Through the power of Netflix I was recently able to rewatch one of my favorite TV shows of all time, Justice League. The animated DC series—a part of the larger animated universe typically known as the DCAU or DC animated universe—focused on the combined lives of the Justice League members Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, Flash, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman.
Created with the combined efforts of Bruce Timm and Dwayne McDuffie, the show balances the personal lives of the Justice League with their public lives as heroes. There’s a strong emphasis on interpersonal relationships within the show, which is something missing from more recent ventures in fantasy and superhero based cartoons. Justice League effectively creates bonds between its characters.
The friendship that develops between Wally West (Flash) and Jon Stewart (Green Lantern) is just as real and nuanced as the romance developed between Jon and Shayera Hol (Hawkgirl). There are no filler episodes. Each episode builds towards creating a strong team of people who were thrust together through circumstances of alien origin and, after undergoing many trials, they became a league of friends.
The storylines throughout the show are top-notch. I was left genuinely surprised by a plot twist that occurred in the third season. There’s no especial emphasis on any specific character. In fact, Batman probably has the least amount of solo episodes of the series, a nice switch from the overwhelming amount of other animated material dedicated to the character.
Another highlight of the series was the strong focus on its female characters. This is one of the few animated adaptations of Wonder Woman that fans have, and she shines. The show strays from her original origin storyline, but it excels at providing her with continued development throughout the series. Her friendship with Batman and Superman feels organic and she’s never depicted as below them in any way, shape, or form. She’s their friend and equal with her own internal flaws and struggles, just like them.
Shayera is one of the most complex animated characters in cartoons. Her backstory is engaging—her storyline is one of the highlights of the entire series—and she defies every strong female character stereotype there is. In later seasons we meet other big name heroines such as Dinah Lance (Black Canary), Helena Bertinelli (Huntress), Kara Zor El (Supergirl), Mari (Vixen), and many more. There are lady heroes and lady villains, and they’re all well-rounded, interesting characters.
The show meant a lot to me as a child. I was able to see that women and people of color could be heroes. The show purposely chose Jon Stewart to be its Green Lantern over the original, better known, Hal Jordan, it added Hawkgirl over Hawkman to its team roster, and showcased them as actual characters and not sidekicks or comedic relief.
I love going back to rewatch episodes and catching the many references made to the comics. There’s a great storyline that touches upon the relationship of Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor. They even managed to include the Suicide Squad in an episode! Did I mention Amanda Waller? Well, she’s going toe-to-toe with Batman and Lex Luthor and surprising them both with her competency is reason enough to watch the show.
Justice League is a great show to watch with the family. It’s fun and engaging enough for children, while providing some of that subtle adult humor with storylines that are mature, but not above being kid-friendly. The animation is a bit dated compared to most cartoons today, but everything else has stood the test of time.
Go turn on Netflix and watch the entire series. The only thing you’ll regret is the fact the DVD sets are impossible to find.