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It’s all hands on deck for “War” as a new alien threat emerges and forces all of the usual players to pay attention. Lately, we have been watching the Reach and our heroes maneuvering around each other on their chessboard, so it’s exciting to see a third party suddenly come in and kick their board over.
I theorized back in “Cornered” that the showrunners used Despero for the role of conquering alien gladiator instead of Mongul because there were other plans in store for the big yellow guy. Here he is, and it’s a pretty sweet role that they saved him for. The episode gives him a strong portrayal. Yes, he obviously ends up defeated and the Earth is not destroyed. But it takes the combined efforts of the Justice League, the team, the military and the Reach to hold him off. Even before that, we see the aliens on Rimbor and the Reach nearly piss themselves at his sheer presence. Even though it’s only one episode, it’s a great treatment for one of DC’s classic villains. And you can’t go wrong with Keith David providing the voice.
“War” gets off to an exciting start by checking in with the Justice League on Rimbor, whom we haven’t seen anything about since they left Earth to stand trial for an attack the Light mind-controlled them into committing. It’s mainly exciting just to see them again. Their situation is exactly what any viewer has probably assumed. They are trying to explain that were being controlled, and the aliens are skeptical about their convoluted story. In that regard, it’s a bit disappointing there’s no progress on this front. But we do get a nice introduction to Mongul out of it and some exposition on how and why the Reach operates.
From there, we get right into the action. Mongul’s Warworld is within sight of Earth in the very next scene. It comes off as jarring at first to have him get there so quickly, but that’s really my own fault. I should be paying more attention to the timestamps the show includes at the start of major scenes. I actually feel kind of bad, because I don’t think the show gets enough credit for how organized it is in that respect. It’s no easy task to be so specific with time’s passage in your show. So when actually paying attention, I can see that the scene with the Justice League on Rimbor actually takes place back around the same time that Despero was on Earth trashing the Hall of Justice. And it’s nearly two months later in the next scene when we see Warworld coming toward Earth. This show definitely has its act together. I should be paying more attention.
What makes this episode so fun is that it’s a classic “enemy of my enemy” story. Mongul is bad news for everyone. The Reach doesn’t want him to succeed anymore than the heroes do, and no party can stop him on its own. So you have what remains of the Justice League taking on Warworld directly, the team sneaking in around back, the military doing what it can and the Reach having to throw in as well to get the job done. It makes for a fun change of pace.
At face value, “War” no doubt looks like a big Michael Bay-ish blockbuster story. It is. But it manages to be that while still including a surprising amount of character development.
This is where the ongoing relationship drama between Guardian and Bumblebee comes to a head. First, I’m happy to see Mal is keeping with the Guardian identity. I’ve really come to like the character in this season. This episode has me worrying at first, though. His bickering with Bumblebee on the mission gets a little childish and far from the direction I was hoping things would go. However, it all turns around in the end in a pretty solid way. Those two just needed to have things out and get it all in the open. Mal getting more involved as Guardian forces the issue, making it harder to ignore him now that he’s on the front lines too. This also goes a long way toward redeeming Bumblebee, who hadn’t looked all that great throughout this drama. Having her admit to what she was doing in a sincere way was a good thing. Ideally, this will be the end of their little story thread. This is a resolution, and there’s really nothing to be gained by trying to squeeze more drama out of them.
Arsenal steals just about every scene he’s in, and it’s pretty great. I’m really enjoying what the show has done with him. Seeing him trying to go up against a powerhouse like Mongul is just crazy, but it’s part of this Roy’s charm. The real good stuff comes later in the episode, though. His little freak-out at the possibility of being captured again is fantastic. I know his behavior here isn’t admirable, but you can’t tell me it’s not understandable. It’s important to remember that under all the bravado he’s a traumatized kid. He was abducted and maimed on top of having his life stolen from him. He may have found a new identity for himself and a sweet bionic arm, but he is not all right. His panic and desperation when cornered by the Reach’s operative is really the only believable thing the show could have done with his character. You’re damn right Arsenal isn’t going to let himself be taken again.
Finally, there’s the Light. We only see Vandal Savage briefly, but that’s all it takes to say a lot about where the Light stands in everything that is going on. I know last episode had Lex Luthor telling the little Super Friends that they were moving against the Reach, but he’s Lex Luthor. You can’t believe anything he says. What happens in “War” shows it, though. It shows just how deeply the Light is able to manipulate events. Hell, you have Vandal Savage on Rimbor attending the Justice League’s trial, and that’s where he points Mongul toward Earth. All of a sudden, the Light are back to looking like the real major threat. It seems like the Reach comes out on top of things by the end of this episode, but they really don’t. The Light manufactured a crisis that forced the Reach to play its two biggest cards, the hidden fleet and Blue Beetle. Now, their secrets are out. Their fleet is mostly trashed. A big portion of the team has been taken down. But the Light remain untouched.
With a season so invested in DC’s alien threats, I would have been majorly disappointed if Mongul never made an appearance. “War” gives me that and doesn’t let me down. I’ll admit that Warworld itself, while awesomely animated, could have been a little more impressive and threatening. But hey, the point is to not let Earth get blown up. I’ll forgive it. There’s too much else to enjoy anyway from seeing the Reach scared to the resolution of Guardian and Bumblebee’s drama to a huge space battle. This is a fun, action-packed episode that doesn’t sacrifice character and plot development to deliver.