(Editor’s note: Though the two parter “In Blackest Night” is officially the fourth and fifth episodes of Justice League, as we’re reviewing each story together, this is Episode Two.)
On some distant planet that is some kind of budget Senate gathering from Star Wars Episode One, a court convenes, presided over what can only be described as a distant relation of the Quintessons from Transformers. They despatch the Manhunters to capture the accused: The Justice League’s resident Green Lantern, John Stewart.
Cut to John rocking some 70’s Blaxploitation threads and accompanying soundtrack, in his old neighbourhood. He casually foils a robbery and meets up with his old history teacher, establishing his good guy credentials.
On The Watchtower, Flash is attempting to flirt with Hawkgirl before being shot down by her and Martian Manhunter.
They all then spot the inbound Manhunters, and with Batman “busy”, Wonder Woman “on another case” (nobody suspects they may be having an office romance – it’s the first conclusion we jumped to), Superman “dealing with an earthquake” (probably trying to find out if Batman and Wonder Woman are an item so he can brood) and Green Lantern conveniently out of communication, they jet off to take them on.
The Manhunters locate John having his barnet trimmed at the local barber’s shop, only for the rest of the Leaguers to take exception to them stomping through a neighbourhood unannounced. Hawkgirl tries to smash and gets smashed, J’onn, perhaps forgetting he can turn intangible and turn into A 50 TALL DRAGON THAT COULD SMASH THEM EASILY elects to keep getting electrocuted, while Flash doesn’t do much apart from run into outstretched fists. It takes Superman’s late arrival to turn the tide, and if anything, this gives a really good indication of how much more powerful he is, brushing off their heaviest blows and weapons and giving them a good kicking. He’s about to square up for round two when Green Lantern arrives and tells everyone to calm down. He’ll willingly go with The Manhunters, much to their surprise.
Green Lantern is taken to Ajuris 5, in a ship The Manhunters scrounged from somewhere, because when they rolled up at Earth they were under their own steam.
The Guardians, introduced for the first time (see below for more detail on them) on their home planet of Oa, pontificate about whether they need to intervene, before deciding not to, and GL is brought before the court. Other Green Lanterns (including one that looks like a stress toy that is pretty bitchy with him), berate him, not subscribing to their own code of law that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. A Manhunter, supposedly emotionless, gets a bit shirty when a Lantern bumps into him, only to be told by his senior “no, not yet,” the first hint that something fishy is going on.
The League track GL down and make headway towards Ajuris 5, only to encounter some resistance, but while downing the planet’s defensive ships, Superman again shows his good side by saving the pilots of the crashing ships and preventing them from crashing (are you watching, Zack Snyder?). J’onn also remembers his powers in downing some ships and fighting the land forces, which makes things much easier.
Superman and the others gatecrash the trial and chuck a couple of bailiffs around, merely to ask for a seat (surely asking at the front door would be more civil?), and find out that GL is charged with the destruction of the planet Ajuris 4. A pirate named Kanjar-Ro testifies that John attempted to arrest him while doing some gun running, and in his overzealousness, a stray shot from his ring ignited a volcano that destroyed the planet. At this point, The League understand John wants to clear his name, but are taken somewhat by surprise when he admits he’s guilty. Hawkgirl doesn’t believe he’s responsible for the deaths of 3 billion people, so Superman, realising that they’ve left Batman at home and the World’s Greatest Detective might come in handy here, decides to do it himself because, well, he’s Superman. He and J’onn toddle off up to the remains of Ajuris 4, while Hawkgirl and Flash buy them some time, which leads nicely to Flash’s hilarious turn as a defence attorney.
John isn’t up for defending himself, having accepted the circumstances, only for Flash to step up the plate on John’s behalf. Realising he might well be executed if he fails, Flash admirably carries on going with as much legal bunkum as he can, while Hawkgirl notices the other Lanterns have gone off to get trollied in the nearest bar. Shaming them into returning to stand up for their friend, Hawkgirl notices Kanjar-Ro talking to The Manhunters, as Flash continues to rack up the cliches until Green Lantern Kilowog turns up.
He offers himself up as a character witness, which doesn’t make much difference when the Prosecutor ties him in knots. That leads to the arrival of the Guardians, who have obviously seen enough episodes of Law and Order to know where this is going.
Meanwhile, Superman and J’onn discover a moon around what used to be Ajuris 4, and deduce that the moon shouldn’t be there if the planet was destroyed. Why they’re wearing spacesuits when both can breath in space, heaven only knows, but Kanjar-Ro attempts to bury them, only for Hawkgirl to ride to the rescue and blow his ship to bits.
Cut to a Manhunter Union meeting, where they decree that their fiendish plot is about to come to fruition, and they’ve successfully lured The Guardians away from Oa. Now they can attack the home planet of their oldest enemy. It was a trick all along! They worked with Kanjar-Ro to frame John Stewart, attracting the attention of the Lanterns’ bosses so they would leave Oa unprotected.
Back at the trial, Flash’s feeble defence falls on deaf ears and he and John are sentenced to death. The Manhunters depart Ajuris 5 to enact their evil plan, but Superman singlehandedly stops the execution and Hawkgirl bashes apart a hologram generator that was hiding Ajuris 4 from view. The court falls apart, while John gets his ring (and his mojo) back. Superman and John confront The Guardians who admit that they created The Manhunters years ago, and eventually replaced them with the Green Lantern Corps as the robots couldn’t understand the subtleties between right and wrong.
On Oa, millions of Manhunters swarm the planet and quickly overrun it, ready to kill the few remaining residents. Just in time (inevitably), John, the remaining Guardians, and the League arrive to kick some proverbial backside. With things at a stalemate, the other Lanterns arrive and turn the tide, until the chief Manhunter attacks and enters the Central Power Battery. John is powerless to stop him, until he utters the Lantern Oath, which overloads the battery and purges the Manhunter from within. The rest are soon sent packing, with John’s credibility and Lantern status restored.
Let me write that down (connections to DC Comics and their history):
The episode title is a reference to the Green Lantern Oath that each member swears to when they’re inducted into the Corps: “In brightest day, in blackest night, No evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil’s might, Beware my power, Green Lantern’s light.”
The episode is loosely adapted from a two-part story that ran in the Justice League of America comic in 1977. The stories were titled “No Man Escapes the Manhunter” and “No World Escapes the Manhunters”. Both were written by Steve Englehart.
In the Green Lantern comics, The Manhunters were the original peacekeeping force created by The Guardians, before they realised their lack of emotions made them a dangerous threat to the very people they wanted to protect.
Not really a connection to DC, but this episode features a stellar guest voice cast, with Kurtwood Smith (Robocop, Star Trek: Voyager), voicing the Prosecutor on Ajuris 5, Rene Auberjonois (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Frasier) as Kanjar-Ro, and James Remar (Django Unchained, RED, 2 Fast 2 Furious) as the Manhunter Commander.
Did you DCU that? (connections to other DC Animated Universe shows):
The episode title follows on from the Superman: The Animated Series episode “In Brightest Day”, that introduced Green Lantern Kyle Rayner.
I’ll get you next time (characters and consequences that will show up in later episodes):
Not too many references here to future Justice League episodes, other than the fact that Batman and Wonder Woman don’t show up. That would become a theme in several episodes throughout season one, where all members of the League would rarely tackle a threat together.
Faster than a speeding bullet (Jokes that may go over some heads):
We’re not including this in every episode, but occasionally there’s some jokes that are a a little mature for the intended audience, for example: When Flash catches Hawkgirl after she’s thrown down the street by a Manhunter, his “aren’t you going to thank me?” line is greeted with a “down boy” from Shayera, more than a little double entendre there…
The judges on Ajuris 5 tell Flash they solved their lawyer problem many years ago, later in the conversation it when John’s ultimate fate (death) is discussed, the judge declares “that’s how we solved our lawyer problem”. A little dig at money grabbing lawyers but also hinting a subtext where an entire profession was summarily executed. Not exactly kid friendly…
While Flash is defending Green Lantern, he says, “If the ring wasn’t lit, you must acquit.” This is a reference to the O.J Simpson murder trial in the ’90s where, in defense of Simpson, his lawyer Johnnie Cochran said, “If the glove does not fit, you must acquit.”
Lacking the spectacle of “Secret Origins”, but understandably so, “In Blackest Night” is a solid start to season one proper. Superman’s power is highlighted, as is Green Lantern’s nobility, Hawkgirl’s bravery and Flash’s immaturity. The only downsides are the absence of Batman and Wonder Woman after their starring roles in the opening story and you could argue how much stronger Superman is made to look in comparison with the other Leaguers when they first encounter the Manhunters. This is more about John Stewart’s nobility than anything else though, and in that regard, it works.