Tagged: Justice League Unlimited

Marc Alan Fishman: “Beware My Bubbles…” Green Lantern’s Plight!

It’s been no surprise to my readers (hey everyone!) that I’ve been on something of an animation jones, something fierce. Well, with Young Justice successfully binged on, Netflix suggested I check out a little known show… Justice League. Bruce Timm’s multi-parter masterpiece was the first time the significant seven (pre New52, Flashpoint, Final Crisis, but post Crisis, ya dig?) were assembled to face off against the biggest baddies of the DCU. Mongul, Despero, Faust and Hades, Gorilla Grodd, and yes: Ocean Master (sorta). To be clear: I’ve seen the show. Often. But something has always troubled me about it. That trouble? John Stewart… the milquetoast affirmative action Green Lantern.

Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and their well-crafted production staff assembled an amazing septuplet. The holy trinity: Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The best B-Listers money can buy: Green Lantern and the Flash. And for clean up… Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl. On paper, it all makes sense. Deuces are wild; Supes and J’Onn are the aliens adopting Earth, Diana and Shayera rep all of lady kind, Flash is choas to GL’s order, and Batman is Batman. I’m only going to focus on our representative Lantern for the sake of clarity.

I fully acknowledge, welcome, and love that Timm “went to the bench” to recruit Stewart. Hal Jordan is, was, and will likely always be the poster child of the corps. But in addition to not being another white hero, John Stewart as depicted in the animated series was inherently the anti-Jordan. Where Hal is a known hot-headed cocky flying codpiece, Stewart is a level-headed jarhead who fills out the ranks of the League to make plans and execute them. It’s fun to denote that our Flash in this series is also Wally West. Fitting then that Timm and team flips the script on the original Brave and the Bold. Where Hal was the cocky to Barry Allen’s careful, Wally is clearly the team’s impulsive recruit. But I digress.

What pains me to no end are the continual choices made throughout the show in regards to John Stewart’s character, both in and out of the space pajamas. We’re given no intro to him. He merely shows up, starts barking orders, and firing bubbles and beams (which I’ll be dedicating a whole block of prose to momentarily). With apparently less personality than anyone else on the team, the post-pilot reintroduction of the ring slinger offers us up a civilian Stewart: in a three-quarter length leather trenchcoat, walking through an urban neighborhood, while light funk/jazz twinkles away in the background score. You can practically hear the honkies checking off each box on the black character checklist. The episode in question (“In Blackest Night”) riffs on the destruction of Xanshi from 1988’s Cosmic Odyssey, but swaps Stewart’s pulpy pride for a soldier’s guilt for wanton destruction. Spoiler alert: it was all a plot by the Manhanters. Big robot fight. The day is saved when John recites the oath of the Green Lanterns really heroically. Guilt? Gone.

From here, Stewart was an also-ran. Aside from the now-quippy Caped Crusader, Stewart was often relegated to wet-blanket status. Torn between constant chiding of Wally, or hitting on Shayera. Late in the series, Stewart will have dated Vixen (because, black people, natch), but ultimately land Hawkgirl as his bae. They fight a lot. But, you know. They make a cool mixed-race Hawk-kid in the Batman Beyond universe. All this lovey-dovey stuff? It’s what they passed for dynamic character development. Whereas every other original Leaguer would eventually get a truly deep and amazing moment (Batman with Ace on the swings, Superman vs. Anti-Life Darkseid, Shayera’s betrayal, et al) John’s mostly left to knock boots and make bubbles.

And what of those bubbles?! For the life of me, I’ll never understand if Timm and company had budget issues or something. Because John Stewart, in ownership of the most powerful weapon in the universe, would only muster beams and bubbles to serve his purpose. In the comic, Stewart ring slings with the best of them – with Hal once describing his constructs being literally built from their interior structures out due to Stewart’s civilian life as an architect. But in his animated life, John is relegated to clearly the simplest solution, always. They even make a latent potshot at it during Unlimited where a de-aged Stewart (donning Kyle Rayner’s crabmask) builds intricate and cool constructs to battle bravely with. Obviously in the future, he loses his imagination. It’s a low-down dirty shame, kiddos, I tell you what.

Ultimately, this is one of the nittiest picks I could have droned on about, but it was on my mind. The opportunity to break the mold came and went with John Stewart in Justice League. It’s a shame that over the course of five seasons, they simply couldn’t aspire to do more than the absolute basics. And now, with a new League being formed for film… I can’t help but be worried.

In brightest day, or blackest night,
I expected more from John Stewart’s light.
Let those who disagree flame me bright…
Beware my comments, Marc Fishman’s right!

Marc Alan Fishman: Justice League Unblemished

Justice League UnlimitedJustice League Unlimited was recently collected into a single Blu-Ray disc and, while I happen to own its on DVD – as well as literally everything else Bruce Timm and his menagerie created – it still stirred up a sense of unbreakable joy and nostalgia in me.

I use the term nostalgia in spite of the show itself being broadcast during my early to mid-twenties, mind you. I use it because we all know that nostalgia indicates that sentimental longing for a better time. And while we’re living in a veritable gilded age in terms of comics-to-TV live action adaptations, the animated realm is devoid of any direct counterpart to serious pulp storytelling. Sure Teen Titans Go! is on, and a handful of Marvel properties as well. But none of them hold a candle to Justice League. The absolute best episode of Avengers: Earth Mightiest Heroes – now over five years old – couldn’t shine the boot of the worst episode of any of Timm’s League.

I dare you to disagree.

What made the show so amazing, amongst countless reasons, would be its scope. With an unrivaled cast that built from the solid foundation of the holy trinity of DC (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, in that order), and then peppered in perfectly distilled amalgams of dozens upon dozens of characters, they truly communicated to the world at large what the DCU encompassed.

No other cartoon has come close to the depth of the presented roster of heroes and villains. Beyond the bench though – and trust me, we’re gonna hit on that in another column soon – the actual storylines we got to follow held sway as mature tales that balanced wide-eyed action with well-focused moral debates.

Take perhaps the Cadmus arc, wherein Superman ultimately learned the potent lesson that he may have adopted Earth as his home, but his home wouldn’t turn a blind eye to the sins of his past. This was, of course, a nuanced and layered issue. The secret projects erected in the name of self-defense came only after Supes had inadvertently become the pawn of Darkseid. While we comicsphiles might have given the Big Blue Boy Scout a pass for succumbing to the plot-of-the-week, we couldn’t have expected all people would share in our leniency.

To see episode after episode building the case for the world being all but backed into war with the heroes that swear to protect it… in the name of being proactive? Well, ain’t no episode of Pokemon that’s coming anywhere near that neighborhood. From the birth of Galatea (Power Girl, by way of cloning Supergirl), through to the tet-a-tet between Batman and Amanda Waller, Justice League Unlimited proved that cartoons could be more than a series of punches and CGI set-pieces. They could be compelling prose that live action movies and TV shows are still too afraid to touch. It helps when the networks just think cartoons are for kids, eh?

And what of the merging of Brainiac and Lex Luthor! What was first presented as a delightful nod to the villain tag teams of our pulp and paper (or perhaps the stop-motion, animatronic, special effect laden action films of Generation X), soon grew into an apologue on addiction. Beyond an excuse to let Flash say the words “Speed Force” without so much as a quip, the arc cemented Lex Luthor as somehow a more complex beast than our beloved Batman. Here was a man, self-made as the Dark Knight, given his ultimate prize; infinite knowledge and power. And when it was ripped away from him? We were given a long-running serialized epic as Lex chased what could only be described as the ultimate high. In the end, Luthor even saved humanity by offering Darkseid the Anti-Life Equation (oh, you didn’t know? Halliburton invented that). Simply brilliant.

So, yes, I long for the days where a Saturday morning cartoon could strike to tell the most complex stories in the lexicon of comic lore. While the world of today has Gotham, The Flash, Supergirl, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Arrow, Teen Titans Go!, and Walking Dead

my heart belongs to Bruce Timm’s Justice League. Because that, my friends, is how cartoons were meant to be made.