Directors: Joaquim dos Santos, Dan Riba
Cast: Kevin Conroy, George Newbern, Susan Eisenberg, Phil LaMarr, Michael Rosenbaum, Carl Lumbly, Maria Canals
Watch Justice League Unlimited online in the UK: iTunes / 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.
The third season of Justice League Unlimited maintains the excellent quality of the previous seasons and takes full advantage of its enormous cast of characters, introducing some new ones, as well as finding fresh directions for established favourites. Once again, the format allows for a rich variety of superhero stories, several of which pay tribute to their comic book origins. As with Season 2, Season 3 also includes a season-long arc alongside its standalone episodes, and if it isn’t quite as compelling, it has multiple consolations in the form of a Grodd / Luthor team-up.
In addition to the thrilling stories, Season 3 continues to focus on certain character dynamics, notably the complex situation between Green Lantern, new girlfriend Vixen and newly returned ex-girlfriend Shayera / Hawkgirl, as well as the ongoing romance between Green Arrow and Black Canary. It also makes brilliant use of J’onn J’onze (aka. the Martian Manhunter).
Put simply, Justice League Unlimited represents the perfect depiction of the DC Universe, in terms of character dynamics, comic book action, humour and emotion. Frankly, it’s hard to see how the live-action DC Universe could get it so wrong when the blueprints for success have been right there in front of them the whole time.
As with previous Justice League seasons, the quality is extremely high and there are no bad episodes. Below, we’ve picked five of Season 3’s best.
Note: Season 3 is displayed on Amazon Prime Video as Season 2.
Shadow of the Hawk (Season 3, Episode 2)
Shayera / Hawkgirl’s absence was keenly felt in the first season of Justice League Unlimited and this episode makes up for it with a fun Hawkgirl episode that also features Batman and Hawkman, aka. Carter Hall. In the comics (and in the first season of TV’s Legends of Tomorrow), Hawkman and Hawkgirl were a pair of tragic lovers, constantly being reincarnated and fated to be together throughout history. In Shadow of the Hawk, Shayera meets and is attracted to Carter, but she quite rightly gives his talk of soul mates and destiny short shrift. Shayera’s always been one of the best written characters in the Justice League cartoons and this episode reaffirms her awesomeness, giving her fierce emotional independence to match her already impressive fighting power. The central story, and its ideas of a pre-ordained future, are cleverly echoed in Shayera’s relationship with Green Lantern, who’s met his and Shayera’s son (Warhawk) in the future and therefore knows they are destined to get back together, but is unwilling to give up his relationship with Vixen in the meantime. The episode further benefits from the Indiana Jones-style setting of a booby-trapped Egyptian tomb (the production design is beautifully detailed), as well as fun interjections from a lurking-in-the-shadows Batman and an offbeat villain in the Shadow Thief, who’s attempting to steal Thanagarian artifacts from the tomb. Note: this episode has a concluding second part in Ancient History (Episode 11).
The Great Brain Robbery (Season 3, Episode 8)
After leaving The Flash largely on the sidelines for the first season of Justice League Unlimited, the third season makes amends with two terrific Flash episodes: Flash and Substance (Episode 5) and The Great Brain Robbery. The latter is a contender for one of the best episodes of the entire series. The season-long arc involves Lex Luthor and Gorilla Grodd teaming up to form the Secret Society of Supervillains (aka. the Legion of Doom), along with a multitude of other baddies. So when, in a classic comic book plot, Lex Luthor and The Flash accidentally swap bodies, each one finds himself running around an enemy lair surrounded by their sworn adversaries. Lex, of course, causes as much havoc as possible (inadvertently demonstrating just how powerful The Flash really is), while Wally / The Flash, deprived of his super-speed, just tries to avoid capture for as long as possible, even going as far as to cop off with Lex’s girlfriend, Tala. The episode is a terrific showcase for the vocal talents of both Clancy Brown and Michael Rosenbaum (who, of course, played Luthor on Smallville), both of whom are enormous fun as Lex-as-The Flash and The Flash-as-Lex respectively. In addition to a fabulous action sequence (a great train robbery, paying tribute to the play on words in the title), the episode also has one of the best superhero jokes of the entire run, when an exasperated Lex decides to compensate himself with learning The Flash’s secret identity, only to pull off his mask, look in the mirror and declare: “I have no idea who this is.” Brilliant.
Grudge Match (Season 3, Episode 9)
Scripted by comics legend J.M. DeMatteis, Grudge Match, as the title suggests, is one of the most action-packed episodes of the series. Guest villain Roulette (previously seen in The Cat and the Canary) returns and restarts Metabrawl (whereby punters bet on cage fights featuring super-powered opponents) with an all-female fight card called Glamour Slam. With the aid of Gorilla Grodd’s mind-control technology, Black Canary, The Huntress, Vixen and Shayera are all forced to fight each other in a grudge match, which has an extra level of frisson because Shayera and Vixen are both in love with Green Lantern. However, just when they appear to have broken Grodd’s mind control over them, all four women are pitted against Roulette’s mystery star fighter: Wonder Woman. The idea of heroes fighting heroes has long been a staple of comic book stories, and this episode delivers handsomely on the action front, walking a fine line that skirts close to titillation and exploitation but stops short of anything parents might complain about. What makes it work is the combination of the character dynamics (developing the previously established Huntress / Canary connection), the use of humour and the fact that a lot of thought has gone into the contrasting fighting styles for each hero, making the battles genuinely thrilling to watch. The episode doesn’t hold back on the violence, either, establishing that a mind-controlled Wonder Woman is genuinely terrifying and a force to be reckoned with.
Far From Home (Season 3, Episode 10)
Previous seasons of Justice League have brought in hero groups from different eras or timelines (the Justice Guild of America, the Justice Lords, the New Gods, etc.) and Season 3 is no exception, introducing members from the 31st Century team the Legion of Superheroes (recently seen in the live-action Supergirl series). Frustrated with always being Superman’s little cousin on Earth, Kara gets to step out of his shadow when she’s pulled into the 31st Century, along with Green Arrow and Green Lantern, who are like Kara’s protective big brothers (the episode again deepening relationships established in previous seasons). It turns out they’ve been summoned by Legion members Brainiac-5 and Bouncing Boy, who need their help rescuing the rest of their team from the clutches of the Fatal Five. Throughout the episode, there’s a strong sense of finality, because historical records show only Green Lantern and Green Arrow returning from the future, making it look as if Kara might be killed in battle, something further underscored by the recreation of the famous cover to Crisis On Infinite Earths #8, when John holds an unconscious Supergirl in his arms. The end result is a touching and poignant coming-of-age story about finding your place in the universe, coupled with a sweetly observed love story, all set against a science fiction backdrop with some cosmic superhero action.
Destroyer (Season 3, Episode 13)
The final episode of Season 3 also serves as a series finale to all five seasons of the Justice League cartoons. As such, it’s a spectacular action-fest that pulls out all the stops, while centring on the two most important characters of the DC Universe: Batman and Superman. The previous episode (the supremely entertaining villain vs villain free-for-all Alive) sets up the stakes, as Luthor’s attempt to bring back Brainiac results in the resurrection of Darkseid, who invades Earth with his parademons, seeking violent revenge on Superman. To combat the threat, the Justice League are reluctantly forced to team up with the remaining members of the Secret Society of Supervillains, which leads to some fun battle moments, as the various minor characters set about dispatching Darkseid’s minions. Director Joaquim Dos Santos does a terrific job with the different fight scenes, imaginatively incorporating the powers of characters such as Zatanna (turning parademons into doves) and Sinestro (using his lantern powers in a more aggressive way than Green Lantern, by busting out a massive dragon). Where the episode really shines, however, is in the focus on Superman and his different relationships with three key characters: Batman, Luthor and Darkseid. However, the highlight of the episode comes with one of the all-time great Superman scenes, when he tells Darkseid: “I feel like I live in a world made out of cardboard… never allowing myself to lose control, even for a moment, or someone could die. But you can take it, can’t you, big man? What we have here is a rare opportunity for me to cut loose, and show you just how powerful I really am!” The resulting smackdown is truly epic, and one of the most satisfying fight scenes in the entire series. A fitting end to a truly sensational series.