Directors: Butch Lukic, Dan Riba,
Cast: Kevin Conroy, George Newbern, Susan Eisenberg, Phil LaMarr, Michael Rosenbaum, Carl Lumbly, Maria Canals
Watch Justice League online in the UK: Amazon Prime Video / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / Google Play
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through DC’s animated superhero collection on Amazon Prime Video UK. We call it Superhero Sundays.
After the success of the first season of Justice League, DC animation gurus Bruce Timm and Paul Dini push the show in bigger and bolder directions for Season 2, building on the established character dynamics, letting plot lines develop throughout the season and exploring an increasingly sophisticated array of stories and ideas.
Between the gorgeous animation, the impeccable voice work and the richly imaginative stories, there are no bad episodes in the Justice League series, with Season 2 standing as the strongest run of episodes in any DC superhero show to date. Below, we’ve picked five of the best. (Warning: some spoilers follow.)
Note: The stories in Season 2 are all two- or three-parters, so each entry below actually spans multiple episodes.
Maid of Honor (Episodes 7-8)
One of the best aspects of the Justice League cartoons (including the follow-up series, Justice League Unlimited) is the perfectly judged writing on the mutual attraction between Batman and Wonder Woman. That begins here, in an episode that sees them team up to take on immortal tyrant Vandal Savage (Phil Morris), after he gets engaged to Diana’s new friend, Princess Audrey of Kasnia (Dorie Barton). The story is a lot of fun in and of itself (sample moment: Wonder Woman throws a tank into the chapel to disrupt the wedding), but the highlight is a pair of scenes, first where Bruce Wayne introduces himself and asks Diana for a dance (the first time he appears as Bruce in the series) and, later, where she says to Batman “You know, we never did get to finish our dance…” – revealing that she knew his secret identity all along.
A Better World (Episodes 11-12)
Alternate universes have provided a rich source of stories for DC Comics over the years, from the fabled Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover in the comics to the more recent fun that DCTV shows such as Supergirl and The Flash have had with the concept. A Better World is the DCAU’s (DC Animated Universe) first stab at an alternate universe story (as opposed to the altered / alternate timeline in A Savage World) and it’s an absolute belter, with repercussions that are felt throughout the rest of the series and into Justice League Unlimited. It begins with Superman murdering President Lex Luthor in cold blood, an event that pushes the Justice League onto a dark path and leads to them becoming the Justice Lords (complete with new uniforms), ultimately enslaving their Earth with their ruthless, no-holds-barred approach to crime-fighting. When the Justice Lords discover the existence of the Justice League, they lure them to their world and imprison them before travelling to “our” Earth, intending to make it like their own. The episode is filled with great moments, as each member of the Justice League takes on their Justice Lord counterpart and there are a number of chilling details, such as the idea that Lord Superman has used his heat vision to lobotomise their rogues gallery. The highlight, inevitably, is Batman facing off against Lord Batman, each unable to defeat the other because they both know how the other thinks and moves – the resolution to that fight is as unexpected as it is delightful. However, the real impact of the episode is that it offers a constant reminder, referenced constantly throughout the rest of the series, of what could happen if the Justice League (and Superman in particular) ever goes too far. It’s also fair to say that the show gets to have it both ways, indulging the illicit thrill of seeing versions of the heroes using the full force of their powers, most notably in their fight against Doomsday on our Earth.
The Terror Beyond (Episodes 15-16)
Scripted by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie, The Terror Beyond sees Hawkgirl, Superman and Wonder Woman team up with Aquaman, Doctor Fate and zombified super-villain Solomon Grundy to fight the soul-stealing demon Icthulu, who’s clearly modelled on H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu. Grundy’s search for his lost soul is the driving force of the episode and it plumbs some powerful depths. Throughout the episode, Hawkgirl and Grundy develop a touching friendship and the episode uses their bond (and Hawkgirl’s explicit atheism) to explore surprisingly moving ideas of faith and spirituality – the final scene between Grundy and Hawkgirl is perhaps the most emotional moment of the entire series. As well as bringing profound depth to a nominally very simple villain and having a lot of fun with the trippy, tentacle-heavy demon realm visuals, the episode is also notable for its clever tribute to classic second-string Marvel team the Defenders, with Doctor Fate standing in for Doctor Strange, Grundy as Hulk, Aquaman as the Submariner and Hawkgirl as a mix of Valkyrie and Nighthawk. Grundy even calls Fate, Aquaman and Hawkgirl the same names Hulk called his fellow Defenders: Magician (Strange), Fish-Man (Submariner) and Bird-Nose (Nighthawk). The sheer, unabashed nerdiness of that tribute is an indication of the deep love of comics that suffuses the show.
Hereafter (Episodes 19-20)
Ever since the 1992 “Death of Superman” event in the comics, the idea has held sway over various DC iterations, from the stand-alone DCAU version (Superman: Doomsday, previously covered in this column) to the recent Justice League movies. This superb two-parter allows the Justice League cartoon to get in on the death of Superman action, while also delivering one of the best Man of Steel stories to date. During a routine fight with a group of supervillains, Superman sacrifices himself by diving in front of an experimental weapon beam aimed at Batman and an injured Wonder Woman. He’s vaporised and the team believe him dead, each grieving in their own way – Batman’s private monologue at the site of a Superman monument is especially touching. Superman’s funeral is also something to behold, not least for Lex Luthor confessing to a tearful Lois Lane that he’s going to miss him to. Admittedly, the first half of the two-parter dips slightly, when alien bounty hunter Lobo shows up and tries to take Superman’s place in the League, but the second more than makes up for it, introducing Vandal Savage and a barren, giant cockroach-infested wasteland version of Earth. Like The Terror Beyond before it, this brings unexpected depth and redemption to one of DC’s best villains.
Starcrossed (Episodes 24-26)
Season 2 closes with this epic three-parter that, in a nice bit of book-ending, features an alien invasion, just like the opening three-parter of Season 1. (In fact, Starcrossed was meant to be the final ever episode, until Cartoon Network ordered a follow-up series that became Justice League Unlimited). This particular alien invasion delivers an additionally devastating blow because it turns out that Hawkgirl (aka. Shayera Hol) has been a sleeper agent this entire time, secretly laying the groundwork for an invasion by her fellow Thanagarians. That betrayal hits especially hard because of the romantic relationship between Hawkgirl and Green Lantern that has grown steadily throughout the series, beginning way back in Season 1. As well as delivering an exciting alien invasion storyline (a vast improvement on the invasion in S1’s Secret Origins), the three-parter explores emotional themes of friendship, loyalty and trust, including a key (and very amusing) moment where the League decide whether to reveal their secret identities to each other and an impatient Batman lists everyone’s real names before revealing his own. The end of the episode, with the League taking a vote on whether to banish Shayera, provides the perfect, poignant ending. The episode is also packed with fun details, including another lovely moment between Batman and Wonder Woman (she kisses him to avoid detection by a Thanagarian patrol) and the revelation that the Thanagarians intend to destroy the Earth to build a hyperspace bypass, just like the Vogons in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Justice League: Season 1 and 2 is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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