Long before they expanded in Doomsday Clock, the Great Ten were China’s answer to the Justice League.
The Justice League of China have kept their country safe in recent years, but long before this new team formed, China’s original superhero squad was a powerful group known as the Great Ten. These heroes were united to safeguard the interests of the People’s Republic of China, protecting them from threats foreign and domestic, while also keeping meddling American superheroes from operating within the country.
While the Justice League of China, another state-backed superhero team protects China today, we’re taking a closer look back at whatever happened to the Great Ten.
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The first appearance of the superhero team was in flight above the Great Wall in 52 #6 by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Joe Bennett, and Keith Giffen. They are led by August General in Iron, a former special forces operative who was given incredible strength and metal-plated skin during an encounter with aliens. With him are Celestial Archer (inspired by the mythological character Yi the Archer), Immortal Man-in-Darkness (who is bonded to his black Dragonwing fighter plane), and Socialist Red Guardsman (who wears a nuclear-powered mech suit). The rest of the team remain in their base of operations, waiting for approval from Beijing to engage join combat. But the particular confrontation is actually with two Green Lanterns who are being kept from entering Chinese airspace.
This is very emblematic of most comics involving the Great Ten. Their stories generally are not classic superhero tales but instead are narratives about global political struggles in a world that happens to have superheroes. When the nation of Kahndaq (led by Black Adam) forms a coalition of nations to oppose US superhero hegemony, the PRC ally themselves with the former supervillain, and thus the Great Ten also become allies of Kahndaq. They are agents of the state, and while not every member of the team has the same patriotic devotion as August General in Iron, they all ultimately do the bidding of their superiors in Beijing, though quite a few are vocal about their dislike of the bureaucracy.
The team received their own miniseries, The Great Ten by Rick Remender, Scott McDaniel, Andy Owens, and Tanya Horie, where each issue explored a different member of the team, but the series was canceled after only nine issues. However, they featured prominently in the 2006 Checkmate series by Greg Rucka and Jesus Saiz, named after the organization tasked with governing superhuman affairs. The newly-reformed Checkmate served both as a covert espionage group and security council that answered to the UN. When members of Checkmate were tortured by the villain Egg Foo, August General was forced to watch without intervening, lest he sparks a political incident. Shortly after this, he is made a sitting member of Checkmate, now working alongside some of the people he watched get tortured. In all matters, he is a military professional who acts out of a sense of duty.
During the “New 52,” August General serves on a similar team, the Justice League International, a UN-backed superhero group with members from different countries. However, the Great Ten faded into relative obscurity after this point. Their most recent major appearance was in the Watchmen sequel Doomsday Clock by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, where it is revealed that they have been combined with the Justice League of China to form “the Great Twenty.”
Their inclusion in Doomsday Clock is particularly interesting, as the narrative trend of writing superhero comics within serious frameworks of major geopolitical events was popularized by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, which placed American heroes in the Vietnam War. The Great Ten emerged from this tradition, even as the team works to help China gradually supplant the US as a global superpower backed by superpowered heroes.
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