“The Doomsday Sanction”
Oh, Doomsday. You’re in one mediocre Superman story-line and all the sudden you’re in every Superman story anywhere, ever. “The Doomsday Sanction” brings back one of Superman’s blandest baddies in service to a fairly mediocre beat ’em up, one that commits the primary sin of JLU’s action-oriented episodes: it had too little action and way, way too much talking. When the characters talking are slightly more off the wall, like the Flash, the Question or Huntress, the dialogue-heavy episodes can work wonders. Unfortunately, this episode features everyone at their worst, as Batman, Amanda Waller, General Eiling and rejected scientist/throwaway character Milo and the entire JLA combine to lay exposition on us.
There’s some interesting bits in the middle as Waller and Batman sum up the season-wide plot thus far and explain how each sees the other as the bad guy. The show very rarely had villainy portrayed so well as it was here, where both sides have a very legitimate, very urgent concern. If the League ever did get corrupted, or tricked, or mind-controlled, the government does legitimately need a way to combat them. Unfortunately, the point is quickly dismissed: Waller’s team is staffed by super-villains, mad men and torturers, and their solution for preventing Doomsday from getting loose and destroying San Baquero is… to nuke San Baquero.
The episode has some stronger moments, to be fair. Setting the bulk of the fight in the middle of a volcano allowed for some cool visuals in an otherwise so-so fight sequence, while Batman taking down the nuke wasn’t well set-up, but it was very well-executed, a surprisingly tense chase with some fun scenes and a cool pay-off. Despite that, however, there was little to recommend this episode. It recapped where we are in the season and it set up where we’re going next, but it never figured out how to move us from point A to point B in a coherent, satisfying manner.
Quotes & Notes
“Geologists predict a devastating explosion sometime within the week.” – Newscaster. I wonder if this will ever come ba OH HELLO EPISODE CONCLUSION. Very subtle, JLU.
Batman confronts Amanda Waller in the shower, boldly going where no man dared go before.
“I’ve got the Question looking into it and –”
“Awwww. Not that guy.” – Batman, the rest of the JLA. Don’t hate the Question, JLA. Hate the answer.
“Superman. I’m here to kill you. Is this a bad time?” – Doomsday. Everything from the bad, manipulated voice to the groan-worthy quips makes Doomsday a trite, forgettable character.
“It’s what I am. I don’t care why.” – Doomsday, explaining why he’s killing Superman. Yes, this is a character with staying power…
“Task Force X”
As anyone who’s read a JLA comic in the last forever knows, the Martian Manhunter is a huge bad-ass. As anyone who hasn’t read a JLA comic knows… wait, who? The Martian Manhunter was never the JLA’s breakout character, but for fans of the Justice League, the Manhunter from Mars has been (and still is) an absolutely vital character to the team’s dynamic. Justice League Unlimited understood that, and kept him at the forefront of the team throughout the series’ run, but it also understood something else about the character, something many comic writers didn’t: his massive power was offset not by a fear of fire, but by the fact that he’s always just a little bit detached, that he prefers to work behind the scenes than to step out in a flashy battle. It’s his detachment that makes him an alien, terrifying figure to many of the staff of the Watchtower, enough so to let the Task Force bypass security just by invoking his name.
“Task Force X” is by no means a great episode of JLU – it has little depth, and, indeed, seems to exist solely to set-up the next episode. It’s interesting to see what is ostensibly a children’s show focus so heavily on the serialized aspects of JLU’s ongoing story arc, looking at events many older cartoons would gloss over and finding a new way to look at them. The episode follows Task Force X, a government-recruited group of super-criminals under the thumb of the ruthless Amanda Waller and tasked with missions too dangerous – and too dark – to involve actual agents of the United States Government. Sound familiar? It should – Task Force X is the Suicide Squad, name changed for obvious reasons.
As far as action episodes go, “Task Force X” is a step up from the super-powered antics of “The Doomsday Sanction”. What’s more, Waller and her authority as a government agent are more cleverly used. Realistically, while the two episodes hit very similar beats, “Task Force X” succeeds where “The Doomsday Sanction” failed: it’s a relatively exciting episode. Setting a group of minimally powered villains loose in the Watchtower isn’t the most thrilling plot concept; making them hyper-competent and telling the story from their point of view, though, makes it work much, much better.
“Task Force X” is set up like a heist movie. First, the team is assembled, their specialties explained and the plan hatched. Then the event, where everything goes well until the third act, when something little goes wrong and spins into something bigger. I had forgotten how little action the first 2/3rds of the episode actually had until I rewatched it – it’s a testament to how well they manage to appropriate the themes of the heist film that I generally recalled the episode being exciting and action packed.
Ultimately, both “The Doomsday Sanction” and “Task Force X” are table-setting episodes. They have the requisite action beats and fill us in on the plot while nudging us closer and closer to the arc’s climax, and while they fulfill that purpose, only one does it blandly. “Task Force X” isn’t the best Justice League Unlimited could do, but it’s far from the worst.
Quotes & Notes
Lacing someone’s last meal before they’re executed with explosive nanites? Dick move, Colonel Flagg. Not cool.
Plastique, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, and the Clock King – the crack team that infiltrates the Watchtower and defeats the Justice League.
“Why was he wearing Booster Gold’s pants?”
“So Jimmy says, ‘Because he left his long underwear at the cleaners!'” – Watchtower techies, telling the end of either the least-funny joke of all time, or a shockingly dirty one we just don’t understand.
“75 cents is 75 cents. I’m supposed to throw away good money?” Captain Boomerang, jeopardizing the mission for literally the greatest reason imaginable.
I like Green Lantern using his power ring… to hold open an elevator door so he doesn’t have to wait an extra 20 seconds.
“For six weeks, my wife has been after me for Hawk Girl’s autograph – you wouldn’t happen to know where she is today, would you?” – Deadshot to an increasingly pissed-off Green Lantern. Nice to see they kept his taunting sense of humor and vague death wish intact.
“Ask yourselves: Is being in here with me what you truly desire?” – Martian Manhunter. I don’t talk about the voice acting in this show much, and while the main cast is generally very strong, this line in particular gets Martian Manhunter’s voice-actor, Carl Lumbly, some recognition.
– Cal Cleary
Justice League Unlimited, S1 E14-15
Justice League Unlimited, S1 E12-13
Coming Up February 14th: Justice League Unlimited, Season 1, Episodes 18-19 (“The Balance”, “Double Date”)