“Twilight” (season 2, episodes 1-2; originally July 5, 2003)
“‘Good enough’ isn’t good enough.” That’s the philosophy for Justice League season two, according to executive producer Bruce Timm on the DVD commentary for “Twilight (Part Two),” and this two-part season opener is the perfect example of that new attitude in action. Just as Batman: The Animated Series set a new standard for solo superhero cartoon excellence, Justice League season two is only eclipsed by Justice League Unlimited as the strongest superhero-team series, although the current run of Young Justice is coming close. Everything is of higher quality this season: the direction, animation, music, sound effects, and most importantly, the stories. To prove that they’re not messing around, the creative team puts the focus on Superman with this first story, turning the Boy Scout into an aggressive badass when he faces two of his greatest foes.
No one does epic scope quite like Jack Kirby, and “Twilight” features the Justice League debut of Kirby’s New Gods, beginning with the latest fight in the ongoing conflict between Highfather’s New Genesis and Darkseid’s Apokolips. After being warned by Highfather that if he breaks their peace treaty again he’ll be destroyed, evil tyrant Darkseid finds himself faced with an even greater threat: the Kryptonian menace Brainiac. When the ruler of Apokolips shows up in the Justice League Watchtower, Superman immediately start pummeling him, enraged by the memory of what Darkseid made him do at the end of Superman: The Animated Series: brainwashed to believe that he was Darkseid’s son, Superman attacked Earth and lost the trust of its people, a wound that still hasn’t fully healed.
Batman has Superman stopped before he knocks the Watchtower out of orbit, and the hostile relationship that existed for the World’s Finest pre-Justice League returns in this episode. Batman knows how dangerous it can be to get too emotionally invested in a mission, and Superman’s relationships with Darkseid and Brainiac cloud his judgment. Superman refuses to help save Apokolips, and Batman takes it upon himself to remind his teammate that if Brainiac is back, he’s not just Darkseid’s problem, but the entire universe’s. “We know he used you, humiliated you, brainwashed you,” Batman says to Superman. “Wound you up like a tin soldier and turned you loose against Earth. Cry me a river.” The Dark Knight doesn’t take any shit, no matter how strong his opponent.
Before Darkseid’s big entrance, J’onn J’onzz and Hawkgirl bond over missing their home worlds, a conversation that is decidedly one-sided. J’onn assumes that Hawkgirl’s melancholy comes from homesickness, but when she’s given an opportunity to find out more about Thanagar later in the episode, she doesn’t take it. That’s because she’s a double-agent, sent to Earth as a scout for the forthcoming Thanagarian invasion. This season’s shift to long-term serialized storytelling is a major plus for the series, and the writers become more cognizant of planting plot seeds that can be cultivated at some point later in the run. During their conversation, J’onn notices that Hawkgirl, Superman, Wonder Woman, and he are all orphans or exiles; he’s forgetting a big name from that roster, and it’s a smart touch that he’s unaware of Batman’s personal history. The Justice League is a family for all these characters left without one, and they’re the five that find themselves traveling across the universe for some valuable bonding time.
While Superman, J’onn, and Hawkgirl travel to Apokolips to take down Brainiac’s robotic troops, Batman and Wonder Woman head to New Genesis to see if they can get help from Highfather, Orion, and the rest of the Forever People. They’re attacked by a very Kirby-looking monster and saved by Forager, who directs them to the floating city where all the heavy hitters are located. After the Batman/Wonder Woman pairing proved immensely successful among fans in season one, the two are immediately put together in season two, and Bruce gets a chance to stand up for his girl when she gets her ass slapped by Lightray. When he’s not berating Superman, Batman is largely used as comic relief in this episode, and over the course of this series and JLU, Batman will become exceptionally skilled at catty one liners when he’s not silently lurking in the shadows. Batman and Wonder Woman track down their New Genesis allies just in time, because as suspected, Darkseid’s story was all an elaborate trap to get Superman in Brainiac’s hands.
Superman, J’onn, and Hawkgirl valiantly fight off Brainiac’s forces on Apokolips, and when Brainiac retreats into a giant asteroid formed in his image, the trio of heroes steps right into his trap. Faced with an army of Brainiacs, they are simply outnumbered, and when Darkseid joins the fray, they don’t stand a chance. When Superman falls, Brainiac uses his Kryptonian DNA to evolve into a new life-form, one with enough power to consume an entire universe. That’s exactly what Darkseid wants, and this upgraded Brainiac is the solution to the anti-life equation he’s been looking for his entire life. As a cosmic maelstrom begins to tear New Genesis apart, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Orion boom tube to Brainiac’s asteroid and free Superman, who is done being used by Darkseid. When he escapes his shackles, Superman has no more patience for ideas like the sanctity of life, and he’s out for blood.
Dan Riba directs the first half of the story, which is more focused on world building and establishing the huge scope of the conflict. The second half is when the heavy fisticuffs go down, and Butch Lukic takes over directing reins to really capture the impact of every punch. Bruce Timm wanted to make the action on this second season was more intense, and there’s certainly much less restraint when these characters hit the battlefield. Hawkgirl is a beast with her mace, and when J’onn tells her to back down, she only fights harder. J’onn is no slouch either, using his ability to control his density to phase through the Brainiac robots and use them as weapons. But no one does more damage this episode than Superman, who quickly erases all memory of season one’s “Super-wimp.”
Superman and Darkseid’s final brawl at the end of Superman: The Animated Series is one of the DCAU’s most brutal action sequences. How can Bruce Timm beat a moment like Superman covering Darkseid’s eyes so that his Omega beams cause his head to explode? Timm storyboards Superman and Darkseid’s big fight at the end of “Twilight,” and while he doesn’t necessarily outdo the craziness of that previous match, he does stage one of the most vicious battles to grace Justice League. To establish just how ruthless this is going to get, Superman begins the fight with this great line: “This time, I won’t stop until you’re just a greasy smear on my fist. Let’s go.” From then on, it’s nonstop punching, kicking, and throwing, with the standout moment being when Darkseid has Superman pinned under his heel, and Superman uses his heat vision to burn two red circles through his foot.
Before Superman can do something he’ll regret, Batman jumps on top of him and boom tubes them away from the exploding asteroid and back to New Genesis, where the rest of Justice League is helping Highfather look for the Forever People. Superman isn’t pleased, and he gets in Batman’s face with some news that Bruce Wayne probably doesn’t hear very often: “You know something, Bruce? You’re not always right.” It’s amazing how much Superman’s character changes in these 42 minutes, and his evolution is indicative of the massive growth this series will undergo as the season continues. “Twilight” is a turning point for this series, and the best part is that it’s just the beginning.
- Hawkgirl’s cover story is that while tracking criminals on Thanagar, she walked into a trap and a particle beam ripped her molecules apart and sent them hallway across the cosmos. When I first heard that, I immediately thought she was shot with a Zeta beam and that Rann and Adam Strange were somehow involved.
- Traveling by boom tube leaves Batman a bit queasy, which is a nice little callback to Batman Beyond when Bruce tells Terry he never liked boom tubes.
- Explosive Batarangs are the main reason Batman survives on the Justice League.
- I love the use of the Superman: The Animated Series theme just before Superman gets his payback on Darkseid.
- That single shot of all the Forever People is such a tease, although at least we get more of Kirby’s characters in JLU.
- “Maybe we should call ourselves the ‘Just-Us League.’”
- “Apparently Darkseid and Highfather exchanged sons as some kind of peace treaty. Sounds wacky to me, too.”
- “I’m going to need a longer grapple.”
- “Read my lips: go to—”
- “Next time I let Superman take charge, just hit me real hard!”
- Batman: “Having fun?” J’onn: “Yes.”
- “Huh. Loser.”