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Summary:  The Justice League is formed…just in time to repel [another] alien invasion.  Wonder Woman and J’onn J’onzz make their debut appearances; as do "known entities" Green Lantern and Hawkgirl (as Superman and Batman have met them previously).  In the end the invasion is repelled, and Batman constructs the first Watchtower and offers it to the League as its headquarters.

JL Roll Call:  Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, J’onn J’onzz, Hawkgirl

Featured Character:  J’onn J’onzz

Villain:  The Imperium

Supporting Villains:  The Alien Invaders

 

Cartoon Network on “Secret Origins”:  “J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, comes to Earth to warn of an impending alien invasion.  With the help of Superman and Batman, he gathers the world’s greatest heroes to fend off unstoppable invading armada” (courtesy of Cartoon Network).

Bruce Timm on "Secret Origins" (circa 2005):  "This was a tough one because we had a lot of ground to cover.  We basically knew we would be cheating the audience if we didn't do an origin of the Justice League story, so we pretty much had to do that.  I will say that this is one of those episodes that I kind of wish I could do over.  Parts of it work and parts of it don't.  I think the structure of it is kind of off; I think the first half-hour is really good and exciting, and you're not sure where it's going, but it started falling apart somewhere in the middle of the second episode when we go into the Martian flashback.  By part three, the action scenes weren't paced properly—something that was all of our faults—and it felt like it was just time to wrap it up.  You know, the Justice League escapes and kicks some butt, but it just kind of limped to a conclusion, I felt.  It gets the job done; I just wish it had been a little bit more rousing than it actually is.

"Another big part of the problem is that we had three different Justice League teams in different parts of the world, but they're all in pretty much the same environment.  Each one of them was inside one of those alien earth defiler machines and there was a lot of repetition.  I really wish we had figured out a way to make each one of those little pockets parts of the story be radically different from every other part.  Fortunately we took it as a good learning experience.  Whenever we did a three-parter from that point on, we made sure that when we split the team up into smaller teams, that each one was in a completely different kind of location and environment and were doing different parts of the story.  'The Savage Time' and 'Starcrossed' are huge improvements in that department.  In hindsight, probably the biggest mistake was delaying the creation of the Justice League until episode two” (courtesy of RetroVision CD-ROM Magazine).

Shaun McLaughlin on "Secret Origins" (circa 2001):  “It’s the first time that they all come together, it’s the first time that some of them have met, [and] it’s the first time some of them come to Earth or into another world.  There are going to be some surprises.  I think we’re pretty faithful to the comics without being slavishly faithful” (courtesy of [website name removed]).

DarkLantern on “Secret Origins” (circa 2003):  “Notice that Superman referred to Green Lantern as ‘John’ in ‘Secret Origins’—suggesting that they have definitely met before.  However, just because Batman knows who Hawkgirl is doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve met or worked together prior to this episode” (courtesy of Toon Zone).

Butch Lukic on Batman in “Secret Origins” (circa 2005):  “Batman’s always been a loner; he really doesn’t fit the mold of being part of the team.  I thought we were going to push that a little more, but he ends up building the Watchtower for them!  It’s kind of odd, actually” (courtesy of ToyFare Magazine).

Bruce Timm on the wholesale slaughter of the Alien Invaders (circa 2002):  “Cartoon Network has been a total dream to work with.  They’ve pulled us back a few times when we may have gone too far in terms of pushing the envelope on action, but these are mean, nasty aliens!  They’re weird shape-shifters, so who knows if they’re actually dead?  It felt right for the story, but everything is a balancing act” (courtesy of Starlog Magazine).

 

Images

Screen Grabs from "Secret Origins"

"Secret Origins" Image #1 | "Secret Origins" Image #2 | "Secret Origins" Image #3

"Secret Origins" Image #4 | "Secret Origins" Image #5 | "Secret Origins" Image #6

"Secret Origins" Image #7 | "Secret Origins" Image #8

"Secret Origins" Image #9

 

Commentary

"I once thought I could protect the world by myself, but I was wrong.  Working together we saved the planet, and I believe that if we stayed together as a team, we would be a force that could truly work for the ideals of peace and justice."

"What, like a bunch of super-friends?"

"More like a Justice League."

"Do you have any idea how corny that sounds?"

An exchange between Superman and the Flash from "Secret Origins"

It’s easy to be overly-critical of "Secret Origins," especially considering the quality of later episodes, but—to be fair—we must take into account the magnitude of what the episode had to accomplish.  After all, "Origins" had to introduce the seven team members, give them an enemy to fight—one that was powerful, but not one whose character development would overshadow that of the heroes—and give them a reason to stay together at the end of the episode.  In that regard, they succeeded, and all the credit is due for that accomplishment.  And while we can’t entirely overlook the episode’s weaknesses—the hackneyed, Independence Day-like plot; the sometimes corny dialogue—we can accept that it was part of the new series’ growing pains.

In that regard, can forgive Superman for his haggard appearance and George Newburn for his flat delivery.  We can ignore the parallel / bizarro Metropolis; one where police officer Maggie Sawyer isn’t responding to SCU [Special Crimes Unit] distress calls, where Snapper Carr has replaced Angela Chen as the series’ resident news anchor, and where Lois Lane is nowhere to be found.  We can even overlook the clichéd “resurrection” of Batman at the episode’s climax and the inexplicable ending (red goop = good, blue goop = bad?) that brought the Imperium’s invasion to an end (if it was that easy why didn’t the Martians do it centuries ago?).  Instead—just this once—we can allow these inaccuracies to roll off our backs, and just revel in the chance to see Batman and Superman reappear after nearly a two year absence from the airwaves, and bring five new friends along for the ride.

The real treasure to be found in watching "Secret Origins" lies in the characterization of the fledgling team members.  In essence this is J’onn’s episode, but Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman receive hefty amounts of screen time as well.  Also, unlike on Superfriends—the series’ spiritual antecedent—each character possessed a distinct personality that set him or herself apart from the other six League members.  In addition, "Origins" also provided a taste of the interplay between characters that would become a running theme on the series.  True, the Superman / Batman dynamic was already well-established from their previous encounters, but the Green Lantern / Flash dynamic—with its veteran cop / rookie cop model and Odd Couple sensibilities—proved to be a excellent pairing, providing material for many future episodes.  Also, while Bruce Timm may not have realized it at the time, the seeds for the Batman / Wonder Woman flirtation may have been planted in "Origins," where Batman’s comment, “Let’s see what she can do,” could be interpreted a number of ways (also, Wonder Woman’s comment following Batman’s “death":  “He was a true warrior”).  As for the other, more visible relationship between Green Lantern and Hawkgirl—the one that would come to define the series—while it wasn’t given any screen time here, isn’t it rather odd that they kept appearing together throughout the episode?

Finally, "Secret Origins" set up the Justice League series in other ways.  For example, "Origins" featured the first appearances of supporting cast members Snapper Carr, Hippolyta, and General Wells, who would appear frequently throughout this series and Unlimited.  In addition, our first clue into the nature of Thanagar was given in this episode—beginning the series-long Hawkgirl story arc that culminated in "Starcrossed"—and, while its origins stretch back further into the annals of DCAU history, the “Cadmus / government conspiracy” arc of Justice League Unlimited received some service here as well (news flash:  the U.S. military imprisoned J’onn J’onzz in this episode, not the Alien Invaders).  All in all, this episode did have its flaws—huge flaws—but it did an admirable job of establishing itself as a series and picking up the torch left by its animated forebears.

 

Images courtesy of Toon Zone and The World's Finest.

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