Compiling a list of the best Justice League titles is a challenge on several fronts. There is a responsibility to sift through 60-odd years of history to find stories that can not only introduce readers to the iconic team but also represent the best of the League and the creative teams that have worked on them.

The Justice League is a team built not on their thousand-watt smiles or their piercing vision for a preserved tomorrow. No, they are a team built on the storied legacies of heroic literature. This merry band of unlikely allies, when written properly, represent the best of humanity. Life, loss, and infallible courage are all hallmark traits of DC’s pantheon of heroes. It is my hope that the stories chosen express and encapsulate these qualities. Although these books are very different, their lasting impact on the Justice League mythology is undeniable.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #28 by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky

JUSTICE LEAGUE

What could be more essential than the League’s initial appearance? From their 1960 debut onward, the Justice League would prove the world’s most enduring superhero team. The original line-up included Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter. Aside from mawkish nostalgia, what makes this an essential read? The exact same reason that THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #28 does. It introduces you to moral imperative the team strives for in every iteration moving forward.

When Starro the Conqueror comes to Earth to take over the planet, these heroes call upon each other’s courage and strength. Egos are put aside, and the only goal is to work together to protect the planet. Importantly, unlike many Justice League comics since (and especially of late), this one is unabashedly optimistic.

On top of all of this, you get to see your favorite heroes do battle against an evil cosmic starfish. Rarely, if ever, has there been a wackier intergalactic evil for the League to face off against, and Gardner Fox makes you take it entirely seriously. That’s not even making mention of Mike Sekowsky’s iconic cover art. This is more than a nostalgia trip, this is the standard our heroes ought to be held to.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA: THE TORNADO’S PATH by Brad Meltzer and Ed Benes

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Here’s what’s fun about TORNADO’S PATH: you get to see firsthand how the roster of the Justice League can and has changed a lot throughout its history. In this case, there are major changes with the addition of formerly minor heroes like Vixen and Black Lightning. What’s even better is that Brad Meltzer was able to bring back a Justice League classic, Red Tornado, as well.

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This is another origin story for the League. Although Bruce Wayne’s parents’ murder or the last son of Krypton crashing landing on Earth remain exceptions, the origin of the Justice League changes from writer to writer. For Meltzer, this story is firmly about the friendship of the League’s members, done on a scale larger than any single issue.Beyond being a great story (a given for any of every book on this list), TORNADO’S PATH highlights the deep friendship that has been built between the League over the years. In much the same vein as THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #28, TORNADO’S PATH is about how these heroes respect and care for one another.

JUSTICE by Jim Kreuger and Alex Ross

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To truly understand the Justice League, one must understand their most famous nemesis. The Legion of Doom is a team (or legion, if you will) of the some of DC’s most dangerous villains. In most iterations, the bad guys are sick of always losing to the heroes and so decided to combine their efforts to take out the Justice League. It’s a simple premise, and a lot of these story lines run a very fine line between campy and inspiring. With that basic foundation, though, there is a lot of room for epic, second to none storytelling.

One such story is the Jim Kreuger and Alex Ross collaboration JUSTICE. The very basic premise of the book is that Lex Luthor, Brainiac, and the rest of the Legion of Doom have a vision foreseeing the end of the world and band together to save it. However, the intrepid heroes of the Justice League don’t buy the villains’ motives and confront them in a great big global battle.

This is the superhero formula dialed up to 11. Instead of trying to circumvent the ridiculousness of the premise, Kreuger and Ross embrace it with absolute conviction while not forgetting to treat their work with a dash of needed comic levity. What you wind up with is a universe that’s as zany and fun as it is believable while your inside it.

JUSTICE is not the perfect Justice League title, but it treats its mythos with the reverence it deserves without losing sight of how absurd it all is. This book is about as DC as it gets, so hop in and enjoy.

JUSTICE LEAGUE VOLUME 1: ORIGIN by Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, and Scott Williams

justice league in the new 52

For those of you getting into DC because of its live action releases, this title’s easily the most essential read. It isn’t that this New 52 title is the best of the bunch, but it seems pretty clear that much of these new movies are going to be drawing from the New 52 storylines. With that in mind, it appears the upcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE PART 1 and 2 will take influence from this story. Signs even point to the same bad guy, Darkseid, as the big blockbuster villain.

READ: What’s The JLA been up to recently? Find out in our review of JL Volume 7

So what’s it about? Like so many of the Justice League titles chosen here, it is an origin story for the League. This time, our unseasoned heroes are begrudgingly forced to work together for the greater good of humanity. So how does one bring together a loner vigilante, a warrior princess, a cocky space cop, a forensic scientist, a football player turned half-robot, a super man, and the king of the sea? Bring in the worst of the worst, Darkseid, that’s how. These guys need to convince the world of their heroism fast. Taking what feels like a maiden voyage for the storied team makes reading this great!

DC: THE NEW FRONTIER by Darwyn Cooke and Dave Stewart

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So you know how all of DC’s stalwarts were created before or during World War II? They boosted morale, taught the kids who the enemy was, and gave America an ideal. That’s in the past, onto the sequel!

In DC: THE NEW FRONTIER, Darwyn Cooke takes our favorite heroes of the Golden Age and mingles them with some Silver Age companions in a Cold War world of tension and fear. The age of superheroism has come and gone, sending our beloved war heroes into the shadows. Like always, though, trouble is always just lurking beyond the horizon. When an alien threat emerges, a new breed of hero must team-up with their Golden Age veterans and rise against this threat as well as an antagonistic U.S. government.

Perhaps the book’s best quality is how Cooke chronologically follows modern history in the DC universe. Instead of rehashing WWII over and over, he tackles the furrowed complications of the Cold War and delivers a book unlike any other.

Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention Cooke’s fabulous art colored by Dave Stewart. The sharp lines and conservative details give this book a supremely classic pop-cultural touch. The colors and panel designs are bright, and engaging nearly to a fault. With Cooke and Stewart’s art, there is a sense of star-eyed optimism. A kind of nostalgia pierces through the tension of this book and gives it the buoyancy it needs to work.

If you’re looking for one truly unique and innovative take on the Justice League, I highly recommend DC: THE NEW FRONTIER.

JLA BOOK 3: ROCK OF AGES by Grant Morrison, John Dell and Howard Porter

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No worthy Justice League reading list would be complete without at least something by Grant Morrison. Hell, plenty of people would say no DC list would be complete without something by him and for good reason. Grant Morrison not only writes exciting stories, but his stories cut right to the heart of these characters’ identities. Still, he finds ample room to innovate. He successfully synthesizes all of our thoughts and feelings about the DC Pantheon into a single story. It’s no small feat and it is one of the many reasons he is so revered as a writer.

In ROCK OF AGES, Darkseid has finally learned the Anti-Life Equation and taken control of the planet New Genesis as well as Earth. Our heroes must face-off with one of their most formidable foes if they are to save the world from Darkseid’s domination. That is just a very broad-strokes synopsis of the story, though. ROCK OF AGES excels because Morrison crafts a Justice League story that carries an immense amount of complexity without collapsing under its own weight.

Like any Justice League story, ROCK OF AGES is big, traversing several different time periods from the past to future. There is one drawback, though. The seasoned JUSTICE LEAGUE reader appears better suited for ROCK OF AGES. It exists in canon and thus draws from many timelines running simultaneously when this book published in the late 90s. In short, it requires a tad more research than the other titles on this list. Consider this book your expert-level JUSTICE LEAGUE title. However, taking the plunge is well worth it!

KINGDOM COME by Mark Waid and Alex Ross

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It wouldn’t be a DC title without a little biblical allusion, am I right? Thankfully, KINGDOM COME serves that in spades. Set in the near future, a new generation of DC heroes develop reckless crime-fighting habits. In fact, the new generation of superheroes looks more like the old generations villains. As a result, the heroes of old, the Justice League, reluctantly come out of retirement. They need to show these newbies what it means to be a hero. It’s more than the Trinity, it’s the whole pantheon of DC heroes fighting for heroism itself! No easy feat when the world around you crumbles!

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Ross’s artwork is sublime and matches Waid’s writing with pitch perfection. Without giving anything away, the art adds the necessary gravitas to a story that so desperately deserves it. If you imagine this story as a sort of finale for the DC universe (and you most certainly can), you’re going to need an artist like Ross whose work exudes the same grandeur as DC’s mythology.

Beautiful, touching, tragic, and triumphant, KINGDOM COME is a must-read for Justice League and DC Comics fans alike.

JLA: TOWER OF BABEL by Mark Waid and Howard Porter

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A common criticism leveled against the DC heroes is that they’re too overpowered. What are the stakes if they can do everything? Why don’t you read JLA: TOWER OF BABEL and find out?

Ra’s al Ghul tires of Batman constantly interfering with his plans to “save the world.” In an attempt to get Batman out of the way, Ra’s steals the bodies of Bruce’s parents to keep the great detective preoccupied. Ra’s needs to make sure that The Justice League won’t stop him either. To this end, he steals secret strategies to defeat each member of the League. Plans that were designed by none other than Batman himself!

This book has got action, betrayal, and so much more. On top of that, we see sides of Batman not often shown. There’s a palpable vulnerability to the invulnerable man in this book. Unfortunately, TOWER OF BABEL is popularly read as evidence of Batman’s status as the greatest member of the Justice League. If you’re wondering why people think Batman can win any fight, you’ll find the answer right here in JLA: TOWER OF BABEL.

JUSTICE LEAGUE Essential Reading, In Conclusion

The Justice League have been around for nearly 60 years so by no means are these the only great titles. These just give you a sampling of the universe they inhabit. Amidst all of the terror and chaos, the Justice League are the guardians of hope. Their legacy, built by these stories and others, exhibit all of this.

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