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Summary:  Following an international incident involving an Atlantean warship firing upon a U.S. nuclear submarine, Aquaman goes before the World Assembly in an attempt to broker a treaty, but is attacked by a costumed sniper.  Seizing his opportunity, Aquaman's half-brother Orm, backed by a faction of the Atlantean military, seizes the throne of Atlantis.  Now, the Justice League must help their ally reclaim his kingdom before Orm declares war upon the surface world...and kills the monarch's infant son.

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

Featured Character:  Aquaman

Villain:  Orm

Supporting Villain:  Deadshot


Cartoon Network on “The Enemy Below”:  “When Superman convinces Aquaman, the King of Atlantis, to come to the surface world and negotiate a peace treaty on behalf of his people, Aquaman’s evil half-brother Orm takes advantage of Aquaman’s absence to seize control of Atlantis.  Turning to the Justice League for help, Aquaman must reclaim his throne before Orm can launch an all-out war against humanity” (courtesy of Cartoon Network).

Rich Fogel on "The Enemy Below" (circa 2001):  “Because Aquaman is so special, everyone on the crew went all out on this one.  I watched both parts yesterday, and I was blown away by the epic scope of the story.  Trust me, you don’t want to miss 'The Enemy Below.'  I have a feeling people will be talking about this one for a long time to come.  And we’re already talking about another possible Aquaman story for the (hopeful) next season, so stay tuned!” (courtesy of [website name removed]).

Bruce Timm on “The Enemy Below” (circa 2005):  “My complaints are mostly in the looks of it—we had switched over to a digital palette, because we’d switched over to doing digital ink and paint and camera work and that’s something that plagued us all the way through Season One.  Basically we took our old cartoon color acrylic paint palette and transferred it to a digital format and something got lost in the process.  The colors got too bright; they print actually a little bit milkier and brighter than they did when it was actual ink and paint.  We had so many other things to be aware of, that it wasn’t something we really focused on until quite late in the first season, when it was too late to do anything about it.  So that show is too bright to me.  I think it needs to be much darker and richer visually.

“The story I thought was pretty good.  The dialogue—and this plagued us in that first year—sounds like place holder dialogue to me; an over-reliance on superhero cliché speak.  That kind of really jumps out at me when I watch that show, but the story itself is strong.  I like the new bad-ass, barbarian version of Aquaman.  When we broke the story, we knew the scene where he cut off his hand was going to be one of those classic moments that everybody was going to be buzzing about.  Technically, I wish I could go back and do my special edition of it and pump it up just a little bit in terms of the animation, but it’s still strong.  Fortunately, that was the show where the composers really started finding their groove as to what the music of Justice League should sound like” (courtesy of RetroVision CD-ROM Magazine).

Dan Riba on “The Enemy Below” (circa 2005):  “Originally, Deadshot was scripted as being Black Manta, [but] it didn’t seem appropriate for him to be there as an assassin.  [Also], Dave Johnson ended up designing a wonderful Atlantis.  We wanted it to feel futuristic and primitive at the same time” (courtesy of ToyFare Magazine).

nothing on what Batman said to Deadshot:  “Batman said, ‘I know where you live'" (courtesy of Toon Zone).



Screen Grabs from "The Enemy Below"

"The Enemy Below" Image



“I can only blame myself.  My fear of the surface dwellers blinded me to those I should have feared most, and it cost me dearly.  […] All I want—all I’ve ever wanted—is peace and security for Atlantis.”

“After what’s happened it won’t be easy.”

“I know, but some sacrifices are worth it.”

An exchange between Aquaman and Superman from “The Enemy Below”

An early stand-out episode, “The Enemy Below” serves as a definite improvement over “Secret Origins” and “In Blackest Night.”  As recounted by Bruce Timm above, the composers for the series began to move away from the generic music of the two prior episodes, providing a regal score worthy of an episode dealing with king and country.  Also, as previously stated, this episode functions mainly as a highlight reel for guest star Aquaman, and the script was tailored to emphasize the strongest events and relationships that define his mythos (the only noteworthy omissions were sidekick Aqualad, who is a supporting cast member of Teen Titans, and enemy Black Manta, who recently appeared as Devil Ray in “To Another Shore”; more about him later).  In addition, this episode was noteworthy in other ways, such as being the first to introduce political issues—both timeless and timely—into the mix.

With the first episode dealing with an invasion from forces outside the planet and the second one taking place almost exclusively in space, the undercurrent of “The Enemy Below” focuses on global politics and the difficulties that can erupt from dealing with nations unrecognized by governing bodies like the fictional World Assembly (a stand-in for the United Nations; why they can’t use the actual U.N. is a mystery to me).  The main conflict of “Below” deals with the fact that Atlantis is not recognized as a sovereign nation—it is unknown by most, and the few who do know of it remember the barely-averted conflict from the Superman episode “A Fish Story,” where Aquaman nearly declared war on the surface world (never mind the fact that Luthor started it, but the story of his attempt to murder Aquaman probably didn’t make the papers).  In terms of this series, the world sees Atlantis as a rogue state—a monarchy with powerful weapons that is ultimately unknowable, as its secrets are hidden beneath the waves.

The same holds true for Atlantis itself, who distrust the “surface dwellers” (their derogatory name for the “others” that exist above the oceans) that attempted to kill their king and continue to cause them grief on a daily basis.  General Brak sums up this sentiment perfectly early in the episode, calling them “barbarians” that, “Sail their weapons across our seas and pollute our oceans with their garbage.”  It is this belief (one that Aquaman shares) that led them to attack the U.S.S. Defiant, conveniently ignoring the fact that they were ignorant of Atlantis’ actual borders, and led them to build Doomsday Thermal Reactor in the Arctic.  It was in this political climate that an opportunist like Orm was able to make his move, and it is this use of global politics—and the Justice League’s inevitable role therein—that would become a hallmark of this series, providing material for episodes such as “Maid of Honor,” “A Better World,” “Eclipsed,” and a significant chunk of Justice League Unlimited.

Speaking of Orm, his role in “The Enemy Below” is a fascinating one, and it should not be overlooked despite the inherent dullness of the character.  His motivation was simple—taking the throne from his brother—but the way that he orchestrated it—using anti-“surface dweller” propaganda to galvanize the military, hiring the assassin Deadshot (a subtle clue that Orm himself doesn’t buy into this rhetoric) to kill Aquaman while he’s vulnerable, and using the plutonium to power the thermal reactor, thus increasing his new kingdom’s size and placating the military that supported his coup d’tat—was a stroke of genius.  Considering the current political climate, Orm’s plot was similar to the Bush Administration’s military planning:  use a nation’s fear of “the others” (surface dwellers, terrorists) as a smokescreen to get what you really want (the throne of Atlantis, the invasion of Iraq ).  And while I would hesitate to make direct comparisons between Orm and George W. Bush, their willingness to sacrifice lives to achieve their goals and their “you’re either with me or you’re with the enemy” doctrine does have an eerie parallel.

This is not to say, however, that this episode was perfect.  Far from it, as this was the first episode that really featured the “weak” Superman of Season One, with Deadshot’s booby-trapped manhole cover knocking out the Man of Steel for nearly the entire chase sequence of Part One.  In contrast, Batman comes off as the Almighty Dark Knight in his scenes, with the dramatic entrance, immediate understanding of Aquaman’s physiology (which Superman should have known, having met him before), and the ability to gain the monarch’s trust within seconds of meeting him.  These depictions of the World's Finest would continue throughout Season One (Superman getting knocked out immediately in battle, Batman nearly taking out the entire Injustice Gang by himself in “Fury”), be reversed in “Twilight,” and settle into a comfortable balance for the rest of the series.

As for the aforementioned Deadshot chase—the highlight of Part One’s second act, which was designed to give each member of the Justice League a chance to do something visually interesting—this sequence could be interpreted as the growing pains of a team not used to working together, or (more likely) an indulgent spectacle that wrecked a city street and could have been averted had the team been using their heads (why didn’t J’onn morph into a wall and allow Deadshot’s bike to crash into him?).  As for the presence of Deadshot himself, his inclusion was a surprise, as he was unmentioned in both promotional materials and in interviews (while fellow supporting villains Kanjar Ro and Draaga were).  While unnamed in the episode and limited to that particular scene, Deadshot would go on to become a valued member of League’s extended cast (and cheap, considering that Michael Rosenbaum, the voice of Flash, provided the voice), making appearances in “Hereafter” and “Task Force X.”  Surprisingly, he was, in truth, an afterthought, as the original script had Aquaman foe Black Manta playing the hired gun, but that idea was scrapped when the creative team realized that Black Manta didn’t quite fit the role of an assassin.

A strong effort, “The Enemy Below” facilitated the infusion of new themes and characters, both good and bad, into the heady brew that fermented into the show we would come to love.  Here we begin to get a sense of Justice League’s potential as a series, and the heights that it would be capable of reaching.


Images courtesy of Toon Zone and DC Cartoon Archives.

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