Home > C-plus, Episode Grades, Justice League > Justice League 2×09-10: “Hearts and Minds”

Justice League 2×09-10: “Hearts and Minds”

January 20, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

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Written by Keith Damron
Directed by Butch Lukic
Originally Aired: October 25, 2003
DVD: Justice League, Season Two

Summary: After a Green Lantern Corps force is shattered by the forces of Despero, John Stewart is forced into close proximity with a former flame as he attempts to contain the threat.

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Arc Notes: First mention of Kyle Rayner since his debut on Superman TAS, the deaths of two Green Lantern Corps members.

Featured Character: Green Lantern

Debuting Characters: Katma Tui, Despero

Recurring Characters Killed: Galius Zed, Arkkis Chummuck

Other Team Members: Flash, Hawkgirl, J’onn J’onzz.

Background:

John Stewart was in no way as prominent a character in the mainstream DC Comics universe as he is in the animated one. Upon his debut in 1971, he was saddled with the ‘angry black man’ character stereotype that was all-too-common for the big two to attach to their first waves of black heroes. What’s worse, he was installed as something of a ‘backup’ to the then-current Green Lantern, and didn’t get a series of his own until the acclaimed Mosaic in the 1980s. In the meantime, he managed to wed fellow Lantern Katma Tui, who plays a large role in this episode. Amusingly, at the time of this writing, both John and Katma have recently received DC Universe Classic series action figures (along with Kilowog), a nice tribute to their shared history.

Despero bears a little bit more exploring, as although the ending of this story made him into a one-shot animated character, he’s sort of like Amazo in that he’s a long-recurring foe for the Justice League itself, rather than an individual hero’s bad guy that steps up to take on the full roster. Despero’s history with the League dates back to JLA #1 in 1960, where he was somewhat less intimidating than his appearance in this episode, looking more like a potential Aquaman bad guy than anything else due to his fin-shaped head. His gimmick back then was mental powers and not much more.

Eventually gaining a more intimidating form (as seen in both Virtue and Vice and various action figures over the years) he continued attacking the Justice League whenever the opportunity presented itself. My first exposure to that would be when he took on the Justice League International in New York. That ended… badly, and upon his return he wound up having his monstrous body possessed by the consciousness of the JLA’s robot valet L-Ron. That enough writers thought favourably of him to come back from that particular indignity shows that someone out there sure has a soft spot for the big guy.

A lot of the episodes in the second season of Justice League contained allusions to real-world politics of the time; although the most obvious one would come in the pivotal follow-up to this episode, Bruce Timm explained why Despero was given a different slant than his comic counterpart:

“Hearts And Minds” is, admittedly, fairly heavily influenced by real-world events, specifically recent events in the Middle East. For example, there is an overt echo of the Taliban in the scene where Despero’s acolytes are ready to murder a citizen for possessing books. But even there, we were very careful to make sure that the show wouldn’t come off as a slam against Muslims. Islam, as I understand it, is actually a very tolerant religion, as organized religions go.

However, religious EXTREMISTS, of ANY denomination or faith, who use their faith as an excuse to hate and demonize those who disagree with them, or are different from them, can be very scary. So, again, the messages (there are two) of the story are very basic, and hard to argue with: one, “beware of false prophets” and two, “hate is bad, love is good.”

– Bruce Timm, interview with toonzone.net

Thoughts on the Episode:

After four distinct story genres in four stories to start the season, this one goes back to the general sci-fi / space opera feel of “Twilight”. Unfortunately, while the story itself has some nice touches, it’s a very mediocre episode overall.

This is the classic example of a story with not enough plot to fit the running time. As a result, time is wasted all over the place, from the meandering opening (for a sequence that kills off two supporting characters, it’s lacking tension) to the rather pointless jaunt by Kilowog to find the power battery (a plot hurdle that doesn’t have any bearing on the rest of the episode), to the resistance being attacked by Despero’s forces not once but twice in order to get all the players in their proper positions for the climax. The subplot with John having to re-learn how to use his ring would have been interesting had it actually showed what the Lanterns go through in order to use the devices, but at the same time we’ve seen Kyle able to fight pretty effectively from the moment he got the ring on his hand, so how important could the training be?

The main point of the episode, however, doesn’t so much seem to be telling a great story as to give John another story of character development in preparation for the significant role he’d play in the season’s finale. Here, as the old song goes, he’s torn between two lovers – or, at least, between an old one and a future one. Until this point, John has largely been defined by his devotion to duty and truth; in this episode, things change up, as we see that he also has a tendency to fall pretty hard for his co-workers.

While the scenes with Hawkgirl don’t have much emotional punch (beyond the ‘holy crap, they’re actually going to hook up GL and Hawkgirl!’ revelation that was a really big deal at the time), Katma’s storyline is another issue entirely. She’s easily the most sensual character introduced in the DCAU to this point, balancing a hard edge with a softer side, and the script isn’t afraid to emphasize the physical nature of her relationship with John. From the opening scenes, the script is largely devoted to convincing the viewer that she’s the type of woman that GL would be hung up on for as long as he appears to be. By the end of the episode, of course, her inability to relate to his new self causes him to react much more when Despero begins to torture Hawkgirl than when he’s going after Katma, which is just another sign of where this is all going.

Despero himself isn’t the most unique villain – his quiet, calm demeanor calls to mind several other prominent bad guys, such as Savage, Luthor and Grodd – but the religious aspect of his character that was mentioned above does at least give him a bit of an interesting base, although not much is really done with that beyond generic villainy like burning books, sending his subordinate to his doom and his (very cool) menacing words towards Hawkgirl. While the idea of a character with his basis in religion isn’t that uncommon in the comic world – Huntress’ costume puts her religion literally front and centre, while Ragman is based on Jewish mythology – Despero’s character is based more around the ‘origins’ of Moses and Muhammad, going out into the desert and finding guidance. John even comments on the derivativeness of Despero’s story at one point. He’s mainly there to move what little plot there is forward, and to eventually torture Hawkgirl enough that his blockage of John’s powers is negated by John’s desire to save her.

Of course, you can’t really criticise voice actor Keith David for his performance, but at the same time it’s not as though he doesn’t have experience with quiet yet powerful characters. The same can’t be said for the resistance members, all of whom seem to speak like Native Americans. I guess a bunch of Afghani accents may have been too obvious.

Another major problem with the story is that both Flash and Hawkgirl don’t really have anything to do in this episode. Flash is mainly there to pal around with Kilowog at the start and spout one-liners;you could easily drop him from this episode and not lose anything important. Hawkgirl’s much the same way, which is odd when you consider the entire point of this story is to move her relationship with John forward; she doesn’t even get to participate in much of the action. I was very much expecting the climax to feature her having to fight off a possessed Katma; while this would admittedly be a bit cliche (and I suppose I’m getting the idea from the Unlimited episode “Hunter’s Moon”), it’s better than what actually happens, as they step aside for the climactic fight between John and Despero.

The climax is nevertheless the best part of this episode; John’s fight against Despero is one of the best in the series, as it’s packed with a lot of energy in every frame of animation, both literally and metaphorically. Despero and John tossing all sorts of large objects at each other is pretty neat, and the scenes in space are a combination of both epic, glactic-scale storytelling and and some very trippy imagery (enemies being turned into… trees…?). It’s all aided by an excellent score, one of my favourites for the series as a whole. The subtle beat as the music fades once Flash realises he has to abandon the others is a great touch.

Unfortunately, all the great touches in the world can’t make up for a bad plot, and this episode can’t get around that core problem. of just feeling too decompressed. While it’s a very easy episode to sit through, you know there’s just not much substance. And, no, the environmental message wasn’t lost on me at all, but… this is Justice League, not Captain Planet.

Grade: C+. I swear, this one SHOULD work so much better than it does, but it suffers from a dull plot until the climax. It does at least advance the overall storyline.

Random Thoughts:

  • Although it’s not explicitly stated that Katma’s from the same planet as Sinestro in animated form, she’s similar enough in her look that it seems reasonable. That was her comic origin – she took over after Sinestro fell from grace.
  • I really like the wipe after J’onn, Kilowog and Flash enter the sewer, with the water splash transitioning to the torture of Katma.
  • Not as bad as the Bondfest last time, but count the Star Wars references: a bomb delivered through a maintenance shaft, John mentions Yoda, Katma dresses like Leia in Jabba’s palace, Despero’s throne room looks like the temple on Yavin at the end of the original movie, the city is pretty much Mos Eisley, the heroes are trapped in the same type of restraints as Obi Wan in Attack of the Clones, and… crud, there was an Empire reference that I forgot when my first draft got wiped by WordPress.
  • “Round Two!” is something of a DC catchphrase.
  • Was it just me or was Despero basically crucified at the end?
  • I’m not the only one who notices that the trees basically overran the city at the foot of the citadel, right?
  • Flash’s nonplussed reaction to Despero’s fate is a great bit of ‘acting’.
  • The weirdest thing about the episode is the cliffhanger – or, rather, that the best one is before the final act break in part one, as opposed to between the actual episodes.

Line of the Episode: “And why are you wearing Mr. Stewart’s clothes?” Maybe this is the reason why the Lanterns switched to individualised uniforms the next time we see them – an old Chinese landlady on a backwater planet got confused.

Flash Line of the Episode: “Impotence?” Flash gets some good ones in, but that’s the best.

Next Justice League: The most important episode in DCAU history.

Next Time: John guest stars on Static Shock, in “Fallen Hero.”

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  1. Sanagi
    January 21, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    One of my regrets about the DCAU was the lack of a really good GLC-based episode. My favorite thing about this one was seeing Kilowog portrayed with a little more depth. He’s always great fun when the writers remember that he’s more than just a big ugly alien.

    • January 21, 2010 at 4:46 pm

      There’s actually a pretty good reason for the lack of a more GLC-focused episode, which will be covered in the next entry.

  2. April 19, 2010 at 3:42 pm

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