier) was basically a 6-month warmup for Justice League International. It marked a return to the book’s original intent, with all members being fairly well-known and many having concurrent titles of their own. This has pretty much been the rule since then, with most writers using only one inbred and one nepotistic character at a time. (Gerard Jones used a fair amount of his own characters, Grant Morrison used Aztek and Animal Man, and Joe Kelly created Faith and Manitou Raven for “The Obsidian Age.”)

To spare you a tedious summary of Justice League history since 1987, be assured that I’ve been doing a lot of research and math on the remaining members. By my count, there have been 79 regular Justice Leaguers in the group’s history. (This leaves aside one-shots like Antaeus, Moon Maiden, and Tomorrow Woman; and also the rotating members of the Justice League Task Force). Of those 79,

  • 15 have all 5 traits
  • 11 have 4
  • 13 have 3
  • 22 have 2
  • 6 have 1 (including three “nepotistic” members and two inbreds), and
  • 12 (the remaining inbreds) have none.
Therefore, excluding the nepotistic and inbred members, all but one JLAer — Maxima — have at least two of the five traits. If we lowered the experience requirement to 2.75 years, she would have two of the five traits and we could then use that as a rule for future members. However, again I prefer to keep the standards and say that all things being equal, Maxima probably should not have been in the Justice League. I know this is a controversial stand, much like the “Battlestar Galactica” stuff, but these things happen. The average experience score for the 60 non-nepotistic, non-inbred JLAers is 18 years and 6 months, which again fits with the “iconic” nature of the group.

If we add a sixth trait — worked with a JLAer prior to joining — it would apply to 39 members and change the above numbers as follows:

  • 3 members with all 6 traits
  • 18 with 5
  • 13 with 4
  • 27 with 3
  • 3 with 2 (Agent Liberty, Maxima, Vixen)
  • 3 with 1 (Firestorm and the inbred Amazing-Man II and Steel II), and
  • 12 (the remaining inbreds) with none
Again, every member with fewer than three of the six traits is either nepotistic, inbred, or Maxima.

So where does this leave us? It is safe to say that the first requirement for JLA membership is to be established — appearing in another title prior to joining. A prospective member should also have at least two of the other five traits —

  • Having an ongoing solo feature at the time of joining;
  • Being a successor to a previous hero;
  • Having a direct connection to the JSA either by membership or succession;
  • Having at least 4 years of pre-League experience/credit; and
  • Having worked with at least one League member prior to joining.
Of course, it is always possible for a character to be the benefit of either nepotism or inbreeding, and so get a “free pass” into the League. However, a writer should take care not to abuse these privileges (remember how Detroit turned out). How about an unofficial limit of two such characters, whether nepotistic or inbred?

Finally, I cracked open the ol’ DC Comics Encyclopedia looking for characters on which to test the system. Obviously all of these are established characters, so they only need one other trait to get in. Characters with “famous names,” like the new Supergirl and Firestorm, are pretty much no-brainers.

1. Adam Strange (first appeared Nov ’58, first worked with the JLA May ’62): There are two analyses depending on when Adam is evaluated, but either way he’s in. If he were offered membership in May 1962 (after Mystery In Space #75’s “The Planet That Came To A Standstill”), he wouldn’t have had the four years’ experience, but he would have had a current ongoing solo feature, which would have been enough. If he were offered membership today, he wouldn’t have the solo feature, but the experience would make up for it. He has also worked with the entire original League several times, starting with the aforementioned Mystery In Space #75. It probably doesn’t hurt that he was an honorary member of the original League.

2. Gangbuster (first appeared Nov ’87): He gets in based on experience (being first eligible in March 1991); and he was a fixture of the Superman books for several years.

3. Supergirl (Loeb/Turner edition) (first appeared May ’04; predecessor’s career May ’59-Oct ’85) is pretty much a shoo-in under this system. She is a “successor” — not to Kara Zor-El, ironically, but to the Peter David Supergirl; she has worked with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman; and she would gain the benefit of Kara Zor-El’s pre-Crisis career (because she is basically the same character).

4. Firestorm II (first appeared July ’04; predecessor’s career March ’78-Oct ’04): The new Firestorm qualifies for being a successor and having the requisite experience credit, but I wouldn’t say he has worked with a Justice Leaguer yet. He was visited by a few, and is in the middle of an adventure with Firehawk, but Firehawk was never in the League as far as I remember. (She would qualify, though.)

5. Flamebird (first appeared in Secret Origins Annual #3, 1989; predecessor’s career Apr ’61-Dec ’77): Although she is a contemporary of Nightwing and is the post-Crisis incarnation of the original Bat-Girl, Flamebird doesn’t get in. She would be a successor with the requisite experience, but she hasn’t worked with a Leaguer. (The only one would be Nightwing, who was only in the League during “The Obsidian Age.”)

6. Knockout (first appeared Feb ’94): A boisterous woman with a strange connection to Apokolips, Knockout was a frequent guest-star in the 1990s Superboy book. She was last seen in Wonder Woman #175 (Dec ’01) as part of Circe’s army of villainesses. However, because her experience is the only thing going for her under this system, she isn’t qualified to join the Justice League.

7. The “Planet DC” characters: These heroes from various other countries all first appeared in DC’s 2000 Annuals. Therefore, each would have the requisite experience. However, evaluating whether a particular hero had worked with a Leaguer would depend on the Annual in which s/he appeared. By my reckoning, Aruna (who met Batman in Batgirl Annual #1); Boggart (Batman Annual #24); Sala (Green Lantern Annual #9); Janissary (JLA Annual #4); Acrata, El Muerto, and Iman (Superman Annual #12); and the members of Super-Malon (La Salamanca, Cachiru, El Yaguarette, Cimarron, El Lobizon, Pampero, El Bagual, and Vizacacha, all first appearing in Flash Annual #13) would all qualify. Nemesis II (JSA Annual #1) met Black Canary, but she has since been killed.

8. The Power Company: Each member of the Power Company first appeared in February 2002, except for Bork (Dec ’68). That experience alone wouldn’t be enough to qualify under the 4-year rule until February ’06. Still, Bork and Manhunter would have enough experience (Manhunter from his predecessor — Apr ’42-July ’44; Oct ’73-Nov ’74) to meet that requirement. Also, each member has worked with a Justice Leaguer (Firestorm, at the minimum, since he was part of the Power Company for a while). Therefore, Bork and Manhunter would qualify for League membership, but the others would have to wait until next year. Of course, creator Kurt Busiek could go “nepotistic” and sign up any Power Company member he created — assuming he hasn’t already sicced the Crime Syndicate on them….

Anyway, there it is. I’ve heard Busiek wants to expand the JLA, so I’ll be interested in who he chooses.


  1. OMG!!! Tom, you have a blog OTHER than your stuff over at Blog@Newsarama. This is great news for me!!!

    Comment by Nick Marino — October 2, 2008 @ 4:49 pm

  2. Um, Tom? Knockout’s dead. She was killed off in Bird of Prey during the whole ‘Death of the New Gods’ thing– the issue where Dinah and Babs dish about Ollie just before the marriage, in fact. So I’d say that based on that– the whole ‘being dead’ thing– she doesn’t get in.

    Comment by Trailsong — October 2, 2008 @ 10:30 pm

  3. Well, in my defense, Knockout wasn’t dead in 2005, when this was written.

    Comment by Tom Bondurant — October 2, 2008 @ 11:22 pm

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