Geek Primer: Justice League

Here’s your guide to be the smug friend after watching the newest film in DC Comics’ cinematic universe as we dig into the comic book and previous adaptations of DC’s flagship characters.

Who and what is the Justice League?

To non-comics reading cinema fans, the easy answer is that they are DC’s equivalent of the Avengers, a team of heroes working together to face threats they couldn’t defeat individually. Comics fans will know that DC introduced the concept of a superhero team-up book way back in 1940 with the Justice Society of America, which was created as a way to showcase superheroes who weren’t popular enough to headline their own titles. Thus Superman and Batman did not appear, although Wonder Woman was able to join…as the team’s secretary.

The concept was reintroduced as part of the superhero revival in the late 1950s, and the first issue of Justice League of America (JLA) hit newsstands in 1960. The team this time included Superman and Batman, though they did not often appear in the comic itself, and their teammates included Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter. The overall roster has rotated, expanded, and been completely changed a number of times, but those are the core characters most associated with the League, up through DC’s “New 52” reboot in 2011. For that reboot, the original lineup was brought back, but with the exception of Cyborg being substituted for Martian Manhunter.

Batfleck, Wonder Woman…who else is in this movie?

The two leads of the “DCEU” (since Superman died in BvS, but he’ll get better…) are joined by three heroes: Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg.

”Oh I love The Flash on CW!”

Yeah, this is a different version of him. Same name, but in this film (and in BvS, remember?) it is Ezra Miller, best known from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. He’s a great actor and an interesting choice for this role.

Aquaman talks to fish, right?

This is definitely brought up in Justice League. But this version of Aquaman is played by everyone’s favorite Khal, Jason Momoa. He’s much more concerned with being awesome.

And Cyborg? He’s a robot?

Cyborg was once Victor Stone, a rising football star, when he got into an accident and practically died. His father used alien technology to graft him onto a cybernetic body. It’s all covered in that one scene in BvS, and also recapped in Justice League.

What other movies do I need to see before this one?

While this is a direct continuation of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, if you don’t have time for them, or don’t want to revisit, reading the Wikipedia summary should give you enough context.

Further Recommendations for Reading and Watching

The Flash

Outside of Batman, The Flash is my favorite of DC’s core characters (Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Booster Gold are other longtime favorites). I can definitely recommend the aforementioned CW series, which I’ve mostly enjoyed as the right tone for a superhero soap.

As per most of these columns, I’ll be highlighting a lot of the DC Animated Universe that started with Batman: The Animated Series. The Flash was a regular on Justice League and Justice League Unlimited , and the latter series has a fantastic Flash episode. Season 3, episode 5, “Flash and Substance” is a love letter to the Flash’s villains, called Rogues, while also showing how different his approach to being a superhero when compared to Batman.

For reading recommendations, Mark Waid and Geoff Johns wrote long Flash runs in the late 1990s and 2000s, but they featured the Wally West version of the character. Since Ezra Miller’s Flash is Barry Allen, both of these recommendations will feature him.

First is ”Rogues Reloaded,” a recent storyline from the current Flash comic. Written by Joshua Williamson and featuring art by Carmine Di Giandomenico, the entire run so far has been really fun, but since I love the Flash’s villains, and this one features them all working together, it’s a great introduction to the world of the Scarlet Speedster.

The story that follows that one is “The Button,” a Flash/Batman crossover that is a race through time involving the smiley face pin from Watchmen. Williamson and current Batman writer Tom King teamed up for what is a really fun team-up between these two characters, with excellent art from Howard Porter and Jason Fabok.

Aquaman:

Aquaman gets a bad rap. Yes, it is easy to portray him as ridiculous, or not useful. But he hasn’t stuck around for 75 years because he’s a joke. This is actually subverted to great effect in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon. The series is a more lighthearted take on The Dark Knight, and Aquaman (voiced by John DiMaggio) is larger than life, always trying to regale anyone who will listen with boats of his adventures. Truly joyous.

As for comics, the “American Tidal” storyline from a decade ago is the first time I read an Aquaman story I loved. San Diego has sunken beneath the surface, and some of their citizens can now breathe underwater. Aquaman helps them adjust while investigating the mystery. It shows him acting as a hero and a leader apart from all of the Atlantean throne drama.

The current Aquaman comic that started with DC “Rebirth” is also quite good, and deals with the role of Atlantis within the world, power, terrorism, and other topics all while underwater. A great place to start for new readers.

Cyborg

Cyborg was created in 1980, and is best known as a member of the Teen Titans, and is a main cast member in both Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go! animated series. He’s mostly been a team player over the years, and being on the Justice League has certainly raised his profile, finally netting him his own ongoing solo comic book series.

One of the stories I read as research for this article was Teen Titans Spotlight #13 from 1987. One of the first stories to be only about Cyborg, it is a really emotionally affecting story. Batman villain Two-Face, since he is also a half-man, tries to prove that he and Cyborg are no different, and kidnaps Cyborg’s girlfriend to prove his point. A great self-contained story.

The other is the Teen Titans relaunch from Geoff Johns and Mike McKone, in which the older Titans, (Cyborg, Raven, Starfire, etc.) recruit a new team of teen heroes to pass along the legacy of the team. This volume is a great way to get to know a ton of great DC characters, including Cyborg.

Justice League

As I mentioned above, both Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series are excellent for viewers of all ages. For a one-shot dose, the animated film Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, which pits the Justice League against their mirror universe counterparts is also really fun.

As for comics, there are three I’d like to recommend. JLA: Year One by Mark Waid,, Brian Augustyn, and Barry Kitson is a retelling of the forming of the Justice League and their first adventures after one of DC’s continuity-mucking reboots. Though it is as recent as 1999, it feels a bit dated, but I love that Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman aren’t a part of this version of the team, giving the spotlight to Flash, Green Lantern, Black Canary, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter.

JLA: Year One was sort of a spinoff of Grant Morrison, Oscar Jimenez, and Howard Porter’s work on the main JLA series. Taking it back to basics, they focus on the seven core members and tell the biggest possible stories. Interpersonal drama and insane ideas bounce across this series, and it has become the standard bearer for superhero comics. A must read.

Finally, Flashpoint. I love time travel and alternate universe stories, and this is both! Someone has completely changed the world as Flash knows it, and he needs to figure out how to fix it. It’s a darker, crazier universe where Atlantis and the Amazons are constantly at war, among other things. It was also adapted into a pretty decent animated film in its own right.

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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