With the Justice League movie release on the horizon, now is the time to brush up on DC’s premiere superhero group. Or maybe you’re reading this article after seeing the movie and want to feast your eyeballs on more adventures featuring Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the rest. Either way, we’ve got you covered.
Check out this list of must-read Justice League comics.
Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin (The New 52)
If you just want to get up to speed for Zach Snyder’s upcoming movie, this might be the best way to do it. It’s not the grandest title on this list, but it might be the most contained, limiting itself to a fairly straightforward tale of how the whole gang got together. As DC Comics go, few paths are as well-trodden as a Justice League origin story — it’s been re-told more times than Batman’s been brought back from the dead. But Geoff Johns has a flair for clipping plots, and he gives this particular iteration of the story a thrilling momentum that emboldens the stakes. Speaking of Johns, he’s the co-head of DC Films and has been deeply involved in the movie’s creation, so what better Justice League comic to read than his?
And then there’s Jim Lee, whose mark on modern superhero comics looms as large as anyone’s. He gets a chance to really stretch his wings throughout this volume, giving the likes of Wonder Woman and Superman a godlike sheen. There’s not a boring image in the entirety of the book, and every panel looks like it was crafted with the intent to dazzle.
We don’t yet know many details surrounding the Justice League movie’s plotline, but assuming Darkseid is indeed pulling strings in the background, this book will serve as a good introduction to who he is and just why he’s so damn scary.
DC: The New Frontier
Timelines are tricky in superhero comics. The fact that Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman have been cracking skulls since World War II is an important part of their legacy, but you can’t very well acknowledge that our modern Bruce Wayne was once a contemporary of Harry S. Truman. Most comics hand-wave these issues away or else just reboot the series and pray readers won’t ask too many questions. The genius of The New Frontier was to turn this quirk into a feature. The book opens during the Cold War, with the Golden Age of superheroes a distant memory and contemporary America a far more cynical and suspicious place than our heroes are accustomed to.
Everything about the book feels both fresh and familiar, but most wonderful of all is Darwyn Cooke’s fantastic art. Cooke passed away just last year, and with him past one of the purest understandings of what superheroes mean to pop culture and why people still want to read about them. He proved you could tackle serious subjects with these characters without surrendering the optimism and wonder that made them so popular to begin with. His work is informed by nostalgia without being beholden to it, and examines its iconic characters without deconstructing them past the point of recognition.
JLA (Book 3): Rock of Ages
One of the definitive Justice League books in the mind of many fans, but not one for the novices. DC Comics superstar writer Grant Morrison pens this time sweeping, reality spanning, subplot-stacked-on-subplot beast of a book. In the hands of a lesser writer, it would flounder under the sheer amount of story, but Grant Morrison is one of the finest to ever tackle the industry, and this is one of his niftiest achievements (thanks in no small part to some dynamic artwork from John Dell.)
The storyline centers on what sure looks like the final triumph of Darkseid, who manages to best the Justice League at last and bring Earth to heel. If this sounds familiar, maybe that’s because it seems like this future scenario might have been teased in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, when Bruce Wayne drifts off and sees a world run by what appeared to be both Darkseid’s evil swarms and a Superman gone grouchy.
Whether or not that was actually hinting at a future Rock of Ages storyline, this one remains a vital read for the true JLA fan, so long as they’re familiar enough with the other material on this list to keep up with the plot.
No list of iconic Justice League titles would be complete without Kingdom Come, one of the truly great superhero comics of all time. By taking place in a not-terribly distant future in which today’s DC Comics heroes have been diminished by time, it allows us to see Superman, Wonder Woman and the rest more clearly than ever. Mark Waid is in top form as a writer, and Alex Ross’ famously painted style has never been put to better use, with lovingly and believably rendered looks at an eerily possible future.
The story supposed a future in which a new breed of superhero have gone rogue, dispensing their own militant brand of brutal justice at their most fleeting whim. In the meantime, the old superheroes of the modern Justice League are elderly, and have begun to question their legacy. But as modern superheroics grow increasingly dire, the aging pantheon of heroes climbs out of retirement for one last chance to remind the world of what it means to be a hero.
You can read it as an indictment on the grim and gritty revolution in superhero comics. You can read it as an epilogue to the entire DC universe. But whatever you do, you should definitely read it.