Home > B-minus, Justice League > Justice League 2×05-06: “Only A Dream”

Justice League 2×05-06: “Only A Dream”

December 18, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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Written by: Stan Berkowitz
Directed by: Butch Lukic
Originally Aired: October 11, 2003
DVD: Justice League, Season Two

Summary: Worked to exhaustion by a prison break, the Justice League find their dreams haunted by a convict who has acquired the power to control the dream world.

Arc Notes: Hawkgirl’s mind is shielded from J’onn’s probes, and she also seems to have acquired Storm’s issues with claustrophobia. Green Lantern shows concern for Hawkgirl a bit out of keeping with that of a regular teammate.

Focal Characters: This is a nicely balanced episode. Batman and J’onn get the most screen time, but only just.

Team Members: Everyone save Wonder Woman, who appears briefly in the opening dream sequence.

Debuting Characters: Doctor Destiny

Returning Characters: Luminus, Volcana and Firefly all make their Justice League debuts, but they’ve been seen before. Copperhead and Grundy are of course returning members of the Injustice Gang.

Cameos: The Shade, Star Sapphire, Ultra-Humanite, Lex Luthor, Joker, Deadshot and Simon Stagg (!?!) all make appearances in John Dee’s first dream sequence; Luthor and Joker actually have lines.

Background:

Woo, a whole bunch of characters in this one; it feels like a precursor to an Unlimited episode just due to the sheer volume of cameos. While I’m not going to talk about those characters who haven’t appeared before, I figure I’d cover the two Justice League debutees prior to going into a bit more depth on the main bad guy of this one.

  • Volcana – Superman’s animated-derived villains tended to be females, probably to balance out the fact that there’s no real top-tier female Superman villains other than Maxima, and she’s only a villain on a technicality. A pyrokenetic trained by the government, her origins actually link into the main Justice League story arc smoothly enough that I decided to bump her debut episode into a side story later on in the series. She’s something of a Catwoman-type, mainly interested in the accumulation of material wealth, although she does hold a grudge against her former handlers. The most notable thing about the character is her voice actor – Peri Gilpin of Frasier fame, whose personality on that show bled over into Volcana quite a bit. Gilpin was one of the highest-profile actresses to ever do VA work on Justice League.
  • Luminus – One of those Superman villains who only view Superman as an obstacle in the path of their real target. In Luminus’ case, that target is Lois Lane. Edward Lytner was Lois’ mole inside LexCorp, but he mainly ratted out his company in order to get her attention. That didn’t happen, and once she obviously turned her affections to Superman, he tried to kill her. Superman got in the way of that one, so he tried to get him out of the way the second time around by shifting the wavelength of light hitting the earth to red, eliminating Superman’s ability to absorb it as fuel for his powers. That also backfired, and he wound up in prison again.

The main villain of this episode is Doctor Destiny, one of the JLA’s longest-serving villains. Destiny dates back to the first set of Justice League of America issues, and his origin is quite a bit different than what’s presented in this episode. The first Destiny story involved him impersonating the League by kidnapping Green Lantern; it wasn’t until a later appearance that he started with his dream schtick that stuck as his gimmick, inventing the same machine that grants him his powers in this episode. He battled the league on-and-off for years, and actually got tied in with Neil Gaiman’s landmark Sandman series for DC’s Vertigo imprint.

Destiny, however, has a more important role when it comes to the modern JLA, in that he was the villain in Justice League: A Midsummer’s Nightmare, the story by Fabian Nicieza and Mark Waid which was actually the first appearance of what became known as the Morrison-era JLA. In this story, the League are trapped in a world where they’re stuck powerless in their secret identities and most of the rest of the world has powers. Once the League gets things together, Destiny is their first suspect, but although they’re right that it’s his powers that are creating the world they exist in, there’s far more going on that actually drops the first hint of what would become Morrison’s endgame, over three years later. Destiny occasionally pops up in JLA stories, but he’s not used all that often anymore. This is his first animated appearance, and aside from a brief cameo during Unlimited, he hasn’t shown up since.

Thoughts on the Episode:

Some bad two-part stories are a single episode story stretched to two episodes. Some good ones are a legitimate 44 minute storyline that balances out the two parts. And some are like this episode: two stories that are basically attached to each other with a rivet gun.

The first thread of the episode is a bog-standard supervillain escape plotline. The villain group is somewhat interesting, as it comprises a couple of old Superman villains, a late-era Batman villain in Firefly, and two former members of the Injustice League. While most of these characters wouldn’t appear again in a significant roleĀ  (Copperhead has a memorable appearance in Unlimited and Volcana also turns up there), Grundy’s appearance here is a precursor to his significant involvement later in the season. However, most of this thread is to establish that the League itself is overworked, although not so overworked that Hawkgirl can’t show mental midget Copperhead a thing or two.

Once that is taken care of, the episode returns to the plot that’s been running in the background, specifically John Dee’s acquisition of dream invasion powers and Batman’s efforts to track him down. The opening scenes with Dee, both in his dream and during the prison riot, do a good job of establishing him as someone who’s reach exceeds his grasp a little bit, and it’s interesting that he’s not the type of person who looks, at least on the evidence presented here, like he’d set out to conquer the world. Instead of trying to attack the League or even rob a bank, his first thought is to terrorize his ex-wife and get revenge on her for divorcing him and starting a relationship with another man. He almost seems to attack the Justice League simply out of a combination of ego and because, well, that’s what he saw in his dream so it must be the proper thing to do. I genuinely like such an off-the-wall motivation, as it’s a nice change of pace compared to the meglomaniacs the League specializes in, one of whom returns next episode.

The action in the dream realm is a combination of comedy and darker stuff; Flash initially has a reasonably pleasant nightmare, aside from crazed non-Francophone children trying to take a bite out of his leg. But even he has a pretty scary endgame, where his powers accelerate him out of touch with the rest of the human race. The male members of the team all seem to have the same problem, being disconnected from the rest of humanity by either their choices or their powers. Hawkgirl has a much more traditional fear-based dream, involving her sudden development of claustrophobia…. but this rings a little false, as she obviously fears something else a lot more. A big hint about that is dropped in the sequence before she’s freed from imprisonment, as J’onn mentions that her mind is shielded from psychic invasion. While it’s weird that she could stop J’onn and not Destiny, it’s another hint that something else is going on behind the scenes with her.

Outside the dream world, it’s a fairly standard Batman detective showcase, as he follows Dee’s trail to an old hideout of his from his days as a LexCorp henchman. The biggest attraction are Batman’s various ways of staying awake during his long drive; he acts like Jeremy Clarkson during a Top Gear race, only instead of Maggie Thatcher Batman turns to Frere Jacques. And drive-through coffee shops, which provides the standout comedy moment of the episode. The final confrontation between Batman and Dee, whose powers are actually warping reality around him, is actually pretty tense considering it’s basically just Batman against a random guy, but Dee isn’t enough of a threat to Batman at any point in this one.

That’s sort of where the episode lies overall; Dee is an interesting villain who shows that he could be a threat, but at the same time his nature doesn’t give the episode enough forward momentum to let it develop into something, and the first half really is different from where the episode ultiamtely winds up. The animation is in the usual solid stuff that would be the standard from this point forward, but that’s not really enough to recommend an episode anymore.

Grade: B-. Maybe if they’d run with Destiny for the full episode and actually had his plan go somewhere other than “defeat the Justice League”, it would have turned out better.

Random Thoughts:

  • If you ever want a concrete example of the differences between Batman and Superman villains, look at Firefly and Volcana. Batman’s villain is a creepy guy with a flamethrower and a jetpack, Superman’s is a living flame battery who can take down SWAT teams easily.
  • Nice fakeout on the classic monster in the bathroom mirror scare with Dee’s ex-wife.
  • Is it me, or does the wife gasp BEFORE the costume fills in? Maybe Dee’s dream-morphing powers don’t stop at his… costume (presumably, she’s not seeing anything she presumably hasn’t before….)
  • I love Copperhead’s loser-of-the-week gimmick. Not all bad guys have to be worldbeaters; he’s just a mook with a gimmick that happened to fall in with company that’s way out of his league.
  • For those that weren’t old enough to remember 2002, the most hyped scene of the then-upcoming Matrix Reloaded was Neo fighting against a couple hundred clones of Agent Smith; Flash’s fight against Luminus is very reminiscent of that sequence.
  • Doctor Destiny seems awful familiar-looking… can’t quite place it… oh, right…

    … and you thought the comic series that movie was based on was New Gods.

Line of the Episode: “That was some sweet banter, Uncle Flash, but what’s a cur?”

Flash Line of the Episode: “Are you French? [no] Then there’s no food.”

Clunker Line of the Episode: “Not even the Justice League can help you now.”

(Count the number of times that a villain randomly mentions the League trying to stop their plans without any indication that they’ve taken any interest in them. Sure, Dee’s presumably taken with his delusions of grandeur, but it happens again in the next episode as well. Talk about the a plot anvil.)

Next Justice League: Vandal Savage makes his return in Maid of Honor.

Next Time: Get ready for some Batman globetrotting, via The Demon’s Quest.

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Categories: B-minus, Justice League
  1. December 19, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    I watched this episode the other day in preparation for this update, because I remembered liking it a lot. Like you said, it’s really two separate episodes stuck together, but the second half was enjoyable. I did like John Dee’s character overall, even before he got any abilities, and his voice was always creepy without being unrealistically so. Superman’s dream of destroying everything and everyone he loves was pretty poignant, as was Flash’s dream of speeding ahead of everything forever. I wonder if people have written stories about those particular subjects? Flash’s dream actually reminded me of Kingdom Come, where the Flash was never actually seen in Central City but always a blur, fighting crime and saving people at light speed.

    • December 20, 2009 at 1:38 am

      You’re right about Flash and Kingdom Come (I plan to cover that in more detail at some point, but that slipped my mind when actually typing this out)… as for Superman becoming so overpowered that he destroys everything, I’m sure it’s happened at least once, but for the life of me I can’t name a specific instance.

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