Superman on Television

Justice League: Episode Reviews

Season 5 - Episode 7: "Patriot Act"

Reviewed by: Barry M. Freiman

The General Uses the "Patriot Act" to Bug Seven Unlimited Soldiers

There is now something I like to call the Animated Universe way of doing business. See, DC Comics had the idea after their first "Crisis on Infinite Earths" in 1985 that they could disregard all the silly stuff that many felt created too many obstacles for writers seeking to tell simple stories. Except someone forgot to tell the DC Comics of the late 1980s that DC Comics is all about the silly stuff. Disregard the silly stuff and all you have left are weapons in spandex.

Then came the animated universe - as a truly new universe that grew out of 1992's "Batman: The Animated Series", it was the universe that the first "Crisis" sought to create: brand-spanking new and free of the burden of continuity. The animated shows introduced familiar characters with familiar story beats but added depth and layers to stories originally told over-simplistically in a Golden Age. In truth, the animated universe didn't really do it first - credit for using the past to create a new future in comic book form really belongs to the late DC editor Julius Schwartz, who used Golden Age characters to create a new Silver Age of super-heroics.

Ironically, after the first "Crisis", writers stumbled over themselves telling stories supposedly free of the past. Except the first "Crisis" didn't create a clean slate, it just said it did. So in the years that followed, there was initially a post-Crisis Superman who recalled that his cousin died in the first "Crisis" and there was then a post-Crisis Superman who lived in a world where he never had a super-cousin until recently. There were a gaggle of Hawkmen who either were or weren't members of the Justice Society and Justice League, depending on who was doing the writing. The post-Crisis DCU was a mess because it ignored the past. As it turns out, pretending yesterday didn't happen is more confusing than the burden of a lot of yesterdays. Thus the current "Infinite Crisis" (OK DC where's my nickel commission for plugging this poor under-marketed series, the fifth issue of which comes out Wednesday...).

Take the case of the Seven Soldiers of Victory.

In winter 1942's Leading Comics #1, eight heroes joined forces for the first time as the Seven Soldiers of Victory (the "SSOV"). They were only the second super-team in the DCU, the first having been the Justice Society of America. Except this super-team had no super-heroes, only costumed ones. Green Arrow and Speedy. The Star Spangled Kid and Stripesy. The Crimson Avenger and Wing. The Vigilante. The Shining Knight. And somehow the great minds of the Seven Soldiers of Victory added up the number of heroes comprising their new group incorrectly. Eight heroes became only Seven Soldiers.

The lesson? Never put the number of members of your team in the team's name. Even DC had apparently learned that lesson early on with the SSOV when they alternately referred to them as the Law's Legionnaires.

The SSOV only appeared as a team until 1945.

In 1972's Justice League of America #100-102, it's revealed that the SSOV disappeared after their last adventure in 1945 because the heroes became lost in time. The JLA and the Earth-2 JSA team up and retrieve the SSOV who are each trapped in a different era.

After the first "Crisis", the merging of the Earths and the retroactive changes in continuity it caused meant there'd never been an Earth-2. There had only been one Green Arrow (and one sidekick Speedy) and he was modern JLA'er Oliver Queen who likely hadn't even been born by 1945. Depending on who was telling the story, the SSOV's membership roster fluctuated - a character called The Spider replaced Green Arrow on the team. The Spider had no sidekick so Vigilante's sidekicks Stuff and Billy Gunn are alternatively named SSOV members.

In "Patriot Act", these seven heroes - all members of the "JLU" - work as a team within the team. Without hitting viewers over the head with a continuity axe, the creative team on "JLU" evokes the past in a way that honors geeks who know about the SSOV but doesn't make their historical existence an obstacle to enjoying or understanding the plot. That's the Animated Universe approach to business - embrace the past, emulate the past, but the extremes of ignoring the past or slavishly adhering to every nuance of the past don't result in well-told stories. And notwithstanding this episode's odd placement as a stand-alone follow up to last season's "Cadmus" arc, it is a well-told tale.

Not only do the writers adeptly navigate the murky past of the SSOV, they tell a story that mixes this team that originally came from Earth-2 with concepts from several other multiple Earths.

The hero in the flashback, the Spy Smasher, is an actual DCU hero. He came to DC by way of Fawcett Publications. Fawcett is perhaps better known for its flagship hero, Captain Marvel. Eventually, DC acquired the Shazam Family and all of the other heroes published by Fawcett and put them all on the newly created parallel world, Earth-S.

In the "JLU" flashback, Spy Smasher retrieves the Captain Nazi formula which General Eiling uses later in the episode. Captain Nazi was a muscle-bound Aryan counterpart to Captain Marvel - in fact, Captain Nazi maimed newsboy Freddy Freeman which set in motion the events that caused him to become Captain Marvel, Junior. The circumstances under which the Captain Nazi serum is to be administered in this episode should also be somewhat familiar to Marvel Comics Group fans - it's the setup for the origin of Captain America.

Then there's the SSOV's (or is that the League's) villain in this episode. General Wade Eiling is a post-Crisis creation. Shortly before the "Crisis", DC acquired the rights to the Charlton group's library of heroes which included Captain Atom, the Blue Beetle, and Peacemaker. These heroes made their DCU debut during the first "Crisis" as the denizens of Earth-4. After the "Crisis", there never was an Earth-4 however and the Charlton heroes were simply part of the new Earth-DC. General Eiling was created as an antagonist for the new DC version of Captain Atom in the late 80s. In the comics, Eiling eventually puts his mind into the body of the Earth-1 JLA villain, the Shaggy Man, where Eiling looked much as he does in the second half of "Patriot Act."

So with concepts spanning Earths 1, 2, 4, and S (and the Marvel Universe to boot), the "JLU" creative team once again deftly shows that there is a creative upside to continuity. And they do it with a story that's strangely also a kind of tribute to the inspiration that is Superman. In a story where Superman doesn't appear.

Next week, fan boys and girls may need to hire extra security to guard their brains. It's "The Great Brain Robbery" and already those brazen brain burglars have switched the minds of the arch-villainous Lex Luthor and the Fastest Man Alive, the Flash. So if the Flash is Luthor and the Luthor is Flash, and Michael Rosenbaum plays the Flash on "JLU" and Luthor on "Smallville", then ... three carried to the second power ... put the decimal five digits out ... divided by X times Y.... Hey, Rosenbaum's going to be the voice of Luthor on "JLU" also. Funky funky but chic.

Peace out.

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