Superman on Television

Justice League: Episode Reviews

Season 2 - Episodes 21-22: "Wild Card"


Reviewed by: Barry Freiman

The Justice League took on the best of the Marvel Universe and won. No, I'm not talking about the latest issue of the long-awaited JLA/Avengers. In the latest episode of Justice League, "Wild Card", the Joker uses a team of mutants with powers similar to members of Marvel's Fantastic Four and the X-Men to confound the World's Greatest Heroes.

After killing the military men who kidnapped five children who had unusual powers, the Joker organizes them into the classic DCU team, the Royal Flush Gang. There have been numerous versions of the Royal Flush Gang over the years and there was even a Joker/Royal Flush Gang team-up on the final SuperFriends series, the Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians.

An interesting twist on this Royal Flush Gang are their Marvel-esque powers and backgrounds. The writers give each member of the Joker's "deck of cards" a super power that ostracizes them from their families and results in their being placed in the hands of the Government - sounds ominously like the wary Government of the Marvel universe and how they treat mutants.

There's certainly an implication being made that these kids are "mutants" unlike the Justice Leaguers. Power-house "Ten" has raw strength - like the Fantastic Four's Thing -- that he thinks will make him more than a match for Superman. Queen has control over a force field that results in her having powers like the FF's Invisible Girl and the X-Men bad guy Magneto. Jack stretches like the FF's Mr. Fantastic. And King has the power to emit fire blasts like the FF's Human Torch.

It seems the Joker has placed bombs and cameras all over the Las Vegas strip His Royal Flush Gang is like a nuclear-boiled episode of MTV's Real World. The use of a real-time time clock for the first half of the episode heightens the tension effectively, something that I haven't seen done so well since the "Life Time" episode of CBS classic M*A*S*H (the plotting on that series, particularly from Season Four on, is extremely similar to comic book plotting and a good teaching tool - as in comics, the writers were able to squeeze out over a decade's worth of stories to encapsulate a three year period of time - but I digress...).

That the Joker uses reality television along with his Marvel-ous heroes is inspired. One clear distinction between the DC Universe and the Marvel Universe has always been that the DCU is an ideal world and the DC icons are not like us humans but are role models for us at our best; the Marvel Universe represents the time period in which it exploded - the questioning 1960's - and its heroes, villains, and civilians face the same kinds of hurdles to living a happy life that we the people do. Reality television is a very Marvel concept - take all your drama and put it out there for everyone to talk about. And the use of the maddest man in the DCU to throw this team up against the League is completely appropriate.

It's also a nice tip of the hat to Marvel that, at the same time that the League is basically trouncing the Fantastic Four, the reality TV concept allows the growing affection between Hawkgirl and Green Lantern to blossom. Love on the super team is such a Marvel notion.

The Joker has used the media to his criminally crazy advantage since his first appearance in Batman # 1 in 1939. In that story, the Joker announced his intended victims on the media of the day: radio. For another recent example of the Joker's manipulation of media, look no further than current issues of the Bat-title, Gotham Central.

The Justice League is initially taken off guard by their dual roles - taking on the Royal Flush Gang while simultaneously tracking down the Joker's bombs

Superman again proves himself to be just that in this episode. When the League convenes in Vegas, Superman uses his powers to locate the Joker's real bomb, and, in under five seconds, realizes that the Joker has planted 25 bombs up and down the Vegas strip.

Later, when Superman is fending off Ten and trying to defuse a bomb at the same time, Clark's reaction to this wannabe trying to take out Superman is almost comedic as he chucks Ten like a rag doll straight up. Ten, who feels no pain, eventually proves that what goes up must come down, at which time the Man of Steel tosses him a good mile down the Vegas strip with ease.

The animated writers prove that Superman can exemplify incredibly awe-inspiring power and strength without losing his moral grounding in the process. Superman isn't arrogant in dismissing characters like Ten, or Aquaman in "The Terror Beyond"; it's genuine confidence in himself and his abilities. Experience tells Superman that he is the most powerful man on Earth. But that same experience tells Clark how to be Superman.

No one on the League knows the Joker like Batman, however, and it's Bruce who knows the Joker's greatest weakness: Harley Quinn. It's a pleasure to have Mark Hamill's Joker and Arleen Sorkin's Harley Quinn together again. They have two of the most recognizable voices in all of animation along with Kevin Conroy's Batman.

It seemed odd at first that the League permitted Harley to fly around with the Joker's henchmen in a helicopter to televise aerial views of the League's antics. But it becomes clear that Batman must have realized that Harley was another distraction that could wait until the initial dangers - the bombs and the super villains - were taken care of.

When the League is at their most desperate, Batman unleashes a psychological game against the psychologically disadvantaged Harley, convincing her that the Joker is setting her up so that he can be with Ace, the seemingly autistic female fifth member of the Royal Flush Gang who sits quietly and drools alongside the Joker during his telecast. When Harley confronts the Joker, he immediately realizes that her jealousy is bat-motivated and that Batman trailed her to the Joker's hideout. The censors have come a long way in understanding that cartoons aren't just for kids anymore thanks in large part to BTAS. The Joker hits Harley so hard, he knocks her across the room, something that a male villain probably wouldn't be allowed to do to a female villain eleven years ago.

The final act of the main action turns into a classic Batman Animated Series episode. The Joker's scheme is so insane, it turns out, it's immediately classic Joker. Ace, it seems, has the power to make people insane just by looking at them. All the Joker needed the League for was to get most of the world watching his show so that Ace's influence would be felt everywhere, turning the entire animated universe into a bunch of crazies. It's frightening how close he gets to success and it's clear that a lot of people are going to need therapy after watching this reality show.

With all this super human power at the Joker's disposal, however, it is ultimately the non-powered Batman who undoes the Joker's plans and saves the day. Ironically, the un-feeling Batman has no fear of using emotion and feelings against his adversaries; or, perhaps more appropriately, it's natural that Batman would view mental state as a weakness to be exploited in battle.

For the second week in a row, the Justice League has earned five out of five speeding bullets on the SFMWONS. Superman is portrayed truly as a Man of Tomorrow - someone better than other people not because he thinks he's better or stronger or more powerful, but because he's Superman, the ultimate role model of power, confidence and appropriate humility. And Superman has met the Joker so many times in the comic books (and in the three-part animated classic "World's Finest" that spun off the Superman animated series from BTAS) that there's a definite feeling of nostalgia nagging at the viewer.

Test for vigilant readers of the Superman Homepage - first person to e-mail me the comic book title and issue number of the first time the Joker and Superman met in post-John Byrne continuity gets recognized here next week as Supergeek. Hint: the Joker also played a game of hide and seek with bombs in that issue.

In last week's JLA episode, "Hereafter", the Man of Steel's funeral was attended by just about everyone. I thought I had named every attendee, but I was wrong.

First time writer to the Superman Homepage but long time reader, Mark Farrington, was the first of several to read me for missing Kyle Rayner among the plethora of Green Lanterns. Though Caleb "The Detective" wasn't first, he earns a mention for finding Kyle simply because his e-mail to me uses the classic late 80's Justice League sound effect: Bwahahhahahahahaha. He scared me so I'm mentioning him.

Also, Robsuper pointed out that the orphan who, in the comics, contacted Superman to tell him that Lois was kidnapped by the mutant people who lived below Metropolis was in a crowd shot at the funeral processional. Can anyone remember the kid's name?

Finally, Jorge Figueirdo scores points for recognizing that Clark's use of the sword under a red sun paid homage to several Superman Elseworlds stories too, including "Kal", "Speeding Bullets" and "The Shogun of Steel".

With readers like these, I'm going to need to stay on my toes, Superman-wise. Good thing next week's episode is titled "Comfort and Joy". While it's a holiday themed episode, the real comfort and joy to me will be the month-long hiatus that will follow the only 30 minute episode of JL this season. By the way, it also will be the first episode of JL written by animated legend Paul Dini, who's been busy with Duck Dodgers, amongst other things.

Peace out.

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