The Greatest Story Never Told | Episode 8 (60)
Aired: September 11, 2004
Heroes: Booster Gold, J'onn Jonzz, Wonder Woman, Batman, Hawk, Fire, Shining Knight, Vigilante, Ice, STRIPE, Stargirl, Superman, Captain Atom, Green Lantern, Dove, Dr. Light, Huntress, Elongated Man, Vibe, Aztek, Supergirl, Thunderbolt, Ray, Atom Smasher, Crimson Avenger, Blue Devil, Rocket Red, Wildcat, Dr. Mid-nite, Obsidian and Starman
Supporting: Skeets, Dr. Tracy Simmons and Dr. Daniel Brown
Objects: Utility Belt (Grappling Gun), Justice League Communication Link, Power Ring, Black Hole, and Gravity Inhibitor
Places: Metropolis, Justice League Unlimited Watchtower, and STAR Labs
Beasts: Giant Robot, Demons, Dragon, Winged Victory, and Killer Building
Written By: Andrew Kreisberg
Directed By: Dan Riba
ReviewReview written by Alex Weitzman
I suppose you can't gather that many superheroes together in one place without at least a couple of them being there for less-than-savory reasons. It's to be expected, really; with so many different personality types and power variations, somebody's gotta be looking out for #1. And if shameless self-absorption is the name of the game, Booster Gold is the name of the player. With this episode, JLU takes another step towards success on its most difficult travail: turning these unknown heroes into distinctive and compelling personalities. The Greatest Story Never Told is one of those stories that is fueled almost entirely on the charisma and situation of its main character.
At last count, seven JLU episodes have aired, and three of them have been blatant shifts towards the goofier end of superheroic storytelling: Kid Stuff, This Little Piggy, and The Greatest Story Never Told. That's a pretty high ratio, and unless there's none to occur in the future (an unlikely outcome), the time is nigh to ask why the series has strayed into more comedic territory on the whole. Obviously, part of this is due to the time constraints of the half-hour episode; it is easier to make a funny 22-minute story than an epic one, since the last try at an epic story ended up feeling sadly undercut (Hawk and Dove). In fact, The Greatest Story Never Told is itself an amusing parody of such epicness. There's a lot of big, sprawling epic action in the episode, but it's either mostly off-screen with Mordru or played for laughs with Booster. You really can't achieve real "epicness" with the timeframe provided, because the necessary balance between character development and fighting is just rendered shorter thanks to a 22-minute format. The fights are climactic, but not epic. Ergo, JLU is scattered more with character-based pieces like For The Man Who Has Everything or Fearful Symmetry and comedy fun like Kid Stuff and This Little Piggy.
Also, with the expanded League, the camp factor goes higher and superheroism becomes less a matter of nobility and more a joke to be exploited. While some of that is present in JLU, I think the team has done a fair job of balancing it out with real insights into actual heroism, like with Initiation or For The Man Who Has Everything. The Greatest Story Never Told shares that quality to some extent, although the comedy somewhat mutes the message. Booster is there for the wrong reasons: fame, money, girls - the works. Folks like J'onn have no appreciation for these sentiments at all because they've got much more noble reasons for doing what they do. The episode is careful not to vilify those who condescend or bark at Booster, because the episode does in fact consider their motivations to be superior. Batman's anger at Booster is off-putting at first, as we've come to identify with the lout, but Batman is still correct that Booster left the job assigned to him to be a gloryhound. What he did while deserting his position is irrelevant. But Booster at least makes the discovery that self-awareness and honesty actually does make him a better hero. After all, he wasn't able to make the commitment to the danger of the vortex guy until after he admitted how selfish his own reasons were in the first place, because getting it out proved to him why he was necessary. (Also, said honesty helped him charm the girl in the end. Squeaky wheel, indeed.) Did Booster learn a lesson? Maybe not, which might be a problem with the episode. We don't know if he walks away realizing the problem with his post abandonment, so his hook-up with Tracy might be poor reinforcement.
But the episode, as I said earlier, is carried quite strongly by Booster Gold and his floating sidekick. It's a good marriage of talent between them: Tom Everett Scott, the affable lead of That Thing You Do!, and Billy West, the uber-talented voice actor of Ren & Stimpy and Futurama fame. The latter is an especially gratifying voice to hear, bringing his zippy wisdom and flair to every line, stealing whole scenes without having a face or body to utilize. Indeed, when Skeets was sucked into the black hole, I immediately started missing him. And Booster is just one of those lovable jerks who instantly captures a certain position in an audience's sympathy: liked enough to follow through a story, but disliked enough to deserve any punishment he gets. The episode would not have worked without them.