Rethinking the Justice League

Nightwing and the Justice League art combined
(Image credit: George Marston / DC)

No sooner has DC announced that the Titans would become the new premiere superhero team of the DC Universe than the publisher also stealth-announced that the Justice League would return by the end of 2023, seemingly to reclaim that mantle.

That means that now is a perfect time for, as Batman put it, to "rethink" the Justice League - both in terms of who is a part of it, and how it works (and on a meta tip, who should write the Justice League series when it returns).

As the first modern superhero team with over 60 years of adventures to go on, the Justice League has tried nearly every model of operation for a hero team - and that may actually be the key to where the League should go when it reforms.

There have been plenty of stories in which the heroes of the DCU have decided the Justice League needs to change how it works, so perhaps the path to the perfect Justice League lies in embracing that fluidity for a team that changes its very nature based on the story or threat at hand.

What do we mean by that? We'll explain.

The concept

Justice cover by Alex Ross

(Image credit: DC)

The fan-favorite animated series Justice League Unlimited came the closest to this potential model for the team, featuring a massive roster of dozens of heroes, all of whom were picked and chosen on a case-by-case basis by the team's coordinators, based on the needs of the mission at hand.

Maybe the way to rethink the Justice League is to capture similar energy with a small core roster of heroes alongside a much larger team of characters who come and go based on the mission or story arc, heeding the call of the Justice League when needed.

The roster

Justice League of America #7 cover

(Image credit: DC)

At the top of the League, a leadership council comprised of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman along with Martian Manhunter as the team's coordinator would fit the bill nicely, and allow the Justice League's 'Trinity' and its most senior member to stay inextricably tied to the team's core concept and history.

But DC could take things a step further by embracing the larger history of the Justice League as part of that concept, making each of the different teams assembled reflect a classic Justice League era that matches the threat at hand.

Not just the big guns, either, but the second-tier characters whose presence defines the eras in question along with the A-listers.

For example, a mission that calls upon the Grant Morrison-era League might include Kyle Rayner, Wally West, Connor Hawke, Aztek, and Zauriel. Meanwhile, a mission that calls for a team based on the Detroit-era Justice League might include Aquaman, Vixen, Vibe, Commander Steel, and Zatanna.

That's just scratching the surface of what's possible, especially if DC were to bring in a Super Friends-style team with Nightwing or Tim or Damian in the Robin role and some of the show's proprietary characters such as the Wonder Twins, El Dorado, and Samurai (and maybe even Gleek the space monkey if DC's feeling particularly funny).

Justice League

(Image credit: George Pérez (DC))

That brings to mind the 'Bwa-ha-ha' era Justice League International team, some of whom are appearing in the soon-to-be-concluded Human Target limited series. A team from that era could include current (re)rising star Shazam, along with fan favorites such as Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, Fire and Ice, and maybe (if he ever gets un-murdered) Guy Gardner.

And, of course, there's the vaunted Satellite-era Justice League, a 16-plus member team that included nearly all of the League's big guns and most iconic members. A team like that, with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and J'onn J'onnz at the head, but including Aquaman (Arthur), Green Lantern (Hal), Green Arrow (Oliver), Black Canary, Flash (Barry), Zatanna, the Atom (Ray Palmer), Hawkgirl and Hawkman, Red Tornado, the Elongated Man, Firestorm, and even Phantom Stranger all together again would be the perfect roster for the League to take on the biggest, most cosmic threats.

The new Justice League

Titans #1

(Image credit: DC)

The concept of a rotating Justice League that embraces all the team's most notable eras brings a bit of a new flavor to the team. But it's missing something that will likely be essential to actually full-on "rethinking" the Justice League - and that's some new blood.

Coming right off a nearly year-long stint with the Titans at the top of the DC Universe's hierarchy of power, any version of the Justice League - even one with a new operating concept - is bound to look a little staid and perhaps even stale without acknowledging that the Titans generation of heroes are now up to the challenge of being the DCU's biggest protectors. 

So we say, first off, keep them on - not just as one of the rotating teams, but as regular cast members whose presence could provide some emotional throughline for the story. Nightwing was granted the role of protecting Earth-Prime. Let him keep what he's earned, along with heroes like Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, Donna Troy, and Beast Boy, some of whom have already served as full-on Justice League members at some point over the years.

And then there's the matter of the latest generation of young DC heroes such as Jon Kent, Yara Flor, Jo Mullein, Jace Fox, and others who were shown as the Justice League in the flash-forward story Future State. 

(Image credit: DC)

A massive, all-encompassing League of numerous heroes would be a perfect way to bring the Future State League back together without somehow overshadowing the Titans in the process (especially if they're included as well).

A team like this would also fit into the post-Dark Nights: Death Metal concept of DC's heroes regaining the memories and experiences of past eras and timelines, which puts all of DC continuity in the mix to draw from.

The various line-ups wouldn't just be a creative conceit requiring a wink and a nod, the team can draw from the memories of their history. For instance, if the White Martians resurface, the Morrison Pantheon JLA line-up could be called upon. Or if Darkseid and the forces of Apokolips show up, the New 52-era team with Cyborg could spring into action.

A full-on cross-generational League wouldn't be totally unprecedented, but sticking with it would certainly be a reinvention at this point, especially if the new Justice League can manage to look like a whole new animal without losing its connection to the League's storied history.

A team following this model could pull from the best Justice League line-ups of all time.

George Marston

I've been Newsarama's resident Marvel Comics expert and general comic book historian since 2011. I've also been the on-site reporter at most major comic conventions such as Comic-Con International: San Diego, New York Comic Con, and C2E2. Outside of comic journalism, I am the artist of many weird pictures, and the guitarist of many heavy riffs. (They/Them)