Superman on Television
Justice League: Episode Reviews
Season 2 - Episodes 15-16: "The Terror Beyond"League Faces "The Terror Beyond" Alongside Trio of Heroes: Doctor Fate, Aquaman, and ... Solomon Grundy???
Reviewed by: Barry Freiman
What are the religious implications of killing a living dead guy? Can the mentally infirmed make an informed decision to sacrifice their own life? Does heroism require faith in yourself or faith in a higher power? Does advancement of society require abandonment of faith and spirituality? These are just some of the questions asked in this week's Justice League episode, "The Terror Beyond".
A routine JLA investigation by members Hawkgirl, Superman, and Wonder Woman brings them initially fist to fist with two former STAS guest stars, Doctor Fate and Aquaman. Doctor Fate is a Golden Age Hero who fought alongside the Justice Society of America in the 1940s and is one of the chief mystics in the DC Universe, animated or otherwise. Aquaman is the sea man who swims and he happens to be King of the Seven Seas and ruler of undersea city Atlantis. Still brandishing the hook he earned saving his son's life in last season's fish story, Aquaman is once again at odds with the Justice League when it appears he's teamed up with the Hulk of the DC Universe, pasty-white bad guy Solomon Grundy.
In the comic books, Solomon Grundy began as a foil for the Golden Age Green Lantern, Alan Scott, during the 1940s. Since then, Grundy befriended the Golden Age Lantern's daughter, Jade, when she was a member of Infinity, Inc. killed the Golden Age Star Spangled Kid, and somehow became a fixture in Batman's universe through his role in Smallville scribe Jeph Loeb's "The Long Halloween" comic book miniseries. But cartoon watchers know Grundy best as one of the thirteen most vile bad guys in the universe facing off against the Super Friends as a member of the Legion of Doom on "Challenge of the Super Friends."
Grundy first showed up on Justice League in last season's "Injustice for All as a member of Lex Luthor's goon squad, the Injustice Gang. As with most things in Season one, there wasn't any explanation for who Grundy was, where he came from, or why a giant hulking brute wanted the money Luthor offered to his fellow villains for their help destroying the League. "The Terror Beyond" answers those questions and several others, while at the same time, raising a bunch of new ones about spirituality, faith, and Hawkgirl's home world, Thanagar.
Dr. Fate and Aquaman are in the middle of a scheme to prevent a power hungry God from traversing dimensions and destroying Earth. To fulfill the magical equivalent of a "Keep Out" sign, Dr. Fate needs Aquaman's magical trident and a life without a soul to sacrifice, which is where Solomon Grundy comes in. Grundy's origin is explored for the first time in animated form as Dr. Fate discovers Grundy was once human Cyrus Gold, a man whose soul spent too much time rotting like unrefrigerated cheese. Gold was a bootlegger, a gangster with a capital "G", and a rotten guy who met a rotten end in a rotting swamp, until he was reincarnated as the soul-less living dead creature, Solomon Grundy. Without a soul and no memories of his life as Cyrus Gold, Solomon became a creature of instinct, seeking out gold and riches because that is all he remembers.
As the episode opens, there are no Justice Leaguers to be found. Grundy is doing his best "Hulk" imitation as the military tries to take him down and, suddenly, Aquaman appears, offering Grundy escape. By the time JLA members Superman, Wonder Woman, and Hawkgirl get involved, they are under the mistaken impression that Aquaman has gone rogue. The animated Aquaman is a man of action, a King who feels he owes no explanations to anyone but his subjects and his subjects do not include the Justice League or the "surface world" military.
Things go from weird to totally bizarre when it turns out the angry God is none other than the dark God of ancient Thanagar. Hawkgirl, finally revealing her name to be Shayera Thol, knows Dr. Fate's magical spell because it's actually a Thanagarian prayer to the dark God. Thanagar is a war-like planet and, as they evolved, they abandoned spirituality in favor of survival of the fittest.
The episode's theme is summarized by a seemingly throw-away conversation between Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl. As they are fighting a tentacled menace, WW once again cries out "Hera, Give me Strength!" to which Hawkgirl replies Do you always have to say that?" Much more than a comedic one-liner, however, this exchange highlights the episode's theme of faith in a higher power. Diana relies on faith in the Greek Gods as the source of her inner strength. Shayera (Hawkgirl) comes from a race that abandoned faith and spirituality in favor of their war-like survival of the fittest ways.
The three Leaguers eventually find their way to Dr. Fate's tower in Salem where they engage in a spiritual debate with Aquaman and Fate over whether Grundy is even competent to understand the sacrifice that is being asked of him. Ultimately, however, it is Solomon Grundy who decides for himself/itself exactly how much he is willing to sacrifice to regain his human soul. In an episode filled with guest stars (Aquaman, his wife Mera, Dr. Fate, his wife Inza, and Grundy), this turns out to be the definitive Solomon Grundy story.
With Batman absent for this mission, Superman gets some of the better lines in this episode. Superman hates magic even more than Kryptonite and says so when he can't break into Fate's tower. However, when Hawkgirl splits a hole in the tower with her mace, a question arises that isn't answered in the episode about whether Hawkgirl's mace is a combination of technology and magic.
And it is Superman who articulates the Eighth Amendment issue of whether a walking dead incompetent can consent to sacrifice his life force. In the end, Grundy answers these questions for himself in a truly touching climax that teaches viewers and Hawkgirl the significance of faith.
It's not all heavy duty spiritual questions, however, that make this episode a stand out. The animation has an almost 3-D quality to it, especially the scenes in Fate's tower. And Dr. Fate's blue and gold almost jumps right out of the television at times. Plus, Superman's shirtless for part of the episode (an homage to Smallville perhaps?).
Best of all for Superman fans, Superman proves why he's a super man. Unlike Grundy, who uses his power and brute strength simply because he has it, Clark would rather talk first and fight only as a last resort. When the League is going mano a mano against Fate, Aquaman, and Grundy in Fate's Tower, Aquaman refuses to give up despite Superman's plea that they talk. When the Sea King plunges headlong into Superman, the Man of Steel rolls his eyes, sighs, and decks Aquaman with one punch after having already knocked out Grundy. The sight of Superman dragging the unconscious Aquaman with one hand and the unconscious Grundy with the other is a grand reminder that you NEVER tug on Superman's cape.
On the SFMWONS, this episode conjures up five out of five speeding bullets. Aquaman is a strong guy, Grundy is a strong dead guy, but no one but Clark is Superman. Do not force him to remind you of that or he will.
Next week: Gorilla Grodd and the Secret Society of Super-Villains!
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