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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Justice League Unlimited: "Ultimatum"

Season Three, Episode Nine: Ultimatum
Written by:
J.M. DeMatteis and Dwayne McDuffie
Directed by: Joaquim Dos Santos
Original Air Date: December 4, 2004

A horde of nasty-looking creatures are attacking an oil drilling platform, breathing fire and attacking the workers. The first hero on their way to deal with the situation is...Aquaman!
Following right behind him in the air are Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, who all eventually make their way to the rig's main platform, where they are quickly surrounded by the creatures:
...dig it! The Super Friends are together again!

But before any of the Justice League can lay a hand on the creatures, a huge gust of tornado-like wind descends upon them, lifting them all into the air. Who's doing this?

Our four Leaguers look up, and see some other heroes have joined the fray:
Before we can learn who these new heroes are, the lava creatures regroup, and attack even more ferociously. Both sets of heroes are now involved, and we quickly see that the younger ones are more than a little cocky.

They call themselves The Ultimen, consisting of Juice, Wind Dragon, Long Shadow, and a brother-sister team known as Shifter and Downpour (Black Vulcan, Samurai, Apache Chief, and the Wonder Twins, anyone?). And while they get the job done, they're hardly team players, and only Long Shadow seems to be the only one who understands how inexperienced he and his friends are at the superhero game.

Despite this (or maybe because of it), Wonder Woman offers to let them all join the League, but Wind Dragon goes on a long speech--which seems simultaneously earnest and ironic--about how they're not ready yet.

We follow them back to their HQ, and we learn that their boss is none other than Maxwell Lord, who is running this team of heroes like a for-profit business. He goes on VoxNews (nice gag) and gives an impassioned, populist-drenched speech about how these heroes aren't "elites", removed from the people they're here to protect.

Later, Giganta and Bizarro are attempting a prison break in an attempt to free Gorilla Grodd out of jail. Wonder Woman arrives, and Bizarro starts smashing away at her, saying he'll do anything for the woman he loves--Giganta--even "breaking her boyfriend out of prison." Wonder Woman tries to reason with Bizarro, asking him what will happen to him once Giganta's furry squeeze is out of jail. This causes Bizarro to have a moment of introspection:
...but its over as soon as it arrives, and he goes back to hitting Wonder Woman with chunks of prison wall. Luckily, Long Shadow arrives, and using his powers to increase in size ("Enekchok!"--implied, but not said) he knocks out Giganta, and eventually WW does the same to Bizarro.

Afterward, they have a private talk, and Long Shadow explains how he got his powers--from a set of standard well-meaning but dangerously careless scientists, who in this case were his parents.

Wonder Woman again offers League membership, but he is dragged away by a phone call from his teammates. Long Shadow seems sad, but resigned.

Back at the Ultimen HQ, we see that the young heroes are being spied on as they sleep by Maxwell Lord, Professor Hamilton, and...Amanda Waller. It seems that the Ultimen's powers are becoming increasingly unstable, and Waller callously talks of a "second team."

Later that night, the Ultimen break loose from their room, and make a horrifying discovery:
...a room full of clones!

Once they learn of this, Amanda Waller tells Maxwell Lord the Ultimen are to be decommissioned. Lord tries to argue, but Waller stays firm. The Ultimen find Maxwell Lord as he tries to leave, and threaten him until he admits the horrible truth: they are all clones, "born" less than a year ago as an experiment, all implanted with fake memories and family members. Its codename is the Cadmus Project.

Enraged, the Ultimen take off, smashing their way into the building where Cadmus supposedly is being run from. The fact that there are other people in the building who might be harmed is of no concern to them except for Long Shadow, who leaves his teammates to try and get people to safety.

He is assisted by Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman, who offer to help the Ultimen as well. But by now the others are filled with rage, and attack the Leaguers, zapping Long Shadow in the process.

Shifter and Downpour attack Aquaman, filling a nearby room with water (big mistake!). Aquaman grabs a nearby pillar and smashes shifter upside the head with it:

Downpour, desperate and furious, pounds on Aquaman's chest, to no effect. Aquaman takes the young hero out with the back of his hand:

(There's a great, super-quick moment where you see Downpour, realizing the hitting is doing no good, brace for the impact of Aquaman's slap)

Batman and Superman defeat Juice and Wind Dragon, and Long Shadow reveals that they each have only months, maybe even weeks, to live--their bodies have become completely unstable.

Lord and Waller arrive to take possession, but the Leaguers insist Long Shadow is coming with them. Batman looks Waller in the eye, daring her and her military unit to take them on. Waller stands down, but not before calling Batman "rich boy", which actually manages to surprise the Dark Knight Detective.

The Leaguers accompany Long Shadow to the JL Satellite, where they welcome him to the team:
...the end.

A fine episode, filled with action, humor, and a dollop of social commentary--and that's even without realizing this whole show is a big tribute to the old Super Friends series. You've got Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, plus alterna-versions of the Wonder Twins, Samurai, Apache Chief, and Black Vulcan (the Ultimen's HQ even looks like the old Hall of Justice). The only person missing is Robin, who was busy fulfilling his legal obligations over on Teen Titans Go!

Plus, Aquaman gets to hit someone with a giant slab of metal. That's always fun!


Earth 2 Chris said...

I remember really wishing Robin was in this one, but WB's edicts of no cross-polination amongst shows at the time was very limiting. Pretty soon, Aquaman would be gone from JLU because of this!


David J. Cutler said...

I remember the finale had a scene of all the JLAers running out of the hall of justice triumphantly two or three at a time--all but Aquaman, that is. That stung. And before that Black Manta had to be called Devil Ray. Curse you, Mercy Reef!