5W Friday Panel: The DC Animated Universe at 25

Every Friday, the Fifth World will host a virtual panel session on a topic of the week.  This week's subject: the DC Animated Universe.

Batman: The Animated Series debuted twenty-five years ago this fall, launching what would become the DC Animated Universe. What are some of your favorite DCAU episodes?

Superman: The Animated Series

Last Son of Krypton, Part 1 (1996)

I’m a firm believer that anyone looking to adapt the DC Comics characters to another medium should follow one simple rule: do it like they did in the DCAU. This episode sets the precedent with a series of smart changes that showcase the producers’ fidelity to the spirit of the comics without shackling them to any continuity but their own.

There’s the fake-out opening that teases a sterile, crystalline Salkind-style Krypton before introducing us to a planet of wonders more familiar to readers of the comics. There’s the smart incorporation of Brainiac as the reason the Science Council doesn’t listen to Jor-El, filling an obvious plot hole while setting up a much more personal connection between Superman and his future foe. And most of all, there are the adventures of Jor-El, Two-Fisted Man of Science, because of course the universe’s greatest superhero had to get it from somewhere. This treatment feels so right that even Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer stole it for the opening of Man of Steel. They should have stolen more. - Marc Singer

Justice League

A Knight of Shadows (2002)

Keith Damron only wrote two scripts for Justice League (this and the second-season “Hearts and Minds”) but they were both winners. Each one turns the spotlight on a single Justice Leaguer, delving into their past and putting them through the wringer while raising the stakes with a plot that ties into the larger DC universe. This one focuses on J’onn J’onzz but the real star is the demon Etrigan (building on his appearance in The New Batman Adventures). He gets to play the bad angel sitting on the Leaguers’ shoulders, telling them things they already know and don’t want to hear as J’onn is pulled deeper into Morgan le Fay’s lies.

But what really puts this episode over the top is the party at Harv Hickman’s house, filled with revelers dressed as obscure Kirby characters from Devilance the Pursuer to Goody Freakin’ Rickles—a sure sign that not only were the producers willing to explore the odder corners of the DC universe, they were ready to have fun with it. This episode feels like the moment when the writers and producers found their groove, setting up what would be a stellar second season. It also has a special place for me since it was the first episode of Justice League I ever saw. Always good to begin on a high note. - Marc Singer

Hereafter (2003)

The first season of Justice League treated Superman as “the Worf,” the character who always gets his ass kicked to establish how tough the bad guy is. The second season remedied that in a big way with a series of episodes that allowed Superman to take center stage, culminating in “Hereafter.” The first half is a death-of-Superman episode, executed with the DCAU’s usual skill and strong grasp of character but a pretty standard storyline just the same. Things kick into high gear in the second half, which places Superman in a postapocalyptic world that’s slowly robbing him of his powers. Undeterred, he sets out to find the Justice League and make things right, surviving on nothing but his wits and determination. This one’s got everything from a killer Planet of the Apes reference to a dramatic resolution for Vandal Savage, my favorite DCAU villain bar none. But mostly it’s a great episode for the reminder that it isn’t the powers that make Superman super. - Marc Singer

Justice League Unlimited

For the Man Who Has Everything (2004)

I'm a sucker for solid adaptations of favorite stories, and this J.M. DeMatteis take on the classic story by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons is a winner.  Several changes had to be made in order to make the story fit a half-hour animated series aimed at kids, such as reducing the cast and making Superman's fantasy world a little less family drama-ish, but overall, the essence is there, and the changes allow for Wonder Woman to stand out more than she did in the original comic.  This remains (arguably?) the best screen (big or small) adaptation of an Alan Moore comic, 13 years later. - JL Franke

This Little Piggy (2004)

Such a good episode in the relationship between Batman and Wonder Woman. Mileage may vary on your preference for a Wonder Woman/Batman combo but they work as a good duo with flirting in this series. Batman respects her power and Wonder Woman is the best when she is ribbing him. WIth all this background and will they/won't they, Batman will stop at nothing to reverse Circe’s curse on Diana, particularly with the awesome aid of Zatanna.

This episode is one of the more comedic ones of the Justice League Unlimited series. Even when things seem craziest it’s all a set-up for more laughs. Circe has immense magical power and is extremely dangerous but just from the vibe of the episode you know that the solution won’t be what you expect. And it isn’t. The moment between Wonder Woman and Batman in the Watchtower perfectly ties a bow in the end of a very funny episode. This is pure old comedy gold. – Sean Fields

The Great Brain Robbery (2006)

A highlight for me of Justice League Unlimited's final season, this Matt Wayne script based on a Dwayne McDuffie story was easily the funniest episode of any of the DCAU series.  A little bit of bad timing results in Lex Luthor and Flash swapping minds, and hijinks ensue.  Luthor proves to be a dangerous Flash, while Wally West bumbles through his time as a bald villain.  Michael Rosenbaum, who voiced Luthor in Wally's body, was able to bring a little bit of his Smallville Lex to JLU, while Clancy Brown made the most of his opportunity to flex his comedic chops.  The episode has many lines and scenes that still get me to laugh, from "I have no idea who this is," to "Hey, that's not restful," but my favorite is easily the bathroom scene:

High drama this is not.  But if I'm given the choice of only watching one JLU episode, this is it. - JL Franke

If you have a topic you'd like to see the Fifth World staff address, tweet the topic to @5thworldonline and include #FridayPanel in your tweet.
5W Friday Panel: The DC Animated Universe at 25 5W Friday Panel: The DC Animated Universe at 25 Reviewed by Marc Singer on Friday, October 27, 2017 Rating: 5
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