There’s a story about Leonardo Da Vinci (I think), where his patron sent a messenger to ask for a sign of progress. Da Vinci drew a perfect circle, free-hand, and sent it with the messenger to show his progress. A circle is a simple shape, but being able to draw a perfect one freehand was seen as a technical wonder.
An idea does not have to be complex to be great – simplicity executed without flaws is often the most difficult. In that respect, “A Better World” is a real achievement. The idea of heroes gone bad, or evil counterparts, is not original, especially not for DC. But it is executed extremely well here. This episode may not be a perfect circle, but it is very good.
The opening for this episode is extremely effective. It seems standard to begin, but the confrontation between Lex and Superman is powerful. Lex is unhinged here, but his words strike true – they hurt Superman more than kryptonite. It’s hard to say what is more surprising, this rant, or its consequences:
Justice Lord Superman: There are at least six different ways I can stop you right now.
President Luthor: But they all involve deadly force, don’t they? And you don’t do that. No, you need me. You wouldn’t be much of a hero without a villain, and you do love being a hero, don’t you? The cheering children, the swooning women, you love it so much, it’s made you my most reliable accomplice.
Justice Lord Superman: Accomplice? What are you…?
President Luthor: You could’ve crushed me any time you wanted and it wasn’t the law or the will of the people that stopped you. It was your ego. Being a hero was too important to you. You’re as much responsible as I am. So go ahead, fix it somehow, put me on trial, lock me up, but I’ll beat it and then we’ll start the whole thing all over again.
Justice Lord Superman: I did love being a hero, but if this is where it leads, I’m done with it.
Maybe the greatest trick the opening pulls off is allowing us to believe this is “our” Justice League, our world. We see soon enough that this is not the case, but the effect is still powerful. And so, finding out there is another timeline – another dimension – a clash is inevitable.
So there are a few. Batman versus Batman, the league versus some Superman robots, league versus lords. And then, there is Doomsday. The monster created to kill Superman.
Much of the dialogue explains the differences between the league and the lords, but the Doomsday fight puts everything front and center. The resolution – a heat-vision lobotomy – is a brutal visual, and its meaning just as clear. The lords will end conflict by any means necessary, casualties be damned. And as much as the ending to this fight is shocking, the trip to Arkham to retrieve Shayera is even worse – Batman’s rogues, victims of the same treatment. Seeing Poison Ivy in gardening gear explains everything.
There’s a lot to unpack here. I feel like I could write this review ten times and come up with ten completely different themes. Maybe five of them would be about Flash; qualifying his importance to the league, and how his absence explains the divergence, is the real core of this episode. And we come close to losing Flash (again) at the end, as the league faces off against the lords, Flash taking on lord Superman.
The way the conflict ends may be my only point of criticism here. The resolution might be circumventing the real question here, and a ‘power disruptor’ is a convenient new concept, to say the least. But I think Superman admitting to Flash that he faces the same temptations as his counterpart does what a magic laser does not – it explains how thin the line between right and wrong can be.
The episode ends with Luthor holding a press conference to explain the aftermath of the conflict, and expressing interest in politics. With that, the episode has come full circle. It may not be a perfect circle, not quite. But it’s a very good episode of TV, maybe the best of the two Justice League seasons.
- Doomsday is voiced by Michael Jai White, maybe best known as the live-action Spawn.
- Mark Hamill and Diane Pershing return to voice the Joker and Poison Ivy, respectively.
- The Justice Lord costumes are pretty good – I like GL/Shayera/J’onn better than their league counterparts, honestly. Lord Superman’s cape is kind of goofy. Diana’s I’m on the fence about.
- This episode informs so much of JLU; I’m not sure this was intentional at the time but it definitely worked out. It also occurred to me that maybe the Justice Lords were the Justice League, the same dimension, but from the future where (spoiler) Flash didn’t survive.
- The Batman/Batman fight isn’t that great of a fight, but the dialogue is great:
Justice Lord Batman: Think about it. A world where there’s no crime, no victims, no pain.
Batman: And no choice. Who elected you, anyway?
Justice Lord Batman: Who elected you? The problem with democracy is it doesn’t keep you very safe.
Batman: It has other virtues, but you seem to have forgotten them.
Justice Lord Batman: I didn’t forget. I just chose peace and security instead.
Batman: You grabbed power!
Justice Lord Batman: And with that power, we’ve made a world where no eight-year-old boy will ever lose his parents… because of some punk with a gun.
(Batman drops his batarang on the ground and stands silent for a minute)
Batman: You win.
- The parallel with lord GL taking down league Shayera, but league GL hesitating to do the same, is a nice touch. Likewise, Diana – who doesn’t get much to do here – using her tiara in the climactic battle is a good moment.
- DCAU Doomsday is a blunt, ugly design, which I know is the point of the character. He is used effectively here, though.