Archives on TV: Justice League, "Legends"
Updated: Dec 19, 2020
Like many of my generation, one of my first introductions to the Justice League was through the animated series that aired from 2001 to 2004 on Cartoon Network followed by Justice League: Unlimited from 2004 to 2006. Developed by Bruce Timm, Justice League and JLU expanded on the DC Comics universe of superheroes and villains and served as an extension of Timm's previous shows Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, and Batman Beyond. Justice League employed some of the best animation directors and writers like Joaquim Dos Santos and Dwayne McDuffie and featured the voice talents of Kevin Conroy (Batman), Susan Eisenberg (Wonder Woman), George Newbern (Superman), Phil LaMarr (Green Lantern), Maria Canals (Hawkgirl), Carl Lumbly (Martian Manhunter), and Michael Rosenbaum (The Flash).
Recently, there's been a campaign by the voice actors and fans for a Justice League animated movie to reunite the voice cast. The closest to a reunion appears to be the forthcoming Justice League vs the Fatal Five scheduled for release on March 30th with Conroy, Eisenberg, and Newberg playing DC's trinity and Timm producing. So, to add my endorsement for a JL/JLU reunion, let's talk about the two-part episode of Justice League's first season, "Legends."
First airing in April of 2002, "Legends" finds Hawkgirl, Green Lantern, Flash, and Martian Manhunter trapped in a parallel world of superheros who closely resemble the Justice Guild of comic book characters Green Lantern read as a kid. As the League teams up with the Guild, it soon becomes clear that all is not what it seems.
The two-parter, as a whole, is a fun send-up of the Golden and Silver Age comics that doesn't shy away from pointing out the casual racism and sexism of those eras. It's in the second half, however, that we get a brief look at an archive. Upon finding gravestones with the names of the Justice Guild's members, Hawkgirl and Green Lantern go to the city library and find that all of the books are blank. They then descend a flight of stairs to a door with a sign that reads "ARCHIVES" that opens to reveal a brick wall. Breaking through the wall, they find the facade has been built over the wreckage of a world savaged by war.
A friend and I did a Justice League re-watch in grad school, where we were learning/training to be archivists, and when we got to this episode it was like being punched in the gut - metaphorically speaking. A dark stairway to an archives in what could ostensibly be the basement hit only a few of the stereotypes associated with our chosen profession. When you put it in context within the episode, it still doesn't take away the sting. What if Tom Turbine and Catman wanted to do some research before going after Sportsman? Or maybe Black Siren wanted to check out a book to read in her downtime between fighting crime and baking for the Guild. What then, huh? Either the Justice Guild was always too busy fighting crime all the time or they showed absolutely no interest in education, research, or detective work, which seems out of character given the PSA-driven eras from which they hail.
On the other hand, if not for Hawkgirl's unorthodox use of archives - and a Nth metal mace - she and Green Lantern wouldn't have discovered the lie holding the Guild and other survivors captive. So, through a huge stretch of the imagination, it was the archives that revealed the truth.
There, now I feel better.