The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why I Dislike JLU's Cadmus Arc


"I think I'll wear this to the State of the Union."

This is one of those entries that I know I'm going to get killed over, but this is my opinion. If you don't like it, well I am confident you will let me know.

The DC Animated Universe is, in many ways, the "Star Trek" franchise of animation. So many interconnected shows, in a semi-coherent universe. Like "Star Trek", most of it wasn't really serialized. There would be call-backs quite a bit and continuity nods, but most of it consisted of stand alone episodes and occasional multi-parters. Deep Space Nine broke the mold later in it's run when the Dominion War began to heat up, and when Justice League Unlimited came about, into that show's second season, it tried something no other DCAU series ever attempted. An ongoing story arc.

"My known association with this man should guarantee my front runner status."

The Cadmus arc came about as a response to the idea of the Superman and the Justice League going rogue, as they could easily subjugate or even destroy the world. The League answered to no one. There was no oversight, and no accountability. So Cadmus was founded by Amanda Waller as a means to level the playing field, and bring the League down if necessary. I thought the idea was fascinating and had a lot of promise.

Sadly, I thought the Cadmus arc didn't live up to the promise it had shown. The fact is, the League can be dangerous. Cadmus was a natural response. But the moment things got too nuanced, out comes the convenient bad guy for them to punch in the face. As Hawkgirl said "less talking, more hitting." We discovered that Lex Luthor was funding Cadmus as a means to discredit the League, as well as running for President of the United States in an orchestrated scheme to piss Superman off. Now I need to get into this. I am not a fan of the DCAU version of Lex Luthor. At all. Clancy Brown's great voice aside, this version of Lex Luthor belonged in the 80's as he was no more competent or interesting than the likes of Skeletor. 

"George Dubya got arrested for drunken disorderly conduct once. I should be fine."

And why was his campaign for President such a concern anyway? The man was openly a supervillain and had been arrested and convicted of selling weapons to terrorists (in a post-9/11 world!) When he announced he was running, Superman shouldn't have been nervous, Superman should have just raised an eyebrow. The League should have been laughing at the very idea. It's like Donald Trump running for President x 100. Donald Trump has no chance of actually winning the presidency. The DCAU version of Lex Luthor should have even less of a chance. Imagine if Greg Weisman had Demona, not Dominique Destine, but Demona run for President with a legitimate shot at winning it. Imagine if Marvel had the Green Goblin becoming the most powerful man in the United States government, it's that stupid... oh wait, that last one actually happened. Whoops.

If you remove Lex Luthor and Brainiac from the Cadmus arc, it would have been much, much better. More interesting. More nuanced. More mature. Such potential, but sadly that potential was squandered. And if they really, really wanted to use Lex Luthor in this fashion, they should have thought ahead and not had him be openly a supervillain leading the Injustice Gang. Once they did that, Luthor's role in the Cadmus arc was no longer probable or believable and they should have found another candidate to fill the role. Lex Luthor becoming Secretary General of the United Nations at the end of "Young Justice" wasn't the same crime because while we in the audience as well as the League and the Team know what Lex is, as far as we know he's never had his image tarnished to the public. Such is the beauty of planning ahead.

15 comments:

  1. My big issue with the Cadmus arc was the ending. They beat up Lex and that solves all their problems. It feels like all the issues raised could've been sorted if Waller and the League just sat down at the start of the show.

    The main issue of "The League is a super army beholden to no one" isn't really resolved other than a token "they worked it out off screen." They worked it out with the US government, but what about everyone else? I'm sure every other government would have issues with that. Are they now UN sanctioned like in Young Justice?

    I get them just wanting to do fun Legion of Doom stories after a big serious story arc, especially since they didn't think they'd get another season. But other than General Eiling becoming The Shaggy Man for a cheese fest episode it was just dropped. They could've done some follow up to it beyond it looking like the only ones opposing the JL were supervillains.

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  2. Here's the thing - I loved the DCAU Lex Luthor in Superman: TAS because I thought he had a very well established characterization and was in a powerful position that allowed him to be a villain but without the world realizing just what kind of villain he truly was, as is the way with businessmen who engage in organized crime. No matter how many "Curses! Foiled again!" moments he'd go through in his vendetta against Superman, he'd stay in the comfort of his corporate empire with his tracks covered and his future seemingly secured. So y'know what? I'd actually kind of buy his role in the Cadmus arc if they'd stuck to the characterization and role he had in that series.

    But instead JL happened. He was became a supervillain and got publicly outed as a supervillain. Therefore his role in the Cadmus arc was a story whose potential should have been killed already because the character had gone down a different direction. And yet they had him run for presidency as if it were nothing, something that only could have happened PRIOR to the events concerning Lex that they'd already had transpire. So what you said about not planning ahead absolutely applies here. You cannot have things both ways in these matters, but Timm and the rest seemed desperate to have Lex as a not-at-all-very-competent supervillain and still a villain with good publicity who can get away with this shit.

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  3. Great comparison between "Star Trek" and the DC Animated Universe; I never thought of it that way before, but it makes sense (and both of their fans have similar zeal). I know you've had this take on that arc for a while so it's good to see it put to a blog entry.

    "The Cadmus Arc" which ran through much of "JLU" (but was mostly in its' second season) didn't just end with a whimper in terms of Lex Luthor and Brainiac; nearly every other angle and subplot ended in a very blunt, black and white way. It was as if given a chance to make something with more nuance and a shade of gray, the show runners always defaulted to producing a modern day "Superfriends" plot. "Task Force X" was a cool episode where Waller arranges a crack team of crooks to steal the magical Annihilator armor from the previous season, and they succeed! Only then the next week in "The Balance", Felix Faust (or, generic evil wizard #14B) just possesses it to force a more typical Wonder Woman & Hawkgirl team up, rendering all that suspense pointless. Or General Eiling who goes from being Waller's more hawkish ally to transforming himself into a generic bruiser villain yet being fortunate enough to attack Metropolis the ONE TIME no genuine superhumans are around (and bounds off never to be seen again). As ambitious as that arc was despite the fact that much of the continuity within the universe happened by coincidence, happenstance, and some clever last minute writing, they weren't prepared to buck their status quo or the basic tone of the series for long.

    There were different producers, story editors, and staff writers between B:TAS and JLU, but there were some common figures throughout. And I think this mindset may have began in B:TAS with Roland Daggett (as voiced by Ed Asner). He goes from being a corrupt and dangerous businessman who is able to escape clean and game the system in his first outings to being bankrupted once a plot to use stray cats to make a virus goes bad, to having his final appearance being an almost desperate attempt to steal a cat statue and frame Catwoman for it. There were better ways to resolve that, keep Daggett a force to be reckoned with without having him be unbeatable, but instead he did everything but slap on a costume. Of course, once the move to Kid's WB in 1997, both Daggett and Rupert Thorne were gone, and there was no one to break up the cast of super-criminals or other outright super villains.

    Lex Luthor, whether in the comics or in the DCAU, seems to be caught between being an outright mad scientist super villain (where he spent much of his time) to being a savvy and cruel businessman above the law (which mostly kicked in after the 1986 reboot). The comics themselves got caught up in this struggle later on in the 21st century but the animated series seemed to JUMP at the chance to go super villain with Luthor in 2001, even before the comics did. He ran for (and briefly won) the Presidency in the comics, but he also wasn't as obviously a villain there. As you said, it's obvious that nobody was laying the roots for Cadmus during the first two seasons of JL.

    The DCAU overall I think was a good and ambitious thing, but it wasn't flawless and it isn't or shouldn't be the end all of comic book animated universes. Warts and all, I think A:EMH was better if only because all of the major moves were planned in advance, when with the corporate meddling later on. And it's a shame that it seems that fewer producers besides Bruce Timm have been given so much leeway to play in certain toy boxes for so long.

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  4. I think there was a reason to take Luthor's candidacy seriously: the fact that it happened in the Justice Lords timeline. So what, you say, that was an alternative universe? Yes it was, yet that fact didn't stop the Government from getting worried enough to create Cadmus. Besides, I don't think this was an overpowering element in the season. It was good for planting the seeds of doubt and paranoia in Superman's head, hence the disastrous and embarrassing events of "Clash".

    On another point, while the Cadmus arc may not be flawless I don't think the issues it raised were simply dismissed by the Luthor-Brainiac twist. When you strip everything else away, the root of the conflict was a trust problem that Superman and maybe some others were in denial about until events and arguments from people like Batman and Green Arrow and Prof Hamilton made it impossible to ignore in good conscience (aside from Supes I recall Jon Stewart declaring their job was to keep the world safe, not to be liked). By dismantling their laser weapon despite its obvious utility, by being prepared to go so far as to disband the Justice League completely, and by realizing a need to be more down to Earth literally and figuratively, the League collectively showed its character to the world and made meaningful changes to how it operated.

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    1. Did the Luthor of the Justice Lords universe do time for selling weapons to terrorists? Was he openly a supervillain? I'm sorry, but these things matter. If your building your story on a shoddy foundation, it's not going to stand up.

      The Professor Hamilton confrontation was the best thing to come out of the arc. But the very foundation of everything else doesn't stand once you get past the "ooh, shiny!" aspects of the entire affair. The potential was there, but I will never understand some of the creative choices made. As such, like Marvel's "Civil War"... things are promised without being delivered upon. The whole thing is, and I really hate using this word but here it is: pretentious.

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    2. It is true that a lot of ore for the Cadmus arc was taken from "A Better World". Unfortunately, that's another example of the sense that the show's continuity was only really strong when it served an agenda, and that a lot of it was not by design but after the fact. By this I mean...whatever happened to the Justice Lords after the League (with their Luthor's aid) defeated them? They're all depowered and arrested. Were they sent back to their own universe, presumably to be imprisoned by Lord Batman? Or were they imprisoned on the League's earth? Amanda Waller, Eiling, and others within Cadmus heard about that adventure, presumably not solely from Luthor's word. One would have considered the Justice Lords, even depowered, a HUGE security risk if one was a member of the League. What was to stop, oh, the angrily raving Lord Superman from revealing the identities of Superman, Batman, and the Flash to anyone who'd listen? Sure, Luthor hands over his "anti-superhero ray" to Superman at the end, but why doesn't he try to recreate some version of it later? It was a weapon which was able to remove the super powers of a whole host of metahumans, from aliens to mythical warriors to a human who is literally empowered by a magical alien ring. Why didn't he mass produce smaller versions of that? "A Better World" provided the inspiration for a lot of the Cadmus arc and was mentioned several times during JLU, but none of these key holes were firmly answered. That's not something that, say, "Gargoyles" or even "Young Justice" would have ignored.

      (For the record, the closest thing anyone got to an answer was in DC's digital first comics "Batman Beyond 2.0 and "Justice League Beyond 2.0", which were reprinted in the physical anthology comic "Batman Beyond Universe" last year. It was pretty good, although it was years after the fact written by nobody from the animated series, so it's hardly strict canon with the show or the "DCAU".)

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    3. Yes you can make that argument about superman being paranoid about luthor running for president because it happened in another universe, but the common folk have no reason to take someone who made deals with terrorists seriously running for office.

      While we're at it, why would the president give luthor a full pardon in exchange for his help against something that barely established itself as a threat that needed luthors help? In retrospect, that made absolutely no sense either.

      But my biggest gripes against the Cadmus arc was no cost coming from the jlu's actions (remember how laughable it was that the laser cannon killing no one in flashpoint despite the massive property damage?).

      At least in starcrossed there were consequences for shayera's actions. She was exiled from her people. Shunned by alot of earth's population, and her relationships with hro talek and Jon Stewart came to specific ends.

      The Cadmus arc has none of that cost for anyone on a personal level.

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  5. "But my biggest gripes against the Cadmus arc was no cost coming from the jlu's actions (remember how laughable it was that the laser cannon killing no one in flashpoint despite the massive property damage?)."

    Amanda Waller was going to shut down the Justice League, but once she saw they were on the side of good, she decided to let it go. The Justice League didn't feel like this should be used as an excuse, which is why in the Cadmus Arc finale, they make the decision to dismantle the Watch Tower (until Green Arrow convinces them otherwise).

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    1. You can always tell who did and didn't study critical thinking and literary analysis by their comments.

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  6. I always thought Amanda Waller was too smart to think it was a good idea to be in bed with Luthor.

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  7. "It's like Donald Trump running for President x 100. Donald Trump has no chance of actually winning the presidency."

    Sadly I'm reading this on Monday February 22nd 2016 and Trump has a very real chance of securing the republican nomination for president. He may win the whitehouse. He may not. But I can't deal in absolutes either way.

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    1. I'm reading this on Wendsday November 9th 2016. Yeah.

      *sigh* Might as well just take back the whole notion that known super criminal Lex Luthor running for president and actually getting elected despite who and what he is being so out in the open is a dumb and unrealistic idea. In real life, people really are that stupid.

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    2. And Norman Osborn's Dark Reign...

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    3. Basically any work of fiction that put an obvious villain in the White House or a position similar to it now cannot be called a breaking of suspension of disbelief. This is our reality now.

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