“Clash”, “Hunter’s Moon (a.k.a. ‘Mystery in Space’)”
When is giving someone a second chance an act of foolishness, rather than an act of nobility? We know that Lex Luthor hasn’t changed, because we can see things as viewers the League cannot. Superman believes Lex Luthor hasn’t changed, because he’s been fighting Luthor for years and does not think he’s capable of it. Is Captain Marvel being hopelessly naive for supporting Lex’s supposed reformation? Or is he being a hero in ways Superman just isn’t capable of being when it comes to Luthor?
These are some heady questions for a cartoon, particularly in an episode that exists primarily to throw together a fight scene I’m sure they wanted to do for a long time: Superman vs. Captain Marvel. And to their credit, even though they do take the easy way out – with Batman revealing that it was a set-up by Luthor and Amanda Waller – they don’t entirely dismiss Captain Marvel’s viewpoint, either. After all, if Superman had just listened to Captain Marvel and allowed the League to analyze the device – or trusted Luthor – then the entire scandal would have been avoided, Luthor’s plan a multi-billion dollar charity effort that served no other benefit. Yes, Superman’s suspicions were correct… but he lost the fight because he wasn’t willing to wait to prove them.
I don’t really know why I’m talking about all that, though, because chances are you liked the episode for the same reason I did: because Superman and Captain Marvel beat the tar out of one another and demolish a huge chunk of a city in the process. And the fight, which lasts more than three full minutes and sees the pair demolish, among other things, a hospital, a bank and a school bus, is brutal but fun, in a way you really only get watching two invulnerable powerhouses go at each other.
The plot is slim – and, unfortunately, heavily dependent on a whole lot of Plot Induced Stupidity – but solid: Lex Luthor has built a massive city for the underprivileged which includes lower rent and free energy, but may have hidden a sinister secret beneath its streets. Superman, convinced its a bomb, goes into overdrive trying to stop Luthor’s plot, while Captain Marvel, wanting to give Lex the benefit of the doubt, tries to stop him from tearing up the playground the device is buried beneath.
I think it was a smart choice to hang the main conflict of the episode on the diverging styles of the aging, less-trusting Superman and the young, vital, and possibly naive Captain Marvel, rather than turning the episode into an otherwise rote Superman v. Lex showdown. It gives the main conflict a little more meat than another clash between Superman and his nemesis might, and it sets up some interesting ideas – as well as the series finale. Also, the fight is really, really cool.
Every now and again, Justice League Unlimited will come up with an episode whose primary point is, essentially, to throw together the coolest possible fight scene they can. Whether it’s season 2’s insane melee “Grudge Match” or this season’s elaborate sci-fi brawl “Dark Heart”, they generally did a very good job. “Clash” isn’t the strongest of these episodes, but it has a couple pretty solid action scenes before the big brawl between Superman and Captain Marvel – a lengthy scene that includes millions of dollars of property damage, and had to be hellishly fun to create – as well as a solid core concept, well-executed. A little better set-up for the brawl, and it could have been a classic.
Quotes & Notes
I’ve recently been watching Superman: The Animated Series for the first time, and it’s astonishing to me to see how much the animation has progressed in the DCAU. The Parasite, a shiny plastic brawler in S:tAS, has become a more malleable fighter, making his scenes far more thrilling. But even better are Superman’s own fights – contrast this three minute fight with any of his brawls against Mala and Jax-Ur in “Blast from the Past” and you’ll see that the animators have really grasped how to portray super-strong fighters moving extremely fast.
“We like him. He’s… sunny.” – Batman, explaining the fundamental appeal to Captain Marvel in a way that DC just doesn’t really seem to understand anymore.
“Back home, I’ve come across my fair share of some pretty nasty bad guys, but I never had to act the way they did to win a fight.” – Captain Marvel. Why aren’t the JLU writers in charge of the Marvel family in the comics?
There are two fantastic reaction shots in this episode. The first comes when Superman chastises Captain Marvel for accidentally endorsing Lex: when he says, “We don’t play favorites, we don’t sell deodorant on television, and we don’t get involved in politics,” the Flash’s embarrassed look at the deodorant line. The second is a strong character moment. After destroying the whole city, Superman says, “Of course the Justice League will pay for the damage.” But before he finished the sentence, he glances back at Batman. It’s only after Bruce’s nod that Superman commits to it.
They REALLY downplayed ‘The Wisdom of Solomon’. I understand why they gave him a more childlike demeanor, but they did kind of make him into ‘Kid Superman’ or something.
I love the perpetual smile on Captain Marvel’s face. He’s so pumped to be there, he knows everyone’s name, etc….
“Hunter’s Moon (aka ‘Mystery in Space’)”
Few of Justice League‘s multi-part episodes ever felt as epic as the creators clearly wanted them to, instead mostly just feeling padded out in the middle, less than thirty minutes of material stretched to over forty minutes of content. “Starcrossed” was not one of those episodes. “Starcrossed” was an epic adventure, and a fitting conclusion to the first incarnation of the Justice League cartoon. We’ve already seen two episodes of Justice League Unlimited made expressly to deal with the fallout from that season finale: “The Balance” and “Wake the Dead“. “Hunter’s Moon” is the last of those, and probably the least memorable – though it is also the only one that is a direct sequel, following up on the Thanagarian invasion subplot. But where “Starcrossed” is a suitably epic conclusion to a season, “Hunter’s Moon” is a largely throwaway episode that deals (once again) with how little the team trusts Hawkgirl, and how much she blames herself for betraying her teammates.
The League gets an unusual distress call from a group of aliens trapped on a mining station: it seems they’re trapped on an asteroid composed largely of unrefined Nth Metal, the same mysterious substance that composes Hawkgirl’s mighty mace, and they need saving. Giving Hawkgirl a small team comprised of Vigilante and Vixen, there’s a little drama in the fact that Vixen is dating Green Lantern – Hawkgirl’s ex – but for the most part, they’re professionals. They arrive at the moon only to find that it’s an ambush; Hawkgirl saving the League cost Thanagar the war, and she’s now considered a war criminal. Turn herself over, and her team can leave the moon alive; fight, and they all die.
Of course, Thanagar is quick to make this offer – they haven’t captured a single member of the team at the time, and only outnumbered them 5 to 3. What follows should be exciting but never is. Though all DCAU shows were willing from time to time to get darker than you might imagine, none of the League was ever in danger – and we knew inherently that Vigilante’s six-shooters weren’t taking out any Thanagarians. What’s more, the action here is awkwardly animated, taking a lot of the tension out of the proceedings.
There’s a good idea for an episode buried deep inside “Hunter’s Moon”. There is. Hawkgirl’s pain at learning that her betrayal has essentially destroyed her species is a dark turn, but a necessary one to make the episode work. And an episode that featured her learning of her role in the war’s outcome had a lot of potential. But “Hunter’s Moon” is weighed down by the blandest baddies they could create and an uncomfortable lack of acknowledgment of what Hawkgirl really did. She had an impossible choice to make, one that had severe consequences, but the episode doesn’t let her feel those consequences beyond a few lines of trite dialogue.
I’ve mentioned how impressed I’ve been by the serialized aspects of Justice League Unlimited (and of the DC Animated Universe as a whole, though that’s a much bigger post), in large part because it isn’t just story that carries over; it’s emotion. This isn’t picking up loose plot threads from the series finale of Justice League. Like “Wake the Dead” before it, it deals more with emotional fallout – how the League reacts to Shayera’s return, but more importantly how Shayera reacts to her own return. But where “Wake the Dead” had some interesting ideas, exciting action and solid character interactions, “Hunter’s Moon” feels more rushed, less essential, and it lacks an emotional core. It’s an extremely forgettable episode, despite an enjoyable unpredictable pairing for the team.
Quotes & Notes
“Mari, do you know what I could do to you with this ring?”
“Promises, promises…” – Green Lantern and Vixen, dirty talkin’ superhero style.
“Difficult as it may be for you to believe, I don’t take your love life into consideration when making command decisions.” – Martian Manhunter, master of the dry put-down.
The staging of the gunfight between the League and the Thanagarians is embarrassingly bad. Despite the fact that the Thanagarians can fly and the three League members are hiding behind a single small boulder in an otherwise open field, the battle-hardened warriors from Thanagar make no attempts to flank them or take them from above.
“You’ve been hit!”
“I was in a fight, remember?” – Hawkgirl and Vigilante, who knows how to take a hit.
“Consarned, dang-busted, horse-thievin’ alien control panel, which can’t nobody work proper.” – Vigilante
– Cal C.
Justice League Unlimited, S1 E18-19
Justice League Unlimited, S1 E16-17
Coming Up November 21: Justice League Unlimited, Season 1, Episodes 22-25 (“Question Authority”, “Flashpoint”, “Panic in the Sky”, “Divided We Fall”)
A note: Despite episode 26, “Epilogue”, being the official season finale of Justice League Unlimited S1, I will not be covering it now. Instead, I will save that for when I review the first season of Batman Beyond.