Justice League and Justice League Unlimited were two series that represented the pinnacle of the DC Animated Universe created by Bruce Timm. These cartoon shows rested on the shoulders of all the great work that had come before it including Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, and Batman Beyond. The animation was as crisp as it had ever been. The voiceover cast was top tier. The stories were lightly serialized giving them an epic scope. Justice League mainly focused on seven core League members of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Martian Manhunter, and Hawkgirl. Justice League Unlimited broke open the flood gate to included scores upon scores of DC characters both famous and obscure.
However, not all the episodes landed on two feet. Over the course of 90 episodes, it was bound to happen that not all of them would be instant classics. Some stumbled for a misfire in tone. Others had lame villains. Some of these episodes featured terribly annoying characters who would never be seen again. A sure sign even the creators knew they had made a mistake. The following 15 episodes represent the low points of these series. First-time viewers might check them out, but returning fans are encouraged to skip over them.
This episode is a spotlight on the 13-year-old turned superhero, Captain Marvel. Whether the other Leaguers know his age or not, they all treat Captain Marvel like their kid brother. Batman even praises Captain Marvel’s sunny disposition. Everyone likes him except Superman. Fans of the show might not like this episode because of Superman’s jerk attitude. However, Captain Marvel makes some boneheaded mistakes of his own.
Watching this episode it’s hard not to be reminded of the ending to 2013’s Man of Steel. The end of this episode features epic destruction as Superman and Captain Marvel duke it out in Lexor City, a utopic city created by Luthor for low-income earners (note: it was actually a trap to bait Superman). Citizens flee in terror and entire buildings collapse. The sheer raw power displayed by Superman is frightening. In the end, the only character who comes out winning is Lex Luthor for manipulating Superman and Captain Marvel into fighting each other in front of the media.
14 KIDS STUFF
"Kids Stuff" was the third episode of Justice League Unlimited and it showed to its audience that this series would take on a new, experimental style with its storytelling. The idea of turning four key Justice League members into kids is cute. However, even in a 22-minute episode, the gimmick outstays its welcome. Not to mention the episode's villain, Mordred, is beyond annoying with his grating whining. He’s reminiscent of Joffery from Game of Thrones!
Another problem with the episode is the depiction of Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. Wonder Woman is reduced to a finicky tween girl who tries playing mind games with Batman and Superman. It’s not exactly what you’d think the future warrior princess acted like as a child. Similarly, Jon Stewart had been characterized as a hyper-dedicated and rigid military man. To see him as a hyperactive, Flash-esque, character is jarring.
13 THE DOOMSDAY SANCTION
Doomsday, the character who killed Superman, makes his second appearance in this episode. However, unlike his first showing, he is the main villain of this story. Doomsday is being held captive by the Cadmus organization. Professor Milo, the snivelling twit who is so impotent and ineffective as an evil scientist, frees Doomsday. Doomsday, of course, immediately dispatches Milo and sets off to fight Superman.
Most of what makes this episode bad is the fight between Superman and Doomsday in the volcano. Despite the setting, it’s a fairly boring fight that doesn’t have a lot of visual appeal. It’s just a back and forth volley of punches and slamming into the wall. The lava surrounding them isn’t a threat either. Both characters are seemingly unaffected by it. Doomsday does give Superman a walloping, but in the end he’s too easily defeated.
Fans of Superman may love this episode, especially the beginning, because of how many Superman villains show up. Toyman, Metallo, Weather Wizard, and Livewire all team up to take down the Man of Steel. However, what soils this episode is the appearance of intergalactic bounty hunter Lobo. In a serious episode that features the "death" of Superman (he got hurled millions of years into the future), Lobo is an unwelcome, unfunny presence.
Most of the episode is a complete downer. Almost all of the world, save Batman, thinks Superman is dead. Characters take time to reflect on what Superman meant and how to be a hero going forward. Lobo shows up with his normal boastful, arrogant self. Perhaps he was supposed to lighten the mood. He doesn’t. Lobo has always been a grating character. Just because the writers adapted his personality perfectly doesn’t mean he is a good character.
Ultimatum is the episode that features homage characters to the Super Friends cartoon series. Five hip teens belong to an up and coming superhero squad called the Ultimen. They are a group of superheroes packaged like a boy band and managed by super-creep Maxwell Lord. Not only are the Ultimen superheroes turned teen idols, they’re also a secret project headed up by the evil Cadmus organization.
What makes this episode so bad isn’t the central concept, but rather the lame and generic personalities that make up the Ulitimen. Perhaps this episode would have fared better if there was more of a build up to the shocking revelation about the Ultimen members. It’s hard to care about characters that are introduced and disposed of in one 22-minute episode.
10 THE ENEMY BELOW
Even to this day, the debate rages on as to whether or not Aquaman is a lame hero. His reputation as a silly character has been cemented ever since the Super Friends cartoon. One thing that does not help is lackluster episodes like this one. Rather than fight against horrific sea creatures or defend Atlantis from interlopers, this episode is all about a royal power struggle between Aquaman and his brother, Orm.
In this episode Aquaman is characterized as a stern leader who secretly just wants his family to be safe. His brother Orm is a ruthless leader who wants to wipe out the surface dwellers. It’s a common plot that has been done time and time again. For what was arguably the best DC Animated Universe series, this episode was littered with cliches.
9 THE BALANCE
This episode has a pretty great set up. Felix Faust escapes his mirror prison to don the Annihilator suit. All the mystical members of the Justice League are experiencing massive amounts of pain. And to top it all off, it’s an episode that tackles the tension between Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl they have developed after Hawkgirl’s people invaded Earth.
What puts it on this list is the ending to the episode falls completely flat. After traveling to Tartarus (Hell) to stop Felix Faust, Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl must located Faust and weigh the moral implications of freeing dark god Hades from imprisonment. Also, Felix Faust is a lame villain and the Annihilator suit itself has more personality than he does.
Mophir, a character introduced in this episode, is one of the main reasons this episode ranks among the worst. He’s a straggly old man with a high-pitched whiny voice who talks in the third person. Every time he’s on screen he makes you cringe. Worse, the character gives a lengthy exposition dump about the race of snake people who made the black crystal that is hypnotizing people. It’s hard to watch and listen to.
Almost the entirety of the first half of this episode is dedicated to a lame subplot about the Flash going toe-to-toe with TV pundit Gordon Godfrey. The Flash continually embarrasses himself with boneheaded mistakes that Godfrey uses to turn the public against the Justice League. The Flash ends up the only hero not possessed by the evil gem. He saves the day by using a giant flashlight that hadn’t been mentioned before or after this episode.
7 MAID OF HONOR
Vandal Savage, immortal being and ruthless warlord has the potential to be one of the most dangerous men in the entire DC universe. In this episode, however, his grand scheme is a boring power grab within a royal family. It’s a shame too. This episode aired shortly after the epic three part "The Savage Time" in which Savage becomes the leader of the Axis powers in WWII.
Instead of a massive military operation complete with crazy futuristic weapons, Savage’s plan this time is to marry a spoiled brat of a princess to overthrow the fictional country of Kaznia. That princess, Audrey, is another reason why this episode is so bad. Her character is annoying and forces Wonder Woman to guard her during her nightlife outings in Paris. This episode ends up being a waste of both Vandal Savage and Wonder Woman.
6 WILD CARDS
The Royal Flush Gang, normally a C-list group of criminals, featured heavily in the DC Animated Universe. They were in several episodes of Batman Beyond and Justice League. Unfortunately, even with their numerous appearances, they are still a lame concept for a criminal gang. This is a shining Joker episode. It’s too bad he’s saddled with a bunch of boring characters.
The Joker has set up bombs all throughout Las Vegas. He’s overtaken all the television stations to show a live feed of the Justice League trying to defuse the explosives. In order to break up the action there’s a lengthy flashback to the formation of the Royal Flush Gang. Aside from Ace, the other members all have generic powers that we’ve seen time and time again in superhero fiction. This episode concept could have worked in any other city and incorporated other villains than the Royal Flush Gang.
5 PATRIOT ACT
General Wade Eiling, a recurring character in Justice League Unlimited, finally snaps and becomes the very thing he hates: a super-powered man! It’s too bad his transformation turns him into arguably the most generic and terribly designed character in all of the Justice League series. He looks as close to the Incredible Hulk as was legally allowed.
He's literally a giant body with purple-gray skin, no shirt, ripped pants, and able to leap far distances in single bounds. The only true difference is Eiling retains his intelligence and ability to talk. The only heroes who can stop him are a group of non-powered League members who were at a parade. The parade sequence was full of unfunny jokes and whining from the characters that they were at a parade. The audience is whining too.
4 THIS LITTLE PIGGY
Yes, this is the episode in which Wonder Woman is turned into a pig. The whole episode is full of farcical gags. Red Tornado calls out in a robotic pig squeal looking for Wonder Woman. Z-lister B’wana Beast hops around in his speedo underwear. Greek mythological villain Medusa ends up being an informant who reveals secrets. Wonder Woman, in her pig form, somehow manages to use her bracelets to deflect bullets?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with mixing Justice League and comedy. The Justice League International series from the '80s is a laugh riot. However, this episode is a bridge too far in terms of silliness. It’s a ridiculous, contrived episode with strained humor. And to cap it all off the final moments of the episode feature Batman singing a song in a lounge bar.
3 SHADOW OF THE HAWK
Hawkgirl’s character biography in the comic books starts her off as a Thanagarian police officer on a scouting mission to Earth to study crimefighting tactics. It was then confusingly retconned that she and her husband were actually reincarnated lovers who first lived in Egypt. This episode is the attempt by Justice League Unlimited to set up that aspect of Hawkgirl’s character.
It falls flat for a variety of reasons. One is that there had been incredible character work for Hawkgirl throughout the three previous seasons all revolving around her Thanagarian heritage. Two, Carter Hall is a downright creep for suddenly showing up and claiming he and Hawkgirl are long lost lovers. Three, the episode ends on a note celebrating Carter Hall’s stalker behavior.
2 ANCIENT HISTORY
This is the sequel episode to Shadow of the Hawk. Like its predecessor it chronicles Carter Hall’s creepy pursuit of Hawkgirl, features Shadow Thief as the villain, and depicts Green Lantern and Hawkgirl’s awkward post-relationship encounters. It’s a classic sequel in every way. This episode is almost beat for beat the same as Shadow of the Hawk.
It also contains a lengthy flashback to Egypt about the original Carter and Shayera Hall. This flashback completely grinds the momentum of the episode to a halt. For whatever reason, DC keeps trying to push this Egypt angle. Most recently, portions of the CW’s Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow dedicated time to these flashbacks. In all cases, the Egypt flashbacks with all their relationship drama were the worst parts of the respective series.
1 HAWK AND DOVE
It’s a shame that Wonder Woman ended up being in several of the worst episodes in these Justice League series. In other episodes, she’s always a highlight. Even in the episodes on this list, it’s usually other factors that make it a bad episode. Such is the case with this episode. The fact that Hawk and Dove is a bad episode rests solely on the characters of Hawk and Dove.
Hawk and Dove are two brothers who bicker nonstop about their political differences. It would be an interesting angle to take if not for the whiny nature of their arguments. Also, for whatever reason, Martian Manhunter, the Justice League operations manager, decided that Hawk and Dove just had to be the ones to help Wonder Woman out in this situation? After this initial appearance, they’re never even heard of again.
Which episode of Justice League do you feel was the worst? Let us know what you think in the comments!