Justice League Unlimited, “Hunter’s Moon” (season 2, episode 7; originally aired June 18, 2005)
Three years before “Hunter’s Moon” aired, a little show called Firefly disappeared off the airwaves, beloved by many but watched by far too few. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the creators behind Justice League Unlimited are some of the Browncoats that mourned the loss of Joss Whedon’s one season wonder, especially after watching “Hunter’s Moon,” a sci-fi western starring Firefly’s Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres as the superheroes Vigilante and Vixen. They join Shayera Hol on a rescue mission to an alien moon where a mining crew has found itself on top of a huge deposit of Nth metal, and help their teammate deal with the sins of her past when they encounter Thanagarian soldiers holding a grudge against Shayera for betraying her people.
Hawkgirl, Vigilante, and Vixen is one off-kilter team lineup, but the episode finds a great reason to put them all together. After being denied some loving from her man, Green Lantern, Vixen is feeling jealous of John’s ex-girlfriend and wants to see what all the fuss is about, so she volunteers for the mission. John isn’t happy with J’onn for allowing his current girlfriend to partner with his ex, but J’onn bluntly shuts him down: “Difficult as it may be to believe, I don’t take your love life into consideration when I make command decisions.” J’onn doesn’t care about how this will affect John’s romantic endeavors, he just cares about having the best team possible, but if he can use personal drama to make that happen, he’s going to do it.
Shayera is a founding member of the Justice League, but she hasn’t been pulling her weight as a team leader since her reinstatement. She’s not alone anymore and she needs to stop acting like it, because it puts the entire group at risk when she’s not achieving her full potential. Shayera needs a wake-up call, so J’onn gives her a support team on this mission that will force her to change her behavior. J’onn may not care about how this will impact John’s love life, but he does recognize that there is tension between Shayera and Vixen, and that proves valuable in achieving his objective.
The second piece of the puzzle is Vigilante, the time-displaced cowboy who has a bone to pick with the Thanagarians for torturing him during their invasion of Earth. Perfectly voiced by Nathan Fillion, Vigilante is a brash, irritable gunslinger with a Southern charm, and his traditional western appearance makes him stand out in any episode he appears in. I’ve mentioned in past reviews my affinity for DC’s genre-specific characters like Vigilante and the Arthurian Shining Knight, and their presence on this series shows that the term “superhero” applies to more than just the people that wear underwear on the outside of their spandex.
When the Justice League squad arrives on the alien moon, they quickly discover that they’ve stumbled into a trap set by Paran Dul and her small team of Thanagarians, the only survivors of the massive fleet that was severely handicapped after their failed invasion of Earth. Seeing the people she betrayed while fighting alongside the other people she betrayed puts Shayera in a difficult position, but it leads her to the closure she desperately needs. She’s heartbroken to learn that H’ro Talak, her former lover, perished in the events following the Thanagarians’ return to their home planet, and she blames herself for his passing. Her shame pushes her to consider surrender, but her teammates see what a mistake that is and force her to rediscover her fighting spirit if they’re going to make it off this moon alive.
Hawkgirl was not well liked when Justice League debuted. Many fans wondered why she was on the team instead of Aquaman, who was one of the Big Seven that made up Grant Morrison’s initial JLA comic lineup, and her attitude was interpreted as the show’s way of incorporating the Bad Girl stance that defined many female characters in the ’90s. Shayera was given more depth over the course of the first two seasons of Justice League, and the “Starcrossed” three-parter made her one of the DCAU’s most complex characters when it revealed that Hawkgirl was an undercover scout sent to Earth to prepare it for an alien invasion. That development significantly complicated her character, and she only becomes more complex as the show delves into the personal consequences of her treacherous past while embroiling her in a tricky love triangle.
This episode delivers plenty of thrilling action, but it’s a substantial installment of this series because of its attention to character relationships. The Thanagarians, Vigilante, and Vixen all have distinct dynamics with Hawkgirl: The Thanagarians view her as a traitor to her race, Vigilante personally blames her for the torture he endured at the hands of her alien brethren, and Vixen wants to determine whether or not Shayera is a threat to her burgeoning romance with John. Romantic attachments have a huge impact of Shayera, and when she learns that H’ro is dead, her resolve takes a hit that Vixen has to heal by bringing up another former lover. When Shayera seriously contemplates surrender, Mari tells her that all she’s been hearing is superlatives about Shayera, but judging by her current behavior, John must have been talking about some other Shayera.
Vixen understands people—men and women—and she knows what to do to get them to act the way she needs. When Shayera yells at Vigilante for his shoddy piloting on the way to the alien moon, Mari tells her, “Men have fragile egos. To get what you want, you have to know how to talk to them.” Shayera is probably the most masculine female on this series, so it’s not a surprise that she has a fragile ego as well. It cracks when she comes face-to-face with her old comrades, but Vixen knows how to talk to Shayera to mend that damage. When Vixen is cornered by Thanagarians later, she convinces them to take her to their ship so that she can heal and help them find Shayera, and it’s just more manipulation so that she can contact J’onn using the ship’s communications array.
Hawkgirl was the name of the mask Shayera wore when she betrayed both Thanagar and Earth, so she doesn’t like to be addressed by that moniker. The fact that Vigilante still calls her that shows how he views her, and it’s up to Shayera to change his opinion on this mission. I believe that J’onn is fully aware of Vigilante’s feelings when he assigns him to this mission, and he knows that Shayera will fight even harder if she’s in a position to prove herself. His plan works out quite well, and the pressure put on Shayera by Vigilante and Vixen forces her to become the leader she’s supposed to be by helping her reclaim the aggressive attitude that made her so valuable to the Justice League during its formative days.
We already know that Andrea Romano is a voice-casting genius, and her brilliance is on full display in “Hunter’s Moon.” Fillion is a delight as Vigilante and it’s nice to hear Elizabeth Peña and Hector Elizondo reprise their roles as Paran Dul and Kragger, respectively, but the most impressive work comes courtesy of Maria Canals and Gina Torres, who have incredible chemistry as Shayera and Vixen. The voice acting immediately separates the characters, with Canals giving Shayera a direct, all-business tone that contrasts with Torres’ more sultry, expressive work for Vixen. Those vocal distinctions emphasize the tension between the characters, but when the two women bond over their shared experience, the quality of their voices shifts to show that they have more in common than they think.
“Hunter’s Moon” ends with the team returning the Watchtower, where Shayera and Mari ditch John so that they can unwind and tend to their blossoming friendship. While sitting in the lounge, the two women laugh about John’s taste in movies and his anal-retentive cleaning habits, making cracks about the underwear drawer they’ve both seen in person. No one else on the team understands what it’s like to date John Stewart, and the two women take comfort in knowing that there’s someone else who has dealt with the goateed Marine. That doesn’t mean that they’re best friends, but it means that they can still respect each other while recognizing that they both have feelings for the same man.
In an enlightening speech at the end of the episode, Mari tells Shayera that whenever she starts something, whether it’s a book, movie, or relationship, no matter how bad it is, she can’t stop until she gets to the end. So even though John and her have only been together a little while, she’s still going to see things through. Torres does fantastic work capturing Mari’s affection for John in this speech while also delivering the lines in a way that isn’t at all threatening to Shayera. She’s just laying out the facts here; she bears no ill will toward Shayera, but she’s also not going to let Shayera’s lingering feelings for John impact her relationship with her boyfriend. “En garde,” Shayera responds, but there’s no more fighting for these two women. It’s John’s decision from here on out, and understanding that liberates these characters to build a new relationship with each other.
- Let’s take a look at how Hawkgirl, Vigilante, and Vixen are doing in the New 52: Hawkgirl appears in Earth 2 and Vixen had a small role in the lackluster Justice League International, but Vigilante is still stuck in limbo (although he appeared in an excellent flashback issue of James Robinson’s The Shade miniseries).
- Badass Shayera Hol Moment No. 92: Stuck in freefall without the use of her arms, she takes a big ole bite out of Kragger’s shoulder to get out of his grip. Beware Hawkgirl’s deadly peck.
- This week marks a change in Hawkgirl’s costume, which is now canary yellow instead of white. I prefer the new look because the pop of color makes her more visually interesting.
- I love the way Vixen’s power is visualized on this series. Those spectral animals look so cool.
- John: “Do you know what I could do to you with this ring?” Mari: “Promises, promises.”
- “You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
- “Some of us are already right certifiable.”
- “Sounds like she betrayed everyone, cowboy.”
- “What makes you think I know anything about the jungle? I live in a loft in Chelsea?”
- “Darn son ding-busted horse-thieving alien control panel which can’t nobody work proper!”