One of the challenges of developing a Justice League show is finding credible threats for the league. Some of this is accomplished by toning down the league’s powers; it also helps to allow Superman or J’onn a sick day here and there. But even then, finding a legitimate threat is not easily accomplished.
Why not pit the league against their own powers, then? And who better to manage the entire scenario than Metropolis’ own resident megalomaniac?
“Tabula Rasa” has a number of threads, all of which are compelling for different reasons. It’s nice to see Mercy Graves again, having done very well for herself as an executive, still loyal to her old boss but rapidly reaching the end of her patience. Lex, though, has a new assistant, one capable of taking on the entire league by itself.
There are brawls. There are other things going on, but mostly, there are brawls. I don’t know if the action reaches the chaos or the moral struggles of “Twilight”, but it is fun to see the league struggle against their own powers. They hold their own, of course, but the android – Amazo – grows stronger with each battle. This leads to John Stewart warning the other leaguers, but Superman going in anyway – and a serious raising of stakes when the shield appears on Amazo’s chest.
Sometimes I wonder if it is possible to rank the voice work of the DCAU. (Maybe, but it would not be easy.) I think Kevin Conroy has to be first, but Clancy Brown is not far behind. That velvet voice is well utilized here, as Amazo becomes not only stronger, but inquisitive. It’s a dangerous game Lex is playing, but very much in character to ignore Mercy’s pleas for common sense. As the league struggles to fight Amazo, Lex is struggling to keep one step ahead, too.
Somewhere, away from all this, J’onn is also struggling with humanity, albeit from a very different perspective. There’s something of a juxtaposition between Amazo and J’onn here – the former knows too little, the latter knows too much. J’onn questioning the character of the people he fights to protect may lack some subtlety but it’s entirely believable. And it does lead to the moment of J’onn helping the search party, which is legitimately touching. (I do like the J’onn / Diana dynamic, too.)
This culminates in a final battle between Lex/Amazo and the league. The show often posits Superman as the most powerful league member, but I believe it is J’onn, and allowing Amazo access to his abilities resolves the entire conflict in seconds.
The resolution makes a strong case for understanding being greater than strength. There is some satisfaction in seeing Amazo turn on Lex, but mostly, there is shock in seeing Amazo both survive its failsafe and leave Earth stronger than ever, the league only able to watch.
Seeing Mercy hang up on Lex is a gratifying way to bring the episode full circle.
This episode isn’t as spectacular as “Twilight”, but it’s still a lot of fun, and has some legitimately great moments. I love J’onn’s entire arc here, and I’m happy anytime Lex Luthor gets to gloat and be a snake. The fights may ultimately be inconsequential, but they are a lot of fun. And I love the ending – not exactly the pen being mightier than the sword, but something like that.
- I do enjoy Amazo picking up Flash’s personality as well as his speed.
- Mercy Graves apparently began as part of the DCAU and made the transition to DC comics, much like Harley Quinn before her, which I did not previously know.
- More examples of stellar voice casting: Mercy is voiced by Lisa Edelstein, and Amazo is voiced by none other than Robert Picardo (who you know as the Emergency Medical Hologram, the best part of Star Trek: Voyager).
- I didn’t even mention Batman casually using kryptonite against Amazo, which is a good bit of Batman being Batman. I do like that the kryptonite doesn’t work as well the second time, though.
- Amazo would, of course, return and use its limitless power to make the world a better place by humbling Aquaman at chess.