Superman on Television
Justice League: Episode Reviews
Season 2 - Episodes 11-12: "A Better World"Animated Universe "A Better World" Than Earth-DC...
Reviewed by: Barry Freiman
The DC animated universe is clearly an animated multiverse. While the comic books retreated from multiple versions of Earth co-existing in the DC Multiverse back in the late 1980's (and sort of made a wishy-washy attempt to return to those roots by introducing "Hypertime" a few years back), the animated Justice League had already traveled to an Earth destroyed notwithstanding the best efforts of their heroes, the Justice Guild of America. In this week's "A Better World", the multiple Earth concept reappears, except this time things on the other world look a lot like current DC comic book "continuity".
Actually, the episode plays fast and loose with recent storylines in the in-continuity non-animated comics. On the multiple Earth, Lex Luthor is President of the United States just like he is in current comic books. This Justice League calls themselves the Justice Lords, and, after Superman roasts Luthor to death in the Oval Office with his heat vision, they proceed to take over their world. (The scenes with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman taking over the White House are very evocative of the three villains from Krypton doing the same in 1980's "Superman II").
Proving the theory that absolute power corrupts absolutely, soon enough the Leaguers (er-rather, the Lords) have adopted darker, more war-like costumes; the new President is a puppet of Superman's; and even this Earth's Lois Lane (with Dana Delaney again providing Lois' voice) is disgusted with the dictator that Superman has become.
It was inventive that the first few minutes of the story featured the Justice Lord members in their pre-corrupt, just like the animated Justice League, costumes. But that wore thin fast, as it was clear by the opening credits that this was not the Justice League we knew and watched every week. So by the time the even darker garbed alternate Earth Batman discovered the portal into the universe where the Justice League was fighting Lex Luthor in his war suit, the realization is somewhat obvious that this isn't, for lack of a better name for it, Earth-Animated.
The most interesting distinction drawn in the episode is the inference that the alternate Earth's super-heroes veered from the path of righteousness when the Flash died in battle, something to which the regular League's Flash wittily remarks must make him the moral fiber of the team. It does become clear that the Flash in some ways is the most innocent of the team and his death, more than any others, probably could tempt our heroes to the dark side. Ironically, every time there is a big "event" in an in-continuity crossover comic book (like Crisis on Infinite Earths or Zero Hour), Flashes die or look like they've died all over the place; but it's logical that losing Wally's pure sense of fun pushed these heroes over the line.
Once the Justice Lords have discovered Earth-Animated, they realize that, while the Flash is still alive, so is Lex Luthor and decide to take that Earth's matters into their own hands. It is a bit contrived how easily the "real" Justice League is convinced to enter a portal they know nothing about simply because someone who looks just like J'onn J'onzz tells them it's necessary to prevent the merging of their Earths, but the statement there to the kiddies should be not to trust strangers even if they do look just like one of your friends. Batman's distrust rears its head almost immediately, of course, when he expresses frustration that his J'onn won't use his telepathy on "another Martian."
Notwithstanding the Batman's typical paranoia, the Justice League is easily imprisoned in the Limbo between Earths and the Justice Lords enter Earth-Animated with the intent of fooling the people into thinking they are the Justice League they know and trust. Almost everyone buys it, except for a suspicious female reporter who likes to wear purple, and a certain recently re-incarcerated baldy who immediately realizes that this Superman isn't the one he's dedicated his life to destroying.
In some ways, this episode seems to slam some of the sillier "events" of the past few years in big DC crossover comic books. Lex Luthor in the White House, a dead Flash, and, the most outlandish of the bunch, Doomsday, the creature in the comic books who killed Superman in 1992 (ironically the same year that Batman: The Animated Series premiered and gave birth to what is now Earth-Animated, at least as far as I'm concerned). At first, the fact that Doomsday (who is never called that on the show) seems to spontaneously descend to Earth just as the Justice Lords need to fight something tough to prove themselves seems silly and contrived, though I can't help suspect there's a subtle jibe at the comic creators who brought Doomsday to life in the first place as this powerhouse that came from nowhere. (Note: Only years later did the comic book writers retroactively decide that Doomsday had his roots on Krypton. Where else?)
When alternate Superman uses his heat vision to lobotomize Doomsday, there are all sorts of very obvious jokes to make about what there was exactly in Doomsday to lobotomize; nonetheless, the creature is incapacitated without its brain function and the reporters readily accept this new League as their super friends gone tougher... all except Lois of course.
Eventually, the Justice League escapes their prison in limbo and faces off against the dictatorial Justice Lords who plan to enslave Earth-Animated just like they did their own. Again, we get to see how that the animated Superman has such strong negative feelings toward Lex Luthor and it gives a good shot in the arm to the tough new Superman of Season Two. Yes, a tougher Superman is a good thing, but at the same time, the animated creators haven't forgotten the "man", Clark, who is given to the same blind eye toward those he doesn't like as any other man. J'onn again establishes himself as the League's great facilitator by pointing Superman toward the right answer. The Justice Lords killed their Luthor because he was a real threat to them. Only Lex Luthor has the means to stop doppelgangers of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, J'onn J'onzz, and Green Lantern (remember, their Flash is dead).
So Superman is forced to deal with the devil and, in exchange for a full pardon, Lex whips up a little something to bring the Justice Lords down to size, a power disruptor. Lex Luthor hints at a press conference after saving the day that the world is basically his oyster and he might even consider politics. In stopping the Justice Lords, the League has put Lex back into the driver's seat of his own animated destiny. Now, neither businessman nor war suit wearing super-villain, the sky is truly the limit for this enemy of the Justice League. (Lex's power disruptor in exchange for full pardon thing is a riff on a story clearly out of continuity now where Lex destroyed the "Swamp Thing" with a similar device in the muck monster's own title back in 1986.)
The only issue not dealt with during the episode that should have been was that of Lex's continuing sickness due to Kryptonite radiation poisoning, which was what put Lex in the war suit in the first place. This plot hole will presumably be addressed at some point as Lex Luthor has already proven himself to be this Justice League's most consistent foe.
On the SFWONS, this episode gets four out of five speeding bullets. After two weeks of episodes without Superman, the League is back together against Superman's arch foe and Dana Delaney voices Lois for the second time this season. The episode isn't as tightly plotted as some of the earlier season two episodes that featured the entire League. Instead, there are too many convenient and sometimes contrived coincidences intended to move the plot forward (like Doomsday) that take the viewer out of the moment in their randomness. Nevertheless, it is a fun ride for Superman fans, animated and otherwise, with its inclusion of current in-continuity DCU history like President Luthor and Doomsday. But if the episode was intended to be some kind of statement about the absurdity of these "events" in comics, that message was somewhat shaded by the heavy-handed story.
Next week (fanboys, hold onto your Moms): ECLIPSO.
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