Home > A-plus, Justice League > Justice League 2×11-12: “A Better World”

Justice League 2×11-12: “A Better World”

January 29, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

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Written by Stan Berkowitz
Directed by Dan Riba
Originally Aired: November 1, 2003
DVD: Justice League, The Complete Series, but if for some reason you just want this episode, it’s going to be included as a bonus on the upcoming Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths DVD.

Summary: The Justice League is confronted by their counterparts from an alternate universe, who after a tragedy made the decision to run Earth themselves. Get yourself a coffee for this one, we’re going to be here a while.

Housekeeping: I added a couple of minor points to the past couple of Superman episodes in the respective Background sections. As usual, you can follow Justice League Revisited on Twitter to be informed whenever a new entry is posted.

Arc Notes: Oh, like I’m going to be able to get this in above the jump.

Arc Notes, Take Two:¬† Much like “Legacy”, the events of this story influenced the animated universe for years after it aired, but this one was more directly influential.

  • The events of the opening sequence were recorded and eventually found their way to the United States government of the main universe, which stepped up its anti-superhero¬† Cadmus program as a result out of fear that a repeat would occur. That plot is the major ongoing storyline of the first two seasons of Unlimited.
  • Luthor’s first period as an overt criminal ends at the conclusion of this story as he receives a full pardon in exchange for helping stop the Justice Lords. He would never wear the green armored outfit again, as both it and his power disruptor were placed into storage in the new Watchtower.
  • Doomsday is lobotomized by Justice Lord Superman, which reverts him into a mindless beast. His exact origin is revealed in his next appearance, and he retains the lowered intelligence level there.
  • The Justice Lords reinforce the Watchtower to prevent further attacks, an idea which is carried forward to the heavily-armed second Watchtower in Unlimited. The second Watchtower also has a civilian support staff on-board, a trait which is shared by the Justice Lords’ Watchtower in the alternate universe.
  • The seed is planted that if anyone on the League is going to die, it’s destined to be Flash. He would come the closest of any of the Big Seven in Unlimited as he nearly got sucked into the Speed Force.

Debuting Characters: Doomsday‘s first appearance.

Team Members: Full team.

Supporting Players: Lex Luthor, Lois Lane.


In the tradition of never throwing anything away, Bruce Timm turned a rejected idea into a key element of this episode:

For one mad instant, I toyed with the idea of giving the JL a ‘uniform’ costume design… I got as far as doing Batman and GL designs before coming to my senses, realizing it would be a horrible, horrible mistake… I did resurrect the concept for the ‘evil, alt-universe JL’ in the episode “A Better World” a few years later.

Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, p. 73 (sidebar)

The idea of Luthor being elected president was a contemporary issue in the mainstream DC Universe at this point in time, as he actually was elected to the position. Saved anyone in the DCU from having to deal with Dubya (who makes an under-caricatured guest appearance in this episode).

Thoughts on the Episode:

“A Better World” reminds me of a quote from current Doctor Who showruner Steven Moffat, who once said that you know you’ve written a suitably ‘big’ episode of that show when you say to yourself “well, there goes that feature film idea.” That’s a good standard to hold a show that aspires to have as much scope as Justice League to, and this episode pulls that feat off not once but twice; two elements – Doomsday and an evil Justice League – were each turned into full-fledged animated movies. However, beyond the ‘widescreen’ ideas, there’s so much character development and plot foreshadowing that the episode reaches a level rarely hit.

In much the same manner as “Twilight”, this episode is notable for making the show less about physical hero vs villain conflicts and more about personal ones – sure, there’s a pair of great fight scenes that also provide a lot of character information (the Justice Lords boast a brutal fighting style, such as their GL attempting to decapitate the normal one without a second thought in the final conflict), but the conflict between the characters’ personalities is really the driving force of the story.

I didn’t put a ‘central character’ entry in the info points because it’s an especially well-balanced story. I guess it’s a Superman storyline; following the theme established in “Brave New Metropolis”, this presents the classic question of what would happen if Superman was pushed to go too far and transform his inherent desire to help others to a belief that the best way to help others would be to rule over them. In the opening sequence, we get the rare impression of a Superman that’s been pushed beyond his limits, with the atmospheric sight of seeing superman standing over the charred corpse of Luthor in the middle of the oval office capping the greatest cold opening in the show’s history.

The interesting long-term question in this episode is whether Superman actually did the right thing. As terrifying as a world ruled over by heroes with the right intentions may be – Timm and James Tucker cite Warren Ellis and Brian Hitch’s The Authority as an influence (more of the Mark Millar / Frank Quitely era, really), and it’s easy to see some similarities – by partnering with Luthor, Superman implicitly gave birth to Cadmus, and allowed Luthor enough leeway to bring about greater problems later. While the choice wasn’t identical, the episode doesn’t shy away from acknowledging that Superman has had the same thoughts as his Justice Lord Counterpart. It is interesting to think how the two alternate universes glimpsed in the DCAU both have Superman installing himself as a fascist leader, isn’t it?

While Superman is involved with the larger question of freedom vs order, Batman is naturally dealing with the same issue from a perspective closer to the ground. After staying pretty quiet during the first part of the episode, with his curmudgeonly opposite number getting a lot of play, Batman carries the second part of the episode. The dream matchup of Batman vs. Batman is handled well, as after delivering a brief taste of combat between evenly-matched opponents, it turns into a discussion of whether the ends justify the means. The way the scene is laid out, it almost seems as though the evil Batman is arguing with his own consience. The evil Batman actually wins the argument – at least until Batman trumps him. Because Batman always wins… even against Batman.

The supporting players aren’t forgotten. J’onn gets very little dialogue, but the return of the J’onn Fakeout at the end gives him a moment to shine, and it’s set up by the dialogue in the first part that establishes Martians as being incapable of using their mental powers on each other (explaining why both teams fell into obvious traps). Similarly, the ‘real’ Hawkgirl doesn’t do much after being hospitalised early in the story, but her main subplot, the burgeoning romance with GL, is advanced through a great underplayed scene when he’s rescuing her from her imprisonment in the alternate Arkham.

GL is the same, with his true feelings for Hawkgirl betrayed not only by that scene, but by his inability to emulate his Justice Lord self and employ full force against her double without thinking – a hesitation that directly leads to the team-on-team battle at the end of the story. It’s scripting emotional reactions without the characters needing to vocalise their emotions, which is a sign of a high level of craft.

Of course, that leaves out one team member. Even moreso than Batman, the second part of the story moves Flash to the forefront, and not even for his role as the league’s conscience (GL calling him ‘Jiminy‘ is one of the few pure gags in an otherwise serious story). The episode does a smart job of subtly making Flash into a more serious threat, first by his escape from Batman’s prison, and then by pretty much kicking the crap out of Superman in the final conflict. But more than that, his attempt to talk the evil Superman down at the end is the first sign of him being taken a bit more seriously, and firmly establishes him as the heart of the League.

The character work is coupled with some very impressive design work; in spite of Timm’s reservations about changing the costumes, he came up with some striking looks for the Justice Lords, and Doomsday is probably as detailed as he was going to get within the confines of a television budget (his Superman / Doomsday appearance is more detailed, obviously). A lot of the smaller details are also done very well, such as the docile Arkham inmates and Lois dressing in her own version of an alternate costume – the red-and-black look – for her ‘date’ with Justice Lord Superman.

If you’ve read enough of these by now, you should know that the one thing I hate more than anything else is wasted potential, and that leads to the only complaint I have about “A Better World.” As shallow a character as Doomsday is, he’s an iconic villain simply due to the legendary nature of his comics debut, and really could have carried his own episode. The fight scene against the Lords really can’t be given the scope it needs to, but the scene with Superman and Doomsday exchanging punches and shattering the glass of the nearby buildings, cribbed from Superman #75, is probably done as well as could be expected with anything short of a movie budget. And the lobotomization of Doomsday, complete with drool, instantly puts over Justice Lord Superman as a dangerous adversary. It’s just that equating Doomsday with other first-part villains like Deadshot seems like a bit of a waste.

Putting aside that one very minor negative, what makes this episode so spectacular is that, much like some earlier standout episodes, it leverages what has gone before and what we know of the characters to tell a stronger overall story. Although it’s hard to imagine Superman being pressed into making the decisions Justice Lord Superman did, it’s not as though his actions come completely out of left field. And then, with two years of that status quo, it’s easy enough to imagine that he would feel the need to export his brand of justice to other worlds where he felt it was ‘needed.’ It’s not that Superman would be evil; it’s that, as he explains to Flash at the end of the episode, he’s always fighting against the temptation that he should use all the power at his disposal to protect everyone, even if he means that no one’s truly free. It’s an interesting – and somewhat disturbing – thought, and exactly the type of idea that a great story should leave with the viewer well after it fades to black.

(Just for one last bit of over-achievement, this story doesn’t end there, but rather with Luthor announcing that he’s thinking about getting into politics, leaving the final thought in the viewer’s mind that, even though the League has been warned, their destiny may well be fixed. Very nice….)

Grade: A+. Great action, a great core conflict, a couple of neat cameos, great character work, excellent design and animation… quite simply, one of the finest stories ever produced in the DCAU.

Random Thoughts:

  • Although we never saw a Justice Lords Flash, the second season finale would provide one, and it’s an awesome trivia point for Flash geeks like myself.
  • In the cold opening, Superman paraphrases Batman’s famous line from The Dark Knight Returns, telling Luthor that there are six ways to stop him from the position they’re in.
  • The Justice Lords obviously were let in on each others’ secret identities, as they know where the Batcave is located, which isn’t the case with the Justice League at the time of this episode (well, by this point it’s more like Flash doesn’t know who anyone else is, which is pretty mean if you think about it).
  • Two of DC’s bigger publicity coups in history are both featured in this episode – the famous Death of Superman storyline, which occurred on one of the slowest news days in recorded history and turned into the biggest story on the planet for a week, and Wonder Woman’s shorter haircut, which inexplicably turned into a massive national story when it happened.
  • Batman’s code, 9-1-9-3-9, is a reference to his first appearance in Detective Comics – September 1939.
  • Superman picking up the American flag at the end is a callback to the ending of Superman II.

  • Blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag – when showing the lobotomized Arkham residents, so is Scarface. Sadly, it’s such a good joke that the commentary can’t resist pointing it out.
  • This is the first glimpse in a while at a Batcave – Justice Lords Batman has added a costume that’s either his Justice League or New Adventures-era costume to the display case (it’s in shadow, so it’s hard to tell if it’s the dark blue or black version). When we finally get a good look at the costume display in the season finale, there’s a similar addition… but something else, as well.
  • In case you missed it in the most recent Weekend Aside, the idea of an evil Justice League was intended to be revisited in a direct-to-video project called “Worlds Collide” that would bridge the time between the end of Justice League and the beginning of Unlimited and explain how the latter series was set up.

Line of the Episode: “Mom and dad… they’d be so proud of you.” Oh, he went there.

Flash Line of the Episode: “Wow, Supes, you really know how to bring down the house!” There really aren’t any great Flash lines in this one, but the way he stops, thinks for a second, and then gets off the ‘really stupid’ line makes this one the best of them.

Next Justice League: In the spirit of balance, time for an episode that’s not afraid to bring the funny, even from Wonder Woman. But even if “Eclipsed” stunk, it would be worth it for the ending gag alone.

Next Time: Batman Beyond… another show unafraid to bring the funny when called upon. As we’ll see in “The Eggbaby.”

Categories: A-plus, Justice League
  1. January 31, 2010 at 4:55 am

    The best part of the gag that Scarface has lobotomy scras is that the Ventriloquist DOESN’T.

    • January 31, 2010 at 8:56 am

      Which of course makes a twisted kind of sense if you think about it – Scarface is the brains of the outfit.

  2. February 9, 2010 at 11:11 am

    I am trying to find the Justice Leauge- “A better world” DVD/VIdeo and can’t fine it. I called warner brothers and they said they don’t have it. The same with Amazon. Would you be kind and tell me where can I get it from? Thanks.

    • February 9, 2010 at 11:18 am

      Click the Amazon link at the top of the article. There’s no way to get the episode on its own, so you have to buy a full season.

      If you don’t want the full season, my understanding is that the episode – likely without the commentary track on Part 2 – will be included as an extra on the upcoming Crisis on Two Earths DVD.

  1. January 30, 2010 at 1:40 am
  2. March 10, 2010 at 12:23 am

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