It seems that 'DC Nation' will not be airing new episodes on Cartoon Network in the foreseeable future. Green Lantern: The Animated Series is waiting on a second season renewal, and Young Justice is on a hiatus. So in the meantime, I'll be covering some classic episodes of DC Animated Universe shows such as Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League (and Unlimited), Superman: The Animated Series, and Batman Beyond. I'll be reviewing two episodes per entry, sometimes of the same show, sometimes of two different programs. I hope you enjoy the (DCAU) segments until 'DC Nation' starts up new episodes again.
Justice League Unlimited
Season 1, Episode 12
"The Once and Future Thing, Part 1: Weird Western Tales"
After two fantastic seasons of Justice League and a successful relaunch, Bruce Timm & Co. decided to have a little fun with Justice League Unlimited's first season finale. Every episode of this first season (third, if you rightly consider JLU a direct continuation of the original Justice League) is self-contained, only hinting at larger story arcs. "The Once and Future Thing" begins in Neo-Gotham, during the timeframe of Batman Beyond - a great start for fans of the DC animated universe that know it all fits together.
We meet David Clinton, a meek, passive scientist who's mostly content with using his self-built chrono-suit to collect historical artifacts, careful not to upset the time stream and cause changes to the future. Of course, this all goes out the door when his wife wont stop nagging him to do something more with his life. This is where the conflict arises, as Chronos (as David starts calling himself) infiltrates the Watchtower to steal one of Batman's extra utility belts, an act he definitely considers "doing something more". It's a bold move - one influenced by panic and desperation - and when the League catches on to Chronos' presence, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern go after him through a (mysterious to them) vortex to places unknown.
The trio wakes up in the American West during the 1800s, a time of hardship, lawlessness, and vigilante justice. The writers of Justice League Unlimited understood how much freedom they had in this series. Where Justice League was pretty tightly structured in it's two-episode format, JLU was given a lot more liberties. And DC's history is full of awesome characters, so it came as no surprise when Jonah Hex, Bat Lash, El Diablo, and Pow Wow showed up to lend a hand against a man whose taken a nearby town hostage with weapons from the future.
While JLU was definitely aimed at a younger audience, the writers and producers were quite aware they had a large adult following who had been asking for an animated Justice League cartoon for decades that wasn't the epitome of embarrassment like Super Friends. Fan service became a part of the series early on, and the inclusion of DC's 'Wild West' heroes is fantastic. While I would have liked a little more attitude from Jonah Hex, lines like "You're time travelers," totally make up for it. Hex is one of those characters that's basically seen and done everything, so giving him the knowledge to spot time-displaced persons is a slam dunk.
"Weird Western Tales", at the end of the day, really just exists to give fans the characters that would never normally be able to have a part on Justice League Unlimited. The writers could have conceivably taken the trio anywhere in time, but they chose this specific era because of it's history in the DC universe. There will always be people who moan and groan about the authenticity of the translation to a screen format, but the fact that the producers were willing to include these characters at all is a sign that they respect and admire the original work.
Bruce, Diana, and John eventually find David Clinton and break him out of jail on the promise that David just wants to go home. Of course, it wouldn't be a very interesting two-parter if the villain gave up after the first act, so David double-crosses our heroes and makes a break for it through the time stream once again.
Justice League Unlimited
Season 1, Episode 13
"The Once and Future Thing, Part 2: Time, Warped"
The second part of "The Once and Future Thing" is really where the meat of the story comes from. After David Clinton escapes incarceration in the old west, he also evades arrest at the hands of Batman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern. The trio follows David through the time stream, but the volatile nature of time travel - coupled with David's total control over their lack of any control - lands the League members in a Neo-Gotham ruled by Chronos.
While "Weird Western Tales" was great fan service for DC comics fans, "Time, Warped" is all about the DC Animated Universe! Immediately upon arriving in Neo-Gotham, Bats, WW, and GL are joined by the Justice League Unlimited, the future version of the Justice League, and a version with only four remaining members: Batman, Warhawk, Barda, and Static. The old Leaguers commiserate with Static about their adventures in the past (from various episodes of Static Shock!) and Warhawk is revealed to be the son of John Stewart and Shayera Hall, the Hawkgirl.
It's a pretty awesome twist in the DCAU, but one that makes total sense. I'm sure the original writers for Batman Beyond didn't ever plan for this when they created Warhawk, but if it ain't broke, why fix it? Instead, Justice League Unlimited just made it better. While all previous DCAU series were mostly autonomous, they had multiple connections, and this connection really marks a point where a full continuity begins to come into play.
I'll say it again, fan service is the name of the game in "Time, Warped", paying homage to the comics, to the past of the DCAU, and to where the series could go from there. Bruce and Diana's romantic relationship is hinted at more and more, while John and Shayera are all but guaranteed to get together for an extended amount of time, which we don't get to see during the run of the series. Fortunately, this years relaunch of the 'DC Beyond' universe has been giving us "Beyond Origins" in the pages of Justice League Beyond.
"The Once and Future Thing", for many, cemented the DCAU as a staple of DC's gamut of useable universes. Where once it may have been just a TV vestige for comic book fans, Justice League and the subsequent Unlimited continuation really made the animated world a successful one that had it's own nuances, unique attributes, villains, and storylines throughout each show that actually affected one another, much like a comic book universe. While Young Justice is currently doing a damn good job creating a new animated world, this was the first and (still) the coolest.