Superman on Television
Justice League: Episode Reviews
Season 2 - Episodes 5-6: "Only a Dream"Thankfully Not 'Only a Dream'
Reviewed by: Barry Freiman
Shown in promotional photographs for Season Two, it's been known for some time that Doctor Destiny, the super-villain with the power to infest dreams, destroying people from the inside out, would be featured in at least one story arc this season. What wasn't known about 'Only a Dream' was that it would also feature the return of a plethora of Superman supporting characters, some live, some in dream form, but most with their original voice cast intact, including Clark Kent, who to date has not been seen since Justice League (who has not redesigned his mod bachelor pad since the Superman series).
If that isn't enough to give a Superman fan chills down the spine, then how about the return of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen in a dream sequence with their original animated series voice actors Dana Delaney and David Kaufman and the first appearance of Smallville on Justice League. Even Perry White makes a brief appearance in Superman's dream sequence.
Two villains created for Superman: The Animated Series, Volcana (voiced by Peri Gilpin, Roz Doyle on NBC's Frasier); and Luminus, the Superman series' adaptation of Doctor Light, also appeared. Joining them were Bat villain Firefly, Solomon Grundy, and Copperhead. And, on top of that, the origin of Doctor Destiny features some of the best developed supporting characters since early episodes of the original Batman: The Animated Series.
The episode begins with loser John D., a prison guinea pig participating in experiments with a "dream machine". An overload of the machine gives John D the power to invade dreams, throwing people into endless nightmares from which they cannot awaken. Fans of BTAS will recognize the similarities to an animated episode of the Mad Hatter.
John D. dreams of defeating the League and receiving adulation from the likes of Lex Luthor and the Joker. He instigates a prison riot, releasing some super bad guys and escapes virtually undetected.
While the majority of the League concentrates on the big name prison breakers, Batman (who else?) follows his own hunches and focuses his detective skills on John D.
Meanwhile, the team up of the night was BTAS pyromaniac Firefly and STAS fire villainess Volcana. Volcana comments on the size of Firefly's weapon; Firefly replies that he knows how to use it giving new meaning to the term 'burning with desire.' But when Volcana tells Firefly to stand aside and literally blows their way out of a police block without working up a sweat, the overwhelmed Firefly says 'I think I'm in love.' What wonderful writing - humorous and quite sickly logical in its own way.
One by one, of course, the Leaguers fall asleep and are overtaken by their insecurities that trap them in the dream world. The dream sequences allow for interesting departures from the typical animated style. Wally West's dream version of himself as the Flash and villain Solomon Grundy were animated as if they walked off the set of a Nickelodeon cartoon, a nice touch for the fastest (and simplest) man alive. What was interesting about his trap was that the ever-moving Wally West had to stop moving and look inside himself for the way out of Destiny's world.
In the dream world, Superman finally acknowledges his biggest fear to a telepathic Martian Manhunter; because he came to Earth with no powers, and grew stronger, he fears growing stronger and stronger until he literally cannot interact with the people that matter most to him. By the time the exaggerated hulkish, brutish figure of Superman has flown to Smallville and squeezed his body back into baby Kal-El's rocket ship where he lay in fetal position, you truly understand the awesome responsibility Superman feels over his power, and get a recognition by Superman of exactly how powerful he knows he is. Superman is the first hero J'onn is able to draw out of Doctor Destiny's dream world. The great respect that both Superman and J'onn show one another is subtle but ultimately what enables Superman to escape the dream world.
The remainder of the Leaguers' dreams pale in comparison to the complexities in Superman's. Batman's attempts to avoid falling asleep led to one of the outright funniest moments in the show, with Batman slamming money on the counter in a DCU equivalent Starbucks and demanding a triple immediately, as well as picking up the French version of 'Are you sleeping, Brother John?' on the Batmobile radio and blasting it.
And who knew that Hawkgirl had a fear of being buried alive? In one of the more jolting moments of the show, we actually do see fear on Hawkgirl's face as Luminus traps her in a hard-light box that begins to close in on her and rather than see a Hawkgirl prepared for anything, she appears completely without a way out until Superman saves the day. Whether that was a pre-existing fear or one developed at that moment, Doctor Destiny exploits it later, realizing Hawkgirl's fear of being buried alive.
Explosions and fist fights are replaced with even more riveting personal struggles. While the Leaguers are certainly in jeopardy, this episode was a bit more caffeine-free (except the caffeinated Batman) than Twilight and Tabula Rasa. The character studies and battles were just as fascinating, if not more so than in the first two episodes of the season. However, it was also nice to see the League face a very human villain like Doctor Destiny, ultimately beaten one on one by the non-powered Batman.
The League is at virtual full strength with only Wonder Woman missing, which is a true shame as her character needs the most fleshing out and her nightmares would have been the perfect place to do that. The voice talent and animation were again top-notch and, in some ways, the League was a more coherent manageable team without Wonder Woman's presence. Essentially, this episode was a showcase for Batman's and J'onn's contributions to the team.
If the job of episodes one through three has been to satisfy Superman fans, 'Only a Dream' satisfies in spades. Given the number of great Superman moments, I give this episode a huge thumbs up as both a Superman fan and a Justice League fan. The subtleties in character interactions in this episode make it a stand-out and not to be missed, especially if you thought Twilight and Tabula Rasa were both a bit too heavy handed.
The Silver Age ending, which could have been over the top and wasn't, featured poor Batman, finally able to sleep snoring away in a chair in the Watchtower, while even poorer Doctor Destiny rots away, tied down to his hospital bed whistling 'Are you sleeping, Brother John?'
Clearly not the end of Doctor Destiny and the animated universe now has itself another great new bad guy.
On the SUPERMAN FAN MUST WATCH OR NOT SCALE, I give this episode 5 out of 5 speeding bullets. This is a must watch for Superman fans, especially for fans of STAS.
As I just came up with the speeding bullets scale and plan to use it going forward (an idea that I must ascribe in some part to fellow Superman reviewer Neal Bailey and Bat maven Scipio Garling), let me back track a little...
For the season 2 sneak peak episode, 'Twilight', I give a 4 out of 5 on the SFMWONS SCALE. It's fun, features closure to issues with Darkseid and Brainiac, and a ferocious-in-battle Man of Steel. Also, the Fourth World of the New Gods (introduced in Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen making them technically Superman characters) are portrayed realistically and finally with consequences that change the status quo of the Jack Kirby-created universe that inspired Star Wars.
For 'Tabula Rasa', I give a 4 out of 5 speeding bullets, unless you like Superman IV, in which case add half a bullet. The Superman references in the show are vague and the allusions to Superman IV are admittedly a stretch but Superman and Batman continue their love-hate relationship, and Lex Luthor is at his most vile when manipulating others from the Amazo android to his old chauffeur, Mercy Graves.
That's it for this week. Wonder Woman's absence from this week's episode will be made up for next week in the one-hour 'Maid of Honor', in which Wonder Woman befriends a jet-setting Kasnian princess. To those who remember Supergirl being referred to as the 'Maid of Might', don't hold your breath on her appearing in the episode, but after Lois, Perry, and Jimmy, a guest shot by the animated Supergirl, perhaps teaming with Batgirl, Wonder Woman, and Hawkgirl would just about be more than this reviewer could bear without fear of spontaneous combustion.
Peace out. And sweet dreams... Destiny awaits.
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