Home > B-minus, Justice League > Justice League 2×03-04: “Tabula Rasa”

Justice League 2×03-04: “Tabula Rasa”

December 11, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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Written by Stan Berkowitz
Directed by Dan Riba
Originally Aired October 4th, 2003
DVD Justice League, Season Two

Summary: A desperate Lex Luthor stumbles upon the final creation of one of his former employees an android with the potential to become the most powerful being in the galaxy.

Arc Notes: Amazo would return, in an episode titled exactly that, before becoming the Silver Surfer analogue in the DC Defenders.

Debuting Characters: Amazo, the corpse of Professor Ivo

Featured Characters: J’onn J’onzz

Other Team Members: Whole team’s in play here, due to the nature of the villain.

Returning Characters: Mercy Graves makes her first Justice League appearance.

Background:

Although the first season of Justice League was very Silver Age in feel, very few villains in it were drawn from that time period (in fact, as noted, Vandal Savage behaved more like Per Degaton than his usual self). In season two, that would be reversed, with more modern stories told with classic villains. Although Darkseid and Brainiac aren’t necessarily identified with Silver Age JLA storylines, the debuting villain in this episode, Amazo, certainly is.

Amazo had the distinction of appearing in the last JLA story to be published in Brave and the Bold. In it, mad scientist Professor Anthony Ivo created an android to destroy the JLA, and to somehow gain the secret of immortality in the process. Amazo’s signature ability, as demonstrated in that first issue and just about every appearance since, is that he has the powers of the core JLA members in one body. The concept has varied from being designed with the JLA’s powers in there from the get-go to Amazo being capable of mimicking the powers of whomever comes near him (the most recent appearance of the prior form was in a really great Batman story a couple of years ago that saw Nightwing and Batman forced to confront *an* Amazo all by themselves, the implication being that there’s now a few of them running around). Of course, the powers don’t really “stack”, so while he has super speed, it’s not as though he’s as fast as the Flash and Superman put together most of the time.

The android has returned continually to battle virtually every incarnation of the JLA almost as a rite of passage for a new version of the team, and was featured relatively prominently in the most recent series under the pen of ex-Justice League producer Dwayne McDuffie. The version in Justice League is decidedly less goofy-looking – more on that below – than its predecessor, but is fairly close to the “duplicating” version of Amazo in other aspects, including the usual out of acquiring the weaknesses of the team in addition to the strengths.

Thoughts on the Episode:

This is yet another story that leverages the history of the DC Animated Universe to improve the quality. While Twilight was a direct reference to prior stories that actually took place on-screen, this story is more about what can be implied “between the pages” of other episodes. In this case, we learn the fate of LexCorp since Luthor’s fall from power in “Injustice for All”, as while we haven’t heard much of the company since, it is revealed here that Luthor’s former bodyguard / assistant / former lover (it’s implied pretty heavily) Mercy Graves has taken charge of the corporation in the interim and done a very good job of running it while Luthor’s been on the lam.

(On the other hand, it probably wasn’t hard to balance the books if Luthor’s hundred billion dollars spent on trying to kill Superman was taken out of the balance sheet. Let Lex himself explain why that was a financial drain on the company. I still say that DC should, as a gag, publish the LexCorp and WayneTech annual reports each year.)

This is actually fairly simplistic in setup compared to the double- and triple-crosses of the prior story, though. Luthor finds himself on the lam, and turns to Mercy, who’s made it on her own while he’s been away from his company. The key character note of this episode is that it doesn’t show Luthor as a pure villain, but rather as a manipulator. At first, he’s content to simply play on Mercy’s sense of loyalty, but by the end of the episode he’s leveraging far more powerful emotional feelings that she may have for him.

It’s a very interesting relationship between the two of them – one that unfortunately wasn’t really revisited – and makes for an interesting contrast with the Joker / Harley relationship that we’ll be seeing later on in the season (it’s strongly hinted that Harley’s affection for the Joker has always been unrequited, which is why she presumably hangs out with Ivy so much). Luthor has absolutely no feelings whatsoever for Mercy beyond what she can deliver for her, but Mercy keeps coming back. With certain interactions between the two of them, she’d look less abused if he actually physically slapped her. Her triumphant moment at the end of the episode, even if it was simply hanging up the phone on him, makes for a great moment. Too bad it didn’t really stick; of course, that’s sadly typical of abusive relationships.

The big subplot is J’onn getting the focus for the first time since the Etrigan episode, in what’s a somewhat cliche plotline for him – opening himself up to a wide telepathic search and getting overwhelmed by the emotion of stupid humans who don’t bother to shield their thoughts. This idea, while VERY overdone in comic form – J’onn has taken enough absences from the League for issues like this that you’d think WayneTech HR would be docking his stipend for chronic absenteeism – does show the burden that he operates under at all times, and sets up Wonder Woman as something of the “team mom”, who’s there to emotionally support her more sheltered / withdrawn comrades. The subplot takes a bit too much time to reach the conclusion it does, especially as it’s more or less repeated later on in the season. However, by taking J’onn out of the way for most of the episode, it prevents Amazo from acquiring his abilities too early, which is probably the whole point.

As far as Amazo goes, while the dull design is obviously meant to set up the big transformation at the end of the episode, I think the writers meant for revelations like his evolutionary nature to be more shocking than they were. The viewer already feels as though Amazo’s evolving as the episode goes along, and the final transformation either feels like the natural outgrowth of what has already been seen throughout the story, or a typical Star Trek-ish ‘ascension to a higher being’ type of deal, but it just feels a bit too highbrow to really work in the context of a DCAU series.

As a result of the subplots not really holding up their end of things, this episode is going to make it or break it based on the quality of the action, and that’s where this one falls particularly flat. Part of it is that in comparison with the epic Superman / Darkseid battle in the prior episode anything is going to be less impressive, but for a battle with six of the seven members involved, you’d expect some more lasting impressions. While the episode does do an effective job of building to Superman being forced to get involved in the conflict – leading to the story’s standout moment as Batman gets to re-use some of the Kryptonite he’s presumably been carrying around since World’s Finest – it mainly comes across as a series of individual conflicts meant to first power up Amazo, then for him to work his way through the team.

The story was perhaps an inevitable come-down after the highs of the debut story of the season, but even the shocking sight of Luthor blowing Amazo’s head off can’t really bring it back around. Knowing that Amazo would not be a one-off bad guy is helpful in understanding that this episode isn’t wholly disappointing, and Luthor’s scenes with Mercy really are spectacular, but it really does lack anything special to hang a hook on other than seeing the debut of a famous JLA foe. And after showing just what the series is capable of in the prior story, the bar was raised.

Grade: B-. A very thin episode overall, with the Mercy / Luthor stuff saving it from a lower grade.

Random Thoughts:

  • Yes, that’s Mad Men’s Jon Hamm as Luthor in the clip. Hopefully someone at WB keeps him in mind when they’re casting the next movie, as he looks the part under the bald cap.
  • Okay, if you want proof that Amazo isn’t the best-programmed android, take a look at the following picture:

    Now, ask yourself: what is the most dangerous thing in this picture? Hint: it’s not the Kryptonite.
  • I know Amazo is a rather dull character design in this episode, but that had to be intentional. Why, you may ask? Because Amazo normally looks like this:

    (this issue might be the actual Weekend Aside for the week)
  • Actually, that’s not even that bad. The original Amazo costume was duplicated in a DC Universe Classics figure (admittedly, in the infamous wave that was exclusive to Wal-Mart and therefore hardly anyone saw in stores), and well, feast your eyes on the magnificence:
  • Interestingly, the League in the Morrison era used J’onn’s telepathy as a communication method, but this episode definitively shows them to have earwig communication devices.
  • Either Amazo’s somewhat selective in his power acquisition, or the writers forgot that Hawkgirl is much stronger than a normal human being (as confirmed in JLU). Admittedly, she’s not in Wonder Woman’s class.
  • Luthor’s armour collapsing into his briefcase is probably an Iron Man reference.
  • Metropolis, the city of tomorrow, has open sewer canals?
  • Sadly, this is about as close as the series ever got to a legitimate speed-on-speed duel with Flash against an equal.
  • Notice how the android’s Thanagarian analogue mace is effective against GL’s ring constructs here; that’s a point that will of course become important later in the season.
  • Odd how Luthor didn’t psi-shield the battlesuit, especially as he’d been taken down by J’onn before.
  • Luthor being stripped out of his armor seemingly happens a lot, doesn’t it?

Line of the Episode: “Face it Mercy, you missed me. You missed the excitement, the sense of transgression. Not to mention, certain… other things.” Luthor, taking the “this isn’t a kids show” level up another notch.

Flash Line of the Episode: “Yeah, it’s all making sense now… even to me.”

Next Justice League: The continuation of the silver age villains theme, as Doctor Destiny shows up in “Only a Dream.”

Next Time: A look at some prominent episodes that focus on dreams, starting with “Dreams in Darkness” from BTAS.

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Categories: B-minus, Justice League
  1. Grumpy
    July 26, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    “Metropolis, the city of tomorrow, has open sewer canals?”

    Or they could be flood control channels, which is a familiar context for Los Angeles-based producers. Note that Batman says, “Has anyone checked the sewers?” *after* the canal is searched.

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