Most comic book fans watching Justice League and Justice League Unlimited in the early ’00s remember it as one of the best animated series of all time (and for good reason). It’s easy to forget, though, that Justice League‘s episodes frequently captured mature themes and jokes well beyond an ostensibly younger audience. The all-ages quality of the show is a large part of what makes it the definitive take on the Justice League for a generation, but it’s also what allowed the showrunners to sneak a surprising amount of adult content and sexy, sexy innuendo past the TV censors.
While Justice League Unlimited never slipped into downright garish or crass humor, there are a number of illusions to the league’s sex lives that you simply wouldn’t expect in a cartoon about superheroes. The moments range from the predictable (allusions to Power Girl’s infamous window) to the downright bizarre (Amanda Waller, the director of the Suicide Squad, alluding to Batman’s “habits”). It is certainly up for debate just how worthy any of these instances are for true censorship, and there’s no denying Justice League Unlimited is funnier and more enjoyable with them. Nonetheless, it remains surprising that all the below scenes and dialogue snuck onto the screens of adoring fans.
In “Epilogue,” the Batman Beyond, Terry McGinnis meets Amanda Waller, who proceeds to share a number of details about his true origins and relationship to Bruce Wayne. The episode is an endearing, quality piece of closure for fans of Batman Beyond, but it also leads to one of the strangest lines in all of Justice League Unlimited.
As Waller explains to Terry that he was created from Batman’s DNA, she says, “Bruce’s DNA was easy enough to obtain. He left it all over town.” This leads to Terry raising his eyebrow in the form of a question and a now geriatric Waller declaring “Not REMOTELY what I meant.” Prior to this interaction we just assumed Waller meant he left blood around Gotham from all his crime fighting, but Terry and Waller seem to imply maybe he was ejaculating everywhere he went too.
You could argue that one of Justice League Unlimited’s most notorious jokes should be censored just as much for questionable insensitivity as it should crossing a line of decency. Hawkgirl once again finds herself playing foil to the Flash’s love life, with Hawkgirl encouraging to just go over and talk to Fire & Ice when Flash expresses romantic interest.
Since Flash is acting like a scared school boy, Shayera tells him, “You’d probably be wasting your time anyway. I hear she’s, y’know… [Camera shows Fire & Ice laughing and smiling] Brazilian.” The implication is that Fire and Ice may well be lesbians and Flash couldn’t get a date with them anyway. Flash at first looks stunned, then laughs sarcastically telling Hawkgirl “very funny,” which seems to weirdly dismiss the reality of multiple sexual orientations.
Viewers and critics are savvier than ever at identifying the infamous male gaze, and few characters are as frequently caught in its clutches as Wonder Woman. You don’t have to look any deeper into the past than the glaringly obvious upskirt shots of Gal Gadot in Justice League (as compared to no comparable shots in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman) to see this in action.
In Justice League Unlimited, Ray Palmer, the Atom, hitches a ride smack in the middle of Wonder Woman’s cleavage in what can only be described as a clear effort to draw attention to boobies. The show writers manage to avoid any of the obvious fraternity jokes that could come along with such a scene, but it’s still an egregious attempt to guide teenage eyes to Wonder Woman’s ample frame.
If there’s one thing Flash readers think when they think of Gorilla Grodd, it’s “total babe magnet.” Ok, that’s actually not at all true, but Grodd is quite the hot commodity in Justice League. First Giganta takes a liking to the malicious monkey, followed by Eastern European flirty sorceress Tala declaring “Giganta’s not nearly enough woman for Grodd.”
Tala and Grodd then become an item, at least until Tala senses Lex Luthor would make a better leader of the Legion of Doom. From his new prison cell, the duo engage in the following raunchy exchange, unbelievably slipped past censors. Grodd says, “Ah, Tala, my old groupie. I so miss… bending you to my will,”followed by Tala telling Grodd to “Go eat a banana.” We don’t really think she means banana.
Hawkgirl proves a necessarily foil for Flash’s faux-masculine banter throughout Justice League, perhaps most savagely burning the braggadocious Flash in one of the series’ earliest episodes. While it’s overdone and far from original, if there’s anything that will take down an arrogant hero, it’s a joke about their inability to satisfy a lady.
In “Injustice For All, Part 1,” Flash cooly reminds everyone that he’s the “Fastest Man Alive.” Hawkgirl can’t let the bragging go, and takes Wally down quickly with a cold “Maybe that’s why you can’t get a date.” Despite the intended younger audience, this joke really only makes sense in the context of premature ejaculation or Flash leaving ladies unsatisfied in the bedroom. What’s the alternate interpretation? He eats dinner to fast and ruins his dates? We don’t know what the censors could have been thinking.
Hawkgirl and Hawkman have one of the more complicated, long lasting romances in all of comics, and the two eternal lovers get back in the swing of things during Justice League Unlimited. While we know the duo are endlessly destined to get back together, their cycles of rebirth and reincarnation lead to frequent periods of time where one is way more hopelessly in love than the other.
As the pair rekindle the flames of romance, we hear the following reference to their intimate life. Carter Hall tells Shayera “I miss the dress,” leading to Shayera coyly remarking “You didn’t miss it last night.” It’s another great example of Justice League playing with mature moments without explicitly stating the obvious about the duo’s long nights together.
The Greek Gods of DC’s comics universe receive a near infinite array of characterizations playing on their various aspects depending on the creators at work. Whereas he’s a blacksmith saving (all male rejects of Themyscira) lives in Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s New 52 Wonder Woman, in Justice League Unlimited god of invention Hephaestus is a lecherous old creep. It’s a wonder both Wonder Woman and the censors put up with him.
After noting that Diana, noted warrior goddess who could end him with a glare, has more of a “build” than Hippolyta (her mother), Hephaestus has the gall to catcall “Come back some time and I’ll let that suit out” as Diana flies off to battle Ares. He could have shouted “Take it off!” and it would have been similarly subtle.
Body swap episodes are a tried and true trope in comic books, with everyone from Batman and Superman or Spider-Man and Wolverine trading places for at least an issue or so. Justice League Unlimited experimented with a wickedly unexpected swap when Wally West (Flash) and Lex Luthor traded bodies during “The Great Brain Robbery.”
The swap leads to some hilarious moments (such as Flash proclaiming he’s true evil because he doesn’t wash his hands after using the bathroom), but also sets up the Flash for significantly more action than he’d been seeing as a hero. Lex’s supervillain girlfriend, Tala (having moved on from previous fling, Gorilla Grodd) basically tackles him into a closet for some “rest.” As Flash (in Lex’s body) proclaims “That’s not at all restful,” clearly implying Tala is getting down and dirty with Lex.
Justice League Unlimited frequently plays up the budding romance and attraction between Green Arrow and Black Canary, beginning from a point where the longtime comic book lovers don’t know one another. From the very first episode, Oliver Queen eyeing Black Canary is enough motivation to convince him to hang around the Watchtower as a member a little longer.
One of the more overtly steamy moments between the two (well, really just between Ollie and his private thoughts), is when Ollie is explaining to young, innocent Supergirl that dreams can be pretty real sometimes. As he eyes Black Canary’s voluptuous figure walking past in the Watchtower cafeteria he sleazily remarks “I had this one the other night…” and trails off into some memory clearly inappropriate for the teenage girl across the table.
John Stewart (Green Lantern) has a way with the ladies of Justice League Unlimited, developing a romance with Hawkgirl that lasts throughout the series run, as well as a relationship with newcomer Vixen. John is frequently portrayed as stoic and slightly overmatched by these powerful and flirtatious women, and develops a wonderful dynamic with Vixen.
In the episode “Hunter’s Moon,” John gets irritated with the more carefree Vixen and sternly tells her “Do you know what I can do to you with this ring?” Rather than act intimidated by John’s boastful posturing, Vixen seductively replies “Promises, promises.” This moment is an incredibly clear indication that somebody writing Justice League Unlimited was writing some salacious slash fiction about Green Lantern rings used intimately behind the scenes.
Taken alone, in isolation, a news reporter stating that the Fastest Man Alive is “like the entire track team at once” is a believable, if flawed metaphor. Stated breathlessly by Linda Park clearly swooning over the heroic Flash, and suddenly the line becomes a fantasy we can’t believe snuck past the censors.
In the episode “Flash and Substance,” this is exactly what we see from Linda Park barely able to contain her composure while reporting on the Flash. She has a more innocent stumble leading into the previous line, stating, “When we come back, I’ll try to get with him… get to him… for an interview. Are we off? Geez. He’s a total babe.” So sure, it’s a surprise this line made it past the censors, but do you Linda, do you.
A surprise highlight of Justice League Unlimited came in the form of a budding romance between Huntress and Question. The pair of outsiders are somewhat unlikely league members, and establish a bond as a result. In the episode “Grudge Match,” Huntress attempts to lighten up the duos investigation by initiating some tantalizing phone sex. This leads to the following exchange between the two: “So, what are you wearing?” “Blue overcoat. Fedora.” “You really stink at this.” “Orange socks?”
For all his knowledge, Question’s complete inability to grasp the intricacies of dirty talk make for some of the more risque (and hilarious) moments of Justice League Unlimited. Despite his confusion, if nothing else, Question can rest assured that he still got the girl in the end.
Deadshot comes in hot in his Justice League Unlimited appearance during “Task Force X.” Upon meeting the rest of the newly assembled Suicide Squad, Deadshot lecherously tells Plastique he’s already seen pictures of her (with Plastique flirting back “That’s all you’re gonna see”).
Shortly after, Amanda Waller describes the plans of the team’s first mission together, with Plastique reacting by saying ” “Blow up a nuclear reactor? Sweet.” Deadshot quickly follows up with a desperately creepy “Do I just watch, or do I get to join in?” While Will Smith’s portrayal of Floyd Lawton was a wisecracking assassin with a strong sense of honor, here in Justice League Unlimited Lawton smells a bit too much like lubricant and has seemingly attended more key parties than he can count.
During the Justice League Unlimited episode “Fearful Symmetry,” Kara finds herself having nightmares of crimes she can’t remember committing, but that feel oh so real. After some investigation involving Green Arrow and the (always excellent) Question, Supergirl discovers a mysterious clone of hers wreaking violent havoc across the city.
The unlikely trio track down footage of this Supergirl lookalike (not to mention Power Girl easter egg). Not one to let the obvious slip by free of commentary, Green Arrow notes, “She’s a little more…[insert egregious camera zoom on Super clone’s cleavage here] mature than you.” It’s one thing to demonstrate that Kara’s clone is more mature than her by steaming up her outfit, but having the much older Oliver Queen zooming in on her feels like a shot right at the heart of the censors.
The passion between Green Arrow and Black Canary is palpable throughout Justice League Unlimited but never more so than when the two meet in the sparring ring. The show’s extension of libido reaches hot and steamy heights with Black Canary taking off her jacket to spar and revealing a curvaceous figure. Alongside Ollie’s white tank, this scene alone may be responsible for 75% of all sexual awakenings among comic fans ages 25 to 27.
In a scene that we can’t quite believe made it past censors, Black Canary says “”You happy the punching the bag, or you want to a few rounds with me.” Ollie then ogles Black Canary before she says “I am talking about sparring,” and Green Arrow replies “That’d be nice, too.” There’s no doubt what was really on his mind.