Sunday, December 05, 2004

Justice League Unlimited:

It seems that most of the television shows that I watch are cartoons and reality shows. Many within the blog-sphere are fans of The Simpsons. And I’m sure there are some Family Guy fans as well (two of my favorite shows). Not as many are Justice League fans, and that shows is, in my opinion, hands down, one of the best on prime time (it’s based on what is a pretty good comic book as well—when they have a good, writer/artist team).

Last night’s episode was just fantastic. However, you probably need to have a pretty good knowledge of both the DC universe, and been a fan of the 70s Superfriends cartoon to fully appreciate last nights episode.

The episode did a great job at incorporating such venerable DCU characters as Maxwell Lord (with Tim Matheson perfectly chosen as his voice), from the 1980s Justice League International series, and Amanda Waller, from the Suicide Squad.

But the crux of that episode was how it incorporated The Superfriends theme. That show was a cartoon, loosely based on the Justice League, and obviously aimed at a younger audience. Many of us grew up watching it. While the main characters—Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman—were taken straight from the DC universe, other characters, not found in the comics, were created solely for that show—Samurai, Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, and the Wonder Twins.

Bruce Timm, (the man behind the series) in his treatment of the Superfriends characters, seemed to take a page from Alan Moore. Moore, along with Frank Miller, is primarily responsible for shifting the focus of comic books, from “younger” to more “mature” minds. Moore, in an ingenious way, could take comic book themes that intrigued us when we were young, themes back from more innocent days, and “deconstruct” and “modernize” them, injecting complex moral, philosophical, and political issues into the mix. This is what Miller did with Batman in The Dark Knight Returns. Moore did this most famously in Watchmen. Less well known is Moore’s Miracleman, where he took the cheesy Captain Marvel character, deconstructed him, and then reconstructed him through the lens of the Nietzschean-Heideggerian superman.

In this episode, the 5 non-DC Universe characters that were created for the Superfriends were updated. Samurai became Winddragon; Apache Chief became Longshadow; Zan and Jana of the Wonder-twins became Downpour and Shifter; and Black Vulcan became Juice. And they were all put together in a team called, “The Ultimen.”

The Ultimen are a cheesy bunch of youngsters who grew up admiring the Justice League. Even Superman, while listening to some of their speeches, can’t take their “goody-goodyness.” But there is something dark lurking underneath.

Then the Ultimen are sent to STAR Labs, who want to run some 'tests' on Winddragon's new powers. They tell them to wait in the room for awhile, but after getting impatient they decide to do some searching around the lab. They eventually run into odd bodies that are water vats - but the odd thing is that the bodies are of the Ultimen themselves.

They quickly start to search for answers and find the old scientist. They pin him down and ask questions about the odd clones and he says that they are simply made of test tube DNA and implanted memory cells. Since they are only test tube DNA, they'll eventually die out and will need replacements. The Ultimen are shocked by this and set out to find a cure.

The Ultimen are simply clones, only one year old, with implanted memories. They were created on behalf of the government by private corporation, Star Labs, with the help of financer Maxwell Lord, to be heroes that the government could control—not like the Justice League, who answer to no government (that’s probably why they are headquartered on a satellite in space).

And Maxwell Lord made sure that these heroes (and himself) could handsomely profit from their ventures with everything from action figures to being of the cover of Teeny Bopper magazines.

Like Dolly the Sheep, the Ultimen had a genetic flaw. So the secret plan was to simply grow more clones to replace the defective heroes. And this could be done over and over again, as long as needed. That is, until the Ultimen found out this horrifying truth.

As their bodies start to deteriorate, so do their minds. All of them but Longshadow go on a public rampage and confront the Justice League (thus destroying their reputation and putting an end to this government project). In the end, all but Longshadow are taken away by the government, presumably to die in captivity. Longshadow joins the League (for as long as he has left).

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