Superman on Television
Justice League: Episode Reviews
Season 3 - Episode 11: "Wake The Dead"Reviewed by: Barry Freiman
Grundy Smash "Wake the Dead" Sure-Cure for Super-Hero Depression.
As the winter blahs get ready to set in, thank your lucky stars you're not Hawkgirl Shayera Thol. The poor bird's grounded herself out of guilt for her part in the Thanagarian invasion from last season's three part finale, "Starcrossed." She lost not just boyfriend John Stewart (GL), and her job in the JL, but, it seems, her identity as well - both on Thanagar and on Earth. In this week's JLU episode, "Wake the Dead", the title refers as much to Hawkgirl's emotional journey that ultimately reunites her with the JL as it is does waking dead zombie Solomon Grundy.
The pre-opening credits prologue plays like "Six Feet Under: The Animated Series." Like the HBO mega-hit, the prologue focuses on characters who don't realize they're about to die. When Grundy's hand plunges through the door grabbing one kid's head, I half expected the screen to fade to white with the names of the kids, and their birth and death years. Unlike last week's wasted opening, here the creators explain concisely why Grundy's back and so angry while making pointed statements on the frailty of humanity both physically and morally.
Not even companions Aquaman, Dr. Fate, Inza, and Ivo's android Amazo can cheer Hawkgirl up - and what an odd group to try. DC Comics abandoned the hairy, hooked Aquaman, re-embracing his orange-suited look and a happier attitude just as the animated universe has made the angry Aquaman work. He's not bitter like his comic counterpart seemed to be; as Atlantean King, he simply has no time for fools.
If JLU were ever considered a kids' show, as opposed to more sophisticated animated fare, those days are over. In this episode, Solomon Grundy kills three kids, one killing taking place partially on screen. Hawkgirl suffers from depression. Aquaman insults women in an attempt to goad Hawkgirl into action. And Hawkgirl essentially commits euthanasia on poor Grundy (or does she?), whom she compares to poor rabid dog Old Yeller.
Anyone who plunks down more than $2.25 on DC Comics every Wednesday - or ever has - should be watching JLU because it features by far the finest writing of any DC show in the history of television with the possible exception of the live-action Batman. This combination of action and soap-operatic emotion is what comic books are all about - or should be when it's done right.
It's hard to believe that, a mere three years ago, Superman voice actor George Newbern was the upstart replacement for STAS's Tim Daly, because, today, Newbern is to JLU what Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill were to BTAS. Like Christopher Reeve, Newbern understands that Superman's power is conveyed through the costume and super abilities, not tough talk (take that, Chuck Austen). Newbern's Superman is understated and confident, so much so that when he's frazzled as he is after the beating given to him by Solomon Grundy, it's so unexpected as to be humorous.
Vixen makes her speaking debut on JLU. She's another character along the lines of the Question, whom I gave little thought to before her appearance on JLU, notwithstanding that she made her comic book debut as a supporting character to Superman in a 1981 issue of Action Comics. Now, having seen her TV personality and animated depiction of her powers, I'm impressed. Perhaps, rather than with over-the-top mini-series' like "Identity Crisis", the best way to spotlight "B"-level characters in the DCU is how it's handled on JLU -- with simple stories that allow the hero or heroine to show what he or she can do.
"Wake the Dead" scores a perfect five out of five speeding bullets. Superman kicks a** and kicks up yucks in a stand-out episode.
Onto business matters.
Stand up and recognize Steve Crow, who recognized there were two Steels in last week's show, not just the one Steel I'd seen. Both Steel of the Detroit JLA (Hank Heywood) and Steel, Superman's pal (John Henry Irons), were on the scene. Thanks, Steve!!
Also, "Starcrossed" was nominated for a Writing Guild award - its co-nominees in the animation category? Four episodes of "The Simpsons" - in that company, it is enough of an honor to be nominated, but here's hoping they win. The winners of the 57th Annual Writers Guild Awards will be announced on February 19, 2005.
Hiatus anyone? It's holiday time, which, in TV land, lasts till February sweeps. So there's no preview for next week. However, during the closing credits, we get glimpses of Black Canary and - is nothing sacred to Bruce Timm's animation team? - the DC Western characters including Bat Lash! Also coming in 2005 - the JL meet the future JLU including Batman Beyond Terry McGinnis. Holy possible futures and, to those celebrating Christmas, holy nights. Happy New Year and, as always,
Back to the "Justice League: Episode Reviews" Contents page.