Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 
The
Ultimate
J.L.A. Line-Up
Discussion!

by Michael Hutchison

Please note that I've called this the "Ultimate" JLA Line-Up Discussion, but I'm using Ultimate in the sense of it being "thorough", not that it will be the last one. I'd be kidding myself if I thought that!

For just a second, I had a glimmer of a desire to simply make a list of a dozen characters and thus tick off the entire readership, since it seems no one ever writes to us unless they're angry about something. However, I just can't cheapen this magazine by taking the shock jock approach.even if it would get more people using our message board! I hereby swear that this is not what I am attempting to do.

No, my intentions are not to annoy but to unite. I have read countless articles, countless posts on rec.arts.comics.dc.universe and countless message board postings as to who belongs in the Justice League of America. The one thing I can conclude is that there will never be a perfect JLA line-up because everyone wants different things. Consider that, even in the halcyon days of the old original Justice League of America, practically every letters column contained missives in which the fans begged them to add Sargon the Sorcerer or Captain Comet.

It used to be that Justice League membership suggestions were whimsical flights of fancy from the young fans. "I really like Black Lightning. It would be so cool to see him in the JLA with Superman and Batman. Please make him a member please please please!"

Today, the argument for the same character reads like this: "If Morrison is striving for a true pantheon, then Black Lightning would fill the role of a thunder god figure. Plus, the JLA is supposed to represent all the world, yet you have only one individual (Steel) of African descent.and he's covered up in a metallic faceplate. I guess you're too afraid of the black man to allow his face to be seen in your glorified white supremacy fantasy where women are subservient and the blacks and cripples just provide support in the background!" (I've read wayyyyy too many of such postings on the Internet. Yeesh, that's scary.)

Some of these membership "standards" are in direct opposition to what the JLA has always been before. Others make sense but wouldn't necessarily result in a top-selling comic book. Let me try to break down the various membership standards.

Current Membership: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash (Wally), Green Lantern (Kyle), Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Plastic Man, Steel, The Atom (part-time), Oracle, Big Barda (out after Mageddon), Orion (out after Mageddon), Huntress (on her way out), Zauriel (dead?), Red Tornado (unofficially - oversees Young Justice as JLA rep)

As close to the JLA of 1960-1983 as possible. Given the large number of Generation Xers buying comics today, and thus operating off of fond childhood memories of "Superfriends" cartoons andJLA group shot by George Perez the JLA at its full strength membership, reuniting the "old team" is what has helped to make the current incarnation the hit it is. Of course, continuity has been rewritten so much that Superman, Wonder Woman, Hawkman (Katar Hol version) and Hawkwoman were never members.thus, the team formed in "Midsummer's Nightmare" of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter had never existed before.

And what of the other members besides this core group: Green Arrow, Atom, Hawkman, Black Canary, Elongated Man, Red Tornado, Phantom Stranger (reserve), Zatanna and Firestorm? Black Canary is in the JSA now. Green Arrow is dead (but only mostly dead, so he'll return soon), his son filling that role for only a short time before quitting. Elongated Man has been dropped in place of the more marketable and powerful Plastic Man. Atom is a part-timer, and Firestorm is currently studying with him at Ivy University. Red Tornado seems to have some League membership, as he is their appointed guardian of Young Justice. Zatanna and Phantom Stranger are in the Sentinels of Magic. And Hawkman is so unusable that Grant Morrison created Zauriel just to take his place (although there are rumblings).

It's possible, within reason, that Mark Waid could get some of these other members into the JLA, if it was important to him to recreate the original as closely as he could.

Team membership using this standard: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash (Wally), Green Lantern (Kyle), Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Green Arrow (Connor), Black Canary, The Atom, Elongated Man, Red Tornado, Zatanna and Firestorm.

Marketability Uber Alles. Ever since the original JLA was dissolved back in 1984, it's been a slow climb back to forming a team which the average vaguely-aware comics reader could pick up at any point and recognize. As fond as I am of the Giffen era of JLA titles, the superheroes in the book were complete unknowns to the average public. What followed in the years after Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis left were even worse.

To a big extent, the Justice League of America is formed of those characters who are known by the public at large, mostly through a decade of "Superfriends" episodes. It doesn't matter how lame Aquaman is as a character (and he is very lame), if the name "Aquaman" has a Q rating better than that of Presidential Candidates Bill Bradley and Alan Keyes combined, then he needs to be on that team. It's why Green Arrow, Hawkman and the Atom should also be members.

Certainly, that's why Plastic Man is now a member, even to the point of being a "core" member when he never was before. It doesn't matter if he's a big nothing within the DCU while Elongated Man is an international celebrity with a great membership record in the JLA. What matters are Penny, Hula Hula, Baby Plas and that Plastic Man jet with the wings that rotated for vertical take-off. That mediocre Saturday Morning cartoon that ran for maybe three seasons two decades ago did more to spread the name "Plastic Man" amongst the general audience than a multi-million dollar marketing campaign for Elongated Man could achieve today.

Team membership using this standard: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash (Wally), Green Lantern (Kyle), Green Arrow (Connor), Black Canary, The Atom, Plastic Man, Steel (hey, he had a movie), Captain Marvel, Hawkman (when he returns), Supergirl.and if you're going to be honest, the Wonder Twins, Apache Chief and Samurai, who don't even really exist in the DCU.

Ability To Fight Off The Biggest Menaces. I often hear this declared as the standard when discussing why Elongated Man (my personal fave) isn't worthy of being in the JLA. And I'll admit that Elongated Man can't do much against the likes of The Tornado Tyrant or The Lord of Time.

However, I must ask: what's so cosmicly hot about Green Arrow, the guy who shoots pointy sticks at people? Or Black Canary, Batman, Huntress or any of the other gimmick-equipped martial artists? What about Aquaman, who's absolutely useless against any menace that isn't, by some happy coincidence, submerged in water? Or how about the guy who can shrink to a tiny size but "has the strength of a human" (to quote Dan Ackroyd)?

Oh, certainly, there have been stories in which these characters have managed to save the JLA and the universe. There's a word for such stories. That word is "contrived." Most "Batman is the most dangerous man on the planet" stories are contrived up the wazoo! Hell, I could write a story in which Elongated Man defeats Darkseid and rescues the JLA from a black hole.so long as:

A) Ralph Dibny catches a hundred lucky breaks
B) Darkseid can be knocked out with one punch, and
C) The rest of the Justice Leaguers seriously underperform.

Indeed, one might be able to make the case that the JLA fights all-powerful menaces simply because any team with Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and J'onn Jonzz on it is going to make mincemeat of anything less than a Star Conqueror! Popularity demands that DC publish a comic with all of them working together; what the heck does a writer do with them?

The ability to stand up to Starbreaker is not a prerequisite for a membership. In fact, of all the standards I've heard of, this one has nothing to do with the membership of the JLA. Other factors, such as character popularity and marketability, carry much more weight. It's about time people realized that.

Team membership using this standard: Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash (Wally), Green Lantern (Kyle), Martian Manhunter, Red Tornado, Firestorm, Guy Gardner: Warrior, Steel, Captain Marvel, Booster Gold, Fire. and most of the powerhouses from other teams, like all the Sentinels of Magic, a number of other speedsters, Superboy, some of the top JSA members, etc. That is, IF the JLA is supposed to be comprised of all the powerhouses of the DCU.

If the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission ran the recruitment drive: A frequent complaint from fans on the Internet is that there are too many white guys. Oh, they dress it up in fancy speak about the JLA defending the world, thus needing to represent the world (huh?) or the JLA being "of America" but not representing America in its diversity. So the JLA needs to be 52% female, with more blacks, Hispanics and Asians. Head-count equality, in other words.

Well, there's no hiding from it: this is a bit political. I realize there are members of the Fanzing audience who may indeed think that every business and organization needs to represent the community it's in (i.e. the neighborhood is 20% Hispanic, so one out of five of your employees needs to be Hispanic or you must be a tremendous bigot). Thus, tackling this particular standard of JLA membership is like trying to change a major political belief, something that a few paragraphs in a tongue-in-cheek article are not going to accomplish.

I think that a character should be in the JLA if he or she is worthy, regardless of color or gender. Maybe I've just grown up in a color-blind world, having watched "Sesame Street" and other such diverse shows since infancy, but I should think that we'd be at the point of judging Martin Luther King's kids by the content of their character by now. Alas, we are not. America is more fractionalized than ever, it seems, and quotas are used all the time, even in determining those who will protect us.

Let's face it: even Justice is decided by quota. Our current overseer of the justice system, the very fair and impartial (and need we say lovely?) Janet Reno is attorney general because a leader who shall be unnamed wanted a woman for the job.so badly that he picked the third woman in line rather than even consider any competent men. Love her or hate her, those are the facts…and since there was little outcry, this must be considered the proper methods for appointments in our society. So could a United Nations-approved Justice League really exist in our world without having to bend to the same standard?

"Sorry Superman, your powers are off the scale and you have an iron will, but if we hire any more males of your particular place on the color spectrum we'd be as racist as a Klansman. That's why our newest inductee will be Vixen's younger sister, Gerbil Woman. She has the power of ten gerbils!" (I'll refrain from making a "Ten Richard Geres" joke; he's suffered enough from that urban legend.)

That some of the "white men" in the JLA are actually Kryptonian, Atlantean, Heaven-born or New Gods, as opposed to Caucasians, doesn't really make any difference. The fact is that a child opening the pages of JLA will see a large number of white male faces. While we can't prove that reading a not-diverse-enough JLA will hurt a black kid's self-esteem for life, or make a white kid feel so empowered that he heads off to shoot up his school, we can't take that chance! Do it for the children!

Well, enough silliness. Some people really do get too carried away in discussing the roster of the JLA. However, the writer of Justice League of America does not have any mandate beyond telling a good story, keeping sales high and not doing anything to denigrate the JLA name.

Capn Curry by Bill Wiist
Black Lightning by Heri Mkocha

Quota membership for the JLA was dealt with in the comics when Green Arrow proposed membership for Black Lightning because, among other things, he's black. As a good-hearted liberal, Ollie was quite proud of noticing this and of trying to change the JLA to reflect other ethnic groups. The other JLAers were rather upset by this petty focus on Black Lightning's skin color, and instead put Jefferson Pierce through a test to see if he had the skills to be a JLAer. He did.but it turns out, he was never interested in joining!

However, there's certainly no reason why the Justice League shouldn't have more female and minority characters in its ranks, provided they meet some of the other standards for membership. I don't want anyone to think that being against a quota-mentality is the same as being against the recruitment of people of all skin colors and genders. (I shouldn't even have to say that, but some people are so quick to judge if you don't put up the big disclaimer!)

Here's the deal, though: instead of focusing on the lack of diverse characters in the Justice League, the real problem is the lack of popular diverse characters in the DC Universe. I'll be covering this in detail in Fanzing #30: "Affirmative Action Comics." For now, suffice to say that there aren't many options to choose from. Unless you want another Vibe in the JLA.

Women-wise, there aren't many truly popular female characters besides Wonder Woman. Black Canary, Zatanna, Big Barda, Firehawk, Mary Marvel, Supergirl, Fire (aka Green Flame), Power Girl, Dr. Light, Huntress, Vixen.most of them have had JLA membership at some point. Firehawk is the big oversight, in my opinion. Many of the other good superheroines have been killed off rather pointlessly (Ice, Crimson Fox, Katma Tui, Arisia, and on and on).

What about minorities? (I hate the word minorities, but "people of color" is even worse.) Steel is one of the major players, and he's a member already. The only other "major" black character is Black Lightning, and he's sort of off limits due to the preferences of his creator, Tony Isabella. Vixen and Bronze Tiger from the Suicide Squad won't work, since Vixen is now with the Ultra-Marines and Bronze Tiger doesn't seem the JLA type. John Stewart, GL and Darkstar for a time, is now in a wheelchair (last I heard).

Moving on to Hispanics, there's El Diablo and Vibe's brother Reverb; Wildcat II, one of the best Hispanic characters, was killed by Eclipso. Gangbuster is good, but his brand of law is as out of place in the JLA as Huntress'. Of the mid-Eastern and Asian cultures, there's really only Maya and Dr. Light (both of the JLE) and Katana.

So, if we wanted a JLA that was diverse, popular and powerful: Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, J'onn J'onzz, Flash, Green Lantern, Steel, Firehawk, Black Canary, Gangbuster, Oracle (bonus points with the EEOC for a disabled female) and Dr. Light. Black Lightning, if Isabella consents.

If diversity trumps all concerns: Superman, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, J'onn J'onzz, Jesse Quick, Jade, Steel, Firehawk, Dr. Light, Oracle, Black Lightning, Vixen, Bronze Tiger, Reverb, Katana and John Stewart in a cyber-suit.

Room to explore the characters: One of the drawbacks to writing a JLA featuring the big seven is that the big seven all have their own books. (Well.in the case of the Martian Manhunter, I can only give a "tick tick tick" noise.) Thus, you can't change the characters in any significant way. For any writer who wants to do more than solid action with characters that aren't "his", this is always a handicap.

In the original Justice League of America, it was often the members who did not have their own books who were the most interesting. Green Arrow, Black Canary, The Atom, Hawkman, Hawkwoman, Red Tornado, Elongated Man, Zatanna, Firestorm.these were the characters who actually grew and changed in the pages of JLA. The Atom married his girlfriend Jean. Red Tornado began a costumed identity, adopted a mideastern war orphan and began dating a coworker at his temp staffing office. Zatanna found her mother and considered dating the newly-widowed Flash. Green Arrow and Hawkman started their political feuds.

Gerry Conway took the JLA in a new direction, with the disbanding of the old team and formation of a more underpowered, down-to-Earth JLA. Consisting of the book-less Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man and Zatanna as well as Gerry Conway's original creations Vibe, Steel, Vixen and Gypsy, Conway now had a team whose life directions were entirely up to him. (For all the detractors, I should point out that he was creating a team similar to the New Teen Titans, Outsiders and other books which were selling well at the time, while the old JLA was stagnating.)

For the following decade, the Justice League titles were a mixture of book-less characters and a few high profile superheroes. The reasons behind this were many, including proprietary editors of the individual superhero titles who didn't want their characters on the team. Comics had changed a lot from the Silver Age, where there were few developments in the story-driven solo comics that would interfere with the team comic. Deprived of the big names but freed from the restrictions of the characters with solo titles, the JLA books began to focus on the relationships and lifestyles within the team. However, while the Justice League titles were often well-done (and other times, embarrassingly bad), nothing about them said "World's Greatest Super-Heroes."

Today, Grant Morrison does an "All-Star" JLA, with action-packed stories that leave little time for character development. However, when it is time for some real drama, look who gets it: Orion, Zauriel, Plastic Man, Aztek, Green Arrow, Tomorrow Woman, Huntress, J'onn J'onzz (until recently).all characters that Morrison has the freedom to play with. Add to that Green Lantern, who has received some nice development from Morrison.almost as though he doesn't consider GL to have a solo book! (I'm with him on that one.)

Indications are that Mark Waid will trim that down to the Big Seven Plus Plastic Man.which would leave him with only Eel O'Brien to play with! I have a feeling that plan won't last long.

While it's clearly obvious that the key to sales success for JLA is to keep the big 8, there is something lost in this. The superteam that has the freedom to move in any direction is a very different animal from a staid "these characters have adventures" team. Currently, DC doesn't publish ANY superteams that aren't made up of popular solo characters (whole or in part), so I don't have anything to contrast with. But consider the writing freedom John Ostrander used to have with Suicide Squad.ditto Marv Wolfman on New Teen Titans.in comparison to the confines of writing the current JLA.

What would be the ideal roster if the goal was character development while retaining a "Greatest Heroes" label?

Team membership using this standard: Captain Marvel, The Atom, Green Arrow (Connor), Plastic Man, Steel, Power Girl, Firestorm or Firehawk (or both), Big Barda, Mr. Miracle, Martian Manhunter (soon enough), Red Tornado.

Now that we've covered all the primary bases, what would be the ideal JLA Line-Up?

Before I beg your indulgence with my list of an ideal JLA, a few points to make about my decisions.

Capn Curry by Bill Wiist
Captain Curry by Erik Burnham

First off, now's a good time to dump Aquaman. Giving him something aquatic to contend with is tiresome, and he's hardly an all-purpose hero like most of the other JLA members. While he is a "big name", he doesn't look ANYTHING like the old Superfriends character, so there goes most of his recognition with the general public anyway. Dump him. Make him a reserve member who can be called in when there's a water-oriented mission.

As a replacement, find another iconic character to slot in his place. Green Arrow is in flux, and Hawkman is in limbo (although there are hints that he'll be resurrected somehow). The Atom seems to be the best choice. The only thing I'd do to improve the Atom is give him some rockets or something so that he can get airborne more easily.

This may surprise you, but I actually prefer Plastic Man in the JLA over my personal favorite, Elongated Man. He IS more popular with the public, his powers more adaptable and he's a bigger clown. I wouldn't want Ralph Dibny in the JLA fulfilling the same role of making funny faces in the background. That's not Ralph's nature. Besides, the JLA doesn't offer nearly as much character development as a guest shot in "Starman" does!

Green Arrow II (Connor) has been woefully shelved due to writer Kevin Smith and his intentions to make a new series with Ollie Queen, Green Arrow I. Green Arrow II would make a wonderful addition to the JLA, if only he'd return from limbo! I include him on my list in the hopes that something could be arranged.

And I'm going to put Black Lightning on the team, even though I know Tony Isabella's feelings on the matter. I do wish Tony and DC Comics could patch things up concerning Tony's creation and ownership. But Black Lightning is a great character and he IS currently owned by DC, so I wish Tony would give his blessing and be done with it.

Firestorm or Firehawk? Firehawk is a greatly underused character who would add firepower while also upping the female quotient of the JLA…but Firestorm is an original Leaguer, plus he's now palling around with a new "Prof", The Atom. I really can't decide this one. One thought: having a man-woman team with similar abilities and "hawk" in the name would help take the place of Hawkman and Hawkwoman!

Blue Beetle would work well on the team if employed to his fullest (as in One Million). His snappy patter is great in a fight, but he should leave the clowning to Plastic Man. He would also serve as a link to the Giffen years for the many fans of that era at its best.

This final roster takes in all the above factors: historical roles/iconography, marketability, strength, diversity and room for character development.

HERE IS MY IDEAL JLA ROSTER:

  • Superman
  • Batman
  • Wonder Woman
  • Green Lantern
  • Flash
  • Martian Manhunter
  • The Atom
  • Green Arrow II (Connor Hawke)
  • Steel
  • Plastic Man
  • Black Lightning
  • Firehawk and/or Firestorm
  • Oracle
  • Blue Beetle
  • Red Tornado (Part-Time active - oversees Young Justice)

That's 14-16 members in all (with the Firestorm/Firehawk either altenating or working as a duo and Red Tornado being a semi-regular), with almost all of them being big names in the DCU and all being quite powerful and talented.

With seven of the biggest and most-undroppable names in the JLA being Caucasian males (Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Flash, The Atom and Plastic Man), meeting a diversity quota is almost impossible. Add two more white males (Firestorm and Blue Beetle) and two black males and that makes eleven male JLA members, which means we'd have to add eleven females in order to make the cast equal. No one wants a 22-member JLA.and finding ten or eleven famous superheroines who are JLA material is difficult. Right now there are three.

I'm sure you all have your own opinions of who you'd like to see in the JLA. Feel free to discuss this on Fanzing's Message Board!

 
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This column is © 2000 by Michael Hutchison.
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