Justice League Unlimited – Season Comparisons

Justice_League_UnlimitedJustice League Unlimited has been one of my favorite cartoon series from recent years. Justice League was definitely a great series but I always had a slight problem with its constant two-parter structure, a problem JLU fixed without giving up the high quality of writing that had become emblematic to the previous Justice League series.

I finally had a chance to watch the last 13 episodes and now I thought I’d talk about the two seasons of this series and share my thoughts on them. But here there is some need for clarification. When I talk about the two seasons of JLU I’m using the official definition made by the series’ creators, meaning that season one is comprised of the 26 first episodes and the second season from the 13 last (this is also how they are divided into their individual DVD releases). In many places the first season actually tends to get split into two seasons with some people saying that the first 13 episodes (up to The Once and Future Thing part 2) constitute a first season and episodes 14 to 26 constitute season 2 for this series.

Mainly because there clearly is a story-arc connection in all (or at least most) of the 26 first episodes I’m sticking with the creators’ definition of what Season 1 is…

Season 1 – Cadmus

The first season of JLU was impressive to watch. The main attraction for me was the fact that it for the first time showed the entire DC Universe of characters and allowed me to get to know some of the comic characters I’d never seen before. What ultimately gave the first season its strength was the Cadmus story-arc which technically started with episode 9 (Ultimatum) but which technically can be traced back to episode 3 (Hawk and Dove, and possibly even further back).

The Cadmus arc culminates in a four episode finale which is one of the best finishers to a season or even a series as a whole that I’ve seen (this includes the episodes Question Authority, Flashpoint, Panic in the Sky and Divided We Fall). The final episode of the season (Epilogue) is the cherry on top though I will have to warn you that unless you are familiar with Batman Beyond (a.k.a. Batman of the Future) some of the significance of the storyline may be lost.

Another great thing was that while there was a powerful all penetrating story-arc to the series that it still had time for nice comedic one-ofs (my personal favorites being This Little Piggy and Kids’ Stuff) and episodes focusing on single never before seen heroes like The Green Arrow (Initiation), Hawk and Dove, The Question (Fearful Symmetry, Double Date), Booster Gold (Greatest Story Never Told), The Black Canary (The Cat and the Canary) and even the likeable villain team-up in Task Force X.

In all this season had very few weak points, For the Man who Has Everything did feel a little pointless and I hated the fact that they had to bring Solomon Grundy back from the dead again in Wake the Dead, but I’m willing to forgive this since the episode is essentially a homage to ‘Old Yeller’ and also serves as Hawk-Girl’s reintroduction.

In all this was a great season of a great series and it honestly couldn’t get much better for a super-hero cartoon.

Season 2 – Secret Society

The second season by comparison didn’t really hold up to the same level of standards as the first. This season was way too blatantly a battle of good guys vs. bad guys and immediately lost the attraction of the ambiguity of the Cadmus-arc. Also there were a lot less nice pay-offs for characters introduced in the second season and practically none of the newly introduced heroes in this season made return appearances.

Probably the most interesting story-development was the introduction of Hawk Man in Shadow of the Hawk and Ancient History but even this felt like a bit of a rush job narrative wise (though I enjoyed James Remar in the role). Some episodes seemed to exist only to show off certain characters like I am Legion, Chaos at the Earth’s Core and Dead Reckoning. Flash and Substance also falls into this episode category but it was actually fun to watch since it show-cased all of the Flash’s Villains Galore (in fact the group which originated the term).

Other than that my personal favorite episodes from this season included The Patriot Act where General Eiling gets super-powers and takes on an array of so-called B-grade heroes, The Great Brain Robbery where Lex Luthor and The Flash switch bodies, Grudge Match with a lot of cat-fights taking place, Far From Home the only real Super Girl episode in this season and Alive! in which the villains beat the crap out of each other.

Really season 2 was made more for entertainment value with most of the episodes being short on anything really significantly cerebral. This is a bit of a disappointment and actually left much more room to find things to poke fun at. Here’s a list of things…

  1. Grodd’s girlfriend switching – first he was with Giganta and then with Tala. For someone who hates homo sapiens so much he sure likes to get intimate with their females. O_O
  2. Tala’s a total whore – Now there is a point in The Great Brain Robbery where you feel that Tala is a villain who just wants to be loved. But later when she gets pissed at Luthor, rather than trying to start a revolt on her own, she goes back to Grodd. Tala really makes herself out to look like a super-villain prostitute who’ll basically sleep with anyone (or anything) in charge. Even a gorilla; to quote Black Canary from season one: “I’m sorry but… ew!”
  3. Luthor is totally gay for Brainiac – If you’ve seen season 1 then you’ll know why this is but basically it does really look like that if you watch most of the later episodes in season 2.
  4. J’onn J’onz becomes a middle-aged Chinese man – From the final episode, The Martian Manhunter has become a lot more human than we realise…
  5. Devil Ray gets killed – In rare instance of a super-villain actually dying in the DC animated universe we have Devil Ray biting the dust without even once seeing him and Aquaman duke it out. This was a bit disappointing for me. But what was even more disappointing his that he got killed with a gun… by Batman (who was possessed by Dead Man at the time).
  6. Atomic Skull is a total chump – Atomic Skull only had non-verbal appearances in the first season but I certainly didn’t expect his speaking voice to sound anything like it did in this series. The Skull could actually be one of the good guys for all I know and he seems generally the least threatening of all the villains (kind of hard to imagine since his head is essentially a flaming skull). =P
  7. Luthor rings Dr. Fate’s helmet like fricking church bell – We’ve all thought about it, if you smacked Dr. Fate’s helmet what kind of sound would it make. When Luthor and The Flash switched bodies in The Great Brain Robbery this question finally gets answered.
  8. Green Lantern gets creamed by (yellow) cheese – In the same episode The Luthor Flash manages to penetrate Green Lantern’s force-field with a bowl of cheese. Get it? Cheese is yellow, GL has no control over yellow things…

I think that about does it for now. The second season isn’t bad but it’s nowhere near as good as the first season.