Justice League: The Animated Series – Part 7: Conclusion

on April 10, 2015

Some credit former Green Lantern writer Geoff Johns with revitalizing Green Lantern and putting it on the map with his resurrection of Hal Jordan, but I disagree. Bruce Timm and his team are the ones who really put Green Lantern on the map with their excellent showing of John Stewart on Justice League. This is evident by the throngs of people who were confused and upset when a Caucasian actor was shown as the lead in the 2011 Green Lantern film. More people watched and continue to watch Justice League than have ever read any Green Lantern comic book run, and John Stewart’s years on the television are undoubtedly the most influential and positively received presence the Green Lantern franchise has ever had.

I believe that, up to this point, Bruce Timm’s Justice League is the best interpretation of the Justice League concept by a large margin. The relationships between all the main characters are flawless. The balance is just right all around. You can’t switch Hawkgirl out for Aquaman, or John Stewart out for Hal Jordan and get the same effect.

Out of all members of the team, the two most controversial additions wound up being the characters with the most interesting and developed arcs. With so few expectations for Hawkgirl and John Stewart the creators weren’t tightly restricted by comic book lore when writing them. Bruce Timm and his team were more or less free to take those characters where they wanted, and since they are better story tellers than most comic creators, their execution is superior to the interpretations in the comics by leaps and bounds. There is currently no better version or interpretation of either Hawkgirl or Green Lantern in comic books than what is presented in Justice League.

This show is what made me a Green Lantern fan. What some may have disliked about John Stewart’s personality, others loved. Green Lantern is known for making giant green baseball bats, bird cages, boxing gloves, and so on, which can be difficult to take seriously. It adds insult to injury when the hero has a goofy personality.

John Stewart connects with me more than any other Earth Lantern because he brings class, professionalism, dignity, gravitas, legitimacy, and a sense of responsibility to the role of Green Lantern. He has the air of an officer about him, or a true noble knight, and he approaches the ring with a practical, no nonsense mentality. Make no mistake, however; just because John brings those attributes doesn’t mean he can’t be funny or have lighter moments. His fun and sentimental sides are brought out in such episodes as “Comfort and Joy,” when he enthusiastically tries to show Hawkgirl the glories of Christmas, and “Legends,” which reveals his love for comic books. There’s also quite a bit of comedy that comes from John’s serious demeanor.

An early draft of the Justice League by Bruce Timm.

John Stewart is such a nuanced and layered character. He is thoughtful, critical, concerned for the underprivileged, dedicated, and there’s sometimes an element of melancholy to him. For as hardened as Green Lantern appears, he’s very sensitive.

“In Blackest Night” reveals his sense of isolation and estrangement from the rest of humanity; a feeling that he’s lost something. He has difficulty relating to them and adjusting back to surroundings that were once familiar. In “Legends,” the deaths of his childhood idols strongly affect him. “Metamorphosis” exposes his doubts over the choices he’s made in life when he reunites with his successful friend, Rex Mason. Whereas Mason is financially well off and engaged to a beautiful young woman, John Stewart is single and lives a meager lifestyle, with not much to show for all the power the Guardians granted him. There is not much to his life outside of serving the Guardians of the Universe. He has no apparent family, no significant other, not many material possessions, and we don’t see him with much of a social life.

“Only a Dream” once again brings out his fear of losing touch with humankind as he realizes how alienated he is from Earth and its people. In “A Better World” John’s alternate self is very saddened by the death of his friend, The Flash. He is the only member of the Justice Lords who still seems to have not moved on and dealt with the tragedy, as it still depresses him. And, of course, there is his tumultuous romance with Hawkgirl, which carries out for practically the duration of the whole show. I firmly believe it is the best superhero romance of all time.

Bruce Timm’s distinct artistic style on a rendering of Wonder Woman.

It’s very notable how Justice League features a Black male in a strong and glamorous role. Despite sharing the screen with Superman and Batman–both legitimate worldwide icons–John Stewart is given the most development. He is the one who battles the villains in the climactic showdowns of both season finales. Rather than him being asexual, as many Black characters in fiction appear to be, it is John who is given the epic love story. And yet, the creators did not coddle him. They tested him to the limit, and he didn’t come through it unscathed. Justice League stunned audiences with deep storylines like “Starcrossed,” which actually made them truly feel for the characters, which was something Super Friends was never able to do on any meaningful level.

Bruce Timm, James Tucker, Dwayne McDuffie, Stan Berkowitz, and all the other creators involved pushed western action animation meant for children to another level. They firmly placed the Justice League back into the public consciousness and brought in an entire generation of fans to DC Comics properties. Justice League defined its featured heroes and villains for years and years to come, as evidenced by the show’s voice cast continually being used in projects released over a decade after the premier on Cartoon Network.

Despite the risks the show took, and its rather mature tone, it was not too complex for kids. The huge success of Justice League and Justice League Unlimited’s toylines–which continued six years after Unlimited ended–show that the typical figure buying kids demographic was very appeased.

Speaking of which, our heroes’ stories don’t end here. After Justice League’s second season, it was revamped into Justice League Unlimited, which first aired in late July of 2004. The later show features a greatly expanded League and single episode stories instead of the hour long two parters of Justice League.

Where Justice League prevails over its successor is in being a more graceful and mature show. JLU has more ridiculous moments, gags, and “X-treme” attributes, such as its “edgy” rock laden soundtrack.

The Justice League. Of all the shows Bruce Timm has done, he is on record listing this series as his favorite.

What makes the DC Animated Universe so excellent is its sophistication, culture, refinement, and depth. Those qualities set it apart from most other children’s action cartoons and, without trying to sound too pretentious, make it something of a higher expression of creativity. Justice League Unlimited–though it certainly has its merits, such as better animation and battle choreography, deep arc-based storytelling, and overall ambitiousness–somewhat devolves into something closer to a typical action cartoon. It lacks the majesty of its forerunner, which is a reason I prefer Justice League to Justice League Unlimited.

Bruce Timm has arguably done more for DC Comics properties than anyone in the last twenty five years. He introduced millions of people to the various mythologies of the DC Universe through his popular cartoon shows. He has had a huge hand in keeping Batman the powerhouse franchise that it is. For many people, their first introduction to the Green Lantern was through Justice League, an incredibly daring show that continues to resonate with people. Bruce Timm challenged the rules, broke them, rewrote them, and in so doing created a primer for how to do the modern superhero cartoon show. Timm rose to the challenge of tackling DC’s most iconic, coveted properties all at once and honorably displayed the larger than life spectacle of the DC Universe, and quite regularly exceeded the comics in terms of how to portray those properties and in telling a gripping narrative.

Justice League is the greatest, most ambitious western action cartoon aired on television to date. I have never enjoyed an animated feature more.