Justice League Unlimited is great for many reasons, and one of those is its inclusion of the Question, a street-level non-powered vigilante that fits into the world of these superheroes even less than humans like Batman and Green Arrow. JLU’s interpretation of Vic Sage takes its cue from the name of his faceless alter ego, making him a paranoid conspiracy theorist that questions everything. Most likely crazy but damn charming when he needs to be, the Question is what would happen if Watchmen’s Rorschach was bitten by a radioactive George Clooney. “Fearful Symmetry” reveals that Sage’s suspicions are not only reasonable, but invaluable to the survival of the Justice League, which is up against a threat that, like the Question, lacks a face. It’s unclear how boy bands, corporate coffee shops, fluoride, and actors being elected to public office fits into the Cadmus conspiracy, but the fact that the Question is obsessed with figuring out those connections makes him a captivating and hilarious character.
This episode marks a big shift for JLU, beginning an extended serialized story unlike anything this series tried to attempt in its previous limited incarnation. The seeds of Cadmus’ anti-superhero plot are beginning to blossom and attract the attention of the League, specifically Supergirl, who is experiencing vivid nightmares that she doesn’t believe to be fantasy. After dreaming she has murdered someone, Kara goes to J’onn for help, who reads her mind and notes that her dream is a bit too linear to be a subconscious fantasy. She turns to her big brother on the team, Green Arrow, for support, and when they begin chatting about her mysterious experience, they grab the Question’s attention in the Watchtower mess hall.
After chatting with Supergirl and Green Arrow for barely a minute, the Question deduces that the answer to Kara’s problem is at S.T.A.R. Labs, where she was hospitalized after Superman’s mind controlled rampage in Superman: The Animated Series. There’s a chunk of time missing from Kara’s memory during that period, and filling in that gap will put them on the path of whoever is sharing Supergirl’s mind. An attack on the trio following their chat with S.T.A.R.’s Dr. Hamilton proves that they’re on the right path, and once they meet with General Hardcastle, they begin to learn just how far back the conspiracy goes. Not only does the government have files on every member of the Justice League, they’ve begun experimenting with metahumans and are directly responsible for Volcana and the Royal Flush Gang’s appearances earlier in the DCAU.
It’s a chilling moment when Supergirl realizes that the robots that attacked her and her friends are the same training droids the Justice League acquired from the U.S. military, establishing that while the Justice league will be fighting plenty of flamboyantly costumed, outrageously powerful villains this season, the big bad government is a human organization that doesn’t trust superheroes. The U.S. government is a threat that’s the League can’t punch into submission, and if it weren’t for the Question, the team wouldn’t even be aware of the clandestine plot unfolding around it. And at this point, this sparse knowledge of the Cadmus conspiracy is limited to the Question, Supergirl, Green Arrow, and J’onn.
At the time JLU was on TV, the comic book character Power Girl was one of the more confusing figures in DC’s pantheon of superheroes. Different writers had added conflicting layers to her character (Geoff Johns made her clusterfuck continuity a major part of his JSA run), but the writers of this series take a brand-new approach for the character. With Power Girl’s short hair and boob window costume, Galatea is a clone of Supergirl matured past the age of the original and given an aggressive personality that makes her an ideal assassin. Her all-white costume makes her stand out from the other superpowered characters on the show, and emphasizes that she’s a blank slate that can be manipulated by the powers that be however they see fit. Supergirl is experiencing Galatea’s actions while she sleeps, but the Question realizes that the connection goes both ways, and distracts the clone with talk of her growing conscience so that Supergirl can start beating the crap out of her. But before the Leaguers can take Galatea in for questioning, a shadowy figure blows up their battleground, silencing the clone with fire but leaving her alive to fight another day.
The current “The Trinity War” storyline unfolding in DC’s Justice League comics is thematically very similar to the plot of the first two seasons of JLU, dealing with the government not trusting its superhuman protectors and using its own group of metahumans as a deterrent. The big difference between the comics and the cartoon, though, is that the cartoon has history behind it, lending credence to the government’s fears. Cadmus was created after Superman fell under enemy control years ago, and having that backstory makes the JLU plot a natural progression of years of DCAU stories. We’ve seen the Justice League form and emerge as a major global power, including that time when one of its members sold Earth out to alien invaders.
There’s a reason for the government to be afraid of superheroes in the DCAU, but by glossing over most of the team’s history in the New 52, there isn’t a strong foundation for the government’s actions. The first storyline of Geoff Johns’ Justice League introduces the team, and then the book jumps five years to show Amanda Waller plotting against the superheroes because of actions readers don’t get to see. It really makes me appreciate the build of Justice League Unlimited, which has heavier episodes like “Fearful Symmetry” that are essential parts of an overarching plot balanced with stories that address the themes of that greater narrative without being explicitly connected to it along with lighter fare like next week’s “Kid Stuff.” It results in an incredibly well rounded superhero series that brilliantly juggles comedy, drama, action, and political commentary, providing spectacle for the children and more intellectually stimulating material for the adults in the audience. That balance is perfectly level in “Fearful Symmetry,” an episode that lays the groundwork for even more greatness to come.
- Just for clarification: like the rest of the DCAU series on T.V. Club, JLU episodes will be covered in production order. For episodes 3—8, production order is different than airing order, but everything is in sync for the rest of the show after that. (To further confuse things, DVDs are in production order while Netflix is in airing order.) The order for the next four weeks: “Kid Stuff,” “This Little Piggy,” “The Return,” “The Greatest Story Never Told.”
- S.T.A.R. Labs is lucky it didn’t try to clone Wonder Woman, because Diana would be a lot more relentless than Supergirl in finding out who is responsible.
- The Question + corporate pre-packaged pop music + potted plant = comedy.
- During the fanservice fight, the damage done to Supergirl and Galatea’s costumes makes them show the skin of the other’s costume: Supergirl gets Galatea’s boob window and the clone shows off her midriff.
- “I’ve had some dreams that felt mighty real. There was this one last night…”
- “Not conspiracies. Conspiracy. Singular.”
- Supergirl: “Do you go through my trash?” The Question: “Please. I go through everyone’s trash.”
- “Uh, a little more mature than you. But I see your point.”