Episode #12 - War World, Part 1
Original Airdate - February 24th, 2002
Superman is captured and taken to a world, where he must, Participate in
"Gladiator" type battles.
Episode #13 - War World, Part 2
Original Airdate - March 3rd, 2002
Superman must face down Mongul and Draaga for the fate of himself and
Media by Bird Boy
Review by Maxie Zeus
Written by Stan Berkowitz
Directed by Butch Lukic
Music by Lolita Ritmanis
Animation Services by Koko Enterprise C.O., LTD.
Maria Canals as Hawkgirl
Phil LaMarr as Green Lantern
Carl Lumby as J'onn J'onzz
George Newbern as Superman
Eric Roberts as Mongul
William Smith as Draaga
Ian James Corlett as Thug
David Paymer as Chancellor
Phil Protector as First Humanoid
|Screen Grabs, Part 1
Pans, Part 1
Screen Grabs, Part 2
Pans, Part 2
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There is so much distressing about "War World" that the conscientious
critic will hardly know where to begin.
Shall I start with the technical imperfections – stilted movements, a
distractingly inadequate CGI fire, the obvious "cheats" in the arena
crowd scenes? Or perhaps with the script, stuffed as it is with
placeholder dialogue and banal exposition? Or with the story and its
reliance on accident and lapse of character to propel a shaky plot?
No, fairness requires that I start with what works. Alas, it will not
take long to be exhaustive there.
Basically, that means Green Lantern and Hawkgirl. Green Lantern’s
hard-ass attitude may not give him much depth or interest as a
character, but it does make him a good foil for the other JLers – see,
for instance, the excellent Oscar-and-Felix routine he has going with
Flash. Similarly, Hawkgirl is treated as the "tough one" by the other
JLers, even as there are hints that she resents it. (Again, Flash
highlights the paradox. She seems disarmed by his frivolity.) It might
seem a bad idea to pair these two; they are too much alike. But their
essential similarity actually produces bright, hot sparks – they come
off as a cranky married couple who have been together so long that they
have picked up each other’s habits. This is the episode’s great
discovery, and all credit is due for it, even as it has nothing to do
with the intransigent plot in which they are trapped. Still, you perk up
when the action shifts to them; you begin to wish that the story had
been about Superman’s mysterious disappearance, and about the comic
misadventures GL and Hawkgirl have as they track him down, bantering and
bickering, all the way across the universe.
That wouldn’t have been "War World," of course. But then anything would
have been better than that incoherent and manipulative episode.
But it is the incompetence that offends. Reduced to fundamentals, "War
World" is built on four massive failures: Idiot plot. Improbable
coincidence. Useless characters. Lapse of character.
1. Idiot plot: Ebert defines an "idiot plot" as a plot that could be
solved in 5 minutes if the characters did not act like idiots. We get
this in the very first scene, when Superman, J'onn and Hawkgirl are
trying to detonate an asteroid. Something goes wrong with the explosion
and Supes and J'onn are left stranded in deep space. We never get a full
explanation for what exactly went wrong and who was at fault, a sure
sign that the writer, having made one of the heroes an idiot, is trying
to avoid pinning the blame on anyone. But if this person had not screwed
up, we wouldn't even have a story.
Nor is this the only occasion when someone acts like an idiot: Why are
GL and Hawkgirl gassed in part two? Because they're arguing like idiots.
In the fights on War World, why doesn't Superman just fly away from
Draaga? Because he's an idiot.
2. Coincidence: This also appears in the first scene, when a slave
trader from War World happens on the scene. Why were they in the
neighborhood? Within the story: Just one of those things. From the
writer's point-of-view: As a convenient device to put our heroes in
Again, this is hardly the only instance: Why do GL and Hawkgirl land on
the garbage planet where Draaga is stranded? Coincidence. Why is Draaga
there to be bumped into? Coincidence. Why do GL and Hawkgirl chance on
the planet-busting cannon just in time to stop its firing? Coincidence.
3. Useless characters: Why is J’onn in this story? He does nothing but
stagger around, complaining that "something in the atmosphere" has made
him weak. Does he help Superman escape? Does he stop the cannon at the
climax? Does he tell Supes that the cannon is even demolished? No, he
does none of these. In fact, he has only one accomplishment to his
credits: He stands up and leads a chant that saves Superman his life.
Nor is this terribly impressive; it would not even have been beyond the
capabilities of Wendy and Marvin, the infamous Superfriends hangers-on,
to have accomplished as much.
And it is worth repeating: Much as I found their presence a relief, the
same thing is true of Green Lantern and Hawkgirl, who basically charge
to the rescue only because J’onn is incapacitated. That is a poor excuse
for their presence in the story.
4. Supes should be used to thinking of himself as a hero; if he finds
himself in a prison, as he does early-on here, his first thought should
be that someone has made a mistake, and his first impulse should be to
straighten them out. Instead, he sneaks around, and that’s a lapse of
character. In fact, it’s a lapse that runs throughout the story. For
much of "War World," Supes basically goes around apologizing for being
kidnapped, or hiding and running instead of fighting. It is not behavior
worthy of a hero named "Superman."
The basic problem in each of these cases is simple to identify: The
writer is manipulating the characters in order to get the plot to work
out right, rather than developing a story that follows from the truth of
the characters. In places the manipulations are so extreme they reduce
the story not just to an absurdity, but to a nullity. Green Lantern and
Hawkgirl are neatly maneuvered into getting lost on the garbage planet
so that Draaga can guide them to Supes. Draaga is neatly maneuvered onto
the same planet so that he can be rescued by Green Lantern and Hawkgirl.
In other words, the JLers get lost so that they can get unlost, and
Draaga is marooned so that he can be rescued. This is not a productive
line of work for either of them.
To a certain extent, all this fruitless running around may be
forgivable, for a good hard look will uncover a basic and irremediable
difficulty with the situation. The pitch is irresistible: Superman in
Gladiator. But it should have been resisted, for War World’s problems
are intrinsically socio-political – it’s a society built on a foundation
of exploitation and oppression. Superman cannot simply escape from this
world, for it is against his nature to abandon a diseased and enslaved
populace. Nor can he simply overthrow Mongul, for War World’s society is
itself dysfunctional. And yet he cannot stay and solve its deep
structural problems. Here is the root of "War World" ‘s problem: It puts
a pop action hero in a predicament that cannot be solved by pop action
heroics. It then distorts itself mightily to escape its insoluble
There may be a lesson here somewhere, about the limitations of the
genre. But it’s not an interesting lesson. We go to a show like Justice
League for clever stories and heart-stopping action, not solutions to
the world’s problems. It’s complaint enough to point out that "War
World" fails to accomplish its own proper if modest task.