Ten reasons why Justice League Unlimited nailed superhero cartoons

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Justice League Unlimited

Ten years ago, Justice League Unlimited ended. Essentially a tighter and more focused version of the earlier Justice League cartoon, Justice League Unlimited was a weekly dose of action, character development and story-arcs that paid off at the end of a season. It’s the kind of show which managed to set a benchmark not only for the genre, but for higher budget productions as well, something that the Warner Bros. film division could learn a few lessons from.

Here’s ten reasons and episodes, about how Justice League Unlimited managed to make itself the very best capes and spandex cartoon of all time.

A flawed Superman – Clash

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Superman shouldn’t be a difficult character to understand. What you have is an individual with absolute power, who hasn’t succumbed to absolute corruption. Superman is a good person who just wants to do the right thing, not a brooding outcast with emotional baggage, RIGHT HOLLYWOOD? But here’s the thing: Superman isn’t perfect.

It’s the flaws that Superman has to learn to overcome, that makes him interesting. You can have a last son of Krypton who is both good-hearted and grim at times. Justice League Unlimited nailed this idea perfectly, with their Superman being a leader who took his job of protecting the Earth seriously. But this was also a Superman who was convinced that presidential candidate and lifelong adversary Lex Luthor was up to something.

And he was right, Luthor did have yet another scheme brewing in the background. But Superman’s hellbent determination to expose Luthor proved to be his downfall, resulting in an epic battle between himself and Captain Marvel that left a newly built city in ruins. And a PR disaster for the Justice League that Luthor properly exploited.

A fitting end to Batman Beyond – Epilogue

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The best Batman series of the late 1990s and early 2000s didn’t star Bruce Wayne under the cowl. It was an animated spectacle featuring Terry McGinnis, a new Batman for a new age. Batman Beyond was a fresh start that starred a Tomorrow Knight who was genuinely likable, an everyman teenager that provided a stark contrast to an aged and broken Bruce Wayne. That show ended in 2001, but the 2005 Justice League Unlimited episode Epilogue gave the series the conclusion that it deserved.

An older and wiser Terry McGinnis, who finds out that he happens to share some DNA with Bruce Wayne. It’s not the search for answers that makes this episode so worthwhile however. It’s the examination of the cost of actually being Batman, and Terry’s quest to be a different dark knight that gives Batman Beyond a worthy send-off.

Golden and Silver Age shout-outs – Patriot Act

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While Justice League was centered on the core cast of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl and the Martian Manhunter, Justice League Unlimited expanded that roster massively. Numerous heroes popped up, from the obscure through to the mainstream. But when a rogue US Army general decides to inject himself with a Nazi super-soldier serum and go on a massive rampage, it’s up to a select group of metahumans to stop him.

Unfortunately, they’re all busy and the task falls to Green Arrow, Speedy, Stargirl, S.T.R.I.P.E., Shining Knight, Crimson Avenger and Vigilante instead. Sure, DC’s Seven Soldiers of Victory may be hopelessly outmatched by the might of a mutated General Eiling, but watching a Silver Age combination of guns, arrows and explosive motorcycles thrown at the hulking Shaggy Man made for some great entertainment and a resolution that you’d never see coming.

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The unstoppable – The Return

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When it comes to power, the entirety of the Justice League is a force that cannot be equalled. You’ve got powerhouses such as Superman and Wonder Woman, crafty vigilantes, the smartest minds on the planet and various other metahumans with an array of powers that stretch between awe-inspiring and weird. Assembled together as Earth’s greatest line of defense, nothing can break a Justice League blockade. Well, not exactly.

Having vanished years before, the rogue android known as Amazo has returned. Armed with the ability to duplicate any power that it encounters, Amazo has essentially become a god. And he wants answers from Lex Luthor. The Justice League throws every single member that they have at Amazo while trying to protect Luthor, but nothing can stop the android.

In the end, it’s not might that stops Amazo from turning Luthor into atoms. It’s arrogance, the truth and understanding that stops him cold and allows the synthetic creation to evolve once more.

The real Booster Gold – The greatest story never told

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Choosing to be a superhero, is an inherently noble act. Donning a mask, risking your life and fighting a neverending battle is a thankless task which doesn’t exactly pay the bills. And then there’s Booster Gold. Unlike heroes who are motivated solely by grief or a better nature, Booster Gold is in it for the fame. A time-travelling former football star who stole his powersuit from a museum and came back in time to make a name for himself, Booster Gold isn’t exactly regarded highly in the Justice League.

But given a chance, and you’ll find that there’s a true hero inside all of us. While the Justice League is off fighting yet another Kaiju-sized threat, Booster Gold finds himself saving a pregnant civilian, scientists and the entire planet from being engulfed in a gigantic black hole. The only problem? Nobody believes him once the dust has settled. Well, except for his robotic pal Skeets that is.

The fastest and most likeable man alive – Flash and substance

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The Flash had a pretty simple role to play in Justice League: Comic relief. Unlike his current live-action counterpart, this Flash was a light-hearted joker (NOT THAT ONE), a point-of-view everyman who brought some light chuckles to an otherwise intense show. But there’s a lot more to being the fastest man alive than just being quick on your feet.

With an appreciation day coming up, New God Orion finds out just how much danger the Flash encounters on a daily basis in his own city, as he risks everything for anyone. While the ass-handings that the Flash dishes out to the likes of Captain Cold, Mirror Master and Captain Boomerang are satisfying by the end of the episode, it’s the manner in which the Flash treats the Trickster as a actual person that really deserves praise.

He’s not a supervillain, he’s just an individual who needs proper psychiatric help. And that’s why the Flash is such a great hero, even if you don’t get to see that side of him often.

The Cadmus Conspiracy – Flashpoint

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As a small screen adaptation of big screen superhero fights and clashes, Justice League Unlimited was on point. But as a series with a long-running storyline where the government sanctioned Cadmus institute had begun work on dismantling the Justice League by any means necessary? Now that was impressive.

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Sure, Cadmus had plenty of muscle to throw at the league, but it was the covert missions operating in the shadows that made them so deadly and efficient. Illegal clone armies, infiltration by Task Force X (Suicide Squad may have been a bit too intense for a kid’s show) and setting up the League as a out of control nation state of metahumans were all part of a larger scheme, orchestrated by Amanda Waller and her inner circle.

And she would have almost gotten away with it as well, if it weren’t for that meddling conspiracy theorist nutjob, The Question.

Redemption – The Balance

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Hawkgirl was a polarising character when Justice League first started, but by the end of that series, she was a tragic double agent who was an outcast of two worlds. Trusted by neither Earth or Thannagar after a failed invasion attempt, Hawkgirl spent time putting herself back together in the tower of Doctor Fate. It wasn’t until Hawkgirl helped end the life of a broken Solomon Grundy in Wake The Dead that she began appearing more regularly again, but there were still plenty of trust issues to work out between her and the League.

Fortunately, teaming up with Wonder Woman to stop a Felix Faust possessed suit of armour that has dethrone Hades in his own kingdom, heals all wounds.

Supervillains unleashed – Alive!

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While the Justice League had reunited to form a more powerful team, so too had the criminal underworld. United under psychic Gorilla Grodd, the Secret Society was a formidable organisation that understood how valuable teamwork could be. With Lex Luthor joining the Society, tensions rose and a civil war erupted between factions, ending with the death of Grodd and the remainder of the legion flying into outer freakin’ space so that Luthor could finally reunite with Braniac. Which didn’t exactly work out too well…

The return of DC’s greatest villain

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“It seems I have you to thank for my resurrection. Though your world will suffer slowly, I grant you a quick death”. And with that ending in the penultimate episode, Darkseid is back. Last seen trapped in an exploding Braniac space station after another fight with Superman, Darkseid has managed to be revived, stronger than ever. And he wants revenge.

What follows is the mother of all invasions. The entire war fleet of Apokolips descends on Earth, readying the planet to become a 2.0 version of the Darkseid homeworld. Parademons attack all major cities, and the heroes of Earth quickly find themselves aligned with the surviving Secret Society supervillains as they work to stop the planet from being conquered.

This is Justice League Unlimited at its best, as every hero on the roster gets a chance to shine. It’s the final battle between Superman and Darkseid, a war between gods where Superman decides to finally stop holding back for once and show just how super he really is on an opponent that can stand up to him. But once again, it’s not brawn that wins the day, as Lex Luthor saves the planet by giving Darkseid the only thing in the universe that actually matters to him.

Last Updated: February 3, 2016

Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia’s M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

  • Captain JJ ‘saurus

    Awesome write-up!
    I’ve watched pretty much every DC animated movie out there and most of the series.
    So far, for me, the Batman animated series of the 90s is still untouchable, with Batman Beyond also being pretty awesome.
    I quite enjoyed that recent Batman movie…Bad Blood. Obviously Year-One is a firm favourite. I never was that into the Justice league movies and old series, but so far this one is looking excellent. Will need to give it a try

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      Justice League: Gods & Monsters is pretty good.

      • Boywonder1939

        I didn’t gel with Gods and Monster’s so well. My favorite animated movie so far is a tie between Flash point and Batman Arkham Assault

        • Alien Emperor Trevor

          Arkham was cool, was fun to see the Suicide Squad in action. Don’t remember Flashpoint all that well.

          • Boywonder1939

            Its the other world story where Flash is the main character refreshing after so many Batman/ Superman stories.

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            I’ve watched them all, just have a difficult time recalling them heh.

            But yeah, Batman fatigue is real, sorry D.

          • Captain JJ ‘saurus

            I am still to watch Batman vs Robin. Must be the only one I still need to watch. Any good?

          • Boywonder1939

            BvR is really good if you enjoy Damian Wayne as Robin. Also a favorite villain of mine pops up. Not to spoil it.

          • Captain JJ ‘saurus

            Well, I’m a huge Dick Grayson as Nightwing fan and I quite like Damian Wayne as Robin.
            Man, I’m going to look for this tonight. Have to now.

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Yeah it was, the whole arc from where his son is introduced is pretty good.

          • Captain JJ ‘saurus

            It shall be watched asap! 😀

          • Boywonder1939

            You messed up the arc lol. but glad you fixing it! :p It starts with Batman and son. BvR then Batman Bad blood. Its cool seeing the growth of Damian.

        • Captain JJ ‘saurus

          I didn’t enjoy Arkham Assault as much as I thought I would. It was good, no doubt, but not one of my favourites.
          Under the Red Hood was also quite a good one.

          • Boywonder1939

            Aaaawww Red hood was so good. As I didn’t read the comics it was my first exposure to Jason Todd. Honorable mention to Superman/Batman Apokolips which is overlooked I think…

          • Watched Apokolips again last week with my nephew, that is one of my favourites, plus they gave Supergirl a proper go, not some cheesy story

          • Boywonder1939

            That’s what I liked mate. Kara was badass…but once again the damn Batman had a scene stealing with Darkseid.

          • Ya, that was mooi, no poker face, wonder if they will do that scene if they get Darkseid in one of the movies

          • Boywonder1939

            Yoh I will die in the cinema if Batman does that. Dead. done. DC wins if he pulls that stunt.

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    I really enjoy the DC animated stuff. Watched this one a couple of years back.

    • Captain JJ ‘saurus

      Watch Bad Blood if you haven’t yet. Pretty decent.

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        I have. I’m looking forward to the other two that should be released later this year – Justice League vs Teen Titans & Batman: Killing Joke – particularly since you-know-who showed up right at the end of Bad Blood.

        • Captain JJ ‘saurus

          Oh yea. I’ve always been a fan of that particular villain. 😀

          • Boywonder1939

            Justice League v TT should be cool. I watched YJ and I would recommend that series to anyone.

          • Captain JJ ‘saurus

            I still need to check that one out too

        • Captain JJ ‘saurus

          Oh wait, if you mean the other person that shows up…well, that just had me super excited as well.

          • Boywonder1939

            DAT COSTUME

          • Captain JJ ‘saurus

            I KNOW! That really had me.

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