Movies & TV / Columns

Comics 411: Essential DC Superhero Teams

July 6, 2022 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Justice League

Welcome back! I’m Steve Gustafson and if you enjoy discussing anything comic book related, you’ve come to the right place. Each week we cover something in the industry and I always enjoy your input in the comment section below.

Previously on…

Last time we asked Does Continuity in Comic Books Matter?  . Here’s what some of you had to say:

Edward J Witherspoon: “Continuity matters, and doesn’t matter. For me, I discovered the X-Men around issue 300, where Nightcrawler was griping about Professor X sending him on a mission since he was a member of Excalibur. But then he started ruminating on once an X-Man. And that started me on a quest that had me buying all issues from the birth of the new X-Men in GS 1 to the then current time. And it was glorious reading those issues, watching Claremont, Byrne, Lobdell and crew grow the characters. It wasn’t always great but as a reader I invested in these mutants. Eventually, when I was buying thirty or fourty books a month with X in the title, I had to stop. What got me back? Hickman’s Dawn and Powers reboot, which effectively did an end around around the continuity. And I loved it.

You need a period of consistent continuity to get to know and love a book and its cast. But once you have that, the characters can be reinterpreted, as long as they are always true to their core.”

Aaron” “For me, it’s less that I need every detail of a story to fit with the characters’ entire history, and more that I need the big events in a character’s story to continue to matter. With all of the reboots designed to simplify things, my interest in DC and Marvel waned because they continually reinforced to me that the consequences of any action can and will soon be undone, so there’s little reason to act like they carry true weight. Heck, the X-Men eventually started joking about Jean Grey returning every time she died.

That’s why I appreciated a concept like Ultimate Marvel. Even though it turned into a hot mess in the end, it was a fresh slate designed to give a new generation a clean jumping on point absent of (though sometimes playing off of) previous continuity. Maybe that’s what the big comic producers should do every 20 years or so? I don’t know. Even moreso, I think that’s why Image’s Invincible remains my favorite superhero comic. It had a beginning, middle, and end with very little crossover, excellent continuity, and consequences galore for every action.”

D2Kvirus: “Comic books absolutely need a thread of continuity even if their canon gets bloated or convoluted, as they need both constants and variables

For the most obvious example, Batman needs his parents to be dead at the hands of Joe Chill because that is the constant driving the character since Issue No1 and everything else branches out from that – however, there also need to be variables to his character traits given how the direction of the character and the title itself change over time so there needs to be a degree of flexibility outside those constants”

BBQBeerandPops: “This is a divisive topic depending on your perspective. If you are a fan of the comics then continuity absolutely matters, but if you are just a fan of superheroes movies, you don’t care about the continuity, because you’ve never read the source material.”

SharkLasers: “Any time we talk about continuity, I bring up the story of Bob Harras. Bob was EIC of Marvel during the first Civil War, and when someone brought up a continuity error involving Punisher, Bob said (paraphrased) “we don’t care. We don’t cater to people that have been reading for 20 years and remember these things. Our target audience is people who read for 3 years and then quit.”

It annoyed me then, but I get it now. The people complaining about continuity errors will still read comics for the most part. People like me that quit are the minority. So why expend effort into retaining them, when that effort can be on bringing in the latest round of readers?”

Elway Horseface: “If continuity mattered Thanos would still be flying a helicopter. Sometimes the changes are for the better and sometimes not so much.”

Great stuff and thank you to everyone who commented last week! Too many great comments to list so go and check it out!

This week we discuss…

Essential DC Superhero Teams
For the longest time I’ve wanted to do an ultimate Greatest Superhero Team tournament with 72 teams and work them down to one. Most likely it will happen sooner rather than later but this is the seeds of it right here. 

Let’s talk about the essential DC superhero teams.

When I was compiling my list, I knew I couldn’t include huge write-ups on all my favorites because they’d be too obscure. I’m talking about teams like Infinity, Inc., Omega Men, R.E.B.E.L.S., Outsiders, Challengers of the Unknown, and Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew, to name a few.

It’s no secret that I love the Legion of Super-Heroes. In fact, it’s rare a week goes by that I don’t mention that. While the Legion may be my vote for best/favorite, I fully know that this team has its problems and confuses a lot people. The team has undergone three major reboots and been cancelled and brought back more than any other title. The original version was replaced with a new rebooted version following the events of “Zero Hour” in 1994 and another rebooted team was introduced in 2004. A fourth version of the team, nearly identical to the original version, was introduced in 2007. From the 31st century, the Legion of Super-Heroes was inspired by today’s superheroes,with Superman being the one who stands above all. Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad founded the Legion and they’ve had their ups and downs. The team is huge but so is the universe they protect.

I’m including both The Minutemen from Watchmen fame and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as well. While not in the DC proper, they exist under the DC banner. The Minutemen is quite an interesting study on dysfunctional team dynamics. While they were minor players in the Watchmen story, they greatly influenced the actions and events of things to come. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a brilliant premise from the mind of Alan Moore. According to Moore, the concept behind the series was initially a “Justice League of Victorian England” but quickly grew into an opportunity to merge several works of fiction into one world. Who wouldn’t want to follow the adventures of a team composed of Allan Quatermain from King Solomon’s Mines, Mina Harker from Dracula, Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the Invisible Man, and brought together by the grandfather of James Bond.
Quite a crew. Which leads to The Authority, an anti-hero super team. Violent and dark, Jenny Sparks, Jack Hawksmoor, The Engineer, Apollo and Midnighter made for an interesting read.

Moving over to the main DC timeline (if you could really pin one down), I’ll start with the Green Lantern Corps. An intergalactic military/police force that patrols the farthest reaches of the Universe under the leadership of the Guardians, a race of immortals residing on the planet Oa. The Green Lantern Corps has been in existence for three billion years, surviving multiple conflicts both internal and foreign. They have 3600 members who protect the 3600 “sectors” of the universe. The Corps has always been overlooked when it comes time to debate the best teams even though they’ve been involved in a number of high profile stories.

On the other end of the spectrum, a more intimate, smaller team is Birds of Prey. No, not the movie. The core of the team is made up of Oracle, Huntress, and Black Canary, with a rotating roster. Their stories are on a smaller scale but have produced some entertaining adventures and plenty of character development. And yes, I know the “Birds of Prey” was never acknowledged as their official name.

How could any list be complete without The Suicide Squad.  This might be pushing it since the Suicide Squad isn’t made of heroes. It’s a team of villains, both super and regular, that work for the government doing the dirty deeds that others wouldn’t want to. With a team like Deadshot, Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang, Bronze Tiger, and a number of others, you knew you weren’t reading a story about angels. What I liked best about the earlier run was how the series examined the various lives of the Squad, their motivations, and psychological makeup.

Right behind my love of the Legion of Super-Heroes sits the Teen Titans. I’ve followed them for years and have always liked the concept of sidekicks coming into their own. The Teen Titans debuted in 1964 with a lineup including Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad and Wonder Girl. Speedy would replace Aqualad but the theme of teenagers learning to take on adult roles and responsibilities played strong throughout. The series really found its footing in its 1980s revival with writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Pérez. The team was called The New Teen Titans and aged the characters to young adults. The original members (Robin, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash) were joined by new characters Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy/Changeling. I’ve always felt the Titans could really be DC’s main group, especially since they’ve found so much success across several mediums.

Going old school, we have to put some shine on the Justice Society of America. The JSA first appeared in All Star Comics #3 (Winter 1940), making it the first team of superheroes in comic books. That’s huge. Their roster has included early versions of characters like Doctor Fate, Hour-Man (as his name was then spelled), the Spectre, the Sandman, the Atom, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman. I can’t write enough about the longevity and influence this team has had. Not just for DC but every company that has a superhero team. The quality of writing and art has been consistent and their stories have been able to balance the smaller character moments with the high-impact action that you’d expect from the JSA line-up. A cool fact about the them, an old in-house rule laid out on the last page of All Star Comics #5, reprinted on page 206 of All Star Comics Archives Vol. 1, required that whenever a member received his or her own title, that character would leave All Star Comics, becoming an “honorary member” of the JSA.

We end with the Justice League of America. I know multiple versions of the League have come and gone but I’m talking about the main one. First appearing back in 1960, the Justice League originally featured Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the Martian Manhunter. The team roster has welcome over the years members such as Green Arrow, Captain Atom, Captain Marvel, Black Canary, the Atom, Hawkman, Elongated Man, Red Tornado, Firestorm, Zatanna, Hawkgirl, Cyborg, Vixen,Tuckerman, and dozens of others. Their spin-offs have included Justice League Dark, Justice League Europe, Justice League International, Justice League Task Force, Justice League Elite, and Extreme Justice. The League IS DC’s premiere team and any major storyline of their’s usually has some sort of impact on the universe.

Who did I miss? The Shadowpact? Legion of Substitute Heroes? Young Justice? Secret Six? Gen13? Doom Patrol? Who’s on your essential DC superteam list? No one is too small or too big to list!

That’s all the time I have. See you next week!

article topics :

Comics 411, DC Comics, Steve Gustafson