Justice League Unlimited, “Kid Stuff” (season 1, episode 5; originally aired August 14, 2004)
The DCAU is largely revered for incorporating mature themes into stories that are appropriate for children, and while that balance leans toward a younger age range in “Kid Stuff,” writer Henry Gilroy goes to some surprisingly dark places in his story. When Morgaine Le Faye foolishly shows her bratty son Mordred the Amulet of First Magic, he uses the piece of jewelry to rid the world of adults and places himself as the planet’s tyrannical ruler. In order to defeat the petulant immortal, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern make a deal with Morgaine, returning to their adorable childhood selves for the first of JLU’s season one comedic episodes.
In the commentary for “This Little Piggy,” Bruce Timm talks about how he originally wanted the three humorous stories of JLU season one to be more evenly dispersed, but “Kid Stuff,” “This Little Piggy,” and “The Greatest Story Never Told” were all produced and aired early on in the season. At this point in the series, JLU is already incredibly well rounded, laying down narrative threads that will be further explored down the line while also telling comic book adaptations and one-off stories that shed light on different aspects of this universe and these characters. This week, we get to see what some of the League’s heaviest hitters were like as children, providing a frame of reference for how these four heroes have changed (or not changed) over time.
Henry Gilroy’s previous DCAU experience was co-writing the third episode of Batman: The Animated Series, “Nothing To Fear,” which introduced the Scarecrow as well as the signature line, “I am vengeance! I am the night! I am Batman!” His interpretation of Kid Batman has that same edge, exaggerated even more by the heightened emotions of childhood. Of all the Justice League members, Batman is the one who comes close to reaching Mordred’s level of irritability, lending credence to the theory that Bruce Wayne had the potential to turn into quite a villain if he didn’t have his parents’ deaths to keep him on the path of righteousness.
In “Kid Stuff,” Bruce’s anger at the world manifests as not being able to play well with others, and he becomes especially prickly when his friends make fun of him for his relationship with Wonder Woman. He reacts to anything girl-related the way most young boys do, with short, antagonistic phrases that try and fail to hide his deeper affections. When Wonder Woman catches him in the middle of battle and asks, “You OK, tough guy?” Batman replies, “I’m fine!” When Green Lanterns tells him, “Your girlfriend sure is bossy,” Batman yells “Shut up!” and runs away.
Bruce is clearly interested in Diana, but this episode is also where we see how they may not be the most compatible couple. When the group is transformed back into their human forms, Diana reveals that she had a good time being a kid again, but Bruce replies that he hasn’t been a kid since he was eight years old. There’s a fun-loving spirit in Diana that Bruce just doesn’t have; she wants to explore the world and have a good time when she’s not living her superhero life, but Bruce’s dedication to Batman eliminates any of that type of desire. He’s also already seen most of the world, so it’s lost much of its mystique. Of course, next week we’ll see just what Bruce is willing to sacrifice for his crush, so the man has more layers than he would have his teammates believe at the end of this episode.
Two things that make this episode stand out are Baby Etrigan and Kid Green Lantern, which deliver two very different types of fanservice. Baby Etrigan is the type of super-cutesy chibi translation of an established character that has been popular since the anime invasion of the late ’90s, and a tiny demon that waddles and burps fire is the perfect little rascal for the Justice League to babysit. Kid Green Lantern is great because we finally get to see John Stewart use his imagination in his constructs, starting with Hal Jordan’s signature boxing glove and building his way up to an emerald rocket-launching super-robot. He has so many ideas that he has troubling focusing on a single one to materialize, and it’s a clever way of showing how John’s adult Marine training increased his concentration and efficiency but limited his creativity.
I didn’t make the connection between Mordred and Game Of Thrones’ Joffrey Baratheon during Justice League’s “A Knight Of Shadows,” but it is all I can think of while watching “Kid Stuff.” There’s the eerie physical resemblance between the two little blonde boys along with their Oedipal relationships with their mothers, and when Mordred gains power in this week’s episode, he abuses it in a way that I could easily see Joffrey replicating. Mordred’s transformation of Funseyland from a brightly-colored kid-friendly theme park into a dark landscape ripped from a heavy metal album cover is very similar to the redecorating job Joffrey did on the King’s Landing Great Hall, giving the room a makeover that is more in line with the big Iron Throne made of swords sitting in the middle of it.
Mordred and Joffrey both hate being treated like children, and their desire to be treated like adults ends up getting them in a lot of trouble. (I haven’t read the Song Of Ice And Fire books, so no spoilers regarding Joffrey in the comments beyond what has happened on TV, please.) When Mordred captures the Justice League, his childish mind falls prey to their teasing words, aging himself to prove that he’s not afraid to grow up. He’ll do anything to be taken seriously, even breaking his own rules, and once he’s an adult, he vanishes from Earth. Not only does he ruin his plan, but Mordred screws himself over for all time by aging himself, breaking his mother’s spell that gave him eternal youth. He will still live forever but will never stop aging, experiencing all the physical and mental degradation that comes with time. It’s a horrific fate, and the shot of Morgaine Le Fay wiping drool from the chin of her elderly son is a chilling way to end an upbeat and silly episode.
- Nickelodeon released the trailer for Book Two of The Legend Of Korra, featuring direction by JLU veteran Joaquim Dos Santos. I cannot wait for this series to return.
- The creeped out look on the Justice League’s faces when Morgaine Le Fay tells them she’s been feeding and bathing her son for millennia is hilarious.
- Of the original Leaguers, why do only these four get spotlighted? Hawkgirl is still absent at this point so she’s out of the running, and it would be a challenge figuring out how J’onn’s alien upbringing compares to that of his teammates. Why didn’t Flash make the cut? Because there would be no difference between his adult and child self.
- Dakota Fanning is the voice of Kid Wonder Woman, which was probably a lot cooler for her at that age than acting with Sean Penn.
- “Now that is a job for Superman.” Question: would you rather undergo Black Mercy torture or change the poopy diaper of a baby Etrigan?
- “No, but I promise you, we will find all your moms. And I'm gonna tell!”
- “Man, for somebody with like fifty different kinds of vision, you are so blind.”