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The World's Finest Presents

War World

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 the world.

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


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 peril.

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 setting.

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.

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