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The Strangest Members of the Justice League

snapperThe Justice League of America is best defined by its core of main characters.  As opposed to other major superhero teams like the X-Men, Avengers, or Teen Titans, the core seven members of the team are considered as almost sacrosanct.  Without Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter, the League is considered to not be at full power (though Manhunter has been somewhat replaced on this list by Cyborg.)  That being the case, the membership of the League has mostly remained constant over its publication history, but as with every team there are always the odd ones that find their way in.

Snapper Carr – The modern reader of comics might not recognize it immediately at a glance, but the history of comics is the history of trends.  Characters that might seem to represent some diversity in the modern day such as Power Man/Luke Cage or Shang Chi were in fact added to comics as they helped to capitalize respectively on the popularity of blaxpoitation and kung fu films.  One character long before them was Snapper Carr.  Although he existed as a sidekick more than actual superhero, he was nonetheless a vital member on some missions, (such as the first involving Starro).  The character was inspired by the Beatnik generation which was somewhat popular at the time, and for those that might look for a related Marvel character, they would be wasting their time, because the trend of beatnik characters came and went long before Marvel got established.

daleDale Gunn – After the X-Men took over the medium of comics in the 1970s it was determined that the Teen Titans became DC’s best hope to fight against this success.  After the youth oriented book performed well it was decided to give the Justice League a makeover as well, and what resulted was what has become known as Justice League Detroit, a weaker version of the team, but one focused more towards the street.  Out were Batman and Wonder Woman, in were street level characters like Gypsy and Vibe, the latter of which was enough of an attempt to cash in on the breakdancing genre that was actually popular for a while, for those that remember their Electric Boogaloo.  The stranger character though was Dale Gunn, introduced as a ladies-man character that was the custodian/tech expert for the new team, who wore a superpowered suit of armor in his first appearance, but then just faded into the background.  Zatanna and Vixen both fell in love with him almost from the get go, but his impact was never really noticed after a few issues.

maxMaxwell Lord – Whereas the X-Men had Dazzler and the Outsiders had Looker, the Justice League never really managed to capitalize on the big hair and big money 1980s, or at least they wouldn’t have except for the influence of Maxwell Lord.  The character was essentially a Gordon Gecko rip-off, and one whose moral code was also somewhat skewed.  He served as the bank roll for the team, but had delusions of heroism at times, and eventually went bad when he almost had every superhero killed during Infinite Crisis.

Blue Beetle – The Justice League of the post-Legends DC Universe was one very different from what came before.  Legends was kind of an attempt to do the final clean-up on what had happened during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and it resulted in a new Justice League.  Whereas a lot of titles were getting darker at the time, or at least geared more to a mature audience, this team went the opposite route, becoming goofy.  Another trend at the time was that the Justice League becoming a dumping ground for characters who couldn’t hold their own series.  Thus the League assimilated Booster Gold, Blue Beetle and Captain Atom among others, but it really became the Blue Beetle and Booster Gold show, with their not-so-serious antics proving to be the fodder for most issues as opposed to real threats.  The character had been serious before, but never really recovered before being killed off.

drfateZan and Jayna – The so-called Wonder Twins didn’t come from the Justice League exactly, but instead came from the children’s show spin-off, the Super Friends.  It might have seemed likely that the characters might have just retired into obscurity as many others did, but they were actually revived for a time in the 1990s.  As a bit of a running joke before hand they never really caught on, and were used for only a few issues.

Dr. Fate/Guy Gardner – These two are not exactly the strangest characters exactly, except in how they were used.  Once again another influence of the post Legends Justice League, the writer Keith Giffen was a big enough fan of gender swapping some of his characters.  Not as in the usual sense of making a separate character like Supergirl or Batgirl, but in simply finding a way to switch genders.  It was done first with Doctor Fate and recently with Guy Gardner.

Ambush Bug/Super-Chief  – After Infinite Crisis the creators promised to give exposure to pretty much every character that had ever shown up in the pages of DC Comics.  This meant that some strange and obscure characters had to be brought in.  In this case it was a Firestorm led Justice League that contained among its members the Ambush Bug and Super-Chief.  They showed up for a couple of panels and then were never seen of again.

poisonivyPoison Ivy, Lex Luthor and Captain Cold – It turned some heads in the pages of the Waid led JLA when the rotating cast of team members included what was kind of Catwoman for one issue.  People wondered how it was that a thief was allowed membership to the team, even when she didn’t really join.  This was later rendered somewhat moot in the era of rooting for the bad guys in comics.  In the modern day, many series focus on villains, and Lex Luthor, Captain Cold and poison Ivy have worked alongside the Justice League, the latter in the most recent issue of Justice League United.  As villains become the new cool characters, it is not surprising to see some join the ranks of the superheroes.

To read the list of the strangest members of the League is partially a way to read the trends which have defined the medium of comics since the team’s inception.  There have been characters that have been stunts, or put in place to take advantage of what was happening in popular culture.  The team usually goes back to the main seven, but it is interesting to note that they are not always there, and sometimes some odd choices are made.

Random Thoughts

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*Getting a little tired of the relentless Thor cross-promotion. Thor meets X-Factor!  Thor meets Power Pack!  Thor meets Deadpool!  Thor meets Howard the Duck!  Only one of these is fake.

*Maybe Marvel should tone it down a bit with the existential threats to the universe.  They are coming a little too often these days.  Zombies, Kang, the Chaos King, the Cancerverse, the Elder Gods and who knows how many others have tried to destroy everything.  And that was just in December.

*I’ve discovered I really prefer comics to have superheroes or the supernatural.  No matter how good other stuff is, I still prefer something super in my comics.

*Week 37 of DC’s 52 really gives away one of the biggest secrets and best mysteries of the whole thing.  Maybe the biggest/best, since I haven’t finished it yet.  I really hate when a cover gives away a key plot point.

*So I’m reading Countdown to Final Crisis and I note that the Monitors refer to human beings in the collective as “man.”  Why would they have our gender pronoun bias?  That’s either offensive or lazy writing.  Talking to you, Dan Jurgens.

*I really, really hate the crazy re-numbering and then again also re-numbering stuff that Marvel does.  The latest issue of Iron Man is #500.  The issue before that was #33.  Annoying and convoluted nonsense.

*Really looking forward to Age of X.

*Saw Scott Pilgrim last night, it totally lived up to the hype and is one of my favorite movies of the last 2-3 years.  Now on to the comics.  Last time this happened was with Kick-Ass.  Loved the movie, then read the comics and loved them even more.  Expect the same of Scott Pilgrim.

*Is it me or is Brian Michael Bendis‘s Luke Cage the best Luke Cage ever? (Hint: It’s not me)

*Am I the only one who thinks that Salvador Larocca‘s Tony Stark is the spitting image of a dark-haired Sawyer from Lost?

*I understand that the Walking Dead Weekly series is a cynical cash-in on the new popularity of the Walking Dead after the television series success.  I’m okay with that.  It still brings one of the greatest comic book series and zombie tales to more people, since the original early issues are expensive to buy, individually-speaking.  Sure, you can buy them in the trade paperbacks cheaper, but nothing beats the feeling of issue-to-issue reading of the series…

*Chaos War is over and the ending was pretty good for a mediocre series, overall.  Hopefully Fear Itself will be better than Chaos War or Shadowland.

*One thing I like about Chaos War and some other recent Marvel stuff is the fact that the usual “pow” and “wham” exclamations have been replaced with other words that are simply exaggerated.  From Chaos War #5, we have “Haikooooom” after a very good Haiku reference, “Gutssss” as Hercules gets hit in the stomach, “Chsstbsster” as Herc gets punched through the chest, “Godyslam” as the Chaos King gets slammed to the Earth and many others.  Some of them require you to think a bit more and try to figure out the connection, but they are very cool.  Don’t know who is responsible for them, Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Khoi Pham or someone else.  I’ve seen them elsewhere, but can’t remember where.  Whoever and whatever is the source, I’m a big fan and I encourage more of this.

Almost American