Justice League’s theatrical release is imminent and now that the embargos have lifted – the word of mouth seems to indicate a positive direction. So, it’s time to upgrade your background history on the League, so that you that you don’t sound stupid when you’re taking a tour of the Watchtower, with Superman and friends.
Here’s the Film Companion list of the Top 5 Justice League of America (JLA) comics you should binge-read, before you go toe-to-toe with the Parademons next week.
1. Kingdom Come
This first entry on the list isn’t a true blue JLA comic – but it is the best primer to get you deep into the JLA-verse mythology. Mark Waid’s contemplative and imaginative writing coupled with Alex Ross’s photorealistic art style elevates Kingdom Come into the “masterpiece” category. The comic takes is set in the post-Superhero era – one where Superman and others from his time have retired, unable to find their place in the new world. This is a world that condones a ‘reckless yet decisive’ philosophy that drives the new generation of superheroes and condemns the old-world values of Superman and heroes of his time.
Seen through the eyes of Pastor who is made witness to the unfolding chain of events by The Spectre – the comic takes a deep, dark look at what makes a superhero, how thin the lines are between righteousness and evil; and how at the end of it, goodness prevails only when we recognize what makes us human – warts and all.
Read Kingdom Come, because it is up there, among the top superhero graphic novels of all time. Also read it because, when you juxtapose the tonality of Kingdom Come with that of the DC Cinematic Universe (or DCEU), you can see how much they tried to get right; and how much they got wrong.
2. Final Crisis
Many ardent comic book readers would find this an unusual entry, but to me Final Crisis is the last great and definitive mega ‘crisis’ event from the house of DC. Grant Morrison is at his eeriest, trippiest and all-in-or-nothing best in this volume.
In the lead up to Final Crisis we see that the New Gods from New Genesis and Apokolips are now dead. Soon, Orion (Darkseid’s son) crashes on Earth having been killed by a “God Bullet” and his death sets off a multiverse spanning chain of events in motion. It is soon revealed that the New Gods may not be all that dead after all.
Final Crisis follows the story of resurrection of Darkseid, DC Universe’s big baddy – as he is reborn, enslaves the human populace with the ‘anti-life equation’ and then makes the entire universe crumble as he tries to shape it to his will.
Read Final Crisis to know how intensely imaginative and cerebral a no-holds barred JLA movie with the right hands at the helm could be. Read it for the rise of Darkseid as the evil God and for that one scene where a mere mortal Batman takes him head-on.
3. JLA: Tower of Babel
If one looks at the team-play and dynamics of the DC universe superheroes, Batman would always seem like an odd choice to be a part of an ensemble like JLA. While Superman and Wonder Woman are meant to represent all that is good about humanity – Batman, with his brooding, distrustful ‘emo’ vibe stands in stark contrast. Also, one might wonder what additional skills could he possibly bring to the table that a Kryptonian, an Amazon and a Space Cop can’t.
JLA: Tower of Babel answers that conundrum – as Ra’s Al Ghul discovers the files Batman kept on all his teammates and uses it to bring down the JLA in a matter of hours. This leads Batman to run around saving his teammates, take down Ra’s and put out the fires that his distrustful nature had caused.
There are of course consequences at the end of the storyline that shake the foundation of JLA and the DC trinity – for a long, long time.
4. JLA: New World Order
This volume, eventually collected as a trade paperback marked one of the most definitive and successful runs for the JLA comic book franchise. It also marked Grant Morrison’s career boosting run at DC and established him as one of the heavyweights of mainstream comic books.
In the New World Order, we see the Justice League overshadowed and side-lined by a new group of God-like beings; pretending to be both superheroes and promising paradise on Earth. When the JLA, suspecting the real intentions of these benevolent beings, counter them; they are quickly taken down.
Without revealing too much, there is a plot twist on the real identities of these beings and then follows the story of how JLA bands together to take them down.
New World Order is fun, imaginative and a quintessential JLA comic book.
5. JLA: The Darkseid War
A fair recent storyline, JLA: The Darkseid War was a universe level event that shakes up the status quo considerably in the comic bookverse. The plot rundown is simple: Darkseid has an illegitimate daughter with an Amazonian and the daughter grows up to hate her father. Eventually she sets her schemes in motion to bring her father Darkseid face-to-face with the Anti-Monitor – an arguably more powerful being than him; to kill Darkseid.
In the meanwhile, Batman becomes omni-sentient, Superman is sent to Apokolips and turns evil; and the Flash becomes the Black Racer (an embodiment of Death).
Yes, there’s a lot of things happening, packed into pages bursting with action. It’s a trend, I guess.
Read The Darkseid War for a quick run-down on the Apokolips and New genesis mythology. Read it to see Steppenwolf – the antagonist of the upcoming JL movie in action – and to see the League without Superman, take on Steppenwolf and Darkseid’s minions on Earth.
Umm… Wait, that sounds a bit too familiar.
THE OTHER 5
Of course, there’ so much more JLA material out there that you could spend an entire month, and still be at the tip of the iceberg. Here are some others that didn’t make it to my Top 5 binge-list, but round up the Top 10:
1. Superman/Batman: The Supergirl from Krypton:
A pod arrives with Kara Zor El aka Supergirl – and everyone, including Darkseid wants her as their Kryptonian warrior/pet. That is not going to sit too well with her cousin, Superman, obviously.
2. JLA: The Nail
Set in an alternate universe – the comic follows the story of a Justice League in a world without Superman. Someone out there is trying to undermine and discredit the JLA in the eyes of the public.
3. JLA: Heaven’s Ladder
It’s a Mark Waid once again! Earth is stolen from its orbit by super powerful and advanced alien beings – and JLA must fight them before it’s too late. There is a mind-blowing panel in this comic, you’ll know what I’m talking about once you see it!
4. The New Gods: Volume 1
It’s Kirby! It’s classic! And it’s the very first volume with all these Golden age hyped-up, God-like beings!
5. Crisis on Infinite Earths/Infinite Crisis
No list which talks of the Justice League can go without the mention of the two of DCs biggest “Crisis” events. Spanning multiverses, dimensions, time and space – you get to see all of JLA and the DCverse take on ancient beings hell bent on reshaping the universes in their image.