Superman on Television
Justice League: Episode Reviews
Season 1 - Episodes 18-19: "Injustice For All"Reviewed by: Barry Freiman
So This is How it Ends for the Greatest Criminal Mind of All Time, with Injustice for All
As 1980's Superman II opened, Lex Luthor incorrectly surmised that doing laundry on a sentence of Life Plus 25 was how it ended for the greatest criminal mind of all time. Gene Hackman's Luthor was wrong then, and, thankfully, Clancy Brown's Luthor was wrong in 2002 when he parroted that line at the opening of the two-part "Injustice for All."
The more things change for Lex Luthor, the more fun it is for the audience. And the animated creators return Lex Luthor to his more obviously criminal roots after more than a decade of Lex as the love child of Donald Trump and Adolph Hitler. (Achtung, you're fired!)
The misanthropic businessman persona was one of the major shifts in Luthor's character when John Byrne revamped the Superman family in 1987's Man of Steel mini-series, though it was comic legend Marv Wolfman who came up with the new Lex Luthor. Indeed it was a whole new era for Luthor and for Superman. But all good things come to an end, mostly because they get tired and old, and the animated universe returns Lex to the mold of super-villain well in advance of the comic books, which followed suit last year in Superman/Batman. In the comics, the World's Finest Duo bring down the Luthor Presidency with a thud, but on JL, the heroes use one of the oldest tricks in the super-hero bible effectively to get Lex to trip himself up.
J'onn disguises himself as Superman, lets Lex think he's got Big Blue dead to rights with Kryptonite, and gets the egomaniacal Lex to implicate himself over Superman's last rites. This allows the animated heroes to work as a team to unseat one of their member's villains in a way that DC Comics editors historically would never have permitted. Because this is a JL story not a Superman story per se, the League is proactively involved in bringing down Lex and it's J'onn who gets to deliver the arc's pivotal line: "This is the end of an era." This also very quickly makes the entire JL enemies of the "reborn" Lex Luthor.
But it's not a clean get-away for Lex. In the comic books, Kryptonite cost him a hand, and eventually a body when he faked his death and returned as Aussie Lex Luthor, Jr. Here, it's cost him his pride, health, and freedom and relegates Lex to a war suit similar to the one he adopted in the mid 1980's in the comics. In fact, Lex's wardrobe throughout this arc is like a "Best of Lex" fashion show as he wears the War Suit, the purple and green jumpsuit of the 1970's, the grey jail fatigues of the Silver Age, the simple black suit of the modern era, and even the white lab coat of his earliest days.
When Luthor organizes his very own Injustice League, including the Ultra-Humanite is really no surprise as the character was, in essence, the Earth-2 Lex Luthor of the Pre-Crisis Multiverse. Yes, Earth-2 had their own Lex, but he was red-haired and, in fact, it's said Lex became Supey's bald bad guy only because artists confused Luthor with Superman's bald villain, the Ultra-Humanite.
(Note: The short answer to those who don't know what Earth-2 means is as follows -- prior to 1985, most super heroing that took place prior to the 1950's occurred on Earth-2; the longer answer will be provided in my review of "Legends" later in season one.)
The Humanite perfected the brain transplant in the comic books and evaded death by sacrificing bodies and simply transferring his brain to new hosts -- including a murdered actress and, as he's seen on JL, a giant white ape. The Humanite is voiced perfectly by Ian Buchanan, who played significant other Duke to Finola Hughes' Anna DeVane on the hit soap opera, General Hospital. JL fans will remember Hughes, of course, as the voice of Superman's biological mother, Lara.
The JL has cost Luthor his standing in Metropolis, his corporate empire Lexcorp, and probably even his listing in "Who's Who of Metropolis" so Lex wastes no time and no amount of money on a scheme to destroy the JL with a super-team of his own. Lex's team consists of the Cheetah, Solomon Grundy, Copperhead, the Shade, and Star Sapphire, all of whom are in on Lex's scheme for the money.
Surprisingly, given the great number of characters in this arc (all seven heroes and eight villains - "or [nine] if you count [Grundy] twice"), every hero and villain gets to contribute something, though this is in no small part thanks to the voice talent (especially the guest-starring bad guys).
As part one draws to a close, Luthor's Injustice League gets a party crasher - the always animated Joker, voiced by Mark Hamill. Only Hamill and Batman Kevin Conroy have appeared in the universes of Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, and Justice League as their signature characters. Not to mention Static Shock to boot. This is Hamill's first appearance as the Joker on JL and he clearly is having a blast - the climax to part one is an over-the-top Joker laughing maniacally moment that probably gave Hamill laryngitis to perform.
While part two of "Injustice For All" could have quickly degenerated into a free-for-all of heroes versus villains, the writers keep things well-paced. Unlike season two's "Secret Society", which becomes little more than an homage to 1978's "Challenge of the Super Friends" in its final act, this story finds humor and sophistication in playing with some of the comic book rules of villain team-ups. The chief rule, of course, is that villain team-ups undo themselves because bad guys aren't capable of trusting each other. Appropriately, Batman, who spends most of part two trussed up by the bad guys, manipulates them by turning members against each other and even using Bruce Wayne's greatest super power, sexual magnetism with Cat Women, to engender doubt and mistrust amongst the bad guys.
(TRIVIA - Look closely during the fight scene at the villains' lair and you'll see that two of the statutes of funny animals are actually Zan and Jayna, the Wonder Twins. Form of a TIVO!)
The Joker and Lex Luthor - beside each being the principal adversary of one of the two World's Finest super heroes - really have very little in common. And that is the fun of a team-up between them. These two really are the Odd Couple of Crime.
Together, Luthor and Joker unnerve each other. Joker may be telling Lex to kill Batman now, but if Mr. J were the one in charge, you know the Joker would find a way to keep Batsy alive. And if anyone but the Joker was saying this, even an egomaniac like Lex might have been able to see the merit in killing Batman sooner rather than later. More than Felix and Oscar heck even more than Bugs and Daffy, this pair have a way of getting under each other's skin. Just by being together, we the viewer win, Joker and Lex are both guaranteed a loss, and the JL is almost guaranteed its victory by default - simply because Joker and Lex together can't possibly prevail. And it is fitting that this inhuman pair is ultimately brought down by the Ultra-Humanite, who very quickly emerges as one of the great simian villains of the DC Universe (of which there are surprisingly many - the DCU loves monkeys).
There is something for Superman and JL fans of all shapes and sizes in this story arc. Lex Luthor makes his JL debut in a way that immediately distinguishes the character from his role on STAS without contradicting that past. As is usually the case when villains team up, the characterization of the super heroes takes a back seat to the more interesting warped minds of the bad guys. But the story never falls flat simply because the villains are so cool. The only negative is the lack of suspense - it's accomplished fact that this conglomeration of villains will fail. Then again, the name of the show is JL; it is pretty much a certainty that good will triumph over evil some time around 12 minutes to the hour. On the Superman Fan Must Watch or Not Scale, this arc easily earns four and a half speeding bullets out of five.
From the sublime to the ridiculous - next week Wonder Woman's world takes center stage in a story arc aptly titled "Paradise Lost". Superman's 1988 cartoon did a similar story of a sorcerer overpowering Diana's Amazon sisters much better than this. But Wonder Woman doesn't really get it together as a character on JL until season two's "Maid of Honor".
Peace out and Injustice for all and to all a good night.
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