Animated Word

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End of a League - "Starcrossed"

We have waited for five months solid for the second season of Justice League: The Animated Series to come to a close. The season that preceded Starcrossed has realized nearly every possible desire one could have of a League program. The characters have gotten richer, the acting stronger, the animation better, and the villains more amazing than ever before. There are great episodes within the first season of Justice League, but the second season shines brighter all together. And with Starcrossed, the show breaks several of its last remaining boundaries, this three-part epic proving the whole series to be smarter and more daring than nearly any program on television.

Where to start? How about with the action, a category on which the show very rarely fails to deliver? Suffice to say, the premise alone guarantees an excellent set of fights: Thanagar (Hawkgirl's home planet) takes over the Earth under false reasons. The Justice League against hordes of winged adversaries......well, let's just say that the stakes have never been higher. With both sides being fairly superpowered, and the enimies so numerous, the fights are a little more painful, and thusly all the more thrilling. The episode is really well-balanced between its fights and its dialogue scenes, seeming to provide a surplus in both before it's all over. Indeed, this is one of the most well-directed Justice Leagues that has ever come down the pike; and with the duties being split between writers Rich Fogel, John Ridley, and Dwayne McDuffie, and directors Butch Lukic and Dan Riba, one gets the sense that the teamwork behind the scenes is phenomenal. Never does the three-parter feel like it comes from multiple sources; it's one smooth ride.

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From an analytical standpoint, one of the things that surprised me the most about Starcrossed was the political commentary. As a Bruce Timm fan for over a decade, I'd always suspected that he'd been sneaking in little pindrop-sized dollops of political jabs here and there throughout his various shows (although he really could've done more with Mayor Hamiltion Hill in Batman: The Animated Series). Here's a couple of examples. In Batman Beyond, Terry and Max are studying past Presidents (episode aired before the 2000 elections): "Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton....I dunno." "C'mon, Clinton was the fun one, then came the boring one..." It should be doubtless who Max is referring to, and I don't mean Dubya. Also, Dubya himself makes an appearance in the Justice League episode A Better World, where he's doing everything that the overlordish alternate Superman tells him. This time, in Starcrossed, Timm crosses over from little hints into full-blown metaphor. The Thanagarian approach of falsifying a reason to first join with Earth and then place Earth under martial law is a thinly-veiled reference to America's war and occupation of Iraq, with their real motives of using the Earth as a jumping-point to their real enemies mirroring the accusations levied on the Bush administration of using Afghanistan and Al Qaeda as a springboard into Iraq for oil. The Thanagarians continue to pretend as if they are acting in the humans' own benefit, while secretly not caring a whit for them or their fates. This is dangerous stuff to be putting on the airwaves, especially in a time when men like Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, and Cheney are viciously attacking anyone who speaks out against them. Not that I fear for the Timm crew; I doubt that this will show up on the neo-conservative radar. But I was rather amazed at the boldness of the three-parter in its willingness to make a relevant statement for the dire political situations of out times while still providing a top-notch superhero story.

But what Starcrossed is best at is neither political commentary nor thrilling set pieces, but in culminating the development of these seven superheroes. From the beginning, Justice League has been more interested in advancing the development of its heroes than its villains. The show is thusly of a different tone than the previous Timm series, where the hero needs to stay a little more rock-solid for the show to continue on a steady path. (Only Superman: The Animated Series skewed its lead in new permanent directions, and only in the final episode.) Instead of the villains stealing the spotlight, which is how we are used to superheroics working, the heroes actually drive the stories, which is a curious new fashion to tell a superhero tale. In Starcrossed, this is made most clear by the choice of the invading race. The basic good vs. evil core of this story could've been told via any other alien race, but the emotional minefield wouldn't have been nearly so strong without it being Hawkgirl's people. Hawkgirl's place in the series now makes a lot of sense. Before, she had very little instances in the spotlight, her only starring episode having been the less-than-impressive The Terror Beyond. Now we understand why; had Timm and company spent too long on her, they'd have had to either reveal or contradict her eventual betrayal. (Her story in Twilight is now revealed as a cold lie - which is why she didn't follow up on J'onn's later offers to help.) It now makes sense that she's seemingly the least connected of the League members, except to Stewart. That particular love situation gets to add a "triangle" to its title with Starcrossed, a subplot that the episode handles well with just a few choice brushstrokes.

Really, everybody in the League gets their moment to shine in Starcrossed. J'onn gets an extended sequence within a Thanagarian's mind, revealing just how dangerous his telepathy can be to both himself and others. Wonder Woman shows just how clever she can be when trapped, as well as how pissed off she can be with anyone who crosses her. Superman lets his Clark side out a few choice times, to hilarious effect. Batman gets caught off-guard by Diana once more, as well as proving himself the biggest hero of the bunch again. And the Flash is finally unmasked. Of the many developments that highlight Starcrossed, and indeed the whole series, one seems to stand above them all. As Justice League stands on the threshold of restructuring into Justice League Unlimited, which will involve so many new heroes that sometimes the main seven will not be present at all, it is important to see how Justice League began and where it is now. In the first three-parter (also about an alien invasion of a different sort) Secret Origins, it begins with Batman and Superman acting especially cold towards each other, much like the classic World's Finest team-up during their respective individual series. Two seasons later, both of them get to help the other in a significant way, a mutual respect having built up impressively since their last flaring of tempers in Twilight.

Starcrossed shows a League both destroyed and more alive than ever, more willing to help each other, functioning more like a team of friends while never quite being a Superfriends. That it took a sacrifice of Hawkgirl's position to seal it is tragic, yes, but it proves that the rest of them had honestly invested in the outcome of this group. (I'd suspected one day that the Tower of Babel story would be made into an episode, where Ra's Al Ghul takes Batman's examinations of everyone's weaknesses in the League and uses it against them, but with that being a small element of Starcrossed, I both doubt that and doubt that Batsy has been so mistrusting of his fellows.) The first steps for the League were awkward, unsure, like a baby on his feet for the first time. Doubtless that such disquiet made the earliest episodes of a similiar caliber. In uniting against a foe so treacherous and so heartless, the League has proven its bonds in the strongest way possible. Before, I was worried about the shift into Justice League Unlimited, as I felt it had not been proven that the arcs of the characters before us had been entirely explored. While I still feel that way about certain individuals in their individual situations, the League itself has proven itself culminated in Starcrossed. I can think of no better time to start drafting new members.

Four (****) stars out of four (****)

A critique by Alex Weitzman
First Published on May 29, 2004

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