“Hearts And Minds” (season 2, episodes 9-10; originally aired 10/25/2003)
Why is the DCAU interpretation of the Justice League so much stronger than the current New 52 comic book incarnation of the team? In a word: love. Not just romantic love and friendship among team members, but the blanket feeling that the Justice League is driven by compassion, not just a sense of duty. There’s none of the in-fighting that defined the first arc of Geoff John’s current Justice League comic, and the show keeps stakes high without resorting to death and despair like the comic’s current “The Villain’s Journey” arc. This is achieved by giving the characters a personal stake in their missions, where the fate of millions hinges on the salvation of more intimate relationships. Last week, it was Diana and Audrey’s friendship, but “Hearts And Minds” moves into more explicitly romantic territory as Green Lantern rushes into space to save his trainer/former lover Katma Tui from telepathic tyrant Despero.
Despero was the first villain to face the Justice League in their initial ongoing series, debuting in 1960’s Justice League Of America #1 as the despotic ruler of Kalanor. “Hearts And Minds” is a loose adaptation of that story, sadly without a cutthroat chess battle between Despero and the Flash. The absence of the Trinity makes this episode a spotlight for the lesser-known characters of the team, specifically John Stewart as he finally confronts his feelings for Shayera. Hunting down his past love shows John what he has in the present, and by the end of the episode, he has a new outlook on his relationship with Hawkgirl.
Like Vandal Savage and Wonder Woman last week, I’m surprised that Despero isn’t used as a Green Lantern villain more often. Despero’s mind control is all about breaking a person’s willpower, and he’s the perfect enemy for a character whose superpower requires complete mental determination. This episode begins with Green Lanterns Katma Tui, Kilowog, Galius, and Arkkus getting ambushed by Despero’s troops, who are given power by a purple flame instead of a green battery. In both the comics and recent Green Lantern: The Animated Series, the Guardians of Oa have been shown to be more tyrannical than they would have the Green Lantern Corps believe, but the little blue guys have yet to jump into universal domination quite like Despero does in “Hearts And Minds.”
After the attack, Katma Tui is taken to Kalanor while Kilowog flees to Earth, crash landing on the planet and sending John Stewart flying into space with three words: “They got Kat.” Just as Hawkgirl and Green Lantern’s relationship is beginning, Kilowog has to show up and throw an ex-girlfriend in the mix, and she’s got an attitude to rival Shayera’s. I’m a big fan of the Green Lantern and Hawkgirl combo, and this episode is the final push John needs to start pursuing a relationship with Shayera. As a fellow member of the Green Lantern Corps, Katma Tui takes her responsibility very seriously, and it’s unlikely that she’ll ever put romance before the ring. When John finds himself stripped of his power on Kalanor, Katma immediately switches into trainer mode, but what he needs is someone to remind him of his strength without his superpowers.
A recurring theme in John’s storyline is him stepping up to the plate without his ring, but unlike in “The Savage Time,” the malfunction isn’t in his ring this episode, but in his head. After stepping into a trap on Kalanor, John goes head-to-head with Despero, who uses his third eye to break John’s will. When he’s thrown into the purple Flame of Py’tar, he finds himself teleported to the Kalanor resistance, because where there’s an oppressive ruler, there has to be a resistance. As Katma, now dressed in a slave Leia outfit, tries to reteach John “the subtleties of manipulation and control,” Kilowog, Flash, and J’onn build a carbon bomb to extinguish the Flame of Py’tar, the source of Despero’s power. Keith Damron’s script for this episode is a standard dystopian sci-fi tale, and John even points out that Despero’s story is pretty derivative, but this episode’s strength lies in John’s personal relationships and how they inspire him.
The members of the Justice League sure do love to flirt, and when Hawkgirl is threatened by Katma for John’s affections, she goes into flirt overdrive, even getting an ass slap in there. (There’s been a surprising amount of ass slapping this season.) Shayera puts up a rock-hard exterior, but seeing John at his most vulnerable allows her to put her guard down. After a rough moment with Katma, John tells Shayera, “There’s more to me than just a fancy ring.” She replies, “I’ve always known that, John.” It’s the phrase that John needed to hear to open his eyes to what’s in front of him, and when Katma, Shayera, and he are captured by Despero, John’s love for Shayera is what revives his willpower and repowers his ring.
Flash primarily serves as comic relief this week, pairing up with Kilowog to look for John’s lantern, eat his Bob & Terry’s ice cream, and get attacked by his tiny Asian landlord. He jokes about Hawkgirl and Green Lantern bickering like an old married couple, and is generally around to lighten the mood. J’onn is the brains of the group, able to decipher the ancient symbols on Kalanor’s ruins, detailing a rich, flourishing past for the planet that is now a desert wasteland. He’s also this episode’s deus ex machina, realizing at the last minute that the Flame of Py’tar is a sentient being who is crying out in pain. He telepathically communicates with the Flame and is possessed by the purple light, telling the citizens that if they reject Despero’s influence, he will be drained of his power.
These past two weeks have featured heavily political episodes, focused on regimes that are punished for abusing the populace. Ultimately, it is the power of the people that destroys Despero and brings new life to the planet, and the tyrant is swallowed by the growing tree of a new Kalanor. He does not die in pain, though, and he gives himself up to the planet as he finally sees the light. The experience has been an eye-opening one for John Stewart as well, who leaves Kalanor with new clarity regarding his feelings toward Shayera.
- So how about that ending to last week’s Wonder Woman #12? “Boom!” I’m happy that this book is still one of the top five new 52 books after a year.
- Its funny seeing Timm-styled characters without clothes on, because their legs are so thin compared to their torsos.
- Keith David’s deep voice is a perfect fit for Despero, smooth but frightening at the same time.
- There are a couple references to Kyle Rayner in this episode. I wish he had made more appearances on Justice League.
- The shot of Despero’s third eye with a green Lantern symbol imprinted on it is so badass.
- John’s Kalanor disguise of a blue poncho with an armored hood would be a really cool superhero costume.
- Hawkgirl: “How much of this is guess work?” J’onn: “I would rather not say.”
- “He was teacher’s pet? Go G.L.”
- “Mr. Stewart told me about monsters like you, well I’m not about to let you soak up my brains.”
- “So, do you still snore?”