Batman Must Pick One Justice League (And Here's Our Suggestion)

The Justice League's unshakable spot atop DC's super-team org chart made Batman's 1983 departure all the more shocking (at least for 1983). Arguably he took a step down from that lofty berth to lead a group composed of new characters (Halo, Geo-Force, Katana) and a couple of characters who rejected League membership (Metamorpho and Black Lightning).

Reinforcing the League's A-list status was its appearance of exclusivity. Over the course of 20 years and 175 issues (April-May 1961's JLA issue #4 to June 1980's issue #179), only nine additional members (ten if you count the Phantom Stranger) joined the seven founders prior to the Detroit era. Regardless of each new member's merits, that's not a rapid rate of roster change; and it made offers of League membership rare.

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Not only was the League fairly exclusive, but Silver and Bronze Age DC didn't have that many all-star teams -- that is, groups made of characters who appeared (or had appeared) in their own features. While there were plenty of super-teams, including the Doom Patrol, Metal Men and Challengers of the Unknown, they weren't all-stars like the League or Teen Titans.

No trees this time
Paying tribute to the Silver Age's JLA #9 on the cover of Justice League Europe #37

The sense of exclusivity also worked against the Detroit League, which -- like the Outsiders and the megahit New Teen Titans -- was built around a combination of familiar established characters and created-for-the-book newcomers. As a result, once the Detroit League folded, the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League International reverted to the all-star formula. DC called this a "return to greatness," although it used a number of newer, more malleable characters. Indeed, this pattern of all-star departures producing diminishing returns and leading to high-profile relaunches played out more than a few times: in 1992's twin JLA and JLE relaunches, 1996's "Morrison League," 2009's ill-fated Cry For Justice, and 2011's New 52.

Starting with 1989's Justice League Europe, the League expanded occasionally into multiple ongoing series. JLE ran for 68 issues (April 1989-September 1994) and was replaced on the schedule by Extreme Justice (19 issues, January 1995-July 1996). This period also included Justice League Task Force (38 issues, June 1993-August 1996), which started with a rotating-roster format and switched after about a year to a more traditional team of new and old characters. Once the Morrison League started and JLA was the League's only title, this period of the early '90s remained the only big expansion prior to the New 52. The main JLA series' all-star format seemed to be enough for most readers.

Nevertheless, a handful of alternate Leagues popped up in miniseries. Writer Joe Kelly and penciller Doug Mahnke's 2004-05 Justice League Elite was a 12-issue miniseries spun out of their JLA work. Similarly, Giffen and DeMatteis reunited with penciller Kevin Maguire for a couple of 6-issue Justice League International sequels, collected as Formerly Known As The Justice League (2004) and I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League (2005). In 2009, incoming JLA writer James Robinson tried to launch a second ongoing series centered around Green Lantern and Green Arrow, but it morphed into the poorly-received Cry For Justice miniseries. Shortly thereafter, the 26-issue biweekly Justice League: Generation Lost miniseries (2010-11) promised a new Justice League International ongoing series, but those plans were scrapped in favor of the New 52 version.

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Speaking of which, the New 52's Justice League International lasted 12 issues and an Annual (November 2011-October 2012). Six months after it ended, DC launched a new Justice League of America (14 issues, April 2013-October 2014); and then relaunched it as Justice League United (17 issues, June 2014-February 2016), turning it eventually into another rotating-roster quasi-anthology. Meanwhile, Justice League Dark (41 issues, November 2011-May 2015) became a New 52 mainstay, running from the relaunch's beginnings until the "DC You" phase.

Needless to say, each of these spinoff teams had to justify its own existence. JL Europe gave the ostensibly-international group some Old World representation. JL Task Force went on unique or nontraditional missions. Extreme Justice and the Cry For Justice team were rooted in the hoary "proactive crimefighting" trope. The New 52's JLI was only open to members without secret identities, and operated under United Nations scrutiny (unlike the less-regulated Justice League Prime). Similarly, the United States government created the New 52's JLA specifically to oppose Justice League Prime; and when that JLA was officially disbanded, a handful of its members regrouped as JL United. Finally, JL Dark was mostly a Justice League in name only.

Now DC's Rebirth initiative includes JL Prime (with a slightly-reworked lineup notable for its two Green Lanterns) and yet another Justice League of America. Both are all-star teams using pre-existing characters, with Batman forming the latest JLA as a response to Amanda Waller's Suicide Squad. One imagines this sets up an inherent conflict between Batman's responsibilities to the two teams.

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