“The Savage Time” (season 1, episodes 24-26; originally aired November 9, 2002)
The popularity of superheroes can largely be attributed to World War II, which gave the costumed characters real-world enemies to take down in their four-colored adventures. Children read comics to see the All-Star Squadron and Invaders behind enemy lines, while soldiers often carried comic books into battle, risking their lives while an issue Action Comics or Captain America rested folded in their pockets. “The Savage Time” is Justice League’stribute to the heroes of the Greatest Generation, tackling one last genre in the mini-movie format of the first season: the war epic.
When a Batman-less Justice League suddenly finds itself in an oppressive, totalitarian alternate world ruled by Vandal Savage, they have to travel back in time to World War II to stop Savage from changing the course of history. Bruce doesn’t get a piece of the World War II action, but we do meet a gruff, hardened version of Batman with an imposing re-design and a poignant change in origin. His Bat-armor is a mix of the costumes worn by comic book villain Prometheus and Knight, the Batman of England, and its heavy plating creates the impression that this is an even harsher place than the regular Gotham City. The parents of this world’s Batman were murdered for speaking out against Savage’s regime when Bruce was 8 years old, and the change gives the character a decidedly political bent. It reminds me of the Batman from Mark Millar’s Superman: Red Son, only without the awesome furry hat.
When the team prepares to jump back in time, J’onn tells Savage Batman that if they fix history, this version of him will cease to exist. Batman’s response is pointed and immediate: “Nothing would make me happier.” Kevin Conroy doesn’t get to do much this episode, but he only needs 10 minutes to create a memorable and distinct version of his signature character. Diana looks back at Batman before jumping into the wormhole, afraid of potentially losing him, but she has no idea of what is waiting for her in occupied France.
Stan Berkowitz fixes the flaws of the first three-part episode, “Secret Origin,” splitting the characters into separate teams with unique objectives to keep the momentum. Flash, Superman, and Hawkgirl hold the Axis forces back with the Allied troops; J’onn and Wonder Woman move on Savage’s base; and Green Lantern is trapped behind the frontlines without the use of his ring. The three stories come together cleanly in the final act as the Justice League takes out the Nazi fleet of stealth planes, and keeping the team separate for the middle portion brings added grandeur to the final action sequence.
Two classic teams from DC war comics make their DCAU debut fighting alongside the Justice League this episode, with John running into Sgt. Rock and Easy Company and the Blackhawks providing intelligence and firepower to Flash, Hawkgirl, and Superman. When the Blackhawks first appear, Superman asks Hawkgirl if they’re friends of hers, and she responds, “They are now.” When you know Shayera’s real reason for being on Earth, moments like this exchange have an added significance. The Blackhawks are another part of Earth culture that Shayera is enamored with, a group of aerial fighters, each member hailing from a different Axis-occupied territory and fighting to end Nazi rule in his respective home country. They represent humanity’s resilience and fighting spirit, the two qualities Hawkgirl admires most. The original Blackhawks team is cut down to four men, but Hawkgirl fills the role of Lady Blackhawk nicely, even if she never does get the chance to yell “Hawk-aaaa!”
John has to use the full extent of his Marines training when his ring runs out of power, and the first thing he does is sacrifice himself to save his fellow soldiers. Hal Jordan may be the Green Lantern known for his fearlessness, but John is the real daredevil in this episode, constantly risking his life in order to complete his mission. When Savage boards a plane headed for America, John makes a suicide run to get on board, then takes out the villain with his bare hands. As the plane crashes into the ocean, Hawkgirl comes to John’s rescue, redeeming herself for leaving him behind earlier, and even in the midst of explosive carnage, the two continue their flirty banter. “What took you?” John asks when Hawkgirl breaks through the cockpit window, to which she responds, “I had to fix my hair.” They fly off holding hands, but for once their romance isn’t the one in the spotlight.
Wonder Woman has her first kiss during World War II, in the middle of the Battle for Normandy, while being shot at by Nazis. It’s pretty much the most romantic thing that will ever happen to her and it’s courtesy of Steve Trevor, an American spy suavely voiced by Growing Pains’ Alan Thicke. After rescuing Steve from an aerial attack, Diana is courted for the first time when she joins him on his search for a German code-breaker. Steve likely hasn’t seen a woman in months, if not years, and certainly not one dressed like Diana, who is basically a pin-up model traipsing around a battlefield. When the two are attacked while trying to enjoy some caviar and wine, Steve plants one on Wonder Woman that finally shows her what Hawkgirl meant when she said “Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.” They both survive, and when Diana leaves Steve a second time to stop Savage’s invasion of America, she’s the one that does the kissing. It’s an awakening for Diana, and one that will be explored further in season two.
Diana says she that she doesn’t understand why the powerless Steve would risk his life at war, but deep down I think that Diana knows exactly what motivates him. Even if Diana were stripped of her extraordinary abilities, she would probably still have left Themyscira to fight the Imperium. Diana represents the limitless power of compassion, and when German code-breaker Ernst tells Diana, “Please believe me, we are not all like them,” she does.
Butch Lukic and Dan Riba share directing duties, with Lukic handling the first episode and storyboarding the Sgt. Rock sequences in Riba’s subsequent two episodes. “The Savage Time” is the most action-packed episode of the series thus far, and once the characters land in World War II, it’s a constant stream of dogfights and shootouts until Savage is taken down. Incredibly difficult to animate, the detail in the airplanes is fantastic, and if this scene were in Justice League Unlimited, it would probably use all CGI planes and have half the impact.
An armada of disposable Nazis means that we get to see our heroes cut loose in battle, which is particularly good for Superman, who has been largely inactive this season. Tearing through Nazi planes with his fists and slicing them in half with heat vision, Superman is a true warrior on the battlefield. In the audio commentary for this episode, Bruce Timm says that the Justice League creative team spent an entire day editing the first Blackhawks dogfight because it was so chaotic, but the added attention shows in the final dynamic product. My favorite moment is in the last big aerial sequence versus Savage, where there’s a shot of J’onn breaking the sound barrier as he dive-bombs a jet. The sound cue adds an extra degree of force to J’onn’s action, and shows how Timm and company team will continue to explore ways to capture the full impact of superpowered action.
When the League comes back to the present, Batman is greeted with a huge hug from Superman. “Am I missing something?” Batman asks, and the rest of the team sighs and heads to their recovery. Diana is missing something herself, and she leaves the Watchtower for her own kind of healing, visiting an elderly Steve Trevor in his retirement home. The final image of the episode is a beautiful ending for the season, and as Steve and Diana hold hands while looking out into the sunset, there’s a sense of reverence for the heroes of our world, whether they wear a superhero costume or a military uniform.
- One last Rundown: Last week’s Batman #5 and Wonder Woman #5 were standout issues in already fantastic runs. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo take Batman and the reader on a mind-bending, page-turning trip through the Court of Owls’ labyrinth, while guest-artist Tony Akins delivers a stunning Poseidon redesign in Wonder Woman that has me craving some underwater adventures for Diana, Hermes, Zola, and Jason Statham Lennox. Also, check out today’s Comics Panel for a review of Grant Morrison’s Batman, Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes!
- Some great cameos this episode: Unknown Soldier is among the wounded Allied soldiers, Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon are making out in Batman’s secret hideout, and Tim Drake is chasing around a girl that I assume is Cassandra Cain.
- Misfits just did a fantastic “What if the Nazis had won?” story a few weeks back. If you’re a superhero-comic fan and not watching Misfits, do that while you wait for Batman: The Animated Series recaps to come back. The whole series is on Hulu!
- Hawkgirl: “Whose hand is that?” Flash: “Sorry.”
- Thanks for dropping by every week to read my ramblings about superhero cartoons and comics; you guys are awesome. B:TAS will be back at date TBA, but it won’t be too long before your next DCAU fix.