Wake the Dead | Episode 11 (63)
Aired: December 18, 2004
Heroes: Aquaman, Shayera Hol, Dr. Fate, Green Lantern, Vixen and Superman
Supporting: A.M.A.Z.O., Inza, and Sroya Bashir
Villains: Solomon Grundy
Objects: Chess, Aquaman's Harpoon, Helmet of Fate, Ankh, Justice League Communication Link, Power Ring, Vixen's Totem, and Nth Metal
Places: Louisiana University and Dr. Fate's Tower
Beasts: Demon and Giant Octopus
Story By: Dwayne McDuffie and Bruce Timm
Teleplay By: Dwayne McDuffie
Directed By: Joaquim Dos Santos
ReviewReview written by Alex Weitzman
What an interesting pedigree this episode has. The finest moment of the second season of Justice League for me was Starcrossed, and its most lackluster was The Terror Beyond. Obviously, Wake the Dead is more of a spiritual sequel to the latter, but the former, by virtue of how important and all-affecting it was, is guaranteed to become implicated in it. For an episode that has TWO previous episodes to bring some closure to (three if you count The Return), it has a lot of characters - a full seven heroes, in fact. One of those heroes is new, and is introduced in a precarious and tense position as John's new girl. There's a lot of action to be had here, by virtue of it being Grundy's episode, not to mention a version of Grundy who can do nothing but attack. So how cohesive and powerful could something like this be? Amazingly, Wake the Dead features those qualities more than I could have predicted, and puts it up there with For The Man Who Has Everything and Fearful Symmetry as the best this season.
Perhaps it would help to understand what I did and did not like about The Terror Beyond for a reference point about why Wake the Dead did so well with me. Terror tried to do two things at once: tell a story about Hawkgirl dealing with faith, and show how Grundy can be an inadvertent hero. Of the two, the latter is a better story. After all, when one can waltz right into the home of the "god" one's people once worshipped, faith - the belief in the unknown - isn't really much of an issue. Grundy's story, on the other hand, had awesome comic potential. There is a wonderful episode of Pinky and the Brain where the entire episode is seen through Pinky's point of view, both visually and aurally, and we see what sort of massive misunderstandings and omissions are responsible for his constant idiocy. There was a chance to pull this with Grundy in Terror, especially with his wild misinterpretation of who has his soul. There's no good reason that Ichthultu would have Grundy's soul (since when did Ichthultu have anything to do with Louisiana swamp magic?), and yet, that's what makes it so funny when Grundy destroys him for it and saves the day for Earth. Terror fails though by essentially robbing the episode from Grundy and giving it to the whole "faith" issue; Grundy's death isn't really about Grundy, but about Hawkgirl. For this wonderfully goofy white Hulk zombie, it's a crying shame.
What does this mean for Wake the Dead? It means that Grundy's blank expression and relentless rage hit me pretty hard. I didn't complain, because there's no reason to complain unless it's unsatisfactory. But I did mutter after many of the first scenes, "Something has happened to Grundy. Something has SERIOUSLY happened to Grundy." It's not as if Grundy's previous humanity was forgotten; Shayera quickly references "birdnose" in her first reunion with Grundy. An element of severe loss colored the core of the episode by virtue of the change in Grundy's demeanor. He was no longer the big, cheeky goof that he once was. His pendulum swung dramatically in the other direction.
This is appropriate, methinks, because Shayera has also become quite unlike her former self. Her semi-self-made tragedy of Starcrossed seems to have turned Hawkgirl from being an aggressor to a diplomat. She can still kick butt with that all-powerful mace (I gotta get me one of those), but she's a far cry from the League member who foolishly and carelessly rushed into the fray nearly every time she could. With Grundy, she shares a tainted heroship, of different origins but similar fashions. In fact, it's almost like Grundy has inherited her old ferocity, and putting him down would be like putting herself down. It's this pain and self-loathing that both of them had from almost the very beginning, and it is the bond between these two unlikely friends. And this time, Grundy's death was about Grundy's death. It was about Shayera, too, but Grundy was not shortchanged his tragedy this time by either silliness or lack of focus. This time, his death was poignant.
All of this comes from an episode that is continually effective in working its characters to their fullest capacity. Dr. Fate, sometimes overbearing in the past, works here as a wise expert and unofficial captain of a side team within the new League. It helps that Oded Fehr invests his Fate with just the slightest shade of regret towards the actions of this episode, keying into the fact that Fate does have emotional opinions on what occurs around him. Aquaman, a raw nerve in Terror Beyond, manages to convey his grumpiness with the right shade of comedy to it, so that he's not grating but we still get the idea. Definitely good to see Amazo again; in fact, he has come full circle back to the simple and childlike good soul that Tabula Rasa first introduced him as, which is certainly some important closure. Vixen is interesting, to say the least; not so much done here for her precarious spot in the now-triangle, but the door is left open for her to cause further trouble for Shayera later.
And the final moments of the episode reveal what many of us longed to hear: the nature of the vote in Starcrossed. It is good to know that they wanted her to stay. With these moments, John returns to the fully-formed character that the first two seasons made of him, leaving him as still the most effective and fleshed-out character on the show. And there's a cathartic good from Superman revealing he broke the tie in favor of Shayera. Supes spends much of the episode not very happy ("Do I LOOK okay?!"), with both his fatigue of dealing with Grundy and some general grumpiness. With Grundy and Shayera being so connected, there's an unspoken threat that Superman may not be pleased with Shayera's re-introduction into the good fight. The audience shares Shayera's worries - that she really isn't welcome back in League business, something that the crowd's persecution of her doesn't help. Superman provides us with what I suspect many of us have been waiting for: the recognition that as far as the League is officially concerned, Hawkgirl never truly left.