The Doomsday Sanction | Episode 16 (68)
Aired: February 19th, 2005
Heroes: Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Shayera Hol, J'onn Jonzz, Superman, Hawk, Vixen, Fire, Ice, Black Canary, Booster Gold, Vibe, Obsidian, Hourman, Wildcat and Shining Knight
Villains: Lex Luthor, Dr. Milo, General Eiling, Hugo Strange, Tala and Doomsday
Supporting: Amanda Waller and Professor Hamilton
Objects: Justice League Communication Link, Kryptonite, Javelin, Lasso of Truth, and Phantom Zone Projector
Places: Waller's Estate, Justice League Unlimited Watchtower, and San Baquero
Story By: Dwayne McDuffie
Teleplay By: Robert Goodman
Directed By: Dan Riba
ReviewReview written by Alex Weitzman
Fearful Symmetry was a tease, a passing hint at what forces may yet come. Initiation silently posed the question, "Do you think you Leaguers can really control all this?", but was unable to really explore it. Here, these two parallel conflicts have crashed face-first into each other, and it's glorious. Whatever surprises may yet come our way in JLU, we will at least always have The Doomsday Sanction by which to use as one of the finest single cinematic essays about one of the most basic and important quandries inherently posed by the League itself: have they gone in the right direction, or the wrong one?
It helps that the episode itself is so jam-packed with stuff that it has a wildly breathless quality to it, consistently screwing the ratchet tighter on our tensions as chilling twist after chilling twist bloom. The episode deals in very heady issues (politics, morals, destiny), and these could very well have been boring without the visceral shot-in-the-arm of the episode's action and drive. The one thing that, in retrospect, bothered me a little about the episode was Bruce's sudden shift to absolute grumpiness in the end, despite spending most of the episode defending the League very strongly. Dramatically, it was sort of blunt. And yet, it did not even register to me after what had gone before. Emotions were running high and the stakes were running even higher. Batman, it seems, was a volcano of his own, and while there seemed to be a lot more warning with the real volcano's eruption, some can go off in a split-second. By the way, kudos to TimmCo for the wonderful metaphoric setup of the episode, with the volcano mirroring the rising furor between Cadmus and the League, with innocent and uninvolved people's lives at stake.
It is easy to be of two minds about the serious questions that Sanction raises. In fact, it's one of the most ambiguous approaches to "the superhero question" that I've ever seen TimmCo attempt. On one side, I have never seen so much evidence to be frightened of the League before. Wonder Woman may be known for her flaring temper, but it still sent a shiver up my spine to hear her yelling at Flash, almost like he was in the way. Contrast that, of course, with the Flash's point about the Flash-less Lords going rogue. Amanda Waller, seemingly so evil before, presented an amazingly credible argument and actually started making me like her - before she even confronted General Eding about the nuke. Superman's eye beams were a sudden shock and practically heartbreaking to watch him use, given the context of where we've seen that before.
And then, of course, there's the question of the Phantom Zone. While I personally cannot see how Doomsday could have been dealt with in any other fashion, the mere idea that they built that room with those throne-like chairs is perhaps the scariest thing I've ever seen in the Watchtower. Trials don't suit superheroes, and that's because the whole vigilante concept doesn't stand up under that much scrutiny. If Wonder Woman had simply thrown Supes the Phantom Zone projector in the heat of battle and sent Doomsday off before he could pounce on him, we'd probably accept it without question. Because that's fighting. This wasn't, and it causes us to reconsider things we dared not reconsider.
And yet, despite all of that, I actually officially come down on the other side. That's right - I'm siding against Batman, or more accurately, with Superman. Like I said, this episode is ambiguous, not frightening. There may be a lot of justifiable doubts that can be raised from The Doomsday Sanction, but there's just as much deep-seated proof that the JLU is still where our sympathies deserve to lie, and after thinking about it for a bit, I've concluded that Sanction convinces me more that the Leaguers are not the Lorders. There may be a lot of possible roads ahead of them that could take them on a Lorder path, but based on what I saw in Sanction coupled with what we see in A Better World, I think there's ample evidence that this League will stay the course of righteousness. Especially as compared to Cadmus.
After all, consider the differences in the basis of their formation. Cadmus is a reactionary group, formed in response to the League; not only that, it clearly presents itself as an American unit, based solely on protection from the League for the USA. (Although, given the presences of Hades and the Annihilator in recent previews, might there be some Greek dieties behind all this? Did Batman's bathroom discussion with Waller carry a North Kasnia/South Kasnia air to it, or am I crazy?) The League bears no political distinctions. This may make it untrustworthy to folks like Eding, who think in terms of national good vs. evil, but clearly the League is better for being border-blind. After all, who was doing the civilian evacuating at the site of the volcano - Cadmus or the League? Eding's cold dismissal of the consequences of his nuke may have shocked Waller, but he's also being true to Cadmus and America; they're not us, so there's no reason to cry about it.
Best of all, remember that Superman, mid-Doomsday-fight, insisted to Wonder Woman that saving the civilians was far more important than helping him. Here, we see why Superman has always been a great hero. He would gladly give his life in service of saving other lives. The Lorder Superman, if you think about it, was the absolute opposite. With him, it had to be about himself, and only himself. He barely took his fellow Lorders' opinions into account, and certainly not the people's. The people suffered under his rule, because he had his own ideas about what rule was. Our Superman only cared about making sure the people remained alive. Even A Better World confirms this: Luthor poses far less of a threat to the people than he does to the League. He was making a power disrupter, not a nuclear bomb. Lorder Superman sees Luthor as a threat to himself, not humanity, and our Superman put his own life at risk by freeing him so that he could take Lorder Superman down. (Recall that Luthor was tempted to do the same to Leaguer Superman after all was said and done.) That's why Batman was being unfair in the last scene of Sanction; he may have "taken a bullet" for Superman, but Superman was planning on taking a bullet for everyone else. It's self-sacrifice that makes a hero, and both Batman and Superman have it in spades, even if their personalities are so diametrically different that they naturally cause friction like in Sanction. Until I see reason otherwise, I trust Superman and the League more than Batman does. I'll root for them until they give me a cause not to.