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Justice League 2×14-15: “The Terror Beyond”

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Written by Dwayne McDuffie
Directed by Butch Lukic
Originally Aired: November 15th 2003
DVD: Justice League The Complete Series

Again, apologies for another long delay – the problem with working on a company laptop is that you tend to lose a lot of things stored on the old laptop.

Summary: The Justice League intervenes when Aquaman and Doctor Fate attempt to exploit Solomon Grundy for a dangerous ritual… but their intervention may place the world in danger in a situation that quickly becomes personal for Hawkgirl.

Arc Notes: Hawkgirl’s real name is confirmed. Solomon Grundy’s first death. Beginning of the Aquaman / Doctor Fate association.

Debuting Characters: None, actually – although it is Doctor Fate and Inza’s JL debut.

Focal Characters: Hawkgirl, Solomon Grundy.

Other Team Members: Superman, Wonder Woman.

Background:

I was going to do a bit on homages showing up frequently in comics and animation, but since most of the Timm quotes regarding this episode bring that up anyway, let’s go in a slightly different direction.

Justice League, and the DCAU in general, is somewhat unique amongst science-fiction shows in that lost, or abandoned episodes, are somewhat rare. While there are notable exceptions (a Birds of Prey-esque episode and a Nocturna appearance both got nixed by Fox in their early stages), the combination of a very focused writing team and some of the inherent differences between live-action and animation in terms of production meant that very few episodes were abandoned altogether. However, this was one of the episodes that probably came closest without actually being scrubbed. Bruce Timm explains:

I had pitched a story that had an odd two-part structure. We wanted to bring Aquaman back, because we really liked the Aquaman episode from the first season, and I was toying with this idea of HP Lovecraft – a lot of his Cthulhu mythos deities are water-based. So that gave me a hook, and I thought, “It could be interesting if it was a Lovecraftian monster attacking Atlantis and the Justice League helps Aquaman defeat the monster.”

Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, p. 78

Of course, that’s a pretty small cast even for Justice League, so Timm then broadened the episode:

Then I thought, “That takes care of the aquatic side of the Lovecraftian theme, but then there’s the sorcerous side of it.” So the original story was, at the end of part one, they seemingly defeat the monster, they fly back towards Metropolis, and they get back home and realise that whatever they had done to defeat the monster has unleashed a portal and now there’s a full-scale invasion of our dimension. Part two would not have Aquaman in it, but would have Dr. Fate, just to keep our guest-stars down to a minimum per episode.

Bruce Timm,  ibid.

However, that story nearly got spiked on the spot when presented to the rest of the writing team:

The writers totally did not like the story. They thought the gimmick of it – the fact that it was two seemingly unrelated storis that are connected by a thread in the cliffhanger – they thought it was a little odd. They just could not see the story.

Bruce Timm, ibid.

However, Timm hit on something else – an homage to one of Marvel’s super-teams:

So I kind of gave up on that, but then I mentioned, “You know, we’ve got Aquaman here and Dr. Fate, we’ve basically got two-thirds of a DC Comics alternatee universe version of the Defenders.” Little light bulbs started going off over everybody’s heads. I said “All we need now is the DC equivalent of the Hulk.” Somebody mentioned Gundy and it all went off from there. It was a weird, fun thing.

Bruce Timm, ibid.

Quick aside for those of you new to comics: the Defenders were Marvel’s counter-culture superhero team, comprised of trippy sorcerer Doctor Strange, anti-government-brawler Namor, anti-… well, everything the Hulk and the Silver Surfer, who Stan Lee basically wrote as the world’s first hero for those high on illegal substances and wondering about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. The Surfer’s not immediately represented in this grouping, but even if you don’t know where this particular arc is going, if you know anything about the Surfer you should be able to figure out who’ll fill that last spot the next time this grouping is revisited. In another homage, the Defenders’ tended to deal with Lovecraftian monsters a lot, even in what’s regarded as their debut,

(oh, and the first non-big-gun member of the Defenders was a winged hero by the name of Nighthawk, who Hulk tended to call ‘Bird-Nose’ a lot. No points for figuring out who stands in for him, although if you remember the background of “A Better World”, you’ll recall that Nighthawk is more often a Batman analogue. You want more background, find some poor sucker that’s subjectign themselves to a bunch of animated Marvel material.)

See? Homages can save lives. Or, at least, doomed scripts.

Thoughts on the Episode:
Well, Bruce Timm didn’t actually USE the words “rivet gun”, but this is one of the most blatant examples of such a story type. Which, again, isn’t entirely a bad thing; in fact, the very next episode is an excellent example of that type of story structure. That’s not the case here.

The most interesting thing about this episode is that its focus is on a pair of very unusual characters – the least-visible of the Justice League until this point, Hawkgirl, and Solomon Grundy, who seemingly existed solely to give Superman someone to beat up on. While the DCAU certainly has its share of villain-centric episodes, it’sunusual for a seemingly minor character like Grundy to be thrust to the forefront in such a manner as this.

Grundy even gets a full origin flashback, which, although again feeling slightly overused (“A Better World” was one of the only episodes in this stretch to not feature such a sequence), actually at least gives a bit of context to what happens later in the story, as Grundy shows that while he still isn’t exactly smart,there is a bit more to him than the stereotypical dullard that was featured in the earlier Injustice Gang episodes. Granted, it would have been nice to get him into the proverbial purple pants for this episode, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Hawkgirl’s contribution isn’t so much a story arc inasmuch as it is filling in the last pieces of her enigmatic background. Aside from brief snippets, she was still a blank slate before this episode, but here a lot of context is provided. Thanaagar is established as a planet that’s almost wholly atheistic, and the Thanagarians as a people so stubborn that they chose to turn their backs on what they saw as God rather than continue to be subservient.

Unfortunately, Hawkgirl’s plotline does feel a bit hampered by the all-ages theme, as her anti-religion beliefs would have made for a neat ethical debate, particularly with Wonder Woman around. There’d be more opportunity for that type of thing later, but the idea of an entire planet rejecting a religious belief because they were presented with contrary facts is interesting, implausible and something I’d want to see more details on, all at once. The final dialogue with Aquaman seems to be hinting at that, but it wasn’t made clear enough during the course of the episode.

Although it’s largely made up solely for this episode, her philosophies regarding “god” do tie in with much of what Hawkgirl has done in earlier episodes. That’s not to say that she doesn’t have a character arc; Hawkgirl goes from playing “bad cop” by her own admission in the first half to showing more emotional depth than she has pretty much in the remainder of the series. This serves a valuable purpose, as this seems like the first time that she’s on the team for other reasons than merely to be the token romantic interest for John. The constant invocation of Thanagar was a nice hint towards that plotline’s conclusion.

The first half of the episode is largely the heroes bouncing around while Fate and Aquaman attempt to carry out their plan of Grundy sacrifice, but aside from the Hulk-esque bits with the general hunting Grundy and the dialogue gems, it’s a mirthless chase episode. Seeing two evenly matched teams of (largely) heroes go at it is a good fight sequence, but even with Aquaman’s portents of doom throughout, there just doesn’t seem like there’s all that much at stake. The problem is rectified in the second half, thankfully.

The animated production that most comes to mind when watching the second half of the story is, weirdly enough, G.I. Joe: The Movie. Specifically, the constant battles against increasingly weird creatures is very reminiscent of the final action sequence of that movie (just with Lovecraft taking the place of giant insects). It’s not as good with the smaller budget of this TV production, as even Aquaman’s last stand in Atlantis doesn’t quite have the scope it needs to really come off as a great battle, and Grundy’s random acts of vioence at the end suffer from the same problem until he gets into the showdown with the final Geiger-ish monster. Maybe if the original idea of Metropolis being the site of the battle made it to final cut it would have been better (Atlantis hasn’t been visible enough to really make the viewer care about its survival). Of course, if that had happened Aquaman wouldn’t have gotten a ride on Shamu….

To the episode’s credit, it does manage to build to a final sequence featuring the least-popular member of the team and a D-list villain and not have it feel like a joke, but the awkward structure and general lack of depth (the actual plot-relevant scenes of the episode might take up a single act at best if edited together) drag those minor successes downhill.

Grade: C. A good characterization exercise for Hawkgirl, but the bulk of the episode is just a mess.

Random Thoughts:

  • Aquaman’s adapted to the harpoon since we’ve seen him last, adding in the remote-controlled grapnel that he used to great effect in Morrison’s JLA run.
  • My favourite of the lines is below, but McDuffie got some really good dialogue in this one with Hawkgirl’s dry sarcasm coming to the forefront.
  • Superman’s wound in part one is almost identical to the one he suffered in “The Hand of Fate.”
  • It’s a shame that this was the most significant Wonder Woman / Aquaman interaction in the series, as the two of them pair off very well due to their similar personalities and backgrounds in the comics, even (as I mentioned in a comment a while back) being a fan favourite couple.
  • While this wasn’t a particularly good example of the Lovecraft / aquatic mashup, the idea does work. Heck, the sequel to my favourite video game of all time borrowed pretty heavily from it.
  • We’re coming up on the final appearances of the original verison of Shayera’s costume, and while it’s striking at times, the more emotional scenes at the end of this story would certainly have played out better if you could see her face.

Line of the Episode: “Do you have to say that all the time?” She’s Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl. That’s the best dialogue you’re ever likely to get out of her (Hawkgirl gets off about four good zingers in a minute in part one – in spite of the awkward story, McDuffie snuck quite a few good sarcastic lines into this one from all concerned).

Next Justice League: RIVET GUN ALERT… take two… it’s time for “Hereafter.”

Next Time: But first, Clark, not Superman, gets killed off in “The Late Mr. Kent”, which is likely one of the best STAS episodes and almost certainly the best not to feature Darkseid (… or any supervillains, for that matter).

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  1. April 20, 2010 at 5:05 am

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