Justice League Unlimited is the continuation of Justice League, which was the natural progression from Batman Beyond, which was the stepchild of the Batman and Superman Animated series. By the transitive properties of addition and awesomeness, this means that Justice League Unlimited was one of the greatest examples of animation as well as one of the greatest programs to ever appear on television. Now being released in full on Netflix with 39 glorious episodes to commit to memory, you may wonder which episodes rank among the greatest of the great, a task that is seemingly impossible given the nigh perfect quality of the show. So, with great deliberation, and several long nights spent watching animated heroes beat stuff up in the name of “work,” here are the ten best episodes of Justice League Unlimited.
10. The Greatest Story Never Told
A tongue in cheek episode, “The Greatest Story Never Told” calls to mind “The Zeppo,” which in my opinion was one, if not the, best Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes. Think I may have actually out nerded myself there… Basically, the plot of “The Zeppo” and this episode revolves around a character who is not given the spotlight (Booster Gold here, Xander in Buffy), operating on his own in the shadows as a greater, earth-shattering plot continues on in the background. It’s like Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead… if they could shoot lasers out of their fists and time travel, two key factors that would improve any work of Shakespeare in my opinion.
Booster Gold is a time traveler from the future who came to the 21st century to become famous in his own present, assisted by Billy West as his accidentally- hilarious-in-hindsight A.I., Skeets, who serves as the sidekick, R2D2, and cheerleader. Booster, of course, ignores the paradox of nearly every time traveler: if he goes back in time to gain fame so that he can be a hero in the future, then in the future wouldn’t Booster Gold already be a hero, therefore preventing Booster Gold from ever being a janitor who decides to go back to become famous in the present in the first place?
Probably best to just turn our brains off for a sec. Booster Gold even says blurgh! Multiple times! The man is literally ahead of his time.
Booster just riffs throughout the episode with Jeremy Piven as the Elongated Man, detective stretchy guy who claims that he disguised himself as a vase for five days.
This is one of the few episodes that doesn’t predominantly feature an A-List League Member, except in flashes of a battle too mind bending and boner-inducing to be depicted onscreen.
Booster Gold, in general, is my favorite concept for a superhero. A guy in the future who goes back in time to essentially be a big fish in a small pond of fame and fortune. That would be as if I went back in time to try to impress Puritan women with my knowledge of Batman comics and ability to not die of cholera.
9. The Return
In “The Return”, the Amazo android, the nanomachine golem that can mimic the abilities of anything it comes in contact with, returns to Earth to kill Lex Luthor after destroying the Green Lantern Corp, and serves as a walking Omaha Beach as the one-android-army mows through wave after wave of the JLU on the grand sort of scale that only can be covered by a show like Justice League Unlimited.
This is an episode that thrives off of overkill. Literally every meta-gene enabled member of both the JLU and the entirety of the Green Lantern Corp throws everything they have at the glorious golden god, from Orion’s Astro-harness– which I’m surprised isn’t a Lady Gaga costume already– to Rocket Red’s shoulder mounted minigun.
The episode ultimately ends with Lex Luthor waxing on the purpose of life while standing in the tryptophobia-inducing palm of the android across a psychedelic subatomic universe backdrop, foreshadowing Luthor’s master scheme for the rest of the series to come.
Without question, this is the episode with the largest scale, taking place on bodies both macro and microscopic in nature with a legion of League members to throw in the android’s path. The only thing missing is The Atom, voiced by the stellar John C. McGinley, calling Lex a girl’s name. Seriously, Alexandra is right there. But perhaps I’m nitpicking an individual the size of an atom, which I suppose proportionately speaking means I’m trying to hit a fly with a sledgehammer.
8. Dead Reckoning
A bit more of a grim episode, “Dead Reckoning” focuses on Deadman– the ghost of Boston Brand who wanders the earth, trying to do good to escape the realm of hungry ghosts and enter the next plane of existence. It’s all very Buddhist. Meanwhile, the Boba Fett of the Secret Society, Devil Ray, leads a shock team of super villains to seize the souls of Nanda Parbat monks. Deadman enlists the help of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman to seek revenge, while the big three try to teach him the ways of justice. “Try” being the imperative word, as living beings without magical abilities can only communicate with Deadman if he possesses their bodies, a haunting that is made evident by Deadman’s heavy Brooklyn accent.
Speaking of hilarious dialects, this episode also introduces the backwards Bizarro-speak, as Bizarro, the Superman clone a few batarangs short of a full utility belt, serves as the muscle for the Secret Society as Gorilla Grodd and his cabal of rogues try to raid Gorilla City of its cloaking technology.
Why does Grodd need the souls of Himalayan monks and Gorilla City tech anyway? To enact his masterstroke, of course- – turning every man, woman and child on Earth into apes! Yeah. It’s ridiculous, and the show is well aware of this, as a freshly aped out Wonder Woman lets out an exacerbated, GOB Bluth worthy “Oh come on!”
The JLApes reference is, theatrically, a tongue-in-cheek means to brighten up an otherwise heavy episode, involving super villains killing an entire village worth of monks, Deadman being the featured Justice Leaguer of the episode, and Secret Society mystic Tala admitting she’s Gorilla Grodd’s girlfriend. No really. There’s even an implied S&M factor to this relationship, as Tala, presenting a glowing golden ball containing millions of souls, a spectral testicle of sorts, to Grodd, refuses to get off of her knees until “her master” tells her to do so. It’s Fifty Shades of Grey but with a silverback gorilla, a thought as disturbing as it is uncannily intriguing.
Incidentally, this queasy, and probably illegal in several states relationship between ape and sorceress may help explain Grodd’s seemingly stupid master plan. Tala presents the crucial genetic recombination matrix to Grodd, meaning that unlike Lex Luthor, Tala knew all along about Grodd’s plan to devolve the population into apes. In fact, even with her purple ape beard, Tala seems surprisingly nonplussed about her sudden change in anatomy, as this change is likely a plus in her eyes in regards to her simian sleep mate. While Grodd’s xenophobia towards all humans explains part of his ridiculous plan, Tala’s relationship with him and certain “incompatibilities,” physical limitations and social stigmas that result from said relationship, may have also been a motivating factor for Grodd to finally execute his master plan.
The logistics of interspecies copulation aside, “Dead Reckoning” ends on a more somber note as Deadman possesses Batman, forcing the caped crusader to break his maxim on guns to shoot Devil Ray, who stumbles into a high voltage box, clumsily fulfilling his Boba Fettish destiny. The Batman is visibly upset about this violation of his free will, as Boston Brand understands the wrongs of his actions.
7. The Once and Future Thing, Part Two
An extended time traveling episode that not only branches into Batman Beyond, producing some of the best Batman on Batman dialogue, but also ties in the underrated Static from Static Shock and brings back the excellently designed and developed Jokerz gang from Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, “The Once and Future Thing, Part Two” is a sort of greatest hits of the DC Animated Universe.
We are gifted three Batmen onscreen at once trying to deduce with Green Lantern and Wonder Woman where the time traveling master of time, Chronos, is in Neo Gotham as time warps around them. The episode even satisfies the cowl-tease feeling perpetuated throughout Batman Beyond–opening that case in the Bat Cave and donning the old Batman uniform. It was ridiculous for me to want Batman to put back on the old suit, or even McGuinness to put it on, but it’s certainly what we all wished for every day in middle school.
In fact, the time paradox nature of this episode allows it to be one big fan service of an episode. Seriously, it’s Michael Rosenbaum doing a Christopher Walken accent as a Batman street punk with buzz saws for hands. Get a Hal Jordan reference, a no holds barred ending fight in the middle of the original Roman Coliseum, a Darth Maul double edged light-saber complete with authentic sound effects, and we witness Terry McGuinness’ Batman get killed by racking at the hands of a horde of Harley Quinn’s grandchildren, all voiced by Melissa Joan Hart no less. What more could you want?
6. Patriot Act
“Patriot Act” has everything you could ever want in an episode — motorcycles exploding in slow motion, something called Captain Nazi, the voice of Cave Johnson himself J.K. Simmons taking center stage, Dirty Harry references, guys bareknuckle fighting proverbial Hulks, and perhaps most importantly, a drag out dirty fight that makes The Alamo look like The Bridges of Madison County.
The episode focuses on one General Wade Eiling (Simmons) fearing meta human retaliation from the League as Superman recently “tossed our best men like a salad” in an attack on CADMUS headquarters. Turning himself into a color-swapped Incredible Hulk with the help of a Nazi super soldier serum, General Eiling launches a grandstanding campaign of property damage as he tries to get Superman’s attention. What Eiling finds standing in his way however, is the proverbial B-Squad of the Justice League — Arthurian legend the Shining Knight, desperado and Eastwood aficionado The Vigilante, Hawkeye stand-in Green Arrow, and my personal favorites, Stargirl and the mecha-bound S.T.R.I.P.E.
Although the names may not be familiar, what is significant about this force is their lack of super powers, and their willingness to still lay down their lives for justice. In fact, aside from a surprisingly articulate abominable Wade Eiling, no super powered individuals have any lines in this episode. Hell, even Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olson’s Newspaper boys brigade lends a hand in commandeering a wrecking ball. Notably absent is the plausibly racist Flipper Dipper, a frogman in training who always has a scuba suit on, but these preteens aren’t the highlight of the episode.
Although they have no powers beyond some fancy gadgetry and are on the losing side of an overpowered one-sided fight, the reserve League members provide some of the best fight scenes in the history of the series as they try to slow down Eiling by whatever means possible. Even when the dregs of the JLU are teleported in to join the fight– the Crimson Avenger and not-yet-addicted-to-heroin Speedy– the League is still grossly overwhelmed, and yet they still go beyond and above the call of duty to try to take down Eiling. When Green Arrow and Speedy run out of ammo and just bum rush Eiling, their bows serving as would-be bayonets, and The Shining Knight refuses to stand down as we finally see what’s under his stupid looking helmet, you know that a meta human factor is not a necessity of entertainment.
5. The Great Brain Robbery
The most ironic episode yet, in that after Grodd essentially jumped his own shark by trying to turn everyone into apes, Lex Luthor claims to make a return to a more serious Secret Society, resulting in the most absurd episode of Justice League Unlimited.
While Lex Luthor attempts to probe Gorilla Grodd’s mind for a means of resurrecting Brainiac, at coincidentally the same time that Doctor Fate tries to track down Gorilla Grodd’s location through The Flash’s mind, the resulting fusion between magic and science results in the Flash and Lex Luthor flipping bodies for some reason.
So you get two excellent stories at once: Lex Luthor in Flash’s body, which coincidentally is the second time that Flash voice actor and Smallville alum Michael Rosenbaum plays Lex Luthor, as his physical speed finally matches his mental quickness, as Luthor-Flash vibrates willy nilly through the JLU Watchtower, threatening to scramble people’s brains by vibrating his fingers through their skulls and displaying the full destructive potential of the Flash’s speed when not limited by morality.
During this grim Flash fight on the watchtower, the most hilarious rendition of Blue Streak but with super villains occurs in Secret Society head quarters, as the Flash, occupying Lex Luthor’s body, tries to be Lex Luthor as hard as he can. Every sentence is an awkwardly jumbled set of words, and in a Ferris Buellerian twist, the Flash manages to sleep with Lex Luthor’s girlfriend before a great train robbery.
The ridiculous nature of the episode is best reflected in the fact that the two best scenes of both stories occur in the bathroom. Lex Luthor, in Flash’s body, points out the primary problem of a large number of secret identity based plots as Lex takes a look at the Flash’s face without the mask in order to learn his secret identity, only to discover that he has no idea who he’s looking at. The Flash however reflects his inner villainy by refusing to wash his hands when leaving the bathroom. Oh, the humanity.
4. Taskforce X
“Taskforce X” is the Ocean’s Eleven of the Justice League Unlimited universe, focusing on the Suicide Squad, a group of death row supervillains drafted out of the electric chair to serve their country, infiltrating the Justice League Watchtower for one big heist. Although the squad is renamed as the bland Taskforce X, the suicidal nature of their mission is always brought to the present– not only does each Taskforce member have explosive Nantites coursing through their veins, but these are all simply human mercenaries on Taskforce X, with power sets ranging from “throws a boomerang really well,” to “shoots a gun really well.”
To help compensate for this lack of metagene, the rogues are tasked with retrieving The Annihilator Armor, a mystical ebon juggernaut originally commissioned for the God of War himself, Ares, fueled by rage and conflict. In its first appearance, the Annihilator really didn’t get to stretch its curb-stomping legs, as it was deactivated by a lame cease-fire. Here, everyone forgets about this episode, as the Annihilator is Taskforce X’s ace in the hole, crumbling the gigantic Atom Smasher and ripping J’onn J’onzz in two like a Cobra Commander action figure.
Even without the overpowered golem, “Taskforce X” shines because it demonstrates the variety of episodes that only could be produced in a universe as vast as Justice League Unlimited. All of the heist staples are here: The Clock King is the tactician and eye in the sky, Plastique is the C-4 strapped demolitions expert, Deadshot is the sniper and comic relief, Col. Flagg is field leader and the muscle, and Captain Boomerang is the obligatory wild card. Now you may notice that I left out the quintessential grease man, but that’s because the episode is just a big stealth run, finding yourself rooting for the villains and fearing every super powered individual who crosses their path. It’s Leverage with willpower fueled power rings, Breakout Kings with shape-shifting Martians, Metal Gear Solid but you understand what everyone is actually saying. This episode even features the inevitable backstabbers turning on their cutthroat teammates to ensure their escape.
When “Taskforce X” ends and Flagg tells Lawton that he has five more years of suicide missions before he is released from service, you can’t help but envision “Taskforce” X as an introductory episode to a completely new animated series.
Serving as more of a Batman episode than a Justice League Unlimited episode, “Epilogue” provides the Batman, the original animated DC hero, with a proper send off to all of his iterations — past, present and future.
The future Batman, Terry McGuinness, is the focus of the episode as we are essentially granted the series finale to Batman Beyond that was originally denied to us. Terry has matured into a fully grown adult, and in breaking into Amanda Waller’s home, a habit that Bruce Wayne did in his prime as well, Waller reveals that through tricky CADMUS dealings and genetic recombination devices, Terry McGuinness is the biological son of the Batman, and the lynchpin of project Batman Beyond.
The time line is a bit tricky for this episode, as we are given flashbacks both by Amanda Waller into the Batman of Justice League Unlimited, while adult Terry fills us in on what happened between Batman Beyond’s final episode and “Epilogue” with black-and-white noir flashbacks, showcasing a new JLU, an evolved Parasite, and a final nod to Batman Beyond’s rogue gallery.
Meanwhile, back in Waller’s flashbacks, we witness Batman (Bruce Wayne) take on another iteration of The Royal Flush gang, a gang that made their original broadcast appearance on Batman Beyond, had their origins revealed to us back in Justice League, and now, in Justice League Unlimited, help demonstrate the necessity of a man who dresses up like a bat in a world filled with laser-eyed Kryptonians, self-aware machine men, and hyper intelligent talking gorillas. As an added bonus, this new iteration of the Royal Flush Gang’s King looks exactly like Marvel Comic’s M.O.D.O.K which is absurdly appreciated.
Giant floating heads in floating chairs aside, literally everything that ever featured the Batman is brought to light here, from the CADMUS technology that was used on Tim Drake in Return of The Joker, to the Phantasm from Batman: Mask of the Phantasm used as McGuinness’ proverbial Joe Chill. Even the last shot of the episode, focusing on two policemen on patrol incredulously seeing the Batman on patrol, is a homage of the very first shot of the very first episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Ultimately, no bat shaped stone is left unturned in this curtain call for the caped crusader.
Do you remember when I said that I love the super villain team up? Well “Alive!” shows you what inevitably happens to any society comprised solely of thieves, rogues, back stabbers, seducers, psychos, hoodlums, traitors, deserters and guys with radioactive powered skulls. In the implosion of the Legion of Doom-themed Secret Society base, Lex Luthor loyalists and Gorilla Grodd guerrillas hold nothing back as they display the full array of their abilities without fear of a Justice League intervention.
In fact, not a single Justice Leaguer has a line in this episode devoted to villains, as each Secret Society member fights for his/her life. You come to understand why the Toyman is specifically a Superman villain, why Killer Frost doesn’t just call herself Frost, and even the perfect name for a Soviet DJ, the KGBeast, makes an appearance!
The episode ends with my favorite New God Metron, the recliner based observer of all things significant across time and space and likely Gossip Girl related dressing rooms, stopping time to tell Lex Luthor that his plan to resurrect Brainiac is a really, really bad idea and he should, for just once in his life, be cool and not do it. Lex tells him to shove his Moebius chair up his proverbial wormhole and goes ahead with his plan anyway, which leads to my number one episode and my favorite thing to say after emerging from the restroom:
“Let the Universe howl in despair, for I have returned.”
“Destroyer” picks up right where “Alive!” left off, with Lex Luthor’s surviving members of the Secret Society appearing on the doorstep of the Justice League Unlimited after having accidentally resurrected the literal God of Apokolips, Darkseid. Darkseid wastes no time in his lifelong pursuit to find the Anti-Life equation, which is a theoretical means to extinguish all hope in the universe, or a mind control device, or something evil it’s hard to be sure, it’s like string theory and The Silmarillion having a baby but using Ulysses as a surrogate.
Within seconds boom tubes — trans dimensional portals– open up across the globe as Secret Society and Justice League Unlimited decide to briefly join forces to kill as many of Darkseid’s Parademons as they can.
The heroes and villains of the DC animated universe embody the episode’s name as they give one final effort to take down as many Parademons and dragon tanks across the globe as possible, with each and every individual pulling out the dirtiest of tricks and hidden powers to go out as loud and noisy as they possibly can.
The highlight of these team-ups is the vanguard that takes on Darkseid’s flagship, comprised of Batman, Superman and Lex Luthor. Did you know that Batman could use his grapple to kill a guy? Or that he can outrun disintegration beams that send you across infinite existences also known as omega beams? ‘Cause he can, and he doesn’t even compromise his morals this close to the end, as even though Parademons aren’t people, a gadget-less Batman turns down Luthor’s spare pistol.
At the end of the day this episode destroys all fragments of reality in its grandeur, as Lex Luthor enlists the help of Metron to access the source wall, a 2001: A Space Odyssey inspired border to the universe, allowing Luthor to become the Deus Ex Machina in saving the world, joining Darkseid hand in hand to vanish out of their animated reality, probably to star in Starship Troopers together.
But of course there are just so many stellar episodes of Justice League Unlimited, and it’s hard to only choose ten of them– so what do you think? Am I crazy for omitting “Kid Stuff”? Do I think too much on the sleep time activities of super people? Is my lack of Question-related episodes a conspiracy? Does anyone actually like “Ancient History”? Let us know in the comments!