Justice League Unlimited: The Complete Series [Blu-ray]
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
Run Time: 897 minutes
Release Date: November 10, 2015
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Reviewed by: Barry Freiman
Superman is Dead. Long live Superman. End of review.
Except we all know that Superman, like Oprah and Cher, will never truly die.
In "Hereafter", the animated series takes us on a journey not just through the death of Superman comic books from 1992 and 1993, but through much of Superman's post-John Byrne comic book continuity - including Superman's self imposed exile in space and resulting beard growth -- and the infamous "Under a Red Sun" story, one of the Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told.
The most significant departure from the Death of Superman comic book storyline is the identity of Superman's "killer". The Justice Lords lobotomized the comic book monster who killed Supey in 1992, Doomsday (insert joke here), in "A Better World" earlier this season. Having properly relegated Doomsday to "B movie monster" status, the animated creators pump steroids into Superman's classic rogues gallery (animated and otherwise), who assemble as the "Superman Revenge Squad" (Toyman, Livewire, Weather Wizard, Kalibak, and Metallo).
Wreaking havoc in downtown Metropolis, the Superman Revenge Squad is as fierce a team as the Justice League has taken on. Batman actually stands up to Kalibak in a fight after the son of Darkseid has already flattened Wonder Woman, though even the Dark Knight wouldn't do that without a back-up plan - he was just stalling till a certain red-caped super guy arrived and Superman really knows how to make a dramatic entrance, hands hoisted at his side in the classic pose.
Apparently having learned little from last week's mental manipulation of his feelings of superiority by Gorilla Grodd, Superman leaps into the path of a Kryptonite disruptor beam that would have vaporized his Justice League colleagues and he is himself immediately vaporized. Superman dies in no one's arms, there is no great fanfare leading up to his death, he simply ceases to be. It's brilliant in its simplicity and, at the same time, almost mocking of the Doomsday storyline, which gave this one-shot, no personality monster the chance to do something that Superman's extensive rogue's gallery hasn't had and deserved. One suggestion that has seen print on many web message boards over the years had always been that Doomsday was an unnecessary creation, that it would have been more interesting if Bizarro or even a lesser Superman bad guy delivered the fatal blow/blast. And the animators put that into action with the identity of the triggerman on "Hereafter" being one of Superman's oldest foes, the Toyman. How disturbing that the first words spoken in an animated world without Superman was an exclamation by Toyman: "Superman go bye-bye!" Who better to take America's biggest "toy" - Superman - out of play than the Toyman?
While Superman is absent for much of the first half of the story arc (being dead and all), his presence is felt as intently in the animated universe by his absence as it was in both the comic book universe and here in our Earth Prime universe too. Wonder Woman's primal reaction is utterly Amazon as she stands ready to take Toyman's life in exchange for Superman's. Though it is the Flash, the team innocent, who reminds her that the League doesn't kill with simple truth: "I'm trying to speak for Superman." Not enough can be said for Michael Rosenbaum's Flash, who has transcended the role of the League's jester and made the Flash an important part of the heart of the Justice League.
And the sophistication of Batman's response, a denial that Superman's dead and immediate detective work into alternatives is so layered, the viewer is also left wondering if Batman's merely in denial because he deals so poorly with death or if he really knows something we - and the rest of the world -- don't because he's Batman. The classic actor, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., once again returns to the role of Batman's butler, Alfred Pennyworth, in a noteworthy cameo where he too encourages Batman to pay his last respects to Superman at the Man of Steel's memorial service. By the way, if Supey was vaporized (i.e., no body recovered), what are the heroes carrying in that casket down the streets of Metropolis?
Superman's funeral is a who's who of guest stars, some of whom are just at the event with no dialogue, and it's a perfect opportunity to showcase the growing legacy of the animated universe. I saw: Alfred, Tim Drake (Robin), Aquaman, Mera, Dr. Fate, Inza Nelson, the Green Lantern Corps (including Arisia, Tomar-Re, and Kilowog), Bibbo Bibowski, Orion of the New Gods, Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Ma and Pa Kent, Supergirl, Hippolyta, Dick Grayson, Maggie Sawyer (and her domestic partner), Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White. Please e-mail me if I missed anyone and I'll even give you credit for having x-ray eyes in my next review.
Lois Lane, with Dana Delaney returning, first lashes out at Lex Luthor, then seeks comfort in his arms as Luthor admits that he too will miss Superman, a much more appropriate response for "Yang" when "Yin" dies than the infamous "Gotcha" speech delivered by Lex Luthor, Jr. to Superman's corpse during the comic book Death story.
After the funeral, the writers pay homage to Superman's Jewish roots; the men who created Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were Jewish immigrants living in Cleveland, Ohio when they dreamt up the American legend around 1932. The League, sans the obsessed Batman, is essentially sitting "Shiva", the Jewish mourning period. The armbands, an homage to the black armbands that shipped with Superman #75 (the death issue) in 1992, were themselves an adaptation of the ripped black fabric modern Jews wear to show they are in mourning. And the League is sitting around a table with food and drink reminiscing about Superman, laughing about how confident and powerful he was, remembering things he said. Most cultures mourn in this way and it turns out to be a very effective plotting device for character development as we get to see how the other Leaguers truly do see Superman as above them as well.
Wonder Woman, exiled from her own family on Themiscyra, suggests that the League look in its "family" and they offer full time membership to Batman, who naturally turns them down flat.
Just when the viewer might think they've overdosed on Kryptonian speed, and there couldn't possibly be anymore guest stars, the worst bastitch in the known universe bursts into the Watchtower and invites himself to replace Kal-El in the Justice League. That's right, it's the Main Man, Lobo, a character whose one-note kill for hire personality fell flat fast in the DC comic book universe. From his first appearance on STAS, the animated Lobo's earned his keep as a powerful counterpoint to Superman, even more so than Bizarro. Lobo is an intelligent being - he'd have to be if he's such a successful bounty hunter - but is irresponsibility personified. That he shows up just as the League is debating the loss of muscle power and considering suggestions like Aquaman (suggested by Flash), Metamorpho (naturally suggested by his friend John Stewart), and even Supergirl (Hawkgirl's classic line: "Is Supergirl old enough?"), emphasizes that Superman lived "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility" for decades before those words were uttered by some guy selling rice to Spider boy Peter Parker over in Marvel.
As the second half hour begins, we see Batman's not obsessed without reason.
The writers don't play games with Superman's death. They know most viewers don't buy that he's dead for even a minute, that the "death" serves a purpose in propelling the story forward. Just like most serious Superman fans were nonplussed by the media reports in 1992 that DC Comics was forever killing Superman. Doomsday was irrelevant, the death itself was irrelevant, unless what followed resulted in compelling stories; and it did, culminating in Superman's return to life. So it's no big surprise that Superman's alive as the second part opens, nor is it really a surprise that, as usual, Batman's right.
Superman appears stranded under a red sun, his powers gone. Superman manages to start one of the cars that transported to this strange new world with him and fills as many canisters with gasoline as he can. Aping such film classics as "Mad Max" and "Planet of the Apes", it turns out Supey didn't travel far, geographically speaking; he's still on Earth, just thousands of years in the future. The clue is there in the episode's title - he's here, but after, in the future.
The future isn't without its own guest stars. The bearded, non-powered, mutant-dog battling former Man of Steel meets up with immortal Vandal Savage, the only person left after he destroyed the world several days after Superman's death. In the interim, Savage has become less of a savage, naturally resenting his eternity of loneliness, and willing to help Superman undo it by going back in time and stopping Savage's past (well, our present - time travel makes my head hurt) self. Savage's arc has come to an end. In "The Savage Time", Vandal's in the past. In "Maid of Honor", Vandal's in the present. And, now in "Hereafter", we see future Vandal, a success in his goal of ruling Earth. Like Zod in Superman II, who realizes that being master of all you survey day after day without challenge gets boring, Vandal's had lots of time to think about the consequences of his actions.
Those actions, by the way, bring us the last named guest star in the episode...
It turns out Savage destroyed the world with a weapon that was powered by a white dwarf star that scientist Ray Palmer was experimenting on. Savage makes Superman promise to stop past/present Savage from stealing the star from Palmer. Astute DC Comics readers, of course, realize that Ray Palmer's experiments with that white dwarf star are what result in his becoming the Silver Age Atom. Superman's parting line to Savage - "Ray Palmer, I'll remember that" - is a nifty tip of the hat and a reaffirmation that Superman is the granddaddy of every super-hero who came after him.
On the SFMWONS, this episode easily earns five out of five speeding bullets.
From the Superman Revenge Squad to the squabble between Lex and Lois to Maggie Sawyer fighting alongside the Justice League to Lobo to Supergirl, this episode is a wonderful tribute to the enduring legacy of the one man who will never die: Superman.
Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha- ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Guess who? THE JOKER and Harley Quinn.