So the Justice League is front and center of all the big news coming out of DC the last couple days, with Geoff Johns and Jim Lee teaming up to make it the flagship book of a re-launched line. Part of the line-up has been revealed and it’s looking pretty exciting—if lacking in Martians—but there are still many spots to be filled.
I’m a total sucker for when iconic teams like the League or the Avengers have their recruiting drives as I’m totally a fantasy football player at heart who loves to mix and match my dream rosters. Don’t get me wrong; I get just as frustrated as the next nerd when the team formation part of a new series drags on or feels forced, but you better believe I’ll always be back for the next round regardless because I’m a junkie that way.
All that said, since the group seems to still be in the process of getting finalized and Kiel already wrote his open letter to Geoff and Jim, I feel it’s my responsibility to do my due diligence and speak to the characters themselves with a little warning based on careful research:
Guys—and Wonder Woman—you should totally not let Batman on the Justice League.
Ok, ok, all you angry fans out there just settle down a minute and hear what I have to say. I’m not saying Batman is not an awesome character and I’m not saying from your and my point of view a Justice League book with him in it isn’t better for his presence; I’m simply warning the heroes of the DC Universe that from a purely in-story standpoint, Batman is a fucking menace to his allies.
I don’t state this lightly, but as far as I can tell, Batman is the worst Justice Leaguer of all-time.
Now as with Forge a few weeks back I’m not saying Batman is lame or that he sucks—even I, the guy who thinks Star Wars was only so-so, know better than that—simply that if we’re going by performance review, nobody is a bigger liability to the Justice League than the Dark Knight. Allow me to state my case…
As far as the Silver Age goes, Batman gets a pass. Really nobody was a bad Justice Leaguer during most of the Silver Age because it was near impossible to be. One of the hallmarks of classic Gardner Fox era JLA stories was that each character, despite being unique in terms of name and appearance, could all battle the same obstacles on a fairly even playing field. Every bad guy had Kryptonite or yellow paint handy to neutralize Superman and Green Lantern as easily as The Atom or Hawkman and Green Arrow had plenty of heat-seeking or mind-scrambling arrows to put him on par with The Martian Manhunter when he needed to be. The totally human Batman standing side-by-side with Olympian demigoddesses and the Fastest Man Alive wasn’t a problem at all.
The first real knock against Batman came at the end of the 60’s in Justice League of America #77 and it wasn’t really his fault directly, but I still hold him responsible. Posing as “ordinary guy” John Doe, The Joker poisons the mind of JLA mascot Snapper Carr against his super friends, giving him an inferiority complex that leads him to give away the location of the Secret Sanctuary. The League thwarts the villain and moves into a fancy satellite up in outer space, but poor Snapper resigns his honorary membership in shame, later going on to suffer the indignity of joining the Blasters—NOTE: I have never actually read the Blasters comic and given that Peter David wrote it, it’s probably awesome—and getting his hands chopped off before finding eventual redemption as Hourman’s buddy and the mentor to Young Justice with an awesome t-shirt collection. Still, why were the teenage years of the League’s mascot ruined? Because Batman pissed off The Joker.
Batman’s first overt action against the Justice League didn’t come until he was getting into one of his moody periods in 1983. Bats gets pissy about the League not helping him be all crazy and vigilante-like when he wants to storm the war-torn Eastern European country of Markovia and rescue his buddy Lucius Fox from a villain, so he storms off in a huff and forms his own team, the Outsiders, to go break international law. To add insult to injury, he gets two dudes who turned the League down, Black Lightning and Metamorpho, to join his group of cool kids, then probably gives Firestorm a swirly and pops out back to smoke a cigarette. With that irresponsible lout Batman having thumbed his nose at it, suddenly the Justice League isn’t the hip place to be any more and they go from beating down Darkseid to getting their asses handed to them by one-offs like Paragon (a Kurt Busiek creation who is one of the most underutilized awesome villains ever). A year after the Bat Bailout, the League gets beat down in a war with the Martians and almost all the established members take off, paving the way for Vibe, Vixen, Gypsy and Steel.
Yes, that’s right: Justice League Detroit is Batman’s fault.
The Detroit era Justice League had its unique charm and Gerry Conway took some bold risks that resulted in solid stories, but the DC Universe was no doubt a pretty terrifying place when the supposed first line of defense against evil had a break dancing kid in parachute pants front and center plus Aquaman as the inspirational leader (sorry Kiel).
But that’s ok, because being a generous and benevolent sort, none other than Batman returned in Justice League of America #250, recognizing a deficiency in training and experience on his former team and vowing to help them become more formidable and giving the world the heroes it needed.
He left about six issues later with no real explanation and then half the team got murdered by Professor Ivo.
Apparently not feeling any remorse for breaking his promise to guide a new generation of impressionable youngsters to anything other than grisly death or survivor’s guilt, Batman was back in the fold a few months later as a founding member of what would become Justice League International. He was pretty grouchy and spent most of his tenure insulting everybody around him, but that was the general tone, so you can’t really blame him. You probably could blame him for giving Guy Gardner, one of the team’s biggest guns, brain damage by punching him in the face and rendering him virtually useless for a good period, but—nah, y’know what, I’m totally gonna blame him for that. Classic scene or not, that’s just irresponsible, sir!
After incapacitating poor Guy, Batman came and went as he pleased when it came to the JLI for a year or so before abandoning the group altogether. He’d stay away for a good half decade once more this time while the team he helped start stopped and started a bunch of times, getting several members killed or maimed along the way. In the midst of it, Bane broke Bruce Wayne’s back for a bit, perhaps not out of ambition as we all suspected, but maybe as karma for the Silver Sorceress or Ice? Ok, maybe not.
Until the last few years, Batman—the Bruce Wayne variety—has been more or less a fixture on the Justice League since JLA kicked off in 1997. He’s had some truly kick ass moments, from defeating the White Martians near singlehandedly to helping kill Darkseid in the future to knocking out Prometheus. He has also nearly gotten his teammates and sometimes the entire superhuman community wiped out on more than one occasion due to his paranoia and shoddy security.
First off you had Mark Waid’s excellent Tower of Babel storyline that ran in JLA #43-46. Ra’s al Ghul distracts Batman by snatching his parents’ corpses and dangles them above a Lazarus Pit then has his daughter grab some contingency plans he had lying around to horribly defeat and torture each member of the Justice League just in case they turn evil. Ra’s and his goons proceed to light Martian Manhunter on fire, use fear toxin to make Aquaman terrified of water, freeze Plastic Man and then smash him with a hammer, blind Green Lantern, trap Wonder Woman in a never-ending virtual reality battle sequence, shot Flash in the neck with a bullet that makes him experience seizures that takes up seconds but feel like they last months, and finally, poison Superman with Red Kryptonite.
Batman designed all this stuff by cozying up to his teammates and learning their secrets through the sinister means of friendship. Sure, I’ve done the same thing to most of my pals—TJ, your weakness involves wine coolers and laser tag—but they’re not super heroes and I’d probably only write stuff on them while they’re drunk or whatever, not shatter them into tiny pieces with a mallet. Hopefully Wally West has never invited Bruce Wayne to a barbeque with his family ever.
So about five years after the Ra’s al Ghul unpleasantness and Batman had been allowed back into the League—I’m pretty sure without apologizing—he decides it would be a swell idea to build a super spy satellite called Brother MK1 to keep tabs on all metahuman heroes and villains, once again, just in case. Granted this was a response to Bats learning he had been mind wiped by his League buddies back in the Silver Age after he saw them erase Doctor Light’s memories—after reading this article, can you blame them?—but still, at one point does a dude learn that his doomsday protocols are all destined for horrific failure?
Case in point: Brother MK1 gains sentience via Alexander Luthor, hooks up with Maxwell Lord and Checkmate, renames itself Brother Eye, creates an army of OMACs, gets poor former Leaguer Rocket Red killed, nearly razes Themysceira and commits all sorts of other atrocities before Batman finally cleans up his mess by leading a team of heroes into outer space and then abandoning the young Blue Beetle out there after he saves the day. Oh, did I mention that Batman was one of several DC heroes to dismiss prior Blue Beetle—and his former JLI teammate—Ted Kord when he got suspicious about Checkmate, leading to him getting shot in the head by Lord? Yeah, so did Superman, but he was at least polite about it.
So that’s Bruce Wayne’s track record as a member of the Justice League; abandons the team when he feels like it, gets others killed or injured, cooks up contingency plans to kill or injure those he hasn’t already, and is pretty much always a jerk. He’ll save your ass against White Martians, but he will also likely poison you without meaning to at some point.
For the record, Dick Grayson has not gotten anybody killed or enacted a single scorched earth scenario since he’s been the League’s Batman. Neither has Wally West or Kyle Rayner—have I mentioned lately they should be on the team?
So fellow readers, while we all love Batman, for the sake of the other characters we care about, I do hope you understand why the worst Justice Leaguer ever should be kept as far away from that team as possible—I mean, except for the fact that the book is way more awesome when he’s inadvertently nearly getting his pals killed.