Justice League 2×19-20: “The Secret Society”
Written by Stan Berkowitz
Directed by Dan Riba
Originally Aired: November 22, 2003
DVD: Justice League, Season Two
Summary: Gorilla Grodd assembles a team of his own to battle the Justice League, who seem to be falling apart at the seams.
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Arc Notes: In spite of all appearances and a rather ambiguous ending, this episode has very little impact going forward, which is one of its biggest problems.
Debuting Characters: First appearances of Killer Frost and Giganta
Returning Characters: Grodd’s first appearance since “The Brave and the Bold.” Shade’s first appearance since “Fury.” Parasite, Sinestro and Clayface make their first Justice League appearances (although, as noted earlier, where Sinestro’s Static Shock appearance fits into the DCAU timeline is up for debate).
Team Members: Full Team
Focal Characters: GL, but not really.
The focus of this episode is on the eponymous Secret Society, a name with a reasonable amount of history at DC.
The name is based on the Secret Society of Super-Villains, a group which was formed in the 1970s as a new villain team. The series has a heavy Kirby influence, with the original team being organized by Darkseid. Beyond characters like Grodd and Sinestro, who also appear in the animated version, the team was filled out with Star Sapphire, a pair of Flash villains, and, oddly, a pair of heroes: the returning Captain Comet, with a clone of Paul Kirk (remember him from waaay back when we talked about them in “In Darkest Night”?) What’s interesting about this version is that they were actually the star of their own title in the early 1970s, turning into an early anti-hero team simply out of necessity. It’s an interesting series from what I’ve read of it – four comics plucked out of a quarter bin a decade ago.
The next gathering was chaired by another gorilla – but this time, it was the Ultra-Humanite making his debut in the albino gorilla form that we’ve encountered a few times already in Justice League. This story was annual JLA / JSA team-up in the pages of Justice League America. As usual, the main attraction is the George Perez artwork, but they’re decent enough stories, if a bit repetitive in parts. A couple of panels in this were blatantly swiped by Perez for JLA / Avengers, which is pretty cute when you think about it.
After that, the Secret Society kind of faded into the background, usurped by the returning Injustice Society for the rest of the 80s. DC recently brought the name back in the excellent mini-series Villains United, one of the many excellent build-up series to Infinite Crisis (that were seemingly tossed aside when the actual event hit). Villains United had another benefit, as it spawned the excellent Secret Six ongoing by Gail Simone.
Stan Berkowitz talked about the process of bringing the second dc supervillain team to the screen in an interview with the world’s finest
Bruce and Rich wanted to do a Secret Society story, and then everyone sat down and talked for a long time about which villains to include. A lot of our decision-making had to with choosing villains whose powers were comparable to those of the different members of the League. Like all our stuff, it was very much a group effort.
– Stan Berkowitz, June 20, 2006
Thoughts on the Episode:
I was talking the other day (Ed. Note: … back in May…) about how different people place different priorities on critiquing animated productions. Some people put most of their emphasis on the animation quality, some people put it on story, and some – like me – try to find a balance. But once in a while, other factors come into consideration.
The flaws of this episode are numerous, but the biggest issue is that it overpromises and underdelivers. Justice League may have been almost entirely episodic in its approach (one of the easiest ways to distinguish between the original series and Unlimited, in fact), but if an episode is going to tease major developments in its ongoing storyline as its main hook, that storyline needs to be followed up on or the underlying episode will lose whatever weight it had in the first place. Here, a very weak episode to begin with is seemingly saved by an ending that makes the viewer think that they’ve just seen one of the more important episodes in the series’ run. Instead, the episode is left isolated, and, looking back, the whole thing just seems like a waste of time.
Essentially, this episode is set up in such a way to make the viewer believe that it’s the genesis of long-term problems within the League. Green Lantern takes the lead in complaining that they’re not ordering efficiently as a unit, leading to some training sessions. However, when push comes to shove against the Society, the team doesn’t function well. It’s no surprise that they ultimately do pull things together at the end, but when asked about the heated feelings, rather than chalk things up to Grodd, the script makes it apparent that the feelings were there all along, even though there’d been no prior hints. And that just doesn’t make any sense given what’s already been seen.
Which is fine since a bit of tension running through a team isn’t a bad thing. But after the entire episode is devoted to revealing and building tensions between the league members, the events of the episode are never mentioned again. Sure, there’s more tension between Hawkgirl and Green Lantern going forwards, but that’s sexual tension, not the type of “professional” problems that are dealt with in this episode. Wonder Woman never talks about men all being run with their egos, Green Lantern never complains about not being team leader, and Superman never gripes about being concerned about looking out for his more vulnerable teammates. Having these issues materialise out of thin air is like something out of a bad fanfic, and not something I’d expect out of a writer like Berkowitz. But he at least ends the episode on an ominous not e that makes the viewer feel as though their reward for sitting through this is that there’ll be more on the ‘divided team’ plotline in the future. Of course, the advantage of writing a site like this is that I can evaluate this episode somewhat retrospectively and say that it wasn’t.
The other major problem is on the villain side of things, specifically that everything’s rather shallow. A hallmark of Justice League and the DCAU in general is the work on making the villains into appealing characters with interesting, if not realistic, goals. Here, Grodd’s endgame doesn’t stretch beyond destroying the Justice League (granted, given the rest of his plans, I suppose that kind of fits his character). But the story avoids even the simple motivation of Grodd wanting to get back at Flash for defeating him the first time around. All he cares about is the generic aim of destroying the League. It’s a marked contrast with Injustice for All, where Luthor had the same goal, but also cared about curing his condition. Without that added layer, the Secret Society winds up being one-note as villains, and, even worse, when the League ultimately gets a second chance at them, they’re dispatched of in a humourous manner, rather than in a serious conflict.
This story has some of the poorest animation in the series; There’s a great screencap floating around of Batman with shading under his nose that makes him look like Hitler, for instance (it’s from the scene where he confronts the Society by himself in Part 1).
Secret Society is laudable in a few areas. Seeing villains like Clayface, Sinestro, and Parasite again is nice, and Killer Frost and Giganta are better female villains than the new ones introduced earlier in “Fury.” And there’s some legitimately funny moments in it, like Giganta’s team-building exercises and her failure during the initial heist. But in the end, the episode is a waste of time.
Grade: D+. If there had been a better plot, if the characterization had gone anywhere, if the villains hadn’t been made to be made such a joke in the final act… then maybe it would be decent. But, hey, if you want to see the heroes beating the bad guys in front of a crowd of strangely captivated football fans, then this is the episode for you!
- The second half has a couple of neat moments to it. This is one of the better uses of the J’onn Gambit, as it makes sense but isn’t predictable. The idea of J’onn squaring off against Clayface is, as far as I know, unique; it’s a shame, as they’re a good match as antagonists.
- Flash’s attempt at playing Batman is the highlight of the episode without question, although it’s bittersweet in that he was always the least-utilised member of the League and this just hints at the potential that was in him as a solo character.
- Time has sadly taken away the impact of the Britney clone being blown off the stage by Grodd’s airship. But it’s still good for a chuckle. Sadly, they didn’t borrow the name of any of the various versions that were floating around DC during Britney’s height; I imagine this one produced a lot of pre-packaged pop that kids liked in those days.
- … is it just me, or did Shade sneak a peek at a giant-sized female private area?
Line of the Episode: “You overplayed your part… yo.” New Rule: anytime Batman say s “yo”, it gets line of the episode.
Line of the Episode #2 (in spite of the horrid infighting dialogue, there’s a couple of good ones): “look buddy. I know Batman. I once ratted out a counterfeiter to Batman. And believe me, you are no Batmaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan….”
Next Justice League: The last DCAU of Mr. J and Harley *sniff.* Plus the scene that launched a thousand fanfics. And about six different inside jokes. Lots of fodder in the DCAU’s tribute to Jack Bauer, “Wild Cards.”
Next Time: I need to do something lighter. And what’s lighter than the story of a psychologist who gets obsessed with a sociopath, starts dressing in a fetish outfit and begins killing people, right? An animated remake of the Eisner Award-winning “Mad Love.”