For fifteen years, children and comic books fans living in Fresno and all across the country have tuned in the watch the evolving adventures of one of the most impressive feats ever achieved in modern western animated television. The DC Animated Universe was a series of animated action cartoons based on many of DC Comics most popular characters that all existed in a single, intricately-laced continuity. The continuity sustained itself largely because it was never planned at the beginning, just evolved out of creative inspiration, coincidence, and perhaps a little bit of fate. The shows were all of excellent quality and have all garnered legions of fans, so much so that IGN has ranked several of them among the greatest animated TV series of all time.
The continuity began in 1992 with the premiere of Batman: The Animated Series, which became a critically acclaimed hit that raised the standard for animation and gave an entire generation a definitive interpretation of the Dark Knight. After this classic series ended it’s run on Fox Kids, producer Bruce Timm and some other members of his creative team decided to move on the Warner Bros. then-new children’s block Kids’ WB, in 1996 to give the world Superman: The Animated Series, which even though it was not heralded for being as revolutionary as Batman: The Animated Series, it nevertheless was handled with the same level of passion and maturity and defined what the Man of Steel could be for an entire generation. While on Kids’ WB, not only were these creators working of Superman: The Animated Series, but a year into that project they were also given orders from the network to produce more Batman episodes exclusively for them, which became The New Batman Adventures. These two shows aired together as The New Batman/Superman Adventures. Not only that, but then the network also requested that they please develop a brand new vision of Batman that would appeal specifically to a younger demographic, literally, a show that would put a teenager inside the Batsuit. And thus in 1999 came Batman Beyond, an original animated series that took place in a Gotham City fifty years in the future where an aged and retired Bruce Wayne trains a rebellious young man named Terry McGinnis to take over as the new Batman. Despite some understandable skepticism to the idea, the show proved to be another hit that is also fondly remembered by fans today. There were two other DC Animated Universe produced during the Kids’ WB era as well, Static Shock and The Zeta Project. There were even four direct-to-video films set in this continuity (the first of which actually did get an unexpected theatrical release): Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman.
In 2001, Bruce Timm and his collaborators decided to move on to Cartoon Network to give us Justice League, a much-anticipated animated adaptation of the mightiest team of superheroes the DC Universe has to offer. This show was another massive hit, once again raising the bar for western animation and maturing children’s storytelling. As Justice League on Cartoon Network, so too was Teen Titans, a very different kind of superhero cartoons that once again was a major hit, but it’s much more childish dynamic and heavily anime-inspired design has raised heated debate over whether or not it should be counted as part of the DC Animated Universe. But after its first two seasons, the creators of Justice League did not expect to be renewed for a season three, so the made sure to end the series with the most epic and emotionally satisfying finale possible. Much to their surprise, the network did decide to renew them for another season, which prompted the creators to go back to the drawing board and reinvent the entire show into something that would be a truly worthy follow up to the original show.
Premiering in 2004, Justice League Unlimited became infamous for its incredibly awesome action sequences, a massive cast of characters, intricately epic storytelling and numerous references to past DC Animated Universe cartoons. Arguably one of the most ambitious western superhero cartoons ever made, Justice League Unlimited ran for two thirteen-episode seasons that were interlaced with a evolving story arc that pitted the many heroes of the Justice League against a shadowy cabinet of our own government known as Cadmus that saw Earth’s heroes as the true threat to the human race and would do whatever it took to defend us from them. This arc was memorable, intense, and incredibly satisfying to watch, being meant not only to bring the show to a satisfying conclusion, but the entire DC Animated Universe along with it, as was the intention of the season final episode “Epilogue”. However, for the second time, the network decided that despite everything these creators had accomplished during those two seasons and how totally final the Cadmus arc made everything appear, Justice League Unlimited would still good for one more season before it was over.
[Note: To anyone who have read this examiner’s review of Justice League Unlimited—Season One, in that review this examiner has said that the black-and-white, widescreen sequences in the episode “Epilogue” were intended to be flashbacks to events that had happened before Terry McGinnis pays a visit of Amanda Waller in the main body of the episode. This was incorrect; in an interview producer Dwayne McDuffie had confirmed that these scenes were intended to be Terry’s imaginings of what events he thinks will occur should he decide to give up being Batman in the wake of his personal discovery. This examiner would like to apologize for his error.]
Interestingly, the creators of Justice League Unlimited found themselves in a similar bind as the creators of Teen Titans did in their own fifth season. Both shows seemed certain that their fourth seasons (when one counts Justice League and JLU as one continuous show) to be their final season, show they made sure to end it with the biggest, deepest, most mature and satisfying arc they could come up with, which left both sets of creators in a stupor when they each got renewed for one more season afterwards. Even more ironic is that since both shows decided that the most satisfying follow-up they could come up with for their next season was to create a story arc that revolved around the most dangerous team of supervillains that was available to their respective universes. So while Teen Titans followed up their adaptation of the “Terror of Trigon” arc from the comics with the introduction of the Brotherhood of Evil, JLU would follow up its epic Cadmus story arc with the long-awaited introduction of the DC Animated Universe’s incarnation of the Legion of Doom.
The Legion of Doom gets its origins not from the comic books but from the classic cartoon series Challenge of the Super Friends from the 1970s. Created to be a clearly defined foil to the Super Friends (the show’s more light-hearted adaptation of the Justice League), the Legion of Doom were an alliance of thirteen of DC Comics most dangerous villains: Black Manta, Giganta, Toyman, Riddler, Bizarro, Scarecrow, Captain Cold, Cheetah, Solomon Grundy, Gorilla Grodd, Brainiac, Sinestro, and Lex Luthor as their undisputed leader. In each episode they appeared in the Legion of Doom would plot a new scheme to destroy the Super Friends, only to have their plans foiled and be forced to escape at the end of the story. Just as the Super Friends would meet together in the Hall of Justice, the Legion of Doom had their own headquarters called the Hall of Doom, a massive dome-shaped base hidden in a swamp that resembled Darth Vader’s helmet. Because of the light-hearted nature of the series, the Legion of Doom often came across as more comedic than menacing, but nevertheless the group has left a strong influence on a generation of fans such as comic book painter, illustrator and plotter Alex Ross, who along with writer Jim Kruger and artist Doug Braithwaite created the twelve-issue bi-monthly mini-series Justice, which told an original, out-of-continuity story about the Justice League confronting the rise of the Legion of Doom, who were portrayed much more seriously and even terrifying in this incarnation.
One thing that the creators of Justice League Unlimited knew from the beginning of this third season was that whatever the story arc would be, it needed to be something totally different than the Cadmus storyline which was very mature, intricately-laced and even self-analyzing for a western animated superhero show. It was the show’s producer-writer, the late Dwayne McDuffie, who first suggested that the Legion of Doom would be an exciting follow-up to the previous season than could be lighter in tone and go back to the classic hero-villain formula. Even though there probably was some initial skepticism to the idea because of the previous introduction of other supervillain groups like the Injustice Gang and the Secret Society in previous seasons, the idea of a full-blown Legion of Doom being introduced into the show seemed to be just what the creators needed.
However, the JLU incarnation of the Legion differed from the classic incarnation in several ways. For one thing, the creators were under direct order from DC Comics not to refer to the group as the Legion of Doom in any of these episodes. Instead, the group was presented as an expended incarnation of the Secret Society, a supervillain group founded by Gorilla Grodd in a season two episode of the same name. As such, Gorilla Grodd was initially presented as the founder and leader of the group, with Lex Luthor instead being drafted into the group as one of its last key players; this change would resolve itself in one of the major subplots of the season.
But the biggest difference between this Legion of Doom and the classic one, besides being treated much more seriously, was the dramatically larger number of characters. Producer James Tucker was left in charge of deciding the lineup and so, as he describes it, he started going through some of his old comic books and picked out some of the characters he liked, particularly those that had never been in animation before and probably ever be again. Some of the villains chosen were characters that had been seen in previous DCAU cartons such as Atomic Skull, Copperhead, Doctor Destiny, Killer Frost, Metallo, Parasite, the Shade, Star Sapphire, Weather Wizard, and Tala, the last of whom would become a major player in the storyline. They also brought in two characters that were originally created for the shows such as Livewire and Volcana. Other characters that were pulled from the comic books were fairly well-known to fans such as Angle Man, Blockbuster, Doctor Polaris, Gentleman Ghost, the Key, Merlyn, KGBeast, Mirror Master, Rampage and Silver Banshee. But then we have other characters that are quite obscure even to some fans such as Bloodspot, Doctor Cyber, the Dummy, Fastball, Goldface, Hellgramite, Psycho-Pirate, the Shark III, Sonar, Tattooed Man I, and the Top.
Ironically, out of all the new villains that were introduced into this version of the Legion of Doom, only seven member of the original lineup were included in this version: Lex Luthor, Gorilla Grodd, Bizarro, Cheetah, Giganta, Sinestro and Toyman. At the time that this season was produced, Warner Bros. was issuing an embargo on all of the Batman characters (besides Batman himself) because of the animated series The Batman that was airing at the time; therefore, none of the Batman villains were allowed to appear throughout JLU’s run, hence the absence of Riddler and Scarecrow. Likewise, the studio was also developing a live-action Aquaman series around this time that ultimately never got past a pilot, which led to another embargo on Aquaman and all of his related characters after 2005. Because of this, the creators were not allowed to use Black Manta, instead introducing an original character named Devil Ray that was clearly based on Black Manta. Solomon Grundy was not included because his character had been killed off in the previous season. Captain Cold was not on the team either; however he did still appear in one unrelated episode this season. Even though Brainiac was not a physical being among the Legion of Doom thanks to events that occurred in the previous season, his presence was still felt throughout the arc, providing Luthor primary motivation for all his actions that followed, even appearing in physical form within Luthor’s increasingly deranged mind.
In addition to the main storyline surrounding the Legion of Doom, there was also a two-episode arc this season that finally wrapped up the series’ long-running romantic subplot. Throughout the run of Justice League and JLU there has been a ongoing love story between the characters John Stewart (a.k.a. Green Lantern) and Shayera Hol (a.k.a. Hawkgirl), culminating with both characters finally coming together in the episode “Wildcards”. Tragically, their relationship was ruined by the event of the season two finale “Starcrossed”, which not only revealed that Hawkgirl had been a spy for a Thanagarian invasion this whole time, and therefore a traitor, but also by introducing an original character named Hro Talek, Hawkgirl’s commanding officer and fiancé. This character was essentially the creator’s replacement for Hawkgirl’s real lover from the comic books, that being Hawkman himself.
First appearing in 1940 in Flash Comics #1, Hawkman was created by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville as a superhero that fought crime with archaic weapons and could fly with a winged harness made of a unique alloy called Nth metal, almost always with a Hawkgirl or Hawkwoman character by his side as a partner and lover. He was among the earliest superheroes and the chairman of the Justice Society of America. But over the years Hawkman’s comic book origin has become increasingly muddled with numerous reboots and reimaginings, especially after the 1985 crossover series Crisis on Infinite Earths and the 1989 mini-series Hawkworld. There have been at least four different characters that have gone under the name Hawkman, each with a very different origin story, but perhaps the two most famous incarnations were the Golden Age and Silver Age versions. The original Hawkman created by Fox and Neville was an archeologist named Carter Hall, who is actually the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian Prince Khufu who, along with his consort Chay-Ara, had been killed millennia ago by an evil priest named Hath-Set. Crafting a gravity-defying belt made out of Nth metal and a winged harness, Carter and his lover Shiera Saunders, the reincarnation of Chay-Ara, fought crime together in the original Hawkman and Hawkgirl. With the Silver Age of comics, many of DC’s heroes were reintroduced and reinvented with more science fictional origins, including Hawkman. Created by Gardner Fox and Joe Kubert, this new Hawkman was named Katar Hol, an honored police officer from the planet Thanagar who fought crime beside his wife, Shayera Thal, using the gravity-defying Nth metal and wings that were standard of their elite police unit. The pair traveled to Earth together in pursuit of a criminal named Byth, but after their mission was over, both decided to remain on Earth to work with U.S. authorities and learn human police methods. They adopted the human disguises as museum curators Carter and Shiera Hall, while fighting crime together as the second Hawkman and Hawkgirl, with Shayera later becoming Hawkwoman.
As if these two versions weren’t dramatically different enough, several other iterations have been made since these first two. Katar Hol was rebooted after Crisis on Infinite Earths, while at the same time a third Hawkman named Fel Andar was introduced that acted as a spy for the Thanagarian army to infiltrate the Justice League. This character was himself a reboot of an earlier Fel Andar that came before the Hawkworld mini-series in 1992. Then in 1997 Grant Morrison revived the Justice Society of America with yet another new Hawkman that would not be linked to the previous versions, this time as an Earth-bound angel of the “Eagle-host” named Zauriel. Apparently it was DC’s insistence the Morrison not use the name Hawkman because by now the character had become so complicated that his entire mythology now longer made any sense, what fans and creators refer to a being “radioactive.” Then their was Charlie Parker, who was a former Teen Titan named Golden Eagle that at one point had been thought to have been killed off in that book, until he was revealed to be alive and assisted the Carter Hall Hawkman for a while, until Hall seemingly died and Parker become the fourth Hawkman, and that he was actually Carter’s son. In truth, Parker was really the treacherous Fel Andar’s son that was behind Carter’s disappearance, until Hall came back and defeated him.
With so much complicated back story, deciding what version of Hawkman to introduce into the show at this point in its run was a challenging prospect. Fortunately, one of the most recent adaptations of the character by Geoff Johns and James Robinson in the 2002 comic series, in the wake of the crossover event Identity Crisis, provided the hook that the show’s creators needed. This incarnation tried to tie all of the past incarnation together, particularly the Golden Age and Silver Age versions. In the show’s two-episode arc, Hawkman is introduced as Carter Hall, an American archeologist that was excavating an ancient Egyptian tomb where he discovered Thanagarian technology dating back thousands of years before the Thanagarian invasion in the episode “Starcrossed.” After coming into contact with an ancient Thanagarian machine called an Absorbicron, his mind was flooded with images of a pair of Thanagarian policemen and lover named Katar Hol and Chay-Ara who crash-landed on Earth thousands of years ago and together founded and led a powerful empire in ancient Egypt. But with their rule came enemies that sought to overthrow them and had them both killed. After these visions Carter became convinced that he was Katar Hol’s reincarnation and that Shayera, who he had seen in action as Hawkgirl, was Chay-Ara’s reincarnation. He became obsessed with her to the point that he began stocking her wherever she went and defending her on anti-Hawkgirl message boards. He created his Hawkman identity to try and impress her, but since he was reincarnated as a human and not a Thanagarian, Carter needed to build an Nth metal belt and artificial wings in order to fly (in should be explained that unlike the comic books, all Thanagarians in the DCAU had real wings). When Carter revealed what he knew to her, Shayera was skeptical that any of it was true; claiming that the Absorbicron had just shown him the ancient ship’s log and that they were not reincarnated lovers. Whether on not Carter’s conclusions are true or in he was merely delusional is left open-ended, but it does attract the attention of a super powered criminal called the Shadow Thief, who may have played a major role in their past as well.
This particular take on the character was an interesting way to bring him into the show, especially with the gigantic wrench he throws into the already complicated romance that we have seen between Hawkgirl and Green Lantern. As viewers we have seen them go through so much tension before they finally gave into their desires and had their first kiss, only to see that she had actually been engaged to the Hro Talek character the entire time. After she was revealed to be a traitor and Hro’s forced launched a full-scale invasion of the planet, Shayera was torn between both men before she finally betrayed Talek to help the League save the world. Talek was out of her life now, but she was still a traitor and so she resigned from the League and went into exile, leaving Green Lantern heartbroken. John tried to move on by getting into a relationship with new League member Vixen, but fate played a nasty hand when Shayera re-entered his life after was rejoined the League. Things were naturally very awkward between the two for most of JLU, especially after a trip to the future in the episode “The Once and Future Thing” revealed that the two of them eventually have a son together. And now to throw in the real Hawkman, who was always Shayera’s lover in the comics, coupled with this reincarnation and destiny angle, made for an epic way to wrap up the love story we have been seeing this whole time.
The first episode of this season is “I Am Legion”, which opens up with Lex Luthor breaking out of prison when he is suddenly transported to a swamp by Gorilla Grodd and his associates with the offer to join his new Legion of Doom. Luthor is not interest at first since he has lost all ambition after loosing the godlike power he attained after merging with the alien computer Brainiac at the end of last season, until Grodd reveals that he possesses the last remaining piece of Brainiac left on Earth. Luthor, who is now hearing Brainiac’s voice inside his head, agrees to Grodd’s offer. His first task is to go with the Key and Doctor Polaris to the former Blackhawk Island and steal a powerful artifact form the Blackhawk Museum. Hawkgirl, Flash and Fire are sent into investigate, receiving extra backup from Chuck Siriani, the last surviving Blackhawk. This episode is not the most memorable of the series, but it does its job to set up the new story arc. Luthor is presented here both as a man that has lost all sense of himself after loosing the great power that was once at his disposal. At the same time, he is also established as going insane because he keeps hearing Brainiac’s voice inside his head. The relationship between him and Grodd is also established well; Grodd knows exactly how to goad Luthor into doing what he wants, but Luthor is clearly just biding his time until he can take matters into his own hands. There are a few great exchanges in this episode too, particularly at the end when Luthor presents the item he stole from Blackhawk Island to Grodd. It is also surprising that in that same scene the writers get away with addressing Hitler by name. As for the hero’s storyline, it is okay but it doesn’t hold your interest as much as the villains do. Maria Canals does the voice of Fire in this episode, but her Brazilian accent but it isn’t very well done. Flash was a lot of fun in this episode though as was his big sister relationship with Hawkgirl. This episode also had plenty of continuity callbacks, particularly to the events at the end of last season and the season one finale of Justice League “The Savage Time”, as well as several callbacks to the Silver Age comic books with the island’s crazy, over-the-top defenses like flying robotic sharks. The final scene of the episode is also quite sentimental and a nice way to sign off the Blackhawks, an important yet often forgotten part of DC’s history.
The next episode is “Shadow of the Hawk”, in which Hawkgirl is approached by a charming American archeologist named Carter Hall, who claims he has discovered evidence of Thanagarian technology in Egypt that has been on Earth for thousands of years. He invites Shayera to accompany him on an excavation to discover more and perhaps even translate any Thanagarian hieroglyphics, but both Batman and Green Lantern are not happy with this idea—Green Lantern because of his obvious jealousy, and Batman because he has found evidence that this Carter Hall has been stocking Shayera for years. Despite these implications, she decides to go with Carter anyway, and together they enter an Egyptian tomb where they do indeed find ancient Thanagarian treasure, but Carter than tells her a story about how touching one of these ancient Thanagarian artifacts revealed to him that he and Shayera are reincarnations of a pair of Thanagarian lovers that ruled these lands thousands of years ago, and that his real name is Katar Hol, a.k.a. Hawkman. Shayera does not believe any of this, but this so-called lover’s reunion is ruined by the unexpected intrusion of a super powered criminal called the Shadow Thief. As this examiner said, Hawkman’s introduction was long overdue and it was a challenging prospect to find a way to bring him in at this point in the show. Besides the question of what origin story they should use, there wasn’t any way to include him without making him another complication in the already very complicated romance between Hawkgirl and Green Lantern. Much like the creator’s take on John Stewart’s current girlfriend, Vixen, it could have been very easy for audiences to not like this character, especially with the stocker angle. And yet, he still manages to be likable, and a lot of that can be attributed to the character’s honesty and his genuine love for her, whether it is delusional or not. In speaking of which, the episode also does a convincing job handling the validity of what Carter believes to be true, leaving it deliberately ambiguous so it may pay off in a later episode, particularly in the episode’s final shot. There are a couple of lapses in logic like why each of these characters are supposedly reincarnated on different planets, or why someone like the Shadow Thief would need anybody else’s help to reach to loot he was after, but it is still a entertaining episode nevertheless.
“Chaos at Earth’s Core” opens up with the Green Lantern, S.T.R.I.P.E., Stargirl and Supergirl saving Japan from an attack by a giant monster, when as they fly home they are sucked into a hole that brings them into the center of the Earth, home of the barbaric land of Skartaris. With the aid of the Skartarian’s greatest warrior, former U.S. Air Force pilot Travis Morgan (a.k.a. Warlord), the heroes form an alliance to save Skartaris from domination by the evil wizard Deimos, who is after the land’s most important relic, a great stone of mysterious power. But the wizard has new allies of him own in the form of Metallo and Silver Banshee, both members of the Legion of Doom. Along with “Hawk and Dove” from the previous season, this one is easily one of the weakest episodes in the entire series, with several lapses in logic that can be found upon inspection. The people of Skartaris just aren’t that interesting, even if Warlord himself has some amount of charm about him. Deimos is also a fairly unoriginal villain, coming off as too cliché and easily forgettable when compared to several other DCAU villains. Some of the jokes at the beginning are okay, particularly the Gamara reference, but once that is over it really goes downhill. The reveal of what this so-called “Great Stone” really is also raises several questions like how it got there or why it works differently there then it normally would on the surface. It is good to see Metallo again, but he does not save this episode, nor does Silver Banshee, who does not even get a single line, though that probably appropriate considering her powers. It was also nice to see Supergirl appear in her new costume, more like the traditional one from the classic and modern comics. But the main problem with this episode is the meaningless rivalry between Stargirl and Supergirl—Stargirl gets jealous of her for pretty much no reason and cops an attitude for the same lack of reason, much like two teenagers that get on each others nerves. This is what it is like up until the climax of the episode, and in this instance it just doesn’t work, being too stereotypical and annoying.
In “To Another Shore”, Wonder Woman is attending a U.N. assembly at the North Pole, where excavators have discovered a Viking ship that has been trapped in ice for thousands of years. Grodd believes it to be the lost ship of Prince John, a Viking warrior that long ago was gifted with invulnerability by the Norse gods as a punishment for falling in love with a Valkyrie, and after growing totally detached from humanity as a result of this, sailed off into the north to never be seen again. Wanting to dissect John’s body to find the source to that invulnerability and replicate it, Grodd order some of the Legion of Doom, led by Devil Ray, to melt the ship out from the ice and steal it. There plan seems to be going well until Wonder Woman intervenes along with Green Arrow and J’onn J’onnz, who makes his first appearance outside of the Watchtower in months, a result of his own sense of isolation from the human world. This is an episode that clearly had a message that it wanted to express, but despite the best of intentions just doesn’t have the emotional impact that it needs. The theme of regaining touch with the world around us is clear, with Wonder Woman having to appeal to the world’s leaders on behalf of her fellow Amazons but not being successful due to her natural aggressiveness, and more importantly with J’onn’s admitted ill-desire to try and fit in with anybody outside the Watchtower, paralleling the tragic story of the Prince. The problem is that, at the end of the episode J’onn comes to an important decision that will affect the rest of his life, and there just wasn’t enough buildup to it. Wonder Woman’s reading of “Rime of the Ancient Mariners” during the final sequence helps a lot, but it needed a bit more. On the plus side, this episode introduces Devil Ray who, even though it was a shame that he could not be properly named Black Manta due to the Aquaman embargo, was still presented a s a very dangerous, ruthless enemy. If you are able to get passed the naming issue, the character is enjoyable to hate just because of how bad he is. Also, during the sequence where we hear the story of the Viking Prince, they use stylized, still illustrations reminiscent of the art of Joe Kubert that work very well with the tone being set as well as Grodd’s narration.
“Flash and Substance” opens with four of the Flash’s deadliest enemies—Mirror Master, Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang, and the Trickster—denouncing how Central City is about to honor the Flash with his very own museum, and together decide that they will join forces to get revenge on the Flash. With the aid of Batman and Orion, Flash must put a stop to these four rogues all without destroying the Flash on its opening day. The plot of this episode is pretty simple, but it is easily one of the most fun episodes of the show’s entire run. Flash is so charming in this one, once again showing how good and honest a hero Wally West really is. Long known for his particularly gimmicky rogues gallery, Flash’s villains in this one do not disappoint, with Mirror Master, Captain Cold, and Captain Boomerang, perfectly keeping us all entertained with their sinister, yet also goofy plans to take the Flash out one at a time. Batman provides a great straight man to Flash’s nice guy approach while still having respecting him; whereas Orion provides a stern foil that makes no secret of how buffoonish he thinks the Flash is. There is a great scene where Orion voices how he doesn’t understand how the city can idolize a hero as light-hearted and clownish him, and Batman, of all characters, comes to his defense but simply saying “No, you don’t.” But the real character that steals the show in this episode in the Trickster, brought to life by Mark Hamill (who also played the character I the live-action Flash TV series) in his final DCAU performance. His character is just as out there as the Joker was and just as crazy, just crazy in a much different way. The scene in particular where the Flash sits down and talks to the Trickster in the bar is just plain hilarious. The episode also introduces Linda Park, who was Wally West wife in the comic books, but whereas there she began as a woman who did not care for the Flash until she got to known him, here she is portrayed as an over-the-top reporter totally infatuated with him. For hardcore Flash fans, this episode is an absolute must-see not only for the subject matter, but also for the dozens of in-jokes that are planted throughout, especially inside the Flash Museum. This episode is fun, comedic, and just who of the best one-offs of the series’ run.
The next episode is “Dead Reckoning”, in which members of the Legion of Doom attack the monastery of Nonda Parbat in order to steal a powerful orb called the Heart of Nonda Parbat. Also residing in the monastery is the spirit of Boston Brand, a.k.a. Deadman, who witnesses the Legion of Doom massacre all of the monks including the master himself, before leaving with the orb, which will play a key part in Grodd’s master plan, which he has still yet to share with any of the others. Meanwhile, Deadman goes to the Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman for help avenging the monks, and the precious few clues he can give them helps the League track the villains to the site of their next target: Gorilla City. There are some sore spots in this episode overall, but what this story gets right, it gets really right. Deadman makes his only appearance in the series and his character doesn’t seems to be the most protagonist out there, but he is still enjoyable to watch and we do feel bad for what predicament he creates for himself at the end of the story. The scenes where he possesses the bodies of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are well done, with all of the actors having to literally play Deadman saying his lines exactly the way he would (in a Boston accent too), but still in their own character’s voice. This choice of direction works great, with Superman’s scene being hilariously acted, Wonder Woman’s being angry and vengeful, and Batman’s…well, this examiner won’t spoil it for anyone. Just like in “To Another Shore”, Devil Ray is put over big time in this episode when he kills the master of the monastery, which all builds him up for his ultimate fate at the end of this episode. This episode also introduces a very twisted love triangle (sort of) within the Legion of Doom between Luthor, Grodd, and Tala, a seductive witch first introduced least season as part of the Cadmus arc. One joke that this examiner enjoyed was Luthor instructing Bizarro to go and kill Superman, but being careful to do so in Bizarro’s backward method of thought (i.e., telling him that “Superman am friend. Bizarro must kill him”). In this episode we also finally learn Grodd’s master plan for which he assembled the Legion of Doom, and without spoiling what it is, let’s just say that’s its something that would make sense only to Grodd and no one else. There are at least two flubs in logic in the resolution over whether the plan would have had any effect on the two non-human members of the League and a direct contradiction to the master’s prophecy at eh beginning of the story, but like in “shadow of the Hawk” these things can be overlooked when not examined too closely. But the best part of this episode in easily the final scene, where all of the tension that has built up between Luthor and Grodd finally boils over and in one instant Luthor stops playing second-fiddle and once again steps up to become the villain he’s meant to be.
In “Patriot Act”, former Cadmus member General Wade Eiling is researching a top secret experiment to create a Nazi super soldier that was foiled by Spy Smasher during World War II. Eiling still views the Justice League as a threat to the American people whereas his former colleague Amanda Waller has changed her opinion since Cadmus was disbanded, even becoming the League’s government liaison. Not wanting to leave the country vulnerable to the supposed dangers posed by Superman, Eiling breaks into a government base holding the Captain Nazi serum, injects himself with it, and transforms into a large, gray-skinned monster with superhuman strength and that can leap amazing distances. Meanwhile, some of the League’s less-famous members—Green Arrow, Stargirl, S.T.R.I.P.E., Vigilante and Shining Knight—fill in for Superman and the busy, more well-known heroes by filling in for them in a parade. But when the parade in question is ruined by Eiling, who is on a hunt to destroy Superman, these “nobody heroes” must prove that they are just as formidable as their piers by stopping the mad general before anyone else gets hurt. This one is not among the best the best episode ever made but it isn’t terrible either. The lineup of heroes we get in this episode is a clear homage to a group of non-super powered heroes from the comic books called the Seven Soldiers of Victory, once the creators throw in the Crimson Avenger and Green Arrow’s ex-sidekick Speedy into the battle. In speaking of Speedy, is should also be noted that his appearance in this episode is clearly based upon the version of the character seen in Teen Titans, even having the same voice actor. The scene between Eiling and Waller is pretty effective at showing how her character has woken up in the wake of last season and is willing to change with the times, whereas Eiling is not. In speaking of Eiling, while it may seem that the monster he turns into is just a rip-off of the Hulk and other big monster-type characters, that’s not really true. This is actually an adaptation of what happened to him in the comic books, where he transplanted his mind into the body of a hairy, indestructible called the Shaggy Man, and after doing so he shaved all the beast hair off and renamed himself The General. As for the rest of the episode, there are some weak moments such as the scene where little kids try to help out in the battle by operating a wrecking ball, and there is a inconsistency in time in that it is daytime when the heroes are in the parade and night when Eiling is at the base, and yet when Eiling shows up to trash the parade in it still daytime. What the episode does well is how firmly Eiling believes he is right, even while he acknowledges that he has turned into the very thing he hates in his attempt the destroy it. Also, Shining Knight gets a great moment as he defends his honor against Eiling, and there is actually an unexpected common ground between them.
“The Great Brain Robbery” shows us that every since taking over the Legion of Doom, Luthor has been fixated on getting any information he can out of the Brainiac fragment he took from Grodd. Having no success he tries to use Grodd’s own mind control technology to rip the information out of his head. At the same time, Doctor Fate plans to locate Grodd and the other villains by casting a spell on Flash’s mind, because Grodd had left a “psychic footprint” as a result of taking over his mind years earlier. Both enact their plans at the exact same time and as a result both Flash and Lex Luthor switch bodies. But while Luthor is forced to use Flash’s powers just to make his escape from the Watchtower, Flash is just trying to figure out what on Earth is going on and make sure that no one in the Legion of Doom realizes that he isn’t really their leader. This is another one the most fun and funniest episodes of the show. The idea came from Bruce Timm’s realization that Michael Rosenbaum, who plays Lex Luthor on Smallville, was playing Flash in their show with another actor playing Lex Luthor, so it would be a great bit of fan service to do an episode where both characters switched brains, similar to 80s movies like Freaky Friday; that way Rosenbaum could play their Luthor just in Flash’s voice. And yet, as Timm admits on the DVD, Clancy Brown, the voice of Lex Luthor, is the one who steals the episode thanks to his hilarious line delivery. Much like in “Dead Reckoning”, the actors read their lines back and forth to each other and they recorded the dialogue exactly the way the other actor would say it, just in their own voice. The result is hilarious on Flash-Luthor’s end and cold and calculated on Luthor-Flash’s end. There is a fault in logic in how Luthor not knows how to use Flash’s powers the instant he gets stuck in his body but also figures out how to use them in ways that Flash himself never would…But then again, he is Lex Luthor. The plan that the Legion of Doom is going to enact, a train robbery, is pretty lame, but that isn’t the point of this episode at all. There is also further buildup of the love triangle between Luthor, Grodd and Tala as we get a much better picture of how dispassionate her and Lex’s relationship really is. Also, one member of the Legion, Doctor Polaris, voices his desire to stage his own coup against Luthor throughout the show and way it’s resolved at the end puts Luthor over that much more, proving that the man prepares for absolutely everything. There are so many memorable moments and lines in this one, this examiner’s two favorite’s being a hilarious line Flash-Luthor says to Polaris as he exits the washroom, and a scene where Luthor-Flash takes his mask off in a hilarious twist on that convention.
In “Grudge Match”, we see that Roulette, the leader of the underground cage fighting tournaments for super villains called Metabrawl, goes to Lex Luthor for support as her empire is crumbling. The meeting gives rise to a new bit of inspiration: a new incarnation of Metabrawl called the Glamour Slam, a fighting tournament consisting of nothing but female metahumans. Meanwhile, Huntress has been tracking Black Canary after she has been having unusual difficulty stopping even a measly purse-snatcher. He tracks her down to the Metabrawl and discovers that she is being brainwashed by Roulette to participate in the fights every night. Huntress now needs to free Black Canary, as well as brainwashed Hawkgirl, Vixen and, most dangerous of all, Wonder Woman. There really isn’t much depth at all for this episode, but it is still fun to watch. The fights look good enough, and it is a welcome surprise that Roulette knows how to fight herself. The main reason people may like this one is, as Legion of Doom member Sonar acknowledges, it is a bunch of superpowers women wearing spandex costumes getting into cage fights with each other for a whole episode—not exactly a hard formula to break down. This episode is also well-remembered for its setting in Blṻdhaven and the very brief cameo by Nightwing. The Question also makes a brief appearance at the beginning and it was a great treat to see him one more time. We have previously seen tension between Huntress and Black Canary and it was interesting seeing them go at it one ore time before the show ended, literally ending the episode on that very note. We see more of Huntress’ willingness to actually kill her opponents it also seen once again against Sonar. In speaking of whom, there isn’t much of anything to say about Sonar’s role in this episode, but he filled his role. Other than that, there is not much else to say about this one.
“Far From Home” opens up far in the future where the Legion of Superheroes has been wiped out by villains called the Fatal Five. The only two surviving members, Brainiac 5 and Bouncing Boy, decide the only option left to them is to transport some heroes from Earth’s past into their future. The ones that get sent through time are Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Supergirl, the last of whom the two Legionnaires are keeping a secret that history has recorded that she comes to their future and never returns to the present. There was some ambition in this one, especially considering that this was the only other appearance of the Legion of Superheroes after the Superman: The Animated Series episode “New Kids in Town”, but the unfortunate thing about that is how disappointing it is to only see two members of the Legion make in an appearance in a show that is so well known for it massive cast of characters. The main purpose of this one was to wrap up Supergirl’s story arc and literally bring her role in the DCAU to a close, which is an admirable element built maybe could have been handled a bit better. One of the most important subplots of this episode is a romance that develops between Supergirl and Brainiac 5, but the problem is that the attraction is way too sudden, literally just a teenage girl thinking that this guy she meets is cute while the guy has an epiphany that he is in love with her. Sharp-eyed comic fans will also notice a shot where Green Lantern is holding a seemingly dead Supergirl in his arm, a clear homage to a famous cover from Crisis on Infinite Earths where Superman was doing the same thing. In speaking of Superman, when Kara makes her decision at the end of the episode, she says a final goodbye to her three mentors, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and especially her cousin, and for those that have followed the DCAU this whole time that has to be a touching moment to end the show, followed immediately by the comedic irony over exactly who the new guy in Kara’s life is.
“Ancient History” sees the Shadow Thief return and incapacitates Vixen while taking Green Lantern, Vixen, Hawkgirl and Hawkman prisoner in a museum. His plan not to steal anything this time but to show these three people that are trapped in a love triangle that this has all happened before in ancient Egypt, to tragic results. With it now seeming more clear than ever that the visions that Hawkman was shown might actually be true, as well as the reveal of who Shadow Thief truly is, it seems that all Hawkman needs to do now to claim the woman he loves is to kill the same man who had stolen her from him in their past lives thousands of years ago. This could very well be the darkest episode that we have seen in a long time. Compared to “Shadow of the Hawk”, this episode is far better and pushes the limits on what these creators are able to achieve. The subject matter has to do with reincarnation, love triangles, affairs, death, a fake out where characters appear to be bleeding profusely, and without spoiling the ending, these characters are getting their hearts broken and they all need to learn to live with that. And we as viewers have to deal with that too because this episode was the ending note on the Green Lantern and Hawkgirl love story and when the episode first aired there were definitely fans that were disappointed. Even so, this is a well-handled, mature episode that takes a lot of risks and is all the better for it.
The final two episodes of the series are essentially a two-part episode. The first part is “Alive!” in which Luthor has become so completely obsessed with his delusions of resurrecting Brainiac and reclaiming his former godhood that Tala and the entire Legion of Doom is seriously starting to tire of him. When Tala uses her magic to learn that Brainiac’s remnants are located far out in deep space, Luthor orders the villains to do quick renovation work to their base of operations to turn it into a spaceship that he immediately launches into space. With this, half of the Legion of Doom, including Tala, decide that enough in enough and unite with Grodd to stop Luthor’s mad ambitions. This leads to a full-blown civil war amongst the Legion of Doom as the forces of Grodd and Luthor battle for supremacy, as do Luthor and Grodd themselves. When the smoke clears, it seems that Luthor is about to achieve his goal, but the outcome of his action may bare dyer consequences for the entire universe. What makes this episode unusual, but buy extension very intriguing, is that this time the entire episode is about the Legion of Doom, with the Justice League not appearing at all until the very end. That was definitely a gamble at this point in the series, but it was a gamble that paid off since these villains were interesting enough to carry the whole show and it led the story into a much more interesting directing than just having a final battle between the League and the Legion like we all expected. This one is pretty much just an action episode, but it is an enormous action episode. Out of this massive cast of villains only about half of them are left by the end of the second act. There are even a few satisfying match-ups seen in the battle sequence, such as between Toyman and Killer Frost, Tala and Luthor, and especially the final resolution of the rivalry between Luthor and Grodd. The episode pushes it too with how crazed Luthor has become, and especially with Tala’s final, blood-curdling scream that sounds so real it is almost scary. And then, of course, there is the plot twist that we get at the end of the second act, which sees the return of Darkseid in the wake of his death at the end of “Twilight” is such a way that blows our minds. This examiner regrets that he had to spoil that plot twist, but there was no way he could discuss the following episode without it. This plot twist just changes everything—still more of the villains die, or at least seems to, the civil war that has been happening on Apokolips comes to an end, a full-blown invasion is declared against Earth, with New Genesis soon to follow—the stage is set for the last episode and it couldn’t be any more epic.
The final episode of Justice League Unlimited and the DCAU as a whole is “Destroyer”. In this one Luthor and the remaining members of the Legion of Doom going to the Justice League to warn them of Darkseid’s coming invasion. The League realizes the they’re warnings are valid when dozens of boom tubes open up all across the planet and the full Army of Apokolips pours out. The Legion of Doom demands that they be aloud to help defend the planet and the League is forced to agree under extreme protest. Every member of he League and the remnant of the Legion of Doom go into battle together all over the world while Superman, Batman and Lex Luthor enter a final battle with Darkseid himself in the middle of Metropolis. Like the previous episode, this one is totally an action episode, and also like the previous episode, it doesn’t pulls its punches and delivers the biggest action sequence in the entire series, maybe not the most powerful but certainly the largest. There are so many great bits between the various heroes and villains fighting side-by-side, and even though there are so many characters involved that it is perhaps impossible to give every singe character their own special moment, they definitely do their best to give us as many as possible. One moment that is absolutely needs to be acknowledged is the scene where Superman finally decides to let loose all the strength that he has been holding back for the entire continuity and, as he says, show off just how powerful he really is. Sure some people can criticize that Superman was being reckless and quite possibly killed thousands of people as he punches Darkseid through so many villains, but in this case that truth is likely overlooked by much of the audience. Batman, of course, has his own awesome moments too, Darkseid even acknowledging it himself. And then there is Luthor, who without spoiling the ending, finds a way to redeem himself for his horrible mistake without giving any indication that he has had any sort of heel-turn to the good side while doing so. This examiner rarely, if ever, calls attention to the music in an episode, but this time it deserves special acknowledgement because there was so much big action and narrative drive in the show that the creators realizes that they needed music to play nonstop throughout the entire episode, which took all three of their composers to produce this score. The final scene were the heroes run down in steps in set groups that homage certain team groups from the comics books is a wonderful tribute to the source material and all they have accomplished throughout all of these shows.
But once again, the true strength of this final season of Justice League Unlimited is the fantastic voice cast. Kevin Conroy, George Newbern, Susan Eisenberg, Michael Rosenbaum, Carl Lumbly, Phil LaMarr and Maria Canals Barrera all return once more to their respective roles as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, the Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl, and even though some of them didn’t get as big of a speaking role as last season, particularly Newbern and Lumbly, they still bring all the quality we have come to expect from them. Other voice actors playing the numerous other members of the Justice league this season include Corey Burton as Aztek, Maria Canals Barrera as Fire, Giselle Loren as Stargirl, Phil LaMarr as S.T.R.I.P.E., Nicholle Tom as Supergirl, Kin Shriner as Green Arrow, Michael Beach as Mister Terrific, Ron Pearlman as Orion, Nathan Fillion as Vigilante, Chris Cox as Shining Knight, Oded Fehr as Doctor Light, Powers Booth as Red Tornado, Lauren Tom as Doctor Light, Morena Baccarin as Black Canary, Amy Acker as Huntress, Jeffrey Combs as the Question, and Gina Torres as Vixen. There were also some notable guest stars this season such as Scott Patterson as King Faraday, Seymour Cassel as Chuck Sirianni, Paul Guilfoyle as Warlord, Kim Mai Guest as Jennifer Morgan and Linda Park, Nicholle Tom as Shakira, Phil LaMarr as Machiste ans Steel, Raphael Sbarge as Deadman, Sab Shimono as the Master, Juliet Landau as Rama Kushna, David Ogden Stiers as Solovar, Nathan Fillion as Spy Smasher, C.C.H. Ponder as Amanda Waller, Mike Erwin as Speedy, Matt Czuchey as Brainiac 5, Googy Gress as Bouncing Boy, Hector Elizondo as Hath-Set, and Daniel Dee Kim as Metron. However, out all of this season’s guest stars, the most notable of them is James Remar as Hawkman. His portrayal of the character is a delicate mixture of honesty, delusion, passion, and nobility that enables us as an audience to not only overlook the admitted stalker-behavior of this character, but also to feel genuine pity for him even though we as viewers realize that he is mainly there to be a complication in the show’s main romantic subplot. Remar also plays the Shadow Thief in both of his appearances, for which he wasn’t credited for, which is a sign of his talent as an actor that those who watched the shows could not recognize him in the role. But the real stars of this season are the villains of the Legion of Doom. Powers Booth returns as the voice of Grodd and he continues to endow the character with an air of class and high intelligence, with an added sense of resentment in later episodes. Juliet Landau plays Tala this season who emerges as a prominent character, but her prominence as the girl jumping to whatever man is in power does not make her the most likable character, nor is she meant to be; still, Landau’s heavy accent makes her very entertaining. But the one, true star of this season is Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor. After playing the character for so many years he has become the voice of Luthor for a whole generation and has gotten to play several different sides of him, going from a corrupt businessman, to an arrogant super-criminal, to a supposedly-reformed politician, and even a power-obsessed god. But this season’s portrayal might be his best of all as he must play the character defeated, skeptical, delusional, assertive, arrogant, obsessive, insane, overjoyed, and vengeful all in one season. His characters insane believe that Brainiac is speaking to him inside his head and his subsequent obsession with bringing Brainiac back to life so they may merge together once again becomes the driving force behind to entire season. Other voice actors that play villains this season include Corey Burton as Brainiac, the Key, Sonar, Weather Wizard and Kanto, Michael Rosenbaum as Doctor Polaris, Douglas Dunning as Deimos, Malcolm McDowell as Metallo, Kim Mai Guest as Silver Banshee, Michael Beach as Devil Ray, Jennifer Hale as Killer Frost, Giganta and Bernadeth, Lex Lang as Heat Wave, Atomic Skull, Captain Cold and Goldface, Alexis Denisof as Mirror Master, Mark Hamill as the Trickster, Donal Gibson as Captain Boomerang, Susan Eisenberg as Rampage, George Newbern as Bizarro, J.K. Simmons as General Wade Eiling, Ted Levine as Sinestro, Phil LaMarr as Angle Man, Virginia Madsen as Roulette, Tomas Arana as Tharok, Kin Shriner as the Persuader, Joanne Whalley as the Emerald Empress, Robin Atkin Downes as Gentleman Ghost, Bud Cort as Toyman, and of course, Michael Ironside as Darkseid.
This examiner mentioned in his review of Justice League Unlimited—Season One that the creators dropped the ball by not having any audio commentaries of other bonus features that related to the epic Cadmus storyline. Fortunately, this season set took the opportunity to make up for that by including a featurette called “Cadmus:” Exposed”, in which Mark Hamill sits down with producers Bruce Timm, James Tucker and Dwayne McDuffie to discuss their inspirations for the arc, how it evolved as it was being developed, and its impact on the DC Animated Universe. As far as the current season, the set does not include any full-length audio commentaries but there are three short video segments called “Justice League: Chronicles” in which Timm, Tucker, McDuffie, story editor Matt Wayne and director Joaquin dos Santos discuss some of their inspirations and do short video commentary over their favorite moments from the episodes “The Great Brain Robbery”, “Ancient History” and “Alive!” There is also a music-only track for the episode “Destroyer”.
Overall, Justice League Unlimited—Season Two is a fantastic way to wrap up not only the series but the DCAU as a whole. The performances and action are both top notch and the stories are as mature and serious as they should be. The resolution is a satisfying one and anyone who is a devoted fan of the DC Animated Universe or of superhero cartoons in general, simply must have this as part of their collection!
And remember, podcast reviews of all the episodes found in this collection, as well as from all cartoons set in the DC Animated Universe, can be found at World’s Finest Podcast, hosted by Michael David Sims and James Deaux of Earth-2.net.