Superman on Television

Justice League: Episode Reviews

Season 4 - Episode 7: "Clash"

Reviewed by: Barry Freiman

In this "Clash", Shazam Don't Like it -- Rock the Kasbah and the JLU

With one magic word, and one 22-minute segment, the Power of Shazam has come to the JLU -- and left it too. Captain Marvel, the World's Mightiest Mortal, has returned to animated television for the first time in over 20 years. And the Big Red Cheese brings with him a return to prominence of the ongoing Cadmus subplot, the manipulative Lex Luthor at his manipulating finest, and the first animated slugfest between Superman and Captain Marvel. As if this "Clash" of titans - well, Leaguers actually - weren't enough, Lois Lane adds to the fun too. Holy Moley, but that's good TV.

Once upon a time, Superman and Captain Marvel were legal adversaries owned by two different companies. Superman, as the first major super-hero, spawned a legion of imitators. Among the Kryptonian's competitors for the head hero throne - Fawcett Publications' extremely popular Captain Marvel series, which led to the Captain Marvel movie serial produced by Republic Pictures years before the first live-action Superman serial with Kirk Alyn.

From the onset of Superman's sudden stardom, DC's predecessor companies came out fighting any and all perceived imitators. But it was their legal claim against Fawcett and Republic Pictures, that Captain Marvel was merely a copy of the Man of Steel, that set in motion a chain of events that ultimately bankrupted Fawcett Publications and sent their entire pantheon of heroes - including Cap and the rest of the Marvel Family - into limbo for almost 20 years, a limbo ironically undone when DC acquired the rights to the Fawcett characters in the early 1970's. This put the former litigating heroes on the same team - but different Earths.

Beginning with the resurgence of super-heroes in the late 1950's came the idea that the DC universe was actually a multi-dimensional Multiverse. There was Earth-1, home of the Justice League; Earth-2, where the Golden Age heroes of the Justice Society resided; and, among the infinite Earths, there was Earth-S, where the Fawcett heroes resided.

Fawcett's heroes lived in a more tongue-in-cheek world than the League, one where Captain Marvel hung out with an intelligent talking tiger, a calorically-challenged self-proclaimed Uncle Marvel, and a plethora of kid Marvels, Lieutenant Marvels, and even bunny Marvels.

The fun of the pre-Crisis DCU was in bringing together the heroes and villains of multiple Earths and seeing how their different worlds affected their interactions. Superman appeared on the cover of DC's first issue of "Shazam" (so named because of an arrangement with Marvel Comics not to feature the word "Marvel" on the cover of a DC book, an arrangement that apparently exists to this day) introducing a DC audience to the hero that Superman's legal team brought to a stand-still in the early 50's.

However, the first resident of DC's established Earth-1 to meet up with the Fawcett characters in a DC-penned story was Lex Luthor. Luthor traveled to Earth-S and met up with Captain Marvel nemesis, Mr. Mind, a sentient alien worm.

Shortly thereafter came the inevitable crossover between the Earth-1 JLA, the Earth-2 JSA, and the Earth-S heroes in "Justice League of America" issues 135-137. As an homage to the legal battle between Supes and Cap, the three-parter concluded with a Red Kryptonite crazed Superman engaged in a head-on battle with Captain Marvel.

With the renewed popularity of Captain Marvel, helped by the live-action "Shazam!" TV series, more of these cross-dimensional meetings seemed inevitable. In 1978, a tabloid-sized comic, "Superman vs. Shazam", brought together not just Superman and Cap, but their female counterparts, Supergirl and Mary Marvel, and their villainous doppelgangers, Black Adam and Quarrmer.

Superman and Cap meetings became more common as time went on but the popularity of the pairings never waned. Even the Golden Age Superman of Earth-2 met up with Captain Marvel over in the pages of All-Star Squadron.

After the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" resulted in one unified Earth-DC, both Superman and Captain Marvel found their histories totally revamped - and found themselves living on the same Earth. Even as cohabiting members of Earth-DC, meetings between Superman and Captain Marvel were relatively infrequent and always special.

Then came "Kingdom Come". Billed as an Elseworlds tale, it posited the unhappy future of a DC Universe out of control. Lex Luthor brainwashed an adult Billy Batson into serving his interests, which ultimately resulted in a battle royale between Billy's alter-ego and the Man of Steel.

Elements of all of these Superman and Captain Marvel meetings are present in the highly-charged "Clash". This episode uses Captain Marvel's innocence and idealism to the advantage of both plot and of understanding Superman's point of view. Even knowing that Lex Luthor is up to no good, the League - and especially Superman - have been tainted by this experience not just in the eyes of the denizens of animated Earth-DC, but in the eyes of fans too.

Superman and Captain Marvel are often accused of having very black-and-white views of right and wrong. But their "Clash" has revealed the subtle nuances of grey that separate even the most righteous and similar-minded of heroes.

On the SFMWNS, the "Clash" earns a perfect five speeding bullets. In the interests of fairness, that's two and a half each for Big Blue and the Big Red Cheese.

Oh, by the way, in the scene with Superman and Batman discussing Captain Marvel as they fight a quartet of super-villains, the four villains are... well, you tell me - whoever writes in first to tell me the names of the four baddies gets the acclaim that comes with being recognized by one's peers in my next review.

And speaking of my next review:

Next up - a "Mystery in Space" with John Stewart's ex-girlfriend, Hawkgirl, paired up with John Stewart's current girlfriend, Vixen. I sense a meta-cat fight coming on.

Peace out - and see "Batman Begins".

Back to the "Justice League: Episode Reviews" Contents page.

Back to the main TELEVISION page.