Spoilerific Analysis Theater Presents: Justice League Unlimited

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We're moving headlong into the endgame for Justice League Unlimited and with it the entire animated continuity crafted by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini (among others) for thirteen years. And through careful, measured steps, Timm is building up to a truly epic climax -- one clearly drawing both a large amount from Justice League's two part "A Better World" and from the seminal Mark Waid/Alex Ross collaboration Kingdom Come. The latter's influence is obvious, but thematic instead of specific, as most of the Timm/animated nods have been. The best example of source comic adaptations has been last season's pastiche on Alan Moore's brilliant "What Do You Get The Man Who Has Everything," but even that underwent sea changes to conform to the expectations and needs of the animated continuity.

And yet, as I sit here writing this snark, it's not the scale or the sophistication or the expertise that I'm thinking of. I'm thinking of the state of comic books and DC in general, and the continuing drive away from kids and towards the (ever shrinking) adult comic book readers. I have long known that even though Justice League Unlimited is brilliant and Identity Crisis is terrible, they're two sides of the same coin -- they sacrifice what Superman, Batman et al have always been in lieu of what a very small group of adult consumers of comic books would want them to be. (And make no mistake -- I adore Justice League Unlimited, so in this I have to include myself, as well.) The fact that JLU is programmed at ten thirty at night is, to me, indicative of the projected audience. They're just one half hour away from "Adult Swim," and obviously Cartoon Network isn't pushing the show to 12 year olds.

Over the past two weeks, we have had two utterly brilliant episodes of the series. The former -- "Double Date" -- is my favorite JLU or Justice League episode of all time, now. The latter, "The Clash," was well done and has received some attention in the fan community by people who are upset with how Superman was portrayed in it.

I, however, am not upset. Because I've watched it through a few times now, and it's perfectly clear to me that Bruce Timm and the writers of "The Clash" know they've been moving away from children, moving away from the core of what has always defined DC's heroes... and they also know that it isn't a good thing that it's happening. I can't imagine a better piece of self-criticism than the example I saw on that episode, and while I still prefer "Double Date" (and several other episodes) to "The Clash," I think it perhaps must represent the crux of everything JLU's trying to accomplish.

There are going to be spoilers. Get used to it now. If you have any intention of watching "The Clash," you should close the window and move on.

I had a certain amount of anticipation for this episode, because it features Captain Marvel. The World's Mightiest Mortal. The Big Red Cheese himself. Captain Marvel occupies a unique position in comic books -- he is not only the only figure in the DC mythology (I dare say the only figure in any mainstream comic book) that can be called Superman's equal, he's also one of a very few figures in comic book history who approaches the Superman/Batman/Spider-Man level of cultural landmarks. Everyone in America -- and in much if not most of the rest of the world -- knows "Shazam!" They've heard it all their lives. Gomer Pyle used it as his exclamation of choice. Growing up, I remember watching the hoary old live action Shazam! (followed of course by Isis) Saturday mornings, and right at the end of my Saturday Morning Cartoon years I remember watching The Kid's Super Power Hour with Shazam!, which brought the whole Marvel Family to cartoons. (And used the same theme music as the old live action show, even).

And comic book cognoscenti know the particulars of the good Captain like Rabbis know the Talmud. They know his backstory, they know Billy Batson, Mary Batson, Freddy Freeman, Uncle Dudley, Doctor Sivana, Mister Mind, IBIC, the Wizard Shazam, and Tawny the Talking Tiger. They know Hoppy the Marvel Bunny. Captain Marvel is significant enough that they can set him in a story, give very little backstory, and just accept that he can carry his end of the show.

Which brings us to the actual premise of the episode. And that too requires some backstory -- but this time, it's backstory for Superman.

The Man of Steel has had a rough few years. You see, in the aforementioned Justice League two parter "A Better World," a series of counterparts of the Justice League from another dimension had conquered their Earth, in the name of protecting it. They had eliminated basic rights. They had imposed their law -- and their Justice -- from above. Superman was the instigator, when he abandoned his ideals and his role as icon and hero to kill Lex Luthor rather than let him possibly wreak more havoc down the line. This Justice League analogue was called the Justice Lords, and they were hard and cold, willing to lobotomize villains without trial. And of course, willing to kill. They discovered the Justice League's dimension, realized the horrors they fought to eliminate on their world could still break out, and decide to conquer this new world as well -- for its own protection. They also worked to protect the Flash, who had apparently died in the Justice Lords' dimension -- a death that apparently had some bearing on their turn away from idealism and towards fascism.

In the end, the Justice League defeated them, but to do so, Superman had to cross a line -- he made a deal with Lex Luthor, who gave them the key to defeating the Justice Lords. And he arranged for Luthor to receive a full pardon. The alternate Superman warned his counterpart that any evil Luthor did from now on was on his head. Superman acknowledged that.

"I guess you're not such a Boy Scout after all," Batman said, at the end.

"Never even made Tenderfoot," Superman replied, smirking.

Interesting, how things come around.

In "The Clash," Superman is on edge. A shadowy organization with some ties to the government, the military, to big business -- and yes, to Luthor -- called Cadmus has been growing in strength. Its stated purpose is to counter -- and if possibly, destroy -- the Justice League, in part to make certain that the League can't become a new set of Justice Lords. Old allies and old enemies of League members are coming together. Supergirl was cloned in one of their projects. In another project, Cadmus leader Amanda Waller organizes the Suicide Squad (under their official name from the comics -- Task Force X) to steal a deadly weapon from the league. In another episode, Doomsday (who in the comics beat Superman to death) is created by Cadmus as an anti-Superman weapon. While Superman and Doomsday fight, Batman is nearly killed intercepting a Kryptonite missile launched by Cadmus operatives in the U.S. Navy.

And during the fight, Superman tries to lobotomize Doomsday, just like the Justice Lords used to do. When they defeat Doomsday, the League banishes him to the Phantom Zone, rather than hand him over to the authorities. And Batman notes that this too is an act the Justice Lords would do. Superman protests they won't let it get to that point.

But the tensions are growing. The fights are getting more desperate. The heroes really are crossing the line. And Superman is getting darker all the time.

And from the very moment in "The Clash" when he meets Captain Marvel, he doesn't like him. At all. He's downright hostile to Captain Marvel, in fact, and for no reason at all. No reason except a clear jealousy.

Now, let's stop and consider the JLU incarnation of Captain Marvel. He's cheerful. Friendly. "Sunny," as Batman says. And when he says his magic word and the lightning crashes, he turns into Billy Batson once more. A child, as always.

They make a nod to the increasing "adultification" of superheroes early on. Captain Marvel has defeated the Parasite -- a villain Batman, the Elongated Man and Metamorpho couldn't beat all together -- while Superman was busy guiding a plane to a landing. He is therefore late for elementary school. His teacher berates his lack of responsibility. "Isn't it time you grew up just a little?" she literally says. In the next scene, as the star-struck Captain Marvel is on the Watchtower with the Justice League, that sentiment is metaphorically echoed by Superman, who absolutely tears the Big Red Cheese a new one when Captain Marvel's misquoted in the newspapers as having endorsed Luthor for President. When Captain Marvel protests that what he meant was people could change, after all -- a very heroic sentiment -- Superman utterly shuts him down. Captain Marvel is frustrated enough by this to punch the table, but confronted with his idol and his heroes, he accepts their word and moves on.

The reinforced message comes out again. The world is no place for idealists. Why don't you grow up just a little, Captain Marvel?

Superman and Batman have a casual discussion about this while beating up villains later on. An interesting discussion, when we remember "A Better World."

"You were a little hard on the boy scout, weren't you?" Batman asks.

"I thought I was the boy scout," Superman snaps, annoyed.

"So did I -- until I met Captain Marvel," Batman answers.

Remember -- the last time the pair talked about being boy scouts, it was Batman begrudgingly accepting that despite all the talk, Superman wasn't actually one. And Superman, somewhat smugly, agreed. Now, however, Superman has been confronted with a hero who actually is everything others said he was, and he is jealous. Very jealous. He can't understand why "everyone defends him!" As though Captain Marvel had actually done something wrong which -- setting aside the overtrumped quotes to the paper -- he hadn't. Superman's jealousy, whether the Man of Steel would admit it or not, came from the Captain's living up to ideals that Superman has traditionally represented, but no longer automatically feels. Like it or not, Superman is on the path to becoming a Justice Lord, and Captain Marvel is a living example of how far down that path he's come.

Needless to say, there is a confrontation. Lex Luthor (rather transparently) stages a situation where Superman believes there's a bomb under an empty city Luthor has built to give low income families a new chance. (He never stops to consider why Luthor would spend millions of dollars to build a city he then would blow up, mind. But then, Supes really isn't thinking clearly right now.) Superman knows -- he knows that Luthor has nefarious plans. And he's right, of course. Luthor does have nefarious plans.

Captain Marvel is on hand, however. And tries to calm Superman down. He makes reasonable suggestions for resolving the situation. Above all, he doesn't place himself as being above the law in the name of what he believes to be true.

Superman knocks Captain Marvel aside, so he can destroy "the bomb" that Luthor claims is a free energy source. And Captain Marvel launches himself at Superman to stop him.

Now, this is a full on money shot for the adult comic book fan -- the target audience for this show. Superman and Captain Marvel are fighting. And between them they absolutely level Lexor City. This is a truly epic battle, where a single punch blasts Captain Marvel into a building that then collapses from the impact. They destroy the hospital. They destroy the bank. They destroy the park. They level buildings on all sides.

All of this, by the way, clearly and consciously echoes Kingdom Come. In that series, the climax moment came down to an epic battle between Superman and Captain Marvel as well. And the most evocative moment in that battle was wholly replicated here. Captain Marvel shouts his Magic Word, and the lightning crashes down, but Captain Marvel positions Superman to take the shot and be blasted by it. On the cartoon, the lightning strikes literally obliterate the S-symbol off Superman's chest. Which is appropriate. At this moment, Superman isn't Superman any more -- not the Superman we've all grown up with. He's someone else.

And that's the major difference between this fight and the fight in Kingdom Come, at least thematically. In Kingdom Come, Luthor has brainwashed and manipulated Billy, who has grown up into a stew of psychoses. Captain Marvel is insane. Captain Marvel, until the very crux of the fight, is no longer in any way a hero. During the whole fight with Superman, the deranged Captain Marvel has a smile on his face -- a smile that makes a mockery out of the iconic C.C. Beck drawing of the smiling Captain.

But on Justice League Unlimited, Captain Marvel is the hero. Superman is the villain. Superman is literally acting like a Supervillain. And as Captain Marvel fights to stop Superman, he isn't smiling at all.

Superman wins. He destroys the device. And naturally, the device is exactly the power source Luthor said it was. Superman has terribly tarnished his own image and that of the Justice League, and almost certainly ensured Luthor will be elected President.

And Captain Marvel -- the boy they kept berating to grow up, at the beginning of the episode -- goes and verbally bitchslaps the Justice League.

Understand. The Justice League's core team has Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman in it. Given that, Captain Marvel is literally the only character with the history, the significance -- the gravitas -- to make a speech like this one and say it to the highest of DC's superheroes:

You were more than a hero. I idolized you. I wanted to be you. Whenever I was out there, facing down the bad guys, I'd think "what would Superman do?" Now, I know. I believe in fair play. I believe in taking people at their word -- in giving them the benefit of the doubt. Back home, I've come up against my share of pretty nasty bad guys, but I never had to act the way they did to win a fight. I always found another way.

I... I guess I'm saying I like being a hero. A symbol. And that's why I'm... quitting the Justice League.

You don't act like heroes any more.

You don't act like heroes any more.

Listening to this, in my mind's eye, I could see Captain Marvel saying this to the writers of Identity Crisis, to the writers of Countdown to Infinite Crisis. I could see him saying it to the people who thought up the Marvel MAX line, to the people who targeted the "mature readers" audience. To the people more interested in courting old fans than making new ones. They kept telling him to grow up... but he didn't. In the end, he remained exactly the same hero he was fifty years ago, the same hero I watched on Saturday Mornings, the same hero whose comic I read and loved when I was barely old enough to read comic books at all. (Shazam! was the first comic I ever subscribed to, back in the day, in fact.)

And even more than the question of super heroes for kids versus super heroes for adults, he was saying it to every writer who wants "realism" in comics to overtake idealism. Who thinks that somehow it's wrong and bad to write about super heroes who do the right thing because it is the right thing, in a world where such idealism is considered a virtue and those heroes are considered an example.

Don't get me wrong. I'll be back next week for more Justice League Unlimited. I'll love the nuanced, sophisticated story they're telling. I'll love the ride we're being taken on. I'll probably snark about how great it was. And it will be great. As great as Identity Crisis was exploitive, really.

But it doesn't change the fact that our children are losing their legacy. It doesn't change the fact that comic books are dying, trying to hold on to adult fans and eschewing children. It doesn't change the fact that 10 year olds don't get to park themselves at the rack in the drugstore and read comics and learn something better than distorted anatomy from them. (Not that there are comic books at that drugstore, mind.)

I don't want comic books to be "just for kids," any more than I want television animation to be for kids only. I love good stories.

But Superman should be a boy scout. He should be a super hero. He should be for kids.

And it's just really sad that he isn't, any more.

Almost as sad as the fact that you can't buy a Shazam comic in a drug store, any more.

62 Comments

Fewer and fewer creators understand the difference between kid-friendly and kid-oriented.

Yeah. I love "the Clash" for anumber of reasons, and I think you mentioned most of them. Watching Captain Marvel interact with Superman, I remembered why I used to read mainstream comics (I don't any more), and I remembered the Gushy feeling of "gosh" that swept over me. I love that about the crew handling the DCU in animation now. They nail it all so well, in a way that makes me remember it all fondly and wish that superhero comics could entertain me again.

But they just don't anymore. That's sad. I love the genre of superheroes (gee-whiz, reading [nemesis], you wouldn't necessarily think so, wouldja'?) but I can't stand the comics themselves anymore. The last superhero comic I remember buying and enjoying was the "Power of Shazam!" graphic novel by Jerry Ordway. There's the big red cheese again.

The thing is, I'm not sure what's happening with Justice League Unlimited is just about comics. It definitely is metacomment, speaking about the source material even as it tells a great story. But it's not just speaking about the source material. Justice League Unlimited is darker than "Batman:the Animated Series", back in the day. And that was a dark kid's show in the early 90's.

Hell, Batman:TAS, is still a dark kids' show, and JLU can sometimes be downright depressing. But it's always good. Mainstream comics haven't been enjoyable for me since before the Death of Superman. Oh, sure, since then, I've seen some really good stuff. Kingdom Come comes to mind, but it was all after the Death of Superman.

And there wasn't much of it for me. I started reading other stuff, I started reading the Comics Journal, I startted snapping up foreign comics when I could find them. (If anyone could point me to an english language translation of Donito, by Didier Conrad, my tubby butt will do backflips... through hoops of fire... but I digress...) But I still run anytime I hear word of something interesting happening with superheroes. I love the X-men movies, Spider-man 1 and 2, I'm looking forward to Batman Begins in a night or two. Hell, I even saw, and really enjoyed Constantine(not strictly a superhero).

I'm also wondering if the current storyline in JLU is a comment on our world right now, even as it seems to be a painful lament over the current state of the characters we so love in their native medium.

The current storyline seems to deal with power, and what it does to people and institutions. Seems pretty applicable to the current political scene as well as to the world of superheroes on the printed page. I'm frickin' sick of irony.

Okay I'm almost done rambling, but I'm going to leave this before I jet: the 3 laws of systems. Laws, maybe rules of thumb, hel, it doesn't matter. Systems, all systems be they biological, political, ecological, computer, social, or solar, follow these 3 rules.

1) All systems have structure.

2) The structure of all systems grows more complex over time.

3) Eventually, all systems will cease to perform their original function, and will begin to work to preserve themselves in their present state.

Toss in the law of entropy, and voil›, you've got a recipe for one heckuva nasty stew. Okay, good, I'm done raving like a loon.

I hope that anyone that finds this post too bizarre just skips it and acts like it never happened.

I was rather surprised, myself, to find Image putting out the best kids' comic I've seen in quite a while-- Lions, Tigers, and Bears by Runemaster Studios. It manages to tell an entirely kid-friendly story without talking down to the audience, and it does so in an engaging manner. It has "Cartoon Network, please look at me" written all over it.

One comic isn't going to turn the tide, but it is one I'll be happy to ply children of friends with for years to come. I highly recommend that folks interested in children's comics pick up the TPB when it comes out in the fall; the original issues are scarce.

First of all, I agree with the overall substance of the above Snark. I hated seeing super hero books tread the Dark Path in the Grim 80s, even as I loved reading Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Now, even as I enjoy reading books like Powers, I hate seeing this retread version of The Grimness. Comics can't survive without attracting new readers-- kids and women, I am a Friend of Lulu, after all-- and almost no one is trying to do just that. The closest we usually get is "dark nostalgia," like The Imaginaries with its disowned Imaginary Friends and legions of fascistic Teddy Bears.

I liked the first two issues of The Imaginaries pretty well, btw.

On to JLU. "Clash" was an excellent story, and while I agree with the bulk of Eric's conclusions, I did see something slightly different in the episode. Captain Marvel definitely represented a youthful idealism in the episode, a "sunniness" that the other heroes had missed and wanted to be close to. His optimism allows him to see things more clearly than Superman, in a way, though he is also fooled by Lex (and Waller) in a different way. He interferes with Supe's actions not out of Solomon's wisdom, but out of simple naivite. As Lex observes at the end, Captain Marvel makes things so much worse just by being there.

I'm going to de- and re-construct for a moment. I think Eric is right that Captain Marvel can represent the way the adult audience remembers super hero comics. That wonderful 'gee whiz' feeling, the simplicity of Good versus Bad. I also agree that it's bad for everyone-- fans and companies alike-- when Superman isn't for kids anymore. However, maybe the episode is even more complex than previously suggested. Perhaps the message is that we also can't look to the past for the model-- as much fun as it is to idealize the Golden and Silver Age, most of the actual stories therein were utter crap. That's actually what's fun about so much of it, as www.superdickery.com illustrates so well.

Comics can't stay the same, and they certainly can't reverse gears and head into the past that The Big Red Cheese represents. A new way of telling super hero stories to kids is out there, and it's up to us to find it. Regardless of your feelings about J.K. Rowling, she's made an industry out of telling darker-than-expected stories that fascinate adults and children alike. Roald Dahl had his "Revolting Rhymes," which no sane ten-year-old can resist. Comics need kids as readers, but to really attract them, it's going to take something new. Kids' stories aren't necessarily what adults expect them to be. Trying to be 'mature' while keeping the status quo of aging geeks (like myself) happy also isn't going to cut it. I love Captain Marvel and Superman, but neither one of them are going to save the day.

Matt

www.likelystories.com

I had a certain amount of anticipation for this episode, because it features Captain Marvel. The World's Mightiest Mortal. The Big Red Cheese himself. Captain Marvel occupies a unique position in comic books -- he is not only the only figure in the DC mythology (I dare say the only figure in any mainstream comic book) that can be called Superman's equal, he's also one of a very few figures in comic book history who approaches the Superman/Batman/Spider-Man level of cultural landmarks. Everyone in America -- and in much if not most of the rest of the world -- knows "Shazam!" They've heard it all their lives.

Whenever I read about comic books, the level of emphasis on the superhero genre always feels slightly odd to me (which may be why I don't read about comics much, I just read comics). I'm seventeen years old. I got into comics a few years ago, but I seem to have arrived by a somewhat more circuitous route from everyone else. The first comic I read was Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. From there to Sandman, Preacher, The Invisibles, Lucifer and sundry others, and I'm currently working my way through Transmetropolitan. I've never really read any superhero comics, apart from one mediocre Batman volume (I guess The Invisibles could be considered a superhero comic, but it never really felt like one). While I've been meaning to read what I'm told are the classics of the genre (Frank Miller's Batman run, particularly), it's yet to have a great deal of significance for me as a comic-lover.

Oh, uh, I did read Watchmen, which was definitely a superhero comic, if not exactly a traditional one...

In The World's Greatest Super Heroes Feiffer made the observation that Superman was unique among superheroes for, aside from being the first and the one for whom the genre is named, having to be disguised to be a civilian: Bruce and Peter wear masks to fight crime, but Clark wears one to go to work and take his girlfriend out. I trace the deconstruction of Superman to the 90s or late 80s when this stopped being true - when Kal-El no longer arrived on earth with his powers, when the Magin/Swan Superman was replaced with the Byrne Clark Kent, when it came to be that - in words scripted for Dean Cain - "Clark is who I am. Superman is what I do." I don't read comics since Grant Morrison left Justice League (Remember, "This is the man who's worried about living up to his image?"?), but I watch Smallville.

Well, one problem here is that kids -cannot get- comics anymore. Up in Livingston, pop. 5000, twenty years ago there was a small but notable comic selection in both grocery stores and just about all the gas stations that carried magazines. Today? Archie's Comic Digest, at Wal-Mart, and the occasional Archie family comic at the H.E.B. grocery. That's it.

There are three reasons for this:

(1) Magazine distributors, by and large, don't enjoy carrying a product (comics) whose format is a different size from almost every other product they handle.

(2) Magazine distributor customers don't enjoy giving shelf space to a product (comics) with half the SRP of all the other similar product (magazines), thus bringing those stores half the profit per shelf space magazines bring.

(3) Expanding comics into magazine format takes the price of said comics out of the reach of most if not all children ($6 - $10 per issue).

Attempts have been made- repeatedly- to capture the children market and to bring them back into comics. They have, for the most part, failed miserably, for the simple reason that the books never get anyplace where the kids can get hold of them, or else they get there at a price greater than the kids can wheedle out of their parents.

We're not going to see the old superhero comics go back to a child audience until and unless a way is found for it to become economically viable again. Until then, comics companies will shoot for grown-up fans, because that's where the money is, such little as it is.

(And besides, using superdickery.com as an example, I'm not so sure going back to the days when every comic insulted the intelligence of anyone over twelve is a good idea...)

The first comic I read was Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. From there to Sandman, Preacher, The Invisibles, Lucifer and sundry others, and I'm currently working my way through Transmetropolitan.

I have my differences with Garth Ennis, but I have to admit, you're reading the best stuff. Not that there aren't some awesome super hero stories out there-- Robinson's Starman being one of the best examples. That having been said, why waste your time on drek?

There is something to be said for icons and archetypes, though. That's the real achievement of the tights and capes crowd-- they speak to us on a simple and appealing level, and we enjoy it.

Well, I do, but I'm a dork.

Matt

www.likelystories.com

I have my differences with Garth Ennis, but I have to admit, you're reading the best stuff. Not that there aren't some awesome super hero stories out there-- Robinson's Starman being one of the best examples. That having been said, why waste your time on drek?

However often I mean to read me some superhero stuff, whenever I approach their section in my local comic book store the sheer volume of it all intimidates me, combined with the little voice in my head telling me that at least 70% of it will probably be bad. It doesn't help that comics are expensive and I only have so much money, and already a shopping list of stuff to work through - I want the rest of Transmetropolitan, and then Kabuki, and Neil Gaiman's Black Orchid... so much to read, so little time...

Black Orchid is actually fairly weak, compared to the rest of Gaiman's work. Not that that makes it bad, you understand. I'd actually recommend his run on Miracleman, another atypical super hero book.

This whole discussion puts me in mind of the Alan Moore Swamp Thing story, "Pog." It was his tribute to Walt Kelly's Pogo. I'm biased, but Kelly is one of the only creators I put on par with Charles Schulz-- he was that good, wrote dailies and extended stories, and poetry, and Moore clearly adored him. And the message imbedded in Moore's story is that world has gotten too dark for Pogo 'Possum, and that we're all mourning that loss.

Kelly could keep it innocent even when his satire was at its most caustic. He died around the time I was born, and I still miss him.

Read Kabuki. Do it now.

I wish Kris wasn't right, but he is. Comics need to be physically and fiscally accessible to kids. Maybe that's why the Manga section in Barnes and Noble is doing so well...

Matt

www.likelystories.com

(And besides, using superdickery.com as an example, I'm not so sure going back to the days when every comic insulted the intelligence of anyone over twelve is a good idea...)

Actually, I might start picking up Superman comics if those covers were representative of the current stories. Although that's mainly because Superman being such a jerk amuses me greatly.

Anyway, even though I'm more of a Marvel guy and don't care much for the DC characters, JLU blows my mind with its awesomeness. It is largely doing to their version of the JL what the comics are trying to do, but it's happening so much more naturally in the cartoon.

I haven't been watching JLU. I know I should have been. But I keep forgetting when it's on.

But that spoke to me. It really did. As a comics reader, that really sruck a chord with me.

So thanks for that.

I much appreciated this snark and the spoilers because "The Clash" was the first JLU episode I've managed to catch, and since I missed the first few minutes I was under the mistaken belief that a) Captain Marvel had been a regular cast member who dropped a bomb at the end by quitting the team, perhaps setting up a spin-off series; and b) Superman was just pissed off about being out-boyscouted. Serves me right for coming in at the middle of a storyline.

I'm disappointed that "a" isn't true, since I also grew up with the Captain Marvel live action show and wouldn't mind seeing what the animated series team could do with the character.

As for "b", the backstory I'd missed does make for a deeper and more interesting story and is yet another reason I'm kicking myself for not buying a Tivo to track all the shows I never remember to watch.

But in my defense, it's not completely out of character for the animated Superman to get bent out of shape over another hero honing in on his territory.

I seem to remember the first time Bruce Wayne blew into Metropolis and won a date with Lois Lane by doing something that Clark Kent had never had the balls to do--he asked Lois out and she said yes. In my mind that's what must have pushed Superman to commit the unforgivable sin of using his x-ray vision to unmask the Batman with his eyes.

Batman used his detective skills and gadgetry to return the favor, and it felt good to see Superman one-upped because he was being jealous, petty, disrespectful, entirely unheroic, and he knew it. That's the Superman I saw in "The Clash" and once again it was satisfying to see him take a pounding from Captain Marvel for being in the wrong, followed by the verbal bitch-slap when Cap quit the team.

(Can I refer to Captain Marvel as "Cap" or is that reserved for Captain America?)

Since I'm only a casual viewer of the various DC animated series, my interpretation is likely full of crap. For that, again, I blame my Tivo-free existance.

So what Marvel and DC needs to do is create two lines of comics: For Kids and For Adults.

The Kid comics can start new origins and the like and start telling new stories and the like without being completely vile and nasty in doing it. Basically allow for villains to be intelligent and the like, but working on a lower level. No global terrorism, no mass murders, no blatent sexuality or the like. You can have kid comics without being smarmy or idiotic. You can have *intelligent* kids comics.

If DC or Marvel figure this out, they'll save themselves. Otherwise, they will die, sooner or later. We've been watching the two bloated corpses twitch for a couple decades now.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents reviewer

http://tangents.keenspace.com

Eric Burns wrote:

"I have long known that even though Justice League Unlimited is brilliant and Identity Crisis is terrible, they're two sides of the same coin -- they sacrifice what Superman, Batman et al have always been in lieu of what a very small group of adult consumers of comic books would want them to be."

The episode itself calls into question this very assumption -- whether the Justice League Unlimited creators are actually aiming for only an adult audience.

I agree that Captain Marvel, in his speech to the Justice League founders, symbolically represents the rebuttal to Identity Crisis, to Countdown to Infinite Crisis, to the Marvel MAX line, to the "mature readersÓ label, and is ultimately portrayed as the moral center of the episode. But if the JLU creators were really targeting a specific adult audience, then Captain Marvel, and his viewpoint, would have been mocked. The irony of the episode isnĖt just that Superman is right about LuthorĖs intentions while Captain Marvel is wrong, but also that Captain Marvel is right about how to deal with the threat Luthor represents while Superman is wrong in that instance.

I think that Bruce Timm and the other JLU creators Ō since the development of the Batman animated series Ō have been trying to raise the bar for what animation can tackle, which often has meant challenging the preconceptions of what childrenĖs animation can and should do. And this deliberate reframing causes problems for audience and network expectations about what these shows are, what can be shown on them, and when they can be shown.

But, by way of comparison, good childrenĖs literature often ÏstraysÓ into territories often confused for Ïmature-onlyÓ territories. I can point out the obvious examples, from Alice in Wonderland or the Harry Potter novels, but Lord of the Rings was originally intended for young children, and most people now see it as being for more ÏmatureÓ adult audiences. And some of Mark TwainĖs work, such as Huckleberry Finn, has been classified as both childrenĖs literature and adult literature.

Not to say that I view Identity Crisis, Countdown to Infinite Crisis, the Marvel MAX line, or comics with the "mature readersÓ label as being appropriate childrenĖs comics, but I do view JLU as being childrenĖs animation in the same way that I view Lord of the Rings as childrenĖs literature. There does not need to be a false dichotomy between what children and adults can enjoy.

I think that one of the reasons why Captain Marvel is not properly featured in comic books anymore is because of the assumption that the old Fawcett stories, being intended for children, were simple and unchallenging. But Otto Binder and CC BeckĖs Captain Marvel stories were full of whimsy that is hard to write convincingly and draw effectively. Additionally, much of their craftsmanship in these stories is transparent to (or ignored by) adult readers, as very little of their large body of work has ever been put up to critical analysis. (In the absence of analysis, it is often easier for anyone to assume that there is nothing worthy to analyze rather than to begin the analysis itself.)

While IĖd like to see that whimsy recaptured for a new generation of childrenĖs comics, I also donĖt want to see the sort of storytelling JLU does to be mistaken as being for adults only, just because it appeals to adults as well as children. As CS Lewis said, "I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story."

Aaron Malchow

Actually, the darkness of Superman can extend back even further to the end of S:TAS. I always have the "Legacy" two-parter in the back of my head. This was the ep where Darkseid brainwashes Superman into leading his invasion of Earth. In my mind, *that* is the start of Cadmus. Even before the Justice Lords, the world sees Superman destroy Metropolis.

I was so happy when the new Justice League series finally acknowledged the "Legacy" after-effect. The ep where Superman is almost out of his mind trying to kill Darkseid is so great. Even better that Batman is the one needing to be the voice of reason for Kal-El. I still think the Batman/Superman dichotomy is the core of these series. They are always two sides of the same coin, but lately it is Superman on the dark side.

"Legacy" was also directly referenced in the JLU episode with Supergirl's clone. The general that Supergirl, Green Arrow, and Question talk to revealed that the government had been preparing for Superman to go evil again ever since "Legacy." That was also when they got Supergirl's DNA for cloning. So while Cadmus itself apparently didn't start until after "A Better World," the seeds had been planted.

Come to think of it, S:TAS also featured an alternate reality where Supes and Luthor took over the world together. It seems to be a recurring theme.

What I was about to say, Aaron said for me.

Also, you know, for awhile there, I thought we were heading *out* of the days of grim. We had Grant Morrison's JLA, we had JSA, we had stuff that had both *fun* and *characterization*...

And then we got Identity Crisis, and Avengers Dissasembled, and started going down that road again.

Sigh.

Allow me to quote Kjartan Arnorsson, who is admittedly a perverse pornographer. The following excerpt is from an essay of his entitled "Why I Stopped Reading Mainstream Superhero Comix [sic]"

"Superheroes are supposed to be this adolescent power fantasy, right? The mighty man who can beat everyone else up. But mainstream superheroes don't even deliver that. They're totally ineffective against the popular supervillians, who can't be killed off or jailed permanently. In the standard comics story, the villain kills people, is arrested by the hero (not even that, in the case of Lex Luthor), then gets out and kills again, over and over. Castrated by commercial interests, the 'hero' is helpless to stop this ongoing slaughter. But what really sticks in my craw is when the hero saves the villain's life.

Now, the first time is excusable. But after the villian is saved, he kills again. So the second time out, the hero knows that saving the villain condemns his future victims to death. All the hero has to do is step aside, and let the villain suffer the consequences of his own actions. An entirely legal and moral act, that saves the lives of uncounted future victims. But the hero still saves him! How many people would still be alive if Batman let the Joker die? Go through the comics and count the corpses. Big pile, isn't it?

What kinda hero respects human life so much that he saves, and then unleashes mass murderers upon the city he's protecting? Some protection. Mainstream superhero comics aren't about the heroic fight for truth and justice. They're about unpunished mass murderers killing again and again and again, endlessly, while fools in circus costumes run around, unable to do anything useful -- or even helping the murderers survive their own slaughterfests!

Individual superhero stories can still be entertaining. But the 'continuity' makes me ill."

Admittedly, most of what he's talking about here is justification for reading dirty comics instead of superhero ones. But I think he has a valid (although a bit simple) point in the context of this particular argument.

There are going to be spoilers. Get used to it now. If you have any intention of watching "The Clash," you should close the window and move on.

*closes window*

*thinks for a bit*

*re-opens window, and resumes reading*

The fact that JLU is programmed at ten thirty at night is, to me, indicative of the projected audience.

Ten thirty at night? I'd give my right arm - or, at least, somebody's right arm - to have JLU air at ten thirty at night.

Here, they air Justice League at four thirty in the morning, for about three episodes at a time, when there isn't something more important on: like, say, a documentary about snowboarding. Which also says something about the expected audience, I suppose.

This is why I disregard the spoiler warning; by the time "The Clash" makes it to air here, if it ever does, I'll be wandering about with a zimmer frame having trouble remembering my own name, never mind the shocking ending of some TV show...

JLU blows my mind with its awesomeness. It is largely doing to their version of the JL what the comics are trying to do, but it's happening so much more naturally in the cartoon.

In other words, the comics are First-and-Ten and the TV series is Cerebus?

I think the big problem with all of this 'growing up' or 'darkening' or whatever-you-want-to-call-it is really indicative of the age of the characters. You can't have a character stay naieve (sp?) forever. Everyone has to grow up eventually, whether physically or mentally or emotionally. It has to happen. If not, the character just stagnates. Like the Arnorsson quote above, save a villian, he'll come back. Not all villians will turn good. All can, some will, but many won't. And eventually those who don't have to be dealt with or the story gets bogged down in repetition. All characters have to grow up sometime. Superman has to deal with the 'Justice Lords' question, and whichever way he chooses, he'll have to deal with. Naturally, he will become a darker character because of this. And once that happens, he really can't turn back. (I am using Superman as the example, but this is true of all superhero-type (even non-superhero-type) characters.) Sure, go ahead and reset the entire universe or whatever, but creators and readers will always remember, and Superman will never be the same.

To be honest, I think Superman (and others) will have to retire in a few years. A decade or two at most. Sure, he's an iconic cultural figure. Sure, the name is still worth cold, hard cash. But he has been around for nearly 70 years. He's had a full lifetime of growth. I know he's money in the bank for the comic industry. The big complaint I have with business and art: Businesses will try to get every cent they can get out of a sure thing. And for properties like Superman, businesses will squeeze as much money as they can, regardless of however much creative time is left for the property. That right there is my biggest complaint about syndicated comics (note Garfield and Cathy), television, and sometimes books: business don't really know when to rest a character or story.

It's time for new heroes. Who? I don't know. Let's get the creative power put toward making new heroes, new stories. Let's give children their OWN cultural icons, instead of their parent's or grandparent's icons.

Oh, and for the love of God, don't convolute the storylines this time. But that's for another snark.

Why should pure idealism be just for kids? What's wrong with having it out there for adults as well? I love the bitter, shades-of-grey morality in comics out there, but I'd love to see a well-written, thoughtful representation of Superman or Captain America's "classic" ideals.

As someone who lives in Canada anda therefore are much ahead on JLU (YTV's +4 episodes compared to Cartoon Network), I'd just like to say one thing:

The storyline gets even more convoluted.

Plaid Phantom -

I totally disagree with you. In fact, I think your post is exactly the kind of wrong reasoning that is at the root of the problem.

Superman is not a real person. He is not going through a life cycle. He doesn't need to grow older, or evolve, or change due to age. He's a fictional character. He is a cultural construct. In as much as he needs to change, he needs to change because the culture that created him changes.

Now, it's undebtable that American culture changed a lot in the past 70 years - and as a non-American, I can't gauge the difference even though I live in the states now - but it still needs heros.

For centuries, in every culture in the world, oral story traditions reused the same characters without having to worry about whether Odin is now 700 years old or when the first time they told the story of Rama was.

Which isn't to say that the stories should remain static - the world changes, and the characters need to react differently to them. Reading comics from the 30s now won't instill the same feelings in young kids as they did then. But instead of thinking "Superman is now older, he needs to grow up", the comic arists could - and maybe should - be thinking "How do we recreate the feeling of heroism triumphant that superman represents now?".

We don't need new heros. We need our heros to be heros anew.

"Captain Marvel is right about how to deal with the threat Luthor represents while Superman is wrong in that instance..."

Is he? Luthor is, in fact, clearly planning evil. Captain Marvel's strategy is...to trust him to turn over a new leaf. Now, I am not saying that this is a bad idea in all circumstances. Sometimes, you have to take the leap of faith that a person can be better than he has been. But in the context of Luthor--whose "reform" in the first place arose from no change of heart, just a change of circumstances--it's (literally!) lethally stupid.

I'm honestly not sure how much sophistication to attribute to this episode, because the network changes dictated after the delightful season two have meant that until recently, most episodes were dreary, dull, stupid slugfests with only a few glimmers of interest (though I give the creators a lot of credit for having managed to set up the current events credibly with only bits of screen time here and there; if you watch the pilot carefully, you can see exactly where the show was eventually going to go). It's obvious they got notes to dumb it down and responded by producing episodes only about 25% cleverer than *Superfriends*. So it's hard for me to say whether we're supposed to believe that the League should adhere literally to the moral framework of an eight-year-old and to take the more complex view that the childlike virtues should remain the underlying inspiration and aspiration for the League but are getting lost. In the half hour that's all they get now, the plot tends to be too simple to support the point they might be wanting to make (if Superman is "putting himself above the law" by wanting to tear into the foundation of a project where he thinks a bomb is about to go off, then he's putting himself above the law *nonstop*--Capt. Marvel's objections are *nonsensical* in the actual context of events, even if his broader argument has somethign to it; similarly, in "Doomsday Sanction," when Bruce castigates the League for their actions, one can't help but feel that perhaps he should be directing his ire at the government *that launched a nuclear missile at an inhabited island*). So an episode like "The Clash" leaves me scratching my head. If we're supposed to believe that Billy is simply right--honestly, that's naivete, not purity of heart. If we're not, we need a little more balance, I think.

[Sorry for the appearance of this post; for some reason the site keeps stripping out my lines between paragraphs.]

You forgot _The Adventures of Captain Marvel_ (12 part movie serial, and widely proclaimed the greatest of the serials).

I'm of the opinion that one of the smartest things done during the Bill Jemas period at Marvel was to start dividing up their titles amongst various imprints. That way people knew "...these are for kids, these are for the aging core fans, these are for the people who like to beat-off to Frank Cho's stuff..."

However, as usual, every new thing done to make Marvel more interesting to a wider variety of readers, was done in an amazingly half-assed manner because they didnt want to alientate the fanboys. And when Jemas was booted, every advance got rolled back or retconned. Too bad really.

"Let's give children their OWN cultural icons, instead of their parent's or grandparent's icons."

Chum, they already have them. That's why they're not reading Marvel and DC, and they're reading Shonen Jump instead.

On a somewhat related note: Do you know who's in a great position to get kids reading comics again?

Webcomic artists.

Do you know who aint taking advantage of this under catered-to market?

Webcomic artists.

Seriously, the next comic I do will be probably be kid-friendly. I figure if you're going to sell out, you should do it right.

Seriously, the next comic I do will be probably be kid-friendly.

William G has the right idea here.

I think they should remove Captain Marvel, a really anti-dark character and do Marvel Family Universe, with stories for kids, maybe even in a manga format, like Marvel is sort of doing with the new Power Pack , only they are note removing them from the Marvel Universe (I think Power Pack it's great kids comics... how can you go wrong with a bunch of kids fighting snarks?)

There's a deeper problem.

I grew up on comic books. I read Shakespeare because I liked Stan Lee's Thor. I read sf because Superman came from Krypton.

I was a reknowned letterhack under the name "Al Schroeder III" and even wrote a Superman comic with Marty Pasko.

I met my wife through a Julie Schwartz lettercolumn, and we've now been married twenty-five years. I owe Siegel and Shuster such a debt for what they did....a debt that can never be repaid, creating a genre.

I've always enjoyed superheroics. And I loved the Clash. And I loved that Captain Marvel--through he lost the fight--won the moral victory.

I am tired of the nedless masturbating that comics do now to what STan and Jack did, or Gardner Fox did, or Siegel and Shuster or Finger and Kane did. Endless variations on a theme, never trying anything new.

I miss the Silver Age, when new concepts were literally being tried every month, both from DC and Marvel---when Crisis on Earth-One was new, and the first time we saw the Negative Zone, or Galactus...

Comics is dying for some new ideas. And the superhero comic might die completely without those new ideas...

That's one reason I started my comic. To do a Silver Age-like superhero(ine) comic with an original idea or two, that HAVEN'T been done before, at least in comics.

I don't know if I've succeeded, but I've had a ball trying...

Warren Ellis said last night, comics companies aren't interested in creating new superheroes, just making the old ones...profitable.

How sad.---Al

Man... where's ZOT when you need him?

I don't have anything substantive to add to the debate, but I agree with the notion that superhero comics should be targeted more at kids than adults.

The Incredibles is a good example of a story that works on both levels, and that's what the editors at the big two should be pushing for in terms of content.

And I find it hard to believe that they can't find a format/distribution/price-structure set up that will work. I think the problem is, they've been clinging to old format/distribution/price-structure set up that been steadily turning them into a niche market for the past two decades.

Also, Note to self: start watching Justice League Unlimited.

Is he? Luthor is, in fact, clearly planning evil. Captain Marvel's strategy is...to trust him to turn over a new leaf.

Well, once Superman told him about the "mysterious device under Lexor City", Captain Marvel's proposal was "let's get the Atom or somebody down here to check it out." That's a much better strategy than "Superman smash!" He's not saying Lex is good and that's the end of it; he's saying he wants to see proof that Lex is still evil. And I think that's perfectly reasonable.

Besides, it's Superman's fault that Luthor got pardoned, so he has only himself to blame if people read the papers and think everything's fine. The essence of the story is that Superman (and by extension the League) feels they know more than the populace about what's "safe" and "good". And this makes them different from Cadmus how?

Tangent: Marvel currently has a kids-continuity line, but it's tanking and the four titles are going to be restarted as a single title in a month or two. And DC has a companion comic to JLU (as they did with BTAS, STAS, BB, etc), although most of their kids line is other licensed properties, like Cartoon Network stuff (Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Lab, etc).

And DC has a companion comic to JLU (as they did with BTAS, STAS, BB, etc)

Now that you mention it, Batman/Gotham Adventures was really good.

My question is, when do they play JLU at 10:30 pm? Because in my area (New England-ish), the first run episodes are played on CN at 9:00 pm on Saturdays, just before Zatch Bell (not Adult Swim), which is generally pretty silly (well, when it's not being surprisingly dark itself).

For the record, I totally started digging JL a lot more once they moved AWAY from the mandatory two-parter thing (you only ever needed to watch part two of any story, because that's where the interesting stuff happened, and the "previously on JL" bit at the beginning gave you all the info you needed from part one), and started using guys like Green Arrow and The Question more.

Being from Canada, as Web-

runner is, I can

assure you that JLU

is going to get eve-

n more confus-

ing.

Actually,

can you see the hidden spoiler?

and started using guys like Green Arrow and The Question more.

Yes, I really like the way they're going back and forth between the heavy hitters (Superman, Captain Marvel, Green Lantern, Flash) and the regular joes (Green Arrow, Wildcat). It's a good way to show that divisions exist even within the League.

1. I've read very little about the whole Shazam genre. I do recall reading a 1960's comic involving Captain Marvel defeating some worm-like monster using the Gateway Arch as a tuning fork. I don't know anything else about the series, so the whole Shazam bunny sounds rather fishy to me.

2. Paul Dini is trying to develop a kid-friendly DC cartoon in Krypto, the Superdog. He's even gone as far as to have the voice of Krypto reading to the audience the title of the particular epsiodette and who wrote and produced the episode. He even has a cat named "Streaky" whom I suppose you could call the Captain Marvel of the whole series. Does it work? I'm not sure entirely.

3. One final question. Al lamented that comics today are trying to recreate what legends like Stan Lee and others have already succeeded in doing. I guess my question would be is then, what hasn't been tried?

Just a couple of notes. The first is that I don't think there's a problem with kid-oriented cartoons. Cartoon Network and Nickolodean have really taken up the slack that was there, and are producing some great kids shows. Comics? Still lagging behind.

All the conversations about whether super heroes should or can change, the power of tradition and the status quo, and whether kids will find their own heroes... we're deep into Eco's "The Myth of Superman" at this point. I think it was written in the 80s. Time marches on by running in place.

I think one way the League is still different from Project Cadmus is that they're not utterly self-deluded. They actually know it when they make a mistake. Amanda Waller didn't learn a damned thing from her subordinate launching a nuclear missile at another country. She still thinks she has the situation under control.

I think Cadmus Project is a nice touch, btw. Without getting political (and believe me, it is very tempting), Cadmus provides a great example of why the powerful have to be held accountable. Cadmus isn't evil, which is why it's dangerous. It can go into far darker places than pure malice could ever take it.

Matt

www.likelystories.com

Tangent: Marvel currently has a kids-continuity line, but it's tanking and the four titles are going to be restarted as a single title in a month or two. And DC has a companion comic to JLU (as they did with BTAS, STAS, BB, etc), although most of their kids line is other licensed properties, like Cartoon Network stuff (Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Lab, etc).

The problem is, most of those kid-friendlies and tie-ins suck. The folks in charge figure "eh, they're just kids. They don't care if the writing is crap as long as it has a shiny cover and looks slightly animŧ."

The only exception in recent memory is the Batman Adventures title that launched for Free Comic-Book day '03, and was cancelled a year and a half later to make way for the tie-in for WB Kid's new "the batman" show. That cancellation was a particular shame given that it was heads above the 'real' bat-titles along with the rest of the kiddie-comics.

As cool as Batman, Superman, and the rest of the Justice League are, Timm and co.'s real accomplishment was to show the world that just because cartoons are for children, doesn't mean they have to suck.

The reason Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Lab, and assorted other non-Superhero tie-ins are successful is because those cartoons are reasonably good. They may not be nearly as good as B:TAS, but given their competition, they don't have to be.

On the other hand, 'Teen Titans' seems to combine the worst traits of American Cartoons with Japanese Animŧ, and even the seven-year-olds at whom 'The Batman' is targeted can tell that it's a marketing gimmick to sell their cheap bat-toys.

Watching the cartoon, one half-expects to hear Alfred utter "But Master Bruce, the only way you could ever defeat the penguin is with the bat-elasti-grapple, now available in toystores nation wide for the low, low price of $9.95 plus tax."

Given that DC's kiddie-superhero books are crappy attempts to emulate crappy cartoons (or in the case of their JLU book, a book aimed at seven-year-olds about a show that airs after the bedtimes of fourteen-year-olds), it's no wonder the books don't sell.

I don't see how marvel's strategy of digging up forty-year-old storylines, and having them re-written by their least-talented authors and re-drawn in a weird pseudo-manga style is doing any better. They don't even have the advantage of bad television shows to structure their all-ages material around.

Honestly, the existence of the various books aimed at children gives me a new apprieciation for Identity Crisis and and it's kin. After all, both the adults and the kids are provided with horribly written comics that brutally violate the memory of their characters and betray the entire concept of superhero, but at least the stuff they aim at us doesn't insult the reader's intellingence in front of his face.

Hi, long time reader, first time poster, but this was enough to prompt me to finally get off my ass and register an account.

First off, I'll say that "The Clash" is not my favorite JLU ep by any stretch of the imagination simply because it felt, to me, too cliched. There are MANY other JLU episodes where I almost ruined my keyboard due to spitting out my drink after the shock. This episode had no surprises.

That being said, I do appreciate the commentary the writers of JLU are trying to make, and I'm going to apply it to a previous snark of yours and the one that discusses the only real reason I'm in the DCU to begin with: Green Lantern Rebirth.

Green Lantern was my first and really my only comic fandom. And I came in when Kyle was just starting out. I was one of the new blood DC was seeking when it turned Hal into a stark raving loony. And to tell the truth, I loved it. Kyle was my GL, and the reason was because he was me.

The thing that made Kyle good in my opinion was that he could have been any of those reading him. He was some regular Joe picked of the street, not some unattainable fighter pilot who was fearless and honest and a paragon of virtue and yadda yadda. Kyle was me. He screwed up, he made mistakes, he didn't want to be compared to Hal even though people doing so was inevitable and he didn't want to be treated like a novice even though the truth is that he was one. Everyone's felt that way. Especially when they're a kid.

I was a kid when I first read Green Lantern and I have to say that Kyle appealed to me and Hal definitely didn't. What back issues concerning Hal I got my hands on I didn't really like, not to the extent that I liked Kyle and his story. And as Kyle grew, he became legitimate. He was accepted into the Justice League. He slowly but surely began making his mark as a hero, both on Earth and, later, in the rest of the universe. To those who invested in this kid, who went through his trials and tribulations and gaining legitimacy and finally making a name for himself, (especially as a stupid kid who had, as all kids do, the audacity to apply such mythic concepts to his own growing up where the main obstacles were wedgie-givers and the occasional bitchy teacher) you had the sense that, yeah, it's possible that anyone can be a hero. We all have the capacity for it. And we can do it well.

And then, after this buildup, DC comes in, crumples it all up, and throws it in the wastebasket just because they realized ten years too late that their changes are more likely to piss off Hal fans than acquire any new readers.

And thus, in one fell swoop, Green Lantern had me and lost me.

Kyle was a hero. Hate him because he wasn't Hal or because he was too cocky or whathaveyou, you can't deny that he was a hero. Maybe at first he wasn't, but he grew into it, becoming, in my opinion at least, a happy medium between sunny idealism and gritty realism. He was a chump, he was a nobody, he had bad things happen to him that were normal. And he was still a hero.

And they shoved it all aside because they wanted to bring back the Hal fans.

I LIKE the Teen Titans cartoon dammit! Though even THAT one is getting a bit dark with the current season's story arc, with Raven, her Satan-Dad, and Zombie Slade.

Theeeeeeeeeeeeeee Batman I can do without, though I WAS kind of amused that in the Ventriloquist episode, they redesigned the Scarface puppet to look like, well, Scarface (as in the movie).

Montykins wrote:

ÏWell, once Superman told him about the Îmysterious device under Lexor CityĖ, Captain Marvel's proposal was Îlet's get the Atom or somebody down here to check it out.Ė That's a much better strategy than ÎSuperman smash!Ė He's not saying Lex is good and that's the end of it; he's saying he wants to see proof that Lex is still evil. And I think that's perfectly reasonable.Ó

Agreed. At one time, Superman would have taken this more measured approach as well, but as other posters have noted, the animated series has been slowly moving his characterization towards this internal conflict between what he values and what we believes will be effective.

The fight between him and Captain Marvel has as much impact as it does because at the heart of it, we know (as does Superman) that the values Captain Marvel represents are those that Superman still sees as important.

SupermanĖs characterization suggests that heĖs concerned how his role in LuthorĖs pardon, a prior compromise of his beliefs, might have dangerous repercussions. He seems increasingly impatient to rectify this prior compromise, which ironically, is leading him towards more instances where he is compromising his values. Captain Marvel hasnĖt found Ō given his speech to the League at the end of the episode about his adventures Ō a time when heĖs had to make such a compromise, and heĖs suggesting to the League that once such compromises are made, they become easier to make, until doing what is ethically right is replaced by doing what is expedient.

Sarah T. wrote:

ÏWe're supposed to believe that Billy is simply right--honestly, that's naivete, not purity of heart. If we're not, we need a little more balance, I think.Ó

As Montykins pointed out, Captain MarvelĖs stance is more nuanced than simply trusting Luthor. To expand upon that point, the AtomĖs scientific expertise can better verify than SupermanĖs x-ray vision whether the device was a bomb or not. And the Atom, unless otherwise engaged, could have arrived at Luxor City in the time that it took for Superman to fight Captain Marvel. If I was in a room with a potential bomb, and couldnĖt escape the blast radius, I would rather have an expert examine it than get into a fistfight with the person who suggests having an expert examine it.

As it is, Captain MarvelĖs virtue doesnĖt come from the Ïmoral framework of an eight-year-old,Ó but from the desire to maintain ethical behavior, even when it would be easier not to. (In the comics, Captain MarvelĖs powers included the wisdom of Solomon, which suggests a philosophical dimension to his powers, something most super heroes lack.)

If Captain Marvel had outlined a list of absolute virtues that the League should follow instead of moving them to be self-reflective about their actions, then I would see that as a sign of a simplistic morality, but a call to be self-reflective about oneĖs actions points to a sophisticated moral framework.

Aaron Malchow

A simple observation: since very early in the saga of Superman (I think in the original Action Comics #1 even) he has been described as fighting for "Truth, Justice, and the American Way."

Dark times, dark mirror.

"Well, once Superman told him about the "mysterious device under Lexor City", Captain Marvel's proposal was "let's get the Atom or somebody down here to check it out." That's a much better strategy than "Superman smash!""

Except there isn't *time*. I don't have the episode archived, but as I recall there were something like four minutes left on the timer when Superman saw the device (apparently, there was a classic Hollywood Time Stop to give them time to have the fight). Maybe someone else could get there *and* disarm the device in time, maybe not. Given the alternatives, who would wait? If Superman's wrong, what has he done? Some property damage, which apparently the League is able to pay for. If Captain Marvel minds property damage so much, getting into a slugfest with Superman in the same location strikes me as a touch misguided, to say the least.

Furthermore, Superman *overheard Lex discussing his escape route with Mercy*. Now, in retrospect, Lex was obviously doing that to set him up, but the fact is, Superman has good reason to think that Lex was lying, and not just his past record. He's not being blindly prejudiced; he just never gets a chance to explain his current evidence to Captain Marvel.

"He's not saying Lex is good and that's the end of it; he's saying he wants to see proof that Lex is still evil. And I think that's perfectly reasonable."

I actually diagree about that (he knows better than anyone that Lex reformed to stay out of prison). But setting that aside, it's reasonable to ask for proof before sending Lex to jail or anything similar. All Superman wanted to do was destroy a potential bomb. Yes, he would need to apologize afterwards if he were wrong, but Lex's hurt feelings are a pretty trivially small cost, and if Lex really *has* reformed, something that can be mended.

I know I'm subjecting the plot to more scrutiny than it can possibly bear, given that the episode barely clocked in over twenty minutes, and that's sort of my point. It's very hard to say anything complicated in that length of time, which makes it hard for viewers to figure out how much frustrated sophistication to attribute to the writing.

Oh, and one other thing:

"from the desire to maintain ethical behavior, even when it would be easier not to"

That's the problem. You're going to have to explain to me how what Superman did was actually *unethical* (regardless of the wisdom of his tactics). If it is, every time we send a convicted criminal to jail and keep him there despite his expressions of remorse and promises not to do it again, we're being unethical. I am actually am perfectly happy to see stories in which superheroes rise to the challenge of their moral responsibilities, but if the challenge is adult and complex, then the moral reasoning needs to be, as well.

"3. One final question. Al lamented that comics today are trying to recreate what legends like Stan Lee and others have already succeeded in doing. I guess my question would be is then, what hasn't been tried?"

Let's see now....

Someone who's civilian identity was mentally challenged, although they themselves are brilliant. It's been done in FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, but not in comics...

Someone who has access to the "next plateau" of stable elements, with undreamt-of properties.

Someone using a "utility fog" to produce objects out of---seemingly---thin air, with nanomachines.

For starters.

Of course, I've done it in MY comic, by now...---Al

Personally, I'm surprised that The Incredibles was only brought up once and not discussed again. Several people have mentioned the need for new superheroes who can strike a balance between the idealism of the old heroes and the gritty depth of the new ones, with writing that's smart enough for adults and accessible to kids. That seems to me to be the perfect description of The Incredibles. Brad Bird proved that your heroes can be complex and have problems, but can still be dedicated to fighting evil and saving the city. Complexity and idealism aren't mutually exclusive, we just need to find more writers willing to explore that balance and able to do it well.

Hah! Stan Lee proved that heroes can be complex and have problems while saving the city. The Idea of a superhero family that dealt with real-world problems showed up with Fantastic Four #1 in November of 1961. The only major changes to the heroic superheroes books after Smilin' Stan are more realistic dialog and more expensive art. And in many ways, The Incredibles has more in common with Identity Crisis or Disassembled than with the silver-age classics

On first look, the movie seems like a fun, action packed, superhero adventure. But if you look deeper it starts to get disturbing. The 'supers' of the incredi-world aren't our protectors, they're our masters.

Superman, Batman and the rest are considered superheroes because they uphold the ideals of truth, justice, and liberty. Mr. Incredible is given the same title simply because he can bend steel. JLU's heroes face the difficult choice of whether or not to trust a corrupt businessman who seems to have given up his evil ways. In contrast, Bob Parr looses his temper and puts his boss in the hospital, and we're supposed to let it slide because he's got super-strength.

The Incredibles is a movie that killed off four characters to make a joke about costume conventions. The Villian was a rejected sidekick and fan, driven insane by the neglect of the protagonist. How many more hints do we need that this is a work closer to the macabre disconstruction of Identity Crisis than the idealistic works of a past age, championing paragons we so sorely miss?

1. I've read very little about the whole Shazam genre. I do recall reading a 1960's comic involving Captain Marvel defeating some worm-like monster using the Gateway Arch as a tuning fork. I don't know anything else about the series, so the whole Shazam bunny sounds rather fishy to me.

The original Fawcett Comics Captain Marvel was always intended for kids. It was frequently quite goofy. Hoppy the Marvel BunnyÛa talking rabbit from a cartoon world who read Captain Marvel comics and loved them so much that he fell into the Fawcett world and was given Shazam-powersÛfit right in with the general tone.

2. Paul Dini is trying to develop a kid-friendly DC cartoon in Krypto, the Superdog. He's even gone as far as to have the voice of Krypto reading to the audience the title of the particular epsiodette and who wrote and produced the episode. He even has a cat named "Streaky" whom I suppose you could call the Captain Marvel of the whole series. Does it work? I'm not sure entirely.

Incidentally, both Krypto and Streaky the Supercat were Superman's super-powered pets (along with Beppo the Super-monkey and Comet the Super-horse...well, Comet was actually Supergirl's, but still) during the Silver Age. Ace the Bathound was similarly Batman's pet. They aren't Dini's original creations.

Okay, I gotta disagree on the Incredibles = dark post up there.

"They're our masters" - proven wholly untrue by the very *premise* of the movie. The people said for them to go - and they went. This is the behavior of a servant, not a master.

"He his boss in the hospital, and we're supposed to let it slide" - Slide how, exactly? From the shocked expression on his face right after he does it, to the loss of not only his job but the government's support of him, nothing indicates that what he's done is laudable or even acceptable.

"The Villian was a rejected sidekick and fan, driven insane by the neglect of the protagonist" - Frankly, that seems more a criticism of the 90s way of doing things. (Not to mention his non-sequiter one-word name - clearly from the "realistic" era.)

It pointed to the heroic ideals as right and good, while simultaneously pointing out the flaws in their execution. It didn't feel the need for the false realism of grim 'n gritty nihilism - didn't have to, since it had the true realism of characterization.

Also, Streaky was Supergirl's pet too. He wasn't Kryptonian, but originally an Earth cat who was given injections of X-Kryptonite for his powers. ``v

Don't forget, the boss in The Incredibles was also a total asshole, and was probably doing more damage to innocent people than most supervillains.

IĖll try to wrap up my thoughts in this post, as IĖm not sure whether I have much more to add that is meaningful without repeating myself. I just would like to respond to SarahĖs statements, since she took the time to respond to mine.

Sarah T wrote:

ÏExcept there isn't *time*. I don't have the episode archived, but as I recall there were something like four minutes left on the timer when Superman saw the device (apparently, there was a classic Hollywood Time Stop to give them time to have the fight). Maybe someone else could get there *and* disarm the device in time, maybe not. Given the alternatives, who would wait.Ó

At the beginning of the episode, we saw a comparable situation, with fight against the Parasite, where Batman asked for immediate support from J'onn J'onzz and got it within a short time span (even though JĖonnĖs first choice to provide aid Ō Superman -- was unavailable). Given that example, within the context of the episode itself, IĖd need to be convinced that such speedy support would not have been available (or that neither Captain Marvel nor Superman could have provided it).

Sarah T:

"If Superman's wrong, what has he done? Some property damage, which apparently the League is able to pay for."

Just because Superman can afford to make good on the damage he causes doesnĖt make causing that property damage ethically right, but the JLUĖs ability to make financial amends does make it an expedient solution.

As the episode shows, Luthor wasnĖt expecting Captain Marvel to show up to fight Superman. He was expecting Superman to interrupt the proceedings, which would cause the crowd to panic, and to ultimately have to issue a public apology. If a police officer was to yell fire in a movie theater when there is no fire, and even apologized after the fact, that officerĖs credibility would be damaged. That was what Luthor wanted: to damage SupermanĖs credibility. If Superman had been more inclined to comport himself as Captain Marvel suggested, LuthorĖs plan would have failed.

Sarah T added:

ÏFurthermore, Superman *overheard Lex discussing his escape route with Mercy*. Now, in retrospect, Lex was obviously doing that to set him up, but the fact is, Superman has good reason to think that Lex was lying, and not just his past record.Ó

Agreed on both points. But how Superman reacted to that information was his downfall. At the start of the Superman animated series, Superman reacted calmly to LuthorĖs threats (see the end of ÏLast Son of Krypton,Ó where SupermanĖs calm demeanor actually provokes Luthor into rash action), but his patience is wearing thin, which Luthor is aware of and is taking advantage of.

Sarah T:

ÏYou're going to have to explain to me how what Superman did was actually *unethical* (regardless of the wisdom of his tactics). If it is, every time we send a convicted criminal to jail and keep him there despite his expressions of remorse and promises not to do it again, we're being unethical.Ó

The unethical behavior comes down to SupermanĖs causing a panic among the crowd, publicly casting doubt on LuthorĖs intents without sufficient evidence (claiming a presidential candidate has planted a bomb when that hasnĖt occurred strikes me as being defamatory), and starting a fight with Captain Marvel when he isnĖt a threat.

As for sending convicted criminals to jail despite expressions of remorse, IĖm not sure I completely follow the comparison youĖre drawing here, so I really donĖt feel that I can comment on it. If you are so inclined, could you clarify it for me? Thanks.

Sarah T:

"I know I'm subjecting the plot to more scrutiny than it can possibly bear, given that the episode barely clocked in over twenty minutes, and that's sort of my point. It's very hard to say anything complicated in that length of time, which makes it hard for viewers to figure out how much frustrated sophistication to attribute to the writing."

I donĖt believe that length or apparent simplicity are the best criteria to use in determining whether something is worthy of analysis or how deep that analysis can be. If that was the case, the influence of short form haiku poetry on Ezra Pound wouldnĖt be worth considering when talking about his imagist theory. Likewise, George OrwellĖs short essays, such as ÏPolitics and the English Language,Ó wouldnĖt be considered worthy of the same type of discussions as his novels. Many noteworthy individual paintings and photography would likewise be unworthy of study under such criteria.

Likewise, author intent is also not the strongest indicator of whether something is worthy of analysis. In his essay introduction to The Dark Knight Returns, Alan Moore argues that Tarzan, Allan Quartermain, and James BondĖs stories can be subject to a more sophisticated analysis than their original authors ever intended, and that Miller addresses this successfully in his take on Batman in relation to the original Kane and Finger work.

The rigorousness of the analysis and the quality of its results strike me as more important concerns.

Despite our disagreements about the episode, Sarah, it was a pleasure talking about this with you. Take care.

Aaron Malchow

Heh, maybe I read too many political blogs. I saw this episode more as a commentary on the Administration's approach to the "War on Terror" than anything else.

"Superman, Batman and the rest are considered superheroes because they uphold the ideals of truth, justice, and liberty. Mr. Incredible is given the same title simply because he can bend steel."

Dude, at the beginning of the movie, Mr. Incredible helps an old woman, stops an armed high-speed chase, catches a robber (with Elastigirl's help), prevents a man from committing suicide, almost catches what is obviously a supervillain (but is thwarted by Buddy's interference), and saves Buddy and a train full of people from a bomb. In about two hours. And because of all this, he ends up being late to his own wedding. I'd say that's pretty deserving of being called incredible.

Not to pile on, but... yeah, what he said. The Incredibles are a flawed bunch, but the movie is about them overcoming their flaws. In the case of Mr. Incredible, it's harder for him to do because of his powers. Why does he hit his boss? Because the man is trying to keep him from helping people.

Admission that darkness exists is not the same as giving in to it.

Matt

www.likelystories.com

Like webrunner, I'm one of the fortunate Canadians who've gotten to see almost the entire JLU season now. And like he says, it gets even more convoluted. But I'd like to add that it keeps up this level of quality -- and if your post is any indication, Eric, you'll enjoy every minute of it.

- Z

Bit late now, I know, but I'm surprised there's been no mention of Astro City.

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