Welcome to Opening Panel, a series where we tell you the best place to start with franchise comics. Justice League just hit theaters, but where do you start with a 57-year-old franchise? With these books right here…
Justice League New 52
In 2011, DC Comics decided to reboot their entire publishing line in an effort to make it more accessible to new readers. The first series released was a new volume of Justice League written by DC’s top writer Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, Doomsday Clock) and co-publisher and superstar artist Jim Lee (X-Men, Wildcats). It became one of the highest selling comics of all time.
The movie, if based on anything, is inspired by Volume One of this series. The invading army of Apokolips and the line-up of the team are taken right from it (minus Green Lantern). Other stories in the series include a war between Atlantis and the surface, the invasion of an Evil Justice League, and Lex Luthor joining the team.
It’s a fun series with some solid character work. A great jumping on point for new readers, it introduces you to a fresh version of the DCU that you don’t need any prior knowledge for. Available in eight paperback and digital volumes as well as separate volumes for the Trinity War, Forever Evil, and Darkseid War crossovers.
Justice League Rebirth
After the New 52 didn’t quite live up to its potential, DC decided to focus on their vast history. They did this with DC Rebirth. Continuing the New 52 continuity but bringing in elements from before the reboot, DC tied its present with its past, to critical acclaim.
A new Justice League title was launched and was written by Bryan Hitch (The Ultimates, The Authority) and drawn by a slew of talented artists including Hitch, Jesus Merino (Superman, Aquaman), and Tony Daniels (Batman, Superman/Wonder Woman). It’s widescreen action. Movie-sized thrills in a comic book. The League takes on aliens and gods as well as struggle to accept their new members – two new Green Lanterns, and a “new” Superman (actually the classic one who survived the reboot).
Don’t worry about that. It follows up on the New 52 series, but you can jump in without any prior knowledge. It’s stuff you’d expect coming into part of a larger universe.
Currently being released in paperback, deluxe hardcover, and digitally. In between volumes two and three is the Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad crossover, which is better than it has any right to be.
In 1997, Grant Morrison, the shamanistic writer behind Animal Man and Doom Patrol, along with artist Howard Porter (The Flash, Superman Beyond), launched a new Justice League series. Going back to the basics after comedic Justice League stories and lineups with lesser known characters. This series focused on the “Big Seven,” the original Justice League members or their current counterparts.
The heroes were big. The villains were bad. The stories more….more. It was a return to the Justice League being a big deal adventure book. The old team assembles to face off against a new team of heroes who seem to be more relevant but actually have insidious plans. From there the threats escalate, with the formation of an Injustice Gang of their greatest villains, Fallen Angels judging Earth, and a timeline where Darkseid rules.
Howard Porter draws strong heroic figures with enough humanity to care for them. Which is good, as the scale and large cast don’t leave much time for personal interaction. For all of the giant superhero punch fests, it’s pretty heady. While a great series, if you’re new to Morrison, it might take some time to get used to his storytelling.
Morrison’s run (except the DC One Million crossover) is collected in the first 4 volumes of the series. Volume 4 also collects Mark Waid’s landmark Tower of Babel storyline. Morrison also wrote a standalone graphic novel Earth Two with artist Frank Quietly (We3, All-Star Superman) and a three issue story in JLA Confidential with Ed McGuinness (Hulk, Superman). If you’re a diehard fan or just enjoy this version of the team, then keep reading on because there are some real treasures even after Morrison leaves.
DC: The New Frontier
If you’re like me, you like your superheroes a little less gritty. For you I wholeheartedly suggest the late Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier. A retelling of the DCU taking place in the time period the characters first appeared. As opposed to the stoic and emotionally muted characters of the comics published then, they’re as iconic as they are relatable. We get a Superman who tries to balance patriotism with what’s right, Green Lantern as a vet with PTSD, and a Wonder Woman who’s grown disillusioned with Man’s World. They overcome these problems and become a team, as they are prone to do in stories like this.
It’s a fascinating look at America channeled through these characters ingrained in the culture. We see a not-quite Justice League deal with McCarthy, The Korean War, and era-typical racism. It’s an insanely well-written, beautiful book and an essential DC read. Available in hardcover, paperback, digital, and a very good animated film written by Cooke.
Jack Kirby’s Fourth World
Justice League is also introducing Jack Kirby’s New Gods to the general public with the villains being the invading forces of Apokolips. In 1970, discontent with his treatment at Marvel, Jack Kirby (creator of the X-Men, Avengers, and Fantastic Four, among others) left for the competition at DC Comics where he produced four interconnected series.
He took over the ongoing Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen and launched New Gods, The Forever People, and Mister Miracle. Each of these series told one part of the biggest war in all of existence. A near literal battle of good versus evil – the evil Gods of Apokolips, lead by Darkseid and the glistening Gods of New Genesis ruled by Highfather. Jimmy Olsen dealt with weird science and the human conflict. New Gods dealt with New Genesis and how the war affected humans. The Forever People were the effects of War on the Youth. Mister Miracle, the cast out son of Highfather, is now a refugee of a world that isn’t his.
There’s some really interesting conceptual stuff, such as the heroic Gods having an underclass they still rule over. The concept of losing your moral perspective as you grow older, and shifting it to match your needs. Kirby wasn’t known for subtlety, but he didn’t need it.
It’s unclear from the trailers how much Kirby influence there is in the movie. It’s an important and amazing comic regardless. Available digitally as an individual series and a hardcover omnibus. Mister Miracle is available in paperback. Also, coming this February is a reprinting of Jack Kirby’s only work on the Justice League: Super Powers.