Home > B-minus, Episode Reviews, Justice League > Justice League 1×04-05 – “In Blackest Night”

Justice League 1×04-05 – “In Blackest Night”

October 12, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Manhunters

Written by Stan Berkowitz
Directed by Butch Lukic
Original Airdates: November 19th & 26th, 2001
DVD: Justice League, Season One

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Summary: Green Lantern is hauled before a galactic tribunal to face an accusation that he is, in fact, a Transformer. Or that he killed three billion people, destroyed a planet, and was dumb enough to hire Flash as his defence attorney. Come to think of it, the Transformer thing might be more believable. Of course, there’s more going on than meets the eye…

… aw, %#&*(@#! If I wanted to make those types of jokes, this would be Beast Wars: Revisisted.

Central Character: Green Lantern (John Stewart)

Other featured characters: Hawkgirl gets most of the remaining character beats.

Other team members: J’onn J’onzz, Superman, Flash

Debuting Characters: The Manhunters, Kanjar Ro, plus several of the unnamed Green Lanterns from “In Brightest Day” receive their first speaking roles.

Background: Since we dealt with the Green Lantern history in the prior entry, a word about the bad guys this time around: the Manhunters, which are one of the more convoluted concepts in comics due to various incarnations of the name.

The original “Manhunter”, singular, was a human hero created by Jack Kirby – whose name really should need no Wiki link even for non-comics readers – as a fairly typical 1940s crimfighter, although with a typically inspired Kirby costume (I’ve always thought there’s hints of the Darkseid design in there). Manhunter, however, faded into obscurity before being revived in the 1970s as a backup feature in Detective Comics (with – all together now – more of a science-fiction bent) involving the 1940s hero being cryogenically frozen and brought back to life in the present, with a redesigned costume. After this revival had run its course (the series is largely notable for Walt Simonson getting his big break on art), Kirby, back with DC after his peak years with Marvel, re-used his original Manhunter costume as the basis for a group of robotic space police.

Although there wasn’t a link originally with the Green Lantern Corps, the similarity of purpose was noted and the new android Manhunters were frequently used as an antagonist, first for the JLA and later for the Green Lantern Corps. With the android Manhunters as bad guys, various humans have taken up the title in the past couple of decades, with the current Manhunter being Kate Spencer, a Gotham City district attorney who starred in an acclaimed, if unfortunately short-lived, solo series during the latter half of the 00s.

This episode is based on the first JLA / Manhunters story, “No Man Escapes the Manhunter / No World Escapes the Manhunters” (Justice League of America, v1, #s 140-141), right down to the reason for hauling the team’s resident Green Lantern away.

We’ll cover John Stewart’s background with more depth the next time he’s in a lead role.

Thoughts on the Episode:

As we saw in the last entry, the DCAU had briefly touched on the Green Lantern mythology prior to John Stewart making his debut in the Justice League pilot. However, what with being constrained to a half an hour and the show still being entitled “Superman”, beyond the bare-bones introductions there wasn’t much room to give the concept that much depth. “In Blackest Night” gives us that depth in spades, while beginning the process of providing the new Leaguers with at least some of the characterisation that Batman and Superman have by sheer weight of pop culture visibility. Although this episode starts off as a character-building piece for John Stewart, it turns into a mythology-building exercise for the Green Lanterns in general.

The theme at play here is John’s alienation (pardon the hint of a pun) from the lifestyle he grew up in, contrasted with the monumentally larger worldview he has as a member of the Corps. Back in Metropolis, John watches people enjoying the simple pleasures of watching a basketball game in a sports bar and getting a haircut at the barber shop, or simply taking care of their grandkids for a day, but he knows that when he goes back “to work” he has to deal with planets being destroyed by what he thinks is a simple mistake of his. The scale of that job means that he takes it very seriously, perhaps moreso than any other League member – Batman isn’t going to destroy a planet if he misses a Batarang toss – and his sentiments during the trial echo the old “who watches the Watchmen?” tagline.

The viewer of course doesn’t think that GL is capable of killing billions of people – even accidentally – so once this switches locales from Earth to space, the question become what exactly the frame-up is. The middle 20 minutes of the story deal almost entirely with trying to avoid a death sentence for GL, and allow Hawkgirl to interact with some non-team characters for the first time. Admittedly, beating down a handful of Lanterns in a bar isn’t much, but it’s a start. On the other hand, Flash really gets going as the resident quipmaster in this episode, as his… inspired defence of GL firmly establishes him as the comic relief. It’s not a shock that he was quickly the third-most popular member of the team amongst kids after this episode made air. Comic relief characters can be grating, but Flash’s flirtatious, mile-a-second dialogue was always written well.

After being a pretty quiet light story for most of the first 30 minutes, things take a turn into a much larger scale conclusion, with the first real all-out fight seen in this series (and perhaps the DCAU in general – there hadn’t been much in the way of army vs army encounters before this). It’s certainly a nice enough battle, with a rousing moment as Hawkgirl leads the Corps into the fray to turn the tide, but it’s a drastic shift from the first half hour.  The explanation that we get for the Manhunters’ actions isn’t much – all framing John seemed to accomplish would be to get five Guardians and Lanterns off Oa prior to their assault – but at least using the GL oath as the means of defeating the bad guy wasn’t quite the same level of cliche that it’s become in the comics.

In the end, although the balance of the episode did seem a bit off, this is a good argument for the fact that you a JL story with such a large scale needed this much time to play out in if you wanted the characters to have enough time to be properly featured.

Overall grade: B-

Random Thoughts:

  • A problem that this series deals with that a JLA comic book doesn’t necessarily is that a comic can usually handle a team of seven or eight characters fairly effectively, whereas it’s harder to do in a television series. This episode, for instance, moves Wonder Woman and Batman off-screen for the duration. Luckilly, it makes sense in both cases – Wonder Woman is still getting used to Earth, let alone outer space, while Batman isn’t especially suited to cosmic tales. The general rule observed through this first season seems to be that there can only be five leaguers in an episode, barring special circumstances.
  • We’ll hit this again, but… I really miss having the episode’s title and major creative staff appear during the credits, as was the case during “Secret Origins” (and may have been in the broadcast version of this episode – sadly, I’ve lost my copy). I don’t like all the text cluttering up the screen once the episode proper gets underway.
  • If I remember my fictional DC sports teams right, the Marauders are in fact Metropolis’ NBA franchise.
  • A running joke during the first season of Justice League was that every threat had to beat up on Superman in order to establish their credibility. That’s not quite the case here, as Superman takes on the Manhunters without any assistance.
  • The Guardians, in their first appearance, worse the regular Green Lantern uniforms. Here they’re wearing those same uniforms, but with red replacing the green – which are their traditional colours, and a bit of a “tell” that they’re mixed up with the Manhunters somehow.
  • Hawkgirl’s “all battle” instincts would seem to be at odds with her stated background as a detective on her home planet of Thanagaar – I can’t see a cop sending a fighter hurtling into a city after disabling it, can you? Even if it was unintentional – although Bruce Timm has stated that they had the endgame in mind the entire time – her seemingly contradictory personality at times is terrific to watch in retrospect.
  • The galactic court certainly has interesting ideas of tort reform.
  • There is, in fact, no Hawkboy. Hawkman and Hawkgirl’s junior partner was a teen hero named Golden Eagle. His return was one of the most fun stories DC’s put out this decade, so go buy that after you get through with Manhunter.

Flash Line of the Episode: You think I can narrow it down to just one? Fine… “If the ring doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Next Justice League Episode: The return and modernisation of Aquaman in “The Enemy Below”, one of my favourite stories from this first season (and certainly the bloodiest).

Next Entry: A look at Aquaman’s debut, in “Fish Story.”

  1. kyle747
    June 17, 2010 at 7:06 am

    I really don’t much care for this episode – watched it last night (again). I really get the sense the creative team was still finding their way – and this a theme – especially with Superman.

    The JLA fails to prevent the initial manhunter incursion, can’t seem to fight off 3 robots after they arrive – then follow (!) to another star system.

    It’s all just too much too soon of the DC universe for the viewer, in my view pointlessly. The audience doesn’t know Stewart well enough yet to appreciate the character subtleties, nor the team dynamic well enough for them to stand by him the way they do.

    Og course, it’s always nice to see Killawog though ! But he doesn’t eat much.

  1. February 6, 2010 at 7:36 pm
  2. November 29, 2010 at 8:28 am

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