Hi! Welcome to my episode-by-episode recap of, and reaction to Justice League. There will be no spoilers beyond the current episode. As is my custom with recaps, I will give you a short summary recap followed by a long and
unnecessarily helpfully detailed version. My reaction will follow at the end if you just want to scroll past all of the recap.
If you want to see my prior Justice League episode reviews, click HERE:
THE QUICK AND CLEAN SUMMARY:
Aquaman is arrested by Orm and his Generals when he returns to Atlantis. The Justice League arrives to warn Aquaman but they are imprisoned by Orm and the Atlanteans when they make the attempt. Mera, the wife of Aquaman frees them, in order that they might find her husband. Meanwhile, Orm chains Aquaman and his infant son to a rock wall, then blasts the wall so that it slides into a volcanic crater below. Aquaman frees himself and saves his son by cutting off one of his chained hands.
Aquaman returns and undergoes surgery to replace his lost hand with a harpoon tip. Then he and the Justice League go to the North Pole to stop an Atlantean weapon from melting the ice caps and covering the surface with ocean water. They succeed. Batman crawls into a nuclear reactor protected by Green Lantern’s ring while Aquaman fights and seems to kill his brother Orm. As the episode ends, Aquaman reflects that his fear of the surface dwellers blinded him to an even more dangerous threat.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:
The artwork in this show is great but the slow walk of superheroes during the intro makes me chuckle. Batman and Superman both look like they are wearing American football shoulder pads from the 1980s.
After the recap, we find Orm telling Aquaman that he has stood in the shadows and watched him lead Atlantis nearly to ruin. He says he will stand aside no more – nor will his Generals. Aquaman tries to fight off the soldiers surrounding him but he is subdued quickly. Orm orders him to be taken away while then ordering General Brak to ready his troops at once.
A few moments after this is done, Mera runs to Orm and says she has received word that her husband has returned. Orm tells her that he wishes that were true. Orm tells her, as he holds her by the shoulders, that he will protect her and her son. The mention of her son seems to alarm her. Orm says he has taken the precaution of putting her son under his protection. This leads Mera to run out of the throne room to her infant son’s crib. She finds the crib empty. Orm has followed her and he tells her that these are dangerous times. She asks, suspiciously, where he is.
Orm: The prince will come to no harm as long as you cooperate.
Mera: How can you do this?
Orm: I assure you. I am only doing what is best for Atlantis.
We find Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, J’onn, and Superman in a jet that doubles as a submarine, on its way to Atlantis. Superman tells Wonder Woman to stop just outside of Atlantis’s borders and Green Lantern warns everyone not to expect a warm welcome. Just as Superman speculates on slipping beneath their defenses, Atlanteans begin firing on them.
Green Lantern wants to fight but Wonder Woman warns him to remember why they are here. The Justice Leaguers exit their ship and urge the Atlanteans to hold their fire citing an urgent message for their king. Inside the Atlantean vessel, a soldier asks General Brak how they should respond and he tells the soldier to destroy them. The fight is relatively one sided, ultimately ending with an angry superman picking up a giant rock and using it to destroy the Atlantean vessel. Not far in the distance is the domed city of Atlantis. The four heroes go toward it. They encounter what J’onn describes as depth charges, which explode, and incapacitate all of them.
We find them inside Atlantis with monitors fixed around their skulls. Orm confronts them and calls all of them worthless surface scum. We see that they are in a throne room of some kind, in front of a crowd. Superman speaks and asks where Aquaman is. Orm says that he thought the surface dwellers killed him. Wonder Woman says that he lives and that he returned to Atlantis. Superman adds that they came to warn him about an Atlantean plot on his life. Orm shouts that these are lies and deception. He fires his triton at Superman’s chest and says that he considers this latest incursion nothing less than an act of war. Orm calls for them to be executed as enemies of the crown.
Orm: Then I will wipe out the surface world forever.
The four Leaguers are taken to a room with metal walls. Metal arm cuffs are placed on each of them to hold them in place. The monitors on their skull begin emitting electricity at them. The room begins to fill with water. Wonder Woman asks J’onn if he can phase through the restraints and he says that he cannot focus to do so. Lantern speculates that the devices on their heads are crating a synaptic discharge.
Wonder Woman: Then we’ll drown.
Elsewhere, General Brak tells Orm that his troops are almost ready to depart. Orm orders him to proceed and says he will join him after he attends to some unfinished business. Mera watches as runs off after Orm leaves.
Soldiers are speculating about which surface dweller will drown first. Suddenly Mera arrives and clubs both of them over the head. She then pushes a lever and drains the tank where the Leaguers are drowning. When the tank is empty, she runs inside and frees them from their restraints. Wonder Woman asks her why and Mera replies that she also fears for the life of her husband.
Aquaman is cuffed to a rock wall somewhere in the ocean. Orm arrives and asks him if he is enjoying the view. Aquaman tells him that killing him will not make the people of Atlantis serve him. Orm agrees noting that lineage can get messy. He says he has a solution though. He pulls a swaddled baby – Aquaman’s son – from his water-based motorcycle. Aquaman realizes Orm’s intentions and yells “no!”
Wonder Woman compliments Mera on their kingdom, as she and the Justice Leaguers walk through it. A moment later they come under fire.
Back to Aquaman and Orm.
Orm: A pity. The young prince will be yet another victim of the surface dwellers’ aggression.
Aquaman: [growls in fury and frustration]
Orm: Sadly, that will also make me the rightful heir to the throne.
Orm takes out a dagger, holds it over the baby, then stabs… the dagger into the rock wall. He hangs the swaddled baby from the hilt of the dagger and leaves, saying that he is off to avenge their deaths. As he leaves, he fires against the rock wall and causes the rocks there to become loose. The rock that Aquaman and his infant son are chained to begins to slip and fall into a volcanic crater below. The loosened rock enables Aquaman to free one of his arms. He is unable to free the other as they fall. With their heated death approaching, he pulls the screaming baby from the dagger and holds him with his arms. Then he takes the dagger from the wall and cuts himself free… by chopping off the part of his arm that is cuffed to it.
Back in the Atlantean palace, J’onn and Superman tell Mera that they have searched the entire palace and have found no sign of Aquaman. As Mera begins to weep, THE KING OF ATLANTIS enters the room while holding his baby son. His left arm ends below the elbow in a bloody poorly bandaged stump.
Mera: [gasps at Aquaman’s arm]
Aquaman: [icily] Where is Orm?
Aquaman is having his arm seen to while Superman marvels at the fact he cut off his own hand. Green Lantern says that he told Superman that Aquaman is a mad man. Mera asks if it is madness to sacrifice all for something you love. Aquaman asks his surgeon to hurry.
A moment later, Batman calls Superman and tells him that temperatures are rising on the North Pole. J’onn warns about the ecological effects of the melting ice. As the male Justice Leaguers say that they need to leave to attend the crisis, Wonder Woman asks about the crisis here. Aquaman adds that there may be a connection between the two things and shares that Atlantis developed a weapon to melt the ice caps and flood the world in the event of a confrontation with the surface dwellers. He says it was built as a weapon of last resort to protect Atlantis should the surface world ever attack.
Aquaman: But I never armed it.
Green Lantern: Orm must have using the plutonium from the submarine.
Superman declares that Orm must be stopped and Aquaman tells him that Orm will be. He gets off the operating table with a harpoon hook in place of a hand. Everyone arrives on the North Pole. Aquaman is annoyed at the others for following and then tell him that like it or not, they have a stake in the outcome. He warns them to stay out of his way just before the ground around them explodes. Atlantean submarines surface through the ice and Orm gives the order for soldiers of Atlantis to attack.
Batman arrives in his own jet and warns Superman that the glacier is already starting to melt. Superman replies saying that he knows but that they have their hands full. The battle ensues with the Justice Leaguers and Aquaman having the advantage but not decisively so. Then Aquaman enlists the aid of an orca to crash a couple of Atlantean ocean-bound motor cycles.
Green Lantern: I saw it but I still don’t believe it.
Aquaman enters a cave below the ice and finds the Atlantean weapon that is melting the ice caps. As he begins to disarm it, Orm shoots him from behind with a blast of electricity from his trident. The two begin to fight.
Above the ice outside, Batman is in his jet and Green Lantern is flying. Batman says that there is not much time and that if they do not shut that thing down the entire world is doomed. Green Lantern asks if this is a bad time to say “I told you so.”
Aquaman gets the upperhand in his fight with Orm. He tells his brother that it’s over. Orm blasts the weapon with his trident and says that Aquaman is right.
Orm: The tide is against you. The reactor can’t be shut down.
Outside, the glacier begins to crumble and Green Lantern shouts that they are too late. Batman says, “not yet,” and runs inside. While Aquaman and Orm fight, Batman says that he will have to go inside the machine and shut it down manually. He asks Lantern who has followed him in if the Green Lantern ring can protect him. Lantern says that they will find out. Batman enters the reactor protected by Green Lantern’s light.
Orm suddenly notices, in his fight with Aquaman, what Lantern and Batman are doing. He shouts at them to get away from the reactor. He blasts Lantern who is outside but his shot bounces off the ring’s protective shield. Aquaman attacks his brother again.
Orm: You’re not fit to wear the crown you weak and gutless…
[rocks fall out beneath his feet leaving him gripping a ledge to keep from falling]
Aquaman stands over him on the ledge. Orm begs him to help. Aquaman pulls the trident from Orm.
Aquaman: I believe this is mine.
[Orm appears to fall to his death]
Back at the reactor, Green Lantern calls for Batman to hurry. The strain of protecting him inside the reactor is growing. Just then, the reactor shuts down.
Back in Atlantis, the betraying Generals tell Aquaman that they never believed in Orm’s plans but say that Orm forced them.
Brak: We were only following orders.
Aquaman orders that the Generals be removed from his sight. Once they are gone, he tells Mera and the Justice League that he can only blame himself for this outcome.
Aquaman: My fear of the surface dwellers blinded me to those I should have feared most. And it cost me dearly.
Green Lantern: Don’t be too hard on yourself. Maybe we’ve all misjudged.
Aquaman tells them that all he wants, all he has ever wanted, is peace and security for Atlantis. Superman says that after all that has happened, it will not be easy. Aquaman agrees, looks at his wife and son, and says that some sacrifices are worth it.
The story of the evil brother, who betrays his good brother the king, in order to claim power… it’s always a good one.
Justice League tells this version of that tale quite well. I was a little surprised that a cartoon – even one not explicitly aimed at children – would give us a plot to murder a small baby and Aquaman cutting off his own arm in order to save that baby. We even see his arm subsequently in a bloody bandaged stump. This is a *dark* story. That said, it is also gripping and well told. We leave this two-part episode knowing Aquaman quite well. He’s a hard, proud, noble, and exceedingly fierce man. He’s also good to the point of extreme self-sacrifice when necessary.
The writers manage to provide some subtle innuendo regarding the threat of global warming. I appreciate that they did this during an episode that focuses on Atlantis inasmuch as *some* people believe that if there was a real Atlantis, it probably went beneath the waves during the rising sea levels that followed the end of the Younger Dryas period about 12,000 years ago. Plato puts the date for Atlantis’s destruction at just about the same time that geology tells us that there was a sudden massive rise in ocean levels.
Did the writers forget that Superman has freeze breath? Or that the Fortress of Solitude is close by? Perhaps if things had gone really sideways, the Man of Steel could have taken extra measure to resolve the crisis. Most of the time, I feel as though he is just sitting back and paternally cheering on his teammates for doing well while knowing that he really does not need them.
I really liked the depth of the episode’s conclusion. Aquaman reflects on how his fear of the surface-dwellers blinded him to the threat of his brother. This feels like a universal truth of real-world politics. When one side loses the ability to be self-critical, and thus rationalizes that self-criticism must be neglected until the larger threat is dealt with… well, sometimes that neglect hides the *real* larger threat.
A wiser Aquaman looks at his baby, to the future of his people, acknowledges his own mistakes, and wants to make the future better.
All in all, this is my favorite story arc from Justice League to date.