Superhero teams have been a staple of the comic book medium since the ’40s when the Justice Society of America got together. Now, decades later, the JSA’s successors, the Justice League, are on the verge of disbanding in April when Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the League’s core lineup apparently will die on a mission in space.
But there are plenty of other superhero teams out there to keep fighting the good fight, so in honor of the Justice League’s impending sacrifice, here are the ten best superhero teams of all time!
10. Gen 13/X-Force (Tie)
We thought long and hard about including a defunct superteam book on a list of the 10 best but is there another team book that epitomized an entire era better than the original Jim Lee/J. Scott Campbell Wildstorm series Gen 13?
Well, maybe Rob Liefeld’s X-Force, so that’s why they’re tied for 10th place in our list.
While X-Force is/was of course a Marvel series, it helped usher in the Image Comics era by launching Liefeld into superstardom – along with his Marvel peers like Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri – and helped establish the Image house style. The title’s influence lives on today, with the X-Force name undergoing several recent revivals before its current ‘Dawn of X’ incarnation as the Krakoan black-ops team.
If X-Force helped established the Image era, Gen 13 serves as one of its most recognizable historical markers. An even closer play off of the ’90s X-Men (the Image breeding ground) than any of its Image contemporaries (Cyberforce, Youngblood, WildCATS) the series featured a young, outcast super-powered team of the grunge era (including a character actually named ‘Grunge’), with a heavy leaning towards racy ‘good girl’ art, metric tons of variant and promotional covers (13 in total for the first issue) and of course, as the series went on, the requisite shipping irregularities.
It even launched its young artist in superstardom and onto his own creator-owned work (Danger Girl) in a fitting bit of history repeating itself.
9. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Much like how the Justice League gathered the most popular superheroes in the DC Universe, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen took the, ahem, ‘novel’ approach of uniting some of the greatest fictional characters of the Victorian era into a superhero team of sorts.
From the unique mind of legendary writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen stars Allan Quatermain from King Solomon’s Mines, Mina Harker from Dracula, Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll, and Mr. Hyde and the Invisible Man, brought together by the grandfather of James Bond.
The unconventional concept caught on and even inspired a ‘better if we don’t mention it’ 2003 film.
8. Justice Society of America
The Justice Society of America is the original. It’s the first team of superheroes to gather on the comic book page in history, predating even the much more famous Justice League of America.
In 1940’s All-Star Comics #3 (opens in new tab), the team debuted during the ‘Golden Age’ of comic books and included characters like the early versions of Green Lantern, the Flash, the Atom, and the Sandman.
Following the team’s original run, it was two notable revivals that really cemented the Justice Society’s place in history – first in 1961’s The Flash #123 (opens in new tab), which established DC’s Earth-2, and then in 1999, when a relaunched series reunited some of the original characters and introduced new blood to the roster.
7. Legion of Super-Heroes
Many people won’t realize this, but the Legion of Super-Heroes actually existed before most of the other groups on this list. What most people do know, however, is that there have been many conflicting continuities for the team, making this group of teen heroes from the future one of the most confusing and complicated groups of characters ever in comic books.
Originally from the 30th (now 31st) century, the Legion of Super-Heroes was inspired by tales of Earth’s heroes from the 20th and 21st Centuries, particularly Superman. What was originally a one-off guest star spot in 1958’s Adventure Comics #247 (opens in new tab)turned into frequent guest spots and several ongoing series of their own over the next 50 odd years.
The LSH’s long, storied history includes 1982’s iconic Darkseid-centric ‘The Great Darkness Saga (opens in new tab)‘ although in recent years they’ve had a hard time sticking around. Its last ongoing title by writer Brian Bendis and artist Ryan Sook lasted 12 issues over 2019-2021. They just returned, albeit with some heavy competition, in Justice League vs. Legion of Super-Heroes.
Despite DC struggling to recapture past glory, the Legion is a bastion of hope, a sign that super-heroic ideals can survive for millennia, and they allow us to peek far into the future. And of course, who wouldn’t want one of those awesomely helpful Legion flight rings for themselves?
6. Watchmen (Minutemen)
Yes, yes, in the time of Watchmen (opens in new tab), these people weren’t a team anymore, but the characters in arguably the most revered comic book story ever were once a team called the Minutemen, and are definitely an ensemble cast.
This is not your classic superhero squadron. These individuals are as dysfunctional as they come. We have rapists, murderers, egomaniacal madmen, borderline schizophrenics, and a mad scientist. These aren’t people to look up to, these aren’t people to idolize, and they might not even be people that can really leave the world a better place than it was when they got there.
And that’s what people love about their stories. It’s a group of actual people with actual problems doing extraordinary things. They also helped to usher in the idea that you could tell superhero stories primarily for adults, which is how most superhero comics are written today. The book’s popularity inspired a 2009 film and a highly controversial series of prequel miniseries, Before Watchmen.
The characters returned in DC’s Doomsday Clock (opens in new tab) limited series, and more recently in the Rorschach (opens in new tab) series. On the live-action side, HBO’s recent Watchmen show somewhat redeemed the franchise and left viewers wanting more.
5. Teen Titans
Comic books have a long tradition of the teen superhero, dating back to the introduction of Batman’s famous sidekick Robin in 1940.
So it made sense when the most famous teen superhero team of all, the Teen Titans, debuted in 1964 with a lineup including Robin, along with Kid Flash, Aqualad, and Wonder Girl. Following many incarnations and a roster expansion including not just sidekicks, but independent teen heroes like Beast Boy, Cyborg, and Raven, the title is essentially a permanent fixture in DC’s plans.
Teen Titans has been the archetypal teen superhero book for generations, inspiring everything from Gen 13 (tied for tenth on this list) to Rick Veitch’s Bratpack, to even other DC Comics, like Young Justice and Titans, starring now-grown versions of the original membership.
Like many of the teams on this list, the Teen Titans have been represented in other forms of media – most notably a mid-2000s anime-esque Cartoon Network series, itself relaunched as a comedy series called Teen Titans Go!, which jumped to the big screen in 2018.
If you like this, you’ll love the best Teen Titans comics of all time.
4. Fantastic Four
Strictly speaking, the Fantastic Four aren’t so much a superhero team as they are a family of super-powered adventurers. And it’s that unique nature that’s made them stand out for 50 years.
Sure, they’ve saved the world dozens of times and amassed an impressive roster of supervillain foes, but the Fantastic Four has always been more about the spirit of exploration than meting out justice, and the power of intelligence over brute force. And though there have been many temporary lineup changes over the year, the Fantastic Four’s core of Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, and The Thing has remained one of the most beloved dynamics in all of fiction.
Debuting in 1961, the Fantastic Four kickstarted the Marvel Age of comic books, leading the way for the Avengers, Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, X-Men, and a revived Captain America. The team has been adapted into a variety of media from cartoons to four live-action movies, three that made it into theaters and one that will never (legally) see the light of day and stayed a consistent presence in Marvel’s publishing line until 2015.
The FF had one of their biggest moments in the Secret Wars, in which Reed Richards saved Marvel’s multiverse from his nemesis Doctor Doom, but took his family to an extra-dimensional space, leaving them on a hiatus from comics for years – up until the current Fantastic Four run by writer Dan Slott.
Make sure you’ve read all of the best Fantastic Four stories out there.
When the Children of the Atom were first created in 1963, at the height of Marvel’s character creation boom, they had a bit of trouble getting a foothold on the comic reading audience. After 66 issues, the book went into reprints for years. Then along came Len Wein and Dave Cockrum with an “All-New, All-Different” cast in 1975, and the team became a top seller for the next several decades.
After that first revival, John Byrne and Chris Claremont took the book to the top, with stories like ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga (opens in new tab).’ In the early ’90s, Claremont teamed with artist Jim Lee for another fresh relaunch, and the team received an incredibly popular animated television series.
A third revival is underway, thanks to Jonathan Hickman’s revolutionary House of X / Powers of X (opens in new tab) event in 2019. That led to a two-year run on the X-Men title by Hickman, with a family of mutant titles springing up around it – which recently only recently concluded.
Relive the greatest hits with our expansive list of the best X-Men stories of all time.
2. Justice League of America
So the hard part wasn’t picking the #1 and #2 superteams in comic book history, it was picking which was #1 and which was #2.
The Justice League has a lot going for it. It’s the team almost all modern-day superteams are modeled after or were inspired by, which almost got it the top spot by default. It traditionally stars no less than three (Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman) of arguably the five most iconic and recognizable superheroes on the planet (Spider-Man and the Hulk are the other two, in case you’re wondering, though the latter is now in debate with Iron Man). And it’s been a consistent seller since the dawn of the ‘New 52,’ with a regular stable of spin-offs in tow.
Of course, in April, most of the Justice League is going to die on a mission in space, and the League will apparently disband as a result.
Up until a certain 2012 movie, it was probably even more of a household name than any other team or title in this countdown, so in the end, the Justice League only finished #2 because of who finished #1…
But if you like Justice League, you’ll love our recommended best Justice League stories of all time.
1. The Avengers
…and that’s Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, of course.
From a purely comic book standpoint, Justice League likely beats out Marvel’s now-flagship The Avengers by a hair or two. Despite being one of the biggest franchises in the world of published comic books since Brian Bendis’ 2004-2005 ‘Avengers Dissassembled (opens in new tab)”/ New Avengers (opens in new tab) one-two-revamp/relaunch-punch, the title still doesn’t quite have the historical pedigree of DC’s preeminent team.
Being the first, being the prototype, and having a broad pop-cultural reach due to its ’70s and ’80s Saturday morning Super Friends cartoon off-shoot gives Justice League that edge.
But by virtue of beating their DC counterparts to the big screen in a series of coordinated feature films leading to an incredibly successful quartet of live-action films (and a quintet, really), in the big picture it’s hard to overlook the backbone of a literal 11-figure media property as being the biggest comics’ team going at the moment – and one of the biggest movie franchises ever.
Here are our recommended best Avengers stories of all time.
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