It's another good Justice League Unlimited episode! More relevantly though for anyone watching it as a bonus episode released with the Wonder Woman animated movie
, its villain is Ares! Yup, the god of war. He's a great idea for a villain, actually. Being a deity he's powerful enough to outclass third-rank superheroes like Hawk and Dove, but his motivation is also clear and idiosyncratic enough that it's easy to build stories around him. He eats war, basically. Violence and hatred make him stronger. This would be his only episode of Justice League International, but he commissions a weapon called the Annihilator with the same ability to feed off negative energy and that would return in later episodes.
Ares is pretty cool, in fact. His voice is a bit toffee-nosed compared with Alfred Molina in the Wonder Woman animated movie
, but otherwise it's easy to believe he's the same guy and he doesn't feel like a kiddie cartoon version.
The story involves Ares building his Annihilator and then handing it on a plate to a conflict-torn country in Eastern Europe. One of these guys has a Saddam Hussein moustache, but otherwise there's nothing Middle Eastern about them and indeed the country's an ongoing one in the DC Animated Universe. It's called Kaznia and it's got North and South factions, civil war, a hereditary monarchy and so on. Obviously he expects them to rip each other to shreds. The fact that it's more complicated than that is the theme of the episode. What's more, it's a pretty well-developed theme too. Hawk and Dove themselves embody the dichotomy in two characters, one a brash violent conservative and the other's a peace-loving liberal.
For Wonder Woman though, it's an internal conflict. She's the greatest female hero in the DC universe and so theoretically the one you'd expect to stand up for peace, but she's also a warrior, an authority figure even among other superheroes and in a bad enough mood to go on pummelling criminals when they're all but already unconscious. J'onn tries to talk to her about it. She doesn't listen. (As in To Another Shore
, it's suggested that the two of them understand each other particularly well, better than between most superheroes.) Anyway, Wonder Woman's Rambo tendencies soon prove counter-productive when it comes to her fellow Gods. When she tries to beat the information she needs out of Hephaestus, all she gets is a reminder that he built the Annihilator, but also her own armour. From Hephaestus's point of view, there's little difference between them. Ares of course would like nothing better than to see her go apeshit. Then when it comes to the life-or-death confrontation, the way to defeat the Annihilator is to leave it up to Dove. To do this, she has to hold back Hawk physically. Alert viewers might notice some symbolism here.
That's a lot to fit into 22 minutes, especially when you consider that it's also pretty ambitious at the basic action level (classical Gods, indestructible mythological robots, Balkan civil wars). I'm really starting to like this series. You've got the on-the-nose debates between Hawk and Dove, who could bicker for their country and are surprisingly fun to watch. Even kids will read that level. That side of things is well-developed enough that you could be forgiven for not noticing how it ties into Wonder Woman's character arc, but you'll see a lot more in the episode if you do.
I was surprised that Dove wasn't female, incidentally, but that's because these are the pre-Crisis Ditko originals. They're brothers, Hank and Don Hall. I liked them a lot. Crucially the episode doesn't turn either into a strawman. Dove's the one who does cool things like taking away people's guns and returning them snapped in two, plus of course he's the one who overcomes the Annihilator by playing the DC Universe's super-equivalent of Gandhi, but he also manages to get himself captured by the bad guys and tied to their superweapon. Sometimes it just doesn't pay to try to arrange a negotiation. Of course Hawk and Wonder Woman rescue him, but what's important is that the episode isn't letting itself get preachy.
As a side-note, would I sound like an idiot if I suggested that comic books might be the biggest factor in the modern generation's knowledge of ancient mythology? (Mostly Greek and Norse.) Well, maybe comic books and Disney. Wasn't Wonder Woman uttering oaths to Gaia decades before Lovelock proposed the Gaia hypothesis of holistic environmentalism in 1970? Hephaestus. Ares. I liked that too. After all, you could hardly get a more literal updating of Greek gods than modern superheroes.
After only two episodes, I'm getting dangerously tempted to buy more Justice League Unlimited. I only watched these because they were there on my Wonder Woman bonus disc, but of what I've seen so far, I'm impressed. It's doing a solid job at both the crowd-pleasing superhero antics and the stuff that's going to interest me as a grown adult. It's got characterisation and themes. I presume it's a children's show, but it's one I'd happily have on my shelf. If more episodes came anywhere near me, I'd watch them.