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.)
We’ve taken a look at three great episodes so far, but none of Justice League‘s infamously epic season finales. That changes today with “Starcrossed,” so seriously, if you want to avoid spoilers, turn back on this one.
“Starcrossed” starts off with an alien starship attacking Washington DC, impervious to conventional weaponry. Fortunately, another starship appears and shoots this one down. The Earth’s rescuers are the Thanagarians, Hawkgirl’s people. They insist that their longtime enemies, the Gordanians, are preparing to invade Earth, and without their aid, the humans will perish. Despite reluctance, Earth agrees, and the Thanagarians begin building a massive shield generator in the Gobi Desert. However, the Justice League is taken aback, as it quickly becomes apparent that Hawkgirl has been lying.
Hurt and confused, her friends come to find that Hawkgirl is not a lost keeper of the peace but a military leader who arrived on Earth with intentions to scout it and to understand its people. A devastated John Stewart also soon discovers that Hawkgirl is betrothed to the Thanagarian general in charge of the Earth operation, Hro.
Hawkgirl’s betrayal of the Justice League’s trust forms the emotional core of the episode; how would you react if your best friend both turned out to be spying on you and started treating you like a second-class citizen all at once? The time we have spent with Hawkgirl, rooting for her and worrying for her and laughing with her, suddenly feels very hollow, and we realize we–the audience–have been lied to by extension. It hurts, in a way more effective than you’d imagine.
And it only gets worse. A suspicious Batman boards the Thanagarian mothership and finds out the Gordanian invasion is a hoax perpetrated by the bird-people. Hro, however, catches Batman, and quickly puts his backup plan into play. The rest of the Justice League is captured with the help of Hawkgirl, and the entire Earth is suppressed by Thanagarian occupation forces. Our heroes make it a narrow escape and become fugitives, fighting with all their might to find a way to send the Thanagarians home. They must be quick, as the “shield generator” is actually a hyperspace bypass that is meant to launch the Thanagarians past the Gordanian homeworld defenses and allow them to attack their enemies at the source.
Meanwhile, Hawkgirl discovers that Hro’s plans will wipe out the entire planet, and she begins to feel guilty. Her struggle is well drawn and despite my anger, I couldn’t help but start to feel a little sympathy for her. Either she dooms an innocent planet and many of the people who loved and trusted her, or she completely cripples the only real plan the Thanagarians have to survive the war. Either way, she loses a very real part of herself.
Later in the episode, this conflict blends into one between her feelings for Hro and for Green Lantern. Hro, insanely jealous, brings this to the surface, but by episode’s end there’s no denying that the love between Hawkgirl and Green Lantern played a part in the ultimate salvation of Earth.
Despite this, the ending is suitably dark for such a morally ambiguous episode. The Thanagarians, as expected, are spiritually crushed, and Hro orders them to leave Earth to attempt their mission elsewhere, a mission that is in grave danger of failing. Half the Justice League despises Hawkgirl, and the other half is still hurt and wary. They take a vote to determine her future membership, but she declines to hear the results and resigns on her own. In many ways, our superheroes have lost, and the seemingly unstoppable Justice League has suffered major setbacks. The Flash even muses that it might all be over.
Two pivotal scenes with Hawkgirl close out the episode. The first has her meeting Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s long-suffering butler. Serving her tea while she waits outside her membership hearing, he promises that “whatever happens in that room, in my eyes, you’ll always be a hero.” Later, she says goodbye to Green Lantern as she departs for a quieter life of solitude. Before she goes, Hawkgirl says to Lantern, “I love you, John. I never lied about that.” He reciprocates, but only after she has flown out of earshot.
In just a few lines, Hawkgirl’s sacrifices have been acknowledged, and she is free to seek peace knowing she did good. But her heart and her sense of belonging, will undeniably remain shattered for a long time yet. It’s a moment of stunning maturity and emotional strife that marks Justice League as the classic series it is.
All images credit of: Warner Bros. Animation