"Justice League" animated series

What should a diverse Justice League of America look like?

DC Comics’ top superhero team is the Justice League of America (JLA), who first appeared in “The Brave and the Bold” #28 (March 1960). However, despite the team’s traditional full name, the JLA’s roster (in comics and media spin-offs) hasn’t always been reflective of America’s demographics. Of course, that’s in part a byproduct of the team being created in 1960. Things have changed, fortunately; spin-off comics have shown a more diverse roster.

I last wrote about this a few years ago, but an updated take was in order, with the 2020 US Census showing a growing non-White population. One question still stands: what would a Justice League of America that actually reflects America’s diversity look like?

A brief history of the Justice League’s membership

Bronze Age JLA
Image art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. (DC Comics)

Superhero comics have made some progress in reflecting diversity in recent years. However, when it comes to A-list characters, they still tend to reflect the times they were created. Among them are the founding seven members of the Justice League.

In the JLA’s 1960 debut, the founding members consisted of DC’s top superheroes of the time: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), the Flash (Barry Allen), Aquaman, and the Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz). Typical of the late Eisenhower era, they aren’t a diverse bunch; six of the seven are male, and all save J’onn J’onzz (a Martian) are White.

The team took on various new members over the ensuing decades, and went through numerous revamps. Some of this added some diversity to the team’s roster, but the most prominent JLAers were still the ones listed above. (Between the late 80s and the early 2000s, a retcon replaced Wonder Woman with Black Canary as a founding member, but I’m ignoring that here.)

The New 52 reboot in 2011 made changes to the Justice League’s founding members. Among the changes, the New 52 Justice League (no “of America,” presumably to come off as less US-centric) were given new costumes, “edgier” personalities, and had Darkseid as the invading alien force that first united the team.

However, the revamp didn’t do much to update the team’s diversity. DC replaced the Martian Manhunter as a founder with longtime Teen Titans member Cyborg; however, the other six founding members are still the same exact ones as from 1960.

Cyborg’s been inserted into mostly-adult superhero team settings before; see the latter seasons of “Super Friends.” However, sticking a single non-White person on a team doesn’t make it “diverse,” especially when they’re just replacing a green Martian. (I’d also rather see Cyborg on the team he’s traditionally a part of, the Teen Titans.)

What would a truly diverse Justice League of America look like nowadays, if it reflected today’s demographics? And who do I think would be on such a team?

Criteria

Brave and the Bold #28
“The Brave and the Bold” #28 (March 1960). Art by Mike Sekowsky. (DC Comics)

For this, I’m looking at the founding/core members of the most well-known or prominently featured versions of the Justice League:

  • The original 1960 Justice League.
  • The 2011 New 52 Justice League.
  • The 1970s’ “Super Friends” animated series.
  • The 2000s’ “Justice League” animated series.
  • The 2017 “Justice League” movie.

Yes, there’s been various other versions of the Justice League, from comics’ “Justice League International” to animation’s “Justice League Unlimited.” However, as far as the general public are concerned, the above five are the JLA, as those versions (or adaptations based on those versions) are the ones seen in merchandising, media spin-offs, toys, etc.

Additionally:

  • I’ll be looking at the numbers of women and people of color. Other categories (LGBTQ, people with disabilities, religious minorities, etc.) are nice, but I figure “not a White male” is a bare minimum.
  • I’m assuming there’s still seven founding members. While various Justice League versions have expanded rosters, it’s generally the founding core members that you’ll find on lunch boxes and merchandise.
  • Yes, Superman’s an alien, but I still consider the Man of Steel as White for this post’s purposes.
  • Information is taken from the most recent US Census figures. As of the 2020 census, the ethnic/racial makeup of the US is 57.8% White, 18.7% Hispanic, 12.1% African American, 5.9% Asian American, 4.1% multiracial, 0.7% Native American, and 0.2% Pacific Islander. (Figures don’t add up to 100% exactly.) Or more simply, 42.2% of the US population is non-White. About 51% of Americans identified as female.

Results

"Justice League" movie poster
“Justice League” (2017 movie). (Warner Bros.)

Among seven founding JLAers, and rounding off to whole numbers, that’s four who’re White and three who’re people of color. I also assume at least three out of seven Justice Leaguers should be women (43% of the team), though four would be also fine (57%).

I thought I’d compare this to the several popular incarnations of the Justice League I listed above. For “Super Friends,” I’m just looking at the core members plus the “junior Super Friends” (Wendy and Marvin) of the show’s first season as founding members.

  • 1960 Justice League: six (86%) White, one (14%) non-White (a Martian); six (86%) male, one (14%) female.
  • “Super Friends”: seven (100%) White, none (0%) non-White; five (71%) male, two (29%) female.
  • “Justice League” animated series: five (71%) White, two (29%) non-White (one African American, one a Martian); five (71%) male, two (29%) female
  • 2011 (New 52) Justice League: six (86%) White, one (14%) non-White (African American); six (86%) male, one (14%) female
  • “Justice League” (2017 movie): four (67%) White, two (33%) non-White (one biracial, one African American); five (83%) male, one (17%) female.

The New 52 Justice League doesn’t fare much better than the original 1960 version. Cyborg replacing J’onn doesn’t make the team diverse, or change the fact the other six members are still White.

Despite its mixed-at-best reviews, ironically the most racially diverse (and closest to real-world statistics) Justice League is the 2017 theatrical film version. Like the New 52 JLA, Cyborg is a member. However, Aquaman in the film is biracial (Pacific Islander heritage, like his actor Jason Momoa). There’s also only six members instead of the traditional seven, improving the percentage. However, like the comics versions, there’s only one woman.

The best representation of women is a tie between “Super Friends” (Wonder Woman and Wendy) and the “Justice League” animated series (Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl). The latter fares better on racial diversity.

Who should belong to a diverse Justice League?

Justice League: Future State #1
“Justice League: Future State” #1. Art by Robson Rocha and Daniel Henriques. (DC Comics)

As for who I’d put on a diverse JLA, here’s one possible lineup, meeting the minimum requirements (at least three who don’t identify as male, and three people of color):

  • Superman
  • Batman
  • Wonder Woman
  • Green Lantern (John Stewart)
  • The Flash
  • Hawkgirl (Kendra Saunders)
  • Vixen

The above keeps the “Big Three” (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) as-is. Kendra Saunders is a version of Hawkgirl from recent comics who’s of Latino heritage. While I like the Silver Age Thanagarian Hawks better than the Golden Age “reincarnated Egyptian” versions, Kendra fits better here.

Another possible lineup:

  • Superman
  • Batman
  • Wonder Woman
  • Green Lantern (Jessica Cruz)
  • The Flash
  • Vixen
  • The Atom (Ryan Choi)

Jessica Cruz is one of the modern Green Lanterns, while Ryan Choi is a successor to Ray Palmer as the Atom. Both have appeared in recent media: Jessica in “DC Super Hero Girls,” and Ryan in “Batman: The Brave and the Bold.”

Yet another possible lineup, if altering the “Trinity” is an option:

  • Superman
  • Batman
  • Nubia
  • Green Lantern (John Stewart)
  • The Flash
  • Mera
  • Hawkgirl (Kendra Saunders)

And finally, trying to hew to the original incarnation of the Justice League:

  • Superman
  • Batman
  • Nubia
  • Green Lantern (Jessica Cruz)
  • The Flash
  • Aquaman (DCEU version)
  • Miss Martian

The above keeps a roster resembling the classic lineup, but more diverse. Though it means incorporating a movie-like version of Aquaman (somehow, though DC has a multiverse that’d make such easy). Also, Miss Martian is more associated with the Teen Titans or Young Justice, but that didn’t stop DC making Cyborg a JLAer.

Conclusion

Any of the proposed Justice League lineups above give us:

  • Seven core founding JLA members.
  • Versions of characters familiar to comic fans and the general public.
  • A lineup that roughly fits modern US demographics much more thoughtfully than just “put a Black guy on the team.”
  • Said rosters would look good in movies/TV shows or on merchandise.

Ideally, there’d also be a diverse creative staff of writers, artists, and editors on the characters’ comics. While on-page diversity is a good thing, the creators should also reflect such.

What do you think of the above suggestions? Who would you pick for a more diverse Justice League?

Image from the “Justice League” animated series. (Warner Bros.)

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