Superman on Television
Justice League: Episode Reviews
Season 1 - Episodes 10-11: "Warworld"Reviewed by: Barry Freiman
Warworld, What is it Good For? Absolutely Very Little. Say it Again.
As of this writing, the JL animated series is only two days away from its re-imagining as the JLU. It's already been announced that Eric Roberts will be returning as the yellow-skinned alien Mongul in an animated rendition of the Alan Moore classic comic story, "For the Man who Has Everything." The Moore story is the ultimate Mongul story and one of the greatest Superman stories ever told. Therefore, by definition, the two-part "Warworld" isn't. At most, it's a somewhat effective prologue to the subsequent story of Mongul's revenge on the Last Son of Krypton. In their attempt to distinguish Mongul from another over-muscled space alien, Darkseid, the animated creators tell the story of a mad game show host -- so who cares? This story just doesn't seem worth the JL's energies.
What this arc does offer is an early glimpse into the burgeoning relationship between Hawkgirl and Green Lantern as the pair set out to retrieve the missing Superman and J'onn. With comic book relationships, love typically grows out of a combination of ambivalence and competition. The best example of this explosive push and pull resulting in heated fusion is, of course, Lois Lane and Clark Kent. On the seven member JL team, there is no expectation that GL and Hawkgirl will end up together so, at the time "Warworld" originally aired, it appeared that these two characters were merely learning to begrudgingly work together, not fall in love.
In hindsight, it becomes obvious that this pair would make a good comic book couple. John Stewart is simultaneously guarded around new people like his JL teammates and more open than his JL peers - he is the only hero known equally by his real name after all during the show's freshman year. To the contrary, Hawkgirl is a mystery to the JL and the viewers. She shares a similar vocation to Stewart in law enforcement but the little bit that had been leaked about her background is largely subterfuge. The pair are drawn together as much for their differences as their similarities. "Warworld" shows the genesis of the relationship that will ultimately undo this incarnation of the JL and result in its reformation as the JLU.
Mongul made his comic book debut in 1980 in a three part story in DC Comics Presents, a Superman team up book. In his first handful of appearances, Mongul attempted to take over several other dimensions only to be stopped by Superman, in a variety of team ups with his cousin Supergirl, the Spectre, and the 30th Century Legion of Super Heroes.
There is an irony to Mongul's amber skin color as his actions are those of a villain without much bravado. He seems to focus his attention on the subversive plan - why take over your own heavily guarded neighborhood when, instead, you can take over the dimension next door that has no super powered protectors of its own? And, once Mongul has a genuine reason to dislike Superman, he doesn't out and out physically attack Superman even though he appears to be physically up for the task. Rather, he sneak-attacks the Man of Steel on his birthday. What a weasel!
Following John Byrne's 1987 revamp of the Man of Steel, Mongul was provided with a new back story that tied into Superman's code against killing, his long period of forced exile from Earth, and his death at the hands of Doomsday and subsequent resurrection. This story arc adapts bits and pieces of these storylines but what we're left with is a story that has no punch. This Superman won't kill or be killed so there's no ethical dilemma to be resolved by Superman's confrontation with Mongul. Without the moral crisis, Mongul has no story and he's just a B-movie villain in need of some motivation, thus his re-conception as Survivor's Jeff Probst on performance enhancing drugs. The JL deserves better.
The story is full of plot holes and inconsistencies. The aliens who abduct Superman and J'onn keep their super powered Kryptonian well restrained but, once Superman is transferred to Mongul's custody, he's placed in chains and a cage that he easily escapes from. And these shackles presumably keep Mongul's best fighter, Draaga, in line so we're immediately left with the impression that Superman has more power than Warworld's ever seen before and certainly can beat Draaga quite easily and, therefore, likely Mongul as well The ethical question of whether Superman would kill or be killed loses steam when it becomes clear he's in a situation from which he'll clearly emerge victorious without having to consider murder as a way out. And, in the vastness of outer space, the coincidence of GL and Hawkgirl just happening to run into the exiled Draaga is too much to bear. Plus, without any explanation for why J'onn's powers are dampened on "Warworld", this becomes a Superman story by default.
Some of the more interesting ethical questions that arose in connection with Superman's experiences with death - both his own and others - are posed in season two in "A Better World" and "Hereafter". "Warworld" may be intended to be a Superman arc, but it ends up showcasing the GL/Hawkgirl relationship more. Therefore, on the Superman Fan Must Watch or Not Scale, it only earns two speeding bullets out of five.
A better example of a story from comic book history that had to be told during season one is in the next review, "The Brave and the Bold" - it's right there in the title. This is the animated birth of one of the most important same-sex heterosexual comic book pairings of all time: the Flash and Green Lantern.
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