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Justice League 1×06-07 – “The Enemy Below”

October 14, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Enemy Below

Written by Kevin Hopps
Directed by Dan Riba
Original Airdates: December 3rd & 10th, 2001
DVD: Justice League, Season One

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Summary: After leading an Atlantean attack on a U.S. nuclear submarine, Aquaman attempts to strike a deal granting him amnesty over the world’s oceans. However, both an assassination attempt and a coup d’etat threaten his kingdom, and rogue members of his kingdom threaten the entire surface world.

Featured Character: Aquaman

Other Important Characters: Mera (Green Lantern gets the most play of the JL members, but this isn’t a character piece)

Other Team Members: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, J’onn J’onzz

Debuting Characters: Orm (not in the guise seen in the Wikipedia link – see below) Deadshot (YEAH!)

Background:

This is the first episode on the DVD set with a commentary track, so I’ll try to work that in wherever possible.

We talked about Aquaman’s past in the last entry, but the development of Aquaman to the character seen in this episode bears a bit of a closer examination, especially as this episode is designed to show the new version off. After a series of failed solo Aquaman series (although one very good miniseries in the 80s nearly produced an ongoing, for example, its only legacy was a short-lived new costume for Aquaman). Handing a new miniseries over to writer Peter David, with the tale re-telling Aquaman’s origin in DC’s popular “Year One” format (the new origin had actually been mostly set up by writer Robert Fleming in an earlier one-off special). The new origin posited that Aquaman was the son of the Queen of Atlantis and an ancient sorcerer, abandoned at birth due to his blond hair (a legendary sign of bad luck in Atlantis), and raised first by dolphins, then later his lighthousekeeping adoptive father. The David miniseries was successful enough to launch a new monthly series, and David quickly changed Aquaman’s look by having him grow out his hair and beard and get rid of the orange top.

The most dramatic change was to come, which this episode depicts – David had Aquaman’s hand amputated (well, chewed off by piranhas) and replaced with the point of a harpoon. The change in look, and return to prominence as a member of the Morrison JLA, served Aquaman well, and the 90s series was, for Aquaman, very successful.

That last point – that Aquaman is the only one of the “big seven” JLA members who isn’t a regular member of the team in Justice League – was addressed by Bruce Timm:

“In retrospect, we probably could have made him the seventh member of the team instead of Hawkgirl, but it’s all in the character dynamic balance – which characters will play off each other interestingly… so it came down to either Hawkgirl or Aquaman, and we chose Hawkgirl, again for diversity – so Wonder Woman wasn’t the only girl in the group – and also because I always liked the character in the comics.”

Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, pp. 74-75.

Thoughs on the Episode:

After the big swerve at the end of Aquaman’s debut, this episode starts off with him clearly acting as the military ruler of Atlantis, with a much more curmudgeonly personality than he had for most of “Fish Story.” I certainly prefer this version of Aquaman to the earlier one – if Aquaman isn’t a king, he loses his sense of superiority, and that really is what separates him from the other heroes here. Both Batman and Green Lantern are assertive in their own way, but neither is depicted as having the commanding presence of Aquaman once he realises what’s going on. It may be cliche to write a king that way, but that personality type isn’t duplicated amongst the Justice League members, which means Aquaman can be contrasted against them more readily. The interactions with Green Lantern especially – who, as a former marine, takes the attack on the sub that kicks off the episode personally – are kind of a meritocracy vs aristocracy situation, and it’s neat to see.

This is another episode that more or less swings through phases – the first ten minutes are relatively lightweight, but – and this will happen fairly often – the second Batman enters the picture, things get rolling. Batman having his Star Wars-esque healing cylinder set up in the hospital is a bit Silver Age, but using J’onn as a fake-out to trap the assassin is a classic JLA tactic, albeit one that got a bit overused (J’onn pulls off the same gambit again in the very next episode). Although I can forgive it as, due to this presumably being still early on in the League’s history, word on what J’onn is capable of presumably hasn’t circulated to where someone like Deadshot would be aware of him.

Speaking of whom, this is perhaps the first great cameo in Justice League history – the assassin could have been any generic killer, but the creative team went to the trouble of finding a DC character who would plausibly fit in the role of gun-for-hire. It’s meaningless if you aren’t aware of Deadshot’s long-standing status as an enemy of just about every hero in the JLA, but as an easter egg for the fans, it’s perfect.

Of course, the big moments happen in the second half, specifically Aquaman’s sacrifice to save his son. Of course, we don’t see what happens, but after the regal side of Aquaman was emphasized in the first half, it’s clear that the second half was meant to show off Aquaman’s barbaric side. He doesn’t really hesitate when forced to save Arthur Jr., which doesn’t even let the viewer figure out what he’s doing before the deed is done. To say the shock value of this scene was through the roof compared to prior episodes and series is understating just how much of an impact this scene has. It’s easily the most memorable scene from a non-League hero of the season.

The end of the episode completes the transition to new-school Aquaman (although the use of the whale is certainly classic Aquaman); the guy in the orange and green would probably not let anyone plunge to their death, let alone his brother. But the King of Atlantis, Conan of the Seas, etc., version here has no qualms, and the viewer has been brought to a place where, frankly, Aquaman can do just about anything and they won’t be surprised.

The action in this episode – particularly in the second part – is another step in the production team scaling up the excitement on-screen, with not only the army vs army fight of the previous episode, but against more detailed environments than the depths of space. By this point, it was obvious that the animators were hitting their stride in terms of storyboarding and composing the large action scenes, and the level of conflict on the show would remain at this high level for the remainder of the run.

Between the shock value, great guest appearances, and a good overall story, this stands out as one of the best stories of the first season of Justice League.

Overall Grade: A-

Random Thoughts:

  • Things you learn from comics: that sub couldn’t have been American, as there was a female crew member on board. The only country who uses female crew…men… is Australia, which is why they’re the only country with a submarine force remaining in Y: The Last Man. And if that’s not the case, direct your complaints to Brian K. Vaughan.
  • Deadshot is voiced here and in his later return in Justice League Unlimited by Michael Rosenbaum.
  • Per the commentary, Aquaman actually gets his own theme music in this story, which is most prominently heard during the hand-chopping.
  • “Boy, that is a red blanket.” This is actually something I didn’t catch until listening to the commentary – from the looks of the famous shot of Aquaman walking into the room cradling his son, he’s wrapped his amputated hand in a blanket and it’s become soaked through with blood. The reality – and the way they got the shot past network censors – is that the blanket was red to begin with, so it would’ve looked like that if he hadn’t been bleeding out.
  • I don’t need to tell you that Aquaman using the whale to take out the rogue army is stolen from Free Willy, right?
  • Orm of course went on to become Ocean Master in the comics, but in spite of that getting consideration by the creative team, he never returns.

Flash Line of the Episode: No Flash to be found in this one. Actually, the one weak point of this one is the dialogue – there aren’t many quotable lines. Then again, in most episodes where I find a line of the episode, no one cuts off their own hand.

Next Justice League Episode: Remember that speech about escalation in Batman Begins? Time for the animated equivalent of that, as Luthor forms the first animated Injustice League and also starts the broader League vs. Luthor storyline that would culminate in the final episode of Unlimited. But that’s a long way off, whereas “Injustice for All” is next on the episode list (as you can tell, I’m not doing these in airdate order).

Next time: When Batman met Superman. When Luthor met Joker. When Harley met Mercy. Yup, before we get to Luthor and Joker in Justice League, we take a trip back to Superman with “World’s Finest.”

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  1. kyle747
    June 17, 2010 at 7:26 am

    meh – this and the previous ep were my least favs of the first season. There were just so many inconsistencies with our heroes……

    The single most frustrating scene was Deadshot disabling Superman for several minutes by booby-trapping a manhole cover. I’m like ‘WHAT?!’

    Jon Jon also seemed barely competent during the pursuit – I mean Superman, WW & JJ chasing Deadshot ? It really wasn’t that dramatic – I was like c’mon and catch him already (tapping my foot).

    I love the tactic of having Jon replace other heroes – it works especially well when imitating Superman and pretending to be vulnerable to kryptonite, always good for a laugh with Lex.

    Other than the thrilling scene of Aquaman having to sever his hand, I didn’t find much here. BP could probably use some Atlantean help these days.

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