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Justice League 1×12-13 – “War World”

October 21, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

War World

Written by Stan Berkowitz
Directed by Butch Lukic
Original Airdates: February 24th & March 3rd, 2002
DVD: Justice League, Season One

Summary: A space accident causes J’onn and Superman to be captured and forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena for the pleasure of their captor, Mongul. If you were paying attention to films that won Academy Awards around the time this aired, all of this should seem pretty familiar.

Featured Character: Superman

Debuting Characters: Mongul, Draaga

Other Team Members: J’onn J’onzz, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl

Background:

As previously noted, Superman’s rogues Gallery isn’t the greatest. In the last episode, we saw the usage of the Fourth World characters as more powerful antagonists for Superman than what was previously used in the animated series. This episode is another example of using a more powerful character to combat Superman, who’s a problematic character to write because he can be depicted as such a powerful hero. Bruce Timm explains:

Superman’s a hard character to do, period, because he’s so strong. You don’t want to depower him to the point where he’s not Superman anymore, but at the same time, if he’s too strong then the stories don’t make sense. If he can turn back time and undo anything horrible that’s happened, then there’s no drama. If he’s so fast that no one can ever sneak up on him, or so powerful that nobody can ever knock him down, then, again, there’s no drama, there’s no conflict. It’s always a struggle to find that right balance, to put him at just the right peak of power.

Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, p. 55

Here, the Mongul is introduced as a Superman-focused villain. Although his visual is perfrect for a Green Lantern bad guy – a giant, yellow-skinned alien – Mongul’s most significant comics appearances have generally been in the anti-Superman role. It’s no surprise that he’s a creation of cosmic comics guru Jim Starlin, who’s most famous for his space opera style (others have accused Mongul of being a Thanos rip-off, but that’s a little unfair) and godlike antagonists. This episode is largely based around the “Gladiator” arc in Superman, so maybe it’s more that the movie ripped off the comic, hmm?

Thoughts on the Episode:

Although this episode has a legendarily awful reputation as the lowest point of the first season of Justice League (and one of the worst in DCAU history), it’s not that bad, especially with it no longer coming right on the heel s of Gladiator’s Best Picture win at the Oscars. The plot is, at least, a fairly eventful one – beyond the three main battles, this is the first episode that really puts Hawkgirl and Green Lantern in close proximity to one another. Timm explains what’s going on in their B-plot:

(T)he “War World” episode was the first time we really started hinting at it, when they were stranded together on a foreign planet with no way of getting back home, getting on each other’s nerves – “meeting cute.”

-Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, p. 80

The larger problem is more that you don’t really need to have episodes focusing on Superman as part of the Justice League if all you’re going to establish is that he’s tough, won’t give up, and will always make the choice to protect the innocent – HE’S SUPERMAN! All but the most clueless will know that, so the viewer will always be ahead of everyone else in this episode. There’s never any doubt as to what the conclusion will be, which renders most of the episode pointless as it just doesn’t have new to say about Superman. Later Superman-focused episodes would centre more on what exactly would make Superman stray from his ideals, but that’s just not an issue here.

On the other hand, as noted above, there is something new with Hawkgirl and GL being together for most of the time in this one. Hooking up two of the cast members was probably inevitable, even without the conclusion of Hawkgirl’s story arc in the finale meaning a romatic entanglement would make things more interesting when everything hits the fan. Putting these two together is a bit of classic comic team storytelling – if you’ll notice, it’s rarely the most prominent team members that receive the romantic plotlines (the best example would be Vision and the Scarlet Witch in the classic days of the Avengers). The pairing makes sense and the first signs of it provide something of a spark to an otherwise trite episode.

However, this one really suffers from a lack of both Batman and Flash. Even though Hawkgirl has some decent lines, taking those two out of the picture takes away a good deal of the League’s humour (Batman IS funny, largely because the character’s personality is so well-established). An episode without much in the way of comedy, character conflict, or a strong villain – Mongul is quite generic here – just doesn’t have much to talk about. At least Paradise Lost was a failure to find enough plot to fill an otherwise promising scenario – this one’s got a decent subplot and nothing else.

Overall Grade: D. Probably the lowest score I’m going to give in these reviews.

Random Thoughts:

  • From a continuity standpoint, this is the first episode that really establishes Hawkgirl as a Thanagarian (like the Silver Age version) rather than a human (as the Golden and current versions are) – the “tell” is that her wings are actually part of her, rather than a harness made of gravity-defying Nth metal.
  • Have you ever wondered how everyone assumes Superman, as a Kryptonian, is some sort of legendary warrior? He doesn’t have any superpowers if he’s not under a yellow sun! You’d think that J’onn’s Martian status would make him more likely to impress whomever captured him than the last survivor of a race of scientists and artists who are dependent on technology to tame a rather insane planet.
  • One of the aspects of comic Hawkgirl that was lost in the translation to animated form was that she’s proficient with just about every weapon possible – the brief usage of a pot lid as a shield here is a decent little callback to that.
  • The usage of the spacesuits by the League is really random – they all wore them in “In Blackest Night”, but Hawkgirl doesn’t bother with one here when she ventures out with GL.

Line of the Episode: None, really – the dialogue is flat, which is another problem.

Next Justice League: From one of the worst episodes to one of my favourites – Flash, GL, and a whole bunch of apes in one of the funnier DCAU episodes of all time. “Brave and the Bold” time – and let me tell you, narrowing down the line of the episode is going to be really tough.

Next Side Story: I’m actually going to split these up because of the background pieces being so divergent, but since B&B is the first episode to really focus on Flash, first up will be his DCAU debut in “Speed Demons”, an episode that makes much more sense watching it in retrospect. After that – well, if we’re talking about apes and comedy, it’s time for a Superman episode focusing on both those things, via “Monkey Fun.”

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  1. Nicola Nomali
    October 21, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    Real wings are so much more interesting than fake wings. But I think Spider-Man’s web-shooters make more sense when they’re organic, too.

  2. JFink
    October 21, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    Yeah, War World sucked. However Mongul’s return in “For the Man Who Has Everything” more than makes up for it.

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