If you’re looking for complicated histories in the world of comics, there’s no finer example than that of the Justice League. Just type the words “Justice League history” into Reddit and watch the narrative and fanboy arguments flow like a river discourse as everyone has some issue with the canon. Making sense out of it is a challenge for anyone, and DK Books has certainly tried over the years with a couple different guides, including The DC Encyclopedia. As part of a tie-in with the recent Warner Bros. film, the company released a brand-new guide in the form of Justice League: The Ultimate Guide. We took off our Clark Kent glasses, put on our real ones, and flipped through this latest guide.
This particular guide tries to make sense of everything by going in a linear fashion, from the very beginnings of the league all the way to the current fallout from the Rebirth storylines. You start with an introduction to all of the key players on the heroes side, such as the Superman article you see below, to the villains and other evil entities that play a pivotal role in their history. The book then divides into a few specific eras: The Early Years, Cosmic Defenders, Down To Earth, International Expansion, The Heroes Return, The Heroes Fall, and A World Reborn. It does its best to give you a history lesson on the league without missing any major plot points or leaving out any key figures who have had the most impact on that history.
The downside to this is that a lot of people’s favorite characters and basically marginalized, and even some of the long-standing members are left out for different popular members. A good example to this on both sides of the coin would be Green Arrow and Cyborg. While Green Arrow played more of a part-time role in a lot of the comics, he was a part of the League for decades in one aspect or another. However, this guide basically grazes over him like Oliver Queen is barely here. Meanwhile, Cyborg is given the full hero treatment throughout the book, barely acknowledging his time in the Teen Titans and focusing all of his efforts on his time in the League. It’s the strangest kind of selective highlighting, but of course, since this is a movie tie-in kind of book, one would expect them to focus on who is int he movie and gloss over the rest. Still, it’s a shame.
You’re given a proper look at specific storylines as well. The book gives you a quick guide to all of the most important events that happened to the League over the years and how those events shaped how the crew morphed, changed, shaped itself back together, and then fell apart again. A good example of this is examining The Manhunters (below) and how they had an immediate impact on the team. They came for Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) in an attempt to blame him for the destruction of a planet while trying to take over Oa and overthrow The Guardians. You’re given everything you need to know in the storyline so you’re familiar with the characters involved and how that shaped their future dealings with the robotic race.
Justice League: The Ultimate Guide does a decent job of highlighting a lot of stuff, but it also skims over a lot of other items that feel important to the DC Universe. You can easily make the argument that its focus is on the League alone and that they had to cherrypick what went in for fans of the films to get acquainted with this universe. On the same token, this is a pretty thin book compared to others I’ve seen about the League, and those did them far better justice than this. This is a book for fans in the here-and-now and not necessarily historians who need to fight about what’s relevant in DC’s long timeline. It makes for a good starter book, especially at $25, but you’ll need to find something bigger for more in-depth knowledge.