Justice League: Introduction

Justice League – The Complete Series (Boxset)

I recently re-watched the whole of Justice League (re-titled Justice League Unlimited for its last three seasons), and have come to an important conclusion: it is not just the best superhero show ever made, it is one of the best television series ever made. While it does feature jaw-dropping action, intricate plots, excellent character development, an incredible voice cast,* and a mature approach to superheroes as a genre, the reason I’m writing about it here is its treatment of women and other minorities.

For the first two seasons, Justice League features only seven central characters, mostly iconic figures from the comics. Two are white men, one a black man, one a white woman, and three are aliens (two male, one female) who can pass for human to a greater or lesser degree. Essentially, this is the lineup of the League’s “magicificent seven” lineup with a few changes – the Green Lantern used is the black John Stewart, rather than the better-known white Hal Jordan, and Aquaman (a white man) is replaced by Hawkgirl (an alien who resembles a white woman). This less-than-diverse cast actually represents a significant step up from the comics.

With the third season, the show was retitled Justice League Unlimited to go with a massive expansion of the cast. The producers took this as an opportunity to greatly diversify the cast, including a large number of female characters. In addition to founding members Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl, the series prominently features Big Barda, Black Canaray, Fire, Huntress, Dr. Light, Stargirl, Supergirl, Vixen, and Zatanna… and that’s just the League members with speaking parts.

Despite such a large cast, the show provides excellent characterization and character development for just about every character in the show. Apart from a few male gaze issues (which will be addressed in a forthcoming article), the female characters are treated just as seriously as the male characters. Since the show focuses quite a few episodes on specific characters, I’m going to do the same and address each in their own article. Starting, of course, with Wonder Woman. Where else?

*Fans of Joss Whedon shows take note: Justice League’s voice cast includes Adam Baldwin, Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Juliet Landau, Morena Baccarin, Nathan Fillion, and Gina Torres.

Comments

  1. SunlessNick says

    I’ve only seen episodes from the first season or two, but a moment that really stood out for me was when some of the League were transported into a parallel universe with somewhat analogous heroes to themselves with a strong 50’s mentality. The local Green-analogue tells John that he’s a “credit to his people” – genuinely well-meant, but a definite “I know you think that’s a compliment” moment – and also treated as such by the narrative.

    [I'm a bit disappointed at Zatanna being in it; I mean I think she rocks, but I prefer to see on the occult side of the DC universe than the superhero]

  2. scarlett says

    OK, I got everyone but Morena Baccarin. Who did she play in Whedon workd?

    Oh, and it sounds like a great show. I take it it’s animanted (apologies if it says that in the article and I’m a bit behind the eight ball)? Just not hugely interested in anything animated.

  3. Blake says

    Scarlette – Morena Baccarin played the companion character on Firefly (Sorry, can’t remember her name – Inara, maybe?). She voices Black Canary in JLU.

    Fun Story : Ms. Baccarin was apparently approached by Gail Simone (writer of said character in the comics) who told her that she (Gail) now hears Morena’s voice whenever writing the Canary.

    Also, it is animated.

  4. Bastet says

    Amen. It’s a little sad, but if I want to watch a show with strong women, good portrayals of people of color, and intelligent plot lines this show and Avatar: The Last Airbender (another cartoon) are going to be the first ones I think of. While I wish that makers of “adult” shows would catch on and realize that grown-ups like that kind of thing, too, I’m glad to know that kids today get to see the likes of Toph and Katara and Hawkgirl on their screens. And hey, I love them too.

  5. Betty says

    Oh, man, JLU is awesome. I lost interest in the final season, but the first several set the bar for combining episodic storytelling with a story-arc.

  6. Mecha says

    I absolutely love JL/JLU, and most of the other Diniverse shows as well. For the sex/race parts, though, JL/JLU is definitely a step above the Batman: TAS, Batman Beyond, and Batman/Superman era stuff (for reasons you hint at here) which were a lot more male focused all around. Although Batman Beyond was a step up from the earlier two as well, in part, I think, because they got to build more of a universe on their own as opposed to having to pull from the classic mainly male rogues’ gallery and bit characters gallery (and also sexy danger gallery.)

    Unfortunately, the current running League of Superheroes cartoon seems a bit less impressive, but I haven’t managed to catch enough of it to be sure.

    -Mecha

  7. SunlessNick says

    Yeah, it was Inara. Ugh, least favorite character in the show, unless I can count Saffon - Scarlett

    Inara was an example of those female characters who are far more interesting away from their OTP; and like most such characters, the writers dump her in the OTP’s company all the damn time.

  8. says

    Great show, great show. Yeah, the online ‘zine I help with has done some (two) reviews on Justice League, as well, and both emphasize the focus on characterization you pointed out, Patrick. Here, I’ll link to them (yes, I am blatantly shilling, but my intentions are good):
    Justice League Unlimited Season one Review
    and
    Justice League Christmas Special Overview

    I’m not sure when, but I also saw that they had adopted some classic comic storylines into episodes, as well. Specifically, Alan Moore’s “For the Man Who Has Everything”. Quality like that makes my heart smile.

  9. Patrick says

    A basic problem that producers Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and company run into is that they are in many respects restricted by the source material, moreso in the earlier series that in Batman Beyond or JLU, where they got to create a future cast and play with most of the DC universe, respectively. In part, the Bat-embargo on JLU forced them to use some pretty obscure characters (I was ashamed that I actually had to look Tala up), for which they had a lot more freedom than with the iconic characters.

  10. MaggieCat says

    Yeah, it was Inara. Ugh, least favorite character in the show, unless I can count Saffon :(

    Really? Saffron was like my third favorite character of all. (Zoe and Kaylee being the first two. While I liked Mal, the pro/con list there is too long to be included in the ‘favorites’ category.)

    Back on topic: Okay, so I giggled a little when I first saw the title of this post. Why? Because I’ve seen exactly two episodes of JL (which Wiki tells me were “Fury” 1&2, and you may know where I’m going with this now) which I watched purely by chance when I flipped by, saw Hawkgirl and stopped, and then read the episode description and saw that it seemed like a train wreck waiting to happen: rogue Amazonian sets out to kill the world’s male population. But I’ll be damned if that one story hasn’t stuck in my head for what– nearly 6 years now?– partly because it was well done, but mostly because of one little scene: seeing the city going nuts because half the population is dropping like flies, but then a pan down a busy street showing that it’s controlled chaos because every firefighter, EMT, cop, and doctor is female and they’re holding the place together. It’s a plague of biblical proportions and they’d be at less than 50% staff capacity since women are so underrepresented in most of those fields, but it’s still going. Of course that was followed by a slight depression because seeing the same set up with all male rescue workers wouldn’t make most people think twice and the fact that this is what it took to get to see the reverse, but an awesome scene nonetheless.

  11. Bastet says

    :) I think “Fury” is the episode with one of my favorite exchanges of all time.

    Wonder Woman: Do you ever think what the world would be like without all of men’s weapons?
    Hawkgirl: *brandishing her mace* Yes, it would be full of woman’s weapons!

  12. Alice says

    The show is fantastic. It’s really interesting rewatching the episodes and realizing just how GOOD they are. Like Avatar: The Last Airbender, it’s a television show for kids that is better than a lot of the stuff written for adults.

    I do have to say though that the marketing of the toys and Justice League products was not as sensitive and forward thinking as the show actually was. For my eighteenth birthday my mom got me Justice League birthday plates and I was horribly offended to see that they only included the male members of Justice League. Where were Hawkgirl and more importantly, Wonder Woman?

    The worst part was that when I told my mom how stupid and sexist it was she responded “Well sweetie, comics are mostly for boys.” My mother’s the one who introduced me to comic books and has been a comic book fan all her life. They’re not just for boys and I’m tired of people trying to convince me of that. This show knew that superheros were never just for one gender or race.

  13. SunlessNick says

    And even if “comics are for boys” was true, it still wouldn’t justify stupid sexist shit – because boys still learn how to treat girls from the stories they’re told – and maybe just maybe, it would be healthy for them to see in these stories girls and women who are (and are treated as) worth looking up to.

  14. says

    Lea, we have a separate Books blog for comics discussion. Granted, there’s not much. We have reviewed a few other comic book movies on the main site (which is for film and TV exclusively), but I can’t recall which ones off the top of my head. Um, X-men… maybe one of the people who’s more into comics will know better than I do. :)

    You’re always welcome to submit an article yourself, too. :)

  15. Patrick says

    No, it’s John Stewart. Hal Jordan only appears briefly in the time-travel episode “The Once and Future Thing.” Other Lanterns who make prominent appearances in the series include Killowog and Katma Tui.

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