Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Justice League: “Tabula Rasa”

Illustration for article titled Justice League: “Tabula Rasa”

“Tabula Rasa” (season 2, episode 3-4; originally aired 10/4/2004)

One of the main reasons executive producer Bruce Timm was uneasy about accepting the Justice League assignment was because he thought it would be difficult to find enemies that would pose a significant threat to a team made up of the planet’s strongest heroes. Superpower mimicking robot Amazo is one of the Justice League’s very first foes, debuting just four months after DC’s flagship superteam was introduced in the pages of The Brave And The Bold. The android’s depiction on Justice League is considerably different than how it appears in the comics, but he essentially serves the same purpose: to use the League’s powers against them.

With the ability to copy the superpowers of its opponents, the late Professor Ivo’s android definitely has the strength to take on the Justice League, but Stan Berkowitz’s plot for “Tabula Rasa” is a letdown after last week’s riveting season première. When Lex Luthor’s power suit is damaged in battle with Hawkgirl and Superman, he seeks out the help of Mercy Graves, his former bodyguard turned CEO of LexCorp. She’s grown out her hair and pulled the company’s stock out of the dump, and when Lex comes begging, she turns him away. A few threats later, Mercy gives up the location of Professor Ivo, who has succumbed to lung cancer and is being guarded by a giant silver android identified by the acronym A.M.A.Z.O.

Luthor convinces A.M.A.Z.O. that its “father” has been replaced, and has the android steal fuel canisters so that his power suit can be repaired. After A.M.A.Z.O. runs into the Justice League, Luthor brainwashes the robot into thinking that the heroes are its enemies, and from there on out the episode is primarily just one big fight scene. It’s difficult for the writers to balance the characters when all seven League members are in an episode, and while there’s some strong work done with Batman and J’onn J’onzz, the rest of the heroes spend most of their time in the background. Despite some strong action direction from Dan Riba, “Tabula Rasa” is one of the more forgettable season two episodes, failing to amount to much more than a standard superpowered beat-’em-up.

Batman doesn’t have powers so there’s nothing for A.M.A.Z.O. to copy, and if there’s one thing Batman has trained for, it’s the possibility that he’ll have to take down his teammates in battle. That makes him the perfect opponent for A.M.A.Z.O., and the first damage done to the android comes courtesy of the piece of Kryptonite Batman has stored in his utility belt. Batman’s piece of Kryptonite is the next step in reestablishing the hostility between Superman and Batman, and while the two heroes don’t butt heads this week, the knowledge that Batman makes sure to carry his teammate’s only weakness with him at all times puts their relationship in a different light.

When J’onn does a psychic sweep of the city in an attempt to track down Luthor, he finds himself overwhelmed by the flood of selfish thoughts and has a complete mental breakdown, reverting back to his Martian form and fleeing to a nearby forest. “The hatred shouldn’t have surprised me,” J’onn says, trying to understand the rush of thoughts that have paralyzed him. “But the selfishness. The sheer volume of it. The cheap attempts to disguise it.” J’onn is talking about humanity at large, but there’s one man that exemplifies the values of hatred and selfishness in his race: Lex Luthor.


It’s worth noting that the person who causes the most trouble for the Justice League isn’t an interdimensional tyrant, but an ordinary human being who is exceptionally skilled at manipulating others. Luthor keeps his true agendas hidden, which makes the telepathic J’onn the ideal opponent for him. Before he can take out Luthor, J’onn has to regain his faith in humanity, which comes courtesy of a group of townspeople searching for a missing girl in the woods. Seeing this display of compassion and selflessness, J’onn understands what he’s been fighting for, and a well-timed hug from Wonder Woman is just what he needs to leap back in the fray.

After adapting to Batman’s Kryptonite, A.M.A.Z.O. is unstoppable, except he’s still missing the powers of one League member. J’onn is told to stay back so that his abilities can’t be copied, but when Luthor enters the battle in his restored power suit, J’onn makes a risky move that plays out in the Justice League’s favor. When J’onn’s telepathy is copied by A.M.A.Z.O., it reads Luthor’s mind and is immediately aware of his deception. Luthor activates Ivo’s fail-safe and blows up A.M.A.Z.O.’s head, but with J’onn’s shapeshifting abilities, the robot just grows a new one. Shapeshifting isn’t the only quality of J’onn’s the android picks up, and after pummeling Luthor and leaving his power suit in shambles, the violence leaves A.M.A.Z.O. feeling empty. It notes that there’s nothing left for it on Earth, changes from silver to gold, and then flies off to explore the far reaches of space. It’s a strong end to a forgettable episode, and J’onn is a reliable character for bringing pathos to this show’s less emotional episodes. Unfortunately, “Tabula Rasa” is just a “good enough” episode, and that’s exactly what this show is trying to avoid with season two.


Stray observations:

  • Jonathan Larsen wrote a fun Batman vs. Amazo story for DC’s current Legends Of The Dark Knight digital comics series. Only $.99 and featuring some snazzy J.G. Jones artwork—it’s worth checking out on Comixology or the DC Comics app.
  • A.M.A.Z.O. picking up Flash’s super-horny personality and hitting on Mercy is a perfect way of showing that it takes on more than just a subject’s powers.
  • Speaking of badass androids, did anyone watch yesterday’s Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes debut of Vision? It was one of my favorite episodes of the series.
  • “Sick? Dying? And you couldn't do it someplace else?”
  • Hawkgirl: “You always carry Kryptonite around with you?” Batman: “Call it insurance.” Hawkgirl: “And they say I'm scary.”
  • “You missed the excitement, the sense of transgression… not to mention certain other things.”