The Ties that Bind | Episode 15 (67)
Aired: February 12th, 2005
Heroes: Mr. Miracle, Big Barda, Flash, Elongated Man, Fire and J'onn Jonzz
Villains: Granny Goodness, Kalibak and Virman Vunderbarr
Objects: Mega Rod, Boom Tube, Aerodiscs, and Mother Box
Places: X-Pit, Justice League Unlimited Watchtower, and Apokolips
Beasts: Robots, Parademons, and Warhounds
Story By: Jim Steranko
Teleplay By: J M DeMatteis
Directed By: Dan Riba
ReviewReview written by Alex Weitzman
Magicians and escape artists, by the nature of their trade, require the grandest level of willing suspension of disbelief. We know it's a show. They only do these "magical" things on a stage, where we know there's plenty of tools and tricks for them to achieve their illusions. It's the art of misdirection, not magic. For Mr. Miracle, we are to assume that he is greater than this, because he doesn't confine his abilities to a stage. The opening scene toys with us just the same as David Copperfield might, but it's acceptable because it's meant for a show. On the other hand, his later escape from the water trap is no mere entertainment, and that's where the episode sadly fails. Sorry, pal, but you don't quite have the cred yet to pull the ol' switcheroo on the audience. When the Flash says, "Trade secret," we can hazard a pretty good guess as to what that secret is. When Mr. Miracle says it, it's just a copout.
Lesser episodes of JLU like Hawk and Dove and Dark Heart, even with their various shortcomings, managed to effectively showcase and/or introduce JLU's new heroes, characters heretofore unseen in the DCAU. Mr. Miracle has the ignominious position of being JLU's first real weak showing for a new hero. Based on this episode alone, Mr. Miracle exhibits one of the blandest personalities yet presented in the League (even if he doesn't officially belong). The one instance where he could have presented a side of himself that was less square-chinned-hero - his refusal to let Barda and Flash accompany him - was rendered moot by his inability to actually argue the point. The scene boiled down to: "Don't come with me." "No, we're coming." "Okay, let's go!" Some of this may be due to the idea of Miracle being some sort of beacon of hope (it's the only thing his flashbacks seem to be saying). The only way that would be effectively portrayed is if the rest of The Ties That Bind, cast and atmosphere and plot all in one,is a paragon of hopelessness. This is most obviously not the case, as the episode is far too willfully silly to present a dark place that Scott Free can shine through.
There are other problems with The Ties That Bind, like weaker animation and less-interesting fights(save one element that will be mentioned later), but DCAU fans are used to these problems sometimes popping up, even in great episodes like Mad as a Hatter. When it comes to pointing the finger at why this episode disappoints, it can fall squarely on Scott. Why did they have to take him in this yawn of a direction? According to my comic-knowledgeable buddies, Mr. Miracle was known as something of a wild card amongst the New Gods, even a preening showboater. Frankly, I'd have preferred seeing his characterization go even farther with that. He's an escape artist, so let's get some Vegas into his personality, for chrissakes. Make him hot-to-trot, and not only do you have a more intriguing schmuck that would be worth watching, but you'd also have a character born to create friction between himself and the other characters. Friction is what was sorely lacking. A goofy non-villain like Vermin Vunderbarr will work fine if the heroes themselves can provide enough conflict without his input. That's why Vermin makes far less of an impact in this episode than Granny Goodness, a character that just oozes friction by virtue of both history and characterization. If Mr. Miracle had some Siegfield and Roy in him, then just imagine what fun his interactions with Barda and Flash could've been.
Still, the episode is not a total loss. It is a weak showing for JLU, because Miracle is the episode's driving force and he is the main faltering element. But like Pretty Poison, the episode manages to assist another characterization while missing the point of the main one. Here, Mr. Miracle's loss is the Flash's gain. It's refreshing to be brought back into the world of Wally West, a superhero that manages to earn both respect and disrespect in almost the same breath. He's been one of the League's strongest characterizations from the very beginning, and Wally was in fine form here. The one time the fighting got good for me was when Wally let loose on their initial arrival at Apokolips. He's also still the funniest League member. And despite it essentially being a subplot, the Flash's arc in the episode proves to be The Ties That Bind's most insightful and interesting quality. Like in A Better World, we once again see that the Flash is a crucial member of the League by virtue of his relentless humanity, something that may be lost in the grand design of the new League support system, which J'onn most clearly represents. Wally's willingness to break protocol to help Miracle and Barda speaks volumes, and it's heartwarming to see that J'onn is still open to this alternate viewpoint, as seen in the end. The Ties That Bind doesn't do much for its new characters, but for those two old regulars, it's a welcome return.