With the live-action Justice League movie making headlines around the world, we here at Geektified thought we'd share some love for Bruce Timm's animated Justice League. Airing in the early 2000s, the animated series was nominated for nearly a dozen awards, including two Emmys, and is regularly cited as one of the best animated series of all time.
Justice League ran for five seasons and actually comprises two shows: Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. After the conclusion of the second season, Justice League was retooled/renamed Justice League Unlimited for the remaining three seasons. JLU differs from its predecessor in that it has a larger variety of characters and the two-part episode structure is replaced with a single episode structure. Besides those two differences, the only real reason for the name change is to confuse new legions of fans.
The series is terrific for both newcomers and veterans of DC Comics and is enjoyable for any age group. A great jumping off point, Justice League truly excels at embracing the huge scope of the DC Universe, introducing fans to more obscure favorites like Solomon Grundy and Booster Gold, all while telling exciting and character-driven stories.
We highly recommend that you watch all of the episodes, but if you want a taste of what Justice League can offer, Geektified has assembled our own super-team of episodes that you need to see before the release of the new movie. Without further ado, the Justice League Top 10.
1) Injustice For All (Season 1, Episodes 18-19)
Not every television show works right out of the gate. Despite the experience that creators Bruce Timm and Paul Dini had with animated DC franchises, Justice League initially struggled to find its footing, unsure how mature it wanted to be in tone and subject matter. This episode doesn't fully commit to the more adult themes, but it does show glimmers of what Justice League would ultimately become.
The plot kicks off when Lex Luthor assembles his own team of super-villains to fight the Justice League. In keeping with the wide-ranging spirit of the show, Lex's team features mainstream staples like The Joker, but also lesser-known characters like Star Sapphire, Ultra-Humanite and Solomon Grundy.
What makes this episode special is that the writers imbue all of the characters with recognizable personalities and motives. Rather than stock heroes and villains, we see the real characters for the first time. That's what allows Batman, when taken captive, to fight the Injustice League (Luthor's genius evidently doesn't lie in branding) with nothing more than words. Maybe not an all-time great, but “Injustice For All” is a fun episode that shows the true potential of the series.
2) Wild Cards (Season 2, Episodes 22-23)
We warmed up with “Injustice For All”, but “Wild Cards” is Justice League playing with a full deck (Ed Note: We are so, so sorry). “Wild Cards” is aptly named, not only because it takes place in Vegas and features the Royal Flush Gang, but because it just keeps throwing more and more surprises at us.
A seemingly routine mission to disarm a bomb in Vegas goes truly off the rails with the introduction of The Joker. Starting with The Joker's bomb being both more and less than it seems, the ante is upped continuously throughout the episode (Ed Note: We are looking into who hired this guy. Somebody will be fired for this blunder). To make things even more interesting, The Joker is filming the superhero proceedings and proceeds to narrate the action directly to us, the audience, turning the action into it's own show within the show. This isn't superfluous either, but leads to even more twists and turns. Fake bomb reveals, brainwashing, government experiments, psychological terror, fourth wall breaking, explosions galore - this episode has it all. A masterwork of writing, directing, and voice acting.
But beyond all the plot pyrotechnics, this episode is about trust. We see it with The Flash trusting Batman's bomb expertise, with Superman pleading with a foe to believe that he is not the enemy, and with the Joker's inevitable defeat. Nowhere do we see the theme of trust more than in the romance that lies at the heart of this episode. Green Lantern and Hawkgirl have been edging towards a relationship all season and “Wild Cards” delivers on that in spades (Ed Note: This hurts us as much as it hurts you). Their beautiful final shot together shows that Hawkgirl trusts Green Lantern with her identity as well as her life.
3) Starcrossed (Season 2, Episodes 24-26)
In an incredible conclusion to season two, all of the heroes' secrets are unearthed. If “Wild Cards” was about trust, this episode is surely about betrayal. Conflicting loyalties cause the Justice League to be torn apart from the inside and all their chickens come home to roost. Earth is occupied by an alien force and the remaining Justice League superheroes must flee into the populace, blending in to survive.
A three-part epic, this episode has something for everyone: romance, action, cheesy one-liners, the list goes on! This episode is a favorite because of the operatic drama and expansive action, but also because of the little moments. Batman and Wonder Woman, close to being caught, are saved by a café owner who was simply moved to help strangers. We hear so much about protecting Earth and this episode reminds us why it is so worth protecting.
This could have been the last episode of Justice League and the show makes sure we understand that while there may be betrayal and heartbreak, there is also forgiveness and compassion. A bittersweet finale that shows just how far this show has come.
4) Fearful Symmetry (Season 3, Episode 4)
With the introduction of more superheroes, supervillains, and vigilantes, Justice League Unlimited naturally gravitates towards more morally gray areas. An expanded cast means more viewpoints as each hero has a different idea of the problems in society and how to tackle them. “Fearful Symmetry” is the first episode to really capitalize on this idea.
When Supergirl, a new introduction to the Justice League, begins to have hyper-realistic and disturbingly violent dreams, she looks for help among her new colleagues. This leads to the introduction of The Question, a faceless muttering conspiracy nut, who is a highlight throughout Justice League Unlimited.
Supergirl, The Question, and Green Arrow track down the source of her visions and find themselves pitted against nothing less than the US government. This is the beginning of what is often called the Cadmus Arc which pops up throughout the next two seasons. Arguably the most mature examination of superheroes in an animated medium, the arc explores the famous maxim: “Who watches the Watchmen?”
5) The Cat and the Canary (Season 4, Episode 1)
Season 4 is the apex of Justice League and “The Cat and the Canary” starts out the season in style. Before the CW's Arrow we could see Black Canary and Green Arrow together right here. After Black Canary discovers that her mentor, Wildcat, is illegally fighting instead of helping the Justice League, she enlists Green Arrow to help track him down.
On one level, “The Cat and the Canary” is about how even heroes need to feel needed and validated. But mostly it's just a whole lot of fun. The episode has a ton of kinetic action sequences and pairs those with some great comedy.
Also want to point out that Morena Baccarin does a great job voicing Black Canary. Whoever was in charge of casting must have loved Joss Whedon shows because we are also gifted with the voice stylings of Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Adam Baldwin, Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof and Juliet Landau. Didn't mention it at the top, but the voice casting in general for Justice League/Justice League Unlimited is incredible (and incredibly Geeky). It is hard to think of another show with such a wealth of talent.
6) Task Force X (Season 4, Episode 4)
Whether or not you enjoyed this summer's Suicide Squad, you will love “Task Force X”. In a continuation of the Cadmus Arc started in “Fearful Symmetry”, the government attempts to use villains to infiltrate Justice League headquarters.
A classic heist episode, complete with double-dealing and backstabbing, this episode is fantastic entertainment from start to finish. A great examination of doing bad thing for a good reason, the only regret is that we didn't get an entire series dedicated to these villains.
7) Double Date (Season 4, Episode 6)
Who knew that an episode about revenge could be so much fun? The Huntress, a decidedly lesser-tier superhero, is expelled from the Justice League after seeking out the supervillain who killed her father. For help in tracking him down, Huntress turns to none other than the Question. The Question agrees to help but only for his own enigmatic reasons.
Opposing the Huntress and Question are power couple Black Canary and Green Arrow. Heroes fight heroes as the villain watches with amusement. A perfect balance between dark themes and sparkling dialogue easily vaults this episode into our Top 10.
8) Question Authority (Season 4, Episode 9)
The entire Cadmus Arc, and arguably the entire DC Animated Universe, has built to this episode and it was the first pick for the Geektified list. In a recurring theme for our Top 10, it also heavily features The Question.
Events kick into high-gear when The Question and Huntress discover a video tape showing Superman murdering Lex Luthor. Although he knows this is an alternate reality (see Justice League episode “Legends” for the backstory here), The Question believes that this reality is just one push away from doing the same. Determined to prevent the same catastrophe from befalling the Justice League in this dimension, The Question decides to deal with Luthor himself. Of course when The Question catches up with Luthor, he finds that he's been playing the wrong game all along.
Meanwhile, Superman must deal with the fallout of the tape and questions about his own power. A personal story for Superman as well as the rest of the superheroes, “Question Authority” is a mature meditation on paranoia, trust, and power. The first of three consecutive episodes that bring the Cadmus Arc to a satisfying close, “Question Authority” may be the high point of the series as a whole.
9) Flash and Substance (Season 5, Episode 5)
If “Question Authority” was a dark and mature examination of power, “Flash and Substance” shows a kinder more gentler side to superheroics. This episode shines a spotlight on The Flash, showing that what makes him a superhero is mostly his innate good-natured outlook.
This episode really just celebrates being a good humble person with your heart in the right place. Sure there are villains and grudges, but when we connect to each other and believe in what we do, the world is a much better place for it. Plus, this is one of the funniest episodes in the entire show. A quirky favorite, “Flash and Substance” proves that in an age of dark and gritty superheroes, more optimistic and light-hearted fare can be just as powerful.
10) Destroyer (Season 5, Episode 13)
The final episode of Justice League Unlimited and the connected DC Animated Universe, “Destroyer” is the end of an era. A more fitting tribute to DC comics would be hard to find. We see all kinds of characters here, from Superman to Giganta, all teaming up to fight the villainous Darkseid.
The entire episode is essentially one giant fight sequence and director Dos Santos delivers. A lot of rip-roaring sequences ending with an all-time great Superman beat down. This may not be the strongest episode in terms of plotting, but emotionally it is very powerful and serves as a fitting sendoff to a great series.
Honorable Mentions: The Terror Beyond (Season 2, Episodes 15-16), This Little Piggy (Season 3, Episode 6), Flashpoint (Season 4, Episode 10), The Great Brain Robbery (Season 5, Episode 8)
We hope you enjoyed this list. If you've seen the show, please let us know your Top 10 in the comments and, if you want any other Geeky show to be given the Top 10 treatment, be sure to shoot us a message so we can agonize over those. Full episodes of both Justice League and Justice League Unlimited are available on Netflix.