Top Justice League Trade Paperbacks

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

We've looked at the best graphic novels starring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern, so now it's time to name Collected Editions' greatest ten Justice League TPBs. As always, your results may vary, and I'm eager to hear what you would include on your own list.

* JLA: The Obsidian Age

Joe Kelly wrote JLA third after Grant Morrison and Mark Waid, and his run didn't receive nearly the attention that the others did, despite overall good quality and a nice emphasis on the Martian Manhunter -- not to mention art by Doug Mahnke, later of Final Crisis and Blackest Night: Green Lantern. In The Obsidian Age, Kelly perfectly captures the tone of Morrison's earlier work with a time-spanning tale that follows the JLA searching for the missing Aquaman in the past (after Superman: Our Worlds at War) and a group of substitute heroes sitting in for the JLA in the present. The conclusion is a rolicking era-spanning epic worthy of the name JLA; this is one of my favorite stories of this group's particular incarnation.

* JLA: Year One

I'm still waiting for DC Comics to release a hardcover version of this book and its sequel, Green Lantern and the Flash: The Brave and the Bold; both certainly deserve it. This twelve-issue series by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson looks at the formation of the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Justice League (with Black Canary taking Wonder Woman's historic role). Waid treats the Leaguers as twentysomethings finding their place in the world; this "young-ish Justice League" approach allows for a greater emphasis on how the Leaguer's personalities intersect -- particularly the brash Hal Jordan and quiet Barry Allen, and Black Canary's reaction to both after she learns of her mother's infidelity (revealed in the pages of Starman). I love the twist three-fourths of the way through the book that temporarily breaks up the League; though largely out of continuity now, this remains a great Justice League character piece.

* JLA: Rock of Ages

My second favorite story from the JLA title is Rock of Ages, the concluding storyline from JLA's first year. I find writer Grant Morrison's actual JLA conclusion, World War III, a bit too scattered, with a conclusion that's more theme than plot; Rock of Ages is another time-travel tale that starts with a simple League/Injustice League fight and explodes into a fight to defeat Darkseid in the future. At the time Morrison wrote Rock of Ages, his cast of characters was hamstrung by the Electric Blue Superman and a Wonder Woman killed before the Genesis crossover, yet Morrison still finds a way to include the entire JLA cast plus Green Arrow Connor Hawke, the Atom, and others. To me, Rock of Ages exemplifies the Grant Morrison widescreen JLA era.

* Superman: Panic in the Sky

I've mentioned before that one of my favorite Justice League eras -- passionately and inexplicably -- is the Dan Jurgens era that followed Justice League International's "Breakdowns." Maybe it's because Jurgen's Justice League seemed the perfect distillation of the best of Justice League International -- Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Fire, Ice, and Guy Gardner -- or maybe because, between Maxima's presence and the Doomsday crossover, that League served as almost a fifth Superman title for a while.

Irrespective, Superman: Panic in the Sky is a lead-in to that Justice League run, guest-starring almost the whole DC Universe to help Superman fight Brainiac in space. This was the storyline in which the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman took his place as the leader of the DC Universe, and I counted it as among my top favorite Superman stories, too.

* JLA/Avengers

I am not as familiar with Marvel characters, the Avengers especially, as I am with the Justice League, so JLA/Avengers could have been hit or miss for me. Kurt Busiek's story, however, could just as easily be called JLA! for the amount of Justice League history and nostalgia Busiek packs into these pages. Every Justice Leaguer in every costume they ever wore appears in these pages (I'm pretty sure), so if you ever had a favorite Justice League era, it gets a nod within. Added to that, JLA/Avengers dials back from the Morrison/Kelly-era Justice League all the way to the original seven, and we get a chance to spend time with Hal Jordan and Barry Allen as they consider their future fates. This is a super Justice League story, even if you're not sure about those other guys.

* JLA: American Dreams

After Rock of Ages, my favorite Morrison-era JLA collection is American Dreams. What's not to love about the three stories collected in this book -- one, a Justice League membership drive; two, a team-up with the angel Zauriel, whom Aquaman refers to as the then-deceased Hawkman Katar Hol; and three, Green Arrow's son Connor Hawke taking on the villainous Key and saving the entire Justice League. Each of these three stories has in common that Morrison delves into the rich history of the League -- missing members, heroic legacies -- and the stories are not so cerebral as Morrison's later work. I don't want to spoil much, but there are nice touches in these stories that give me chills every time.

* Identity Crisis

Oh yes, I know how controversial Identity Crisis is. And I know it doesn't portray the Justice League in some of their finer moments. But I love Brad Meltzer's idea of a League within the League, and Booster, Beetle, Fire, and Ice seem as much to me the core of the international League as Green Lantern, Flash, Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Hawkman do of that earlier League. This is, to an extent, also the League featured in JLA: Year One, and there's a way in which Identity Crisis can be read as a bookend to that earlier story. Whether Meltzer's changes were right or wrong, when I think of League stories, I think of Identity Crisis.

* Booster Gold: Blue and Gold

This is not, I grant, a real official Justice League story, but in the days when Ted Kord had just died and Ice had just been resurrected, Geoff Johns and Dan Jurgens presented this time-traveling tale that not only reunited my aforementioned favorite Justice League Internationalers (living and dead), but it also included a sub-League made up of heroes including Wild Dog (!) and Pantha (!!). I'm a sucker for time-travel stories, and I'm a sucker for Dan Jurgens drawing the Justice League, so this one made my list.

* Justice League of America: The Tornado's Path

What I like about Tornado's Path boils down to the scene in which Red Tornado remembers first meeting his wife Kathy, and the flashback reprints actual panels from a Justice League story in 1973. For a number of years, likely due to widespread continuity confusion, there wasn't much reference in the Justice League titles to the team's creation or early adventures; Meltzer changes that with this scene and also in Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman's recruitment drive. Plus, Tornado's Path returns Black Lightning to the Justice League and gives Justice League Detroit some credit; all in all I thought this was a good start to the new League, even if the title has faltered since then.

* I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League

I am not, as a matter of fact, all that versed in the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League (though I know Kooey Kooey Kooey was an island), but I do have a strong affection for the characters (as this list is pointing out even to me). Giffen, DeMatteis, and Maguire re-teamed for a miniseries called Formerly Known as the Justice League, and then the I Can't Believe story followed in JLA Classified. Of the two, maybe Formerly is the funnier, but I Can't Believe is equally funny and also pretty emotional, especially when it comes to Fire and Guy having to come to grips with Ice's death, and then trying to rescue Ice from the depths of Hell. Maybe Justice League: Generation Lost makes this all moot now, but in the absence of a series starring Booster, Beetle, Fire, and Guy at the time, I found this book completely captivating.

And that's my desert island ten Justice League stories. I know I've left a lot out -- Elseworlds, for one, plus Justice League: New Frontier, any of the Justice League: Crisis on Multiple Earths books, and even Death of Superman was on my longer list but got cut. So, what's your ten favorite Justice League stories?
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9 comments:

  1. Nice compilation, CE. I thought that with not so much material around as much as the other list, I thought the list could be sparse & cover all published stuff. My top 10 would be:
    1. TOWER OF BABEL
    2. STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
    3. THE NAIL
    4. TERROR INCOGNITA
    5. A NEW BEGINNING/JLI VOL 1
    6. JLA/AVENGERS
    7. THE OBSIDIAN AGE
    8. IDENTITY CRISIS
    9. JLA/JSA: VIRTUE AND VICE
    10. HEAVEN'S LADDER

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  2. While we're on the topic of the Justice League, I've got a question. I've been wanting to collect JLA in trades, and I already have Year One, Midsummer's Nightmare and New World Order. Now DC has released the Morrison run in Deluxe hardcovers. Do you guys think I should keep getting the slimmer trades for the Morrison run or just get Deluxes and continue the trades from there?

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  3. Either would get you the stories, but be sure to pick up DC One Million as no Morrison JLA run is complete without it. Now for my top ten in no paarticular order:
    JLA: Earth Two
    Justice League: A New Beginning
    JLA: Ultramarine Corps
    JLA: Rock of Ages
    Final Night
    Identity Crisis
    DC One Million
    JLA: Tower of Babel
    Invasion!

    Hopefully James Robinson's next few collections will join the ranks of my favorites.

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  4. @ Anonymous - The deluxe editions are great, the oversized art is fantastic to look at. But, they do skip over issues that weren't written by Morrison. And they were good issues too; written by Mark Waid. That's what I don't like about them. There're not essential to understand what Morrison was doing but still, I enjoyed them and regret a little about selling my paperback editions.

    Great list CE; a couple of my favs are Tower of Babel, A League of One (though this is more WW centric), and Crisis of Conscience.

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  5. @ Anonymous-abu's right
    The hardcovers skip excellent fill ins by classic writers like MARK WAID, CHRISTOPHER PORTER, MARK MILLAR, D. CURTIS JOHNSON & J.M. DEMATTEIS

    The deluxe editions of the other series like LSH & the other omnibus editions I suppose do not have such strange beasts as neither Jack Kirby, nor Paul Levitz (LSH), Marv Wolfman (Teen Titans), Geoff Johns (Flash) had fill ins.

    I'm holding on to my copies of trades due to that reason only. To be honest, I rate STRENGTH IN NUMBERS that high based only on the fill ins.
    Of the ten odd stories, Waid had 4 which were very very strong (Morrison had 5 while Priest had 1). Based on the caliber of his writing there and in MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, I look forward to his run getting better treatment.

    Grant Morrison's JLA was mostly hit or miss, as is all Morrison. I think the high points of his run were ROCK OF AGES & ONE MILLION. I was expecting more from CRISIS TIMES FIVE & WORLD WAR III but none did much to me. Though ROCK OF RAGES was more powerful than FINAL CRISIS, that's saying something.

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  6. Wow -- a lot of people mention JLA: Tower of Babel. The action in this trade is fantastic, to be sure, but I thought the book had a negative connotation due to Batman coming off, well, rather terrible. Interesting. I remember liking the "widescreen" effect of Bryan Hitch's work with Mark Waid on Waid's JLA run, but I was disappointed with how the run seemed to peter out in the end.

    It's too bad the JLA Deluxe collections don't include the JLA fill-in issues, because as others mentioned, it means you can't do a total switch with your books if you want (why I probably won't get the JLA Deluxe books). I understand it -- essentially these are JLA by Grant Morrison Omnibus editions -- but given that, I do wish JLA One Million had been included, so you can read all the JLA Deluxe volumes without having to switch to the One Million paperback.

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  7. Thanks for the input, guys. But don't the Deluxes have their own bonuses or issues that aren't collected in the slimmer trades? Frankly, my JLA collecting stopped cold when the Deluxes started coming out because I seriously didn't how to proceed!

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  8. Depends upon what you value more...the standard bonuses like sketches, director's commentaries or additional pages of story & art. That's what the trades are going to give you. As far as I know, this is the complete beast of the JLA monthly run:

    VOLS:
    NEW WORLD ORDER
    AMERICAN DREAMS
    ROCK OF AGES
    STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
    JUSTICE FOR ALL
    WORLD WAR III
    TOWER OF BABEL
    DIVIDED WE FALL
    TERROR INCOGNITA
    GOLDEN PERFECT
    OBSIDIAN AGE BOOKS 1 & 2
    RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
    TRIAL BY FIRE
    THE TENTH CIRCLE
    PAIN OF THE GODS
    SYNDICATE RULES
    CRISIS OF CONSCIENCE
    WORLD WITHOUT A JUSTICE LEAGUE

    These are the ancillary trade paperbacks:
    ONE MILLION (essentially a part of Morrison's JLA, but contained in another 4 issue series by Morrison & Semeiks)
    EARTH 2 (OGN by Morrison & Quitely)
    ULTRAMARINE CORPS (Morrison)
    SECRET ORIGINS FEATURING THE JLA (Origin story by Grant Morrison from Secret Files & origins present here)
    JLA PRESENTS AZTEK THE ULTIMATE MAN (MORRISON)
    HEAVEN'S LADDER (OGN by Mark Waid & Bryan Hitch)
    JLA AVENGERS (continues into SYNDICATE RULES)
    JUSTICE LEAGUE ELITE VOL 1 & 2 (picks up after TRIAL BY FIRE)

    The Deluxe editions will get you parts of (those parts written by Morrison) just these:
    NEW WORLD ORDER
    AMERICAN DREAMS
    ROCK OF AGES
    STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
    EARTH 2 (OGN by Morrison & Quitely)
    ULTRAMARINE CORPS (Morrison)
    SECRET ORIGINS FEATURING THE JLA (Origin story by Grant Morrison from Secret Files & origins present here)

    Maybe at some point they'll include Aztek but very unlikely. If you want the trades to look good on a shelf and also not miss out on the singles, paperback is the way to go. If only the Morrison is what you want (and that too no ONE MILLION & AZTEK), go for the HCs

    This was by no means a complete JLA rundown, just the monthly JLA & related ancillary titles breakdown. There are a lot of unrelated JLA GNs & TPBs, including the JLA CLASSIFIED, and a lot more deluxe editions & stuff not collected at all.

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  9. I have to double check but I think the only deluxe edition that has any extras was the first volume, which included the Secret Files and Origins story.

    Volume three has JLA 1,000,000, which seems odd because the rest of that mini -- also written by Morrison -- isn't included in the deluxe editions. (Hmm ... maybe we'll see a fifth deluxe edition?)

    Volume four does include Earth-2 which is a great story. Those are about the only extras I can think of. There are your typical sketchs/scripts extras but other than what I listed I don't think there's other additional issues not already collected.

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