We’ve known it was coming since Man of Steel was announced. We knew it was finally possible once we saw The Avengers assemble on the big screen. But Warner Bros. have now revealed an incredible superhero movie slate that includes not only a Justice League movie, but Justice League 2, as well. Both Justice League movies will have Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman director Zack Snyder at the helm.
It’s unclear at this point whether the two Justice League movies (currently announced as “Justice League Part One” and “Justice League Part Two”) will actually tell a two-part story, or if these are just placeholder titles until something more substantial comes along. Nevertheless, they’re happening, and that’s what we’re excited about. It looks like Justice League is set for release on November 17th, 2017, with Justice League 2 to follow on June 14th, 2019.
While there’s no doubt that the Justice League should throw down in as serious a fashion as possible in their first big-screen appearance, the team’s best comic book adventures have always been informed by heavier science fiction elements rather than more earthbound concerns. While each of the stories we’ve suggested here offer plenty of opportunities for action, perhaps the larger plan should be for Justice League to be the Star Trek to the Avengers franchise’s Star Wars.
Justice League: Origin (2011)
This one is included more out of obligation than anything else, both because it encompasses the easiest, most logical giant alien invasion storyline and because it’s the only story on this list that already features the lineup we’re most likely to see on film. When DC Comics rebooted their entire universe in 2011, they kicked it off with the first six issues of Justice League by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, which gave us the first meetings of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Aquaman…and it managed to tell the origin of Cyborg. The heroes, initially at odds with one another, come together to face a full-scale alien invasion from the planet Apokolips, led by Darkseid, an intergalactic despot with power levels that would require a full team of superheroes to take him down.
The story is long on action and short on characterization, and would likely make Avengers look like Waiting for Godot by comparison. On the other hand, the Justice League movie may already have Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman established thanks to Batman vs. Superman, but that would still leave a handful of origins, meetings, and motivations to attend to…in addition to the world-shattering action folks would expect. The story was recently adapted into animated form (as Justice League: War) with mixed results. Luckily, there are other stories in the Justice League canon that might make for more interesting viewing…and this next entry on the list would introduce the same bad guy and his intergalactic minions in a more subtle fashion…
The 1987 Legends miniseries was the first major “event” story of the post-Crisis DC Universe, and it was used as a way to bring previously unconnected elements of the newly unified DCU into contact with each other. In the comic, that meant placing characters like Blue Beetle and Captain Marvel (who had previously occupied their own parallel universes within the greater DCU) in firm interaction with one another and the more recognizable heroes of the DCU, a concept could work equally well for a freshly unified DC Cinematic Universe.
Legends involved a stealth invasion of Earth by the forces of Darkseid (who is frequently floated as the most likely antagonist for a Justice League movie). Darkseid’s first weapon, though, isn’t brute force. He uses Glorious Godfrey (taking the form of a demagogue by the name of G. Gordon Godfrey) to first turn public sentiment against the heroes of Earth. Considering the less than sunny view of superhumans that denizens of Metropolis probably have in the wake of Man of Steel, Legends could certainly have the right tone and approach and still leave plenty of opportunities for the team to wail on some Parademons and Darkseid himself for half the movie.
New World Order (1997)
Occasionally, the comic book Justice League title will lose its way, falling down a rabbit hole of lesser characters, mediocre plots, and uneven creative teams. When the book was relaunched in 1997 as JLA, written by Grant Morrison with art by Howard Porter, it was heralded as a return to greatness, reuniting the DC Universe’s most iconic heroes as the most powerful League assembled in years. In fact, that lineup (with the addition of Cyborg) of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter might not be that far off from what we see in this film!
When a new group of superhumans (The Hyperclan) arrive on Earth and use their powers to not just fight, but to change the world for the better, folks start to get suspicious of their homegrown heroes (who, in the Man of Steel universe, tend to leave a lot of broken buildings in their wake). As it turns out, the Hyperclan are a shape-shifting race of White Martians, using mind control to get their way and with less than sunny plans for the citizens of Earth. A story like New World Order would not only put the Justice League through their paces (there are some terrific, iconic moments on display), but would be a fine way to introduce J’onn J’onnz, the Martian Manhunter to moviegoers, much the way he was in the loosely adapted version of this story that kicked off the fantastic Justice League animated series.
Panic in the Sky (1992)
Technically, Panic in the Sky isn’t a Justice League story, as it actually ran through the Superman titles in early 1992. Technicalities aside, it’s difficult to envision a more perfect reason to gather all of Earth’s superheroes together. Not only would Panic in the Sky be an effective Justice League movie, it would make Superman the heart of the film, completing his arc that began in Man of Steel from uncertain (but powerful) outsider into the greatest hero of them all as he rallies the combined might of the world’s metahumans against a common threat, and leads them into battle.
When Brainiac (for cryin’ out loud…can we please finally get Brainiac on the big screen already?) gains control of a planet-sized artificial weapon and sets his sights on Earth, it’s up to Superman to get the most powerful beings on the planet together to tell the green fella that this isn’t the best idea. Let me just make sure this is perfectly clear to you all: Brainiac (who, in some versions of his story is of Kryptonian origin) drives what is essentially the freakin’ Death Star to Earth in order to pick a fight. If there is one thing that would make Loki and his magic staff and his army of disposable Chitauri soldier-helpers look like a troop of boy scouts, this is it.
Hollywood has been threatening to make the Death of Superman story into a film for roughly 20 years. Something about not believing that audiences can relate to an all-powerful character, so the only way to do anything about that is to kill him and zzzzzzzz…Anyway, the original Superman vs. Doomsday slugfest wasn’t just unique because it was a major comic book publisher trying to lure non-comic book reading customers back into comic shops with the promise of the first, greatest, and most powerful superhero taking a dirt nap. In fact, Doomsday is a pretty decent read, even without the promise of a Kryptonian corpse at the end of it, and maybe it’s the prospect of a physical threat that’s too much even for Superman to handle is what brings the Justice League together.
Supes doesn’t have to die in order for Doomsday to be a Justice League movie villain, and the character’s look is already a fine fit for the visual aesthetic established in Man of Steel. His Kryptonian origins would help expand the considerable world-building done in Man of Steel, too. The fact that all the Justice League are used for in the comic is cannon fodder to establish just how serious Doomsday is probably isn’t the right way to go, as Warner Bros. would want their premiere superhero team to do a little more than have their asses handed to them by what is essentially a grey, spiky Kryptonian Hulk.
Granted, a Doomsday story falls more in line with the expected superhero blockbuster/maximum property damage formula than some of the others on this list (which, admittedly, plays to director Zack Snyder’s strengths). So, in order for this one to have any weight, it would have to be all about who unleashes Doomsday on Earth and why…opening the door to much greater DC cosmic menaces like Brainiac, Darkseid, or Mongul, any one of whom could power a superhero franchise for years to come.
Brave and the Bold #28 (1960)
Sometimes, you’ve just gotta go back to the source material in order to get it right. The original Justice League of America story involved the team taking on Starro the Conqueror. Now, stop laughing for a minute and stick with us. Starro is an alien that looks like a giant starfish (stop laughing) who dispatches spores (that look like smaller starfish…seriously, stop laughing) that eat your face and control your mind (see? Kind of horrifying). While the Justice League’s first appearance isn’t the story of how they all got together (that wouldn’t come until two years later in the rather less interesting Justice League of America #9), and the first Starro story is kinda tame, think about it this way:
You have all these meta-humans together for the first time, and they can’t necessarily hit everything that gets in their way, because the soldiers of this alien presence are actually innocent people that have Alien facehuggers making them do their bidding. Don’t worry, there can be plenty of opportunities for solving problems with fists and rings and lassos of truth and whatnot (potentially among the League themselves with the whole mind control aspect), but first they have to figure out what these horrible, disgusting things are. A little sci-fi body horror with your big summer superhero blockbuster would certainly keep the critics from calling Justice League an Avengers clone.
Crisis (any of ’em…and there are plenty)
Bear with me folks, because this is gonna get weird. We’ve already seen a ridiculous, punch-for-punch superhero slugfest in Man of Steel. By the time a Justice League movie arrives in 2018, we’ll have seen two (possibly three) Avengers films, so the idea of a team of superheroes punching a bunch of things together isn’t exactly going to ring any novelty bells, even if the names are different. But there’s one button that they could push that would immediately set the DC Cinematic Universe apart from the competition: The concept of Infinite Earths.
The Marvel Universe is built on cohesive, logical, linear progression. The DC Universe has always had that fun, string theory element to it involving parallel earths with different, sometimes evil versions of their characters. While the idea has been a part of Justice League stories dating back to the Silver Age of comics, it was Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Earth-2 graphic novel that reintroduced the Crime Syndicate to the modern DCU, which was then loosely adapted into the Crisis on Two Earths animated film. More recently, the Justice League has had to square off against these evil versions of themselves in the pages of Forever Evil.
Now, we should be clear…we’re not suggesting that Warner Bros. do anything so foolhardy as try and adapt Crisis on Infinite Earths, or even to have them face the Crime Syndicate (let’s face it, it’s hard enough getting fans to approve of casting one version of a character for a movie, let alone TWO). However, anything that this film can do to plant the idea (whether it’s via the introduction of a character like The Monitor or concepts like the Weaponers of Qward) that this team isn’t just the salvation of our world, but countless parallel dimensions, will help establish a unique identity and an entirely different set of ground rules for this franchise than those that govern Marvel’s. And that, perhaps more than anything else, is what a Justice League movie needs to do.