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Astrojive: A Justice League Movie? Which Justice League?

Richard Lee Byers considers which characters belong in the forthcoming DC film

Man of Steel has passed the $200 million mark and reportedly planted the flag, not just for more Superman movies, but also for other DC Universe films including one starring the Justice League.

Although rumors have surfaced, at this point, we Hollywood outsiders know virtually nothing about what the JL movie will look like when it arrives. It’s probable the moviemakers themselves are still weighing their options.

Sadly, it seems unlikely they will hire me to advise them, so there’s no reason for me to sit on my opinions. Accordingly, here are my thoughts on the most basic decision to be made when creating a Justice League movie: Which heroes do you include?

Since its first appearance in 1960, the League has had dozens of members. You can’t stuff them all into one flick. The Avengers stuck to half a dozen of the most prominent members of that team, and six or seven seems like a practical limit. For purposes of this discussion, let’s assume the JL movie will have room for seven.

Seven seems fitting because the Justice League had seven members when it started out in “The Brave and the Bold” No. 28, including the A-list characters every fan expects to see in a JL film. That roster — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, the Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman — provides a good starting point for thinking about a movie, though that doesn’t mean we need to use every founding member.

We clearly do need to use Superman, the archetypal, universally recognized superhero and the greatest champion of the DC Universe. As noted previously, if not for the success of Man of Steel, the JL movie wouldn’t even be happening.

One problem with using Superman, however, is that he’s so powerful that, in most situations, he doesn’t need backup. Thus, the movie will require a formidable threat to make a team-up necessary. Some strategically placed chunks of kryptonite may also help.

Batman, a character as iconic as Superman and the star of three recent blockbusters, is likewise a no-brainer. Although the Batman in the Justice League won’t be Christian Bale but rather a new incarnation.

The storytelling issue Batman presents is that kung fu and batarangs may not look like all that next to super-strength, heat vision and other metahuman abilities. In the comics, the writers handle this by making Batman the smartest guy in the Secret Sanctuary, the unflappable mastermind who unravels mysteries and devises winning strategies when all seems lost. The movie should take the same approach and emphasize Bats the thinker over Bats the angry loner.

Wonder Woman is the third member of DC’s Big Three, the other character that absolutely everybody recognizes. She’s also the Leaguer who kept the original roster from being a wall-to-wall sausage fest. Thus, she too seems inevitable.

That’s true even though, while the Lynda Carter television series ran from 1975 to 1979, more recent attempts to star the character in a feature film or bring her back to live-action television have foundered. Joss Whedon and David E. Kelley couldn’t make it happen, and it’s not clear that The CW is getting anywhere with its plans for “Amazon,” either. They’ve reportedly rolled the pilot back to 2014.

Perhaps that’s because the ideas underlying Wonder Woman just aren’t as clear, clean and compelling as those underlying Superman and Batman. Princess Diana is a woman who comes to Man’s World to deliver a message of peace that apparently involves beating the crap out of evildoers. And her adventures give off a weird vibe that’s half female empowerment and half cheesecake.

Still, Wonder Woman worked okay in the Justice League Unlimited animated series. With decent writing, she should work in a live-action JL film as well.

Like the other remaining heroes of our list, the Flash is not a character known to everyone, even people who never read a comic. But he’s a big deal in the history of the League and the DC Universe in general, and his super-speed power and all the tricks he can do with it are cool and visually interesting. He belongs in the movie.

The question is which Flash? The Flash in “The Brave and the Bold” No. 28 was Barry Allen, a character with a notably bland and one-dimensional personality. In recent years, writers have tried to make him more interesting by incorporating tragedy into his backstory and saddling him with the emotional fallout. But despite their efforts, readers still don’t come away with as strong a sense of the inner man as they do with many another DC character.

That differentiates Barry from Wally West, who started out as Kid Flash, his protégé. Writing Teen Titans, Marv Wolfman gave Wally a well-defined personality, and Justice League Unlimited developed it further. In JLU, Wally provides comic relief by coming across as something of a goof and a slacker, a seeming underachiever who nonetheless performs like a true hero when the chips are down.

Even though to many fans, Barry is the iconic incarnation of the Flash, it’s Wally who will work better in a JL movie. The movie’s going to need well-defined personalities and comic relief, too.

Green Lantern is another major player in the Justice League and the DC Universe. He can perform amazing feats with his power ring, and the energy constructs are cool to look at. It seems only reasonable to include him.

Or it would if there hadn’t just been a live-action Green Lantern movie that met with a poor reception. If the character appears in Justice League, will that keep potential moviegoers away?

You’d hope it wouldn’t if they’re interested in the other heroes and the film in general. Still, if “Man of Steel” is the start of a new version of the DC Universe, it makes sense to differentiate Justice League from what went before by using a different Green Lantern, even though Ryan Reynolds’s portrayal of Hal Jordan wasn’t the problem with the GL solo flick.

I’d go with John Stewart, a later Earthling recruit into the Green Lantern Corps who stars in the League’s animated adventures. He has a strong, steady presence befitting an ex-Marine, and as an African American, brings a bit of diversity to the group.

The Martian Manhunter is arguably more powerful than Superman himself. He has all of Big Blue’s abilities, although perhaps not at the same level, and others besides, including telepathy, intangibility, invisibility, and shapeshifting. His green skin and alien perspective on human affairs help to make him a unique and interesting character.

In fact, he’s one of my favorite DC characters. But I still wouldn’t put him in the movie.

The film doesn’t need another character as powerful as Superman. As noted previously, it’s already going to be tough to come up with a credible menace. It might also seem oddly redundant or downright cheesy that the Martian Manhunter’s origin is so similar to Superman’s, with each the sole survivor of an advanced extraterrestrial race.

Finally, there’s Aquaman, King (or King-to-be, or ex-King, depending on which story you’re reading) of Atlantis, a merman with the ability to command marine life via telepathy.

Writers sometimes also define Aquaman as possessing superhuman strength. Yet even when they do, he never seems like he belongs in adventures set on land. Unless the Justice League movie features extensive undersea sequences (which would make it more difficult to showcase the heroes who don’t normally operate underwater), there’s little reason to include him.

Cutting the Martian Manhunter and Aquaman opens two slots on the roster. Out of the many characters who’ve served in the League, who should fill them?

Green Arrow was the first hero to join after the seven founders (in “Justice League of America” No. 4), and he’s currently the star of the hit television series “Arrow.” At first glance, he seems like a natural choice.

But when he appears side by side with Batman, Green Arrow comes across as Batman Lite, another non-powered guy who fights crime with athleticism and exotic gadgets but just isn’t quite as good at it. In the context of a JL movie, he isn’t likely to be as interesting to watch as a different Leaguer with a unique superpower.

With his ability to shrink to tiny size, the Atom (the second recruit, inducted in Justice League of America No. 14) possesses such a power. He’s also a scientist, and every superhero team needs one of those, if only to handle the exposition of pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo.

A hero team can also use a member with a link to the supernatural, and in the Justice League, that’s often been Zatanna the sorceress. She has nifty powers of illusion and transformation, the vivacious personality of a born performer (she’s also a successful stage magician), and would give the movie a second female hero.

So those are my seven: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash (Wally West version), Green Lantern (John Stewart version), the Atom, and Zatanna. But choosing was tough.

It pained me to dump the cocky, easygoing daredevil Hal Jordan and the Martian Manhunter. (Aquaman, not so much.) And Firestorm the Nuclear Man, Hawkgirl, or Vixen might work as well as the Atom or Zatanna.

Still, I’m pretty sure my roster would make for a good Justice League movie. If you were running Warner Brothers, which characters would you include?

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Could they be a Rut-ro! Shaggy
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