About a month ago, I read Comics Buyer’s Guide #1662. The issue arrived in the mail sporting a Justice League of America cover which featured the new line-up introduced by James Robinson and Mark Bagley. Though I’ve lost interest in the JLA over the past couple of years- shortly after Brad Meltzer left the title for readers interested in those kinds of details- I was still looking forward to reading about the new line-up, the new creative team and the new plans for the title.
To my pleasure, both Captain Comics and Mr. Silver Age had contributed articles on the subject. Captain Comics introduced the new members of the team while Mr. Silver Age surveyed Justice League line-up changes of years past. The juxtaposition should have been interesting- even comforting- but instead, it caught me off-guard. Captain Comics rightly spent time introducing the new members of the JLA to readers who may not be familiar with them or may not be aware of their current status quo. Yet, he seemed almost defensive as if he had to justify the inclusion of any new member in such an austere group of heroes. Meanwhile, Mr. Silver Age was light-hearted, poking good-natured fun at the clichéd method of introduction in which the newest member was
instrumental in resolving their first case and gently mocking the rules of membership that resulted in a lag between the initiation of Hawkman and Hawkwoman.
It struck me that the addition of new members in the past was welcomed and even considered an occasion for joy but the addition of new members today is met by skepticism. That’s not true of every fan. Yet it does seem to be generally true of the older fans who make up the readership of CBG (and the membership of this site?).
What happened? Why is there no welcome mat for new members?
I’m aware of some of the fan objections. “They’re too new. They were forced on us quickly instead of being introduced over time. They’re the writer’s pets. They’re the replacement heroes instead of the real ones.” But I don’t think those objections hold water.
Firestar was rejected by some fans as a rookie who hadn’t earned her way onto the Avengers when she was added to the team in 1998. Yet she had already been in comics for 12 years (and cartoons before that), which is more than Atom, Hawkman and Red Tornado had combined before their individual entrances to the Justice League. Plus, Firestar had been a long-standing member of another team when she was introduced as a new member of the Avengers. The
newest members of the JLA have been around even longer than that. As Captain Comics noted in his article, Congorilla was introduced in 1959 and has roots going all the way back to 1940.
Another Avenger, Triathlon, was rejected as a writer’s pet who was shoe-horned onto the team too quickly. Yet writer Kurt Busiek did exactly what fans suggest should be done. He gave Triathlon a slow roll-out, waiting 19 issues to make him a member of the team, from his introduction in #8 to the big roster shuffle in #27. That’s a slower roll-out than was given to Kitty Pryde, who was made a member of the team 9 issues after her introduction.
Every single member of the new JLA has a long and storied history (which Captain Comics so kindly pointed out). They have roots going back to the Golden Age (the Guardian) or the Silver Age (M’onel). They’re served with distinction on other teams (Cyborg and Starfire) or even on earlier incarnations of the JLA (Dr. Light). They’ve even starred in their own series (Dick Grayson had over 100 issues of Nightwing in the past and Batman & Robin in the present). They have the credentials to serve.
Yet that should be beside the point. Defending the credentials of the new members legitimizes the conceit that new members have to prove themselves in order to be able to join.
These new Justice Leaguers have better credentials than many past members had when they joined the team in the first place. Ray Palmer had been the Atom for less than a year when he joined the JLA. Hawkman had his own title for all of six issues when he became a member. Hal Jordan had been a replacement hero for six months when he became one of the JLA’s founding members.
It wasn’t about the credentials. At least, not those established outside of the title in question. As Mr. Silver Age reminded us, the new members proved their worth to the team by solving the mission. That happened in the story.
The new members were added to the team because they brought something new or something interesting. If today’s new members star in interesting stories then that’s how they will prove their worth. They will be as welcomed as the stars of other celebrated tenures like Zatanna and Black Canary, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold.
Isn’t that what we hope for? As fans, we want new and interesting stories. Instead of skeptically sneering at the arrival of new members or the introduction of a new line-up, we should be rolling out the welcome mat wishing them success.
It might not work. Other past tenures have failed to excite our imagination and that could be the fate of this group as well. But it’s not what we want. It’s not what we hope for.
So I say “welcome” to new members, whether I’m reading the title or not. I’m glad that Echo became an Avenger and Static a Titan. I say welcome to M’onel and Starfire and even Congorilla. I hope you can breathe new life into the Justice League of America. You’ve paid plenty of dues to get here. All I ask is that you do something entertaining now that you’ve arrived.