Justice League Unlimited, “The Greatest Story Never Told” (season 1, episode 8; originally aired September 11th, 2004)
There aren’t very many superhero cartoons that are willing to take inspiration from Tom Stoppard for a comedy episode. “The Greatest Story Never Told” has JLU doing Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead as Booster Gold makes his DCAU debut, putting the futuristic superhero in the middle of a hilarious adventure while an epic storyline unfolds in the background. (We also know Bruce Timm was watching Buffy and Angel a lot at the time, so it’s very likely “The Zeppo” had some influence on the story.) It’s the last episode of season one’s humor trilogy, providing another sterling example of how these superheroes can be outstanding vehicles for comedy. “Kid Stuff” used nostalgia to capture the fun and exhilaration of childhood, “This Little Piggy” embraced the madcap silliness of Silver Age comic books, and “The Greatest Story Never Told” uses humor to delve into Booster Gold’s character and show why he’s the League’s biggest joke.
Arrow creator/executive producer Andrew Kreisberg pens one of JLU’s finest scripts as Booster single-handedly stops a threat to the entire planet, and the episode explores heroism, fame, pride, and responsibility in 22 tight minutes. A disgraced football star turned museum janitor in 2462 A.D., Booster Gold stole time travel equipment and journeyed to the past to find fame and fortune as a superhero. Unfortunately, he cares far more about those two rewards than about actually helping people, making him one of the League’s most unpopular members. When the wizard Mordru attacks, most of the League is sent to fight, but Booster has to convince J’onn he’s right for the job while rejects like Vibe get chosen before him. J’onn J’onzz is at his funniest this episode, trying to hide his disdain for Booster as he calls on heroes to join the fray. Booster is the kid no one wants on their baseball team in P.E., but he still gets to play because they need the numbers.
The opening scene plays with the idea that most people probably don’t know who Booster Gold is and introduces the character while showing how disrespected he is by the public. After destroying a giant robot, Booster is surrounded by people and takes advantage of the opportunity for some publicity, using his robot companion Skeets to tell his backstory. Skeets skips all the details about Booster’s shameful situation in his original time period, instead painting him as a valiant crusader “protecting his past to ensure your future.” It’s a lot of hype the civilians don’t buy, and the only person who shows Booster any interest is a child who asks for his autograph because he thinks he’s Green Lantern.
Kreisberg does remarkable work spotlighting all the traits that make Booster so obnoxious to his teammates. He’s the guy at work who is only interested in promotions and the money that comes from a higher profile, seeing potential catastrophe as opportunity for advancement rather than the threat it really is. “Unless Mordru can be defeated, I fear for every living creature on the planet,” J’onn says. Booster’s reply: an emphatic “Yes!” He’s less excited once he gets in the field and is put on crowd control with Elongated Man, a job he eventually has to do alone when the stretchy guy is called into action. We never get a good look at the massive fight between the League and Mordru, although there are some hilarious glimpses of the action like the moment when a composite Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman crashes in front of Booster and tells him things are fine and to go back to crowd control.
While the League’s trinity is getting mashed together, Booster loses sight of his job to rescue the ant farm of “Green Lantern” boy before having his attention grabbed by a fire at STAR Labs. That’s where he meets scientist/damsel in distress Dr. Tracy Simmons, whose coworker was turned into a walking black hole after an experiment went wrong. Booster jumps at the chance to help Simmons, but he has his work cut out for him because J’onn refuses to send reinforcements to help out. “The Greatest Story Never Told” is all about the humbling of Booster Gold, teaching him how to be a true hero as he undergoes increasingly difficult trials.
As he attempts to contain the black hole, Booster fights a living high-rise, loses his robot best friend, and even helps a pregnant woman deliver her child, earning a “Thank you, Green Lantern!” as he flies away from the new mother. Booster isn’t used to this kind of hard work and eventually succumbs to self-doubt, admitting to Simmons that he came to the past because he was such a failure in the present. Once he admits his failing, he’s able to become the hero he pretends to be, finding strength in Simmons’ words of encouragement and saving the day.
All the technical elements of this episode are on point, from the crisp, detailed animation to the incredible voice work. Tom Everett Scott is pitch perfect as Booster Gold, finding the perfect balance of bloated ego and self-pity to make Booster an irritating but not wholly unsympathetic character. Futurama’s Billy West is delightfully enthusiastic as Skeets, playing the robot half of the futuristic dynamic duo this time instead of the human one. And while he doesn't get much screen time, Jeremy Piven’s Elongated Man is amusingly self-righteous, boasting how he’s a mix of Batman and Plastic Man because he’s also a detective.
The big test of Booster’s character comes at the end of the epsiode when he has the opportunity to praise his recent accomplishments, but keeps his mouth shut after being berated for abandoning crowd control. He may not get the fame, but Booster gets the girl, earning a kiss from Simmons while Elongated Man is saddled with clean-up duty. The Justice League never learns of Booster’s exploits, but their loss is the audience’s gain, and keeping Brooster separated from the rest of the team allows Kreisberg to dissect his personality in fascinating, hugely entertaining ways. Booster Gold may look like a joke, but all it takes is the right story to elevate him from tool to cool.
- This episode was originally going to focus on Firestorm until the writers completely changed the angle of their story and realized Booster would be a better fit. Sadly, Firestorm never appears in JLU.
- This episode proves that Vibe is best as a punch line and background gag. Ironically, Kreisberg co-wrote the first few issues of Vibe’s New 52 ongoing series.
- “I thought you were Green Lantern.”
- “Not fame. Mega fame! Much more than your level of fame. No offense, but you’ve got a hard to pronounce name, doesn’t stick in the head.”
- “We don’t need two stretchy guys.” I really wish we could have seen Plastic Man on this series.
- “Maybe they needed a vase.”
- Booster: “If they knew. If she knew the truth.” Skeets: “I’ve got nothing.”
- “My gosh! It was full of stars!”