Home > B-plus, Justice League > Justice League 2×17-18: “Hereafter”

Justice League 2×17-18: “Hereafter”

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Written by Dwayne McDuffie
Directed by Butch Lukic
Originally Aired: November 29, 2003
DVD: Justice League, the Complete Series

Summary: Superman is apparently killed, and while the League mourns his loss he has to team up with Vandal Savage to fight killer cockroaches.

Arc Notes: Aquaman is established as the unofficial “eighth member” of the team (explaining his presence at some sessions of the “inner council” of JLU); Vandal Savage’s final appearance; Batman is confirmed to only have part-time membership status.

Featured Characters: Superman, Vandal Savage (not as a bad guy)

Other Team Members: full roster, plus Lobo forcibly joins the Justice League for the story.

Other Villains: Metallo, Toyman, Livewire, Weather Wizard, Kalibak

Returning Characters: Cameo-fest! Here’s the list:

  • Katma Tui and Kilowog’s first appearances since “Hearts and Minds”;
  • Tomar Re and Lavox’s first appearances since “In Blackes Night”;
  • Kalibak, Lightray and Orion’s first appearance since “Twilight”;
  • Second episode in a row to have Dr. Fate, Aquaman and their spouses on-screen;
  • First appearance of Hippolyta, Copperhead and Star Sapphire since “Fury”;
  • First appearance of Luthor since his pardon at the end of “A Better World.”
  • First appearance of Deadshot since “The Enemy Below”

Debuting Characters: Another bunch:

  • First JL appearance of the members of the Revenge Squad save Kalibak, Kyle Rayner, Alfred, Bibbo, Maggie Sawyer, Perry White, Lana Lang, Volcana, and the Kents;
  • First appearance of the “real” Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen in JL (an alternate Lois appeared in “A Better World”, while Jimmy appeared in a dream sequence in “Only a Dream.”.
  • First mention of Dr. Ray Palmer, who’ll turn up in his heroic identity in JLU.

Background:

The funny part about The Death of Superman was that while the actual story itself was well-done, the combination of the news cycle and the Superman books’ then-weekly publishing schedule meant that DC was churning out a lot of material right after Superman #75 hit stands. While most false “deaths” in comics tend to last for a year’s worth of stories or so – if you’re lucky – for Superman at the time, twelve issues would get burned through in a little under three months. The writers therefore stretched the follow-up storyline, “Funeral for a Friend”, out across eight issues before beginning the next phase of the storyline, which would eventually lead to Superman’s return.

The funeral issues themselves are generally regarded as the best issues of the ongoing storyline, as they wind up telling a very effective storyline of how people deal with the death of both a public figure and someone close to them, with the added undercurrent of how Lois deals with Clark’s apparent death without being able to acknowledge that her fiancée and Superman were the same man. It’s a testament to how wrapped up I was in this storyline that, even without thinking, I was able to remember which covers I wanted to include in this piece, but also the order the books appeared in. This was some fine comic book soap opera storytelling.

(The cover of the first issue of the storyline is one of my favourites of all time. It’s a really powerful image.)

Onto some more relevant business, there’s a lot of cameos in this episode, most of which we’ve talked about before. But the driving plot of the first episode – beyond Lobo’s appearance – is the grouping of Superman Villains into what’s colloquially known as the “Superman Revenge Squad”, a name that originates in 1962. Originally a group of WWII-era alien villains who teamed up to take on Superboy, they were revamped in the post-death era into a grouping of Superman’s more prominent foes who’d gained prominence after the revamp: Morgan Edge, Maxima (who was actually a JLA member during the “Doomsday” storyline and the immediate aftermath), Barrage, Riot and Anomaly.

The animated version is a completely different cast:

  • Toyman, who does the most damage in these episodes, first appeared in 1943 as one of Superman’s “fat man in a suit” brigade of villains. DC’s tried to revamp him multiple times over the years, but Timm et al. really hit one out of the park with his creepy animated version, which plays more like a Batman villain than anything else. Confession time: I really liked the mecha-obsessed Japanese teenager Toyman. He’s apparently shown up on Smallville, but well after I stopped watching the show.
  • Metallo, who was technically the first S:TAS villain, although back then he was plain old John Corben. Aside from Luthor, he’s one of the most frequent Superman antagonists. Metallo is another recent Smallville debutee, the poor guy.
  • Livewire, S:TAS’ answer to Harley Quinn (or Lock-Up and Renee Montoya), a character who emigrated from the animated series into the comics. Sadly, her character background’s a lot more dated than others of her ilk, as the shock jock thing really makes her seem dated. However, she’s a great visual character and unique enough that she’s shown up on Smallville as well.
  • Weather Wizard, whose presence here seems largely to provide some atmosphere during the fights by ensuring it’s raining.
  • Kalibak, who we’ve also met before.

Thoughts on the Episode:

This one’s certainly a rivet gun episode, but between the sheer volume of cameos (which wouldn’t be touched again until Justice League) and a near-perfect second half, it works out better than an episode lacking a continuous narrative really should.

Beyond the weird villain grouping, the plot of the first half of the episode wasn’t as bad as I recalled from when I originally saw this episode. I recall being very disappointed that they’d burned the Superman “death” storyline on such a mundane set of villains and circumstances, seemingly simply to work in a comedic Lobo appearance at the expense of real character work and emotion. Part of that still remains; there could be more darkness and emotional punch in the first half, especially as the other heroes kind of get the short end of the stick in the mourning aspect. On the other hand, seeing the episode play out in full length really makes the first half seem more palpable, as the episode is more about Superman’s legacy, and how he’s inspiring in both powered (first half, albeit off-screen) and non-powered (second half) forms.

With that context, the first half of the story makes a lot more sense – by not really dealing with the people who know the secret, the story focuses on Superman’s influence on people who knew him solely as his superheroic “mask” and not as Clark. The exception to this is Batman, who of course has a bit more insight into Superman’s human side and therefore takes it, as Wonder Woman points out, harder than anyone else as a result (he is a bit of a jerk for not showing up at the funeral, but then again he was probably still avoiding Lois). Batman’s denial also allows for the nice bonus of Alfred getting a full scene for the first time in JL; of course, he’d play a far more significant role in the season finale.

Although the first half is quite good, the second half of the storyline is one of the finest single episodes the DCAU team’s ever put together. The first few minutes, with Superman exploring the dead earth largely in the absence of  dialogue (and accompanied by a great, epic score) is slightly reminiscent of Wall-E, although the team was probably going for more of a Kamandi feel. After the first half of the episode was weakly supportive of Superman by having his friends talk about how great he was while having powers, this half is about showing that Superman is awesome even though he doesn’t have powers. Superman’s survival instincts are never really played up in other stories, but by forcing him to improvise transportation and weaponry, he comes across as much more self-reliant. Then it gets taken to a whole other level when he fights off the cats and not only wins, but eats the leader and fashions a cape and shirt from his hide.

The introduction of Vandal Savage is done well; while a relatively silent first ten minutes is certainly a great change, Superman did need someone to talk to and a reformed Savage makes for a great choice. He was always presented as a civilized caveman, but this appearance emphasizes the civility, finally allowing him the chance to embrace the last component of the Bond Villain Playbook by sitting down to a quiet dinner with an enemy while showing off his headquarters. Even thought Superman and Savage don’t share much of a history, the pairing works, with Savage’s gleefully over-the-top role playing off Superman well. It’s a shame that after such a tremendous episode Savage was never used again, but then it’s not really possible to top the sending off he received here.

Although the in-story ending is quite good, the actual ending shown on screen is poignant and touching: Savage makes his peace with his actions, and he sees how humanity – the race that he was the last surviving member of for centuries if not millenia – will, in spite of his own misguided efforts, endure. It’s a great coda, once again largely told without dialogue. Not that McDuffie doesn’t get credit for writing the scene, but the restraint used in this episode is admirable.

This is another episode that probably deserved to be longer; the fight that ends with Superman’s apparent “death” didn’t really get built up at all, and the false death probably should have been an episode break in and of itself. Additionally, the funeral certainly could have stood to have some more substance to it. Of course, the old mantra of better to have too much plot than too little certainly holds true here.

Grade: B+. Struggles a bit too much in the first half before the great second part.

Random Thoughts:

  • The time machine was of course first seen in “The Savage Time”, Part 1. It apparently has the same “can’t cross your own subjective timeline” restriction as, say, the TARDIS.
  • Superman’s comlink is #02, presumably because Batman, as the designer of the Watchtower, is #01 in spite of his part-time status. Write your own Prisoner gag with that information.
  • The JLA sport black armbands reminiscent of those that came with Superman #75, and which every hero sported during the Funeral storyline.
  • Kyle still has his Hal Jordan-esque brown hair in this episode; the next time he’s seen in JLU, he has his comic-accurate black hair.
  • No explanation is given as to why Kalibak’s just hanging out on Earth all of a sudden, since the last time he was seen was when he was fighting off Brainiac in “Twilight.” Then again, Darkseid is apparently dead at this point in time, so it’s not as though he’s got much direction in his life.
  • Weather Wizard is also a curious choice, as he’s a Flash villain. He’d be in his proper place in the Flash-focused “Flash and Substance” in JLU, hanging out with the rest of the Rogues.
  • Wonder Woman confirms Batman’s “part-time” status with the League, which clears up the continuity thread left hanging by the end of “The Call.” That episode noted that Bruce had never really been a League member, although it’s hard to get confused when Batman’s later shown to be grabbing meals in the Watchtower cafeteria and has his own quarters on Watchtower 2.
  • I love how Aquaman and Mera are talking with Fate and Inza. It looks like they’re planning on grabbing something to eat after the funeral since Mera presumably found a babysitter for the evening and wants to have some fun on her first free night in forever.
  • Savage’s line about buying the DVD of Superman’s funeral was probably a dig at DC’s merchandising frenzy in the aftermath of the original death storyline.
  • Interesting how GL, and not Wonder Woman or J’onn, was the hardest for Savage to kill. Then again, GL probably was the member most directly adversarial to Savage in prior appearances.
  • The first couple notes of the B:TAS theme were normally used sparingly, but here they’re tossed out for Batman smacking down Copperhead. You know, the guy Hawkgirl got to verbally tap out in his last appearance by flying really high.
  • Hawkgirl’s “home base” of the Grand Canyon is reminiscent of the first appearance of the most recent comic version, Kendra Saunders, in the first issue of JSA v1.
  • What an awesome line read from Dana Delaney on Lois’ venting at Luthor.
  • It seems for all the world that there’s a foley effect missing as Lobo rips apart the Watchtower.
  • Flash riding Lobo’s bike cracks me up every time.
  • Superman’s line about a bail jumper makes me think a Lobo series, as kind of a sci-fi Dog the Bounty Hunter, would work.

Line of the Episode: “True, but that doesn’t mean I’m not good company. Say… do you want to come over to my house?”

Runner-up: “For what it’s worth, I don’t think you could’ve taken Batman, either.” Superman knows that (say it with me) Batman always wins.

Flash Line of the Episode: “There are so many reasons why that shouldn’t have worked.” How that didn’t turn into a line about Flash staring at Diana’s butt I’ll never know, because the animators sure drew it that way.

Next Justice League: Into every blog a little crap must fall. I guess I have to recap the worst episode of the second season by a galactic  mile, “The Secret Society,” which is appalling in its anti-continuity.

Next Time: Toyman makes a guest appearance on Static Shock in “Toys in the Hood.” (Assuming it’s still up on Youtube, of course.)

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Categories: B-plus, Justice League
  1. kaisel
    May 5, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    Hereafter is one of my favorite episodes, especially for being a good Superman focused one. I like Superman as a character a lot more than others, but I always felt Justice League kinda misused him a bit, especially once Unlimited rolled around. Though, I wish the funeral portion had been expanded, and while Lobo is entertaining, I think it might have been better for the episode to have been more somber, and maybe excising Lobo.

    • May 5, 2010 at 3:10 pm

      I didn’t delve too much into this because I couldn’t find a direct quote, but the episode was originally going to feature Captain Marvel stepping in for Superman, but the ongoing rights issues with him hadn’t been quite cleared up at that point (he wouldn’t debut until JLU S2). The team chose Lobo instead, and the first half lightened quite a bit as a result.

      The big issue with Superman in Justice League is that he’s afflicted with Worf Syndrome, but they sort of got away from that in S2.

  2. Scott
    May 5, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Man, I’m curious to hear what you have to say about Secret Society, because I always really liked that one… it’s the best of the supervillain team up episodes as the team actually seems to have a real purpose for existing, and comes off as a credible threat. The Legion of Doom in JLU season 3 really came off as a bunch of bumbling idiots.

  3. Nicholai
    May 9, 2010 at 12:51 am

    I know we disagree on the direction of the modern DCU, but I totally agree with you about the Death/Funeral for a Friend/Return of Superman era of DC. While the hype has soured some people on it, I’ve always found it it be great and well told story. I really enjoy the world building and character work from Man of Steel through the Death/Return of Supes.

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