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Captain Comics: A primer for 'Justice League' premier

Andrew A. Smith, Tribune News Service on

Published in Comic Books

"Justice League" premieres Nov. 17! Here are 20 fun facts to know and tell about DC Comics' premier super-team:

1. The Justice League of America was created in 1960, but was based on the Justice Society of America. The JSA, which ran in "All-Star Comics" from 1940 to 1951, was the first superhero team in comic books. ("Society" was changed to "League," because baseball.)

2. The members of the JLA in its 1960 debut were Aquaman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Superman and Wonder Woman. (Cyborg didn't exist yet.)

3. The Justice League has had three origins. The 1962 origin brought the team together to battle an invasion from the planet Appelax. The 1977 origin brought the team together to battle an invasion from Mars. The 2011 origin brought the team together to battle an invasion from Apokolips. (The second was adapted for the "Justice League" animated TV show, the third is being adapted in the movie.)

4. The first Justice League story depicted the team battling Starro, a giant starfish from outer space. (Who knew kids in 1960 were so into echinoderms!)

5. "Justice League of America" may have created Marvel Comics. A much-repeated story, possibly apocryphal, recounts Jack Liebowitz, who published "Justice League of America," bragging in 1961 about its sales to Martin Goodman, publisher of Timely Comics, over a game of golf. That inspired Goodman to order his editor, Stan Lee, to come up with a comparable book. Having no existing superheroes to draw upon, Lee and Jack Kirby invented "Fantastic Four" out of whole cloth, beginning the deluge of new characters like Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, X-Men and Hulk for what would soon be called Marvel Comics.

6. Joss Whedon ("Avengers") was brought on to finish "Justice League" after original director Zack Snyder resigned to deal with a family emergency. We don't know yet what changes Whedon made, except that he reduced the movie's running time from 170 minutes to 121 minutes. (Maybe he just removed all painful references to "Batman v. Superman.")

7. Despite having been intermittently in print since 1941, Green Arrow was omitted from the first six Justice League stories. Editor Julie Schwartz said it was an oversight. (Some speculate it was on purpose, because Schwartz didn't get along with Green Arrow editor and co-creator Mort Weisinger.)

8. In 2003, the Justice League met Marvel's Avengers in a crossover that involved The Grandmaster, who appeared in "Thor: Ragnarok," played by Jeff Goldblum. (Don't hold your breath for Marvel and DC to get along well enough for "JLA/Avengers" to become a movie.)

9. The late writer/editor Darwyn Cooke wrote a non-canon, 1950s-style origin for the Justice League that involved the Blackhawks, the Challengers of the Unknown and a flying island that sweated dinosaurs. His retro, "Space Age" art style made "Justice League: The New Frontier" so popular that it was adapted into an animated movie. (Yes, an island that sweated dinosaurs. And you thought a giant starfish was silly.)

10. A 1988 story established Black Canary as a founding member of the Justice League in place of Wonder Woman. (This terrible idea was quickly dropped.)

11. Cyborg first appeared in 1980 as a member of the Teen Titans. His history was re-written in 2011, erasing his Titans tenure in favor of being a founding member of the Justice League, instead of Martian Manhunter. (It's not easy being green.)

12. When Wonder Woman lost her powers in the '70s, she resigned from the Justice League. When her powers were restored, she demanded the League monitor her during 12 labors, like Hercules, to ascertain her worthiness to return. (Yes, it was her request, but it still feels sexist.)

13. In the mid-1980s, the League was headquartered in Michigan. "Justice League Detroit" consisted of Aquaman, Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter, Vixen and Zatanna, plus new characters Gypsy, Steel and Vibe. (It didn't last long.)

14. Both the Vibe of "Justice League" comics and the Vibe of the "Flash" TV show are both named Francisco Ramone, although one goes by Paco and the other by Cisco. Their powers differ as well, although both are vibration-based. (Another difference: Unlike Cisco, Paco likes to break-dance.)

15. The JLA met in their "Secret Sanctuary" in the 1960s, a cave in a mountain near Happy Harbor, Rhode Island. They graduated to a geosynchronous satellite headquarters in 1970, which is how they are usually depicted. (This is where my generation learned the term "geosynchronous.")

16. Black Canary was created in 1947, so by 1983 DC was having trouble explaining why she still looked to be in her early 20s. So "Justice League of America" No. 220 revealed that the then-current Black Canary was actually the daughter of the original, kept in unconscious stasis due to her uncontrollable sonic scream while she grew up, and with her dead mother's memories downloaded into her blank brain. (It's considered polite to pretend this story never happened.)

17. A late 1960s crackdown on Saturday morning violence had virtually eliminated superhero cartoons by 1970. The first "Super Friends" (beginning 1973) is what you get when you try to adapt Justice League to a media where they can't hit anybody. (And, for some reason, you include Robin, who isn't in the Justice League.)

18. Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, El Dorado and Samurai were created for the "Super Friends" cartoon, and did not pre-exist in DC Comics. Ditto for Wendy, Marvin, Wonder Dog, Jan, Zayna and Gleek. (Some have appeared in the comics since.)

19. Currently, the Justice League consists of Batman, Cyborg, Flash, two Green Lanterns, Mera (Aquaman's fiance), Superman and Wonder Woman. (I'd settle for even one Green Lantern in the movie.)

20. In 1994, a character named Triumph was revealed to have been a founding member of the Justice League, but on his first mission was teleported into a dimensional limbo that also affected the timestream, erasing all memory of him. (Got that? OK, now go back to forgetting him.)

(Contact Captain Comics at capncomics@aol.com. For more comics news, reviews and commentary, visit his website: comicsroundtable.com.)

(c)2017 Andrew A. Smith

Visit his website at comicsroundtable.com.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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