A lot of characters have come and gone from the various versions of the Justice League over the years, and while there have been multiple mainstays, some have been there for the wrong reasons. There are also times when circumstances dictate extremely difficult decisions being made in an attempt to save the world. This gets even more difficult when a character has extreme power that can be used at any given moment. But this is the Justice League, a team of high moral character that prides itself on doing the right thing… how could that possibly go wrong?
Well, it has, and this list is proof of that. Sometimes paranoia gets the best of our heroes; in other cases, they just get caught trying to save too many people at once. Some characters on this list recovered from their mistakes and stuck around to continue their work with the team, and others went on to join the ranks of villainy. Don’t be fooled and think this is going to be a list of characters who aren’t part of the “trinity” of DC Comics either, all three show up on the list at some point, and their transgressions rival any other characters on the list.
15. WONDER WOMAN
We begin with a betrayal of values, rather than the team specifically. Diana serves as an interesting dichotomy of warrior and peacemaker; in fact, it is one of the most intriguing aspects of her character. When she is confronted with injustice of any kind, she will go for the kill, whether her teammates agree with her or not. This was the case in the lead-up to Infinite Crisis when Max Lord was controlling Superman, which resulted in Superman attacking both Wonder Woman and Batman.
Wonder Woman resorted to using her lasso to get Lord to tell her how to stop him, and he told her she had to kill him. Without her knowledge, her actions were broadcast on television for the world to see and become concerned over. It is easy to understand this action, but it led to a philosophical divide in the Justice League and over a year without the trinity being part of the team.
14. STEVE TREVOR
On the receiving end of Wonder Woman’s more tender side is Steve Trevor, and his relationship with Diana was much publicized during the early New 52 Justice League run by Geoff Johns. Eventually, a distance started to grow between the two and Wonder Woman found herself in a romantic relationship with Superman. This put Steve Trevor, former Justice League liaison, in a difficult emotional place.
Over time, Trevor became concerned with the amount of power the Justice League had and felt there needed to be a government-run Justice League of America ready to counter them if needed. Each member was chosen for their specific ability to stop a corresponding League member. Trevor went from being the political face of the original team to the person forming a way to stop it. “The World’s Most Dangerous” arc detailed these events and served as a precursor to worse times for both teams.
When Steve Trevor formed his new Justice League of America, the biggest (or smallest, depending on your perspective) surprise on his team was the new female Atom, who was working as a double agent with both Justice League teams. While Rhonda Pineda seemed like a good natured online gamer, she was actually far worse than even her double agent status would suggest.
Atomica was actually the Earth Three version of the Atom, which meant that she was a villain like the other members of the sinister Crime Syndicate of America. She was a master manipulator, infiltrating both Justice League teams and implanting a virus in Cyborg that began the invasion in the Forever Evil event. Her creepiness was cemented further when her seedy relationship with Johnny Quick was revealed as well. Both teams likely wish they would have never associated themselves with her.
12. MAX LORD
Max Lord’s history of disliking authority calls into question whether he should have ever been trusted with the Justice League in any form. He begins as a normal businessman with no powers whose money allows him to employ heroes as the Justice League International to do seemingly good work for him. The problem with Lord is that he is always wrestling with what is right and wrong, and he straddles that line on a regular basis.
When he is granted his mind control powers during “Invasion,” his anger becomes focused more on superheroes being a problem than a solution. He uses the information from his time with the JLI to sabotage their work and when he is discovered by Blue Beetle, he murders him. This betrayal and abuse of power and control led the League to nearly fall apart.
11. ROCKET RED #7
Tension between Russia and the United States has been a theme for much of the 20th century and continues today. The Rocket Red brigade was a joint venture between the Soviet government and the Green Lantern Kilowog, and the idea of having robot suits for soldiers seemed like something with potential.
While multiple Rocket Reds joined the Justice League International, one was not quite what they seemed. The Manhunters were a group of robots created by the guardians of the universe to protect it before the Green Lanterns. These Manhunters would eventually turn evil and one of them was actually this seventh Rocket Red. He was defeated and the team still allowed other Rocket Reds to join, but there was always a question of trust during the time of the Cold War.
Geo-Force is the half brother of Terra, the legendary traitor to the Teen Titans. He spent considerable time as one of Batman’s Outsiders and later becomes a card-carrying member of the Justice League of America during Brad Meltzer’s run. Meltzer used this opportunity to pay homage to “The Judas Contract” by having Geo-Force manipulated by Deathstroke to spy on the Justice League.
Strangely, Deathstroke is able to grant Geo-Force increased powers resembling those of Terra. It causes Geo-Force to feel sick and he agrees to be Deathstroke’s inside man in exchange for removal of the powers. However, Geo-Force does inform the League of Deathstroke’s plan and things go awry from there. Ultimately, he confronts Deathstroke, which ends in a seeming suicide for Geo-Force and murder of Deathstroke. Geo-Force’s struggle with his sister’s memory and being blackmailed tear him apart and he returns to being an Outsider following the ordeal.
9. RED TORNADO
Androids are always a complicated addition to superhero teams, especially when their creator is known for doing villainous things along the way. Such is the story of Red Tornado and his creator T.O. Morrow, a technological genius obsessed with the future. There are multiple tales where Red Tornado wrestles with his evil programming, like when he was set up to kill the JLA, thanks to a signal device that accidentally frees Eclipso. There have also been evil clones of him used by Morrow to attack the League as well.
One of his most recent incidents was in “The Tornado’s Path,” when a whole slew of Tornado androids were created by a suddenly intelligent Solomon Grundy. All in all, it could be said that Red Tornado has benefitted the League as much as his programmers have caused him to betray them.
8. MARTIAN MANHUNTER
The theme of aliens on superhero teams is a big one when it comes to DC Comics. It is a major aspect of Superman, but it is also a huge part of the story of J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter. While he has been a pretty reliable member of the team overall, there were subtle hints during the New 52 era Justice League that he may not have always been as trustworthy.
The first thing to understand about him is that he is extremely powerful. He is telepathic, can shape-shift and is super-strong among many other varied powers, making him rival even Superman in terms of DC characters. That telepathy is what seems to have created trouble within the League in the New 52, as his intrusion into people’s minds created seemingly unforgivable tension. He was part of the team created by Steve Trevor to combat the original Justice League.
7. LEX LUTHOR
Some people might be surprised to know that Luthor was a part of the Justice League, but he certainly was following his heroic efforts against the Crime Syndicate in Forever Evil. The only problem was that Lex had never stopped his scientific work.
One of Luthor’s experiments involved something that would come to be known as the “Amazo Virus.” Essentially, it would wreak havoc on metahumans while granting powers to those without them… before killing them off horrifically. It was originally created to stop metahuman criminals, but was boarded up for being too dangerous. This, of course, did not stop Lex from holding onto it, leading to it getting released and wreaking major havoc on both human and metahumans alike. Lex’s lack of transparency was his biggest betrayal here and it led the League to wonder what else he hadn’t told them.
It is human for us to want credit for the great things that we do. While humility may reign supreme for characters like Superman, he is accustomed to getting thanked on a regular basis for his immeasurable good deeds. This was not the case for Triumph, whose existence as an original Justice League member was wiped out during an issue with the time stream. This left him forgotten. When he eventually did return, his insignificance was too much for him to bear.
His selfishness was an ongoing problem throughout his tenure working with the League after he returned. He could not execute things as a team and would often blatantly disobey orders, putting his teammates in danger. In the end, Triumph betrayed himself when making a deal with the demon Neron before fading away back into relative obscurity.
Moral quandaries can be resolved quickly by somebody who can simply make anybody forget everything. The backwards-talking magic of Zatanna can do just that, but what exactly is the price of “mind wiping” someone you call a friend? This was what faced not just by Zatanna but her fellow teammates when they voted to alter the memory of Dr. Light after he raped Sue Dibny in Identity Crisis, essentially robbing him of his intelligence.
The betrayal of the team comes during the incident when Batman tries to stop the team from doing this. Zatanna then wipes Batman’s memory at the behest of another team vote, creating tension in what was once a fond young relationship. The Justice League as a whole was left scarred by the whole incident, and it was implied that Zatanna had used this ability on multiple other occasions on villains as well.
Being the King of Atlantis brings a lot of responsibility with it, and sometimes those responsibilities must take precedent over duties on the Justice League, for better or for worse. It was certainly worse for Arthur and many others when his own war plans with the surface world were activated due to underhanded actions of various angry Atlanteans.
The Justice League storyline “Throne of Atlantis” shows an epic battle that ensues when the fragile trust between Atlantis and the surface world is disrupted. Much of the story deals with Arthur’s leadership of Atlantis and the conflict it can bring with not just his teammates in the League but the entire surface world. He had to be prepared to defend Atlantis, even against his friends, which is something other members of the League have had to ponder as well.
It is impossible to fathom what the loss of a parent does to anyone. However, when you can turn back time, you are given the opportunity to fix those events. Unfortunately, that sort of thing often leads to truly horrendous ramifications. In Flashpoint, Barry Allen did what he knew was likely the wrong thing: he went back in time and saved his mother from being murdered by the Reverse Flash.
Barry could not have possibly imagined all of the effects this would have on every member of the Justice League, completely ruining or utterly obliterating their lives. Did we mention his decision directly led to a world war between Aquaman and Wonder Woman? This is another classic case of needing multiple opinions before exercising your power for selfish reasons, no matter how sympathetic they may be.
Batman is prepared for every eventuality, which means he must have to be ready if any of his super-powered teammates ever cross the line. In fact, Superman even gave Batman a kryptonite ring for this very reason. The humanity of Bruce Wayne combined with the master planning of Batman make for some crazy contingency plans.
The big flaw in these plans comes when they fall in the wrong hands, in this case that would be the hands of Ra’s Al Ghul. The classic “Tower of Babel” story by Mark Waid and Howard Porter — wherein Batman’s contingency plans to take out the League get leaked and used against them — is a pitch perfect example of Batman’s best and worst qualities all at once. The best part was that it had major ramifications even further down the line with the OMAC Project and the building of Brother Eye monitoring satellite — yet another clandestine plan to destroy the world’s metahuman population.
There may be nothing more frightening than a Superman who loses control of his boy scout attitude, which the video game Injustice and its comic book tie-ins displays this in horrific fashion. To be fair, Superman kills a pregnant Lois Lane while under the influence of Joker’s drugs, leading him to murder Joker and create a dictatorship against many of the Justice League members he once called teammates.
The concept of an entirely corrupted Superman bothered many fans, but the quality of the storytelling in both the comic and the game, along with it being a separate universe, allowed for a strong fan base to be established. Either way, it is a startling turn of events for the DC Universe as a whole and effectively rips the Justice League apart in a way that no comic book story line before ever had.
Are there any other startling JLA betrayals you can think of? Let us know in the comments.
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