DCAU #378: The Call

IN THIS ONE... Terry joins the Justice League Unlimited to ferret out the traitor among them. (Two-parter)

CREDITS: Written by Paul Dini, Alan Burnett and Stan Berkowitz; directed by Butch Lukic.

REVIEW: Oh this is exciting! It's weird that we got the Beyond League on TV before the actual Justice League was established, but if this is a(nother) proof of concept for a team show, it certainly does the job. Just in terms of action, it's a stand-out, with tons of explosions, derailments that send trains into high rises from the middle down, underwater feats, possessed Superman flying upright through a snowy wind tunnel and ripping the Batmobile in half, Warhawk's helmet crashing into a windshield after he apparently blows up with a missile, Terry overwhelmed by dozens of evil starfish, Superman robots firing their heads at the Leaguers... just amazing stuff. The two-parter looks great.

Had a Justice League program not been in the works, one might easily have imagined this "Justice League Unlimited" (a name the contemporary team would adopt with its third season) as Beyond's spin-off instead of the Zeta Project (haven't watched that yet, but it doesn't take 20/20 hindsight to realize it wouldn't necessarily capture the imagination). Setting the episode in Metropolis - which hasn't really changed, has it? - and then revealing the future has many more heroes, makes the Beyond universe expand to epic size, and retroactively, the present-day DCAU as well. Aquaman has had a daughter, Aquagirl. There's a wise, but child-like Green Lantern. The former Female Fury (Big) Barda has joined the League (in lieu of Wonder Woman, apparently, but she's immediately my favorite). Micron is essentially Ant-Man/Giant-Man and looks pretty cool. Warhawk is obviously Thanagarian. And of course, Superman has not only survived with a certain measure of youthfulness, but changed his costume. Now he's recruited Terry to find the traitor among them, and the new kid on the block finds them an unaccepting bunch, at least until he starts to prove his mettle.

The traitor plot isn't perfect - in fact, it's never really made clear why Superman would recruit Terry if HE were the traitor. And it's not the only plot hole. I might mention Inque's unexplained return from death, or Terry's refusal to join at the end for no real reason. But there's so much cool stuff in The Call, that these feel like minor quibbles. Superman being the traitor is a great reveal and a rare case of punching computer buttons looking exciting. It leads to an awesome cliffhanger as Terry contemplates killing Superman with a sliver of kryptonite. And the further reveal that the Starro that was an Easter Egg in the Superman/Lobo episode with the Preserver that introduced the Fortress' alien zoo has been possessing Superman for years, well, that just throws us into an even more exciting third act in which the League is compromised and Terry must prevent the subjugation of the human race and free the Man of Steel from the parasite. A humane resolution serves as epilogue. Who has time to consider those plot holes?

IN THE COMICS: Starro was the first villain seen to fight the Justice League of America, way back in Brave and the Bold #28 (1960); that starfish tyrant was gigantic and had many more powers than this one, but the face-hugger trick has come up often since then to create Starro zombies. Starro's main weakness seems to be teenagers, because in THAT original story, it was defeated by JLA mascot Snapper Carr. The Beyond League will, of course, appear in later Beyond comics, including those that are part of DCU continuity, but were original(ish) creations when they appeared on the show. There have been several heroines called Aquagirls, though none that were related to Aquaman as closely as this one does. Her real name "Mareena" may be a hint that Mera is her mother. The future Superman has a black costume, somewhat inspired by the one he wore soon after his resurrection in Reign of the Supermen, though the simplified shield might be a wink at the one made famous in Kingdom Come. Barda has had a cameo in STAS, and has appeared in the tie-in comics, but this is her first speaking appearance on one of the shows; she's wearing her red bikini rather than her full armor. Speaking of armor, Warhawk is a future version of Hawkman. Earth still has a Green Lantern. And Micron has elements of both the Atom and Atom-Smasher.

SOUNDS LIKE: Fun casting for Aquagirl, with Jodi Benson the voice of Ariel in Disney's The Little Mermaid. Micron is played by Wayne Brady of Who's Line Is It Anyway fame. Farrah Forke voices Barda; she was Alex Lambert on Wings opposite Tim Daly who did not reprise his role of Superman, the production opting for an older voice in Christopher McDonald's. He was Jor-El in the STAS pilot and would later play a Superman analog in Kim Possible. Warhawk is voiced by recognizable character actor Peter Onorati who starred in a number of series in the early 90's, like Cop Rock, Civil Wars and Joe's Life. Or you might remember him as Lou on Kate & Allie if you're old enough and yet still have your memory. And Green Lantern? That's Lauren Tom who normally plays Dana on the show.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A blockbuster of a story, with great action, cool new characters, and the highest stakes yet.


Anonymous said...

You can always tell when Superman has been possessed by an evil force, he starts using his powers efficiently.

Brian said...

Shortly before this episode aired, I was at the DCAU panel at Wondercon in 2000 where Bruce Timm talked about it, and their plans going forward for BATMAN BEYOND AND SUPERMAN, both in what turned out to be their final seasons (the panel premiered this and the Aquaman episode). I actually ended up submitting my only ever report to Ain't-It-Cool-News from that panel! The idea for a fourth season, according to Timm at the panel, was that Terry would be a reserve member of recurring Justice League and that Bruce Wayne would have to step back into control of Wayne-Powers now that Paxton was out of the picture, so that both of them would begin to have their own stories; Terry would be Batmanning in Gotham sometimes and Batmanning globally or universally with the league (now that he had proven himself) other times, meanwhile Bruce would pick up some of the slack using other tools of making Gotham a better place with his brains and money (having been brought out of his funk by seeing what what Terry could accomplish). From the way that Out of the Past suggested Bruce might keep some of his rejuvenation from the Pit (as you caught the hints of the other day), it seemed like they were indeed building up a long game.

(BTW, in terms of SUPERMAN, Timm gave hints of how he'd deal with the trust of those among him by the end of the third season and have to rebuild that in the fourth season – we certainly see the loss of trust in the finale – and suggested that the beginning of a buildup of a wider DC Universe would be a key to that regaining of trust. It sounded really cool; alas, it seems like a lost story that had to be skipped to get to where JUSTICE LEAGUE begins.


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