Justice League and its sequel series, Justice League Unlimited is without a doubt the definitive depiction of the League to date. Sorry #snydercut fans. Over four seasons (more, if you’re counting Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series) this show has given us iconic stories that cut to the very heart of what we love about Batman, Superman and the rest of the DC Universe.
Let’s take a look at the best episodes across the Justice League animated franchise.
10. Hereafter, Justice League, Season 2 Episodes 19 & 20
Superman is dead. Long live Superman. After a group of villains nicknamed “The Superman Revenge Squad” gets, well, their revenge, the Justice League and the world mourn the death of Superman. Or is he? Turns out the beam didn’t kill Superman but flung him far into the future, on a desolate, red sun tinged Earth. This Justice League episode is great because it strips Superman of his powers and shows you what he’s really all about. Also, the immortal villain, Vandal Savage teams up with Superman to get him back to the past. If that didn’t convince you, The Main Man, Lobo also makes an appearance, to take Superman’s place in the League.
9. A Better World, Justice League, Season 2, Episodes 11 & 12
"A Better World" is a great “What if?” episode of Justice League. In it, an alternate reality version of our heroes, the Justice Lords, enforce peace through fascist and totalitarian means. This episode is so effective because they show in no uncertain terms why a fascist Superman would be so deadly. He turns Lex Luthor into a pile of ash in the cold open! During a fight with Doomsday, Superman decides to cut the fight short and uses his heat vision to lobotomize him. Speaking of lobotomy, when our good guys break into the alternate Earth Arkham Asylum, turns out Superman has also fricasseed the brains of basically every supervillain in the DCU. What’s really cool is this episode plants some seeds which come back around way down the road in Justice League Unlimited.
8. Star Crossed, Justice League, Season 2, Episodes 24, 25, & 26
So epic, they had to take three parts to tell the series finale to Justice League. Turns out Hawkgirl hasn’t been entirely truthful with the Justice League about herself. Her real mission on Earth all along was to scout for a planned invasion. What’s great about "Star Crossed" and most of Season 2, actually, is that somewhere along the line this show went from children’s programming, to a full on superhero drama. Just as Green Lantern and Hawkgirl’s relationship is heating up, her alien boyfriend shows up for a nice, Thanagarian love triangle. We also get some classic “ends justify the means” plotting as we learn the true reason for Thanagar’s invasion. Of course the Justice League saves the day, but the price was the very idea of the league itself, including Hawkgirl’s resignation.
7. Task Force X, Justice League Unlimited, Season 2, Episode 4
The REAL Suicide Squad on display here. Forget Harley Quinn or bright neon colors. "Task Force X" plays off like an awesome heist film, complete with a fun score. The mission? Break into Justice League headquarters and steal the Annihilator armor. The client? Project Cadmus. A rare episode where this team of supervillains are the main characters. Something else I love about this episode is it really relies on the personalities of the supervillains, because they spend the entire episode disguised as Justice League watchtower employees. What makes Deadshot, Deadshot if not for his cool eye piece? Okay, okay Captain Boomerang does get his titular weapons to use, but what I’m getting at is you really get a vibe for these villains through their personalities and the way they (don’t) get along. This episode also establishes Project Cadmus as a real threat, as the good guys actually take an L in this Justice League Unlimited episode.
6. The Ties That Bind, Justice League Unlimited, Season 2, Episode 4
You may be noticing all the best Justice League episodes tend to feature Darkseid and other “Fourth World'' characters created by Jack Kirby. Here’s another one to toss onto the pile. A power vacuum has emerged on Apokolips in the wake of Darkseid’s disappearance, and Granny Goodness (definitely not good) needs Mister Miracle to help fill it. "The Ties That Bind" is an excellent showcase for Mister Miracle and Big Barda (a cooler, more badass version of Wonder Woman), giving us not only a taste of that Fourth World weirdness that comics fans love, but also the unwavering love between Miracle and Barda on full display. Flash also somehow gets wrapped up into this adventure to great delight, as he had mostly been on the sidelines of Justice League Unlimited until now.
5. For The Man Who Has Everything, Justice League Unlimited, Season 1 Episode 2
Yes, Alan Moore’s greatest work is without a doubt, Watchmen. But he’s written his fair share of cape and tights stories too! This Justice League Unlimited episode is adapted from Moore’s 1985 story of the same name. It’s the Man of Steel’s birthday. Batman gives him straight up cash, naturally. When he and Wonder Woman arrive they find Superman looking like a vegetable, with a big, honking alien plant strapped to his chest. Turns out he’s trapped in a hallucination that has him living a full life on a Krypton that never exploded. Here he’s got a family of his own, he’s a respected scientist working alongside his father. Heartbreakingly, before he snaps out of it, he has to say goodbye to Krypton all over again. Let’s just say he’s not too happy at the villain who put him there when he finally wakes up.
4. The Once And Future Thing, Justice League Unlimited, Season 1, Episodes 12 & 13
A two-part time traveling epic, "The Once and Future Thing." Part 1 of this two-parter taps into some awesome obscure Western DC characters like Jonah Hex, El Diablo, Pow-Wow Smith, and Bat Lash. Even cooler when Part 2 zaps to the future, we get a great mashing up of DC animated properties. Batman Beyond and Warhawk (previously seen in Batman Beyond) show up, as well as a great scene where old Bruce Wayne plays bad cop, and young Batman plays good cop. Also featured is an adult Static Shock, from his own cartoon of the same name, which Michael B. Jordan recently signed on to produce as a film for Warner Bros. Perhaps the coolest cameo for all the comic fans out there is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene with Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, his only appearance in this franchise to date.
3. Epilogue, Justice League Unlimited, Season 2, Episode 13
"Epilogue" was originally intended as a series finale, and you can tell. Sort of a capper not only to the Justice League cartoon, but the DC Animated Universe as a whole, going all the way back to Batman: The Animated Series. This episode goes even further into the future than we’ve ever seen, with an adult Terry McGinnis and ailing Bruce Wayne. "Epilogue" is also a great Batman showcase that evokes some of the most poignant episodes from his solo series.
After Ace of the Royal Flush Gang’s powers go out of control, it’s determined the only course of action is to put her down for good. After Amanda Waller (yes, the perennially thorn in the Justice League’s side) creates a weapon to kill the out-of-control villain, Batman volunteers to do the job. Except, he doesn’t. Batman does not kill, and he isn’t going to start now. What follows is a touching and poignant look into the heart of what makes Batman, Batman. Seriously go look this one up and bring a box of tissues.
2. Destroyer, Justice League Unlimited, Season 3, Episode 13
"Destroyer," the actual series finale to Justice League Unlimited. Darkseid is back (no wonder the episode is so good) and he’s ready to take down Earth. This is Avengers: Endgame, before there was ever a Marvel Studios. It takes the combined might of our superheroes AND our villains to stop Darkseid. This also features maybe one of the coolest Superman scenes across all mediums, when he finally gets to let loose the full might of his power against Darkseid. In the end, Lex Luthor saves the day by offering Darkseid the only thing he wants, the Anti-Life Equation. The best part is the ending is left wide open so in this current age of reboots and continuations, maybe we’ll get to see the adventures of this version of the Justice League again.
1. Question Authority, Justice League Unlimited, Season 2, Episode 9
I’m cheating a little bit here because "Question Authority" really kicks off an incredible four-episode arc the fandom has dubbed, “The Cadmus Arc”. Remember those seeds from Justice League’s “A Better World” I was talking about? Here you go! Turns out the US has been fearful of the League’s growing power and authority, and unleash their contingencies to take them down. This arc pays off in spades on years-long plot points. The Justice Lords, the genetic clones, Lex Luthor, Cadmus all come to a head in this arc. Also, a body horror Lex Luthor/Brainiac mash up shows up, so yeah. This is the one, folks. I dare you to find a better Justice League story in media, and maybe in comics as well.
Do you prefer Justice League or Justice League: Unlimited? Make sure to check out the poll below! We won’t have to wait long for more adventures of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, as Zack Snyder’s Justice League premieres on HBO Max on March 18th.