Justice League Unlimited, “This Little Piggy” (season 1, episode 6; originally aired August 28, 2004)
Superheroes are silly. Grown men and women who put on costumes and fight crime are not the first subjects that come to mind for serious storytelling, and the early days of superhero comics embraced all the goofy possibilities offered by these fantastic characters. That whimsical spirit is a major driving force of “This Little Piggy,” the most overtly farcical JLU episode. In the DVD commentary, Bruce Timm mentions being inspired by Bewitched, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel and the anime-influenced Teen Titans animated series to pitch an episode that would be concentrated superhero fun. After his work on the delightful holiday romp “Comfort And Joy,” DCAU Paul Dini returns to the League to pen another light script that addresses the Batman/Wonder Woman romance via mystical shenanigans. Bruce is unwilling to confront his feelings for Diana, but he’s forced to wear his heart on his sleeve in order to save her after sorceress Circe turns her into a silver bracelet-wearing pig.
“This Little Piggy” is one of the most divisive episodes of this series, but it’s a remarkably risky episode that isn’t afraid to play with expectations of the genre. The first two seasons of Justice League were relatively straightforward superhero adventures, and the creative team wanted to tell more offbeat and distinct stories once the series expanded. It really doesn’t get more offbeat than Wonder Pig and the singing Batman, and the fact that Paul Dini is able to go there shows the freedom the new format allows the writers. Of all the DCAU writers, Dini is the one that has the strongest claim to Batman considering his extensive work on B:TAS, and his script for “This Little Piggy” begins Batman’s transition into JLU’s gruff comic relief. His severe attitude is at such odds with the rest of the team that it becomes humorous, much like The Question’s paranoia.
Despite being one of the show’s wackiest episodes, “This Little Piggy” is also an insightful look into Bruce Wayne’s personal problems and how they prevent him from creating meaningful human relationships. During a stakeout of Gotham’s Iceberg Lounge, Wonder Woman mentions how fun it would be to go down there and spend time with someone special. When she gets no answer from Batman, she becomes more aggressive and taunts him by saying that dating might cut into his brooding time, a jab that forces him to outline why he can’t be with her: “One: Dating within the team always leads to disaster. Two: You're a princess from a society of immortal warriors, I'm a rich kid with issues. Lots of issues. And three: If my enemies knew I had someone special, they wouldn't rest until they'd gotten to me through her.” Diana’s response is crushing a stone gargoyle with her hand, her unique way of saying he’s full of shit.
Paul Dini’s obsession with Zatanna is so strong that he basically married her in the form of female illusionist Misty Lee (he also wrote Zatanna’s most recent DC Comics ongoing series), and the character’s established DCAU connection to Bruce Wayne makes her the perfect supporting hero for this episode. A former fling who found herself in a similar situation as Diana, Zatanna understands how hard it can be to care for Bruce, but she also understands the trauma he’s trying to overcome. She wants to see him happy, so she helps him when he brings Wonder Pig to her show, first using her own magical powers, and then trying a spell at a local magic shop. When those both fail, they change tactics and look for a snitch to tell them where Circe has gone, taking a trip to the River Styx to interrogate Circe’s underworld roommate Medusa. The Medusa scene is a highlight, casting her as a petty prison lifer who sounds like she’s been smoking cigarettes for the past millennia, and the influence of the Whedonverse shines through in the way Dini brings these mythological figures and ideas down to Earth with a sense of humor.
In the commentary, Bruce Timm says that this episode is essentially a Bewitched homage with Wonder Woman as Samantha, Circe as Serena, and Batman as Darren. Guest stars like Medusa and magic shop owner Sid fill the roles of Aunt Clara and Uncle Arthur, respectively, providing some added comic relief in the midst of all the magical high jinks. Circe’s antics force Batman to reevaluate his relationship with Diana when he realizes what life would be like without her, and he goes to massively uncharacteristic lengths to prove his affections for her when she can’t witness it. In order to turn Diana back into a human, Bruce has to give Circe something precious that he’s tried to keep hidden, something soul shattering that he can never get back once he’s given it away. That’s when Batman takes the stage and croons the 1929 jazz standard “Am I Blue?”
Timm admits that it was likely the influence of Angel that inspired him to include the episode’s multiple musical sequences (a demon karaoke bar was a regular setting on the show), and as bizarre as the Batman scene is, it completely works in the context of this story. This is an episode where Wonder Pig deflects shotgun rounds with her bracelets, so Batman singing about his emotions isn’t that far-fetched. Dini was limited to songs that Warner Bros. owned the rights to, and luckily “Am I Blue?” fits Batman’s gloomy disposition to create a scene that is surprisingly poignant, especially with Kevin Conroy’s smooth vocal work.
Conroy’s talent creates the impression that this is a feeling Bruce has had inside him for a long time that he’s been trying to dispel, and it’s his relationship with Diana that gives him the strength to show vulnerability and exorcise his demon through music. I’ve interviewed a lot of stage actors, and many of them have mentioned how performance can be a lot like therapy, giving them the opportunity to act on emotions that they keep bottled up in normal life under the protection of the theatrical illusion. Bruce Wayne is having a major moment when he hits Circe’s stage, even if it’s not the kind of character development most Batman fans expect to see.
You’ll notice more quotes than usual in the stray observations, but that’s because this episode has some of JLU’s best one-liners and gags. There’s just so much to laugh about, from the C-listers of the Justice League going door-to-door with fliers for a missing pig to B’Wana Beast conversing with pigs to find his missing teammate. The Medusa scene alone is packed with quotable lines, and this incredible sense of humor is one of the things that really differentiates this series from what came before. The past iteration of Justice League was distinctly missing slapstick Wizard Of Oz gags where supervillains in red heels were crushed by flying pianos. Superheroes are silly, but more importantly, they’re fun, and this episode showcases how that anything goes spirit can create a story that is not only wildly entertaining, but also emotionally complex.
- The commentary reveals a deleted scene in which the Joker would witness Batman talking to Wonder Pig and call off his current scheme because the Dark Knight is clearly off his rocker. Alas, there was the whole Batman boycott at the time, preventing use of the Gotham big guns.
- Circe is totally Jessica Rabbit during “Lulu’s Back In Town.” Props to Andrea Romano for getting the fabulous musical theater actress Rachel York for the role of Circe, she plays the part with the perfect amount of grandiosity.
- Batman sure does pet Diana a lot when she’s a pig. Would you consider that first base?
- Red Tornado spinning into town and calling “Sooey!” is one of my top five favorite JLU moments.
- B'wana Beast: “Whoa! She's got the fire of the cheetah in her! (Growls.)” Zatanna: “Why are you doing this to me?”
- Crimson Avenger: “Excuse me, sir. I'm looking for a pig.” Gladys' Husband: “Gladys, it's for you.”
- “C-girl and me did a little time together back in the Pit of Eternal Torment. That's where they hang you by your ankles and weasels come each night to eat your fingers. They grew back the next day, but trust me, it gets old real quick.”
- “Freedom in 4010. Ring-a-ding-ding.”
- “You see Circe, tell her I want my curling iron back!”
- “Come on, guys, help me out here. Newcomer. Silver bracelets. Kinda stuck up.”