"A Better World" is composed of the 37th and 38th episodes of Justice League. It originally aired on November 1, 2003.
The Justice League storms the White House. Batman and Wonder Woman take on the Secret Service, clearing Superman's path to the Oval Office. Inside the Oval Office, President Lex Luthor frantically gathers up papers. Superman busts in, saying he's taking Luthor in for crimes committed in office.
Half-mad while still going through papers, Luthor rants that he's not to blame. The people are, for not being able to see or accept his "grand design" for the world. Luthor prepares to press a button that will start a nuclear war, saying they will "burn" for their mistake. But then he calms himself, and waits to see what Superman will do; he points out that Superman can't stop him without deadly force.
Superman hesitates, and Luthor mocks him, saying that the Kryptonian has been Luthor's greatest accomplice all along: he loves being a hero and all the glory that comes with it so much that he continues to thwart Luthor time and again, rather than having the guts to end it once and for all. Although Luthor may lose his presidency, he'll find a way out of prison eventually, and the whole thing will begin all over again. Alas, this proves to be Luthor's final error; clearly affected by his arch-enemy's accusations, Superman decides that if being a hero has led to this endless cycle, he's done with it. He glares at Luthor, eyes glowing red...
...and outside the Oval Office, a strange smell reaches Batman and Wonder Woman's noses. They rush in, and stop dead in their tracks to see that Superman has burned Luthor to death. Wonder Woman is shocked while Batman coldly proclaims that it had to be done. Wonder Woman asks Superman if he's all right; turning around, Superman reveals an unnerving smile on his face, and says he is great.
Two years later, Earth has become a very different world. Superman and his five remaining teammates are now the effective rulers of the planet. It is revealed that the catalyst for their rebellion was the death of the Flash, murdered as part of Luthor's schemes. Monitoring events from their new, heavily-armed Watchtower, they have taken over governments and subverted freedom of speech, all in the name of the people's safety. After denying the current U.S. President permission to hold an election to choose his successor, Hawkgirl and Green Lantern are sent to disperse a protest in Smallville. Batman has retreated to the Batcave, claiming to be busy with a project.
The mere appearance of Green Lantern and Hawkgirl causes the protesters to disperse, out of fear. Hawkgirl shows some doubts, wondering why they need to go to such lengths, when the world has already become a much safer place. Lantern says that they have to remain vigilant, and he's at ease with their actions because the dangerous world needed their leadership.
While Superman dines awkwardly with Lois Lane, she too voices her misgivings about the Lords' fascist regime. Superman tells her that she's missing "the bigger picture", but their conversation is interrupted by Batman, who calls an urgent Justice Lords meeting. As Superman leaves, Lois tries to follow him out of the apartment, only to be stopped by guards at her door. She berates the soldiers, and by extension the people of Earth, for being blindly obedient and complacent under the rule of the Justice Lords.
In the Batcave, Batman shows the other Justice Lords an image of the "Justice League" battling Lex Luthor. What they are seeing, Batman explains, is a real-time event from an "alternate reality" - the reality in which the rest of the series takes place. In this reality, the Flash is still alive and the League is still playing a passive, law-enforcing role. Deciding that the alternate world needs their brand of law and order as much as their own did, the Justice Lords decide to intervene.
In the primary universe, the Justice League continues to battle Luthor, ultimately defeating him and disassembling a weapon he had been preparing. Shortly thereafter, the Lords' Martian Manhunter emerges from an inter-reality portal, saying he has been sent from an alternate reality by an embattled League that needs the "primary" League's help. Although the League, especially Batman, has some doubts, they decide to trust Justice Lord J'onn.
Once the League has emerged into the alternate universe, they are quickly incapacitated by a trap. Hawkgirl, however, refuses to go down without a fight (a fact noted with some pride by her Justice Lord counterpart) and is badly injured when Lantern has to knock her out.
While Hawkgirl is taken for medical attention, the other League members are locked in a specially designed cell block. The Lords, with the exception of Batman, then cross over to the primary universe, planning to impose order on the new world.
It seems that the Justice Lords arrive just in time: the rogue behemoth Doomsday is on the loose. The Lords each attack, but none is a match for the creature except Superman. When it becomes clear that they are outmatched in strength and endurance, Superman ends the fight by lobotomizing Doomsday with his heat vision. The primary version of Lois Lane is shocked by Superman's brutality, but others in the crowd cheer, saying "It's about time" the heroes took a more aggressive approach. Watching this from prison, Luthor alone realizes that these heroes aren't the true Justice League at all.
Back in the Lords' reality, Justice Lord Batman acts as jailer to the rest of the League. Batman and Flash both berate him for the extremes to which the Lords have gone. Justice Lord Batman only retorts that such a thing could just as easily have happened to them if they were pushed far enough—for the Lords, he admits, the "push" came with Flash's death.
Justice Lord Batman tells them not to bother with trying to escape, because he's already thought of everything their Batman would have. But Flash's heart rate becomes erratic, and then stops altogether. Afraid that another Flash has just died on his watch, Justice Lord Batman rushes to the cell and opens it to see what's going on. As soon as Justice Lord Batman unshackles Flash's arm, the Fastest Man Alive clobbers him with a flurry of super-speed punches, knocking his warden across the room. Flash escapes, shackles the Justice Lord in his place, and emerges from his cell to free the others. Batman says he didn't know that Flash could speed up his own heart rate to the point where it appears to flatline, prompting Flash to confess that he didn't either; it was the first time Flash tried such a stunt, but since Batman couldn't come up with a plan, it fell to him to think of something.
Batman heads to his counterpart's Batcave to activate the inter-reality portal, while the rest of the League heads off to find Hawkgirl.
As he nears the portal device, Batman is confronted by his counterpart, who escaped from Flash's cell and has anticipated all his moves. Concealed in the shadows, the two stalk each other through the cave, all the while debating the ethics of what the Lords have done. Batman says they have crossed the line by seizing power, but Justice Lord Batman replies that, with said power, they've made a world where no other eight-year-old boy will lose his parents to meaningless violence, as they did. At that, Batman drops his batarang, steps into the light, and surrenders.
The League track Hawkgirl to Arkham Asylum, the only hospital equipped to hold metahuman patients. But the asylum is a far different place than the one from their reality. The staff are all former criminals, particularly from Batman's rogues gallery, all of whom are placid, docile zombies. All of the inmates have apparently been lobotomized by Justice Lord Superman's heat vision, revealing that Doomsday wasn't the first victim of Justice Lord Superman's brutal tactic.
A very calm and polite Joker is the superintendent. Pretending to be the Lords, the League asks to be taken to Hawkgirl. Joker requests a password, which J'onn J'onzz gives by reading Joker's mind ("applesauce"). Joker says they got it right, but apologetically triggers the alarm, because Wonder Woman was supposed to say it. Robotic versions of Justice Lord Superman attack the League, but are easily defeated, and the League breaks Hawkgirl out.
Batman and his counterpart, with Batman at the wheel of the Justice Lord's Batmobile, drive through Gotham City towards Arkham. Batman is surprised to see Gotham without litter; the Justice Lord states that if one wants the people to respect the 'big' laws, the 'small' laws must be enforced. When they stop at a red light, they see a restaurant, where a customer is arguing with the manager about refusing to pay for the poor quality of his meal, and in short order is arrested by the police for disturbing the peace. Seeing Justice Lord Batman looking at them, the staff and the other patrons hurriedly and nervously look away to their own business. Batman needles his counterpart, wondering what "Mom and Dad" would think.
By the time they reach Arkham, the military has been alerted and the League is barricaded inside. Justice Lord Batman has now had a change of heart, and tells the military to back off.
As the League prepares to return to their reality to confront the Lords, Batman wonders openly what they will have to do: The Lords are their equals in powers and intelligence, and they are willing to kill whereas the League isn't. Superman isn't willing to cross that line, but Batman says that some kind of line will have to be crossed if they mean to succeed.
In the primary reality, the Lords have occupied the League's Watchtower, when they receive an alert of a prison breakout: Luthor has escaped.
The Lords fly to the prison, but it is a trap set by the League, mirroring the Justice Lords' own trap that captured the League. In the fight that follows, each League member fights his or her counterpart, and neither side is able to gain the upper hand. The exception is Lord Superman, whose own counterpart is mysteriously absent, and who ends up fighting Flash. Flash attempts to appeal to the good in Lord Superman by reminding him of his friendship with Lord Flash, but fails. Lord Superman prepares to kill Flash, but then Superman arrives with Luthor, who has rebuilt the weapon from his earlier fight with the League.
Luthor fires the weapon at each of the Lords, draining them of their powers. He is tempted to turn the weapon on Superman, but then hands it over, as "a deal's a deal." It is revealed that Superman secured a presidential pardon for Luthor in exchange for his help in defeating the Lords, who are taken away.
Lord Superman rages that everything Luthor does from now on will be on Superman's head. Superman agrees that it's a high price, but declares that it's one of the many hard choices he's had to make.
Later, Luthor holds a press conference to answer questions about his new freedom. He says that the business world doesn't seem as challenging as it used to be, but he has been giving some thought to politics.
- This episode also shares many elements with Superman: The Animated Series episode "Brave New Metropolis" where Superman's alternate reality counterpart became an oppressive dictator who seized control (with his partner).
- This is Lois Lane's first true appearance since Superman: The Animated Series (although she was imagined in Superman's nightmare in "Only A Dream").
- This is the Justice League's first time in the Batcave (except Superman having been in there on the Superman: The Animated Series episode "Knight Time"), albeit this is the Justice Lord Batman's cave. They would later take refuge in Batman's Batcave after learning each other's identities during the series finale. How they entered the Justice Lord Batman's cave without learning his identity is unknown (though they could have entered from one of outer exits e.g. for the Batmobile, Batboat, etc.).
- After becoming a prisoner/fugitive in "Injustice For All", Lex Luthor is finally pardoned, and states that he's reformed.
- Justice Lord Hawkgirl's helmet is revealed in the series finale to be another type of Thanagarian helmet that is apparently more commonly worn. The reason for the switch is unknown.
- The Justice League Unlimited episode "The Doomsday Sanction" reveals that Doomsday was an altered clone of Superman, and Luthor follows through by announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Presidency, which was a major component of the Cadmus arc.
- This episode proves to be one of the most pivotal in the DCAU continuity: providing the motivation for much of the events of Justice League Unlimited and the particular Cadmus story arc's background. Similar to the Superman: The Animated Series finale, the Justice Lords' brief rampage and their actions in their own universe is a major cause for the development of Project Cadmus by Amanda Waller.
Home video releases
- Justice League - Season Two (DVD)
- Justice League - Season Two (Blu-ray)
- Justice League - The Complete Series (DVD)
- Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths (2DVD, Blu-ray only)
- This episode was originally intended to be a "Crime Syndicate story". However, the Justice Lords were created and used instead the Crime Syndicate. According to Bruce Timm, the idea of an story with the Crime Syndicate was later stored for the planned Justice League DTV Justice League: Worlds Collide, but the project never materialized as the DCAU production team couldn't work on the DTV and in the first season of Justice League Unlimited concurrently.
- On the commentary, Bruce Timm states that the sound effect used for Flash throwing rocks at Justice Lord Superman was machine gunfire with a silencer.
- On that same commentary, the creators also pointed out a scene during the prison fight where Green Lantern was trying to shoot down Justice Lord Hawkgirl with his power ring on the wrong hand. The creators explained the shot was "flopped" because in the original version, GL was actually shooting his energy bolts in the wrong direction from where Justice Lord Hawkgirl was flying.
- The commentary also revealed that the tone of Lex Luthor's press conference speech at the end of the episode (wherein Lex foregoes big business to take up politics) was inspired by the speech given when Jerry Levin retired as CEO of AOL Time Warner in 2002. The line "There's no poetry in it" (meaning the business world) is a direct quote.
- In the Justice League Unlimited episode "The Doomsday Sanction", Project Cadmus is credited with Doomsday's creation. However, Cadmus itself was formed in reaction to the rampage of the Justice Lords. Also, Doomsday's motive and personalty seem different (not just after Superman).
- When John Stewart tries to shoot down Justice Lord Hawkgirl, her mace is strapped to her back, even though she had previously thrown it at Batman.
- In the reaction shot when the Leaguers are shocked to find a mild-mannered Joker working at Arkham Asylum, J'onn J'onzz's belt looks like Superman's belt, only colored differently. By the next scene, J'onn's belt returns to normal.
- During the fight at Arkham Asylum, one of Justice Lord Superman's robots displays a white "S" symbol on a yellow background, instead of Justice Lord Superman's red background.
- When Green Lantern picks up Hawkgirl and carries her from her hospital bed, his power ring disappears.
- The American Flag on the White House is backwards in the opening sequence - being mounted along the stripes edge, not the proper stars and stripes edge.
- J'onn reads Joker's mind to find out the password, but somehow his telepathy fails to detect that it was Wonder Woman who was supposed to say it, when such a chain of memories would likely have been detected by J'onn at once.
- The Justice Lords seem to be aware of (at least) Justice Lord Superman's identity as Justice Lord Hawkgirl comments about Smallville being his hometown. Whether they are aware of Justice Lord Batman's identity or he managed to get them in and out of the Batcave without revealing it is unknown.
- In Lord Batman's Batcave, the costumes of Robin, Batgirl, Nightwing, and Batman's previous outfit (the one in The New Batman Adventures design) are seen, similar to the Batman Beyond era Batcave.
- Justice Lord Batman's costume bears a Bat-insignia on the chest similar to that of Batman II's Batsuit.
- During the battle with Doomsday, Justice Lord J'onn J'onzz is defeated when Doomsday lights a petrol leak causing J'onn to be enveloped in fire and knocked out. Just before this, J'onn seemed to be somewhat shocked at the flames. This seems to be a nod to the comics where Martians are weak against fire.
- On the audio commentary for Part II, the writers state that these episodes were written in the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq. The writers noticed several similarities between the Bush Administration's policies and the Justice Lords and were very disturbed by the similarities. The writers also state they were not intending a parallel but rather a compelling story.
- As a note to the above, the President who Justice Lord Superman speaks to following their fascist rule seems to be very much based upon the (at the time) real life President George W. Bush.
- Although the universe of the Justice Lords is almost identical to the mainstream one, there are some differences:
- The Ventriloquist & Scarface solved their conflict in The New Batman Adventures episode "Double Talk", where the Ventriloquist reformed and destroyed Scarface, long before Batman joined the Justice League. However, in the Justice Lords' universe, their counterparts are seen as lobotomized inmates in Arkham Asylum, suggesting that Lord Batman joined the Justice League much earlier than in the mainstream universe or that Wesker's attempt to reform failed for some reason, leading him to be committed back to Arkham.
- On a related note regarding Batman's rogues gallery, given that the Joker was lobotomized by Justice Lord Superman in this universe, it's likely that the events of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker will not happen like in the mainstream universe and Arkham Aslym will possibly remain instead of being replaced by a newer and safest facility.
- The Justice League series finale "Starcrossed" confirms that Hawkgirl was a Thanagarian spy all along and that she infiltrated the Justice League to study the Earth's weaknesses in advance of the Thanagarian invasion. However, as no traces of the invasion are referenced in this universe, it's possible that Justice Lady Hawkgirl relinquished to her position as spy and defected the Thanagarians in the aftermath of President Luthor's murder.
- This is the second time in DCAU to feature Batman fighting with himself (the first one being the H.A.R.D.A.C.'s duplicant in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "His Silicon Soul"). In both cases, one side represents the free choice, and the other complete order and safety. In both cases, Batman wins by seemingly losing.
- Batman's secret code is 91939. This is a reference to Batman's debut, published in 1939.
- During their fight, Justice Lord Superman and Doomsday punch each other simultaneously. In the comics, this is what resulted in both of their deaths during the famous Death of Superman storyline.
- The audio commentary also revealed that the Justice Lords were heavily influenced by the comic book "The Authority", which features an uncompromising super-team who took over their world "for its own good" and will use any means necessary to accomplish their goals.
- The audio commentary further stated that the scene where Wonder Woman threw her tiara at Justice Lord Wonder Woman was an homage to Lynda Carter as the Amazing Amazon in the popular 70s TV show Wonder Woman. In said show as well as the comics, Diana frequently used her unbreakable tiara as a throwing weapon. Diana does so again, in order to disarm Tobias Manning in the Justice League Unlimited episode "The Once and Future Thing Part One: Weird Western Tales."
- In the commentary, Bruce Timm states that lines uttered by Justice Lord Superman's robotic replicas are unpopular quotes spoken by Superman back in the first season. The gag was episode writer Stan Berkowitz's idea. However, in reality, only two are paraphrases from lines said by Superman―the others were never spoken.
|Robot's line||Superman's line||Episode||Context|
|You must be stopped.||Orm must be stopped.||"The Enemy Below, Part II"||After the Justice League discovers Orm's plan to submerge the entire world.|
|Violent behavior will not be tolerated.||Not stated|
|Nor will bad attitude.|
|Thanks!||No, thanks.||"Secret Origins, Part III"||After declining an Iced Mocha from the Flash.|
|Maria Canals|| Hawkgirl|
Justice Lord Hawkgirl
Watchtower personnel (uncredited)
|Kevin Conroy|| Batman|
Justice Lord Batman
Watchtower personnel (uncredited)
|Susan Eisenberg|| Wonder Woman|
Justice Lord Wonder Woman
Female reporter (uncredited)
Watchtower personnel (uncredited)
|Phil LaMarr|| Green Lantern|
Justice Lord Green Lantern
|Carl Lumbly|| J'onn J'onzz|
Justice Lord J'onn J'onzz
|George Newbern|| Superman|
Justice Lord Superman
Watchtower personnel (uncredited)
|Michael Rosenbaum|| Flash|
|Clancy Brown|| Lex Luthor|
President Lex Luthor (uncredited)
|Dana Delany|| Lois Lane|
Alternate Lois Lane
|Brian George|| Mr. President|
Watchtower personnel (uncredited)
|Mark Hamill|| Alternate Joker|
Restaurant guest (uncredited)
|Jason Marsden||Snapper Carr|
|Diane Pershing||Alternate Poison Ivy|
|Michael Jai White||Doomsday|
Justice Lord Superman: There are at least six different ways I can stop you right now.
Justice Lord Superman: What do you want?
Batman: You've thought of everything.
Batman: I think he likes you.
Batman: How did you get out?
Justice Lord Batman: Think about it. A world where there's no crime, no victims, no pain.
Flash: Wow, Supes, you really know how to bring down the house!
Lex Luthor: (aiming a weapon) This would be so sweet. (hands it to Superman) But... a deal's a deal.