One of the oldest teams of superheroes around, the Justice League (formerly Justice League of America or JLA) have been fighting the good fight for decades, with heroes like Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman coming together from their solo adventures to serve up some good old fashioned justice the best way they know how: by saving the world. While there have been many different Leagues over the years (Justice League of America, Justice League Europe, Justice League International, etc) the core members of the JL have, for the most part, remained the same, but despite a usually consistent lineup and a string of great writers and artists, the team has managed to feature in more than their fair share of controversial stories.
Now controversy in the world of comic books may not mean much to some, but with a team as big as the Justice League, not every fan and critic will see eye to eye on their best and worst moments, and with their new film in cinemas imminently, we decided to take a look at the League's 15 most controversial stories -- so saddle up as we delve into the colourful past of one of the world's biggest super teams.
15 FINAL CRISIS
Following 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths and 2005's Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis thrust the DC Universe into yet another massive crossover event featuring the Justice League and other countless heroes facing off against Darkseid and his attempt to overthrow reality (just another day at the office, really). Final Crisis received mixed reviews from both critics and fans due to the somewhat confusing plot and it's reliance on a wish-granting 'miracle machine'; but where it really divided people was the choice to kill both the Martian Manhunter and Batman, two founding members of the Justice League.
Now we all know death is never forever in comics (Batman had merely been sent back in time when hit by Darkseid's omega beams) but watching those two go within such a short time still stung.
14 TOWER OF BABEL
"Tower of Babel" is one of the most acclaimed Justice League stories ever, with Mark Waid's 4-issue arc of the series appearing on many best-JLA lists as well as being considered one of Batman's own defining stories. "Tower of Babel" sees the JL defeated one-by-one by Ra's Al-Ghul, who uses methods tailor-made to each League member's power set, unlikely given Ra's' limited abilities compared to the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman.
The shocker comes when after the villain is defeated, it is revealed that it was Batman's pre-planned precautions that he used to take down the heroes, illustrating just how paranoid (or well prepared, depending on your point of view) the Dark Knight really is. While many thought this suited Batman's character perfectly, some thought it made him less of a hero, including the League themselves who subsequently voted Bruce off the team; cold, guys.
"JLApe: Gorilla Warfare!" is pretty much everything that the title suggests; a crossover event in which the Justice League and other characters in the DC universe are turned into primates by Gorilla Grodd, and of course, hilarity ensues. As far as creative events go, this isn't the League's finest moment and compared to storylines like the above "Tower of Babel", "JLApe" is in another, much poorer, league (pardon the pun).
Another story which divided fans, some felt that "JLApe" was a fun and harmless crossover while many felt it a pointless exercise in comic daftness: it does feature gorilla superheroes after all. In terms of DC comic runs, "JLApe" isn't breaking any records, but it does remain a great example of one that, for better or worse, really got people talking.
A Justice League/Avengers is the stuff of dreams for many comic book fans -- who wouldn't want to see their favorite heroes from each universe throw down and eventually team up, right? Well if you've read 2003's JLA/Avengers, you may feel differently. One of a few Marvel/DC crossovers, this event sees both teams of heroes hunting down powerful items and artefacts from their respective (and each other's) universes as part of reality-ending game between DC's Krona and Marvel's Grandmaster.
This story not only divided those who thought the two sets of characters should be kept separate, but the editorial teams at both companies, with the series languishing in comic book development hell for years, and with such an average finished product, was it really all worth it?
11 ARMAGEDDON 2001
Featuring time travel, melodrama and some questionable fashion choices, Armageddon 2001 is a classic example of '90s storytelling; and like many stories during the '90s, it wasn't especially well-received. With the premise that one day, 50 years in the future, one of Earth's superheroes would turn evil, kill the other heroes and plunge the world into a dark dystopia, Armageddon 2001 sounds great on paper, the main problem fans had was that part way through the series, the mystery villain was leaked and revealed to be the at-the-time mullet-wearing Captain Atom.
Now having your surprise ending revealed before the story's end is one thing, but DC chose to change the culprit to the hero Hawk to maintain a shock-reveal, and created a number of continuity issues in the process. Needless to say, the fans weren't happy, and to be honest, can we really blame them?
10 EXTREME JUSTICE
Do you think that the Justice League is too involved with the operations of the United Nations and that a more independent, more EXTREME team of superheroes is needed? If so, Extreme Justice may be for you. In 1994, dissatisfied with the current JL's methods of operations, the (still) mullet-wearing Captain Atom formed his own team to operate separately from government-influenced current iteration and provide an independent alternative, and like so many of the perceived 'extreme' changes to characters and teams during '90s comics, the series didn't last long, running for a grand total of 19 issues.
Extreme Justice was a good way to get fans talking and drum up new interest in Justice League comics, but the biggest controversy of this team should really have been Captain Atom's hair.
9 BLACKEST NIGHT
While admittedly more of a Green Lantern-focused event, "Blackest Night" involved pretty much all of the Justice League and saw a number of deceased superheroes and villains brought back to life by the living embodiment of death, Nekron.
As Earth-shattering DC events go, "Blackest Night" was more focused on the story's heroes and villains, with a large chunk of the drama coming from the reappearance of those thought lost, rather than the an otherworldly, universe-ending event as is often the case with DC, and while received positively by fans and critics, the choice to reanimate so many dead characters did anger some and raise the age-old point about death in comic books: if we always know they are going to come back to life, why ever kill any characters?
8 KINGDOM COME
Characters from Mark Waid and Alex Ross' Elseworlds-set miniseries have been popping up in mainstream DC continuity for years now, it seems that writers find leaving Kingdom Come's characters, such as this world's troubled version of Superman, alone. Another critically acclaimed storyline, Kingdom Come follows older versions of the Justice League as they try to instil their generation's values on a newer and more brutal group of superheroes, an intriguing concept; especially considering that the later generation of heroes are based many of the 'extreme' characters being published at the time by most mainstream publishers, in particular Image Comics.
With that in mind, Kingdom Come can be taken as one giant, beautifully-illustrated metaphor, and certainly a comment on the shifting moral compass of '90s comic books.
7 INFINITE CRISIS
The second of DC's main "Crisis" crossovers, "Infinite Crisis" sees the return of a number of characters from the 1985 "Crisis on Infinite Earths" as well as dramatic, universe-shaping events in the traditional DC style of big comic book events.
"Infinite Crisis" is an interesting one; usually mainstream comic events are written to be as accessible as possible, for new readers to be able to jump in and enjoy the action alongside long-time fans; however to understand what is going on during this particular crossover, you need to be up to date with 20 years of continuity, and you might still struggle then. "Infinite Crisis" sold well upon it's release, however its convoluted plot and reliance on past series ensured a mixed reception when it debuted in 2005.
6 CRY FOR JUSTICE
Following "Final Crisis" and the deaths of Batman and the Martian Manhunter, the world was in dire need of a Justice League, so Green Arrow and Green Lantern stepped up to assemble a new team of heroes in this 2009 miniseries. Although the premise was promising (and definitely welcome) the writing on the series was the problem, with many criticising the series' unnecessary deaths as well as the characterization of the heroes (the Atom torturing someone, really?).
Cry for Justice was rightfully praised for it's impressive artwork but story-wise it just seemed like a step in the wrong direction after the dreary events of "Final Crisis", and, as always in the world of comic books, the fans who weren't happy about it made it known.
5 AMAZONS ATTACK!
Focusing mainly on Wonder Woman and the titular Amazons, the ill-conceived "Amazons Attack!" which pits the forces of Themyscira against the U.S government, was so poorly received upon its release in 2007, that many fans supposedly mailed their copies back to DC offices. An odd premise to begin with, "Amazons Attack!" seemed to get everything wrong, from its vicious depiction of the Amazons to the way the Justice League seem like a bunch of bumbling idiots, this series angered fans and critics alike during its 6-issue run.
Hippolyta's forces really seem to draw the short straw in terms of representation during this crossover as she leads the Amazons in killing not only innocent men, but children too, sure, they were being manipulated by the evil Circe, but still, not cool, guys.
4 AMALGAM COMICS
Oh Amalgam, you awful, awful crossover. If you've ever felt that Marvel and DC should merge their separate continuities and meld their classic characters into ridiculous combinations (Batman + Wolverine = Dark Claw, eugh) then boy, are you in for a treat. Seemingly an excuse to try and push together every single name and event from Marvel and DC's respective histories ("Secret Crisis of the Infinity Hour", to name but one) the Amalgam Comics imprint understandably enraged some fans upon its debut, whereas others felt that something of this nature was long overdue.
With every member of the Justice League amalgamated into a new, unholy character, this dark chapter in comic book history remains one of the JL's most controversial (and hopefully soon to be forgotten) moments.
3 JUSTICE LEAGUE: ORIGIN
If you have strong feelings for the Martian Manhunter then look away now. If you're still reading it may be because you don't really care about J'onn J'onzz, or it may be because you already know that in 2011, when DC cancelled and relaunched all their current comic series, the company erased the Martian Manhunter as a founding member of the Justice League, and replaced him with long-time Teen Titan, Cyborg.
Now this may not seem an especially controversial move to some, but with the first issue of the New 52 Justice League series, DC wiped away decades of continuity (more of that to come) and left poor old J'onn out in the cold while Cyborg took his space at the JL's annual family picnic.
2 CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS
Arguably the biggest event in comic book history, "Crisis on Infinite Earths" saw DC attempt to clear up 50 years of contradictory and confusing continuity, and reboot their entire line of comics (they do love a good reboot). To do this, the first universe-ending, reality-altering Crisis was born, with the writers killing off a few beloved old characters along the way for good measure. T
"Crisis on Infinite Earths" brought together hundreds of different characters and alternate versions of the heroes of the Justice League from every corner of the multiverse; at the time, something liked this had never been attempted before, so DC were really breaking the mould (and setting the stage for years of crisis-related comics) despite the arguments against erasing decades of comic book history.
1 IDENTITY CRISIS
Now it may share a similar name with the other crises of this list, but Identity Crisis is anything but related to these large-scale earth-shattering events; a character-focused series which explores trust within the Justice League combined with a murder-mystery which touches on some dark themes for the often upbeat DC Universe, and boy, do we mean dark.
Assault, homicide, betrayal and the moral ambiguity of wiping someone's mind are all present in Identity Crisis, which despite selling well on it's release, raised questions about what should be allowed to appear in usually-child-friendly comics such as these. It explores important themes and feels fresh against a backdrop of huge galactic battles, but there's no question that Identity Crisis is a bit of a downer, but then it's comics like these that we need to ask the important questions and ultimately, get people talking.
Which of these stories would you like to see on the big screen? Let us know in the comments!