Justice League: War World Part One

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Screen Shots

Synopsis "War World Part One"

The Justice League investigate a 3-mile wide asteroid that is on a collision course with the Earth. It is still orbiting beyond Saturn, but the League want deal with the threat as early as possible. Superman and J’onn J’onzz wear space suits to place explosives on the asteroid while Hawkgirl monitors their progress from Justice League Watchtower. She detects unstable hydrogen pockets within the asteroid and warns J’onn and Superman. They try to retreat, but the asteroid’s explosion is a lot bigger than they were expecting. Hawkgirl can only watch in horror as the explosion engulfs her teammates and her radio link with them goes silent.

The unconscious Superman and J’onn J’onzz drift amid the debris from their wrecked Javelin and the asteroid. The captain of a passing star ship remarks that its “Incredible” that they’ve survived and orders them brought aboard. The ship is not on a mercy mission, however, as it’s a slave ship that is hunting for powerful warriors. They’re surprised to have found a living Kryptonian and believe that Superman will make an excellent addition to the Gladiator pool. The ship’s destination is War World. It’s a cosmopolitan world, but it is crippled by food shortages, blackouts, and severe unemployment. War World’s charismatic ruler, Mongul, keeps his wretched people enthralled with public displays of gladiatorial combat, but of late Draaga, the popular champion, has been more than a match for any opponent Mongul’s slavers can find.

The latest slave/gladiator, Krodar the Terrible, is a bulbous inhuman robot. He and Draaga are teleported to the arena – an empty, shattered city beneath a blood red sky – while a host of floating cameras relay images of their battle back to the crowds on Warworld. The crowds chant for Draaga, but the outcome is never in any doubt. Mongul asks the crowd if Krodar¬†Krodar “>should be spared, but the crowd just boos. Mongul declares “Long live democracy!” and Draaga finishes the droid. The crowds, however, weren’t booing Krodar. They were booing the falling standard of the games. Mongul then warns his starship captain that his next specimen had better be more of a crowd pleaser.

Superman awakens to find Draaga studying him. Draaga calls him pathetic and then spits in his face. Superman refuses to rise to the challenge and doesn’t free himself from his chains until after Draaga has left. He finds J’onn unconscious, next to where Mongul’s guards feed the bodies of ex- and reject gladiators to a monstrous alien crocodile. Superman saves his friend from becoming croc bait, but something in War World’s atmosphere is weakening J’onn, sapping his strength. They manage to escape the palace security droids, but become separated when a force field surrounding the complex lets J’onn past, but not Superman. The Man of Steel is recaptured, but J’onn manages to disappeared into the surrounding city. Mongul had hoped to build Superman up with some preliminary matches, but he must now make an example of him for trying to escape. Mongul’s command is “Give him to Draaga!”

Earlier at the Watchtower, Green Lantern John Stewart, had berated Hawkgirl for not watching her team-mates more closely. She retorts “Do you want to stand here pointing fingers or do you want to do something about it?” By the time they arrive at the blast site Superman and J’onn are long gone. Lantern’s ring detects the ion trail from the starship that kidnapped their friends and they follow its course. They lose the trail near a refuelling outpost and turn their attention on the local scum. Lantern plays good cop, to Hawkgirl’s bad-cop to convince a local smuggler to admit that he’d heard something about a Kryptonian being taken to War World. Hawkgirl then demands that he takes them there.

On War World, J’onn J’onzz joins the crowds streaming into the palace to watch Superman and Draaga’s fight. Superman defiantly refuses to fight for Mongul’s amusement, but once in the arena he’s forced to fight just for his own life against Draaga’s onslaught. Superman tries to reason with Draaga, but the gladiator tells him that neither of them has a choice. Superman takes Draaga’s pounding, unable or unwilling to match his ferocity. Draaga’s claim of victory is premature as Superman rallies with the call of “Enough!” Superman returns Draaga’s blows, defeating the exhausted gladiator.

Mongul and the watching crowd and are stunned. The fickle crowd turns hostile at their former champion and Mongul orders Superman to finish Draaga. Naturally, the Kryptonian refuses to murder Draaga, even after Draaga asks for an honourable death. Mongul then orders his security droids to kill Superman for refusing his command. J’onn watches helpless as his friend is brought to his knees by the droids.

Commentary

Mongul

Mongul has the rare distinction of being one of Superman’s few pre-Crisis opponents that can actually match him physically. He was introduced in DC Comics Presents #27 (Nov 1980) as the villain of a Superman/Martian Manhunter team-up (ergo the central characters in this story). It is often assumed that Mongul was a pure Jim Starlin creation, but, while Starlin was the artist on his first appearance, it was the writer Len Wein who created Mongul specifically as a physical challenge for Superman (2006, The Krypton Companion, pg136).

Mongul often comes across as a poor man’s Darkseid. An idea that is reinforced by the fact that Jim Starlin also created the Marvel’s Thanos (allegedly a Darkseid homage). Of his move from Marvel to DC Starlin has stated that “I consciously wanted to go over and do Thanos at DC. Never quite worked out that way.” (2005, Back Issue #9, pg81).

Mongul made a number of pre-Crisis appearances, but his most famous appearance was in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s “For the Man Who Has Everything…” in Superman Annual #11. This is widely recognised as being one of the greatest Superman stories of all time. It was adapted almost scene-for-scene for the Justice League Unlimited episode of the same name.

The bulk of the “War World” story is adapted from Mongul’s first modern appearance. He appears as the ruler of an artificial world called Warworld, a planet sized battle station, what holds sway over a larger section of space. Superman, who for convoluted reasons had exiled himself from Earth, is found drifting in space by Mongul’s slavers. He is brought to Warworld to fight in Mongul’s gladiatorial games. Superman is forced to fight a gladiator called Draaga, but his refusal to kill him eventually leads to a revolution that over throws Mongul.

Mongul is voiced by Eric Roberts. He is a Hollywood character actor who has a nice sideline in scene-stealing genre villains. His most memorable genre villain is as the Master opposite Paul McGann’s Eight Doctor in the 1996 Fox version of Doctor Who. Roberts played Salvatore Maroni in The Dark Knight, the mob boss who throws acid at Harvey Dent creating the scars which turn him into Two-Face. He reprised his role as Mongul for aforementioned JLU adaptation of “For The Man Who Has Everything.”

Draaga

Draaga who first appears in Superman vol 2. #32 (June 1989) in a storyline that closely parallels his animated appearance. He was a gladiator fighting in the arenas of Warworld for the amusement of its ruler Mongul (see above). Superman is swept into the games and defeats Draaga, but refuses to kill him. Draaga is bound by a personal Klingon/samurai like sense of honour and vehemently believes that Superman owes him an honourable death. The story ends with Draaga defeating Mongul sparking a revolution that sees Draaga take over as Warworld’s new ruler. In a subsequent storyline Draaga becomes a pawn of Brainiac when the computer tries to use Warworld as a base from which to launch an invasion of Earth. Draaga ends up sacrificing his life to save the Earth after witnessing the nobility and heroism of Supergirl.

In “War World” Draaga is played by William Smith. Smith has a list of appearances stretching back to the 1940s and has played the villain of the week in almost any action, western, or detective TV show you care to mention. He was Conan’s father in Conan The Barbarian and was one of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s henchmen in the original Batman TV show.

The asteroid

Oh dear, astrophysics fail on so many levels.

  • Blowing up an earth crossing asteroid doesn’t save the planet.¬† You haven’t altered the centre of mass of the object, just dispersed it over a larger area. You exchange a large asteroid for a shower of smaller asteroids whose individual size is still going to be sufficient enough to devastate large areas.
  • Mushroom clouds in space. The characteristic mushroom cloud we’ve all seen in movies occurs because an explosion goes off in a fluid constrained by a gravity well, i.e., an atmosphere. The expanding gases from the explosion seek the route of least resistance away from the detonation site. In this case that routine is straight up along the gradient from high pressure (at sea level) to low pressure (at altitude). This is the same reason that weather systems move from regions of high to low pressure. The plume of gases passes through different layers in the atmosphere and until it reaches the height where gravity finally overcomes the kinetic energy of the explosion. The gases pile up at this height and spread horizontally forming a distinctive mushroom cloud. The asteroid we see in this episode would not have enough gravity to keep at atmosphere so there would be no mushroom clouds from the explosions.
  • Hydrogen pockets. Methane pockets are a real danger to miners and are parallelled here by saying that the asteroid has hydrogen pockets. For both methane and hydrogen to explode you need three things – the gas itself, an ignition source, and oxygen. This asteroid has the first two, but the lack of at atmosphere means that there is no oxygen. Even if there was hydrogen contained within the asteroid it would be in the form of ice or locked up in some other compound.

Misc.

  • Krodar the Terrible is said to hail from parts unknown. It’s a phrase that use to be used to describe some of the more enigmatic contenders in the WWE (then WWF) including the Ultimate Warrior .
  • Flying triangular robots. Mongul must shop at the same branch of Alien Tyrants R Us as Brainiac.
  • There had been a game plan for Green Lantern and Hawkgirl and for her ultimate betrayal of the team since the show started. That doesn’t really pay off until the end of Season Two, but this episode really starts to highlight the chemistry between the two. Hawkgirl had already stood up for Green Lantern in “In Blackest Night” against the rest of the Lantern Corps, but she didn’t have much character interaction with him.
  • Incredibly minor point: cartoon “War world” (two words), comicbook “Warworld” (one word).

Opinion

Highlights

Superman being Superman – turning the other cheek, refusing to fight.

Oddities

Green Lantern berating Hawkgirl and needing prompting to go after his teammates.

My Thoughts

My feelings about War World are conflicted. I have a fondness for it because it was the first Justice League episode that I ever saw, but it is generally thought of as one of the weaker episodes of the first season. I now think that should be regarded as assessment of how strong the other first season episodes are instead of a critique of how weak this one is. Watching it back, the animation and direction are actually rather good. It’s real crime is highlighting the weaknesses of the Season One Superman and in not translating the intensity of Warworld.

Argh! Why does the DCAU Superman constantly do this? Why is he such a masochist? He just sucks up Draaga’s blows, letting himself be pounded into mincemeat on the off-chance that Draaga will have some sort of miraculous conversion and decide to become a flower seller. Then, once even he’s had enough, he KOs Draaga in a matter of seconds. So frustrating. Superman’s ability to fight is as inconsistent as Hulk Hogan during a Wrestlemania.

The original Warworld was a planet sized fortress that, while not entirely dissimilar to the Deathstar, truly lived up to its name. Mongul, as its ruler, had a real stature that is lacking in his adaptation. The DCAU Mongul seems like a game show host in comparison. He has more in common with Damon Killian, the host from Running Man, than the classic Cesar at the Coliseum motif. Nevertheless, a change to Mongul’s character/use was probably necessary to differentiate him from Darkseid.

The Verdict

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TypeSiteReviewerRatingEquivalent
Grand Average 40%
Character Site The Captain's Justice League Homepage Jason Kirk 2/5

Changes

2009 Oct 27 – Added notes on Draaga and William Smith. Changed post title from “Warworld” to the correct “War World”.