Justice League Unlimited, “Double Date” (season 2, episode 6; originally aired June 4, 2005)
Cecil: But how come when I make the scones, they don’t got that good flavor like yours, Tony?
Tony: Do I have to tell you again how you gotta add the orange zest, Cecil? You gonna make me give you the recipe again, huh? You’re killing me here, Cecil! Killing me!
Cecil: I heard something.
Tony: Shut up, Cecil. I’m trying to listen.
Cecil: Why you gotta be so mean all the time, Tony? I’m always nice to you.
Tony: You’re killing me, Cecil!
From this opening conversation between baking mob goons, it’s clear that “Double Date” will emphasize humor. A superhero story tends to be forgettable without it, but humor is not the same thing as comedy. It isn’t necessarily about getting a laugh, it’s about reminding the audience that these characters are people who find some element of joy in their lives, no matter how bleak and dreary they may be. In a superhero comic, humor can take the form of a thrilling action sequence depicted in a cheerful manner (see: Mark Waid’s current Daredevil run), and even books like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen understand the importance of moments of levity in making the reader invest in the drama.
In Watchmen, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre’s sex scene after their return to vigilantism is titillating, but showing the Owlship shooting a blast of fire when the two reach climax while Billie Holliday’s “You’re My Thrill” plays in the background is a wink-wink moment that shouldn’t be taken seriously. (The fact that the Watchmen movie did take it seriously, replacing “You’re My Thrill” with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallellujah,” made that moment the wrong kind of hilarious.) It’s just not as much fun to watch and read something that has no humor, because if the characters can’t find any pleasure in their lives, how is the audience supposed to find pleasure in their stories?
Gail Simone is a writer that understands the importance of humor, breaking into comics with books like Killer Princesses and an exceptional run on Deadpool (later Agent X) that has finally been collected after a decade. Simone’s breakout gig came when she took over DC’s female superhero team book Birds Of Prey, using it as a platform to build up the kind of strong, resilient superheroines she campaigned for with her Women In Refrigerators website, and making her the perfect writer for a Black Canary/Huntress-centric episode of JLU.
One of the reasons I love JLU is because of its connections to the post-Crisis DC Universe that was my entryway into DC Comics. The influence of Grant Morrison’s JLA is evident from the very beginning as the Justice League pilot essentially adapts Morrison’s opening White Martians storyline, and the creators definitely take a cue from Morrison’s expansion of the team as they build up the cast for Justice League Unlimited. Elements of Kingdom Come, Justice League International, JSA and Suicide Squad also find their way into the series, and “Double Date” gives us the first of two Birds Of Prey stories. (The second, “Grudge Match,” will see Black Canary and Huntress team up to fight their female Justice League teammates in Roulette’s Metabrawl.)
Humor helps reveal the level of comfort between characters—it’s not a coincidence that the Justice League’s resident jokester Flash is the glue that holds the team together—and Gail Simone creates strong relationships between this episode’s couples through banter. I would love to spend more time with Cecil and Tommy after that delightful opening conversation, which is made even better by having The Sopranos’ Steve Schirripa voice Cecil, giving that character the same soft, lovable personality that made his Sopranos mobster Bobby Baccalieri a constant source of humor in that show’s nihilistic environment.
After getting kicked out of the Justice League for attempting to murder the man who killed her parents, Steven Mandragora, Huntress seeks The Question’s help in tracking down Mandragora in exchange for whatever information she has on Cadmus. Standing in Question’s doorway in her unfortunately oversexualized Jim Lee redesign from “Hush,” Huntress uses her sexuality to lure the faceless detective into her web, and it works because the only reason Question helps her is attraction. He’s smart enough to know Helena’s history with Mandragora and that she has no information on Cadmus, but the man has needs beyond the satisfaction of unraveling global conspiracies, and spending time with Huntress is what he really wants in this situation.
Mandragora has been placed under the protection of Black Canary and Green Arrow, who have become a full-fledged couple following the events of “The Cat And The Canary,” and their mission puts them in direct conflict with Huntress and Question, making this the second episode where Dinah and Ollie are forced to fight a teammate. Gail Simone’s Black Canary is one of the best interpretations of the character, and her feisty personality from the comics is on full display in “Double Date.” In a great twist on conventional gender dynamics, Mandragora taunts Black Canary with sexual threats that enrage Green Arrow, but she keeps her boyfriend in check because they have a job to do. Yet when Mandragora starts insulting Ollie’s manhood, the obligations of their work disappear and Dinah punches the villain in the face to protect her man’s honor.
Joaquim Dos Santos directs this episode, and just like the last time he was in control of Black Canary and Green Arrow kicking ass, he delivers exhilarating fight sequences that are even more impressive because of how they reflect character through action. He tends to direct the episodes that spotlight street-level heroes who need to rely on more than sheer force when they fight, and seeing different fighting styles in action is part of the appeal of watching a Dos Santos episode.
Comparing the fight choreography of the women to the men, the women have much quicker, acrobatic movement while their significant others rely on brute force. Huntress’ moves combine martial arts and breakdancing to give her a dancer-like grace, and Black Canary’s dodges and counters these moves with similar ease. Dos Santos’ incredible action staging is evident in shots like the one at 0:29, placing the camera on the ground where Black Canary will crash after getting hit by Huntress. Green Arrow and Question are fighting behind them, and when the women exit the frame, the focus seamlessly transitions to the men without changing the camera angle.
Amy Acker’s voice is unrecognizable in the episode’s opening scene when Huntress thinks she’s killing Mandragora, and delving into her lower register helps capture all the cold fury Helena feels in that moment. That signature Acker sweetness begins to come through when Huntress is with Question, and she has wonderful chemistry with Jeffrey Combs, whose gruff, intense, strangely charming Vic Sage continues to be one of the most fascinating characters on the series. Kin Shriner and Morena Baccarin continue to build on the Ollie/Dinah relationship they developed in their last episode together, and the sharpness of their banter suggests they spend considerable time together and have started to understand each other’s natural rhythms.
Steven Mandragora is voiced by the late Glenn Shadix, a fixture of Tim Burton films like Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas, and he heightens the despicable self-indulgence of the character to bring into question why the Justice League is going out of its way to protect this scumbag. Scott Patterson rounds out the guest cast as Agent King Faraday, taking the husky aggression of his character Luke from Gilmore Girls and applying it to a secret agent character tasked with protecting a man he loathes. The incorporation of King Faraday into this story is an indication of the depth of Gail Simone’s appreciation for the DC universe, and as a big fan of Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier, I’m immensely pleased to see Faraday given a small recurring part in this series.
This episode delivers a steady stream of thrills sprinkled with laughs—Simone throws in a train sequence just because she can, and even has Green Arrow comment on the absurdity of the plot development—and all that humor in the first two-thirds of the episode amplifies the intensity of the story’s climactic confrontation between Helena and Mandragora. Confronting the man who killed her parents as he prepares to leave the country with his son, Helena is faced with the decision of whether or not she should become the thing she despises by killing a man in front of his child, which is a pretty damn heavy plot point for a children’s cartoon series. Ultimately Huntress decides to drop a bunch of metal girders on Mandragora and put him in police custody rather than shooting an arrow through his eye socket, giving Helena some closure without forcing her to become a killer.
“Double Date” ends with Question and Huntress canoodling while Black Canary and Green Arrow watch quizzically, firmly laying the groundwork for a relationship that will continue to grow as this season continues and the two Justice League nutjobs become further embroiled in the Cadmus conspiracy. Episodes like this are essential to the success of JLU, taking a break from the overarching narrative to focus on character relationships and inject some humor into the series. Gail Simone sadly doesn’t return to script any future episodes, but she leaves her stamp on the team with this delightful story, balancing drama, comedy, romance, and superhero action in one exciting night out for two superhero couples.
- Gail Simone also penned an episode of Batman: The Brave And The Bold in 2010, which featured this wonderfully cheeky little ditty.
- Other than Green Arrow (whose solo book has become one of the standouts of the New 52 thanks to Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino), all the main characters in this episode have suffered because of the New 52. Huntress as the alternate Earth daughter of Batman isn’t as interesting as her being the vigilante daughter of a mobster, The Question is some kind of supernatural being, and Black Canary is stuck in the disappointing Birds Of Prey.
- I would totally buy a “Got Fluoride?” propaganda poster to hang in my bedroom. It’s my favorite background detail in this episode.
- The detail on those trees during the flashback of Helena walking through a park with her parents is gorgeous. There’s a lot of attention paid to the environments in this episode, and it makes the story feel more immersive as a result.
- I need to make this episode’s extended Canary Cry my alarm clock, because I would never be able to sleep through that sound.
- DCAU Easter Egg: Mandragora’s son is the Albino in the Batman Beyond episode “Head Games.” Yay continuity!
- “I hope you choke on it.”
- Huntress: “Wildcat says you’re a nutjob.” Question: “Funny. He says the same thing about you.” Huntress: “He’s right.” Question: “OK, bored now. Goodbye.”
- Huntress: “Wow, I had no idea the Girl Scouts were responsible for the crop circle phenomenon.” Question: “Few people do. Few even think to ask the question.”
- “Just for the record, I usually prefer for my dates to have a face.”
- Huntress: “I’m here on League business, Canary.” Green Arrow: “That’s not what J’onn said. We just called him.” Huntress: “OK, that didn’t work.”
- “You’re cute when you’re an insufferable smarty pants.”
- Huntress: “Lose them.” Question: “Like airline luggage.” I love this line so much.
- “This is so unnecessary.”
- “No one messes with the Justice League.”
- Question: “Where are we going?” Huntress: “Don’t ask so many questions.” Black Canary: “I’m sorry, but…ew.”