Episode #38 - Alive! (Part 1)
Original Airdate - May 6th, 2006
In a knock-down drag out battle on Earth and in space, the power moving
behind the scenes of the villains is revealed leading to the most
unexpected team-up in Justice League history.
Review by SJJ
Media by Bird Boy
Written by Matt Wayne
Directed by Dan Riba
Animation by Dong Woo Animation Co., LTD.
Music by Lolita Ritmanis
Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor
Powers Boothe as Grodd
Juliet Landau as Tala
Michael Ironside as Darkseid
Corey Burton as Brainiac
Bud Cort as Toyman
Jennifer Hale as Killer Frost, Giganta
Lex Lang as Atomic Skull
Daniel Dae Kim as Metron
Robin Atkins Downes as Watchtower Ops Tech
Alive is a dangerous beast.
Before this rare animal named "Jay El Yew" can be put to rest, we have
an episode which essentially defies the protocol of the series and of
action cartoons as a whole. With the show's pent-ultimate breath, it
produces an episode which could arguably be the most controversial
choice at the most controversial time.
With one episode of JLU to follow it, this first part of the two
part finale offers no speaking heroes.
Not a muscle bound heroic whisper.
With audiences poised to watch their heroes’ final hour in their tenure
on Cartoon Network, some may be horrified to find that this time has
been cut by half. This episode solely spotlights the villains, and
arguably, why not? They play an equal part in the heroic exploits of the
JLU. They are the obstacle course that allows the hero to prove
his worth. They are more than just a punching bag, they are a characters
in their own right. If this series is to finish, should they not have a
virtually exclusive episode?
Like it or lump it, this story focuses on the escapades Lex Luthor as he
tries to balance his power base in his Secret Society with his need to
merge with Brainiac.
It's a risky writing venture. The placement of this type of episode is
certainly surprising. The audience is most likely to tune in to JLU
to see Superman, Batman, Green Arrow and their various ilk. When the
show enters it's final run, will an episode that focuses on the hero's
opponents truly satisfy? Furthermore, within the story itself, there are
- unsurprisngly - no villains here which can really be deemed likable.
Interesting, certainly, but real empathy goes a long way in a show. We
the audience, need to feel for one side or another. Tension comes from
taking a side. If you don't have any empathy for a character's
motivation, it automatically damages the dramatic tension. Is this
unique perspective, just a little too late?
Of all the enemy characters, Tala is probably the villain the audience
sympathies with. She's caught between a rock and a hard place. Attracted
to power and unable to really find a place with either male, animal or
otherwise. However empathy isn't the key to this episode, its
motivation. The dramatic tension comes from not really wanting Lex to
succeed in finding Brainaic, but at the same time, not really wanting
Grodd to really stop him either. Lex is infinitely a more fascinating
character than Grodd, so out of the two, I think most tend to side on
Lex - despite the knowledge of his dreadful intent. The dramatic tension
for the audience comes from a lack a decisive certainty as to who they
should root for.
So in practical terms, this works fairly well. While hardly likable, Lex
is a fine character in DCAU. We may not really root for him, but his
victories are always amusing and the extent to his ruthlessness never
ceases to surprise. Like with Batman, the audience can't help but relish
the sight of a "normal" take victory over the giants.
Lex's quest for Brainiac leads him to the very spot we saw both Brainiac
and Darkseid meet their doom in the excellent Justice League episode,
"Twilight". Convincing a host of super-villains to follow Lex to the
world's utter enslavement via Brainiac is made somewhat more difficult
when Grodd is released by a dissatisfied Tala. The result? Another
vaguely watch-able brawl.
JLU has had many multi brawls. If we combine the two seasons of
Justice League, with the three of JLU, that's five seasons with
collectives of super characters battling it out. So by the end of this
final season, these fights are feeling somewhat tired. There are a few
highlights. Toyman's small scene with his yo-yo was a delight as was
Giganta and her very nasty squeezing fit with Grodd. Nevertheless, the
only battle sequence I felt really held any true dramatic action this
season was in "Grudge Match". I didn't personally feel "Alive" came
close to matching it.
Once the battle finishes, and the audience are awakened from this
extended period of thwacks and bangs by the shock of Grodd being ejected
from an airlock, we have a rather unusual scene. Metron, passive
observer of the cosmos pops by to offer a futile warning of what might
come. Seems odd for a demigod to bother offering such an apocalypyic
warning to a stubborn, arrogant and power mad mortal. Perhaps such
declarations are a house rule of an immortal's job, who knows. Whatever
the reason, it certainly adds a portent to what's to come..
The final twist will shock and quite possibly disappoint some of the
audience. Tala is ruthlessly used to bridge the gap between the asteroid
and Lex's Brainiac capturing machine. It's quite a shocking scene, but
this is nothing new for this season. Be it baldy humor, realistic
character interaction, topical comment or just simple plain violence,
this season has not been afraid to push it's constraints. Nevertheless,
this whole scene plays off with the epical proportions it requires.
And so Lex doesn't succeed in bringing Brainac back... or at least not
in the way he wants.. To his clearly visible horror, his gigantic gambit
has brought him a gigantic threat - Darkseid.
Personally I was a filled to the brim with an unholy mix of major
thrills and minor disappointment. It certainly is a climatic and well
produced scene. The arc of this season, with villain working with
villain, has a logical fluidity that would accumulate with a scenario
which might require villain working with villain standing next to hero
alongside hero. In essence, the ultimate JLU bound together to
fight against the might of Darkseid.
However, the problem lies with Darkseid himself. If Darkseid had not had
several outings through DCAU already, there would be no issue here. The
problem lies with Darkseid's godlike status. He is a character with
limitless power. With limitless power comes limited writing potential.
When the stories revolve around heroes who do have limits, how do you
put such limited characters against a virtually limitless foe again and
again? How do you do so without having to add more limits to the villain
or less limits on the heroes? How do you prevent a resolution
manifesting without having to weaken or strengthen one against their
It's a danger all powerful villains have in stories when you reuse them.
Be they Darkseid, be they Borg, It is a natural part of character
writing that demands a different method of resolution each time you
create adversity. Create an almost unbeatable character, you are left
with almost unwinnable odds for the weaker side.
Darkseid's death in "Twilight" made his exit from Justice League a solid
one. How will his return and assumed defeat affect Twlight's powerful
finale? In all fairness, the audience cannot say. We can offer our
natural reaction to this revelation, but no honest fan - particularly
with JLU's solid track record - can presume that the finale,
"Destroyer" won't hold a twist the audience has not participated. Here's
hoping my assessment is stamped on by Mr Timm and company, thus proved
to be utterly irrelevant. I can endure the kick to my opinionated ego if
it means we have one hell of a finale.
Finally, we have the epilogue and at this point, it is slightly
confusing. Darkseid is back on Apocalypse after destroying Grodd's ship
along with Lex and his crew. Back on Earth, the JLU are warned
about Darkseid's potential threat by .. Lex and his crew. How these
threads and all of JLU will resolve (or not) is yet to be clear.
Again, one is hesitant to condemn any lack of resolution until we've
seen "Destroyer" and its ultimate resolution to life, JLU and
So as a pent-ultimate episode, I must honestly say, for all it's
strengths, "Alive" feels poorly placed. The mandatory battles seems too
long and at this point in the show, way too extensive. It's just another
excuse to see X character to battle Y character. Probably a part of the
show's official mandate, but nevertheless at this point feels fairly
unwelcome. That's not to say the battles are badly played out. They have
their strong points, but overall they lack the real inspiration to
warrant their length. As a long term watcher, I just honestly wanted to
fast forward onwards to the character parts.
Furthermore, such a unique tale doesn't get the appreciation in deserves
when it's placement feels like padding to the upcoming event. Unfair
when assessing the show on it's own, but as part of a larger entity, one
can't help feeling it was poorly timed. Knowing there is little more
than half an hour left before we lose our JLU heroes forever
makes "Alive" a slightly resentful watch.
Nevertheless, it's still good drama from a very respectable final
season. Lex is wonderfully ruthless, there is some great pieces of
direction and, as always, some super shreds of dialogue.
A good watch, however it just feels such a unique episode would have
been far better appreciated (and overall, more conducive to the season
as a whole) if it had got an earlier slot. Watch, enjoy and do your best
to forget about the time left.
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