Home > B, Episode Grades, Justice League > Justice League 1×23-26: “The Savage Time”

Justice League 1×23-26: “The Savage Time”

November 26, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Written by Stan Berkowitz
Directed by Butch Lukic and Dan Riba
Original Airdate: November 9, 2002
DVD: Justice League, Season One

Summary: Returning from a mission, the League finds itself on a dramatically changed Earth, ruled by a tyrannical dictator named Vandal Savage. A chance encounter with an alternate Batman leads the League to go back in time to where things went wrong – World War II, where the Nazis, armed with frightening new technology, are in the process of changing history.

Arc Notes: Start of the Vandal Savage trilogy, some slight development of the Hawkgirl / GL relationship, first appearance of Blackhawk Island.

Debuting Characters: Vandal Savage, Steve Trevor, the Blackhawks, Sgt. Rock, Easy Company, The Unknown Soldier, and someone who is very likely Cassandra Cain makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her cameo. Plus, the only Justice League appearances of Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon, and Tim Drake.

Featured Characters: Wonder Woman and Green Lantern.

Other Team Members: Everyone but Batman.

Background:

As we’ve talked about throughout these pieces, a lot of DC’s (and a couple of key Marvel) characters originated prior to World War II, and much of their early popularity was attributable to their role as morale boosters for the troops. However, several more characters appeared during the war itself, styled as much more directly fighting the Axis powers. While most of these characters were popular, they were a little too limited in their purview to really hang on after Hitler had stopped complaining about TO signing with the Bills.

This episode features two of the more prominent WWII properties under DC’s umbrella. The one that has more relevance in the modern era is Blackhawk and his squadron of not-egotistically-named-at-all Blackhawks, which, as presented, are a squadron of elite pilots who have suffered at the hands of the Nazis and operate as a mercenary squadron of sorts out of their hidden headquarters on Blackhawk Island. The members shown in this episode represent a small portion of the overall squadron in the comics, and their series actually lasted a really long time post-WWII, even if it never was as popular as in its heyday. Of course, the Blackhawks had some amusing experiments through the years in an attempt to keep them relevant; one of the funniest (immortalised in Waid, Augustyn and Kitson’s brilliant JLA: Year One) was when, to keep up with the times, the Blackhawks turned into superheroes:

No, I’m not sure what they were thinking either.

The Blackhawks’ most recent high-profile appearance was in Cooke’s The New Frontier, which I might wind up taking a look at during the upcoming break between seasons, while the sole surviving member of the squadron, Zinda “Lady Blackhawk” Blake was Barbara Gordon’s pilot in Birds of Prey.

The other major characters to appear in this episode are Sgt. Rock and EZ Company, who represent WWII-era characters created after the war – 1959 in Rock’s case. The best way to think of them are DC’s equivalents to Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos, a team of military heroes that straddles the line between ordinary men and the more gimmick-laden mystery men of the era. Rock eventually grew so popular that he had a series renamed after him, and virtually every DC story set in or around WWII (unlike Nick Fury, part of Rock’s history is that he was killed with the last bullet fired of the war) includes an appearance by Rock and his crew.

This episode was on the books for a long time as the season finale, as the WWII and time travel aspects of it immediately sprung to the creators’ minds as a suitably epic way to wrap up the first season of Justice League. However, Bruce Timm had been dissatisfied with elements of the first season, and this story in particular, as he explains:

… what happened with “Savage Time” was that there were a lot of things going on at that time internally. We were really rushing to finish the season, and there were some problems with the first draft and the second draft structurally. That was a very difficult show to beat out properly, because there was a lot happening. We had three or four major plot threads that had to pay off by themselves and then also had to dovetail into the main plot. That ate up the time we had for rewrites. So the final draft of the script was not quite as polished as I would have liked….

Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, p. 76

The story itself didn’t avoid delays, as it wound up airing much closer to the debut of the second season than the end of the first, although the first couple of parts aired on Cartoon Network Australia soon after Metamorphosis. If memory serves, Cartoon Network justified the delay by claiming they were holding off on airing it until Veteran’s Day.

We’ll talk about Vandal Savage next time he shows up, since he’s much more of a presence in that one.

Thoughts on the Episode:

First of all, the most important thing is to note the major screwup of this episode: American troops didn’t fight in Caen during WWII – Canadian and British forces secured the city in the aftermath of D-Day. The timeline’s slightly different and all that, but, geez.

We’ve already seen the classic sci-fi alternate universe storyline, so realistically it was only a matter of time until a time travel episode made air. While this certainly wouldn’t be the last episode to deal with time, it does greatly benefit from both a longer run-time and a more focused setting than some later efforts. Time travel is always a tricky concept to deal with (even Doctor Who, the granddaddy of time travel SF, runs into issues), but the idea is handled pretty well in this story. It’s actually hurt more by the viewer’s knowledge of Vandal Savage in retrospect than anything else; at first, this seems merely like a scientist going back in time and changing the past to his benefit, which is actually a throwback to a story referenced in All-Star Squadron and roughly a million other works of science fiction.

Of course, the issue in stories like these is that most of the Justice League can handle themselves against modern weaponry, so the vast majority of enemy forces they encounter aren’t really an issue. This is handled in a clever way by the story: two of the most powerful three team members, J’onn and Diana, are written out of the main fighting relatively early on in the storyline, and GL’s ring quickly runs out of charge. As a result, even though Superman is still his normal self, the League’s resources are diminished to the point where it’s not a joke to imagine WWII-era technology giving them trouble, even before it gets augmented.

The usual problem with three-part episodes rears its head here – for the most part, they’re stories which are too long for two parts, but don’t have quite enough for a full three (that gets avoided in the final three-part episode of the series, though). Here, most of the time does get shunted to characterisation, which is a positive; Green Lantern’s military training allows him to fit right in with Easy Company, even if John gives up a little bit when compared to Batman as a leading man in this type of storyline.

The real subplot winner is Wonder Woman, as her meeting with Steve Trevor both is a little bit of a payoff for her season-long journey to understanding the worldview of women outside Paradise Island as well as giving her a chance to show off just how powerful she really is (the bit at the start of part three is Superman-level in scope, something Diana doesn’t really get to show off that often). Steve Trevor’s not quite enough of a charmer to think that Diana would fall for him at first sight like we’re supposed to believe, but I’d rather have that aspect of the character underplayed lest he turn into a WWII equivalent of Flash. Diana’s visit to the veteran’s home at the end is actually really poignant, and while it doesn’t have the sheer tearjerker value that the second season finale would bring, it’s a nice ending.

The showpieces in this story, however, are the action scenes, and for the most part they’re top notch. The Blackhawk attack on Savage’s engine factory is pretty clunky, but the scenes in and around Caen and especially the final air battle are great. As noted in the commentary track, someone in the animation studio really must have had a thing for planes, because all of the aerial combat shots are very well done. Again, you sort of have to put plot considerations aside and go with the fact that this story is a tribute to the war comics that would show superheroes tearing through Nazis without meeting much resistance – these aren’t supposed to be even or even fair fights. What’s really great is that the writers managed to even give Flash – who’d normally be next-to-useless in a fight over open water – something to do. While the battle between Savage and John isn’t decisive in any way, it does give him enough of a comeback that, when Hawkgirl comes back to rescue him, you don’t feel as though he’s running away from a superior opponent.

While this story isn’t amongst the best of the seasons, I do agree with Timm’s assessment that it’s an effective bridge into the much higher-quality second season. And after the stinker that was Metamorphosis, it’s a good pallette cleanser before the really serious stuff starts up again.

If anyone makes any jokes about frozen Hitler as a palette cleanser, you’re banned.

Grade: B. The action’s great, but the secondary leaguers get a little lost.

Random Thoughts:

  • The introduction with the alternate-universe Batman is cut a little short, but it does have one very nice easter egg buried in it:
    Yup, it’s the Dixon-era Bat-family, with Dick, Barbara, Tim and Cassie Cain. I know some people think the dark haired girl is the Clayface fragment, but… c’mon, seriously, now. This would be the last appearance of every character save Nightwing, who makes a brief cameo in the final season of JLU.
  • Flash’s place as the most compassionate member of the League is cemented in this episode, with his questioning of Hawkgirl’s decision to leave GL to the mercy of the Nazis and immediately dashing back into combat, then refusing to accept Hawkgirl’s defence of her actions later.
  • The bit with Superman bursting into flames while battling the German air force is a shoutout to the original Human Torch, who fought the Nazis in the 40s alongside Captain America and the other Invaders.
  • Does John Stewart have bad luck in season finales or what? Fried by Savage here, then getting the stuffing knocked out of him in Starcrossed, then the whole time paradox incedent.
  • Neat technical bit from the commentary – the backgrounds on this episode are too bright because of a difference in calibration between the computers that scanned the painted backdrops in North America and the computers that outputted them at the animation studio in Korea.
  • Okay, I can’t decide if there’s one Savage or two in the present time. He lived his normal life until 2002, went back in time to 1944 – where his prior self already lived – and went down with the transport. The catch, of course, is that he’s immortal, so either he’s buried at the bottom of the ocean and can’t escape, allowing his original self to appear later, or time just corrected itself. Me, I’m going with the latter. Or I wrote this too late in the day and totally forgot about the scene where Savage explains exactly what he did and instead got mixed up with The Time Warrior and other similar stories.
  • Although the time portal was supposedly unstable, so how the heck did Savage know where the laptop was going to land? Screw it, I’m just writing this entire mess off to time travel making my head hurt.
  • While we’re at it, Savage’s time machine design would show up again in his final appearance.
  • I doubt it was intentional, but the fact that this episode ended with Superman hugging Batman and the second season premiere saw them placed at odds with each other right off the mark is a nice contrast.

Line of the Episode: “Kill me? You’re welcome to try.” Vandal Savage, hinting at his true nature.

Flash Line of the Episode: “Bats, you’re starting to scare me.” Starting?

Next time: PHEW! One whole season down. So I’m going to do a wrap-up post, then sit down and watch “Legacy” for the first time in about 10 years. Maybe New Frontier after that.

Next Justice League: Season Two kicks off in style, as Darkseid and the New Gods return for “Twilight”, as the series as a whole gets a LOT darker.

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  1. JFink
    November 26, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    Two Savages? No, I think he just opened the portal, chucked the laptop while its running in, and Hijinx ensued. Either that, or the future Savage disappeared since the timeline was erased (for a bit), since something like happens later.

    But I don’t think there was two of them around in 1944.

    • November 26, 2009 at 8:23 pm

      Ach, you’re right. I just wanted to find some excuse to link to the Doctor Who clip.

  2. OctoPrime
    November 26, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    It’s beena while since I saw the episode myself, but, as I recall, Vandal couldn’t travel to the past himself, so he just sent himself the laptop with all the data on it.

    And doesn’t DCs version of Time Travel mean you can’t travel to a time where you were already around? Which kind of sucks for Vandal, since he’s always been around.

  3. kyle747
    June 18, 2010 at 9:31 am

    First, I love this 3 partner for a number of reasons.

    For one, it retcons our WW2 love affair with Wonder Woman, fleshing out her origin and putting Steve Trevor in the picture without ruining the DCAU that has been created.

    I also love the idea of the JLA fighting the Nazi’s – it’s beautiful imagery.

    Finally, this episode is all about character development for the viewer – we really get to see Diana bust some sh^& up (is that character development? well for her it is). We also see Jon Stewart at his best, by the end of this episode I the viewer clearly see him as a hero independent of his GL status. Even Hawkgirl has a few moments in her dialogue with Flash where she seems like something other than one of those freaky flier toys.

    Now for the bad news. I can live with Canadian troops being absent Caen – after all, apparently even the US air force missed WW2 and those stupid Blackhawks won the air war. Just watching them made me wish their planes would explode 🙂 and fall into the sea. Seriously, it’s easier to believe in Superman than it is these guys having modern (WW2) fueled, aircraft on a ‘secret’ island.

    This is the kind of thinking that leads DC comic writers to put Flash in a place called ‘Central City’ I know it was meant as a tribute, but like using Copperhead or Cheetah in an episode, it’s actually just a stupid idea.

    You can tell the quality control issues remain even after a full season, Superman remains the most frustrating and inconsistent character. Bluntly, we still have no idea of the extent of his power. In this episode he’s pretty much useless one minute (unable to smash through the clear glass/plastic/metal to the tank gunner during the initial super tank battle!) and reverting to something closer to type the next. It’s the biggest drag on the episode.

    Good grief, I forgot, Superman goes to his knees from a HAND weapon fired by Vandal Savages men early in the episode. I mean c’mon!

    Still, the worst you can say is that there are some quality control issues for the series, and given the scope of it’s ambitions it’s pretty easy to forgive.

    What may be harder are a couple of issues that leave me puzzled. The first is the missing swastika. It’s kind of hard to miss it’s absence, or to not speculate on whether some retarded DC corporate decision is responsible for this. I certainly don’t understand it.

    The other involves a particular scene where Jon Stewart joins a group of all-white infantrymen after announcing he was trained in the US marines. The claim goes unchallenged. I wouldn’t even bring it up, except this series has done more than the gutless suits at DC ever did integrating black characters into meaningful roles in the hero community.

    Not only did they choose Stewart over Jordan (the easy and safe choice) they’ve managed to maintain his ‘inner anger’ without dating him. And they don’t ignore the fact of his being black either – I love in legends him being ‘ a credit to his people’. God that was a funny moment!

    In any case, I only bring this up because as we all know infantry units were not integrated in WW2. At all. The sight of that lone black face SHOULD have demanded some comment – from someone. I can’t help thinking some corporate suit shut the creative team down on this after legends ? Seems petty perhaps, but these guys exist for little else.

    We can only hope their abortion of a movie with Ryan Reynolds dies the quick death it deserves. After all, they have have a full slate of movies starring black super-heroes coming out right ? Oops, guess not.

    • June 18, 2010 at 9:43 am

      One point on this one – while the army didn’t have integrated units in our world, in the DCU (and presumably the DCAU), this was different, as EZ Company had at least one black soldier in its ranks in comic form (Jackie Johnson, the ex-boxer, and very historic in that he was one of the first legitimate, non-stereotyped black characters in comics history)). The producers probably didn’t comment on it for that reason; they just had GL stand in for an established character who Rock would have been familiar with.

  4. beauwight
    February 7, 2011 at 1:52 am

    I know it’s a different kind of geek, but I always feel this is the best time travel quote:

    “I hate temporal mechanics!”

    – Miles O’Brien

    By the way, I’m thoroughly enjoying this! I’ve always loved superhero cartoons even though I’m not much of a comic reader. Not sure why. I’ve even enjoyed the novelized versions of a lot of the DC events. This is a great way to catch all the little things I’ve missed like Dick, Barbara and Tim in this episode.

    • February 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm

      Thanks. I try to especially note the little things like those cameos, but oftentimes it’s pretty tough (like the Crisis on Two Earths review, which took FOREVER with all the cameos).

  1. November 26, 2009 at 7:30 pm

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