Zach Snyder’s live-action adaptation of DC’s premier superhero team on the big screen looks set to be an ambitious and gritty affair, but new fans should know that not every incarnation of the Justice League has been taken this seriously in the past. There have been a lot crazy, dumb and laughable moments in JLA history that we’re certain DC would rather you forgot about. No such luck though, as we’re going to dredge it all up here for this list!
The first thing you should know about the League is that it hasn’t always been a “League.” Originally, it was a “Society.” The “Justice Society of America” was formed in the Golden Age, debuting in All Star Comics #3, 1940. A lot of the JSA’s stories involved punching Nazis in the face, so once Hitler was defeated, sadly their popularity waned. A post-war world called for a different kind of superhero team, fighting injustice in a cosmic, rather than just Earthly level. So, in 1960 the “Justice League of America” was born in The Brave and the Bold #28. The Silver Age was packed full of silliness for the team, and even the Modern Age was peppered with some… um… questionable story choices. Here, then, are some of the most inexplicably weird things to ever happen to Bats, Supes and the gang.
15. GOING EXTREME
Just as DC reinvented the “Society” as the “League” to roll with the times, Extreme Justice replaced the canceled Justice League International in 1994, presumably to try and grab the attention of the Bart Simpson-esque American youth of the time. Suitably, like a disgruntled teenager slamming the door of their parent’s house after refusing to do their homework, the “Extreme Justice” team was formed through certain League members rebelling against the JLA’s association with the United Nations.
After giving Batman et al the middle-finger, they scampered off to set-up base in Mount Thunder, Colorado. Led by Captain Atom, the team was initially made up of Maxima, Blue Beetle, and Amazing-Man, with Carol Ferris brought on under the sexy title of “Facilities Administrator.” Kids love admin, right? Apparently not, as the team only survived 19 issues before being replaced by the new JLA title in 1996.
14. SUPER FRIENDS
After Batman and Robin’s groovy cameo appearances in two episodes of The New Scooby-Doo Movies, Hanna-Barbera decided to build upon the DC characters’ animated introduction and bring the rest of the League to the small screen in 1976. But, aside from the technicolor rainbows and flared trousers, there was one particularly significant change that happened during the adaptation process — the team’s name.
Though the opening narration describes their headquarters as “the great hall of the Justice League,” the League’s official name was missing from the show’s title, which focused on the mushier, camper idea of the team as being the best of friends, as well as no-nonsense crime fighters. This was obviously meant to fit in better with the vibe of Saturday morning cartoons of the time. Despite being the subject of much ridicule today, the parodies usually stem from a place of affection, as the long-running cartoon — in all it’s ridiculousness — is fondly remembered.
13. AQUAMAN’S TEAM
Famously, Aquaman is everyone‘s pick for coolest DC hero, so it made complete sense in the ’80s for him to splinter off from the League (taking Martian Manhunter with him) and form his own team. This was likely done in an effort to compete with the younger, hipper, teen melodrama of the Teen Titans and Marvel’s rival superhero teams. So, who was on this cooler, shinier team? All your favorites! Vixen! Steel! Vibe! Uh, Gypsy! And which hip ‘n happenin’ place did they choose to set up their base of operations? Where else but the bright lights of… Detroit?
Sarcasm aside, while shaking things up to boost flagging readership (Marvel’s X-Men was ferociously successful by this point) is a good idea, unfortunately this revamp proved to be little more than a lesson on how not to re-launch a flagship title. After debuting in 1984’s Justice League Annual #2, it ran for just 28 issues until cancellation after being universally panned by fans.
12. CROSSING OVER
Who doesn’t love a weird crossover? Three decades after Superman’s first run-in with the Prince of Eternia, the whole League found themselves caught up in an interdimensional battle as Skeletor descended on Earth. It was certainly visually strange to see the two iconic teams of heroes on the same page, but who doesn’t love a good science vs. magic brawl? Even more jarring though, are the Scooby-Doo and recent Looney Tunes team-ups.
Bizarre though the idea sounds, it’s hard not to be charmed by them once you see some of the covers (Marvin the Martian and Martian Manhunter together? Genius!) One especially weird but wonderful story during the DC/Scooby-Doo crossover featured Velma, Daphne and Scooby being given an empowering crash-course on Amazonian culture by Wonder Woman on Paradise Island (dogs don’t count as men, apparently — even male ones).
11. MAKING A RANDOM TEENAGE BOY A MEMBER
Fans of the Justice League animated series might remember the TV reporter character, “Snapper Carr.” And, you might also recall a two-part story in Season One called “Legends.” Written as a tribute to the original Golden Age team, the episode featured a team of heroes known as “The Justice Guild of America,” and an eager, little fan of theirs who was their “honorary member.” Separately, both serve as nods to Lucas “Snapper” Carr — a normal, teenage boy who basically just “hung out” with the League during the Silver Age as their unofficial mascot. But what was his role?
Well, in their debut story, he helped fend off the JLA’s first supervillain (“Starro the Conqueror”) with the power of a lime-treated lawn. Yes, really. Other than that, Snapper’s sole contribution was the slang-laden delivery of catchphrases to keep the teenage audience hooked. To no-one’s disappointment, he was forced to resign his honorary membership after accidentally revealing the location of the League’s “Secret Sanctuary” to the Joker in Justice League of America #77.
10. WONDER WOMAN: SECRETARY?
As the first ever female superhero, there’s no doubt that Wonder Woman is a pioneering figure in the comic book industry. Deliberately created as an empowering and sensual symbol of the latent power that writer William Moulton Marston believed resided within all women, Princess Diana of the Themyscira is and remains a bonafide feminist icon. After years of smashing Nazi faces and glass ceilings, she was finally invited to officially join the ranks of the Justice Society of America… and also be their secretary.
That’s right — the character who fought for the equal treatment of women by men was historically granted membership of an over-overwhelmingly male team (yay, feminism!) only to be relegated into a traditionally female, subservient role (nay, feminism!) Suffering Sappho! Could a character have been more misunderstood? Thankfully, the Amazonian warrior went on to become a founding member of the League — a much more suitable job title for her.
9. SPACE CHESS
How do you make a game like chess infinitely more exciting? Easy — play it in space against an alien supervillain with your teammates’ lives at stake. In 1980’s Justice League of America #178, a chess bishop mysteriously appears in the JLA’s satellite HQ and swiftly takes down the Green Arrow, then Batman and Superman. That leaves the Atom, Black Canary, Zatanna and Aquaman to defeat the intruder — which they do, but not easily.
After analyzing the bishop’s remains, Atom deduces that the enemy should have in fact won the fight, being much stronger than the League. They continue to puzzle over the situation, ignorant of the truth of their predicament — they’re all trapped within a real chess game, being played by Martian Manhunter and Despero, aka “The Chess Master of Mars!” The stakes are pretty high: the lives of the League vs. J’onn J’onzz’s home planet. It’s a story that couldn’t be more Silver Age if it tried.
8. FIGHTING COMMUNISM
Comic books have always swung between pure, escapist fantasy and sociopolitical commentary. But, sometimes they swing and miss. In Justice League of America #28, 1964, “The Case of the Forbidden Super-Powers!” a supervillain called “Headmaster Mind” creates a dastardly device that causes natural disasters every time a League member uses their powers, which is a pretty neat deterrent to superhero activities. The JLA meet at the Secret Sanctuary to try and resolve the issue in-house.
Unfortunately, the UN — under the thumb of Headmaster Mind — slaps them with an injunction before they can act, forbidding them from using their powers. With only the “normal” members of the League (Green Arrow and Batman) able to legally work, the rest stage a protest outside of the UN building. This provocative imagery was clearly intended to capture the fear of communist labor unions at the time, but nonetheless a bizarre chapter in JLA history.
7. CHASING DRAGONS
It’s not unusual to see League stories full of mysticism and sorcery, but you can’t help raising an eyebrow at the sight of the Green Arrow shooting arrows into dragons on a front cover. In Justice League of America #224, 1984, “Dragon’s Keep,” the JLA journey to the titular “Dragon’s Keep” for a showdown against one-shot villain, “Lord Claw.” Claw then embarks on some classic supervillain “monologing,” revealing his passion for “animal gene manipulation” has resulted in some truly strange terrors inhabiting Dragon’s Keep.
Like King Kong‘s “Skull Island,” Dragon’s Keep is an exotic location crawling with giant, poisonous plants and artificially-created animals for the JLA to fight through, including — true to the Island’s name — dragons! Interestingly, Lord Claw weirdly refers to them as his “Falcons,” which makes them sound considerably less threatening.
6. TEAMING UP WITH KFC’S COLONEL SANDERS
Nothing goes better with the taste of justice than a bucket of fried chicken, right? Crossovers to shift products via comics are nothing new, and amazingly, neither are fast food-related ones. Superman once partnered up with the Nesquik Bunny. But then again, who hasn’t Superman partnered up with at this point? Perhaps more amazing is that fact that the KFC/Justice League crossover that no-one asked for happened recently; 2015, to be exact.
Of course, it’s painfully (and delightfully) post-modern. For instance, it’s called “The Colonel of Two Worlds,” referencing the famous Silver Age story, “The Flash of Two Worlds,” and had the Colonel spitting out ridiculous catchphrases like, “Kentucky fried justice!” and “You feckless, fry-cook!” Honestly, for a shameless, cash-grab it’s a fun, but still thoroughly odd read.
5. GIANT, TELEPATHIC STARFISH
As origin stories go, it’s certainly a memorable one. Yes, rather than have the League’s inaugural battle in The Brave and Bold #28 be against a classic opponent like the Joker or Lex Luthor, DC decided it would be a better idea to have America’s greatest heroes combine their powers to battle a huge, telepathic starfish from space.
The funniest part is that, despite his ridiculousness, “Starro the Conqueror,” proved to be pretty tough. He used his telepathy to enslave an entire town of people, came out of machine gunfire without a scratch, and even detonated an atomic bomb. His one, fatal weakness? Lime. All Green Lantern had to do was use his ring to dump a load of it on him, and Starro — magically — was no more.
4. FUN HOUSE PARTY
In Justice League of America #7, 1961, nobody’s favorite sidekick Snapper Carr goes on a date to the Happy Harbor funfair. As you’d expect, it’s no ordinary funfair, and when Snapper and his lady friend stumble across a portal to another world, Snapper uses his “honorary membership” privileges to call in the League for assistance. Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow dutifully go to check it out.
Turns out, the whole thing is a “cosmic carnival” orchestrated by the alien villain “Xotar” to use advanced technology to have his henchmen impersonate members of the League. After being captured, Flash, Wonder Woman and Green Arrow’s bodies are — for no logical reason — distorted by an alien version of a fun house mirror. Despite their comical impedance, they still manage to defeat Xotar.
3. FIGHTING FASHION
Superheroes forcibly fighting one another is a tried and tested formula, but what if instead of fighting one another, heroes had to battle against… their own costumes? Oh, the terror! This was what happened in Justice League of America #35, 1961, “Battle of the Mindless Uniforms.” After three demons, Abnegazar, Ghast and Rath, are imprisoned after battling the League, they realize they may have a way to break out — via the costumes of Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the Flash, which were “charged with mystical energy” during their last encounter.
As if they weren’t already, things get even more confusing from this point, as the heroes find themselves battling the bodiless costumes from their rogue’s gallery, who have been enchanted by the energy from the spare costumes of the League. Long (and strange) story short — the Green Lantern reverses the spell with his ring and all’s well that ends well.
2. TREES! (BECAUSE ALIEN METEORS)
In Justice League of America #9, 1962, to celebrate the League’s third birthday, the founding seven members regale Snapper Carr and the Green Arrow about how they all met. It turned out that defeating “Starro the Conqueror” was not their canonical first outing as a team. Aliens from the planet “Appellex” fancied becoming rulers of Earth, but, in order to decide which of their race would take the crown, they sent down different meteors intended to change the genetic makeup of whomever was near them for a better chance of a fairer fight.
Individually, each future founding League member came into proximity of one that happened to turn those nearby into, um, trees, forcing them to work together to escape their odd predicament. Victorious, they all exchange phone numbers, and agree to give each other a ring if there are ever any more plant-related threats ever again.
1. HUMAN BOWLING PINS
Depending on your feelings on the Silver Age, the cover of the issue that this particular story was in will either make you cringe or laugh — or maybe a combination of the two. How did the League find themselves in such embarrassingly dire straits? Well, in Justice League of America #14, 1962, “The Menace of the Atom Bomb!” the League visits Ivy City to scope out their newest inductee — the Atom. Why? Well, none of them have any memory of him. So, the premise is already pretty silly even before you get to the bowling scenes.
They find themselves at the mercy of “Mister Memory,” who is able to freeze each member in time. Of course, rather than doing the obvious thing — you know, actually killing them — he decides that trapping the Atom in an atomic ball and aiming him at the League’s stiffened bodies makes a lot more sense. In the end, they decide to keep the Atom on the team — even giving him his own tiny, floating chair.
Justice League will be released in cinemas on November 17th, 2017. Which inane story do YOU hope will make it to the big screen?
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