Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Who Should Be In The Justice League? or Hey Look! Paint Drying!

Several years ago I read Bill James' The Politics of Glory, about the selection process for the Baseball Hall of Fame. James discussed the shifting standards for admissions and proposed how to reform them. While I'm still not a baseball stats whiz, the book did inspire me to rough out a series of standards for admission into the Justice League of America. Now, thanks to the combination of writer's block and Excel, my work may yet pay off -- even if it's only as an insomnia remedy....


More so than any other super-team, the Justice League is composed of icons. The Fantastic Four is a family, the X-Men are bound by genetics, and today's Justice Society and Teen Titans apparently exist to carry on the legacies of their original members. Even the Avengers (until the recent unpleasantness) were selected to work together as a team, not necessarily for their name recognition.

The JLA is also unique in that for the most part, its members were already established characters. (Since the original League disbanded in 1984, about 18% of subsequent members were "inbred," but we'll get to that later.) Many of them had their own features concurrent with their League adventures.

This is true for all of the original JLAers -- Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter. Flash and GL were new versions of older heroes, and Martian Manhunter had been around for just over 4 years. Although, for all intents and purposes, Superman, Batman, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman had been continuously published, with no clear demarcation between their Golden and Silver Age versions, it's probably more helpful to us to consider them successors too. Additionally, Flash, GL, and Wonder Woman's Golden Age counterparts had been regular members of the Justice Society; and Superman and Batman were JSA reserves.

Among the charter JLAers, only Green Lantern lacked his own feature when he joined the League. GL was introduced in a 3-issue Showcase run from Sep '59-Jan '60; the JLA was introduced in Feb '60; and GL got his own book in July '60.

We can draw a few separate characteristics from these observations. Being 1) established is the only common trait, with a 2) concurrent ongoing solo feature being near-unanimous. One could also be 3) a successor; and might further have 4) a JSA predecessor. The question of 5) experience -- probably best expressed in terms of publishing history -- also comes into play.

How "experienced" are the League members? Again, let's look at GL. The character of Green Lantern (that is, Alan Scott) had been published from 1940 to 1951; but the GL in the JLA was Hal Jordan, who first appeared in Showcase #22 (Sept-Oct 1959) shortly before the League's first appearance in Brave & Bold#28 (Feb-Mar 1960). Hal was 1) an established 2) successor to 3) a JSAer, which objectively seems to have been enough to justify his induction. Still, he was in-between features at the time, and he was only a few months old besides. Thus, it may make more sense to give Hal (and similarly situated Leaguers) partial credit for their predecessors' careers. If Hal could claim half of Alan's tenure, he could add 5 1/2 years to his experience at the time of joining. This would make the Martian Manhunter the "youngest" Leaguer, at 4 years' experience, and would give additional weight to the team's "iconic" status:
  • Superman (June '38-Feb '60): 21 years, 8 months
  • Batman (May '39-Feb '60): 20 years, 9 months
  • Aquaman (Nov '41-Feb '60): 18 years, 3 months
  • Wonder Woman (Dec '41-Feb '60): 18 years, 2 months
  • Flash II (Golden Age Jan '40-Feb '51; Sep '56-Feb '60): 5 1/2 years + 3 years, 5 months = 8 years, 11 months
  • Green Lantern II (GA July '40-Feb '51; Sep '59-Feb '60): 5 1/4 years + 5 months = 5 years, 8 months
  • Martian Manhunter (Nov '55-Feb '60): 4 years, 3 months
Here it is for the later original Leaguers, again giving half-credit for predecessors where there is a clear break between incarnations:
  • Black Canary (Aug '47-Nov '69) = 22 years, 3 months
  • Hawkgirl II (GA Dec '41-Feb '49; Feb '61-Sep '77) = 3 years, 7 months + 16 years, 9 months = 20 years, 4 months
  • Green Arrow (first appearance Oct '41, joined April '61) = 19 1/2 years
  • Zatanna (Oct '64-Dec '78) = 14 years, 2 months
  • Elongated Man (April '60-April '73) = 13 years
  • Hawkman II (GA Jan '40-Feb '51; Feb '61-Nov '64) = 6 1/2 years + 3 years, 9 months = 10 years, 3 months
  • Atom II (Golden Age Oct '40-Feb '51; Sep '61-Sep '62) = 5 years + 1 year = 6 years
  • Red Tornado II (Aug '68-July '73) = 4 years, 11 months
  • Firestorm (March '78-June '80) = 2 years, 3 months
Firestorm's 2 years and change is the minimum, Elongated Man's 13 years is the median, and the mean works out to be about 12 1/2 years. (Similarly, the average for the original League was just under 14 years.) Because some members who joined sooner have a lower score than the longer-suffering members, this reflects more of an "it's about time" factor. This is certainly true for Hawkgirl, but it also reflects the longevity (and relatively unchanged nature) of Black Canary and Green Arrow. Hawkman and Atom were sufficiently different from their Golden Age versions that they warranted the "partial credit" treatment.

Let's go back to the other traits. Of the non-charter Leaguers, Green Arrow, Atom, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and (arguably) Zatanna were successors to Golden Age heroes; and Black Canary and Red Tornado were themselves members of the Justice Society. Naturally, because the JSA was the JLA's inspiration, giving a preference to a member who would make the League look more like the JSA seems appropriate. It may be worth noting that Elongated Man, Hawkgirl, and Zatanna had also worked with other Leaguers prior to joining, but I don't feel like drawing a trait out of that.

Therefore, I see five traits, at least two of which apply to almost every original Justice Leaguer:
  1. Being established (appearing in another title before joining the League);
  2. Having a concurrent ongoing solo feature (appearing there at joining);
  3. Being a successor to a previous hero (including continuing one's own Golden Age career);
  4. Having a direct connection to the JSA either by membership or succession; or
  5. Having at least 4 years of pre-League experience/credit.
  • All five traits: Atom II, Batman, Flash II, Green Arrow, Hawkman II, Superman, Wonder Woman
  • 1, 2, 3, 5: Aquaman
  • 1, 2, 4, 5: Martian Manhunter
  • 1, 3, 4, 5: Green Lantern II, Hawkgirl II, Red Tornado II
  • 1, 4, 5: Black Canary
  • 1, 3, 5: Zatanna
  • 1, 5: Elongated Man
  • 1: Firestorm
Each hero is evaluated using the circumstances under which s/he joined the team. Thus, Black Canary is not considered a successor, because when she joined she was still the original (with retcons yet to come). I am also not considering later retcons involving Wonder Woman, Superman, or the Hawks.

Firestorm, the odd man out with only one of the 4 traits, is a case of "nepotism" -- his co-creator, Gerry Conway, was also the Justice League writer who inducted him. While I don't think writers should be free to stack the League with their characters, I do believe there should be an allowance. Furthermore, although Firestorm's statistics may be helpful and/or illustrative, he gets a "nepotistic" pass, so ultimately they don't matter. Besides, I don't feel like lowering the four-year experience bar just for Firestorm, because one of the perks of being the JLA writer should be getting to use the characters you created elsewhere. You shouldn't overdo it, but you should have a reasonable opportunity.

Firestorm also has less than four years' experience, which is nevertheless comparable with the two characters who declined membership in the original League. Metamorpho first appeared in December 1964 and declined in February 1966 (14 months); and Black Lightning first appeared in April 1977 and declined in December 1979 (2 years, 8 months). Each would also have had only one of the four traits, being neither successors nor JSA members.

Now, I went ahead and started trying this system on new and old DC characters, but it pretty much let everyone in. Basically, I postulated that two of the five traits were enough, because Elongated Man only had two of the five. (He's joined by 25** more of the 79 Leaguers to date.) However, any character I could imagine would be 1) established and 2) either a successor or sufficiently experienced (including using a predecessor's career credit). Thus, the system would only exclude established characters who were not successors and who had first appeared later than cover-date May 2001.

In other words, it's not exclusionary enough. Guess I'll keep working out the bugs....

* All dates come either from the DCU Guide or GCD. The DC Cosmic Teams site was also a big help.

** Other notable members with only 2/5 traits include Big Barda, Booster Gold, Fire and Ice, Lightray, Metamorpho, Mr. Miracle, Orion, Plastic Man, and Rocket Red.


Jeff R. said...

I see that it's sufficiently exclusionary to mark most of the Detroit League as utterly illegitimate, which would be important. Although Steel ends up with 3 and 4, just barely. You could elevate (1) to a sine qua non status, at least. Would "appeared on the cover of a book other than their own or JLA" do any work as an extra criteria?

Tom Bondurant said...

Maybe. I'm trying to go for the most objective (and obvious) criteria -- mostly stuff that avoids figuring out whether a particular story is still good. (The short answer: if it was good at the time, it gets grandfathered in.)

I have thought about "prior history with a then-current Justice Leaguer," which would apply to quite a few people on the 2-out-of-5 list. I would limit it to teamups with the JLA as a group, but I think that still excludes Booster Gold and Rocket Red.

Captain Qwert Jr said...

What about characters like Captain Marvel, Captain Atom, and Blue Beetle, who have long histories but with other companies? Ted Kord suceeded the original golden age Beetle in the Charlton Books.(BB appeared in '39, a quicky google search reveals. Also Capt. Atom apppeared first in 1960 and Capt. Marvel in 1940). I can't think of any DC book the Charlton characters appeared in prior to the events of Crisis in '86, but Captain Marvel had been in DC I guess since the early 70s/late 60s.

Tom Bondurant said...

Post-Crisis versions of pre-Crisis characters are tricker. To me it would depend on the differences between the two versions. If a character is different enough, I'd use the partial-credit experience calculation.

For example, Captain Marvel is basically the same character regardless, and so is Blue Beetle, so they are treated as continuously-published characters. However, Captain Atom is arguably different enough that you'd only give him partial credit for the Charlton stuff.

In either case, though, all three would still have more than 4 years' worth of experience. I'm starting to think the real problem is that DC hasn't created any truly original characters in the past 4 years....