Originally conceived by DC Comics writer Gardner Fox, the Justice League made their comic book debut in “The Brave and the Bold” #28 (March 1960), and received their own comic, “Justice League of America” later that year. The team’s origin story is told in “Justice League of America” #9, a classic tale of alien invasion drawing the attention of the world’s strongest superheroes.
With such a powerful team, you’d be tempted to believe that no supervillain could ever stand against them. However, while they manage to save the day most of the time, there have been occasions where they didn’t just fail, but were spectacularly defeated. Here are 15 times the Justice League lost, but be warned, you may find some of these accounts a little depressing!
15. BROTHER EYE ASSIMILATION
Set five years into the future of “The New 52,” this epic miniseries starts off bleak. Issue #1 reveals that 35 years from now, an entity named Brother Eye has gone full-on Borg and assimilated or wiped out nearly all of the world’s superheroes, and resistance is indeed futile. With the aid of Bruce Wayne, Terry McGinnis travels back in time to prevent Brother Eye from being created so that the future will never happen. Unfortunately, he arrives too late, with Mister Terrific having already created Brother Eye.
The JL still manage to stop Brother Eye, right? Nope, not at all. McGinniss does get to have a lot of fun, including hooking up with Plastique for one explosive relationship, but he ends up being ripped apart by a time travelling Joker/Batman hybrid (Brother Eye’s custom-made assassin) and dies in Plastique’s arms. In the final issue, Tim Drake takes McGinnis’ place, travelling further back in time to before Brother Eye was activated, but this also fails and Tim emerges 35 years into the future to find that nothing has changed. Tim forms a resistance with the remaining survivors, but even that doesn’t seem very hopeful, especially since many of them are old, having waited 30 years for his arrival!
14. MAXWELL LORD WINS (TWICE)
A violent and dangerous psychopath who gained telepathic powers, Maxwell Lord was always public enemy number one, even if no one knew it. In the beginning, his powers wrought havoc on his body, but over time he learned to fully control other beings, even forcing Superman do his bidding in “The Omac Project” miniseries. This began a chain of events that led to “Infinite Crisis,” the final straw being Wonder Woman snapping Lord’s neck. In response, Brother Eye broadcast the footage worldwide, ruining Wonder Woman’s reputation and destroying her friendship with Batman and Superman.
But the story doesn’t end there! A former friend of the League, Lord is resurrected in “Brightest Day” and by the first issue of “Justice League: Generation Lost,” he’s the subject of an international manhunt. But before the JL manages to reach him, he uses a device to greatly amplify his mind control abilities, and erases the world’s memory of his existence. He then murders the third Blue Beetle (he killed the second) and causes massive chaos before Captain Atom forces him to undo his work; and yet, despite the league’s best efforts, he still manages to escape at the very last moment! We next see Lord in “The New 52” overseeing Cadmus. Nice work Justice League. Real nice.
13. JOKER NUKES METROPOLIS
“Injustice – Gods Among Us,” the comic and video game franchise, is one long saga of failure after failure for the Justice League. From the get-go, the league is divided, spending most of the series’ four years fighting and killing each other, with most of the killing being done by Superman and his cronies. The conflict begins in issue #1 when Joker, tired of his endless games with Batman (neither party is willing to deal the killing blow), sets his sights on Superman. Joker kidnaps Lois, attaches a detonator to her heart in some bizarre surgery (who knew he was a gifted surgeon?) and then fools Superman into believing that she’s Doomsday.
Superman inadvertently kills Lois, their unborn child and millions of others when her heart stops and the detonator triggers a nuclear explosion in Metropolis. Superman understandably loses it, kills the Joker and establishes his own brutal regime. The league is ripped apart in the process and is only able to recover with the help of Earth One’s superheroes, which is a very small consolation considering most of the former Earth’s superheroes are now dead.
12. AGAMEMNO BODY-SWAP
In “Silver Age” #1, an ancient being formed of pure energy and known as Agamemno hatches a dastardly plan. Bent on dominating the universe, he requires three mystical artifacts and decides that the Justice League are the only ones powerful enough to help him obtain them. Knowing that they won’t help willingly, he allies with the Injustice League. While the Justice League is trapped on another world, he uses his powers to do a large scale body swap, the result being that members of the Injustice League end up inhabiting the bodies of some of the Justice League’s core members. The secret identities of the Justice League members are also revealed to their nemeses when the body swaps occur.
The villains succeed in securing the items for Agamemno, despite being driven back to their own bodies, and the Justice League also fail to stop Agamemno from using the three items. The Justice League do eventually prevail over Agamemno, trapping him inside the central power battery (he’s made of energy after all), and Batman develops a contingency plan in case this ever happens again. But if you keep reading you’ll see that this disastrous idea completely backfires on him and the entire League a few years later.
11. LEX LUTHOR KILLS THEM ALL
If you’re not sure what we’re referring to, you should check out the incredible cinematic trailer for “DC: Universe Online,” a superhero themed MMORPG game set in the DC universe. Narrated by Luthor himself, the trailer depicts Luthor winning a long war against the Justice League. In the final battle, he uses various Injustice League members such as Joker, Black Adam and Deathstroke to kill the remaining and strongest members of the JL one by one. Superman is off in space, recharging near the Sun, but Wonder Woman’s death rattle draws him back to earth with a vengeance, only for him to fall into Luthor’s final trap, a Kryptonite stuffed Wonder Woman and a spear through the heart.
Of course this is non-canon and takes place on an alternate version of Earth, but it’s pure comic goodness! Luthor is forced to flee himself when he realizes that Brainiac has been manipulating him all along, sucking power from Earth’s superheroes. Even though this alternate version of Luthor never gets to rule his Earth, he still got his victory. That has to count for something, right?
10. THEY LOSE U.N. SUPPORT
During the “Breakdowns” 16-issue crossover between “Justice League America” (#53-60) and “Justice League Europe” (#29-36), the JL took severe hits to their morale, mainly due to team deaths and consistent wins for the bad guys. Several major events take place in this series that led the Justice League to disband, including the return of the constant nuisance of a villain, Despero, who has to be stopped by Green Lantern Kilwog after the league fail to put him down.
Then, there’s the possession of Maxwell Lord by Dreamslayer, a magical entity belonging to a group of supervillains known as the Extremists. Dreamslayer uses Lord’s powers to mentally enslave a large number of the League, making them into his new Extremists. Tragically, during the battle, the Silver Sorceress is killed. To add insult to injury, the United Nations then withdraws its support of the Justice League, and the league disbands as a result. Needless to say, these were not the Justice League’s glory days.
9. ADOPTED BY ALIENS
Yup, this actually happens, and it’s one of the craziest Justice League stories out there! In the 31st century, the Justice League is known as the Legion of Super-Heroes, and their polar opposites are the Legion of Super-Villains, not the most original names, but you get the idea. After deciding that they don’t like the way history has turned out, members of the Legion of Super-Villains, who also happen to be aliens, travel back in time to take Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent away from their parents and raise them as dictators. This crazy saga unfolds in “Batman/Superman” #15 and continues for several chaotic issues.
Superman and Batman end up killing off most of their regular-continuity allies, including vaporizing Green Arrow and murdering Deadman and Zatanna. Wonder Woman kills Batman so Superman responds by snapping her neck with her own lasso. Yeah, it gets pretty ugly. Thankfully, Superman manages to break free of his brainwashing when his best buddy Darkseid (from an alternate reality) tells him what’s going on. The timeline is restored, and the aliens are imprisoned, but Superman and Batman must live with the memories of what they’ve done.
Deathstroke has already killed enough members of the Justice League, so this one shouldn’t come as a surprise. Whether it’s personal or professional, when it comes to Deathstroke, it’s always brutal. Slade Wilson was created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, making his debut in the “The New Teen Titans” #2 in 1980. Although he started off as a frequent nemesis to the Teen Titans and Green Arrow, he’s taken on the league a number of times. In one of his most famous fights he took on sever members of the Justice League and left them severely hurting.
The fight takes place during 2004’s “Identity Crisis” by writer Brad Meltzer and artist Rags Morales. No less than seven JL members are pursuing the infamous Dr. Light, who is well deserving of his imminent memory erasure, and guess who decides to obstruct them? Deathstroke, of course! The iconic assassin arrives fully clued up on each of the heroes he must face and the ensuing fight is nothing less than spectacular as he singlehandedly dismantles them.
7. TOWER OF BABEL
Remember how we mentioned that Batman’s contingency plans would backfire on him and the Justice League? Well, in “JLA” #43 maniacal mastermind, Ra’s al Ghul, the leader of the League of Assassins, manages to steal those plans. This saga runs from #43 -46 in a storyline entitled “Tower of Babel.” In it, Ra’s uses Batman’s detailed notes on each of his team members’ weaknesses, and manages to incapacitate the core members of the League just long enough for him to enact his population reduction plans.
Couldn’t Batman spring into action to help his fellow teammates? Unfortunately no, he gets caught up in retrieving the stolen corpses of his parents, taken from their graves by the League of Assassins. After recovering from their injuries and defeating Ra’s, the Justice League then votes on whether or not Batman should be allowed to remain a part of the team. The team leave Batman alone while they head off to deliberate, but when they return he has already left on his own volition, without even apologizing.
6. THE RED SON
Superman strikes again, once again proving that the Justice League’s greatest asset can also be their greatest threat. Sure, alternate timelines, supervillians and team division do their fair share of damage, but you can’t argue that a pattern isn’t forming here. Generally, a JL defeat occurs when Superman is either absent, under mind control or on a power trip. But boy, does it make for interesting reading!
Mark Millar authored “Superman: Red Son,” a fascinating three-part miniseries centered on the premise of “what if Superman was raised in the Soviet Union?” The series puts an interesting spin on the DC Universe as well, with many renowned characters taking on different roles. Jimmy Olsen, for example, is a CIA agent and Lex Luthor is a scientist recruited by Olsen to kill Superman. Various heroes fail to stop the Red Son, including Wonder Woman, the embittered ruler of the Amazon empire, and Hal Jordan, a united States Colonel given a power ring. Batman joins forces with Luthor and the KGB to take out Superman, but when their plans also come to nothing, Batman ends up committing suicide, afraid that Superman will lobotomize him. Depressing stuff!
5. PROMETHEUS VS. THE WATCHTOWER
In a similar way to Deathstroke, Prometheus came prepared for his fight with the Justice League, but he went a whole lot further, almost single-handedly taking out the entire team. The antithesis of Batman, Prometheus made his first appearance in “New Year’s Evil: Prometheus” and his plan was almost perfect, until a slight miscalculation scuppered his attempts to destroy the league, and left him with a severely injured groin. In short order, Prometheus took out Martian Manhunter, Steel, Huntress, Green Lantern and Flash.
Prometheus then defeated Batman in hand to hand combat using a matrix-like device that downloaded martial arts mastery into his mind! He also had some flashy lights that disoriented the Dark Knight. With the Watchtower under his control, Prometheus demanded that Superman commit suicide in exchange for the lives of the hostages on-board. Unfortunately, Prometheus didn’t anticipate Catwoman being aboard the Watchtower, and it was the non-league member who came to the their rescue, cracking Prometheus in the groin with her whip. A bitter defeat indeed!
4. SUPERBOY-PRIME SMACKDOWN
A power mad wannabe Superman, Superboy-Prime is everything that Earth One’s Clark Kent is not. Hailing from Earth-Prime, an earth that lacked superheroes, he was the only real superhero on the planet. But when Earth-Prime disintegrated, he was transported into a Paradise realm where he spent his days dreaming of the destiny that he could never have, eventually going insane. During “Infinite Crisis,” he went over the deep end, killing Earth One’s Superboy (Connor Kent) and several other Justice League heroes, including Pantha, Bushido and Wildebeest. The combined efforts of the of the Doom Patrol, the Justice Society and the Teen Titans proved similarly useless against his superior strength and aggression.
After escaping from his prison in the speed force, created by Jay Garrick and Wally West, he went on to kill heroes and villains alike at the Battle of Metropolis, before leaving earth to attack Oa, home of the green lanterns. Along the way, 32 green lanterns fell by his hand, as well as Kal-L, the Earth-Two Superman, before our Superman knocked him unconscious, which was only possible after the 2 supermen flew him through a red sun!
3. DARKSEID COMETH
Ranked by CBR as the greatest Justice League Villain of all time, Darkseid has certainly earned his #1 spot. Literally a god and not content with ruling just one world, he’s consistently schemed to rule Earth One and destroy every other deity in existence. He was at his best (and worst) during the events of Grant Morrison’s “Final Crisis,” where Darkseid and his otherworldly legion of followers actually win the war between light and dark. His career highlights from this event include corrupting the Multiverse, possessing the bodies of superheroes, and then releasing the Anti-Life Equation upon Earth, gaining complete control over the thoughts and emotions of all living beings in the universe.
And how do the league respond? Batman shoots him with the same bullet that killed Orion, Darkseid’s son, mortally wounding him in the process. Of course, Darkseid, being his badass self, simultaneously hits Batman with his Omega Beam, sending the Dark Knight back to prehistoric times. When Superman attempts to attack him in response, Darkseid reveals that he now exists inside the bodies of all those who were affected by the Anti-Life Equation, and that killing Darkseid will kill all of humanity. Even after his body dies from poisoning, Darkseid returns in spirit form to plague them further. It never ends with this guy!
2. MAGOG DOES A BETTER JOB
Super villains typically use magic, incredible strength, super weapons or sheer cunning to defeat the Justice League, but what if someone chooses to simply replace them by doing what they’ve never had the courage to do? In perhaps the sorest defeat the League ever faced, antihero Magog does just that. In “Kingdom Come” #1, Magog is introduced as a rising star; an inverse of Superman’s declining popularity. The Joker has killed Lois Lane (Superman didn’t freak out in this universe), as well as many other JL members. So, Magog avenges Superman and his friends by killing the Joker.
Magog is then put on trial for murder, but acquitted due to his popularity and the fact that he did what the JL should have done a long time ago; as Batman stated in the “The Dark Knight Returns,” not killing the Joker earlier had resulted in thousands of unnecessary deaths. Superman perceives this as a great injustice (bizarre reasoning) and goes into a self-imposed exile, while the remaining JL members choose retirement or assimilation into the “new way,” knowing that their methods are now outdated and unpopular. A new generation of heroes arise, following Magog’s violent ways. Goodbye Justice League!
1. EMPEROR JOKER RULES THE UNIVERSE
Very few super villains have managed to put every universe in the Multiverse at risk, dooming it to complete eradication, but Joker does it in the blink of an eye. How does he accomplish this? He tricks Mr. Mxyzptlk, a super-bad imp from the fifth dimension, into giving him 99.99% of his power. Joker then transforms reality itself into a reflection of his own messed up sub-conscious, and mind-bending chaos unfolds as the Joker becomes a god king. He eats the entire population of China and tortures and murders Batman for a seeming eternity. To make matters worse, the League members forget their former lives.
Eventually, Superman figures out that Joker’s “love” for Batman is his weakness, and Joker is forced to stop knowing that the destruction of existence would result in the end of Batman. Reality is restored but Batman is left broken from experiencing multiple deaths, and Superman is forced to steal Batman’s memories so that the hero can go on. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys nightmares, this is the one for you.
Know of another times the Justice League lost? Let us know in the comments!