Going into the Silver Age, Batman was not only one of the few superheroes to continue being published going out of the Golden Age, he starred in several titles. However, the character fell on hard times especially following the establishment of the Comics Code Authority considering the hero’s roots in Gothic themes with a strong pulp inspiration from darker characters like the Shadow and Zorro (among over a dozen others from various media). As Superman found significant success working a Science Fiction angle, a similar approach was applied to Batman to abysmal results. Regardless, he still had several books and was one of National’s best known franchises making him a prime candidate for the Justice League of America. As noted, it was decided the character would largely be absent from the League’s early adventures, the Green Arrow as a stand-in instead. However, Batman’s fortune changed substantially in 1966.
When ABC aired a live action television series based on Batman in the 1960s, the response was culture changing. Dubbed Batmania, the United States (as well as various other countries) became obsessed with the Caped Crusader and not only was Batman’s comics now a hot commodity, Batman became a star in various comics including Justice League of America (arguably, a role he has yet to relinquish). The Dark Knight remained with the group until the advent of the Outsiders in the early 1980s. Following the success of the Silver Age, DC Comics’ hottest properties could largely be divided into categories of the Justice League and their sidekicks in the Teen Titans (perhaps the Legion of Super-Heroes, as well). Meanwhile, Marvel Comics had finally beaten out DC in sales in the ’70s and had franchises like Spider-Man, X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four, Defenders, and so on. Writer Mike W. Barr pitched a new team book starring Batman with some established characters (namely, Metamorpho and Black Lightning) and new heroes. Originally, he wanted Batman to take a leave of absence from the League only for editorial to think his quitting the flagship team would carry more impact.
In Batman’s absence, the group would go through its much decried Detroit era and would return as its chairperson briefly (having left the Outsiders) but did not again become an ongoing member until Giffen/DeMatteis’ fan-coined Bwa-Ha-Ha League (one of the few Big 7 editorial allowed in the new group, though retroactively he was no longer a founding member of the JLA following Crisis). Originally its leader, shortly into his regime he relinquished his responsibility to Martian Manhunter. The team would become a UN sanctioned organization called Justice League International before later breaking up into several Leagues. Batman would stay on for a time but eventually became a part-timer, absent from the team when Doomsday killed Superman and effectively broke the Justice League. Batman wouldn’t return to the group as an ongoing member again until Grant Morrison’s Big 7 JLA. Therein, the Caped Crusader was like a secret agent who could essentially achieve any goal given enough time to prepare. He would be a member until his protocols for defeating the JLA was used against them by Ra’s al Ghul, leading to Batman’s expulsion. However, his release would be a short one. Throughout the struggles that followed, Batman was one of the few JLA members to remain with the group through its changes. Following Infinite Crisis, Batman would help reform the team (also, Batman was retroactively a founding member again). After the events of Final Crisis, Dick Grayson would take up the mantle of Batman (including as a member of the Justice League until the events of Flashpoint). Following the latest reboot, Batman would again be a founding member of the League (as well as the League’s liaison on Justice League International).
National’s cash cow, Superman was the most popular comic book series for his time and while the Comics Code Authority was like a virus on the comic book industry, Superman managed to survive and thrive. Superman’s inclusion in the Justice League of America was all but guaranteed, though again editors didn’t want to overexpose the character leading to Martian Manhunter largely filling the Man of Steel’s role in the beginning. Superman would serve with the group until the Detroit era. Following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Last Son of Krypton was no longer a founding member and the Martian Manhunter generally filled his role in the team. Various stories over the years tried to retroactively place Superman as a member some time within the years that followed, but generally he was a reservist at best. He wouldn’t actually become a fixture of the League post-Crisis until the formation of Justice League America. Following Superman’s death, a new JLA would be formed by Wonder Woman. Upon returning back to life, the Metropolis Marvel would turn down offers to return to the team. He wouldn’t rejoin the League until Morrison’s Big 7 group.
Within Grant Morrison’s Justice League, every member served an important purpose. Aquaman was the team’s nobility, Wonder Woman its sword, Green Lantern the optimism and creativity, Flash a bridge between divides, Batman its tactician, Martian Manhunter the heart and soul, and Superman was the face of justice, righteousness, and good, its hope for a better tomorrow and trust in humanity to ultimately find its way. In a very real sense, Superman was like a messiah figure who heralded the advent of the superhero and whose face, unmasked and bare to the world, was a symbol of light to see Earth through its darkest hours. Even Batman, the group’s realist and borderline cynic, couldn’t defy the fact Superman was the face of the League and its lighthouse that kept the group on course (just as Batman was its shadow, making sure the group worked and keeping them in check). Superman would remain with the group until the events of Infinite Crisis, forming a new League in wake of the crisis (retroactively, Superman was a founder again). Following Final Crisis, Black Canary would disband the Justice League as Superman became preoccupied with the emergence of New Krypton. In his absence, Mon-El would become Metropolis’ new protector and joined the new League formed by Donna Troy. Following the events of Flashpoint, Superman would again become a founder of the Justice League.
1. MARTIAN MANHUNTER
Previously, Comic Art Community devoted an entire article to the history of the Martian Manhunter. Part of this was because of the significance the character had to the history and mythology of the Justice League of America which, noted earlier, he holds the place of being its heart and soul. Of course, when the character was first introduced, such was not the case. Being in the unique position of emerging after the Golden Age had faded but before the Silver Age started, the Manhunter from Mars largely was intended to be a detective series with Science Fiction elements. Another way of putting it would be comparing it to the Incredible Hulk television series from the late 1970s where David Banner would try to find a cure to his condition but in times of need or distress, turned into the green muscle bound Hulk. With the Manhunter, he would work a case as a human detective but when he couldn’t get any further in that capacity, assumed his Martian form and finished up his investigation (generally using shapeshifting and telepathy). However, following the popularity of the Flash and the formation of the Justice League, the Manhunter instead became a more traditional superhero (as well as stand-in for Superman in the beginning, generally adopting whatever powers and abilities the Kryptonian had).
As Superman began taking a more active role in the Justice League, the presence of the Martian Manhunter became less necessary. Eventually, the character would largely be replaced by the Red Tornado as the Manhunter returned to Mars and moved on to Mars II. Again drawing parallels to Superman, when it was decided to alter the Justice League such that its biggest names were removed, the Manhunter was brought back to fill a Superman-like role. With the Detroit era, Aquaman briefly assumed command as Martian Manhunter would replace him shortly thereafter when the title’s sales continued to lag (mentioned already, Batman took over for a time only to return the reins to Manhunter). It was during the Detroit era when the Manhunter started to change as the character, rejected by his own people and left to his adopted world, became the father figure to essentially a group of kids (Elongated Man aside) expected to face the most dangerous threats in the universe (so far as members actually being murdered by these threats and the trauma that caused the team, especially Manhunter). When the Detroit League gave way to the Bwa-Ha-Ha League, Batman would be named leader only again for the role to shortly be handed over to his Martian teammate. In this capacity, the Manhunter went from being a father to a nursemaid and straight man to the group’s jokes. Still, despite being an alien in a foreign world, his was the voice of reason and the team’s wisdom. But, Crisis would have a major impact on the character.
Mentioned already, Superman was no longer a founding member of the Justice League following Crisis. Instead, much of what he did was then passed on to the Martian Manhunter historically. Further, the Manhunter was no longer an outcast of his world but its sole survivor. So, he never returned to live on Mars or Mars II. In other words, retroactively he became the most active member of the Justice League in the group’s history. Further, he still emerged in the 1950s while the rest of the Silver Age timeline was shifted ahead. Writers would pick up upon this in the years that followed, changing Martian Manhunter from being a Superman clone to essentially being the world’s secret Superman for decades. He would operate unseen protecting the world, assuming dozens of identities across the globe, and became a silent guardian of Superman since the day he landed on Earth as a baby. Manhunter would join a precursor to the Justice League in the Justice Experience as the Bronze Wraith and when the League formed, he came out as a Martian to the world as they came to accept Superman despite being an alien. However, within the League he became uncertain of the group and Earth’s heroes in general, eventually creating a database on all of the world’s heroes and their secret identities (which of course ended up in the wrong hands). Still, there was no chance of the Martian Manhunter ever returning to his people (never being able to express himself the ways in which his people were made to do) and he had to learn to trust and accept the Earth as his new home, in time making the Justice League his family.
The Bwa-Ha-Ha League would become the Justice League International and Martian Manhunter moved on to head up the Justice League Task Force, more-or-less the Mission: Impossible version of the superteam. Gypsy, one of the handful of survivors of the Detroit era, joined the team becoming a surrogate daughter to the Manhunter. After a few years, all the League books would be canceled giving way to the Big 7-centric JLA. Martians became a reoccurring threat to the team, most often White Martians but later the Manhunter when he was possessed by the entity Fernus. Manhunter was a mainstay of the group until the arc leading up to and of Fernus. Following Infinite Crisis, aspects of Black Adam’s psyche influenced the Manhunter into becoming something of an anti-hero that distanced himself from the League. However, when the character realized this approach was counter-productive he seemingly exercised himself of this presence before meeting his death in the pages of Final Crisis. Though he later returned to life, he didn’t return to the League. Following Flashpoint, Martian Manhunter was no longer a founding member of the Justice League (Cyborg taking his place) and there was some confusion to if he was ever even a member (eventually it shook out that he was briefly). The character went on to become a founding member of Justice League of America and Justice League United (developing a fatherly relationship with Stargirl).
Honorable mentions: Hawkman, Oracle, Plastic Man, and Cyborg.