Top 10 Greatest Members of the Justice League

A column article, Top Ten by: Jason Sacks

As you may have noticed, Comics Bulletin is celebrating the history of the Avengers this month in our Top 10 column. It only seemed right for us to devote a Top 10 list to DC's mightiest heroes - the Justice League! So the Comics Bulletin All-Stars gathered together and chose the greatest of the great in the Justice League. So here you go - the Top 10 Greatest Members of the Justice League!

10. Green Arrow
by Christopher Power

"C'mon, I don't belong up here, fighting monsters and aliens and supervillians. I just help the little guy. And a big club like this, you tend to forget all about him."

The above quote is the best modern example of what makes Green Arrow a unique, enjoyable character that stands out as one of the best of the best in the Justice League of America. 

While originally he was nothing more than another millionaire-turned-adventurer, Green Arrow has become a fan favourite as the true defender and voice of "the people". Under the pens of great writers such as Dennis O’Neil and Mike Grell, the character created by Mort Weisinger came to represent a beacon of hope and light, as opposed to one of fear, for those is need of a hero.

Later in his publication history, with Kevin Smith and Brad Metzler returning him from the dead, Oliver Queen was given further dimensions, picking up on threads left by previous writers, depicting him as a caring lover, father and friend. These traits were carried forward by his threeprotégé’s, all of whom have come to stand on their own as heroes and role models for all those who come after.

This more than anything else, defines his greatness. The ability to inspire others to greatness with nothing more than a strong heart, and a bow and arrow.

Although times are dark right now for our Robin Hood of the DC Universe, I have no doubt that when the current run is over, others will pick up and return him to the caring, devoted hero of previous generations.

9. Aquaman
by Ray C. Tate

Aquaman was a respectable hero until Jerry Seinfeld made him the butt of his jokes. Now Craig Ferguson gives him more due than DC Comics. The King of the Seven Seas is a 1940s champion who fought the Nazis and much later became one of The Super-Friends, which is why people outside of comics expect to see him on the Justice League.

Popular exposure does not offer a satisfying reason why Aquaman should be counted among Leaguers. However, if I were to imagine the Justice League as a real organization, I would definitely want Aquaman on the roster. Many modern writers complain that they cannot think of stories for Aquaman since his specialty is water. This makes him useless. As usual the writers are useless.

The earth is ¾ths water, and crime occurs in and near the water. Aquaman would be, as exemplified during the Bronze Age, an expert when defeating piracy, aquatic sabotage and drug trafficking. We can also add human trafficking, smuggling and illegal dumping to the list. Any crime that demands the water as passage falls under Aquaman's jurisdiction. 

The Justice League do not only prevent crime. They prevent disaster. The BP Catastrophe would not be quite so devastating with Aquaman on the Justice League. Yes, this is a job for Superman, but Superman cannot communicate with sea life. Aquaman can. Aquaman, if a real being, could have ordered sea life away from the oil spill and saved the Louisiana Seafood Industry, not to mention spared birds, turtles and sea mammals needless suffering. No other Justice Leaguer, not even Batman, is capable of performing such a feat. It is Aquaman's expertise in water, the very stuff that keeps us alive, that makes him vital to a true to life Justice League and one that is make-believe.

8. Black Canary
by Jason Sacks

Ever have to move from one place to another? Know the feeling of strangeness, of dislocation? How you have to make new friends, figure out how to get around, learn the local customs?

Now try to imagine moving to a whole nother planet, and not just another planet like Oa or Mars, where people look weird and speak different languages and are telepathic and stuff. But to a planet that'salmost exactly like your planet, just different. Most everyone you know lives on that new planet, but they don't know you. Even your best friends are different. Dinah used to hang out with Green Lantern, Flash and Batman, but the men behind those masks are entirely different from the men she used to know. 

That's what Dinah Lance, also known as Black Canary, did. She left the safety and comfort of Earth-2 to move to Earth-1 in 1969 after her husband Larry was murdered by a weird star-creature called Aquarius, while he saved her life. Yes, Dinah was so traumatized by her husband's murder that she literally abandoned the whole world that they shared and moved to an entirely different Earth.

And just like a hero, Dinah has bounced back from her loss to move forward with her life in a big way. 

Not long after moving to Earth-1, she started to become close with a certain emerald archer named Oliver Queen. She stood by Ollie when he lost his fortune and embraced radical politics, forming an intense bond between the two heroes, which of course eventually ended up with the couple getting married.

Dinah became a real leader, an influential and tough woman who survived the destruction of her flower shop, the death of Ollie Queen and the revelation that Ollie had a secret child without her. Those had to be body blows for Dinah, but she had built up a tougher shell and learned that she could handle some real traumas with maturity and class.

Dinah Lance has grown into one of the strongest and toughest women in the DCU. She's strong both inside and outside. Her martial arts skills are formidable and her canary cry can defeat any enemy. But Dinah's real strength comes from within. And that's why she's one of the greatest members of the Justice League of America.

7. The Flash (Wally West)
by Chris Murman

It's no shock to this fan that Wally made the list higher than either of his predecessors. It's the same reason Kyle Rayner should be on the list higher than Hal. And, although not Top Ten material, the same could be said for Ted, Guy, Ray, Rick, Tim, and so on. The answer is very simple: they are infinitely more interesting.

Wally, in particular achieves this with personality, which is translated in script no matter who is writing. While I think Mark Waid had the most definitive run on West, pretty much anyone can write Wally provided editorial gets out of his way. Take all the snark we spew on the Interweb, add some kitschy lines and add super speed and we have our Scarlett Redhead. Sure, speedsters before and after have added wit and charm, but it goes beyond that. Wally didn't need gimmicks to pull his crime-saving off. No vibrating through walls or cosmic treadmills, just a ring with a costume in it.

Having Barry come back from the "dead" hasn't made things any better either. Just like when Hal came back, the ones who more than capably carried the title in their absence get pushed aside because those in charge are always looking to shake things up. I won't listen to that drivel about how the characters shouldn't have gone anywhere in the first place. Sales were bad for a reason and people wanted something new. I'm okay with change; it's the same reason why Kyle and Wally stagnated. I just hate revisionist history where readers say they never wanted them gone in the first place. If that's the case, there wouldn't have been a need to get rid of them in the first place. DC is about legacies, so keep them going.

I think Wally resonates for the same reason other creations if his age; we wanted attitude in our characters. Dick started auditioning for clown college with his first Nightwing costumes, Roy needed a drug habit to kick, Kory wanted everyone else to check her body for pimples, and The New Teen Titans was a top seller. What makes the speedster different is his attitude came with dignity and integrity. The same can't be said for the others.

The mantle of the Flash has always carried a sense of family with it (because they are all actually related). While Wally isn't the patriarch or head in any sense, he carried the torch (again, like Kyle) with an eye on the past and future at the same time. He deserves his spot in this list, because he earned it.

6. Fire
by Ray C. Tate

Created by E. Nelson Bridwell and Ramona Fradon in The Super-Friends, Beatriz Inez Da Costa debuted as the Green Fury. In the post-Crisis, she changed her name to the Green Flame then Fire and partnered with fellow Global Guardian Ice, introduced in another issue of The Super-Friends as Ice Maiden. Bea's powers also mutated. Originally, as the Green Fury, Bea could breathe fire and ice. Post-Crisis, she could transform into a being of green plasma, fly, float on heated air and of course shoot fire from her entire body.

The truth of the matter is that Fire as seen in the comics really does not belong in the Justice League. She became popular during the Giffin/DeMatteis/Maguire era, but I'm asking you to imagine a real life Justice League, and see why Fire deserves to stand with giants such as Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.

Some of Fire's potential was seen on the Bruce Timm Justice Leagueseries. Rather than look to her for laughs, the makers of the show imagined her abilities as dangerous. Fire can be seen igniting while in water. In other words, she can reach a temperature that boils water before it can douse her flame. She can only be snuffed if she loses concentration.

A woman that can burst into flame, defy the effects of water and blast fire must be on the Justice League. Bea would make excellent back up in any situation, but defense is her greater purpose. 

Bea can bathe in fire. That means she can enter infernos unharmed. Given her powers of flight while aflame, Bea can drift through openings in the debris and if necessary melt it from her path. She can glide through the blaze and without fear methodically search every nook and cranny for survivors. Once she locates the trapped victims, Bea can then either lead them safely out of the building or alert other League members to their positions so that more complex rescue operations can be carried out under safer conditions. If none are trapped in such hypothetical bonfires, Bea can starve the flames of oxygen and prevent the fires from spreading. 

In the aftermath of an earthquake, Bea can provide heat and light to the victims waiting to be rescued. She would be a comfort and lifesaver in times of need. Surely, such words define a member of the Justice League.

5. Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
by Jason Sacks

It all comes back to Hal.

There have been a slew of great Green Lanterns, including four who were great members of the Justice League of America: Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, John Stewart and Hal Jordan. But only one GL was voted to this Top 10 list, and we voted old school style: Hal Jordan, who first donned his green-and-black outfit over 50 years ago, was the clear winner.

And it's obvious why Hal was the winner among Green Lanterns, especially if you've read Darwyn Cooke's amazing New Frontier: aside from a couple of bad moments in the '80s and '90s (and what celebrity didn't have a couple of bad moments in the '80s and '90s?), Hal Jordan represents all that's good about Silver Age DC comics.

Hal Jordan was created as a man of his time. He's perfectly emblematic of that sort of 1950s machismo that we all treasure so much these days - Mad Man style – where men were taciturn and strong-willed. These were the kinds of men who kept their beers cold and their women hot. Hal was a square-chinned man among men, the world's greatest fighter pilot who through the intervention of a literal deus ex machine became one of the world's greatest super-heroes.

He was a man without fear, which was important because Hal faced some really bad-ass villains: the Shark, the nasty Tattooed Man, his nemesis Sinestro and the betrayal of his love Carol Ferris as the evil Star Sapphire. But Hal always triumphed over evil. He had to – "no evil would escape his sight," as his famous oath goes – and he was a man who always lived up to the highest ideals of heroism.

Sure Hal went crazy in 1994, destroying Coast City and trying to burn out the sun. But '94 was a pretty strange year. The U.S. hosted the World Cup, OJ fled in his jeep, R. Kelly had a #1 single, Batman was recovering from a broken spine, and Newt Gingrich was elected Speaker of the House. There's a lot that's worth forgetting from that year, and Hal's craziness is just another item for that infamous list.

Besides, Hal came back from his lowest moment with typical class and style, becoming a stalwart hero once again. Of course he did. At his core Hal is simply one of the great stalwart men of comics history. Among a group of the greatest heroes in the galaxy, Hal may be the greatest. It all comes back to Hal.

4. Martian Manhunter
by Jason Brice

The Martian Manhunter debuted in 1955's Dectective Comics #225 as a shapeshifter far removed from his homeworld. From that time through to his appearance as a charter member of the Justice League of America in 1960, the breadth and efficacy of his powers evolved. So much so that the Martian Manhunter's role in the Justice League of America was originally conceived to be a "fill-in" Superman; the DC bigwigs were concerned with overexposure of the big blue Boy Scout. He featured in the original incarnation of the JLA through to March 1968, appearing less frequently as editorial became more comfortable with Superman and Batman in the League. His Martian colleagues came to return him home in Justice League of America #71, and it seemed as if fans would never see J'onzz again.

However, you can't keep a good Martian down, and he began appearing sporadically across the DCU until his reintroduction as a member of the Detroit era League. Some fans might argue that his shining hour came as the perennial straight-man in Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justic League (International), and while that may be at least partially true, in my mind it cemented the J’onn J’onnz’s place as the definitive JLAer.

At his essence, the Martian Manhunter is a tragic hero, and unlike today’s Superman, he is truly alone as a stranger in a strange land. Although active as a superhero, J’onzz seems to be unable to form relationships stronger than those of a collegial nature. His lost family, his lost planet, weigh upon him, and he chooses not to fully integrate himself into the human world. But he fights through his personal tragedy to work to benefit people that don’t truly understand him, nor he them. 

3. Wonder Woman
by Karyn Pinter

She's the first lady of the DCU, one-third of the Trinity, an Amazonian princess and a founding member of the Justice League. She stands for justice, truth, peace, equality, and love—all that the Justice League stands for and more. 

Created in 1941 by William "Charles" Moulton Marston, a psychiatrist with a slight bondage fetish, Wonder Woman continues to prove that girls can fight just as hard if not harder than the boys. Her first villains were the Nazis. She skipped Fighting Supervillains 101 and went straight to taking down the Axis powers; that's hardcore. 

When the Justice League debuted in 1960, Wonder Woman was the lone girl in the boys' club, but she brought that much needed feminine touch to the JLA (not like adding throw pillows to headquarters or anything, although I'm sure Wonder Woman is pretty great at interior design too). As a testament to her badassery, she battles the forces of evil in what is basically a star-spangled, armored bathing suit with weapons that are divine pageant accessories; they are also some of the greatest and most recognizable symbols in all of Comicdom. 

She can't deflect bullets with her skin, but that's because she doesn't need to since the bullets never make it that far. She deflects them with her pair of indestructible bracelets. She can compel you to tell the truth by tying you up in her golden lasso, and she globe trots in her invisible jet. Not even Batman has an invisible jet. Her powers are equal to those of Superman regarding super- strength, speed and the ability to fly, but she's not annoyingly perfect. 

She's a goddess, but doesn't come off as unapproachable or unrelatable. She's got issues just like all us girls: she loves her mother but sometimes thinks she's overbearing, her everyday chores include cleaning up a destroyed city block which sometimes feels the way cleaning our kitchens feel to us, and romantic relationships still elude her. She also has a not-so-secret fondness for cake. Wonder Woman doesn't have a sidekick, just her sister and a best friend who've got her back whenever she needs a helping hand.

It's a man's world as they say, but there will always be one woman who stands up and takes her place to represent all women, and she rightfully deserves her moniker. Men love her, women want to be her, and I'm still convinced that all girls are genetically hardwired to adore Wonder Woman.

2. Superman
by Chris Kiser

Why should Superman be considered one of the all-time greatest Justice Leaguers? Because, let’s face it, he basically is every Justice Leaguer. Though Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster may have suspected they were onto something when they debuted the Man of Steel back in 1938’sAction Comics #1, few would have predicted the tremendous impact their creation would ultimately have. Superman singlehandedly jumpstarted the genre that continues to form the backbone of American comic books today.

Do you fancy your JLA members who sport colorful spandex and a flowing cape? Big Blue pioneered the look. Got an affinity for the drama inherent in keeping a carefully constructed secret identity? Clark Kent did it first. Does it warm your heart to think of a stranger from another world selflessly dedicating himself to defending ours? Before the Manhunter arrived from Mars or the Amazons sent their champion to Man’s World, Kal-El was rocketed to earth from the doomed planet Krypton. Even the term “superhero” owes itself to the adjective Siegel and Shuster embedded in their legendary creation’s name.

Staying in step with Superman’s primacy in the real world, DC has made sure to incorporate his influence over other characters into the context of their narratives. Though Supes isn’t necessarily listed among the League’s founding members in every incarnation of its origin story, canonical DCU timelines always equate the first appearance of Superman with the dawn of the modern Heroic Age. You’d be hard pressed to find a Justice League roster that includes Superman on which he didn’t, at least informally, hold some kind of leadership role.

Alternate reality tales like Kingdom Come or JLA: The Nail hinge themselves upon the presence or absence of Superman in the public eye. Erase a character like The Flash from continuity, and you most likely end up with something quite similar to what we have now. Take away Superman, and the entire landscape of the DCU, if not the concept of heroism itself, becomes unrecognizable.

Perhaps the most emphatic restatement of this thesis came just a few years ago in the pages of Final Crisis. A climactic moment in Grant Morrison’s tale featured for the appearance of an archetypal hero at the base of the multiverse. It was no coincidence that the character his script called for looked strikingly similar to the Metropolis Marvel.

He may be Number Two on our list, but in a sense, Superman occupies every spot in this Top Ten. You can find a piece of the Man of Steel in each of the greatest Justice Leaguers, in all of the mightiest Avengers, and in the hearts of fanboys and fangirls everywhere.

1. Batman
by Maxwell Yezpitelok 

I’ll be honest with you here--I’m not really a huge Batman fan. Far from it. The always eloquent Mr. Evan Dorkin said it best: "Ever since they started that Dark Knight shit in the 70's, Batman's been the silliest fucking character ever." For that exact reason, I only enjoy Batman stories that point out his inherent silliness and revel in it (like Batman RIP or the brilliant All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder), or the ones that are so fantastically well done that they blow you away even if you detest the character (like Year One or The Killing Joke). A common argument against the grim and gritty Batman is that he doesn’t really "work" within the context of the DCU, and I completely agree with that. Surrounding him with all those bright and shiny superheroes is a little like having Philip Marlow join the Thundercats. That’s why it’s so shocking that Batman should happen to KICK ASS as a member of the JLA.

Most people will credit Grant Morrison for this, since he was the one who introduced the idea of Batman’s intellect (and not his stupid gadgets) as the awesomest superpower in the whole League. Morrison made a point of this in his very first arc, through the famous line of dialogue where Superman says to the White Martians: "Batman gonna fuck y’all up" (or something similar). However, most people forget that he was also the leader of the League for most of the JLI period, and you know what, he was pretty damn good at it. Even though Batman is usually the most neglected member of the JLI (Black Canary is remembered more often and she was only in the book for like seven issues), when you think about it, it’s impossible to conceive the early formational JLI stories without his presence. Batman was the one who accepted Booster Gold into the team and paired him with Beetle, the one who turned Guy Gardner from a bully to a laughingstock, and the one who asked J’onn J’onnz to step up as the leader, among other things. Batman is singlehandedly responsible for the JLI, a comic that seved as a bastion of light during the most decadent days of the "grim and gritty" era. As far as I’m concerned, this is both a surprising and a fitting accomplishment for "the silliest fucking character ever".

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