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Monday, 20 November 2017

Justice League 1-01: Secret Origins

Episodes:1-3|Writer:Rich Fogel|Air Date:17-Nov-2001

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm writing about the first episode of the Justice League cartoon! Or maybe the first three episodes depending on how you look at it. Either way, the story's still called Secret Origins.

Justice League was the seventh cartoon in the epic DC Animated Universe continuity, which began with Batman: The Animated Series in 1992 and ended with Justice League Unlimited in 2006. So that places this episode about two-thirds of the way through the DCAU era, at a point where Static Shock and Zeta Project (cartoons 5 and 6) were still airing. In fact, Batman Beyond (cartoon 4) also had an episode left to air, so it was a busy time for DC animation.

I didn't watch any of them at the time though. First time I saw any Justice League was a few years later when I was flipping through channels and caught 10 minutes of an episode where the League goes into a parallel universe and meets versions of the Golden Age Justice Society. Except I didn't know that, as I'd missed the start, so what I saw looked to me like some goofy Golden Age-inspired comedy series for young children and I quickly decided I wasn't interested. And that's the story of how one of season 1's best episodes nearly put me off the Justice League cartoon forever. Fortunately, my second exposure to the series left me hopelessly addicted until I'd finished it all off.

This is going to be a full recap with commentary and massive SPOILERS, but I doubt I'll be saying much about events in the DCAU cartoons leading up to it and I definitely won't be spoiling anything that came after it.



The episode begins with two animated astronauts on a manned mission to find water in this painting of Mars (it's a panning shot so I couldn't resist stitching it all together). So right away the episode's establishing that tech in this universe is a little more advanced than ours, even in 2017.

These two are called J. Allen Carter and Ed Reiss, so you've got a reference there to the sci-fi hero John Carter of Mars, a reference to his creator Edgar Rice Burrows, and a reference to Jay Garrick, Alan Scott and Carter Hall, the original Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman! I wish I was so good at coming up with names.

Carter spots what looks like an ice crystal and digs it out with his pickaxe, causing the ground to inexplicably give way beneath the two of them. Ed bounces his way clear in the low Martian gravity, but Carter's not so lucky, finding himself deep underground in a dark cave covered in Martian glyphs.

I love the animation effects here, with falling rocks leaving dust trails, and the flashlight on his helmet casting light on the wall that moves as he turns his head; it's really well done. Plus everyone loves a lens flare.

Carter finds himself staring at a sealed door and figures that opening it up with his pickaxe is probably the really smart thing to do. The door opens up and we get a POV shot from whatever's rushing out to kill him. The moral of the story: don't bring your pickaxe to Mars, I guess.

I suppose that's all we'll be seeing of Carter this episode then. Seems like a bit of a waste of Gary Cole really.

With the teaser finished with the episode transitions to the opening credits, which features awkward rubbery looking 3D rendered silhouettes of the seven Justice League heroes slowly walking away from a nuclear explosion (or something).

The line up for this series is Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, The Flash and Hawkgirl, which is very close to matching the original set of founders in the comics, but not quite. A couple of them are the right hero but the wrong character and Aquaman's been replaced by a woman who can't even talk to fish. Still, at least they got the right number of members (unlike the movie), and thankfully this came out way before DC started putting the robot bloke from Teen Titans into every Justice League comic, cartoon and film. I love the guy in Teen Titans Go! but Cyborg always feels like the Poochie of the League to me somehow.

I've never been a big fan of this opening. I can see what they’re going for with the art deco style, but the untextured 3D isn't doing the characters any favours and it's all very slow compared to the intros that came before it. I would say that the animation does at least suit the theme tune, but then I'd be damning the music with faint praise too.

Act one starts off in Metropolis two years after Carter's adventure on Mars, with Batman sneaking around the ceiling of one of his own buildings, investigating astronomy crime. The series takes place after The New Batman Adventures and he's switched over to a new suit with purple highlights and longer ears since then. I like it, it suits him.

We haven't been told what brought him here, but these three astronomers are speaking alien and one effortlessly lifts up a giant computer mainframe like it's a vending machine in Deus Ex, so it seems like Gotham's greatest detective is onto something.

They take an alien device up to the top of a massive dish on the roof, but Batman corners them and ties two of them up together with a bolas. Turns out that picking a fight with stupidly strong aliens is actually a stupid idea though, especially when they can also stretch to let the ropes binding them fall to the ground, and the third alien gives him a punch to the ribs that sounds like someone just dropped a giant metal computer mainframe on his chest.

Somehow Batman isn't dead after this, and he's still so confident he can take them that when Superman's floating legs turn up in the nick of time he tells them they're not needed! He's against three super-strong aliens who can take a Batarang to the head without blinking and stretch to escape anything he traps them in, so I'm struggling to see what his plan is here.

Fortunately, Superman decides he's going to stick around and help out regardless...

... and is immediately taken out of the fight by a strange flickering psychic art attack that knocks him to the floor. 9 seconds he lasted in this fight; if it was any other character I'd say that has to be a new personal record, but for Superman I'm not so sure.

It's Batman who has to save them both in the end, as he swings Superman to safety just as an alien bomb blows the dish to pieces behind them.

Superman lands on his face a few times as they bounce down the hill, but he's Superman so he probably barely noticed.

He's had a redesign as well since his cartoon, with a highlight added to his hair, plus drawn on cheekbones and lines under his eyes to make him look more mature. The update made him look a bit too old though so the lines didn't stick around after season one. He's also got a new voice actor, with George Newbern replacing Tim Daly, but Batman's still Kevin Conroy. The guy's still voicing animated Batmans even now, mostly because he has the same voice as him.

Oh damn, I'm not a doctor, but none of this seems healthy. They quickly pull themselves apart and put themselves back together like weird plastic shapeshifting aliens sometimes do, then walk off through the trees, with the one at the back doing a cheeky finger gun gesture at Batman before disappearing out of sight. It's like they know how much he hates guns!

Batman decides not to give chase because... I dunno, maybe the ground knocked some sense into him, and instead sticks around to give Superman the story so far. He's detected several security breaches in their global deep space monitoring network over the past few months and it definitely seems like these guys are to blame.

Superman has to fly though, so he hands Batman a signal watch so he can get in touch if he needs "any more help" and then takes off. Batman stands and thinks for a moment about all the help he's been so far, says "Right," to no one in particular and then sticks it into his utility belt. In the pouch reserved for things he ain't ever planning to use.

Turns out that Superman had to rush because he needed to be at the World Assembly to accept an offer from Senator Carter to become his 'bold new solution to peace'. Hey, Carter came back from Mars and became a politician! Well, that's slightly sinister, but it means more Gary Cole so I'm not complaining.

General Wells in the audience isn’t too happy about them entrusting the security of the entire world to just one man, but Superman believes he’s up to it! It's like he's already forgotten he lasted just 9 seconds in his last fight and let the villains get away. He's likely still got the grass stains on his face.

But it turns out that his role as the 'bold new solution' doesn't just involve upholding the ideals of truth and justice for all the world...

... it also involves disarming the world's nuclear weapons. The episode's going full Superman IV: The Quest for Peace!

There's been another 6 month jump by this point, so we're now 2.5 years into the story. Whatever the aliens are up to, they've had a long time to prepare for it. Everything seems fine right now though, as we get a news report from Snapper Carr showing people on the street cheering and yelling "Superman rocks!"

The Flash is less impressed by the idea of one man protecting the whole world though, as he's the fastest man alive and even he can't be in five places at once.

But then the camera pulls back from the screen to reveal that Superman was the one watching the news! Well, Clark Kent anyway. He goes to sleep in his cosy art deco bedroom with a fireplace at the foot of the bed and gets hit by another surprise psychic flash! The guy can't even successfully go to bed without being defeated by something.

Meanwhile, Batman's sneaking into a scruffy disused building with S.T.A.R. Lab on the sign. I guess this must have been S.T.A.R. Labs' old building from back when they only had the one lab. So hang on, does this mean Batman's been investigating these same aliens for 6 months now? Because that's who he finds here.

Turns out the aliens are pulling a body snatchers/Zygon routine; capturing people and then putting them in pods so that they can imitate them and take over their lives. The good news is that the kidnapped scientists are still alive, the bad news is that they've been stuck here 6 months and the aliens have probably eaten their families or something by this point.

The worst news is that super-strong shapeshifting aliens also come in guard dog form.

'That's some interesting character design' is probably not what Batman's thinking right now, as the alien dog knocks him onto some barrels, then kicks him through a window into a shelving unit, which topples over onto him. It's at this point that Batman decides 'yeah maybe I'll use that watch'.

Superman hears the signal and races to his rescue, lifting the heavy shelving unit off the unconscious vigilante.

But then a meteor comes falling from the sky, in a shot that looks a whole lot like the cover to J. Michael Straczynski's Rising Stars. Amazingly it misses all major landmarks and the cute little dog, and manages to crash down into the middle of a city without harming a soul. The weirdest thing though is the lighting effect as the flaming meteor shines through the windows in the empty S.T.A.R. Lab.

It looks cool and must have taken forever to do, but it don't look right. This may have been a good time for someone to break out the CGI, as it would've taken like half an hour to model and render a reference scene on an average home PC.

Superman carries an unconscious Batman to a nearby ambulance stretcher before flying off again to check for other wounded. The EMT asks the him what happened to the guy but the best she gets out of him is "I'm not sure." It sure looked to me like he'd been crushed under that shelving unit he found him under, but at this point it seems Superman unwilling to make any assumptions. Or even use his X-ray vision to check for broken bones.

The good news is that Batman is conscious enough to protect his secret identity by grabbing the EMT's hand before she can check under his cowl.

The bad news is that the meteor contained a Martian tripod war machine sent here to conquer the Earth with its devastating heat rays.

This looks like a job for whoever the hero of War of the Worlds was. Or better yet, Superman! Oh, nope, he's immediately taken out by the tripod's gun. Total time before defeat: around 4 seconds; a new record! It’s a shame Batman isn’t in any condition to save him this time.

Oh wait, he actually is, as he grapples up off the stretcher to his Batwing hoving overhead and starts firing missiles! He's not a big fan of guns but I guess missiles are okay with him. They don’t actually do anything but get the machine's attention, though the explosions look cool at least.

So now he has to evade the tripod's laser beam counter-attack in his Batwing and it's all getting a bit Batman v Superman. But Superman's been helped up by some bystanders and now he's back in the fight! He flies over, gets some good hits on the walker and the music starts to sound triumphant...

...and then he’s taken out again while trying to crack it open and get inside. He lasted maybe 12 seconds on that attempt. Maybe if he could stop putting himself right in front of the war machine's only gun, that might help. Try breaking their spindly little legs Superman!

This time Snapper Carr is the one that rushes over to dig Superman out, and the two of them look over to see another meteor opening up, and then another one. Now this really looks like a job for Superman! But then he gets another psychic vision that drives him to fly away, leaving it to Batman and the US military to save the day; including General Wells himself who drives over in a tank!

There's another reference for you, by the way: General Wells shares his name with H.G. Wells, the author of War of the Worlds.

After hours of intense battle, Snapper Carr presents another news broadcast to report that the heart of the city lies in ruins and the day remains very much un-saved.

It's scenes like this that left me a little confused by some people's reaction to the devastation in Man of Steel's third act, as this is what happens in superhero fights! I understand that people have become a little more sensitive to footage of buildings coming down after 9/11, but this episode aired two months after the event, and it's definitely not the last time a city gets wrecked in the Justice League series. I don't know, maybe it was seeing it in live action that put people off. Or, more likely, most of the audience had never seen the cartoons or the comics, and were expecting something more along the lines of the Christopher Reeve films.

See, there's another city in flames! I guess the Eiffel Tower was too tempting for the aliens to pass up. They're attacking Cairo and Malaysia right now as well, but I can imagine other cities around the world are currently preparing for the worst as well, and are racing to get all their landmarks covered up.

Meanwhile, somewhere completely different, characters we haven't seen yet are sitting on horses at the beach.

This is Wonder Woman and her mother Hippolyta, who are both entirely fine with absolutely zero tripods bothering them. They're both aware of what's happening though somehow and Wonder Woman feels that 'these omens don't bode well'. But Hippolyta doesn't give a damn about what's happening elsewhere; the gods protect them from the alien war machines so why should she care?

That's it, we're done with these two now. This whole Amazon interlude lasted only slightly longer than Superman does in a fight and they won't be seen for the rest of the episode.

Batman has ended up somewhere snowy at this point, presumably on the trail of Superman. He finds a military base here covered in wrecked tanks and vehicles with a giant hole smashed into a wall, so that's not a good sign. You don't want a brainwashed Superman.

But inside he finds more of the body snatcher pods and Superman punching a giant metal door. It's almost like he's just killing time waiting for Batman to turn up though, as once he arrives he effortlessly lifts the door out and throws it away. There's a fantastic bit of subtle animation here, as when the door lands the displaced air makes the end of Batman's cape sway a little. The animators didn't have to put that in, no one would've missed it, but it helps sell how heavy the thing is. Which is good, as they really do need to work harder on selling how strong Superman is after his performance so far.

Behind the door the two of them find a naked green guy trapped in a device... and it's J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter! Though they don't know that as this is the first time they've met. It turns out that the psychic blasts were coming from him, as he's been trying to call for help but the stasis field has been interfering. Wait, he's been stuck in that rig calling for help for 6 months now? Damn, man.

J'onn reveals that he came to Earth to warn them of the invasion but his captors wouldn't listen (probably because they were pod people). He realises Batman isn't entirely buying his benevolence, so he decides to shapeshift and change form into a slightly less Martian shape to put him more at ease. It doesn't work. It's a nice touch though that he ends up shifting into his iconic costume of a cape, boots and underwear with a belt because he's trying to fit in with Batman and Superman specifically. He forgot the shirt, trousers and iconic chest logo though.

The three of them leave, but they're ambushed outside by soldiers! Who are also aliens in disguise!

So that's the cliffhanger at the end of part 1: will the two near-invulnerable alien superheroes who can fly and shoot lasers from their eyes be able to escape some other, presumably weaker, aliens with ray guns? Or will Batman have to bail them both out?


JUSTICE LEAGUE 1-02: SECRET ORIGINS, PART II


Part 2 skips the teaser and starts in Themyscira, with a mysterious cloaked figure sneaking into a gigantic room full of pillars to steal some magical sparkly earrings and stuff (it's Wonder Woman).

Then after a Star Wars wipe to take us back to the snowy military base we get to see what Batman, Superman and Martian Manhunter are up to after the cliffhanger.

Holy shit, I suspected Superman was going to go down quickly, but I didn't expect him to be taken out with the first shot! He lasted about 4 seconds after the aliens turned openly hostile, which is pretty damn impressive but not quite a personal record. I was also impressed with how hard he hit the truck behind him when the ray gun sent him flying.

Somehow it's Batman who does the most damage in the fight, taking out one alien with a Batarang to the head despite the fact that his Batarang did nothing to the alien in part 1. Superman soon recovers though and protects the other two with a tank as they run to climb into the Batwing. Because the tank is apparently tougher against ray guns than Superman is.

Then there's an exciting canyon chase with Batman evading lasers in the Batwing as Superman flies around, taking the attacking ships down one by one. Well, he takes down one of them at least, before being knocked down by a single laser blast. 6 seconds of heroism is all they'd let him have.

So Batman's left to fend for himself and he does pretty well considering how outnumbered he is, managing to take down an alien fighter himself with crazy flying alone. Not so great for the alien who died in that fiery wreck, but I wouldn't go as far as saying Batman just killed someone.

I would say that he just got his wing shot off though, because he did.

But Green Lantern shows up and saves him with a tractor beam from his ring! That's the John Stewart Green Lantern I mean, not Hal Jordan. It's not Kyle Rayner either, despite the fact he already made an appearance in the Superman cartoon. Stewart was actually my first Green Lantern thanks to this series and he's still the one I'm most familiar with, though now that I've read some comics I kind of wish Guy Gardner had shown up here instead. He's such a loveable git.

Stewart's not alone though, as it looks like Birdgirl from Harvey Birdman has arrived to help out too! "Hawkgirl? What's she doing here?" asks Batman, like she's someone we should already know about. I'd definitely never heard of her when I first watched the series, but I looked up her comic book version once and I kind of wish I hadn't. She's a bit of a mess.

It's funny how the first episode set aside a few seconds to introduce Flash and Wonder Woman for later, but then it's Green Lantern and Hawkgirl who actually show up first. Now that they're around to draw some of the fire even Superman's dealing some real damage now, and together they make short work of the enemy fighters. There's lots of great explosions here, it's all very cool looking. (I've read that some of them were apparently recycled from earlier episodes and movies, but I never would've noticed).

Soon Wonder Woman turns up to defend Hawkgirl with her bracelets and Flash arrives carrying the missing bit of the Batwing, so now it's Batman's turn to be the useless one as all he gets to do here is run from the falling debris.

Man, that wing must be light. Isn't there typically something inside wings? Something electronic? Moving flaps? Fuel tanks? I guess can't be anything important as Superman just welds the bits of metal together with his eye beams and it's apparently fixed. The guy's better at repairing jet aircraft than he is at punching villains.

It turns out that the heroes all arrived here at the same time because Martian Manhunter telepathically summoned them (except for Batman who stumbled into this situation on his own). Which raises the question of how he knew to invite Wonder Woman, when she's so new at this she hadn't even stolen her costume yet. And can he always mentally incapacitate people from across the country with trippy psychic art attacks or is that a 'pilot episode only' trick?

Now that they're all here and no one's shooting at them, J'onn starts to tell them his tragic backstory with the aid of a flashback. His people first encountered the body-snatching aliens a thousand of our years ago (or 531 Martian years), which is interesting as that means these guys aren't White Martians, despite the fact that they're filling the same role in the series mythology. They invaded Mars's cities with their tripods and shot up the place with their heat rays, and the peaceful Green Martians didn't much appreciate it and began to fight back.

The battle raged on for centuries, many lives were lost but eventually a small group of survivors wearing gasmasks broke into the invaders' underground stronghold and deployed a nerve gas. This gas both paralysed the invaders (who were apparently all home at the time) and also gave the animators a chance to show off their cool smoke effects. J'onn was the only survivor of this daring strike team and also his entire race, making it his duty to seal up their citadel to keep them in a constant state of suspended animation and then stand guard at the door. But he fell asleep and that's when Carter broke the seal and inadvertently revived them... by letting the gas escape?

Flash's reaction to hearing this tragic story of the death of a civilization from its sole survivor... is to complain that the astronauts never mentioned finding life on Mars. Green Lantern blames the pencil pushers in Washington.

The episode cuts back to Snapper Carr "reporting live from ground zero in Metropolis", where the alien walkers have cleared a space for this giant bioorganic machine to form from tentacles and do its thing. He gets a short interview with General Wells who explains that they can't stop the aliens because all their 'big missiles' have been disarmed and Superman's gone and abandoned them. Well, he does have a point there, but I doubt the city would be any prettier and the sky would be any clearer if they'd started dropping nukes.

Back at the snowy cliffside of exposition, J'onn explains that the aliens are nocturnal and are using these machines to fill the sky with black smoke to blot out the sun. Black smoke's another trick the War of the Worlds Martians use as well, though in that it's a poisonous cloud used to kill people on the ground. More like the gas J'onn used to paralyse them back on Mars in fact. The Flash once again proves that despite appearances he does have a brain by suggesting that they make up more of that nerve gas, but it can only be made with a rare Martian plant and the sample J'onn brought was destroyed.

So Wonder Woman comes up with a different plan: destroy the factories. Wait, what factories? Who told her that there were factories? All they can see is a cloud of smoke.

Poor Wonder Woman has a bad time in this scene as first Green Lantern wants her to sit this out because she's a rookie and they almost come to blows over it, then Flash immediately appears on her shoulder when it's suggested they split into teams.

Green Lantern decides to bring Flash with him instead though, as he'll do a better job 'without distractions'. In their defence, Green Lantern had zero issues with Hawkgirl as she's (apparently) a proven veteran and Flash's creepiness is purely focused on Wonder Woman... okay that's not much of a defence. So those two are headed to Malaysia then I guess.

But it turns out that Flash does a terrible job even when he's not distracted, as he runs in to attack the Malaysian smoke factory alone before Green Lantern can come up with a plan, trips on some exploding goop and gets his ass stuck in a slime puddle trap.

So Green Lantern flies over and saves him from a walker by effortlessly slicing its leg off with his ring, then swoops down to get him out off-screen. It's really starting to seem like Hawkgirl and GL are the 'getting shit done' part of this operation. Though I like how these scenes are being used to demonstrate their contrasting personalities, combat styles and approaches to solving problems instead of being purely action for action's sake.

Meanwhile, Batman, Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter are going after the smoke machine in Cairo, right next to the pyramids (I told you that aliens love going after landmarks). Funnily enough Wonder Woman does the exact same thing Flash did, running in before Batman can spy on them and figure out their weaknesses, but that's fine with him as it means he gets to evaluate her abilities instead. Batman's superpower is knowledge. Also money and backflips.

She's not quite as effective as Green Lantern but she does take a walker down using the 'tow cable around the legs' trick from that really old movie. So that mean GL and Wonder Woman both have one kill each, while Superman gave it two tries and ran away. By the way, if you look at the walker's head in this shot it looks like it's got a happy purple Martian face on it:

It's so happy!

The walker smashes through the smoke machine on the way down, giving the three of them an opening to get inside. The aliens flee further inside, with Wonder Woman and J'onn giving chase, but Batman hangs around outside for a minute before going in, the music subtly indicating that he's figured something out. I think he's just been doing his Batman thing at night for so long he's forgotten what daylight looks like.

Team Hawkgirl find a way into the Metropolis factory too, thanks to Superman throwing a walker's severed leg through the wall (after Hawkgirl smashes it), but Team Green Lantern isn't having as much luck. GL's finally gotten Flash free of the sticky goop, but he's knocked out when yellow gas from a grenade seeps through his forcefield bubble. That's kind of a worrying flaw in his Green Lantern ring, seeing as he frequently relies on the thing to get him through the deadly vacuum of space without dying. I have real concerns about its safety!

Superman and Hawkgirl enter their factory, with Hawkgirl keeping Superman safe by taking out all the aliens they come across with her mace. She even gets to have a line for once: “My home, Thanagar, is a warlike world. There one must strike first, or die!” Maybe in part 3 she'll get to have a good line. The two of them are doing well though... until the doors slam shut around them and the yellow gas is pumped in. Shame the aliens didn't count on Superman being immune!

Oh wait, they did. Superman tries to shove the door open and immediately gets electrocuted into unconsciousness. I'm going to have to leave this paused here for a minute because I'm laughing too much. Seriously!

So he tried to save Batman and got knocked out, he tried to save Metropolis and got knocked out, he tried to save Batman and Martian Manhunter and got knocked out, and now it's Hawkgirl's turn to contemplate how entirely useless he is as a hero. It was about 6 seconds between the gas starting and him knocking himself out by the way, if you're curious.

Meanwhile, things are getting serious inside the Cairo factory for team Batman, so he pulls out his electrified knuckle duster so that he can actually harm these aliens. He could even take down Superman with that thing! The three of them reach the central core, where aliens are working at control panels across the walls and ceilings like they're just ignoring gravity to show off. J'onn reveals that they need to grab the ion matrix crystal to shut the place down, so Batman and Wonder Woman do a bit of sabotage and violence as a diversion while he swipes it. It's funny how Batman's actually been more of a team player than Flash, Hawkgirl or Wonder Woman so far. But things soon take a turn for the disastrous when J'onn is wounded and needs to be evacuated and Batman ends up trapped with the crystal behind a closing door.

Batman finds himself at a dead end and turns to look the pursuing aliens in the... eye... shape... thing as they gather to shoot him dead. Wonder Woman hears their gunfire from the other side of the door and sees the energy blasts visibly deforming it, and J'onn psychically confirms that yep, he's dead. Batman R.I.P. Except he can't be dead, because he's in Batman Beyond! But there's no way he could've escaped either, so that's an interesting cliffhanger.


JUSTICE LEAGUE 1-03: SECRET ORIGINS, PART III


Secret Origins, Part 3 begins with chaos in the streets as people are shoplifting and pushing old women over like it's the end of the world. Plus that graffiti artist up there has posted a pretty depressing status update. On the plus side, folks have finally got that deep space monitoring station from the start of part one fixed... just in time to detect a massive alien mothership coming in.

The survivors of Team Batman are watching the mayhem from a rooftop, with Wonder Woman being a bit judgemental, calling them "untamed savages" and Martian Manhunter saying that they're just scared. Meanwhile, Team Green Lantern has been busy actually saving people. They meet up on the roof and get each other up to date on who's been captured and who's been killed.

They decide that their next move should be to rescue Superman and Hawkgirl from the Metropolis factory, but they've got a time limit as J'onn senses that the Imperium is coming; the supreme intelligence in charge of the invasion. This time the four of them use teamwork to break inside the factor, with the Flash drawing the aliens' attention by being childish and annoying until a walker tries stomping on him and hits some explosive goop instead. Now the goop's on the other foot!

Oh man, that's a nasty move to use on someone. J'onn disguised himself as an alien, pointed these two in the direction of the intruders, then phased his arms through their backs and became solid again! Seems like it did a lot more damage to them that it did to his arms, as they're almost certainly dead now. The heroes sure are killing a lot of aliens this episode for people with a code against taking lives; I guess murder doesn't count if the victim doesn't look human. Plus they are kind of at war for the survival of the entire human race right now.

Outside the factory, the alien mothership starts coming down over the city with a very Independence Day-style cloud effect, sending shockwaves that smash all the windows on exactly two buildings and knock a generic "Cola" sign down onto the street. Fortunately no one's hurt, despite the fact that the streets are filled with people too dumb to be elsewhere when alien war machines are destroying the city.

Inside the factory, J'onn uses his psychic powers to lead the League to Superman and Hawkgirl, but it turns out to be a trap and they're all gassed! Even the Flash and J'onn, who can phase through walls. It seems that J'onn has inadvertently taught the aliens the strategic benefit of just gassing everyone who opposes them and with this new trick they are unstoppable.

Weirdly though the prisoners turn out to be evil aliens in disguise, which makes absolutely no sense to me, because a: J'onn claimed he could sense actual Superman and Hawkgirl, b: the fake prisoners don't do anything but hang there helpless, and c: the fake prisoners don't do anything but hang there helpless. They could've just put the actual captives here as bait and it would've changed absolutely nothing.

The six of them wake up to find that their arms and legs are stuck in the floor, and they can do nothing but wait for a villain to come over and monologue at them... which it turns out to be Senator Carter! The real Carter never returned from Mars, instead they sent an alien doppelganger to gain a position of political power and trick Superman into disarming the world and making it helpless! They presumably considered Superman himself to be no threat at all, and that assessment was entirely correct.

Then a purple blobby metroid-looking creature comes down from the mothership overhead. It's Imperium, and he wants to have a chat with his arch-nemesis, the Martian Manhunter. First though J'onn has to be zapped in the nipples until his clothes fall off.

I feel terrible for not finding any good frames of Superman stretched out as he's going into super-speed, so I've made a video of Martian Manhunter stretching instead.

Then Imperium starts burrowing his tentacles under J'onn's skin and he's clearly not enjoying it. He's enjoying it even less when he's pulled inside Imperium and then repeatedly zapped. What the fuck, episode?

But Imperium senses that J'onn's hiding something. "Is this another of your Martian tricks?" he asks, which is probably the most villainous thing he's done so far. Only villains ever say that line, while heroes are typically the only ones who get to say things like "You're insane!" And I wish they'd both stop.

Anyway, J'onn has got one card hidden up his sleeve, and I'm hoping it's that he's secretly caught a cold, which is deadly to the invaders with their alien immune system, but absolutely safe to him with his... alien immune system. Okay, I didn't think this through.

Actually, his hidden card is DEUS EX BATMAN, who appears out of nowhere to save the day. Turns out that J'onn has been mentally shielding him from being detected this whole time, even while he was being gassed unconscious, zapped, tentacled and absorbed into a metroid blob to be zapped some more. The others had to think he was dead because the aliens can read minds I guess.

So Batman sticks a gadget he just happened to have onto the ion matrix crystal to reverse the ion charge and turn all the red stuff on the walls to blue. This changes it from a smoke factory to a smoke-clearing factory, bringing back the blue sky and daylight, which begins to shine into the lair through the open roof. Seems that when Batman hesitated outside of the factory in Cairo he was actually thinking about the sun, and how the aliens were making a real effort to stay out of it. He observed them until he found a weakness, just like he said he was doing.

Turns out that the aliens bubble and melt in direct sunlight as they've got no defence against the ultraviolet rays, which gives J'onn a chance to escape Imperium and drag him out of the shade by his tentacles. Wait, how did Carter become a senator when he can't go outside during the day? Surely someone would've noticed that at some point during the last two and a half years.

Oh damn, that's nasty. Even that aliens that looked like humans are getting a horrific death now! Man, children's TV is hardcore.

Batman cuts Wonder Woman loose with his handheld laser cutter, just in time for her to shield him from an energy blast with her bracelet. Meanwhile, Superman's gotten a recharge from the sunlight and is able to cut himself free with his laser eyes. Then he rescues Hawkgirl too, who was trapped with her mace still in her hand. It makes even less sense than you think because she dropped it before being knocked out by the gas.

Anyway, the heroes decide that beating up the aliens by hand is too slow, so they tear the roof off to flood the whole factory with light and burn them all to death.

Imperium tries to make a getaway in his shuttle, but Wonder Woman lassos it so that Hawkgirl can fly over and beat the crap out of it with her mace until it crashes through the plant... right onto Batman. But it's okay because the Flash saves him. So they're kind of getting the hang of teamwork.

The place is coming apart now, so the heroes go to the body-snatcher pods full of unconscious humans and... wait, why are there pods inside a smoke factory? Why would they need to impersonate anyone after the invasion had started? Oh, maybe this is where they store their lunch! (The aliens live off people's psychic energy). Anyway, they break open the pods and Green Lantern carries the occupants out to safety in a bubble, leaving Flash and Batman to be lifted out by Superman and Wonder Woman in a very unheroic, undignified, uncomfortable looking way.

Though I suppose there's no good way to be carried around by a flying superhero.

The Metropolis smoke machine's finally down, but the Earth's still looks pretty doomed from up here. I guess the heroes need to get working on flicking the switch on those other factories. As long as they each wear a gas mask and avoid touching any locked doors I'm sure they're nothing the team can't handle now.

The conspicuously non-CGI mothership escapes and flies off into the stars with a twinkle, but that's someone else's problem now I suppose. Wait, was the mothership parked in their Martian lair with the doors wide open when J'onn did the paralysis gas attack on them 500 years ago? Or was it just hanging around in orbit for centuries waiting for everyone to wake up?

Anyway, Snapper Carr returns for one final TV report to tell us that the remaining aliens have been wiped out by the heroes. General Wells isn't impressed though, feeling that they got lucky this time and that Superman's left the world unprepared if the invaders return. Wells seems like he should be an antagonist the heroes have to prove wrong, but Batman actually knows he's right and decides to give the problem some thought. Oh by the way, the first newscast in episode 1 was revealed to be on Superman's TV and the last was on Batman's, so there's some symmetry there.

So after one final time jump, the episode reveals that Batman's gone and built a gigantic conspicuously non-CGI space station as an early-warning system to detect other threats from outer space. If those white rectangles are all windows, then the thing must be huge.

Holy crap, look at the size of the windows!

Also, something about the layout of this room and the framing of this shot suddenly makes me want to play the game TIE Fighter. Weird that.

Using the windows as a guide, my scruffy estimations and calculations put this space station at around a kilometre in height, at least. I'm not even going to guess how much it'd cost to build a big empty space fortress 200 meters taller than the tallest skyscraper on Earth, but Batman claims he hid it from his stockholders by putting it as "a line item hidden in the aerospace R&D budget", so I guess it all checks out.

Plus I suppose they need all that interior space so that everyone can fly over dramatically when it's their turn to join the conversation. They definitely don't need it to house a crew, because it's just the seven of them up here. Well, six actually, as despite paying for the clubhouse Batman won't be joining their Justice League (he's not really a people person). He can't be a part of the League himself because the Batman Beyond episode The Call, set 40 years later, already established that he never joined full time. But he will help out if they need him... which will probably happen every episode or two.


CONCLUSION

I have to be honest, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited are two of my all-time favourite comic book TV series, but Secret Origins isn't exactly my favourite episode. It gets the job done setting the two series up and it definitely isn't dull, but it's kind of shallow. Later episodes would delve into the characters more or introduce more interesting themes, but this is basically just a War of the Worlds/Body Snatchers inspired alien invasion story with a few sketched-in personalities clashing as they figure out how to work with others (and then get captured).

The episode's called Secret Origins, but we only get two characters' origin stories here, Wonder Woman's and Martian Manhunter's, and Wonder Woman's is basically just 'Man's world is in trouble, I'd better swipe my magic costume and go help!' Martian Manhunter gets his full tragic story, but even that's pretty much just 'aliens invaded Mars and now I'm the only one left'. Still, that's more than most of the heroes get, as the story uses his psychic distress call to skip the rest of the introductions and exposition, and jump straight to the point where they're a team.

So by the end of these three parts, we've learned that:
  • Green Lantern's a gruff military guy with no imagination who doesn't like rookies or impatient glory-grabbing fools who don't know the meaning of teamwork.
  • Hawkgirl's an experienced warrior from a warrior planet who likes smashing things with her mace.
  • Wonder Woman's a naive warrior from a warrior island who likes lassoing things with her lasso.
The Flash does better as we learn he's impatient, a bit of a comedian, and he's kind of creepy around women. Plus he can make whirlwinds by spinning his arms. So out of the backup characters, he's winning when it comes to having traits.

Then there's Batman and Superman, who'd starred in cartoons of their own before this and were already complex, well-established heroes. Batman's clearly out of his weight class against super-strong shapeshifting aliens, so the fact that he keeps surviving fights with them stretches credibility a little. Plus the way he suddenly returns from the dead halfway through the last episode carrying a gadget that reverses the smoke machines and saves the day feels unearned. It's awesome for sure, I don't begrudge him his big damn hero moment, but you can't just have a character say "I faked his death and made him invisible all this time with a psychic power that you didn't know I had," and expect that to be a satisfying reveal.

Superman, he's got a different problem in this story. The episode keeps using him to demonstrate how strong and cunning the aliens are, so that we understand why he needs a whole team to take them down this time, but he gets Worf'd so often and so quickly that he becomes a running joke. I couldn't take the alien threat seriously because I found myself laughing out loud every time Superman got shot into a truck or electrocuted by a door at the very start of a fight. Even his impossible feats of strength ended up making him look weak, with all the grunting and struggling it took. By the end of the story I could definitely see why he'd want a team to back him up, I just couldn't see why the team would want him.

There's nothing wrong with the set of characters they decided to use though, as they've got a cast of genuine A-list DC heroes here... and also Hawkgirl. Not that I have anything against Hawkgirl, she quickly became one of my favourites once they started giving her actual dialogue later in the series, and I'm definitely cool with her replacing Aquaman. 6 men and 1 woman isn't the ratio you want. Neither's 5 and 2 really, but at least the two we got are both heavy hitters (literally). And there's absolutely no teenage sidekicks... well aside from the comic book team's mascot Snapper Carr, but he's all grown up already in this universe and working as a reporter.

There's nothing wrong with the production side in general really, as it's a really good version of what it is made by people who'd been doing this a long while. The tone's in a decent place, not too goofy and childish, not too miserable and adult, the visuals have the polished DCAU style with some nice subtle animation touches and weird-ass aliens, and the music's pretty great too, right up to the last few minutes where it starts finding excuses to play the heroic victory theme over and over again until it gets obnoxious. Plus the voice cast is fantastic, or at least they will be once they all settle into the roles.

As far as negatives go, the main one I reckon is that there's too many people on the team with a name that sounds like 'John'. And the story's basically three episodes of embarrassing failures that ultimately lead to all the superheroes getting captured and having to wait for J'onn to pull a deus ex machina out of his Martian ass. They'll get better at it though.



COMING SOON
Justice League won't be returning to my site I'm afraid, not anytime soon anyway. I love the series but I've got too many other things I want to write about. Like The Orville episode 10, Firestorm, for instance, which is coming up next.

Please drop a comment into the comment box.

13 comments:

  1. I can't help but think they put Cyborg into everything nowadays because he's enough like Iron Man without being an obvious copy like Steel.

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    1. That's an interesting point, I hadn't considered that. Though in the new movie he's got the 'metal scraps welded together in a roughly humanoid form' look of a Michael Bay Transformer.

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  2. Now I want to find out how flammable the Eiffel Tower actually is, but I don't want to type "can the Eiffel Tower be burned down" into a search engine.

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    1. Considering the Eiffel Tower is made out of 7300 tons of wrought iron, I believe its fire point would be very, VERY high. :p

      Then again, only the two plateaus seem to be burning, so who knows, maybe those are more flammable than the rest...

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    2. It's just the tourists that are burning.

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    3. So the Martians are actually doing Parisians a favor.

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  3. Should I be concerned that Wonder Woman's metal belt and her tiara are apparently the same size?

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    1. I'd be more concerned if the belt was smaller.

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  4. I remember Superman being extremely weak to electrical attacks in his series, too. Kinda sad when this is one his iconic covers.

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  5. Here's some useless trivia:
    Justice League's main theme music was inspirer by the title music from the 1971s film Twins of Evil.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9CcMuiTA6cs

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    1. That's some quality trivia. I've never seen this fact mentioned before, but I synced up your video with the opening of the cartoon and it's amazing how close it is.

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    2. I'd never noticed that similarity before but it's uncanny. To be fair though, the original is itself a clear homage to Ennio Morricone.

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  6. I always like seeing War of the Worlds turning up in unusual places, although this isn't one of the better re-tellings; a small part of me wishes LXG -- eurgh -- had done better so we could have seen a sequel with the League versus the Martians.

    My favourite Justice League story is the one with the Justice Lords; I like how it manages to be a reality-jumping blockbuster action story but also a character piece at the same time. I'm also fond of the episode in which Superman takes J'onn J'onzz back to Smallville for Chrimble, and the one in which a thinly-veiled version of Marvel's Defenders fights Cthulhu.

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