“Starcrossed” (season two, episodes 24-26; originally aired 5/29/2004)
Romance! Betrayal! Epic battles! Bad puns! The season two finale of Justice League has arrived and it’s a rousing finish to the show’s first two years that sets up the massive expansion of the team in Justice League Unlimited. The producers didn’t know if there would be a next season going into “Starcrossed,” so the episode also works as a potential series finale, although it would be one really freakin’ sad one if that were the case. (And not just because Justice League Unlimited would never have happened.) This jam-packed three-parter delivers on every level, with the writers trying to fit as much crowd-pleasing material as possible into what might have been their last episode.
As the title suggests, this finale takes inspiration from Romeo And Juliet as it tells the tale of two lovers on different sides of a war, with Hawkgirl revealing her true colors when her Thanagarian comrades arrive on Earth. The planet is the most recent target in the ongoing war between the Thanagarians and Gordanians, and Commander Hro Talak and his armada have come to Earth to help prepare for battle. Shayera was sent as an advance scout to examine Earth’s defenses, which meant evaluating the Justice League and finding out their weaknesses. Unsurprisingly, the League isn’t happy to find out that it’s been deceived, but Green Lantern takes a real kick in the gut when he finds out that Hawkgirl is “promised” to Hro, the Thanagarian equivalent of being engaged.
The intimate relationship between Green Lantern and Hawkgirl has been the heart of this second season, and the finale shows how digging into the characters’ relationships has elevated these episodes above their predecessors. This episode wouldn’t hit as hard if the writers hadn’t been able to get the audience to care for Hawkgirl over the course of the series, and we’ve seen how much she means to every member of the League. But she’s also always displayed an intense sense of duty, so when Hro appears, she’s torn between her lives as an Earth superhero and Thanagarian lieutenant. What Hawkgirl doesn’t know is that Hro has been lying this entire time, and that his only interest in Earth is turning it into a wormhole relay that would allow he and his soldiers to bypass Gordanian defenses and strike at the heart of the enemy fleet. And if Earth should be destroyed in the process? Whatever, they’re only humans.
Whenever benevolent, incredibly powerful aliens show up on Earth’s doorstep, Batman is the first person to suspect something is amiss, and he goes undercover on a tour of the Gordanian mothership to gather some intel. He discovers that the Gordanians are nowhere near Earth and are continuing their assault of Thanagar, but before he can alert the rest of the League, he’s found by Kragger, Hro’s right-hand man. Batman tries his best to flee with the aid of brass knuckles, but he’s knocked out and locked up, the first of the League to fall to the Thanagarians. The rest of the team is taken down with weapons that have been perfectly tailored to their individual weaknesses, the fruits of Shayera’s investigations turned against her teammates. Green Lantern is the last hero standing, and Hawkgirl takes him down herself to prove her loyalty to her home planet. A heartbroken John asks Shayera who’s side she’s really on, and she replies with a question of her own: “Don’t you know?” Then she smacks him in the face with her mace and knocks him out. Mission accomplished.
The second part begins with the shutdown of Earth’s defense systems as the Thanagarians establish martial law on Earth. There’s a fantastic shot of the Thanagarian soldiers perched on the Daily Planet’s globe like a giant flock of pigeons, an ominous image that shows how the aliens have taken control of the entire planet. Kragger wants Hawkgirl to kill all the Justice League, but she won’t because killing the heroes will turn Earth’s population against them. Kragger is constantly testing Shayera’s devotion, not just to the Thanagarian takeover, but to Hro. When J’onn goes into Kragger’s mind in part three of “Starcrossed,” he sees two giant statues of Hro and Kragger standing side-by-side while the ruins of Shayera are scattered at their feet. In the DVD commentary, the writers make it explicit that anyone who thinks that visual is hinting at something is right in assuming so. Hector Elizondo does great voice work with Kragger, with a deep, silky voice that still has a sinister quality to it. And Elizabeth Peña’s distinct voice work for Paran Dul is so strong that the writers will bring her character back in JLU just so Peña can say some more lines. It’s worth noting that most of the Thanagarians have a Hispanic accent, a subtle way of emphasizing their otherness in a show with a primarily American cast.
In the commentary track, Butch Lukic talks about how whenever there’s a big a fight scene, Wonder Woman always takes out the most opponents, and surely enough, the Amazon is the first hero to get free from the Thanagarians. With her hands behind her back, Diana convinces a Thanagarian warrior to feed her dinner: “Don’t be afraid little man. I won’t bite.” He dangles the tentacle in front of her mouth to make everything weirdly erotic when Diana does exactly what she said she wouldn’t, biting his hand and grabbing his dagger with her teeth. She frees herself and the rest of her teammates, who have all been considerably weakened. To save themselves, they grab the Thanagarians’ Nth-metal weapons, which gives us the amazing fanboy moment of Superman throwing a hammer like Thor.
With their enemy temporarily defeated, the members of the League reevaluate their strategy, choosing to switch into their civilian identities to avoid detection. When Flash mentions their secret identities, Batman quickly catches everyone up by exposing himself, Superman, and Flash (post-New 52, the name Wally West conjures heart pangs). They split up in pairs—Diana/Bruce, Clark/J’onn, Wally/John—and make their way to their rendezvous point in Gotham City: the Batcave. Diana and Bruce have the most trouble making it across because she can’t stop herself from helping others, but they’re able to sneak into a Middle Eastern restaurant where the employees are happy to make the two blend in. When two soldiers show up at the restaurant door, Diana grabs Bruce and starts making out, finally blowing the lid on all that built up sexual tension. There’s twinkling music in the background as the two get their mack on for a good minute, and when Diana apologizes afterward, Bruce says she shouldn’t. If this was a series finale, that would be a perfect ending to the Bruce/Diana flirtation, but luckily it’s not and we still have “This Little Piggy” to look forward to in JLU.
While the League pairs make their way to the Batcave, Shayera is beginning to seriously question her allegiances, especially as it becomes clear that Hro’s personal feelings towards the Gordanians are putting an entire planet at risk. Shayera gets a taste of the betrayal John felt when she learns that Hro had been lying to her about his original mission, and after he lashes out at her, she turns her back on her commander and chooses to go back to the side of good, if it will have her. She appears in the Batcave with a device outlining the Thanagarians’ real plans, inadvertently handing her old teammates a tracking device that brings Kragger and his soldier down on the League.
If the series were going to end here, it’s fitting that its final episode would begin where the DCAU started back in 1992. There’s a stunning shot of a Thanagarian space ship hovering in front of Wayne Manor, and the troops break in to the Batcave to take on the League. In the commentary, the writers complain about how difficult it became to find new Batman gags after 12 years of working with the character, so they’re very proud that they’re able to include a move from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, where Batman uses sonar to make hordes of bats attack his opponents.
The group splits up again as they leave the Batcave, with Batman, J’onn, and Flash going up to the Watchtower while Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern take on the Thanagarian armada. Using the information J’onn retrieves from Kragger’s brain—in a chilling sequence where J’onn’s mental wounds manifest physically as he’s torn apart by hawks in Kragger’s mind—Batman decides that they’re going to hit the Thanagarian mothership with a gigantic Batarang by dropping the Watchtower on it. In order to make sure the satellite hits its target, Batman forcibly ejects J’onn and Flash from the Watchtower, choosing to valiantly sacrifice himself for the good of the Earth. Batman may not have any powers, but that just amplifies how honorable he is, charging into danger without any fear of death. If he dies, he gets to be with his parents again, so death is a win/win situation for Bruce.
As Batman goes on his suicide run, a still very pissed Wonder Woman frees Shayera from the prison she was put into after Kragger revealed her deception to Hro. “I should leave you to burn,” Diana says before ditching Shayera to go work out her aggression by destroying a fleet of alien soldiers. Meanwhile, John and Hro are reenacting the start of Romeo And Juliet Act 5, Scene 3, playing the parts of Romeo and Paris as they fight for a woman who only has affections for one of them. In one of the show’s most groan-worthy/totally badass lines (largely depending on if you mishear it), John tells Hro, “Kiss my axe,” before hitting him with a pretty dinky axe construct. It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s fun and cheesy and gives John the drive to keep fighting, digging deep into his Marine training to take Hro’s hits and keep on fighting.
When Hro breaks John’s ring, all hope seems lost, but Shayera shows up to save the day, an ass-kicking Juliet with a hawk’s eye for vengeance. She puts up a good fight, but Hro takes advantage of her exposed belly and hits her in the gut with his electrified weapon. A battered John is finally able to take down his opponent by leading him to the force-field generator and getting him to accidentally hit the console with his club, shocking Hro and lowering the defense around the main controls. Heartbroken and looking like an R. Crumb drawing, the wounded John tries to lower the force field, but he’s too weak to do it alone. That’s when Shayera puts her hand on his and they push together, lowering the ship’s shield and leaving it open to Batman’s Watchtower drop. He succeeds, saved at the last minute by Superman because you know Batman’s not going anywhere.
Directed by Dan Riba and Butch Lukic (his last DCAU directing credit, although he’ll continue working as a storyboard artist), this episode is visually spectacular, with huge battle sequences that allow each hero the chance to cut loose. The balance of cosmic action and intimate relationship drama makes the episode incredibly satisfying on both a visual and emotional level, and all the crowd-pleasing moments sprinkled throughout (the League in plainclothes, Bruce and Diana’s make-out session) bring the episode to “classic” level. It ends with the Justice League unsure of how to move forward, meeting at Wayne Manor to vote on whether or not Hawkgirl should stay on the team while Alfred helps comfort Shayera over tea in the foyer. “Without the sacrifices you’ve made, we wouldn’t be here to share this nice pot of tea,” he says, showing the overflowing sense of love that makes Alfred such a great character. In his eyes, Shayera will always be a hero, and if Alfred can forgive her, so can everyone else.
Rather than hearing how her teammates voted, Shayera resigns from the team in shame. As the heart of the team, Flash is the most visibly sad to see her go, offering her a consoling hug as she leaves the League behind. Before she takes off, John and Shayera share a quiet moment where they try to figure out what this means for their relationship, and even though they both love each other, the wounds from recent events are still too raw. Shayera flies off into the sunset as John watches with tears in his eyes, which would be an incredibly depressing way to end the series, but also an unexpected move for what is essentially a children’s superhero cartoon. Luckily, there’s so much greatness in store as the Justice League takes on a rush of new recruits for what is the pinnacle of superhero animation: Justice League Unlimited. The team rebuilds to create something stronger than before, and the restructuring of the series continues the growth that began in season two and takes it to another level. Shayera’s actions may be deplorable, but considering how great the aftermath is, it’s difficult to give her too hard of a time.
- Hro Talak is an anagram of Katar Hol, the name of the Silver Age Hawkman that the writers weren’t able to use in this episode because he would be too evil.
- Flash didn’t even realize that Green Lantern and Hawkgirl were an item. He moves so fast that he’s oblivious to what’s right in front of his face.
- John Ridley, teleplay writer for part two, wrote the fantastic Wildstorm miniseries The American Way, which I would recommend for any fan of smart superhero stories with a political bent.
- J’onn’s monster battle forms are consistently fantastic, I wish he spent more time in them.
- As civilians, Clark and J’onn are able to distract the Thanagarians with the power of journalism so that John and Wally can escape. Nothing works better than long strings of questions and flashbulbs to get someone off their game.
- The Thanagarian force field is definitely shaped like a swastika on the ground.
- “I thought he’d be taller.” Hro immediately establishes himself as a dick.
- “Red hair. It suits you.” Because gingers are horny.
- Flash: “Hey, that’s a giant dinosaur!” Alfred: “And I thought Batman was the detective.”
- Diana: “Pretty bad odds. Superman: “Yeah, they don’t stand a chance.”