There have been a lot of characters in the JLA over the years, and lots of them really don't fit my idea of who the League is.  The ones I left out tend to fall into two categories:

  1. Characters who should never have been anywhere near the JLA
  2. Great characters who just don't "fit" the League for me, whether I associate them with other teams, or think they were better as solos.

Here's my line-up:

  1. Aquaman (Arthur Curry)
  2. The Atom (Ray Palmer)
  3. Batman (Bruce Wayne)
  4. The Black Canary (Dinah Laurel Lance)
  5. The Elongated Man (Ralph Dibny)
  6. The Flash (Barry Allen)
  7. The Green Arrow (Oliver Queen)
  8. The Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
  9. Hawkgirl (Shayera Hol)
  10. Hawkman (Katar Hol)
  11. The Martian Manhunter (J'Onn J'Onzz)
  12. The Red Tornado (John Smith)
  13. Steel (John Henry Irons)
  14. Superman (Clark Kent)
  15. Wonder Woman (Diana Prince)
  16. Zatanna the Magician ()Zatanna Zatara)

So, mostly the JLA from when I was a kid.

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Cross out Steel and add Firestorm and that's mine! 

Superman

Batman

Wonder Woman

Flash (Wally)

Green Lantern (Alan Scott) 

Hawkgirl (Shayera Hol)

Oracle

Black Canary

Zatanna

Yeah, I know some of them were never in the Justice League, but this is who I'd choose. 

The JLA has traditionally been more "exclusive than the Avengers. (The Avengers will let anybody in.) "My" JLA line-up would be these...

...plus...

Batman

Green Lantern

Flash

Martian Manhunter

As a corollary to your two criteria of exclusion I would specify characters who are pet creations of the writers, such as Gerry Conway's Firestorm (#1*) and Grant Morrison's Aztek (#2). 

*(I included Firestorm in my line-up, but really he "should never have been anywhere near the JLA.")

I dunno about that.  I looked at a list of everyone who's ever been in the JLA, and I saw a fair number of mid-carders and even a few jobbers in there.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

The JLA has traditionally been more "exclusive than the Avengers. (The Avengers will let anybody in.) 

That's specifically why I said "traditionally." By #200, their membership numbered only 15. By way of comparison, the Avengers had 23 members by their 200th issue, and six of them had criminal (or otherwise morally dubious) records. 

Incidentally, I started collecting the JLA with the issue below, so I understand about "characters who never should have been anywhere near the JLA," "mid-carders" and "jobbers." ;)

My Justice League would include:

1. Superman

2. Batman

3. Wonder Woman

4. Flash

5. Green Lantern

6. Martian Manhunter

7. Hawkman

8. Hawkgirl

9. The Atom

10. Black Canary

11. Black Lightning

12. Zatanna

13. Firestorm

14. Blue Beetle (Ted Kord)

15. Vixen

16. Captain Marvel (Billy)

17 Captain Marvel (Mary)

18. The Question

19. Plastic Man

Honorary Members / Guests who occasionally show up

1. Aquaman

2. Elongated Man

3. Green Arrow

4. The Phantom Stranger

I always felt Aquaman and the Atom were kind of "special teams" and Aquaman wouldn't have the tight personal connections to get him to join the team proper.

Meanwhile, Elongated Man and Green Arrow only seemed like they were on the team for their personal connections, so they're not on my league proper either, (although they'd still show up often enough).

For me it's pretty much the lineup when I was a kid, which was the Fox/Sekowsky years.

In general any team that doesn't have Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman on it really isn't the JLA to me, and the core should be the Big 5 (the Trinity plus Flash and Green Lantern). Round those out with a couple of lesser lights (the Hawks, Atom, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man) and that's my JLA.

I feel the same way about Avengers; any team without Captain America (and to an extent Iron Man and Thor) really doesn't count. And any X-Men team not being led by Cyclops is just a bunch of pretenders. But that's just me.

As to "letting anybody in," both teams took in members at roughly the same pace through the first 100 issues. For example, both teams had nine members by issue #20. Both only took in one member during issues #60-100 (Black Knight in Avengers #71, Black Canary in Justice League of America #74-75). At issue #100, Avengers had 13 members, JLA had 11. If you include Honorary/Stand-By Members, both had 14. Here's the lineup as of issue #100 for both:

Avengers

  1. Ant-Man (Hank Pym), Avengers #1
  2. Hulk (Bruce Banner), Avengers #1
  3. Iron Man (Tony Stark), Avengers #1
  4. Thor Odinson, Avengers #1
  5. Captain America (Steve Rogers), Avengers #4
  6. Hawkeye (Clint Barton), Avengers #16
  7. Quicksilver (Pietro Maximoff), Avengers #16
  8. Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff), Avengers #16
  9. Swordsman I (Jacques Duquesne), Avengers #19
  10. Hercules, Avengers #45
  11. Black Panther (T'Challa), Avengers #52
  12. The Vision, Avengers #58
  13. Black Knight III (Dane Whitman), Avengers #71

Honorary: Rick Jones

Before anyone asks, the Marvel Handbook says Wonder Man didn't formally join until issue #182, not in Avengers #9, where he first appeared (and first died).

JLA (11)

  1. Aquaman (Arthur Curry), Brave and Bold #28
  2. Batman (Bruce Wayne), Brave and Bold #28
  3. The Flash (Barry Allen), Brave and Bold #28
  4. Green Lantern II, Brave and Bold #28
  5. Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz), Brave and Bold #28
  6. Superman II (Clark Kent), Brave and Bold #28
  7. Wonder Woman (Diana), Brave and Bold #28
  8. Green Arrow (Oliver Queen), Justice League of America #4
  9. The Atom (Ray Palmer), Justice League of America #14
  10. Hawkman II (Katar Hol), Justice League of America #31
  11. Black Canary I (Dinah Drake Lance), , Justice League of America #74-75

Honorary Members: Lucas “Snapper” Carr, Sargon the Sorcerer

Stand-By Member: Metamorpho

In the second 100 issues, the Avengers admitted 9 new members, and the JLA 6.

Avengers #101-200

  1. Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff), Avengers #111
  2. Mantis, Giant-Size Avengers #4
  3. Moondragon (Heather Douglas), Avengers #137
  4. Beast (Hank McCoy), Avengers #137
  5. Hellcat (Patsy Walker), Avengers #148
  6. Wonder Man (Simon Williams), Avengers #182
  7. Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers), Avengers #183
  8. The Falcon (Sam Wilson), Avengers #184
  9. Jocasta, Avengers #197

Honorary Members: The original Guardians of the Galaxy

Reserve Members: Whizzer, Two-Gun Kid

For the JLA, membership stalled after Firestorm until the booms of the Detroit League (1984) and the post-Crisis League (1987).

  • The Elongated Man (Ralph Dibny), Justice League of America #105
  • Red Tornado (John Smith), Justice League of America #106
  • Hawkgirl (Shayera Hol), Justice League of America #146
  • The Phantom Stranger, Justice League of America #146 (revealed)
  • Zatanna (Zatanna Zatara), Justice League of America #161
  • Firestorm (Ron Raymond/Martin Stein), Justice League of America #179

Honorary Member: Captain Comet

So the Avengers did pull ahead by issue #200 of each title, but afterwards both roll calls continue to grow exponentially until both are too hard to keep track of, and I don't see much difference. I will agree that the Avengers do have more of a tendency to accept reformed (and sometimes not-so-reformed) villains, although both teams accepted an android created to kill them. I think Avengers has always been more dependent on interpersonal relationships, but JLA is catching up on that score.

The upshot for me is: Both teams have now been in continuous publication for more than 50 years, and I don't see a whole lot of difference between them any more. Your mileage, as usual, may vary.

“My” JLA (and my Avengers for that matter) are certainly Silver Age.  I read both for decades after the Silver Age ended, but the Silver Age lineups remain my favorites.  A character here or there (e.g., Falcon, and strangely, Triathlon) are maybe acceptable, although more so with Marvel than DC.

Which brings up a interesting question, what enduring A-list character(s) has DC created in the last 50 years?  They are still living off the characters and concepts created in the Silver Age, some (most?) with Golden Age roots, and, of course, the Big Three (Four) from the Golden Age, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Robin. 

For 50 years it has been recycled concepts and revamped characters, with few, if any, enduring “monster” new creations.  There’s nothing wrong with “recycling,” especially if it leads to great stories (e.g., Starman), but, really, nothing “new” for 50 years.  

What do we have from the last 50 years?

Some different Green Lanterns, but many of them were Silver Age or near Silver Age creations —Guy Gardner, John Stewart; Wally West as Flash; Dick Grayson as a variety of characters; some different Robins, a new Batwoman:  recycled names/concepts.  

Harley Quinn?

Swamp Thing?

Black Lightning?

They have appeared in movies and/or TV and are known outside of comic books.  But “giants”?   Maybe not.  And Swamp Thing and Black Lightning go back to the 1970s, so they certainly aren’t recent.  Also, we could quibble that DC didn’t even create Harley Quinn, but is it worth arguing over?

Cyborg?  He can’t really sustain a solo comic.

Booster Gold?

Firestorm?

Lobo?

John Constantine?  Maybe, but he’s not a “superhero” in the mold of Superman or Batman.

Power Girl?  She’s just Earth-2’s Supergirl.

Sandman?  A recycled “Golden Age” name, and certainly an original creation.

Jonah Hex?  

Maybe Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are such archetypes that there really isn’t anything “big” left out there to “create.”  I just find it interesting that there haven’t been any new “monster”/well-know & recognized characters created for decades.

I’m sure the same can be said for Marvel.  Where are the new commercial giants/generally recognized characters created in the last 40-50 years?  Wolverine (1974).  Yeah, keep going.

Is endlessly recycling the same concepts and revamping the same “characters” enough to sustain the industry for the future?

For DC, I think Harley Quinn has achieved iconic status. She's tremendously well known because of her non-conics apoearances, not to mention she's very popular with both the male and female demographic. I think the only thing hurting her is that she doesn't have an iconic look as her costume changes so frequently. 

Constantine has an iconic look, but it just seems as if that next rung of success eludes him. 

On the Marvel side, I would say Deadpool is something of a breakout star, or perhaps the Guardians of the Galaxy. 

“Iconic.”  Thank you, that was the word I was searching for.

Deadpool.  I think he makes the cut, good call.

For DC, Harley may be all there is.

I don’t want to capture a DC thread with a Marvel discussion but the Guardians were introduced in 1969.  Taking the movie Guardians we have Star-Lord (1976), Gamora (1975), Drax (1973), Rocket (1976), Mantis (1973), and Groot (1960).

Who else?

Storm (1975)?
She-Hulk?
Ms. Marvel?

Miles Morales (2011)?

Without Hulk, Captain Marvel, and Spider-Man there is no She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel (or Carol Danvers Captain Marvel for that matter) or Miles Morales, although Kamala Khan and Miles Morales are interesting reworkings of the “source” material. Time will tell.

Marvel may have continued Into the 1970s to create characters who achieved iconic status, but it doesn’t have much to show for the last 40 years.

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