BCDB's

Animated Word

Presenting an in-depth look at the current state of Animation


Looking Back at the "Justice League"

As Justice League rounds the bend into the latter half of its second season, now would be an excellent time to look back on where the series has been and where it is going. The show has had both the remarkable opporunity to feature nearly all of the major DC heroes and many of their major villains, and also the unenviable responsibility to many of fans who have massively differing opinions upon who, what, where, and how the show should focus. It is easily the most heatedly-debated of all of Bruce Timm's series so far. Why this one, when surely there would be much to argue over with his previous series, Batman Beyond? The answer, of course, lies in the scope of the series. With so many heroes headlined, one is guaranteed to off-put fans of particular heroes when they are not the headliners, even if only subconsciously. Many do not like John Stewart as the Green Lantern, often because they prefer a different GL like Hal Jordan or Kyle Rayner. Some wish Flash would disappear; others think the few moments he's had aren't even enough. In addition to that, because there are so many characters involved, those who primarily remember with fondness the style of Batman: The Animated Series are bound to be surprised, as the episodes are not nearly so atmosphere-driven nor as psychologically bleak.


advertisement >

 

But the show deserves credit for its own strengths, which are numerous and worthy. Look at the heroes. Never has a such a large cast of main characters been so well-constructed in so short a time. In some cases, the development was pre-done, like Batman and Superman; additionally, the Flash had appeared before, as had a different Green Lantern. Still, the series has done a fine job at expanding characters of old while building bridges towards the characters of new. The big addition, of course, is Wonder Woman, whose characterization is the most curious and surprising of all the characters. As one of the "Big Three", she's always come across as something like a female Superman before, especially with the Diana Prince secret identity (they do call her Diana here, though), as everyone recalls from her old live-action television show. Instead, by giving her the important character trait of having just left Themyscira, it would seem the Wonder in her name is hers, at the world around her. She's had the chance, over the course of the series so far, to examine several different facets of her newbie status and her abandoned heritage: her past ("Paradise Lost"), her Amazonian politics ("Fury"), love ("The Savage Time"), and finally, the fruits of man's world ("Maid of Honor"). She's gone from reluctant citizen to curious and excited new participant, and I wonder whether the team will think to allow this arc to come to full fruition; perhaps her newfound interest in man's world will compromise her somehow. Another newcomer is J'onn J'onzz, whom I don't believe has even been referenced once as "The Martian Manhunter" yet, much to the show's credit. His character deals more sharply with loss than any of the other heroes, probably since his loss is the one that motivated the entire series opening in the first place. As the last Martian, he does not share Diana's fascination with this new world, opting instead to remain separated from the planet more often than not within the Watchtower. He still finds it difficult to come to terms with the normal tics of humanity ("Tabula Rasa"), nor has he entirely overcome his suffering and yearning for his lost homeland ("A Knight of Shadows"). As the series has progressed, J'onn has taken small steps each time to surpass these troubles, but it is doubtful he will let it go anytime soon. Any further J'onn episodes are likely to key back into these issues again.

For heroes that have appeared before, the Flash had the least previous exposure, just sporting one episode of Superman, and done by a different voice actor. And yet, he's still completely consistent in all appearances: brash, smart-alecky, and highly unpredictable. As his character is essentially a joke in and of itself, there is little psychological deconstruction one can apply to him without harming the beauty of his humor. The best example is "A Better World", where his importance is most crucially shown through his absence, at least in one team. Humor denotes detachment, and detachment is what is necessary to see the key flaws of the Justice Lords' agenda; that world's Superman and Green Lantern, along with the others, were far too emotionally caught up in "fixing the world" to see their mistakes. While it is implied that their Flash died before their policy change, clearly the Flash could not survive in a team like that.

Batman, of course, has received more development than all of these characters combined, sporting both his own long-running series and his additional series in Batman Beyond. With both his past and future covered, what is there left to say about Wayne? Justice League has solved this by making Batman's core conflict on the series his relationship to a team that, excepting him, is composed of insanely powerful beings. Both "Injustice For All" and "Only A Dream" bring this to the forefront, and his other major supporting roles continue to stress his position as something of an expert human amongst gods. ("A Better World", however, did give a few winks Batman's way on the subject of crimefighting morals.)

Superman was the character who has changed the most from the beginning of Justice League to its place now. There seemed to have been a concerted effort to not deal with Supes' darkest moment in "Legacy", where we left him at the end of Superman, and it left him a little less colorful than his previous chances to shine. (Add to that the issue of his sole Season 1 spotlight, "War World", being a big bust.) He's a new - or old, as you see it - character in Season 2, where he finally had the chance to deal with that "Legacy" issue in "Twilight", along with him starting to generally take charge in a fight. It makes sense that Darkseid, and not Lex Luthor, would inspire his emotional rekindling, as his treatment of Luthor has always been slyly aware of the physical difference. Darkseid was the one who posed both significant physical and emotional threat.

Finally, we come to John Stewart and Hawkgirl. By this point in the series, it's clear where the relationship between the two is heading, but let's start with who they are, personally. John Stewart, in my humble opinion, is the most complex and interesting character on the series. It's not for a lack of interesting characters (Batman is on the team, too, you know), nor is it for a lack of spotlight episodes on other characters (Wonder Woman has had equal, if not more, focus). But his situation strikes me as the most intriguing, as I have come to realize over the course of the series that John is the rare breed of superhero who sports a deep-seated loathing of his position. It's not that he dislikes the company he keeps, nor does it stem from not having a passion for justice. Consider his past: he is a former member of the US Marine Corps, an experience he clearly remembers with fondness. He is brought into the Green Lantern Corps and spends years away from his planet, traveling the cosmos. What we see, then, when he returns to Earth and joins the Justice League is a man who feels removed from his roots ("In Blackest Night", "Only A Dream"), denied standard material success ("Metamorphosis"), and disillusioned about his own natural warrior talents due to his use of the Power Ring ("The Savage Time", "Hearts and Minds"). What I see in Stewart is a yearning to return to the life of the human military, where I believe he felt everything made sense. (When he stood on trial in "In Blackest Night", you'd think he was being court-martialed from his demeanor.) He seems to have few friends within the Corps itself, besides Kilowog and Katma, and feels much more at home with Earth-bound heroes like the Justice League; perhaps his habit of hanging out with Flash is due to the Flash being a very human hero.

Hawkgirl has had the least development on the series thus far; we've learned only the bare events of her origin in one of the throwaway moments in "Twilight". All other major appearances of Hawkgirl have, for the most part, revolved around John Stewart ("War World", "Metamorphosis", "The Savage Time", "Hearts and Minds"). It was in the dismal "War World" that their meshing became evident, as it was the only true highlight of that episode. They had a bickering similarity that seemed to demand their togetherness, in a sort of Ranma/Akane fashion. They don't just belong together, they deserve each other, in every sense of the word. There's another flirt-couple in the team: Batman and Wonder Woman. That one seems like it's just for fun (besides, we know where such things lead with Batsy); this one seems more like it's for real. It has been said that the Season 2 finale, "Starcrossed", will deal with a subplot that has been running throughout the entire second season. By now, it should take very little effort to guess that the referenced subplot is the blossoming romance between these two characters. Hopefully, putting it to the forefront will force some significant Hawkgirl development. As it stands, she remains the one character who's gotten the shaft.

Where is the series headed? It's difficult to tell, because looking back at where it's been yields no direct answer. Episodes vary in their focus, between the direct focus on a particular hero ("In Blackest Night", "Twilight", 'Eclipsed"), direct focus on a particular villain ("Fury", "Only a Dream", "Tabula Rasa"), or general free-for-alls with varying levels of psychological interest ("Secret Origins", "The Savage Time", "A Better World"). I think it's highly unlikely for this style of multiple styles to change as the show progresses, because there's too much available for the show to hit just one tone and stick to it. In fact, the real constant is the fact that there's too much. Justice League has been, more than anything else, an excuse for Bruce Timm and his bunch to pull from everywhere in the DC universe, with the limits of a particular hero having been broken down by the show's format. In this, we've been able to see stories of new threats lashing out, parallel worlds and their various comparisons and contrasts with ours, tales of the past coming back to haunt our heroes, and interactions with all types of people. The show has been scary, funny, dramatic, and thrilling, and sometimes some of these or all of these at once. What Justice League should truly be praised for is fleshing out a comic universe that has been hinted at constantly in no less than three previous television series. They've done so much justice to DC that I wonder if Bruce Timm will ever again be able to do something else from that company once the show finishes.


A critique by Alex Weitzman
First Published on November 29, 2003

Back To The Animated Word

1998-2005 bcdb.com
   All Rights Reserved
Characters, trademarks, brands are property of their respective owners.
Web Privacy
terms of use