How did the Justice League get together the first time? Was it to stop an invasion from space? By whom? Did it have something to do with Mars? Apokalips? Appellax? Appa-what? Ask different people and you’ll get different answers. How many origins of the Justice League have there been anyway? That’s what we’re going to find out here, as we explore the many origins of the Justice League.
No Origin Story?
When the Justice League of America first showed up in 1960, in the pages of The Brave and the Bold #28, they were already together. They had apparently been together for a while. They had a core of five members – Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, and the Martian Manhunter – with Superman and Batman kinda hanging back as if they were just honorary members. They had a chairperson, an organization, and a headquarters already all in place.
This status quo continued through their three issue Brave and the Bold run against threats like Starro the Conqueror, Amazo the one-man Justice League, and the Weapons Master. They even picked up a mascot, a real honorary member in hip-to-be-square kid sidekick ‘Snapper’ Carr. All this continued as they gained their own title and faced more of what would become their archenemies like Despero, Kanjar Ro, Professor Amos Fortune, and Doctor Destiny. A year passes, and still no origin, still not even a mention of their origin. Perhaps, like their predecessors in the Justice Society, the League might go decades without revealing their beginnings.
Finally in Justice League of America #9, nearly two years later, the secret origin is revealed at last. At a party celebrating the League’s three-year anniversary, the team tells Carr and new member Green Arrow the true story of their first case. This wouldn’t be the first time Green Arrow would be left out of an origin story as we’ll see. This time however, he was all ears.
The alien planet Appellax had a strange custom when their leader died; all candidates for the crown would go to war with other and to the winner goes the planet. So creatures of various elemental dispositions went to Earth via meteors to do battle, each transforming humans into duplicates of themselves as their armies. Oh, the Silver Age glory days of JLA writer Gardner Fox and artist Mike Sekowsky!
The Stone God fought the Martian Manhunter in Colorado, the Golden Roc faced Green Lantern in Africa, the Fire-Lord clashed with the Flash in Italy, Aquaman went against the Glass Man in the Indian Ocean, and Wonder Woman defended Paradise Island from the Mercury Monster. All five when they were done would all battle the Wood King who had emerged from a later meteor that crashed on the Carolina coast. While the five heroes used teamwork to defeat the Wood King, in the Arctic Superman and Batman dealt with the final meteor menace, the Crystal Creature. Once together, the seven heroes sought to form a more permanent union to defend the Earth from such threats – the Justice League of America.
The story shows up again in issue #97 when Hawkman uses it to raise the team’s morale after they were soundly defeated by the cosmic vampire Starbreaker. Reinspired, the League takes the menace down. This was my introduction to the team’s origin at a young age, with much of it redrawn by classic JLoA artist Dick Dillin. This, the original Starbreaker saga is one of my fave stories, mostly because of the retelling of the origin.
Much later, in the landmark 200th issue, the Appellaxians return, forcing a conflict between the original seven members of the League and everyone who joined afterward. It’s is a grand story written by Gerry Conway featuring art by many of the greats of comics like Joe Kubert, Jim Aparo, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Brian Bolland, Pat Broderick, Dick Giordano and George Perez. It still remains yet another one of my favorite JLA stories, and I’m not alone.
The Appellaxian invasion was revisited a few times post-Crisis as well in stories replacing Wonder Woman with Black Canary in continuity, along with the unwelcome retcon of Triumph as an original member, but the less said about that, the better. It also appeared in Mark Waid’s retcon look at the team’s early period in JLA Year One, notably injecting an eighth Appellaxian invader into the mix. No worries though, it was the usual Mark Waid goodness.
The Original Concept
Backtracking a bit and taking a peek behind the scenes, the precursors of the JLA, the Justice Society had its members chosen by the editors, and the rule was a member had to have their own feature, and if they gained a second feature they took honorary status. This technique was used for the formation of the Justice League as well to an extent, and sorta explains why Superman and Batman took a backseat at first. However, this was abandoned pretty quickly.
This was a good rule of thumb at first, but it was not absolute. In the age of the beginnings of the League, several folks with their own features were ignored. This got one of my favorite writers, Steve Englehart, thinking during his run on Justice League of America. He began to conceive of a new origin for the team, a previously unknown origin that would take into account everyone active in the DC Comics Universe at the time.
Green Arrow uncovers the story while perusing the Justice League Casebook, a secret origin he was unaware of, happening in late 1959 (I know, continuity freaks are losing their minds right now) while he was on a mission of his own on Starfish Island. 1959 is a year before the JLA’s previously noted first case, and also, historians will attest, before Hal Jordan got his hands on a Green Lantern Power Ring. Demanding the details, Superman and Green Lantern spill the beans of the case to Green Arrow, demoted once again to audience member.
And Then There’s Mars
This new origin was also about an alien invasion, but this time it was Mars, not Appellax doing the invading. Pre-Crisis, Mars was a thriving civilization from which J’onn J’onzz was an unwilling visitor as opposed to a lone survivor. White Martians, not the monsters who would seek to destroy the JLA in the Grant Morrison era, but just pale humanoids led by military warlord Commander Ben Blanx pursued the Martian Manhunter to Earth.
Public hysteria of the time fanned the flames of madness and the fear of an alien invasion was quelled by a gathering of heroes – chosen specifically because they all had features at the time. They included Robotman, Plastic Man, the Blackhawks, Vigilante, Congorilla, and Rex the Wonder Dog among others, especially the original six JLAers minus Hal Jordan, who makes a cameo. The six determine to stay together to ensure when the Martian Manhunter did make his presence known to the world, it would not cause the hysteria it did in this case. It’s a near perfect jigsaw piece refitting continuity in the spirit of Roy Thomas, without the flair of the Appellaxians, but still pretty snazzy.
Ironically, Mars is used as the catharses for two different animated origins of the Justice League as well, both involving the Martian Manhunter. H.G. Wells style war machines were added in to the Cartoon Network’s “Justice League” episodes called appropriately “Secret Origins,” and on “The Batman,” similar alien machines, calling themselves The Joining, bring the League together in “Lost Heroes.” A Martian invasion also initiated the creation of the full-time Justice League Detroit from the ashes of the original team.
Like a Phoenix
Speaking of returning from the ashes, from the clearing smoke of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Justice League was reborn in the mini-series Legends. United against the bad publicity and anti-hero hype of the Glorious Godfrey, and more directly the invading forces of Darkseid, a new League emerged. A new Justice League always rises from the ashes, whether against the forces of Doctor Destiny, the White Martians, Amazo and Solomon Grundy, the Secret Society of Super-Villains, or Darkseid again, the JLA is always there.
Now in the New 52, we have come full circle once again. In the new continuity, Darkseid threatens the Earth for seemingly the first time and Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg join together to repel his forces. New times, new Justice League, and yes, new origin. I doubt it will be the last.