Even though we’re still six months away from the cinematic return of Superman in Man of Steel, the rumor mill seems to be in overdrive as it relates to the inevitable big-screen outing of DC Comics’ premiere superhero team, the Justice League. According to the latest bit of news, apparently Warner Bros. is eyeing a 2015 release date with a few issues in mind as the basis for the film's plot: Gerry Conway’s Justice League of America #183-185. In that story, the League (along with the Justice Society of Earth-2) take on the evil New God Darkseid. That’s pretty promising, but for modern comics fans you can't help but ask: is that the best they can do?
To be clear, it’s unlikely that any one League story would be adapted as a film. As was evident in The Dark Knight Trilogy, the norm for good comics films today is not to directly adapt, but to borrow elements and concepts from many works of merit. The Dark Knight Trilogy borrowed from celebrated Batman stories like The Man Who Falls, Year One, The Long Halloween, Dark Victory, The Killing Joke, Joker’s Five-Way Revenge, Knightfall, No Man’s Land, and The Dark Knight Returns.
However, in response to the latest news purporting to draw from Gerry Conway’s Darkseid tale, here are five comics stories that I think would make a fine basis for a team-up Justice League film, taken straight from the best of what the Modern Age of DC Comics has had to offer.
#5) Justice League of America: The Tornado’s Path
Originally Published In: Justice League of America (Vol. 2) #1-7 (2006)
Written By: Brad Meltzer
Pencils By: Ed Benes (Cover By Michael Turner)
Why It’s Good: This 2006 story came in the aftermath of the cataclysmic Infinite Crisis event, where the DC Universe and the League itself had to rebuild in the wake of a costly tragedy. In addition to “getting the band back together,” Tornado’s Path did a great job in adding a very human element to the robotic character of Red Tornado. Meltzer excels at connecting iconic and larger-than-life characters with heartfelt thoughts and emotions, and this story was no exception.
How It Might Work on Film: If even partially adapted as a film, there would likely have to be some major alterations since this is not an origin story. However, I think the underlying premise and inherent strength in its writing and reverence for the team of the Justice League would be a definite benefit to any story featuring the full team, including in a feature motion picture.
#4) JLA: Tower of Babel
Originally Published In: JLA #43-46 (2000)
Written By: Mark Waid
Pencils By: Howard Porter
Why It’s Good: Although partially adapted in the animated film Justice League: Doom from February of this year, Tower of Babel is a really interesting story about what happens when one of the League’s most trusted members seems to betray them. In the story, this member was none other than Batman, who had been growing ever more concerned about the level of power the team had acquired, either through new technologies or its increasing roster. As a result, in case something ever took control of any JLA member, or if any of them ever went rogue and put the planet at risk, Batman had created in-depth dossiers on the strengths and weaknesses of all of them. Taking it a step further, he had also plotted detailed scenarios to neutralize every member of the team if the situation had called for it.
How It Might Work on Film: While it would be necessary for an audience to be fully introduced to the characters of the League as presented in a film adaptation, it’s hard to ignore the fact that everyone knows who Batman is. Because of that, the threat (or perceived threat) of Batman’s plans would be easily digested by a general audience and could greatly elevate the film into mainstream acceptance. Toss in some simply badass moments where Batman’s mind undoes the very tapestry of the entire League, and you already have pieces of compelling drama and pronounced action.
#3) JLA: New World Order
Originally Published In: JLA #1-4 (1997)
Written By: Grant Morrison
Pencils By: Howard Porter
Why It’s Good: When it started back in 1997, the brand-new JLA title started with a bang. For years, the main Justice League team had a drifting roster of B and C-list DC characters, the stories had ranged from good (Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ Justice League) to awful (the League was a laughing stock during the Death of Superman), and fans had craved for that “original seven” lineup (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter) for a long time. When Grant Morrison took the team over with the new JLA title, he gave the fans just that, with a story that warranted the reunification of those seven heroes to stop a massive new alien threat from subjugating all of humanity.
How It Might Work on Film: This is one of the few League stories that, if desired, is pretty much ready to shoot. While a film version can change aspects of the story to make it a simple introduction to the characters instead of a reintroduction, the situations and character interplay would definitely be ripe for an adaptation of some kind, even if only on a conceptual level. The relationship between Green Lantern and Flash as frustrated rivals is just one fun example of the great interactions that can be mined from this critically acclaimed method of getting the big guns back together.
#2) Justice League Vol. 1: Origin
Originally Published In: Justice League (vol. 2) #1-6 (2011)
Written By: Geoff Johns
Pencils By: Jim Lee
Why It’s Good: Even if New World Order is close to a prepackaged League film, the origin story for the team as presented through the lens of DC’s New 52 relaunch is even more of one. With aims to reintroduce each character one by one with a (largely) definitive cast for the team, and an added emphasis on more modern interpretations of the characters and DC Universe, I would bet serious money that the hardcover collection of Origin is sitting on the desk of more than one Warner Bros. film executive in Burbank at this very moment. Each beat in the early issues focuses on one character at a time, bringing them all together to face a massive threat against the main rumored villain of the film: Darkseid.
How It Might Work on Film: The cleanliness of this story in structure and pacing would be almost too easy to turn into a film, but as far as the broad strokes of introducing each character, I’m sure this is being paid some very close attention. The chief creative officer and copublisher of DC Entertainment made up the book’s creative team, and Geoff Johns’ position as CCO would allow him to conceivably make the case for why his story should be emulated to some degree. Although some of the plot points might differ significantly, it wouldn’t surprise me that if we do in fact get a Justice League film in 2015, it will end up resembling this story in more than one or two ways.
#1) Identity Crisis
Originally Published In: Identity Crisis #1-7 (2004)
Written By: Brad Meltzer
Pencils By: Rags Morales (Cover by Michael Turner)
Why It’s Good: As far as Justice League stories that truly elevated the comics to new heights in the modern age, the first, best example has to be the landmark limited series Identity Crisis. In this story, it wasn’t a global terrorist or extraterrestrial menace that threatened the League. Instead, writer Brad Meltzer and artist Rags Morales made the threat a far more personal one: the heroes’ secret identities. Identity Crisis illustrates to readers exactly how important a tool each character’s mask is, not necessarily for themselves, but for their families. When a fellow League member is left clutching his wife’s charred remains after an attack on his home, new secrets are uncovered as a threat emerges to rob the heroes' private lives of everything they hold dear. Not even Dark Knights and Men of Steel are immune to the vulnerability of an open heart and a maskless face.
How It Might Work on Film: A classic thriller in every sense of the word, Identity Crisis could inspire a brand new type of superhero film: a nearly horrific thriller. Since it’s a superhero story, the horror doesn’t necessarily come from hard-core violence or blood and gore; instead, it comes from the heart-stopping realizations that the ones you love aren’t safe, even if you’re faster than a speeding bullet. Identity Crisis has the icons of the Justice League at the heart of the story, while simultaneously deconstructing and shining an uncomfortable light on the preconceived notions many people have always had about superhero stories. Telling that kind of tale in a film is a serious critical and commercial success waiting to happen, in my humble opinion.
But, as always, this is just one man’s thoughts. What are yours? Sound off in the comments below, and let us know what you would like to see out of the inevitable cinematic outing of the Justice League.
Chris Clow is a graduate of Western Washington University, in addition to having an obsession with film history and general geekdom. He is a comic book expert and retailer, contributor, and overall geek to Batman-On-Film.com and ModernMythMedia.com. You can find his comic book reviews for various monthly titles and his participated podcasts at BOF and MMM, as well as his regular piece The Geek Beat right here at Movies.com every Tuesday. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow!