As one of the premiere super teams in comics history, the Justice League and all of its numerous members are expected to embody a certain level of righteousness. Therefore, they are to uphold the law at all costs, enforce it to the best of their abilities, and maintain order amidst any and all crises. But, of course, no one is perfect; even superheroes of the highest echelon are known to err from time to time. Mistakes are expected, often anticipated and regularly forgiven for better or for worse. Sometimes, however, things are taken too far -- words and/or actions cross a line that cannot be subsequently undone, try as heroes might. Inevitably, this is all too true for a variety of League members.
Truth be told, there are instances in which a League member’s going too far isn’t exactly unforgivable. Yet, they are still just as worthy of acknowledgement as examples that are not so easily brushed aside. Critiquing our heroes tough, but the lessons they teach and the stories they tell don’t always come from a place of virtue. The following list will recount 15 moments of Justice League members past and present taking matters to the extreme with their less than stellar, or outright immoral, behavior.
15 GREEN ARROW KILLS PROMETHEUS
Following his release from Martian Manhunter’s psychic imprisonment, Prometheus seeks revenge on the League. He does so by planting devices capable of scattering various cities throughout time. To officially get the League off of his back, Prometheus offers them an ultimatum -- the locations of each device in exchange for his freedom. Green Arrow refuses, only to learn Star City is already in a state of immense destruction. One tragedy that specifically hits home is the death of Roy Harper’s daughter, Lian.
After things have settled with Prometheus on the loose and the other cities saved, Green Arrow ambushes the villain. Their encounter ends in the vigilante firing an arrow into Prometheus’ head, killing him instantly. In “The Rise and Fall,” Oliver Queen is on the run as the League hunts him down for slaying Prometheus. Whether Green Arrow’s actions are justified remains contentious.
14 WONDER WOMAN BREAKS MAXWELL LORD'S NECK
Alleged fear is at the heart of many of Maxwell Lord’s nefarious machinations. During Wonder Woman’s “Sacrifice” story arc in the mid-'00s, his fear gets him more than he bargains for. Lord-induced mind-control has Superman on not so stellar behavior; while Wonder Woman can keep the Man of Steel at bay, there’s only so much she can do. She uses the Lasso of Truth, which compels Lord to divulge how to neutralize the effects of mind-control. He quickly reveals the only way would be if she killed him.
With little to no hesitation, the Amazonian Princess snaps Lord’s neck, effectively breaking his hold over Superman. It’s not the killing itself that’s too far; Lord certainly wasn’t lying about that being her sole option. But could she not have committed the act by any other means, perhaps in a manner that doesn't make her seem callous?
13 MARTIAN MANHUNTER SHAPESHIFTS INTO A WOMAN
In the mid-'90s, Justice League Europe spawned a spinoff series, Justice League Task Force. J’onn J’onzz is generally the leader of the Task Force, but even he recognizes when he should sit out. Interestingly, the team’s handler, Martin, does not agree. During issues #7-8, Martin assembles an all female team, including Wonder Woman, Gypsy, Maxima, Vixen and Dolphin. Their mission is to infiltrate a female tribe in Africa and retrieve an agent whose escape plan had gotten him stranded in waters near the tribe’s dwellings.
As leader, the Martian is ordered to assist his colleagues, despite the servitor of the tribe’s ruler insisting men are not allowed. J’onn is consequently told to transform into a woman. The offense isn’t that he shapeshifts, it’s in the other women, specifically Wonder Woman, not being considered competent enough to get the job done.
12 THE FLASH AND CYBORG DIG UP SUPERMAN'S BODY
Morbid is probably not a word anyone thought they’d ever have to use when describing a scene from a Justice League film -- not a live-action, big budget production, anyway. But, alas, here we are. Months removed from Justice League’s release and a scene with The Flash and Cyborg in a graveyard remains one of the major criticisms leveled at the League’s big screen debut.
Yes, the Man of Steel’s body had to be retrieved in order for him to return and save the world from Steppenwolf. Did audiences have to be subjected to the actual retrieval, though? And did Cyborg and Flash have to be so chatty during the process? It’s an odd scene that feels out of place and will likely go down as one of the DCEU’s most controversial missteps.
11 BATMAN ACCUSES JOKER OF CHILD ABUSE
Batman is a lot of things and not all of them are necessarily good; he’s known to cross a line here and there. The Dark Knight doesn’t always have a way with words, either. In season two of the original Justice League cartoon, voicing his opinion gets the Bat in trouble with Harley Quinn.
For the "Wild Cards" arc, spanning two episodes, Joker frees a group of superpowered children from a government facility. The villain evidently takes a liking to one of them, a young girl named Ace. Attempting to goad Harley into turning on Joker, Batman insinuates the Clown is up to something nefarious with the child. “She’s just a kid,” Harley defends. Yet, Batman pushes harder, leading Harley to respond by punching him in the face. Honestly, the vigilante does take it a step too far… Harley's in the right.
10 GUY GARDNER MOONS BATMAN
Guy Gardner isn’t the easiest Green Lantern to love; his blatant arrogance and cocky demeanor don’t win him favors. Unsurprisingly, this extends to his tumultuous work-relationship with Batman. The two are always at odds, with Gardner wanting a little more control than Batman’s willing to give. Naturally, the Dark Knight comes out on top and he usually does so with minimal effort. However, there does exist one instance in which the Lantern gets one, or two, over on the Bat.
In the first issue of Green Lantern Corps: Recharge, Gardner and fellow GL, Kyle Rayner, are saying their goodbyes to the League as the two head for Oa. Rayner, like any respectable individual, uses his words. Gardner, however, presses his bare rear end on the Watchtower window, scrawling a message with his Ring on the glass just for Batman: “Bye Bye Bats.” No wonder they won’t let him lead.
9 HAWKGIRL KILLS SOLOMON GRUNDY
Hawkgirl and Solomon Grundy develop a sort of kinship in the original Justice League animated series. In his hunt for a soul, during the two-part “The Terror Beyond” arc, Grundy dies fighting alongside the League. To soothe him in his final moments, Hawkgirl offers him words of comfort and shows genuine concern. Their reunion in Justice League Unlimited is bittersweet, then, as it concludes with the Thanagarian having to kill her old friend.
Grundy’s return is marred courtesy of magic dealt by inexperienced students. Essentially, the zombie’s inadvertent resurrection is botched, leaving him raging mad, uncontrollable and more powerful than ever before. The League believes the only way to eliminate the threat Grundy poses is by killing him; the only weapon capable of landing a fatal blow is Hawkgirl’s mace. It’s a moving scene that’s made more heart-wrenching by her desire to, once again, comfort a friend.
8 AQUAMAN AND WONDER WOMAN HAVE AN AFFAIR
"Flashpoint" is a special brand of messy for the DC heroes and the world in which they inhabit. One particularly harrowing aspect of the alternate reality is the ongoing war between two powerful factions -- the Amazons and the Atlanteans. What spurs this brutal battle on is an affair between Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Their infidelity leads to a series of events that are nothing short of devastating. Diana beheads Arthur’s wife, Mera, he declares war on the Amazons, Steve Trevor is murdered by the Amazonian Princess…it goes on and on.
That one of the most mortifying conflicts in DC lore occurs because of a fleeting, adulterous romance is mind-boggling. The two characters at the core of it all is what’s especially surprising. This plot within the larger "Flashpoint" story acts as an interesting domino effect, started by temptation taken too far.
7 SUPERMAN BECOMES A TYRANT
NetherRealm’s Injustice series is essentially an Elseworlds story, and undeniably one of DC’s most terrifying. After the Joker tricks him into killing his pregnant wife, Lois Lane, Superman violently kills the Clown, much to the dismay of Batman and others. From then on, the Man of Steel organizes a worldwide regime, where under his rule everyone is to fall in line. As High Councilor with other heroes and villains at his command, Superman rules with an iron fist, executing any and all who oppose him. Unfortunately, the reign of terror results in Superman’s murdering the loyal, but apprehensive, Shazam/Billy Batson.
The dictatorship prompts that Earth’s Batman to assemble a group of resistance fighters, which he deems the Insurgency. Even then, dismantling Superman’s regime proves difficult, forcing the Insurgency to recruit the Justice League of a peaceful Earth. Suffice it to say, a tyrannical Superman is nothing to play with.
6 WALLY WEST TURNS INERTIA INTO A STATUE
Wally West returns from his disappearance, which had been brought about during the events of "Infinite Crisis", in All Flash’s first issue. His first order of business is to catch the Rogues responsible for the death of Bart Allen, all of whom place the blame primarily on Inertia. However, instead of outright killing the younger Speedster, Wally does something that’s arguably worse. The Flash immobilizes Inertia, freezing him into a statue that he places on display in Bart Allen’s memorial.
Inertia isn’t merely a frozen in place, though, he is still very much sentient. As Wally explains to Iris West, “…he’s trapped for eternity in a frozen body… forced to stare with eyes that take a hundred years to blink…” It’s cruel and unusual punishment, no doubt, but sentencing a kid to death may also not have gone over well.
5 BATMAN KEEPS SECRET FILES ON JUSTICE LEAGUE MEMBERS
Mark Waid’s acclaimed "Tower of Babel" remains at the forefront of conversations with regards to Batman’s more interesting qualities. Yes, the Dark Knight has a contingency in place for nearly every possible outcome. However, the strength of any team is first and foremost built on trust. Trust is imperative to success, integral to having to rely on others in life or death situations, which is typically where the League finds themselves. Batman invalidates this trust by keeping files detailing the myriad strengths and weaknesses of his fellow League members. What’s more, he does so in secret.
During "Tower of Babel", Ra’s and Talia al Ghul garner access to these files and implement a plan to dispatch the superpowered heroes. Many of the heroes are nearly killed and Ra’s’ scheme to incite a war almost comes to pass. It seems the Bat doesn’t have a contingency for everything, after all.
4 NIGHTWING DRAWS HIS SYMBOL WITH AN ENEMY'S BLOOD
The New 52 returns Dick Grayson to his Nightwing mantle, after the hero previously took over as Batman. When he dons his domino mask again, Grayson is a new man -- a new kind of hero. Now in black and red, instead of his famous black and blue, Nightwing opens his first New 52 issue lamenting how Gotham’s changing. These changes, as well as his stint in the cape and cowl, taught him about himself, made him stronger. Gotham isn’t so scary anymore.
The delivery of this revelation comes as Nightwing’s in combat with a criminal. Their bout is brutal, bloody. When the fight ends, he uses his opponent’s blood to draw the Nightwing symbol across the man’s chest. It’s an unexpected move on the hero’s part, one that’s a bit much even for someone who recently spent a significant period of time in Batman’s boots.
3 SUPERMAN KILLS LEX LUTHOR
Spanning two episodes, Justice League’s “A Better World” storyline begins with Superman taking drastic measures to neutralize the threat Lex Luthor poses. Here, the League exists in an alternate world, wherein Luthor is President of the US. Storming the White House, the Man of Steel gets to the Oval Office ahead of his teammates. While there, hand hovering over a button primed to start a nuclear war, Luthor mocks the hero. According to him, Superman is responsible for Luthor’s behavior, positing the Kryptonian loves the adulation too much. Thus, he needs an antagonist as formidable as Lex.
Taking the villain’s words to heart, Superman does the one thing not even his nemesis expects. He kills Lex Luthor. Most surprising is Batman’s response: “It had to be done.” After the event, the League forms the Justice Lords, a global regime they run to enforce the order they deem appropriate.
2 MARTIAN MANHUNTER IMPRISONS PROMETHEUS IN HIS OWN MIND
Despite appearing infrequently, whenever Prometheus does show up in the comics, he’s a massive thorn in the Justice League’s side. With the combat skills of DC’s best martial artists loaded onto his helmet, Prometheus is capable of besting nearly anyone in combat. Finally, Batman concludes the villain is impossible to keep in line by conventional means. As a result, he has Martian Manhunter imprison Prometheus in his own memories, unable to escape the psychic hold. He isn’t released until J’onn dies during Final Crisis.
This draconian form of punishment deserves closer examination, especially since it could be considered harsher than a death sentence. For this entry, though, acknowledging it as step too far is a good start. Could anything else have minimized Prometheus as a menace? We may never know.
1 WONDER WOMAN MURDERS BILLY BATSON
Wonder Woman kills, it’s sometimes unavoidable. In some stories, particularly those not featured in the mainline DC continuity, Wonder Woman has been responsible for the deaths of good people. This happens most notably during "Flashpoint", where she takes the lives of Steve Trevor and Queen Mera. A more egregious example of the Amazonian crossing the line can be found in the same timeline. Poor Billy Batson.
You’d be hard pressed to find someone that enjoys being a superhero more than Shazam or, as he’s deemed in Flashpoint, Captain Thunder. Unquestionably, the purity comes from his being a kid. A world in the middle of a senseless war has no concern for innocence, though. In the comic, the Amazonian general Penthesilea deals the deathblow to Billy. The animated film adaption, Flashpoint Paradox, has Wonder Woman stabbing the child in cold blood. Never has the Princess of Themyscira been more unappealing.