Justice League was on the air until 2006, which means it’s been 10 long years without one of the great superhero cartoons. Leading up to the release of Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice, I’m looking back on some of the best episodes Justice League ever brought us. (So of course, some spoilers follow.)
Last time, we took a look at a great episode focusing on DC’s most enduring superhero. But Justice League‘s secret weapon was its ability to tell stories just as fantastic utilizing much less popular characters. Case in point: “Double Date”, a Justice League Unlimited episode written by the talented Gail Simone. It opens with Huntress invading the compound of Steven Mandragora, a bloated but unnaturally tough crime boss. She’s stopped short by Martian Manhunter, who has been tracking her and moved Mandragora into federal protection.
Manhunter expels Huntress from the Justice League, but on the way to clean out her quarters, her obsession for revenge leads her across the hall to The Question. Well-known as the template for the popular Rorschach character from Watchmen, The Question’s blank face hides a mind racing with its own obsessions. Obsessions for information and to understand the global conspiracies he is sure exist. So Huntress makes a proposition: they help each other out with their obsessions, starting with killing Mandragora. The problem is, Huntress and Question are up against a more stable pairing: Black Canary and Green Arrow, who have been put in charge of protecting Mandragora despite their extreme distaste for the man. The two couples quickly come into conflict, made more complicated when Mandragora escapes custody to go on the run.
It sounds like a decent enough story of capes, crimes, and chase scenes. What makes “Double Date” more than decent is its sense of humor. Simone’s script is jammed full of sparkling dialogue that lend each character a distinct voice. (Huntress, when examining Question’s Big Board of Conspiracies, drops this gem with a cheerful imitation of awe: “I had no idea the Girl Scouts were responsible for the crop circle phenomenon.”) And since this a story about relationships, good and bad and ugly, the way characters exchange words tend to tell us how they feel about each other.
Green Arrow and Black Canary’s romance is established in a previous episode, but it’s still fresh and raw. Their respect and affection for one another grows naturally in front of our eyes, without diminishing either of them as individuals. In a cute reversal of gender roles, Black Canary is the more professional of the two when it comes to ignoring Mandragora’s crude remarks–until he takes a swipe at Arrow’s masculinity, and bam, fist to the face. Later, Arrow’s nature as a self-assured loudmouth annoys Canary, until that same nature puts them back on the trail of Mandragora. “You’re cute when you’re an insufferable smarty-pants,” she says, with only the slightest touch of sarcasm.
What goes on between Question and Huntress is a little tougher to read at first. The two certainly make good partners, united in their nature as impassioned outsiders unaffected by the judgment of others. But they’re also at odds with each other, and not just in the convenient-romantic-comedy-squabbling way. He’s a dork, she’s a sexpot. She’s hot-tempered, he’s cold as a snake. The Question’s motivation vanishes when Huntress admits she has no clues about any conspiracy. We’re left wondering just why they’ve ended up in each other’s company, all the way up to the episode’s very end.
And that end unveils relationships that we weren’t prepared to follow. Mandragora is shown to have killed Huntress’s crime boss parents decades ago, but now he has a son of his own. If she wants to get her revenge, she’ll have to create an orphan in her own image. In the end, there’s one thing that tips the scales for her… the intercession of Question. Behind that empty face, he’s been smitten with her all along. And although she’s hesitant (“I prefer my dates to have a face,”) Huntress ultimately returns his affections. Most importantly, though, the characters’ care for one another creates real stakes. Through humor and charm, we’ve become very involved in the ultimate showdown between Huntress and Mandragora.
It’s a shame this was Gail Simone’s only episode, because it’s truly the best candidate for the funniest and slyest script of the whole run. Her commitment to making the male and female characters sit on even ground is both successful and respectable. And the whole damn thing is just so enchanting. I could do no better honor to it than to let her dialogue take us out, with the final exchange of the episode:
(Huntress breaks off a kiss with The Question, and proceeds to drag him away by his tie.)
QUESTION: Where are we going?
HUNTRESS: Don’t ask so many questions.
(There is a brief pause.)
BLACK CANARY: I’m sorry, but… ew.
I’ll be back to talk about “Wild Cards”, but in the meantime, we’d love to hear your Justice League memories in the comments!
All images credit of: Warner Bros. Animation