As nerds, we love spewing our geek knowledge on the uninitiated, but for many of us, we don't often consider the humble beginnings of our most beloved heroes. Most of us nerds don't know when our favorite legends made their first appearance. We also don't know all of the changes in costume and character origins. Nerds, including myself, like to focus on our favorite version of a hero when in fact, there are so many other amazing versions to be seen and read. So, let's take a look at the beginnings of each original Justice League member!
Then: Martian Manhunter was initially introduced as a substitute for Superman in JLA comics. His powers and back-story were adapted according to the plot of each issue. He was originally teleported to Earth by accident, and then stranded here. Once stranded, he decided to fight crime. He interacted with other Martians, and other heroes for the first few years, and was prominently used as a means to keep Superman off the pages, but still give readers an interesting and powerful character.
Now: Martian Manhunter's background has become much more concrete in that now he is the last Martian, thanks to a genocidal virus that wiped out all of the other Martians. He escaped to Earth and became a long-standing member of the Justice League. J'onn is still a counterpart to Superman, but now with his powers much more clearly defined, he is the designated hero to take him out if he were to ever go rogue. Martian Manhunter has graduated from simply a comic substitute to a full on contingency plan for DC's most powerful hero.
Aquaman (Arthur Curry)
Then: Aquaman was originally just a man who had been trained to thrive underwater. He learned to breathe underwater for up to a minute and speak to sea life within a short range. Orin had learned these techniques thanks to his father who had studied what he presumed to be Atlantis.
Now: Aquaman is a founding member of The Justice League, and is a half-breed of human and Atlantean. Regardless of the constant berating of his abilities, Arthur Curry has gained some significant upgrades since his first appearance. He now telepathically communicates with sea life anywhere, can live entirely underwater, and can remain on land as long as he stays hydrated. Arthur also has invulnerability, super-strength, and extreme swimming speed. Most importantly, the iconic trident he wields acts as both his claim to the Atlantean throne and his most valuable weapon. It is indestructible and has mystical powers.
Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
Then: Jordan was the second Green Lantern (Alan Scott was the first), but he was solely based in science-fiction. He was used to help refocus DC's stories from the mystical to the more grounded and scientific. He was given his power ring by a dying alien, and thus was granted all of the powers of a Green Lantern. His love interest was his boss at Ferris Aircraft, Carol Ferris.
Now: Regardless of being the most prolific Green Lantern to date, he has since renounced his position in The Justice League and given his spot to fan-favorite John Stewart. Jordan now wants to focus on his duties as a Green Lantern rather than the Green Lantern. Having great regret and guilt associated with his rampage as Parallax, he is trying to repent and fix all of the pain and suffering he caused. He is still known as the definitive Green Lantern and the most skilled green-ring bearer.
The Flash (Barry Allen)
Then: Barry was a police scientist whose mother had been murdered as a child. He was consistently slow and late, but that all changed one night. While at work, a lightning bolt struck his office and chemicals were spilled all over him. This resulted in his ability to run fast and have fast reflexes. He then takes on the persona of his favorite hero, Flash. Barry was the quintessential good man. Coming from humble roots, he connected with the everyman, but his amazing powers allowed him to combat enemies with The Justice League.
Now: Barry is The Flash. There have been others, but Barry remains the quintessential speedster of the DCU. Along with his super speed, Barry is now able to phase through solid objects, time-travel, create a tornado, think at increased speeds, and tap into the Speed Force. He is also responsible for creating the recent iteration of the DCU, The New 52. The alterations made to the previous timeline during the Flashpoint series helped create the universe we are now inhabiting in the DCU.
Then: Wonder Woman was born of clay and trained by the Amazonians in the ways of war, but also peace and love. When Steve Trevor crash lands on Paradise Island, Princess Diana wins the honor of taking him back to the land of man. During this time, she falls in love with Trevor, and she becomes a crime-fighter alongside other JLA members. Interestingly enough, she was the team secretary! The Golden Age was a very different era. She did however possess her signature strength and indestructible gauntlets.
Now: It's safe to say Wonder Woman is more than a secretary! She is the female comic book hero. She defined what it meant to be a female hero in the male dominated pages of comics. In the current continuity, she isn't born from clay, but is actually the daughter of Zeus. She has her now-iconic lasso and sword as well as her gauntlets. Diana has also been recently romantically involved with The Man of Steel himself. Wonder Woman is still kicking ass and taking names, but she exudes far more power and independence than her initial iteration.
Then: Comics' very own boy scout made his first appearance as a Kryptonian hero. He was the adoptive son of Martha and Jonathan Kent and biological son of Jor-L (Not yet Jor-El). Even though we like to often refer to Superman as the "boy scout," he often killed his adversaries in a ruthless fashion during his first few years of publication. Kal also developed his ability to fly within the first few years, but prior to this he could just "leap tall buildings." He still had his immeasurable super-strength, but didn't quite gain all of his powers until later.
Now: Superman is one of, if not the most recognizable and iconic comic book character of all time. Over the years we saw him gain some of the most powerful abilities that comics have ever seen. For instance, Superman had: flight, super-strength, heat-vision, healing, ice breath, super-speed, super-sight, super-hearing, and a newer power where he basically erupts like a super nova. In current continuity, he has lost his powers and most of his iconic suit. His cape, the blanket he was wrapped in at birth, has been ripped to shreds. He has recently ended his relationship with Wonder Woman and now roams as a much angrier and violent version of his old self.
Batman (Bruce Wayne)
Then: Batman was a caped crusading, gun-wielding murderer who loved to take down street level criminals. Bruce was orphaned when his parents were gunned down in an alley in front of him. He then vowed to fight against criminals for the rest of his life. Batman also had his trusty utility belt and Batplane to help aid in his crusade against evil. He was known as a great detective and as a ruthless vigilante.
Now: Batman is the greatest superhero of all time. He is now known for his conviction to not kill. Batman is defined by his amazing intellectual and physical feats that he's accomplished over the years. Bruce has had some of the greatest comic stories of all time and has influenced countless other heroes. In current continuity, Batman has taken over the chair of Metron. He has now become a New God and is testing his new powers. There is also another current interpretation of Batman that shows Bruce retired and James Gordon in the Batsuit.
Thanks for reading guys! I hope you enjoyed this look back into our favorite Justice League heroes' pasts! Perhaps you learned a few new details about your favorite DC heroes.