Perhaps the comics superhero team par excellence, the Justice League has defined that concept throughout the years and they have become DC’s flagship team, always providing justice, honor and kindness to humanity in their worst times. Regardless of lineups, eras or teams that work on the title, the Justice League has always been there.
I have never had problems admitting that I’m more of a DC fan than a Marvel fan (nothing against them, I love their stuff as well), so when I see the Justice League, I see THE team and that’s why I’m always drawn to read their stories. So here you have it: the 15 best comics stories to start reading the Justice League.
Are you ready? Here we go!
15. The Brave and the Bold #28 (1960).
Here we are: the beginning of everything the League stands for. Giant galactic threat known as Starro invades Earth and he is such a foe that all of DC’s top characters at the time needed to team up to face this adversary, resulting in the foundation of the Justice League.
Even though some younger readers may find this issue outdated, it’s still a piece of comic book history and it’s very interesting to see how the team was originally created through Gardner Fox’s writing and how much that has changed throughout the years. Mike Sekowsky also does great artwork, doing all the characters justice.
14. Justice League Volume 1: Origin (2011).
The 2011 New 52 reboot was a massive critical and artistic failure on DC’s part, casting way almost three decades of continuity for new, darker and grittier versions of the characters (with a few notable exceptions) that never resonated with their longtime fans and wasn’t able of bringing new ones to compensate said loss. One of the few positive things that came out of the New 52 was the fact they modernized the origin of the Justice League and did with this volume in positive fashion.
Geoff Johns is, to me, the quintessential modern superhero writer–the man understands what a superhero is and has enough understanding of the lore behind these characters to not mess them up in any negative manner. So here we get to see the Justice League facing off against Darkseid, one of the biggest villains of the DC Universe, and his army from the planet he rules, Apokolips.
Due to this threat, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg (who was promoted due to his character’s success and reception in the event that created the reboot in the comics, Flashpoint) have to team up and that is how the League is born.
I wouldn’t say that this is an spectacular story, but is very enjoyable, you can read it without needing any previous knowledge of DC and it has legendary artist Jim Lee drawing, so you get a lot of pretty amazing visuals, which are definitely going to blow your mind.
13. Justice League of America Volume 2 (1980-1982).
It’s hard to explain a new reader how big, influential and important artist George Perez and writer Gerry Conway were to the comic industry in the late 70s and the entirety of the 80s, with both of them creating some of the best characters, stories and reboots of that time period. So when they got together to work on the Justice League of America title, it was certain that something was special was going to happen.
This volume has a few classic stories from a time where DC’s multiverse was at full swing and the league was quite a large cast. If you want to have a better understanding of what DC’s heroes stands for and what they represent as symbols of hope, these tales from the early 80s, brilliantly written by Conway and with some of Perez’s best art, are definitely the ones for you.
As an added bonus, you get the possibility of reading a team-up story with the Justice Society of Earth-2, which features many of our heroes from another universe. Definitely worth your time and money.
12. JLA: Earth 2 (2000).
Writer Grant Morrison had penned one of the best Justice League runs (some may even claim that it was the best) around this time, so he had the power and influence to experiment a bit with the title, which is why he came out with this graphic novel: JLA: Earth 2.
Before the reboot of the mid-80s that merged the DC Multiverse into just one universe, Crisis on Infinite Earths, there was an Earth-3 where all the superheroes were villains and the only hero in that universe was Alexander Luthor, a good version of the Lex Luthor we all know. Since in 2000 there was only one universe, this Earth 2 comes from the antimatter universe, which is why is called that way and no Earth 3.
Regardless, this story shows Alexander Luthor discovering the existence of the main DC universe and goes there to ask for the help of the Justice League. The heroes accept and start a confrontation between them and their evil counterparts, aptly called the Crime Syndicate of America.
If you think this story is simple and to the point, think again–this is Morrison we’re talking about. Prepare for high concept, insanity, twists and a lot of respect to what superhero stands for. Wonderful story.
THIS is a story you can’t miss.
Steve Englehart is one of those writers that time hasn’t treated so well, which is a shame because he has written some really amazing stories in the 70s and the 80s, with his year-long tenure on the Justice League title being a personal favorite of mine.
Why? No Man Escapes The Manhunters is a great example of Englehart at his absolute best. Green Lantern Hal Jordan is sentenced to punishment by the Manhunters because, according to them, he is responsible of the death of a planet of billions of people; the rest of the Justice League of America is sure that he is not responsible and they did to fix that and deal with the Manhunters.
It’s just one issue, but Englehart manages to handle a lot of his all-star team (Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and Black Canary) by giving them a lot of character development and keeping people interested. He tells a fantastic story in just one issue and that is something that works really well here for us readers.
To read this issue, you may try to find a good backissue, or wait a couple months (this article is written on December 2019) and purchase the Justice League of America: A Celebration of 60 years, which will also include our first pick plus some greatly curated material from different periods. The book will be available from March, 2020.
I’m not a fan of Mark Waid, but I have to admit that in his heyday he was a great writer and pulled off some pretty good stories. Among his best work, JLA: Tower of Babel is the most curious of his bibliography, at least in my view.
In this story, Batman, who we all know likes to have a plan for basically everything, has a set of plans to deal with every member of the Justice League in case they went rogue and that is something that villain Ra’s al Ghul seizes by stealing the plans and using them against them.
Ever since the mid-90s, the character of Batman was becoming darker and cynical, growing detached to the rest of the superhero community, so one can read JLA: Tower of Babel is a natural progression of his character and the moment where he has to deal with the consequences of his actions. It’s also interesting to see every member of the League coping with a situation that is designed to put an end to them.
I would also like to point out Howard Porter’s artwork here; the man is extremely talented and I think that his work with Waid and Morrison on their respective Justice League runs is my favorite in the entire history of the title, which is obviously saying a lot considering the artists that have been on this book.
Before Grant Morrison’s arrival to the Justice League title in 1996, the book had struggling for relevance with subpar lineups and mixing good runs with fairly mediocre ones, so the Scottish asked one simple question: “Hey, why don’t we take all the popular and famous characters and put them together in the Justice League together once again?”
Obviously, that decision was a smash hit from the get-go and his JLA run is highly regarded as one of the finest in the decade of the 90s. In the opening storyline, New World Order, we’re introduced to a new group of superheroes from other planets that seem to fix every single problem of humanity and get the people’s praise, but the League discovers that they are tyrants looking to take over the Earth through manipulation and deceit.
This is a very fun read with a lot of action, an interesting setting and a very strong theme about how much should superheroes influence on the daily lives of human beings. We also get the then-new Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, giving the best line to describe being part of the Justice League: “It’s like playing with the Beatles.”
Damn right, Kyle!
I’m going to be upfront here and say that I don’t think Darkseid War is a masterpiece or anything of the sorts, but Geoff Johns was aiming for a bombastic and over the top storyline, which I think he accomplishes quite well.
The plot of Darkseid War was very simple: Darkseid comes back to Earth once again after his confrontation with the Justice League on the New 52 origin I mentioned before and this time he brings his longtime nemesis, the legendary Anti-Monitor, for a battle of biblical proportions.
Johns sticks to what he wants to accomplish here, which is action, drama and a very good combination of classic superhero tales with Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters, such as Mister Miracle, Metron and a lot more.
To complement this story, the artwork is amazing and I think this is when Jason Fabok made a name for himself, delivering some of the best art that you’re going to see in comics of the last decade.
Twenty-two years later, the Justice League was enjoying its 200th anniversary and DC decided to celebrate this with all guns blazing, which is why we got A League Divided, which is one of the best one issue storylines in DC history.
This issue combines a callback to the origins of the Justice League plus them having to deal with meteorites that they hid during their first mission and resulting in several members being brainwashed. Due to this, it’s up to several of the newest members to face with the founding ones in tremendous confrontation that you’re definitely going to enjoy.
This issue is not only written by the great Gerry Conway, but some of the best DC artists of the 60s, 70s and 80s contributed to this comic, among them being Jim Amparo, Dick Giordano, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Terry Austin and George Perez. A JLA (Justice League of Artists), indeed! (okay, I’ll show myself out after that one).
This issue can ALSO be found in the Justice League of America: A Celebration of 60 years book we already told you about. So this book will include not only one, but many of best Justice League comics we recommended here. Is that a great purchase or what?
It seems that whenever a new writer comes to the Justice League title, they need to start from scratch and add their own version of their origin story, but while that is good, why complain, right?
Writer Brad Meltzer received a lot of criticism for the Identity Crisis miniseries (which I think was warranted criticism), but I have to say that he did a lot better in this opening storyline with this reimagining of the origin story and added a sense of respect, friendship and legend to the Justice League, which is something that really fits with this superhero team.
You add to this story Ed Benes’s remarkable artwork and you have something that is extremely special, which is why I have read this origin story over and over again throughout the years. It feels special and honest to what the Justice League historically represents.
Alex Ross has been widely regarded as one of the best artists in the history of comic books and rightly so, but he doesn’t get a lot of credit as a writer despite being responsible for a lot of the good stuff that we find in Kingdom Come and with this miniseries, Justice.
Ross was accompanied by writer Jim Krueger and artist Doug Braithwaite to do this comic, where the premise is actually quite simple: the Justice League going up against the quintessential DC villain team, the Legion of Doom. This group of artists was aiming to portray the Super Friends version of the cartoon of the League and they did it with amazing results, creating something that feels special, unique and gives to that show a lot of meaning and importance.
It doesn’t hurt that Ross’ art is as good as it ever was to complement the wonderful story that we have here.
From the aftermath of the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot in the mid-80s until Morrison’s arrival in 1996, the Justice League didn’t have a solid team of writers and artists and a lineup that was often changed, but the writer J.M. DeMatteis and artist Keith Giffen era is truly enjoyable and you can get something very different from the rest of the runs in the title’s long history.
This story is all about introducing this new team that consists of the likes of Batman, Captain Marvel (now Shazam), Mister Miracle, Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Blue Beetle and others, and showing how they relate one another, which is something that is pretty interesting because most of them are characters that are very different from the lineups we usually see with the League and an element of comic relief that is actually quite refreshing.
If you want to see Batman losing his patience with Guy Gardner, Booster Gold and Blue Beetle establishing a long-term friendship and seeing someone like Mister Miracle on our world, then this is a wonderful story for you.
You might want to go for smaller versions, but if you ever wanted to spend your well earned money in comics, I recommend you to go for the Omnibus version (find it on Amazon by clicking here).
After all, when was the last time you had a good laugh reading comics?
Darwyn Cooke is one of those talents that come to the industry not very often and that is something that has been proven with DC: The New Frontier, where we see one of the most heartfelt, honest and classic depictions of the Justice League.
Set in a world post-World War II, the age of superheroes is declining and civilization is no longer as trusting of them as they once were. But when a new alien threat appears, the superheroes resurface and make a difference on the world once again.
One of the biggest issues with modern DC in 2019 is that they have been rejecting the notion that their superheroes are inspirational archetypes and they are meant to generate hope and kindness on the audience, which is something that Cooke accomplishes here with The New Frontier: a classic world where these DC superheroes feel at home and they show all the best attributes that defines them in the best possible manner.
The artwork also helps, adding that classic 1950s style and it actually fits quite well with this Justice League (which is understandable, given that these characters have been around since those years).
One of the definitive comic books in the whole history of the medium and definitely Alex Ross and Mark Waid’s crowning achievement, Kingdom Come is a masterpiece that shows the main heroes of the Justice League in one of their biggest challenges and dealing with the biggest adversary of all: time itself.
Our classic heroes have aged and a new generation of emotionless, cynical superheroes has taken over the mantles and they are dealing with criminals in a much more brutal manner, having no qualms in killing others in the process. Characters like Batman and Superman struggled with this new world and they decide to retire, but once they see that everything has basically gone to hell, they come back from retirement and decide to teach these young “heroes” what heroism truly is.
DC characters shine in their absolute best once they put them in their most uplifting and positive light, which is something that Kingdom Come does extremely well. The story is an epic of the highest quality and with Alex Ross’s artwork this comic takes a whole new level.
By the time that Grant Morrison got to his Rock of Ages storyline, he had already cemented the new status quo for the Justice League and the lineup with the most famous characters was already established, becoming a monumental milestone for the title and, in my view, the best story that the League has ever enjoyed.
Time travel, the new Legion of Doom, doppelgangers of the superheroes, alternate timelines, gods… Rock of Ages has everything and a lot more. It’s actually amazing how Morrison managed to tell so plots in just six issues, which is a testament to his abilities as a writer and the scope of this comic as a whole.
The story seems like a Silver Age concept done seriously and executed in masterful fashion; it’s fascinating to view a part of the team coping with certain threats in the present while the other half is dealing with an apocalyptic future ruled by Darkseid–comic book stories rarely get more epic than this.
The Justice League of America has faced the greatest evils of the DC Universe and they have the greatest superheroes; Rock of Ages is a testament to everything that is great about the DC Universe and their beloved superheroes, so if you want to have a good time and understand what these characters are, then you need to pick and read JLA: Rock of Ages.
We gave you a great list of can’t miss books for any Justice League lover. Go for them and enjoy a great time!
And remember… keep reading good comics!
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About the writer:
Kevin is a Venezuelan writer who loves talking about comic books, literature, films, football and series. Fiction writer. Manchester United supporter. He has written in Spanish and English for various magazines and websites, such as Thundersteel Magazine, Chiesa di Totti, The Busby Babe, Revista Kamandi, Animated Apparel, MusikHolics, Gemr, La Soledad del Nueve, Mariskal Rock, Sail Away.