So the first full trailer for the Justice League movie dropped on Saturday:
While I’m not impressed with the overall Zack Snyderness of the trailer (Blaring rock music! Super slo-mo! Murky, desaturated orange & teal color schemes!), it got me to thinking once again about how I’d do a Justice League movie if I ever got the chance.
For the purposes of this exercise, I’m setting a few ground rules. First of all, I’m going to pretend that this prospective JLA movie is the very first of its kind. In other words, I’m casting every character from scratch and rebooting the continuity. Even though I think Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, and Gal Gadot all did the best they could with the material they got, there will be no tie-ins with the deeply flawed Man of Steel or Batman v. Superman. You can’t build a house on faulty foundation. And although it’s pretty damn tempting to fire up the ol’ time machine and grab Christopher Reeve and Lynda Carter from the late 70s, I’m limiting myself to present-day, currently-working actors for my JLA. And obviously, any actors with major roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be off limits.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room. If you’re doing a JLA movie, you have to come to terms with the fact that Marvel’s already stolen your thunder:
No matter what DC does with their movie universe, they’re never going to be able to match that initial thrill we got from seeing Marvel’s heroes team up onscreen for the first time. We’ve gotten so spoiled by the interconnected Marvel movies in the last 10 years that I think we’re already forgetting what live-action superheroes were like before Marvel Studios came along. Every adaptation was a solo adaptation. Each character existed in isolation, and we had no expectations of that ever changing. The most we could hope for in terms of crossovers was that throwaway line in Batman Forever where Bruce Wayne mentioned Metropolis or the Shazam and Superman in-jokes in Spider-Man.
And then this happened, and suddenly it was a whole new ballgame:
Like Nick Fury said, they just became part of a bigger universe. Suddenly, tying superhero movies together wasn’t just a fun bonus. It was expected. Hell, it was required.
So the novelty of superheroes meeting and teaming up onscreen is pretty much gone. So what can you do instead? You start by asking yourself what makes the JLA unique, and doing everything you can to emphasize that stuff.
The JLA is different things to different people, and it’s largely dependent on what era you grew up on. As a kid of the 70s and 80s, I’m a Satellite era JLA fan, so this is automatically my default:
These are my guys. Just like it said on the masthead of their book for years, they’re The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes. They’re DC’s elite, the best of the best. For the most part, these are the superheroes that the average man on the street has heard of: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Aquaman. While the Avengers usually have some A-listers in their roster, they’ve always been more of a motley crew. This was never more apparent than during the “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” days, when most of the membership quit and Captain America was left to train three newbies who were all reformed villains.
When the JLA tried the second stringer approach during the Detroit days, it didn’t really work, because it was going against the book’s core concept. The group that Aquaman gathered could have been an interesting supergroup on its own terms, but it wasn’t really the Justice League.
So okay, you use the big, iconic, frontline guys. That’s a good start. And for the most part, the Snyder movie is doing that. Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg as the new kid on the block, and Superman making his grand return. I really think Green Lantern should be there, too, but I suppose Warners is still waiting for the stink of the Green Lantern movie to die down.
I think it could be interesting if they skipped an origin story and just presented the JLA as a fait accompli, much like the first story in The Brave and the Bold #28 did back in the day. That would automatically differentiate them from the formula the 2012 Avengers movie used and emphasize that the Justice League is group with history. If you’re worried about introducing the JLA to moviegoers, I say we discover them through the eyes of a new member. This would also give us an avenue to the “new kid on the block” dynamic that made Firestorm and Kyle Rayner so much fun.
But… I’m not going to use either of those guys in my movie. Firestorm is a bit on the obscure side and pretty special effects-intensive, so he’s out. And sorry to all the Kyle Rayner fans out there, but I’m going with Hal Jordan for my GL. I have another DC character in mind to fill the new member role, and I’ll reveal him later on, along with my reasoning.
And, in the interests of keeping the membership to a reasonable level and avoiding redundant powers, I’m keeping both the Martian Manhunter and Captain Marvel out of the group.
OK, so that’s the basics for the membership. What about the plot?
I’m not going to get into more than broad strokes here. I honestly don’t have any huge preference for the villain (a supervillain group like the Secret Society of Super-Villains or the Legion of Doom could be cool, and so could Darkseid. Heck, you could even make a cool movie with Per Degaton, Starro or the Royal Flush Gang). But there are a couple of things that I think are very important.
Number One is that the League splits up into teams to deal with elements of the menace before coming back together at the end. That’s a basic part of the Gardner Fox’s classic JLA Formula, and it dates back to Justice Society stories from the 40s. It’s one of those things that makes the Justice League the Justice League, and I think it should be preserved. It always led to those fun pages where a group of two or three Leaguers were setting off on their mission and you got to see all their logos in the first panel.
Another thing I think is important to remember is that the League is Cosmic with a capital “C.” They pop off to other planets, time periods, or parallel Earths the way you or I go to the grocery store. I think a JLA movie should take advantage of the fact that these characters come from all over. The core Leaguers have connections to Krypton, Metropolis, Gotham, Themyscira, Atlantis, and outer space. Let’s use that and send them far and wide. The Avengers have spent five years building up going into outer space. The JLA should go there in the first 15 minutes, if possible.
Along those lines, I think the cinematic JLA absolutely has to have either the Satellite or the Watchtower as a headquarters. It’s important to put them into space and have them watching over the planet as a whole. We need to emphasize that the JLA operates on a larger scale than the Avengers.
The way I see it, a JLA movie should take the best of all the JLA incarnations over the years — The Gardner Fox formula of splitting up the League, the Len Wein/Steve Englehart/Gerry Conway characterization, some of the Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis humor, the strong plotting of Dwayne McDuffie, and the mind-blowing concepts of Grant Morrison. Now that’s a movie that I’ll fork over money to see.
I wanted to get into the cast for my prospective JLA movie, but this is getting a bit long already, so I’ll break it off here and finish this up in a second part tomorrow. What’s a superhero story without a good cliffhanger, anyway?