Superman on Television

Justice League: Episode Reviews

Series Review: Top 10 "Super" Moments

Reviewed by: Barry M. Freiman

Top 10 "Super" Moments on "Justice League" and "Justice League Unlimited"

What would an ending be without a best-of list? The last new episode of "JLU", "Destroyer", aired May 13, 2006, bringing to an end a legacy begun almost 14 years ago with the first episode of "Batman: The Animated Series", which aired Labor Day Weekend 1992 on Fox. Though some of the animated team are continuing on the upcoming direct-to-DVD "Superman: Brainiac Attacks", that will be the first foray for the DC animated universe that doesn't involve creators Bruce Timm and/or Paul Dini.

"JL" premiered on November 17, 2001. Almost five years, two different series, and 91 episodes later, it comes to an end with a slam-bang rematch between Superman and Darkseid. In between there have been two series of oftentimes fluctuating quality. But at its best, there were fewer shows with plotting, dialogue, characterization, and acting as strong as "JL" and "JLU" - animated or otherwise.

This is my very subjective Top-10 list of the greatest moments for Superman on "JL" and "JLU". These aren't necessarily my favorite episodes over-all, but they are my 10 favorite Superman moments. So let's get to the list:

10. "Injustice for All", Season One: It's the end of an era as Lex's businessman facade finally falls - at least that's what the Martian Manhunter says. Lex Luthor puts together his very own Injustice Gang except he forgot to invite the Joker. The super-est moment takes place as Lex lauds it over who he thinks is Superman as part one begins. Evoking Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor years before Kevin Spacey, Clancy Brown's opening line paraphrases 1980's "Superman II": "So this is how it ends...."

9. "Clash", Season Four: Little Billy Batson won't go home, but you can't make Billy won't, Billy won't go. Superman vs. Shazam. Art imitates life.

8. "The Terror Beyond", Season Two: Animated pioneer Bruce Timm admits on the special features for the "Justice League" Season One DVD set that, in an effort to short-hand the danger to the rest of the team by having Superman get knocked down in the beginning of many battles, they made Supes look like a wimp. There's no greater example than the beating Superman takes in part one of "Fury". But the fix is in by this episode. As heroes do when they first get together, they pummel each other in some kind of spandex-induced adolescent rampage. After Superman has just decked Solomon Grundy, Aquaman insists on a throw-down. While this certainly isn't Aquaman of the orange tunic in the Hall of Justice, he's still no match for the Man of Steel. One punch and waterboy's down for the count and Superman treads on dragging the unconscious Grundy along under one arm and the unconscious Aquaman under the other. What a guy.

7. "A Better World", Season Two: There's nothing better about a world in which Superman would kill - even where the victim is President Lex Luthor. But there's little as chilling as the opening moments before it's crystal clear events are taking place on a parallel Earth as we see a super man pushed to the brink. The super-hits keep on coming in this arc which features the first animated appearance by Superman-killer and "Infinite Crisis" capper Doomsday and a return engagement by Superman's lady in purple, Lois Lane, voiced by Dana Delany.

6. "The Doomsday Sanction", Season Four: Brought to you by your friends at Cadmus, it's the new and improved Doomsday. What does a league full of men and women endeavoring for justice do with a cloned, genetically enhanced killing machine? Put it in the Phantom Zone - DUH! At least "Smallville" Clark won't spend the summer alone.

5. "Initiation", Season Three: Even in a room full of 56 heroes, Superman stands out as a natural and charismatic leader. Actor George Newbern owns the role - he is as much Superman as "STAS" Superman Tim Daly. "Little Girl Lost" Kara begins to come into her own as one of the strongest developed characters on "JLU". If this were a top 11 list, Kara's swan song, "Far From Home", would have to be included for finding a place other than six-feet-under for Superman's cousin.

4. "Comfort and Joy", Season Two: Not since little Cindy Lou Who of Whoville had a cardiac-expansive effect on a certain green grinch has a fictional character earned his spot on Santa Claus's "nice"-list as well as little Clark Kent of Smallville when he introduces the holiday spirit to the emerald alien J'onn J'onzz. Then again, it's difficult to resist Martha Kent's Christmas spread - I'm told she stuffs her holiday goose with crack.

3. "Hereafter", Season Two: It's still not the best death-of-Superman-story of all time, but it's the best one they did on "JL". Top honors, of course, go to "The Death of Superman", the last episode of the Super-Friends franchise in "The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians". This is the final and best arc of Vandal Savage's trifecta. Superman's funeral looks like the auditions for "JLU". One of Superman's oldest villains and one of the animated team's best revamps, Toyman, gets to deliver the fatal blow. Best of all, the animated team don't keep us waiting for four fake Supermen to smoke each other out before revealing Superman lives. We're treated as the intelligent audience we are that knows that nothing and nobody can kill Superman so long as there's a penny to be made off of royalties and licensing.

2. "Panic in the Sky"/"Divided We Fall", Season Four: This one's a tie between the two best episodes of the Cadmus arc. Superman's behavior is leaning toward fascist and the government is so distrusting that they turn to Lex Luthor for help. Just as it's really looking like the end for the "JLU", the real villain of the piece is revealed and it becomes immediately clear to the animated government and the audience that a "JLU" is one 'gift horse' whose mouth is best left un-examined. As with all the best Superman stories, it's all best summed up at the Daily Planet by a certain girl reporter.

And the Number ONE "JL" Superman moment is...

1. "Twilight", Season Two: All through season one, voice actor George Newbern felt like Superman-lite, a less forceful alternate for "Superman: The Animated Series" lead Tim Daly. Newbern cuts loose beginning at "Twilight", the second season premiere that is the prologue to franchise-finale "Destroyer" (and epilogue to "STAS" finale "Legacy").

For anyone who thinks I'm insane for keeping "For the Man Who Has Everything" off the list, you'd be wrong: I'm insane for a whole host of other reasons. But "FTMWHE" is already one of the "Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told" - it's an adaptation of a mid-1980's comic book story by Alan Moore. It's definitely one of my favorite Superman stories both in comic book form and in animated cartoon adaptation.

"JL" very easily could have turned into a new-age "Super-Friends" - that it didn't is testament to Timm, Dini, director Dan Riba, writers Rich Fogel and Dwayne McDuffie, and the incredible voice talent, most especially Mark Hamill (Joker), Kevin Conroy (Batman), George Newbern (Superman), Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor), Michael Rosenbaum (Flash), Maria Canals (Hawkgirl), Phil LaMarr (Green Lantern), Carl Lumbly (Martian Manhunter), Susan Eisenberg (Wonder Woman), Corey Burton (Brainiac), Michael Ironside (Darkseid), Nicholle Tom (Supergirl), Kin Shriner (Green Arrow), Jeffrey Combs (Question), Charles Napier (General Hardcastle), J.K. Simmons (Wade Eiling), CCH Pounder (Amanda Waller), Robert Foxworth (Emil Hamilton), and Dana Delany (Lois Lane).

There may be other DCU-based shows but there will never be another "JL"/"JLU".

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