There are a lot of things you might not know about the Justice League. For instance, they helped create the Avengers, almost starred in a movie by Mad Max director George Miller, and used to have an annoying team mascot named Snapper who everyone hates even more than Aquaman. (Just kidding, no one is more ridiculous than Aquaman.) However, one of the most surprising things to come out of the Justice League’s long and storied history of superheroing is just how often they have been adapted.
Well, maybe it is not all that surprising given that this famous DC team has been flying, kicking and lassoing bad guys into submission for over 70 years. However, while many fans are familiar with their most recent exploits in the DCEU and their many popular animated appearances, few know about the squad’s less memorable outings– such as their ill-conceived ’90s sitcom, slightly racist ’70s TV special, or their recent foray into anime.
So what better time to take a look at all the different versions of Earth’s premiere heroes, and order them from Aquaman-levels of horrible to Batman-putting-a-lion-in-a-chokehold-levels of awesome.
Here is Every Adaptation Of The Justice League, Ranked Worst To Best.
15. Justice League (1997)
Imagine the Justice League meets Friends meets Melrose Place meets the bargain bin at the Salvation Army. The 1997s failed Justice League CBS sitcom is a far cry from the televised golden age of comic book adaptations we currently watch in.
In fact, it never made it past the pilot, probably on account of its cheap look, horrible story and unintentionally comedic awfulness. Overall, it is a perfect example of what not to do with a comic adaptation.
Their costumes look like bad cosplay sewn together by the producer’s grandmothers who had never opened a comic in their lives. The plot centered on a meteorologist and her superpowered roommates as they fight weather and overcome everyday problems like paying the rent, feeding the cat, going on dates or cleaning their apartment.
There are some confusing candid interviews and an overweight Martian Manhunter shows up at one point. Is this the worst comic book adaptation ever made? We’ll, let you be the judge. It certainly is the most embarrasing.
14. Legends of the Superheroes (1979)
Brought to you by renowned comic book masters Hanna-Barbera, Legends of the Superheroes was a two-part variety TV special. They’re all here– Batman, Robin, Flash, Black Canary, Green Lantern, Hawkman’s mother, Weather Wizard, an elderly retired man playing the Scarlet Cyclone, and, everyone’s favorite, Ghetto Man. Truly, the bizarre Legends of the Superheroes could only been a by-product of the 1970s.
More or less a reunion show for the Batman live-action TV show, the best thing to come out of Legends was Adam West and Burt Ward reprising their roles as the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder, respectively. The first episode called “The Challenge” featured the Justice League reuniting for a party in honor of Scarlet Cyclone’s retirement only for the Legion of Doom to crash it with a deadly bomb.
Somehow the villains manage to steal the superhoroes superpowers which they eventually get back somehow, after which Cyclone shows up late to his own party having missed all the action.
The second episode was eve more ridiculous. It was a celebrity-esque roast hosted by Ed McMahon that featured the DC superheroes acting in skits, such as Robin crashing the Batmobile and the Green Lantern getting his palm read.
13. Smallville (2007)
Long before superhero shows were a thing with the likes of Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl, there was Smallville (sorry Lois and Clark). A divisive show that fans either love or hated, Smallville was filled with teen angst, no flying, Chloe Sullivan acting crazy, Strident gum, and Remy Zero’s timeless ballad “Save Me”.
In the series sixth season we also got the CW version of the Justice League, featuring Impulse (aka poor man’s Flash), Aquaman, Cyborg, Green Arrow and Tom Welling…. in plainclothes.
The intention was to have their appearance on Smallville kickstart a spinoff series, compared to what the future would hold for CW superheroes, Smallville’s Justice League was a tad tame, and boring. Ultimately the team’s formation just gave Clark Kent another reason to whine over something.
Though the choice to have them wear matching color-coded hoodies and sunglasses in place of actual costumes was a bold move, easily making this the Unabomber’s favorite episode of Smallville. Particularly given how cool they look walking away from explosions in slow motion.
12. JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time (2014)
While most of the DC animated movies have been a part of a single universe, there have been a few unconnected strays, such as the much reviled Batman: The Killing Joke.
These also includes several Justice League one-off stories, probably the least popular of which is JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time. Aside from recalling the name of SNES’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time video game, there is not much in the way of anything memorable from this outing.
Initially released exclusively in Target stores (which is never a good sign), JLA Adventures ambitiously tried to pay homage to the old days of DC Comics animation. In fact it is a modern re-imagining of Super Friends episode entitled “Secret Origins of the Super Friends”, which if we’re being honest was better than its remake.
Focusing on the Legion of Doom traveling back in time to try and stop Superman from becoming a superhero, JLA Adventures could have definitely taken a cue from its inspiration and spent a little more time with the rest of the team. While there’s nothing overtly horrible about this version of the team otherwise, most fans overlook it for their far better animated appearances elsewhere in the lineup.
11. Batman and the Justice League (2017 Manga)
Following in the fine Japanese tradition of adapting American comics and making their titles even more awesome (see Mutant Turtles: Superman Legend), Batman and the Justice League is the work of female comic creator Shiori Tehsirogi.
Working alongside DC Entertainment, she launched the series in an effort to expand DC’s reach with younger generations, specifically girls. Which is probably why they opted to go with Batman instead of Wonder Woman as the lead character. No matter what your gender or nationality, everyone can appreciate Batman’s deadly fists.
Set in Gotham City, the manga features Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, Green Lantern and Aquaman as they team up to protect the word from the Joker and an alliance of super-villains. Currently only available in Japan, Batman and the Justice League‘s art has the typical stylized look of traditional manga comics but it is too soon to tell just how popular the series will be.
10. DC Super Heroes vs. Eagle Talon (2017 Anime)
Along with the aforementioned manga, the DC Super Heroes vs Eagle Talon anime arrived just in time to capitalize on the premiere of the DCEU’s Justice League film, or maybe it’s the other way around.
Either way, the Justice League gets the low-budget anime treatment in a team-up with Japan’s popular Flash animated series Eagle Talon. Because who needs big budget spectacle when you can have a flat, 2-dimensional stick figures.
Even by anime standards DC Super Heroes vs. Eagle Talon is an odd combo, a fact both sides are well aware of. Eagle Talon follows the misadventures of an evil secret society as it routinely fails to take over the world.
When the Joker travels to Japan to steal their secret weapons, Eagle Talon must join forces with the Justice League to stop him before, in a bit of meta-fun, they use up their small production budget after spending so much to license DC’s most popular heroes.
9. Justice League Action (2016)
The latest animated entry involving the JLA, Justice League Action is a more kid-friendly take on the team. Appearing on the Cartoon Network, the series relies less on serialized storytelling and more on one-off adventures, intermixed with a healthy dose of comedic relief. Most notably was its poking fun at Batman v Superman.
In addition, it includes an impressive cast of voice actors, including Mark Hamill as Swamp Thing and Kevin Conroy reprising his role as Batman from Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited.
While the series doesn’t add anything new to the characters that have not already been covered before, the overall reception has been warm and its consistently fun to watch. Though there has yet to be any mention of a second season so only time will tell if it falls by the wayside along with DC’s other fan-favorite efforts on Cartoon Network like Young Justice or Green Lantern: The Animated Series.
8. Justice League: Crisis on Two-Earths (2010) and Doom (2012)
Originally intended to bridge the gap between the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series, that plan was scrapped and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths released as standalone direct-to-video release.
It is loosely based on Grant Morrison’s 2000 comic book JLA: Earth 2, and explores a heroic Lex Luthor recruiting the Justice League to fend off an evil Justice League of Earth-3. With an epic finale and entraining look at alternate universe versions of the League, this early entry into animation is a solid effort.
Less super is its direct sequel, Justice League: Doom. Facing off against Vandal Savage who has gotten ahold of Batman’s failsafes to take down the JLA, the story is a very loose adaptation of the critically-acclaimed JLA: Tower of Babel comic (you know the one where Superman’s face is literally taken face-off).
Trying to cram too much great content into too short a period ended up not leaving enough time to let this version of the Justice League shine. Thankfully we got to see just how heroic they could be in Crisis on Two Earths, so as far as this iteration goes we have to split it down the middle.
7. Lego Justice League
In terms of pure hilariousness, the Lego Justice League are bar none the best version of the team. Appearing almost entirely in direct-to-video releases, the LJLA follow similar adventures as their life-size counterparts, only with more legos and dancing than usual.
In Gotham City Breakout, the League must save the day after Gotham erupts in chaos after Batman goes on vacation. In Justice League vs Bizarro League, they must fend off their Bizarro dopplegangers sent to destroy galaxy by Darkseid. In Justice League: Attack of the Legion of Doom they must, as you might have guessed, fight the Legion of Doom.
While none of these movies are on the part comically, storytellingly or graphically than the feauture Lego Batman, they can be fun, in a throwaway kind of way. Not exactly how you might want to describe Earth’s greatest heroes, but hey, at least you don’t have to listen to Tom Welling whine about how awful being a superhero is.
6. DC Animated Movie Universe
The DCAMU (who doesn’t love unnecessarily long acronyms?) encompasses the bulk of animated films released within the New 52. Beginning with Justice League: War in 2014, there have been three other films to focusing on the team including Justice League Dark, Justice League vs. Teen Titans, and Justice League: Throne of Atlantis.
Catering to an older audience much like its comic counterpart, the eight films that comprise this universe, include mature language, sexual innuendo and more violent action. For the most part they are offer some stellar storytelling and visuals sure to please any fan, particularly those of the more edgier JL from the New 52 (the same series that inspired the DCEU films).
The only major slight against them is their over reliance on Batman while sometimes failing to expand the characterization of the other members. By far the best of the lot is War, which does a great job of exploring the relationships between Bats, Green Lantern, Cyborg, Superman, Shazam and Wonder Woman as they form the group in defending an invasion by Darkseid.
5. Justice League: The New Frontier (2008)
Justice League: New Frontier is a fun look at what would have happened if the team was originally formed in order to fight dinosaurs. As far as plotlines go, they don’t get any better than that. Set as a period piece ripe with Americana and throwbacks, the film is based on the 2004 limited comic series of the same name and takes place on the alternate Earth-21 universe.
Bringing together the classic members of the JLA with some of DC’s oft neglected Golden Age characters, it’s a fairly straightforward story that follows the heroes as they unite to take down a massive flying sentient island inhabited by mutant dinosaurs intent on destroying humanity.
Even more impressive that that, the film focuses on how the team overcomes their differences to win the day that is often overlooked by other films, while adeptly mirroring the evolution of DC Comics through the years. Nostalgia, thematic storytelling, and dinosaurs — what’s not to love?
4. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)
Based on the critically-acclaimed Flashpoint storyline from the comics, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox is as epic as any single animated movie can get.
Not so much about the Justice League, as what the world would like without it, we get to see Cyborg form a makeshift version of the team in an alternate universe to try and stop a war between Wonder Woman’s Amazons and Aquaman’s Atlanteans. The film routinely ranks as one of the best animated films from DC Comics and for once gives us a story putting the Flash front and center.
Flashpoint Paradox marked the end the current animated continuity and set the stage for what would eventually become the DC Animated Movie Universe. While it gets bogged down by too many cameos and some criticize the excessive violence, in terms of story Flashpoint Paradox manages to nearly outdo its source material.
If nothing else, the film presents a drastically different look at the Justice League and what would happen if their de-unified collective powers fell into the wrong hands. It also gets bonus points for showing Batman crying.
3. DC Extended Universe
Although we are just now getting acquainted with Justice League of the big screen, if for no other reason than its ambitious undertaking does it deserve our admiration. Let alone the fact it has accomplished something no one else in the history of the world has come close to achiever ever before — making Aquaman look cool.
Whereas the MCU took its time in bringing everything together, the DCEU has jumped in cowl first to be unabashedly as epic as possible. While they have certainly stumbled in getter there, the lighter, more positive tone embraced by the film while still maintaining the grit and gravitas of the films that led up to it makes for one very exciting team-up.
2. Super Friends (1973-1986)
Super Friends, and its plethora of subsequent incarnations, aired in one form or another for over a decade on ABC as part of its Saturday morning cartoon lineup. Produced by Hanna-Barbera, the series was a kid-friendly version of the Justice League of America, who naturally are all super friendly with one another. Though the real reason for the name change was because the show’s producers feared their team’s name was too aggressively patriotic in light of the Vietnam War.
As corny as one might expect a 1970s cartoon series about superheroes marketed to 8 year-olds to be, Legends of the Superheroes this was not. The entire Super Friends series rates as one of the best superhero animated shows of all-time.
While it started off as a goofy kids cartoon featuring the likes of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman needing the help of two pointless teenagers named Wendy and Marvin (along Wonder Dog) to save the day, the show eventually evolved into more serious plot lines that would pave the way for future animated series.
What’s more, its enduring impact on pop-culture makes Super Friends as famous today as when it first aired, like with the infamous South Park episode depicting Muhammad as a member.
1. DC Animated Universe (2001-2006)
Cartoon superheroes reached their peak with what is colloquially known as the DC Animated Universe. (Not to be confused with the DC Animated Movie Universe.) Starting with Batman: The Animated Series, the DCAU was masterminded by Bruce Tim and is commonly referred to by fans as the Timmverse.
Two of its standout series were Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, and as a whole represents the pinnacle of bringing superheroes off the page and into our screens.
Spanning from the early 90s to mid-00s, the DCAU successfully bridged the gap between TV and comics, for all ages to enjoy. Its two Justice League series’ explored the DC universe in unprecedented ways, combining action, humor and adventure, while simultaneously remaining faithful to the source material and bringing a fresh, thought-provoking perspective to the characters.
Not to mention the series gave us some of the best versions of some of the most beloved superheroes, in particular Wonder Woman. Not only does Justice League and its sequel series Justice League Unlimited combine to make one of the best animated stories of all time, they standalone as some of the greatest Justice League stories ever, in any medium. As far as superhero adaptations go, they don’t get any more epic than this.
Which version of the Justice League is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
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