“Kids’ Stuff”, “This Little Piggy”
Once again, we revert to the original cast members (this time in the form of Green Lantern, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman), and once again, an excellent episode comes out of it. I don’t know if its just because the writers are so comfortable writing this core cast, or because they save the best ideas for the big guns, but where “Hawk and Dove” and “Initiation” were both bland, simplistic episodes that hardly enamored me to the series, “For the Man Who Has Everything” and “Kids’ Stuff” are, thrilling, engaging, and downright fun.
Morgan LeFey, sorceress and nemesis of King Arthur, has found the Amulet of First Magic, but her young son, Mordred, gets there first. This works out about as well as any villainous partnership in which one member achieves omnipotence and the other does not, and Morgan soon finds herself banished to another dimension… along with every other teenager and adult on the planet. To combat this threat, the members of the Justice League who were together – Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern – are turned into children by Morgan Le Fey, and returned to Earth to destroy the Amulet of First Magic and break the curse.
The episode, with its unique pairings and, uh, new look at these characters, brings out some new things in our cast. John Stewart, ex-Marine and frequent show stoic, quickly becomes the comic relief, the funniest character in a VERY funny episode, and without even remotely changing his tone. Similarly, this is the first episode in this series to really begin to explore the Batman/Wonder Woman romance that the show so frequently suggested, but once again, the scene where they do so is so charming and natural that the suggestion feels surprisingly okay.
The episode also has some surprisingly good action – in fact, hardly a few minutes ever goes by without a fight breaking out. Watching the l’il Leaguers fight dragons, knights, and demons is enjoyable, particularly when the show goes out of its way to make the fights so unaccountably epic. Wonder Woman shattering a clawed demon that captured Batman with a single punch was awesome; Wonder Woman punching the head off a dragon? Downright legendary.
Of course, any fight scene in which one character is functionally omnipotent is bound to be disappointing (unless it’s in Lucifer, in which case, it’s amazing, and you should go read it right now), but the episode covers by having him be a child, double-covers by having the League act more rash and impetuous as children, and then renders complaints irrelevant by adopting an anything-goes attitude that culminates in Green Lantern piloting a giant mech into battle against a 30 foot tall child dressed like a medieval knight.
Scenes like that, well set-up within the episode and conceptually cool on its own, are part of why the show is as good as it is. The show has its characters nailed, and as we’re seeing more and more, it’s also pretty damn good at fitting a coherent, engaging plot into 22 minutes, setting up jokes and dramatic story beats well in advance of executing them. This was hardly a ground-breaking episode of TV, but the JLU staff pulled it off with a style often lacking in American cartoons.
Quotes & Notes
“Guess that’s a wrap. I’ve been hanging out with Flash too much.” – John Stewart, you jokester.
“And after I spent millennia feeding him, bathing him…” – Morgan LeFey. Green Lantern’s eyebrow raise at that is subtle, but funny.
A nice call out to Kyle Rayner’s costume with Stewart’s glasses.
“It’s not a race!” – Batman spends this whole episode shockingly petulant, and it pays off frequently.
“I’ll make a laser cannon! No, a missile launcher! Oh! Oh! I know!” – l’il GL needs some meds.
“Let go, I’m fine!” – Batman, again in petulant mode after Wonder Woman rescues him. Watching him stalk off is hilarious in its own right.
You should probably never give children a working guillotine to play with.
“I’m the kid with laser beams coming out of his eyes.” – Superman speaks truth.
Wonder Woman: shockingly authoritative. Also, a tattle-tale.
“Your girlfriend sure is bossy.”
“… shut up!” – John Stewart and Batman
I was going to quote the scene where the team tries to split up into pairs and Diana blatantly flirts with Bruce… but every exchange in it, start to finish, is pure gold.
“Man, I hate magic!” – John Stewart, speaking for every character in the DCU.
Baby Etrigan eating the amulet was an adorable cherry on a pie made entirely out of adorableness.
“I haven’t been a kid since I was 8 years old.” – Batman, ending the episode on a properly angsty night.
“This Little Piggy”
This episode takes another bizarre, high-concept premise – in a battle with Circe, Wonder Woman gets turned into a pig, and Batman calls on Zatanna to try and save her – and makes it fly. While two of the three main characters are regulars (Batman and Wonder Woman), one of those regulars spends much of the episode as a pig, and most of the characters who end up getting involved are so D-list I’m surprised Kathy Griffin doesn’t do a show about them.
What’s more, it uses those D-listers well. Red Tornado, Elongated Man, the Crimson Avenger – all have brief, 5-10 second scenes that are legitimately funny and then will never get referenced again. The juxtaposition of epic introduction and powers with mundane applications is something the show doesn’t often mine for comedy, but it works well here. But then, this is an episode that’s big on the juxtapositions.
Take a later scene, in which Batman and Zatanna summon an incarnation of Justice to call in Medusa so Batman can pump her like a snitch. The scene works brilliantly, a similar juxtaposition to the one above – this time, though, of Batman’s mundane skills in the face of a mythic setting. Though the scene isn’t played for comedy, it works well, and it creates a well of plots that the show sadly never revisits.
Or take the scene near the end, where Circe launches into her villainous monologue, only to be undercut by flying chairs, tables, table cloths, and then, in an excellent capper, a grand piano. The framing stays entirely on Circe as she gets more confused and flustered, never letting us see what bizarre object will halt her rant next, an excellent, brief piece of comedy. Or take Circe’s demand on Batman – that he sing in public, yet another thing at which he proves to excel.
It’s an episode about the clash between expectations and reality, the gap between what you see and what you expect to see. Whether it’s Zatanna’s normal stage magic transitioning to a terrifying display of power at her show’s conclusion, the differences between Bruce and Diana, Wonder Woman’s grace and beauty in the form of a pig, or Medusa snitching on her old cell mate to earn time off her sentence for good behavior, almost every single scene of the episode features a betrayal of expectations. “This Little Piggy” is one of the most thematically coherent of the current series, but just because the level of storytelling bumped up a notch doesn’t mean it isn’t fun – “This Little Piggy” also happens to excel at using those moments for a few scenes of surprising comedy, making it one of the best episodes we’ve seen so far. While the series might have started off slow, I think it’s safe to say that the staff seems to have figured out how to use their cast, regulars and newbies, to great effect.
Quotes & Notes
Wow, they’re REALLY playing up the Batman/Wonder Woman romance early in the series. I had forgotten it existed entirely, and I have to say, this episode does NOT make the prospect as enjoyable as the last one did. Though….
“You’re a Princess from a society of mortal warriors, and I’m a rich boy with issues. Lots of issues.” – Batman. Will these crazy kids ever work out their differences?
“Yeah, I’ve read the Odyssey.” Batman, promoting some good literature.
“This invocation works better frontwards than backwards.”
“… whatever.” – Zatanna and Batman.
“WHOA – she’s go the fire of the cheetah in her.” – B’wana Beast, who is awesome.
“That’s where they hang you by your ankles and weasels come each night to eat your fingers. They grow back the next day, but trust me… it gets old real quick.” – Medusa, who apparently dislikes Hell.
“Is there anything you can’t do?”
“There’s one thing I’ve never been very good at. Saying thank you.” – Batman, who proves with that statement that there is actually absolutely nothing he can’t do.
– Cal Cleary
Justice League Unlimited S1 E3-4
Justice League Unlimited S1 E1-2
Coming Up June 28th: Justice League Unlimited, Season 1, Episodes 7-8 (“The Return”, “The Greatest Story Never Told”)