One more post, before I sink back into torpor, because this crossed my radar and it’s fascinating, and I quoted it last post:
“Assuming that we’re not just going to go with a bunch of characters that I like — which would really just be Batwoman, Batgirl, Huntress, Oracle and… oh, you know, what’s her name, that blonde kid who was Robin for a hot minute — I think there’s a pretty easy formula you can use to slap together a team of super-heroes. You really just need to fill five roles: the Leader, the Brain, the Muscle, the Heart and the Wild Card.”
— Chris Sims breaks down superteams, Super Sentai and everything in between in one short paragraph. (via websnark)
Having reblogged that (it’s from his “who would I pick for an all female Justice League or Avengers” article), I find myself pondering JL lineups, if we ignore market or brand management concerns.
And yes, the Justice League is generally more than five members. I’m going to ignore that for the moment — we can always assume there are other folks floating around in the background. What we’re looking for are the essential elements of the team. Anyone else will lose screen time. Anyone who isn’t one of these five is officially “and the Rest.” Which, as anyone who watched the black and white season of Gilligan’s Island can tell you, are those members you figure aren’t significant enough to get credited in the opening credits.
Another reason I want to skip the ‘and the rest’ part of the Justice League for now? All too often, ‘the rest’ includes ‘the chick we need to put in because we have to,’ or ‘the black guy.’ As far as I’m concerned, if I fail the diversity test in these main five, then I’ve failed the diversity test, period.
(Oh, to forestall something in the comments — as I’ve said before… yes, there’s a diversity test. There’s always a diversity test. Any time you don’t have as close to 50% women and appropriate breakdowns of people of color on your superhero team, you’ve failed the diversity test. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t matter to you. It matters. And as I’ve said before — the compositions of these teams are editorial decisions, period. No one loses a job because they’re not put on a fictional superhero team. End of minirant.)
Here’s a few, in order of team role, after the read-more:
Not actually my favorite — way too male, too white, too little diversity, too little that could actually be worked with. This has been way overdone. But, we need a baseline of what the Justice League traditionally has been, and there it is. And yeah, there’s no Flash in there, since we’re going with a five team. You could swap Wally West in for Hal easily enough. No, I don’t have a Barry Allen take.
And yes, I’d go with Wonder Woman as leader, and Superman as muscle, at least as how both were defined over the last decade or so. Written properly, Wonder Woman is both tactical and inspiring, compassionate but capable of making the hard choices. Superman, especially DCAU Superman by the time of the Justice League, is generally used as “I’m the invulnerable one who can lift things.” It’s one of the few weak points in the DCAU. J’onn makes for the proper ‘heart’ — which Sims pointed out (his ‘default’ list and mine are very close). And Batman… well, is.
Answering the All-Female League Question Posed to Chris Sims, with Sims Comparison/Commentary
My list and Sims are similar, but with important distinctions. And as a caveat, I’ll mention Sims was trying to avoid ‘standard’ League members. And let me state for the record that the above still fails the diversity test — if we take the implicit ‘all hispanic voice actors for Thanagarans’ thing JL/JLU did as… well, counting… well, that’s four Caucasian, one hispanic. That’s a failure condition.
Still, the list has some decent elements to it, which deserve mention. First off, I would indeed move Diana to muscle if Black Canary were on the team. Black Canary should have had a much better chance to shine in the brief time she was JLA leader under the late Dwayne McDuffie. I think Black Canary is possibly the best team leader in the DCU. Chris Sims had Wonder Woman in this position, which makes perfect sense in the team he built, but it’s not what I would do.
Zatanna may seem like an out there choice, but for my money it works. In the Paul Dini series about our favorite mage, it was reinforced several times that Zatanna was far more prepared than people expected, and being confronted with unexpected situations was stunningly good at lateral thinking. That’s been largely untapped in group settings, and that should change. Between that and her functional omnipotence (I came close to putting her in as the muscle) she’s a good fit there. I also strongly considered Doctor Light (Kimiyo Hoshi variant) there instead — which would have also helped with the diversity issue — but I really do think Zatanna’s been underutilized and should have a chance.
Chris Sims had Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) in this position, but that bothers me. Barbara Gordon trumps even Batman in the organizational, tactical and information categories… as Oracle. But, despite Gail Simone’s best efforts, when you put her back into the Batgirl tights, she loses too much of what made her great. She lacks the massive information stream, the ability to affect the world from behind the scenes in sometimes oblique ways, the ability to have that slight remove that made her more effective (and scary as Hell to people on the other side). As Batgirl, she’s smart and capable and a true heroine… and doesn’t shine as brightly. Sorry.
In a team where she isn’t leader, Wonder Woman is by definition the muscle. She’s pure power refined by pure skill. I don’t think I have to belabor that point.
Chris Sims put Power Girl in this position, and boy do I see why. In the end, it depends on the sort of book you want to write. If you want a broader sense of fun and cheer, make this Power Girl. If you’re looking for iconic, go with Wonder Woman.
In the Heart area — yeah. I know DC’s Unpersoned Stephanie Brown, because the brand managers have the foresight of formica, but man she’d be perfect here. Daughter of a villain, who chose to be a hero. Inheritor of two of the most storied mantles in the DCU. Someone who was put through more than one tragedy and came out smiling and optimistic. Stephanie Brown would make a great ‘junior’ member learning from the more experienced crowd, and would serve as a constant reminder of the ideals the Justice League was fighting for, not the enemies they were fighting against. And yes, she would be Batgirl here. Oh no, in my head canon DCU that means… Barbara Gordon would have to be Oracle, by implication. Gosh. I’m heartbroken.
Chris Sims put Big Barda here, and I get that too, though I wouldn’t (and didn’t) do that.
For the Wild Card… yeah. The DC Animated Universe has forever obliterated all incarnations of Hawkman and Hawkgirl in my brain in lieu of this one, and it blows my mind that they haven’t capitalized on that fact in the comics. That Hawkgirl is the perfect wild card — given to temper, given to argument, given to really not getting along with Wonder Woman. Someone Black Canary would eternally have to rein in. The Wild Card should, in large part, be the piece that adds friction to the rest of the team — a bit of grit to grind things down in the gears. You need conflict, and the wild card should provide a healthy dose of it.
Chris Sims chose Kate Spencer/Manhunter for this, and I could hardly fault him for that.
So. Let’s do something a little interesting:
The Justice League Lineup Eric would most want to see (or write), minus the Trinity
I intentionally am leaving Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman out of this writeup. They’re too big. Too epic. If you can’t get beyond the idea of a Justice League without them, stick them in in “and the rest,” since they’ve got comics of their own to have character development in. Or do the Batman special — assume they’re way too busy to be full timers, so they’re part time. Whatever. Let’s have fun with this.
I won’t go over Black Canary as leader again. I stand by what I wrote up above. If you absolutely couldn’t stand to have her as leader of the Justice League (or needed her for Birds of Prey and editorially couldn’t use her here) stick Nightwing in instead. Nightwing would be an amazing leader of the Justice League in any incarnation. If you did that, then Donna Troy would replace Booster Gold in my lineup — especially the way those two have always interacted. See again — the last Justice League lineup.
Well, heck. I’ll do one more team down below, so we can stop speculating about that variant, and stick with the team I’m listing above.
Mister Terrific (the Michael Holt variant) is a perfect choice for ‘the brain.’ One of the smartest men on Earth, essentially capable of learning to do anything at all, Mister Terrific should be front and center in the DCU. I was sad his series didn’t last, and I’m also sad that he’s been moved to the Earth-2 comic (though I imagine he’ll do well there) instead of, say, joining the Justice League. Doctor Light could still be swapped in here, for the record.
Green Lantern John Stewart, to me, is a great definition of ‘the muscle.’ Incredibly powerful, incredibly disciplined, and sometimes inflexible, Stewart for my money works better in the Justice League than Hal Jordan has ever since Jordan’s resurrection. He would add a certain amount of tension to the mix, since Stewart can take orders but doesn’t always like the orders he’s given. There’s a degree where that comes from being a Green Lantern — when willpower fuels your abilities, you’re going to be strong willed and sometimes hard to convince. Once again, for a more ‘fun loving’ league, go with Power Girl.
Booster Gold as the heart may seem a bit strange, but I’m holding to it. Here’s a guy who’s been written multiple times as being in the hero game for the wrong reasons, only to be redeemed. I liked that Batman put him up to be leader of the Justice League International in that New 52 title — and I like the post-52 Booster Gold in all the right ways. Here’s someone who’s learned how to be a true hero in the hardest of ways. His presence would also add some tension, and conflict is always good. If you absolutely can’t handle this thought, then J’onn J’onzz fits here as well.
Hawkgirl — see above. Even without Wonder Woman to play off of, Hawkgirl has a great loose cannon quality coupled with a dynamic style. She’s gold. If you didn’t want to go with her, Catwoman would make a good choice instead.
Something I alluded to above deserves some consideration:
The Legacies Come Into Their Own
One of the real shames of mainstream comics are their inability to really move forward with their characters. If the DCU were a single continuity, evolving from a single point, then eventually the old guard would die off and their successors would take over. This was the entire point of the original Infinity Incorporated, in fact.
So, let’s pretend for a moment. Let’s pretend that one generation would eventually pass on to the next. (And yes, once again, this is ground the last pre-New 52 Justice League was exploring. That doesn’t change that it’s a good idea.)
In a world where, say, the Bronze Age never ended — or the post-Crisis world were allowed to age properly — this would be the logical core of the Justice League as the old guard retired or had other interests become paramount.
This team doesn’t fail the diversity test, by the by, but it’s definitely not perfect in that regard. If we regard Raven as something other than Caucasian (sources vary), then I could see her going into the Wild Card slot as well, though there are thematic reasons to go another way, as we’ll get into.
Nightwing is an obvious choice. In a lot of ways, Dick Grayson has been been set up to be the preeminent superhero of his generation. If there weren’t the omnipresent brand management issue, Dick Grayson as an adult should really be written as Batman’s superior — trained from birth as an acrobat and athlete, trained from prepubescence as a hero by Batman himself, forged as a team leader from 14 on with the Teen Titans. Nightwing is by far the best qualified overall superhero in the DC Universe — at least for those who officially don’t have superpowers. Obviously, as the Teen Titans grew up, ultimately their leader would go on to lead the Justice League, even as the Titans themselves made up its membership.
Cyborg has, in the last decade or so, been allowed to be the genius he is. In one of the things I like about the New 52, he’s being allowed to be a proper cybernetic being in the internet/information age. In one sense, he’s becoming a mobile version of what Oracle always was. (Though Oracle is still better at it.) For all his sheer power, Vic Stone makes a fantastic asset as an information source for all kinds of information.
Donna Troy makes for an excellent team Heart, as mentioned above — especially when she’s playing off of Nightwing, who’s always been her best friend and closest confident. And she could easily be swapped with Starfire here, since Starfire absolutely has the muscle to be in this position. However, I think Starfire is a better Heart for this team composition, and in terms of sheer power and the ability to use it, Donna’s nothing short of amazing. That she would physically be more powerful than anyone else on the team doesn’t hurt, either.
Starfire, on the Teen Titans cartoon, is clearly the Heart of her team. If we step away from anything remotely to do with the New 52’s interpretation, Starfire works as the Heart for this team as well. Passionate and devoted, joyful and savage all at once, Starfire constantly inspires her teammates through her love, her will, her strength and her determination.
Finally, the Wild Card. This one was tough — on the one hand, there’s Wally West, who’s certainly a wild card in several different definitions, and is the only one of the team to actually fully take over his mentor’s mantle. (Before that mentor came, took it back, then obliterated any trace of Wally ever existing, much less being a speedster. Because that’s just how Barry Allen rolls. Though I digress.) Different interpretations of Wally would make him an effective Wild Card as well, and he could be slotted in without trouble. That said… because he took on his mentor’s mantle, I see him as having moved past the Titans and over to the Justice League in much earlier incarnations. While he’s clearly still very close to his oldest friends, he wouldn’t be at the core of this Justice League.
By the same token, as I mentioned above, Raven could work as the Wild Card. Her constant need to guard her emotions lest her father subsume her and invade/destroy the world, her darker side which comes out all too often, and her often antisocial elements make her a perfect Wild Card. Naturally, she would also strengthen the question of diversity.
But, in the end, I’d have to go with Roy Harper — he’s just… so by far the most Wild Cardy of the Wild Cards. Always on edge, always just a little raw, trying to overcome elements of damage in his psyche, always convinced he’s right… between all of that, plus his past with Donna, some simmering issues with Dick, and the fact that (as I recall) he’s never really been on a team with Cyborg or Starfire, which means this would put them in close, sustained contact with him for the longest period of time. And, with his Navajo heritage, he brings diversity to the team (though I’m unsure if he’s Navajo by blood — and it’s sometimes hard to point to the pale redhead as an example of a person of color). Regardless, I think he fits the best.
There are other combinations that would be fascinating (the JLIish version, say:J’onn J’onzz, Blue Beetle, Power Girl, Ice, Fire, give or take Booster Gold and Guy Gardner in different places; or a retake on a Cry for Justice style team: Hal Jordan, Ray Palmer, Supergirl, Green Arrow, Big Barda) but I’ve blathered on too long as it is. Feel free to chime in in reblogs or the comments with your own take, argue with mine, or stuff like that.
And otherwise, see you in… hm. Who knows. A long while, probably.