Every gamer knows, whether it’s a tabletop dungeon crawl or a video game raid, you diversify your party. Especially if there’s a big boss ahead. You need tanks and other support classes just as much as you need pure damage dealers.
So how did the big screen Justice League fare in terms of balancing their squad make-up? If they were an adventuring band according to Dungeons & Dragons rules, were they suitably diverse in terms of their skillset contribution – or skewed in one risky direction?
Batman – The Ranger
The Ranger is the Jack-of-all-trades combatant, combining versatile fighting skills, roguish strategy and a deep knowledge of his preferred prey and environment. Sounds pretty Batman-ish, right? If Rangers are anything, they’re grim master hunters with the patience, tenacity and strategic thinking to pursue and take down their quarry (in this case, criminals and top-tier Arkham Asylum inmates), no matter what’s required.
Like all Rangers, masked crime fighter Bruce Wayne is far from the toughest and strongest adventurer, but he makes up for it in other areas. An elusive figure, his Batman is as hard to track, himself, as he is good at finding others. In fact he can even hide in plain sight, or vanish completely – as Commissioner Gordon knows too well.
Rangers are born survivors. Batman can handle himself in most environments, and he retains life-saving awareness of his surroundings at all times. A side-effect of this is a tendency towards over-defensiveness. Batman is your standard reclusive, distrustful Ranger, who broods alone in his (literal) cave. This said, he also has the class’s protective drive. This means he will break from isolating habits and align with others if needed for the greater good. Innate shrewdness makes Batman, like most Rangers, a strong, if reluctant, leader.
For the record, Batman also has a Ranger’s natural agility and adeptness with exotic weaponry. He’s strong at hand-to-hand combat, but his elusive nature (and physical vulnerability) means he’s also happy to keep a safe distance, and utilise devastating ranged attacks – whether they be thrown batarangs, or missiles released from batmobile or plane.
Wonder Woman – The Paladin
Combining damage-dealing and tank functionality (she carries a shield after all), Wonder Woman fits most comfortably into the Paladin class. Her Sacred Oath initially was the same shared by all her Amazon sisters: to defeat Ares, the God of War. That mission accomplished, her sacred vow shifted to the principle of Love. She will stand in defence of Mankind, who she maintains has capacity for goodness despite their flaws. Her supreme belief goes so far as to turn her into a divine conduit on occasion – for Zeus’s lighting powers in this case.
The argument could be made that Diana is actually an ex-Paladin, having broken her Oath when she went into hiding for almost 100 years. This would force her into the more generic Fighter class. This said, of the Justice League members, she remains the Holy Champion, an honourable, group-minded combatant with exceptional discipline and extensive warrior training. She is capable of smiting, inspiring and healing in equal measure. The team is stronger for having her in it, and assuming a central role. Self-sacrificing, she routinely draws enemy attention to protect others.
Wonder Woman’s Paladin Smite is obvious as she bashes her bracelets together to create a powerful shockwave. Her Cure Wounds/Lay on Hands ability is less overt. While Diana most likely has the advanced healing knowledge and skills of her people, she is cut off from Amazonian medical technology. Instead, her healing is more psychological than physical. She routinely provides reassurance, encouragement and a general morale boost for her teammates.
The Flash – The Rogue
Generally slighter, smaller and more physically vulnerable than other heroes, Rogues aren’t designed for frontal assault, and they fare poorly against multiple high-level opponents. You still want them on your team, though, as there’s nobody better at surprise assault, stealth and sneakiness.
The Flash (AKA Barry Allen) can’t rely on strength to accomplish his goals. Rather he uses his superhuman speed in conjunction with smarts. Like all Rogues, he’s an exceptional on-the-fly problem-solver. He lives by his wits, and benefits from his “uncanny dodge” ability, where he can evade threat instinctually thanks to an ability to tap into the Speed Force.
When it comes to battle, the best Rogues move unseen, attack with precision, and then vanish again. They’re generally not, and shouldn’t be, in the spotlight. The Flash can swing a fight in his team’s favour by providing distractions, or simply a well-timed push. Alternatively, his exceptionally high agility and evasiveness can be put to use with support tasks like whisking hostages out of harm’s way.
If anyone is going to be the clown on an adventuring team, it’ll be the Rogue. Free of the Paladin’s honour code (in many ways the Rogue is the Paladin’s opposite), and the Ranger’s general dourness, the Rogue is allowed to play. Their nature is that of a trickster, and they enjoy having fun at others’ expense. The downside of this is that they may not consider themselves a hero. In the Flash’s case, he lacks confidence in his ability to contribute to the Justice League, because he is surrounded by textbook, upfront heroes.
Cyborg – The Techno-Druid
The Druid taps into the primal energies of Nature for their power set. Cyborg (AKA college football star Victor Stone) does exactly the same thing, but with Technology. Due to unwilling, but life-saving, exposure to an alien Mother Box, Victor is part man and part machine.
Like other Druids, Cyborg has been granted amazing abilities through his link with a mighty unseen life force. In addition to flight and body regeneration, he can shape-shift – most commonly creating a cannon out of his arm – and interface with computers both Earth-made, and of extra-terrestrial origin. He comprehends the languages of both worlds.
Druids are guardians, and versatile support figures in hero parties as they have both physical and spell-casting abilities. Cyborg can throw himself into battle by relying on his hardy robotic “wild shape.” Alternatively, he can hang back and manipulate battles remotely by overriding and controlling technology. The latter ability would be the same as a standard Druid unleashing a storm, or summoning grasping vines.
Cyborg also demonstrates a Druid’s humility towards the forces he is bonded with. While he can channel technological energies, he is not arrogant enough to assume he has control over them. In fact, in his new hybrid form, he struggles to find a balance between the robotic and human parts of himself. Without care and concentration, he can become an unthinking conduit for sentient Mother Box will, or other invasive computer logic.
Aquaman – The Barbarian
The Barbarian is a physically imposing, ferocious hero who relies on brute strength and raw fury to accomplish their objectives. They’re not a particularly sophisticated class. They just run up and hit things as hard as they can; then soak up the returned damage thanks to their innate robustness. In other words, Barbarians are useful to have on your team, and Aquaman adds another dual-function, damage-dispensing tank to the Justice League.
Whereas Wonder Woman’s fighter-tank Paladin tends to be clear-minded and conscious of team dynamics, Aquaman (known by his land name of Arthur Curry) is impulse-driven and solitary. Emotion, whether positive or negative, is his primary drive, as opposed to a sense of goodwill towards others. His protector’s role is performed grudgingly, and his default state is taciturn, although he does have his own idiosyncratic sense of humour.
Barbarians tend to come from far-flung, primitive places and prefer to stay off the grid in remote locations. They don’t do well in urban centres. Aquaman fits the bill. A member of the ancient ocean-dwelling race of Atlanteans, he’s largely rootless and hides out in a tiny Icelandic fishing village when not in the sea.
Aquaman is also hardy, like all Barbarians. His elemental tolerance is high, he moves faster than normal (at least in water), and he doesn’t require heavy armour in battle. He’s a throwback, primal-type hero, who will step forward as a champion if needs be, but otherwise shuns the Civilisation of Man, with all its materialism and misplaced priorities.
Superman – The Monk
For decades, it was a no brainer that if Superman was a D&D adventurer, he’d be a Paladin, standing for Truth, Justice and the American way. Many a comic book villain referred to him as the Big Blue Boy Scout. This said, the Zack Snyder big screen version of the character quickly veered away from Paladin status when Kal-El killed fellow Kryptonian Zod, continued to be paralysed by insecurities, and hid away from critics.
Some might argue that Superman is a high-level Fighter, but Fighters are normally armoured and adept with multiple weapons. Superman wears a simple bodysuit and fights bare-handed. This suggests he’s better classified as a Monk, an exotic being whose incredible physical feats stem from their ability to channel the energy of the universe through their body.
Like most monks, Superman’s foundational years were spent in a remote enclave, where his world view was shaped by a rigid, traditional doctrine not entirely in touch with reality. Material wants mean little to him. Eventually he left the “monastery” to wander the Earth and prioritise his higher purpose in life: the selfless protection of others.
This said, Superman as a Monk seems less group-minded than Wonder Woman’s Paladin, for example. He is frequently the only one with enough raw power and mystical abilities to take down an alpha enemy, and he steps forward solo, disregarding the efforts of his allies. The inspiration he provides tends to be delivered by example, not encouragement. In battles, Superman seems to lack strategy, and strikes and strikes again with his flurry of blows until the job is done. Fortunately, he has the willpower and discipline to do so, even if that means overcoming excruciating pain.
As an exceptionally high-level Monk, Superman goes unaffected by disease and the frailty of advancing age. Certainly his Justice League teammates treat him as if he has achieved a state of Perfect Self, where he has become a powerful something “other.”
Green Lantern – The Cleric
To become a Green Lantern, just as to become a Cleric, is a calling. Clerics are chosen by a deity or supreme force to be their champion, and channel their powers. Hal Jordan is one of the Guardians’ chosen intermediaries, given a symbolic token, and granted magical abilities to continue the “divine work” of those omnipotent beings: to combat evil and disorder in the universe. As Hal’s gifted powers aren’t based on study or training, continual focus on the power’s source is crucial to maintain them. It’s arguable that the other Emotional Spectrum Lantern Corps (Red, Orange, Violet, Black etc.) are more Warlock than Cleric due to a lack of benevolent intention.
Martian Manhunter – The Psion
If the Justice League film hadn’t gone with the New 52 hero line-up, and included Cyborg, chances are Martian Manhunter would have been there instead. This traumatised refugee from the Red Planet has psychic and telekinetic powers, and typically defeats foes through the use of illusions, sensorial manipulation and teleportation. The downside of continually channelling psychic energy is that the Manhunter is easily weakened, and susceptible to attacks of the same kind. The Psion isn’t a DnD core class, but it seems the best fit for this alien arrival to Earth. Sorcerer may also do in a push.
Looking at the team make-up, the Justice League seems to be a relatively balanced party in an RPG scenario. This said, when it comes to combat, enhanced physical might seems to be prioritised way ahead of pure spell-casting. The heroes also tend to rely on self-healing because – as is typical – nobody wants to be a dedicated healer darting around in the background.
Last Updated: November 29, 2017