DC Animated Universe

"Secret Origins" is the series premiere of Justice League. It originally aired as a full-length movie, on November 17, 2001. Subsequent re-runs divided the episode into three parts.


Part I[]

Imperium released

A menace is freed.

Two astronauts (Carter and Ed Reiss) explore the terrain of Mars. One stumbles onto the entrance to an underground cavern, at the end of which is a massive, ornate door. He wedges his pickaxe into the door's lock and forces it open. The doors open, and something massive rushes out, reaching for him...

Two years later, Batman makes a brief trip to the outskirts of Metropolis, spying on a satellite communications facility operated by Wayne Tech. As he watches, three employees of the facility exchange amiable good-byes with one of their co-workers, but as soon as the three are alone, they begin conversing in an alien language and tampering with the equipment. Batman appears and attempts to subdue the mysterious scientists, but each of them turns the tables on him as they fight back with amazing speed and strength. As Batman corners them on top of the roof dish, Superman arrives and offers his help, but Batman declines as the scientists are sent running. Before the two heroes can deal with the three scientists, Superman sees strange images in his mind and is rendered unconscious. Batman grabs Superman and saves him as one of the scientists detonate the satellite. After landing to safety, Batman watches as all three scientists twist their bodies back to normal from positions that are inhuman, and they flee into the forest.

Nuclear weapons disarmed

Superman disarms nuclear weapons.

Superman and Batman share a reserved greeting. Batman explains how he detected several security breaches in their global deep-space monitoring network in the past few months, that this station is the latest in a series that has been sending strange, encrypted signals into space, and that the three scientists didn't want to leave evidence behind. While Superman says he'd like to stay and look into it, he is expected back to the city. Superman hands Batman a communicator to use in case he needs help; Batman is skeptical but places it in his utility belt and keeps it anyway.

In the nation's capital, J. Allen Carter, one of the two astronauts from the Mars expedition and now a U.S. Senator, proposes a bold plan for total nuclear disarmament. He champions Superman as Earth's protector, believing that the Man of Steel is both reliable and more than capable of handling any threat to Earth. Superman embraces the idea, despite protests from the military and other sources. These even include other heroes, such as The Flash from Central City, who remarks: "I'm the fastest man alive, and even I can't be in five places at once."

Imperium walker

An Imperium walker emerges.

Over the next six months after Senator Carter's disarmament plan was ratified, Superman works to disarm the world's nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, Batman continues his investigation. He traces the three fake scientists to a warehouse in Metropolis, where he discovers the three real scientists, alive but unconscious, inside alien-looking containers. Then a guard dog appears, which turns out to be an alien creature, and attacks. Batman is outmatched and calls for Superman's help using his signal watch.

Superman arrives and manages to save Batman as a meteor comes down from the sky and crashes into the heart of Metropolis. From the crater, a massive alien vehicle appears, and without preamble makes its hostility clear: it begins attacking the police and fire units nearby. Both Superman and Batman watch as more meteors crash, giving rise to more vehicles. They throw everything they have at the creatures, but seemingly to no avail. While preparing to fight again, Superman suffers another psychic migraine; realizing something, he flies away.

Jonn's real form

Earth's last hope.

The world goes into a panic about the new alien invasion, and the apparent absence of Superman. On Themyscira, Princess Diana notices signs of trouble in the outside world, but her mother, Queen Hippolyta, tells her that it is none of their concern, as the Gods protect Themyscira.

Batman flies after Superman, tracking him to a U.S. Army base. Inside, they find a green-skinned alien being held prisoner. After being freed, the alien introduces himself as J'onn J'onzz. Before he can tell his story, the trio are confronted by a group of army soldiers. Superman tries to explain, but the soldiers morph into white-skinned aliens and aim their weapons at the trio.

Part II[]

Wonder Woman steals armor

Diana makes her choice.

On Themyscira, Diana enters the Temple of Athena, and prays for her mother's forgiveness. She picks up a set of armor laid at the altar and puts it on...

At the military base, Superman, Batman, and J'onn flee the scene, with their attackers close behind. Taking to the air, they find themselves pursued by swarms of flying craft. Although they manage to down some, the Batwing is critically damaged, and nearly crashes; however, Batman is saved and the fighters are driven off by the timely arrival of four more heroes: Green Lantern John Stewart, Hawkgirl of Thanagar, Princess Diana, and the Flash.

Martian Imperium war

The Martian-Imperium war.

J'onn tells his story: The aliens invaded Mars a thousand years ago, all but wiping out J'onn's people, and absorbing their telepathic and shape-shifting abilities. J'onn was the sole survivor of a strike mission that incapacitated the invaders, and he sealed them away in an underground chamber five hundred years ago. Unfortunately, some astronauts released them while J'onn was in hibernation. J'onn came to Earth to warn the Earthlings but was captured on arrival by the aliens. Instead, he used his partially blocked telepathic powers to summon the heroes. The nerve gas which the Martians used to incapacitate the aliens before is made from a now-extinct Martian plant, and it cannot be reproduced, meaning they would have to find another way to defeat the invaders.

Imperium factory cloud

Let there be darkness.

With their presence on Earth established, the aliens set up enormous factories that project an ionizing field into the atmosphere, creating a massive cloud that shrouds the entire planet. J'onn explains that the invaders are nocturnal and wish to block out the sun. The heroes agree that the factories should be investigated and destroyed.

Unused to working together, but resolved, the heroes split into three groups to destroy a factory each. Superman and Hawkgirl head to Metropolis, but they are captured. Flash and Green Lantern attack another, but are forced to retreat; J'onn, Diana, and Batman attack a third. While inside, Batman discovers that the aliens are vulnerable to the sun's rays, which is why they are creating the cloud cover. They also manage to steal the crystal powering the factory.

Then the trio is attacked, and though J'onn and Diana escape, Batman, who stayed behind to hold the invaders off, is cut off and apparently killed.

Part III[]

Imperium coming

Imperium's approach.

The four remaining heroes regroup in Metropolis and prepare to free Hawkgirl and Superman. J'onn warns that they do not have much time, as the Imperium — the leader of the Invaders — will be arriving soon. While Flash creates a diversion, J'onn, Diana, and Green Lantern breach the facility. Managing to fight off the aliens, they find Superman and Hawkgirl in a holding cell, but it's a trap. The two heroes are actually aliens in disguise, and the rest of the heroes are captured.

As the six heroes are held captive, they are shocked to see Senator Carter appear alongside their captors. It turns out that Carter is actually an alien in disguise; the real Carter perished on Mars. Using his persona, the aliens learned as much as possible about Earth's defenses, and also tricked humans into disarming their most powerful weapons.

With no effective obstacles to their invasion left, the aliens signal a mothership orbiting the Earth, and receive their leader, the Imperium. The Imperium remembers J'onn, and begins to torture him. The Imperium calls on J'onn to surrender, saying that he has finally lost, but J'onn lets slip that he still has a secret. Suddenly, Batman appears, surprising everyone. J'onn explains that he telepathically shielded Batman from detection until then. Batman had used the time to sabotage the ion crystal, reversing the field's polarity. The clouds part, and the sun shines through the opening in the factory's roof.

Imperium end

Imperium's end.

Exposed to the sun, the aliens begin to burn and die. Batman explains that the aliens have no resistance to ultraviolet radiation as he helps free Diana. Superman, having regained his powers thanks to the sun's yellow light, frees himself with his heat vision. He then frees Hawkgirl, who frees John, while Diana frees Flash. Afterwards, they all engage in combat with the aliens, smashing large holes in the roof to kill off the remaining aliens. The Imperium, with its skin blistering, grapples with J'onn, then hastily retreats back into its shuttle, leaving the Carter doppelganger to die, and makes for the mothership. However, Diana lassoes the shuttle, which Hawkgirl further damages with her mace, and swings it into the factory, destroying both the factory and the Imperium.

The other heroes quickly evacuate the captured humans being held there, just before the factory explodes. The mothership flees into space.

Earth rejoices over the repulse of the invasion, but several skeptics, including General Wells, states that they got lucky this time; if the aliens or a similar threat return, the Earth has no means of advance warning. Watching the report, Batman ponders this remark...

A short time later, the heroes assemble aboard a large space station orbiting the Earth, built and launched in secret by Wayne Enterprises. The station will provide warning in advance in case of another alien invasion.

Justice League formed

The Justice League is formed.

Superman addresses the assembled heroes, saying that the invasion has proved to him that even he isn't powerful enough to safeguard the Earth by himself. He proposes the formation of the Justice League. Four of the other heroes agree (in his or her own way); Batman, used to operating solo, is reluctant to join a team, but assures them that he'll be on call when they need help. The last holdout is J'onn, who is near the windows by himself, gazing at the stars. When Superman goes to him, J'onn says he is the last surviving member of his race. Superman says that he can relate and assures J'onn that he doesn't have to be alone anymore.


Background information[]

Home video releases[]

Production notes[]

  • In the first season of Justice League, Bruce Timm and Co. deliberately avoided heavy continuity tie-ins to past shows, as they wanted the show to stand on its own. In the scene where Superman meets with the World Assembly, the line of dialogue where General Wells says "we can't entrust the entire security of the world to one man," originally ended with "especially him!" But the creative team felt that some viewers who hadn't seen Superman: The Animated Series and the events of "Legacy" would be confused.[1][2][3]
  • J. Allen Carter's space suit outfit, and the alien dogs were designed by Tommy Tejeda.[4][5]
  • J. Allen carter is meant to resemble Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man.[4]
  • Batman's redesigned costume was a combination of previous designs from past DCAU shows. The same Bat-symbol and utility belt from The New Batman Adventures are retained, but with the blue highlights from Batman: The Animated Series, and the long-ears from the Batman Beyond era costume.
  • Tim Daly was unavailable to voice Superman in Justice League due to headlining "The Fugitive" (a remake of the 1960's TV series), and one of the actors who auditioned for the open role of Superman was Gregory Harrison. Ultimately, it was George Newbern who got the part, as per Bruce Timm, he had the same "nice guy Superman" quality voice that Daly had, while also being a good fit "continuity wise" without sounding like an exact copy.[6]Andrea Romano remarked that casting Superman was always difficult, but she was impressed with Newbern's acting, while noting he sounded a lot like the previous Superman voice.[7]
  • Superman was redesigned with prominent cheekbones and eye bag lines under his eyes, with the intent of making him look slightly older and gruffer. This look was criticized by fans as it made Superman appear gaunt and tired. In season two, the cheekbones and the eye bag lines were removed.
  • In the beginning of part II, Superman throws a tank at the Invaders, causing an explosion that is reused footage from Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, when the console that the Jokerz tried to steal blows up. This is used again in part III, when Hawkgirl administers the final blow to the Imperium mothership.
  • In part II, when one of the Imperium jets crashes in the gorge, footage of the explosion of the Jolly Jack Candy Factory from Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, is used.
  • In part III, when Flash gets the first walker to blow up, the resulting explosion is reused footage from the scene of the Superman: The Animated Series episode "World's Finest" in which one Wayne/Lex T-7 blows up another droid.

Production inconsistencies[]

  • Wonder Woman says they have to destroy the "factories" despite never seeing them and wondering what the smoke in the horizon is just prior.
  • It doesn't seem plausible that one of the alien parasites could successfully impersonate a prominent American politician for two years without ever stepping foot into direct sunlight, especially considering only brief exposure to the sun is exactly how the impostor ultimately died.
  • After the destruction of the Imperium, when the seven heroes are shown from behind, Hawkgirl's legs are miscolored in a flesh tone.


  • This is the first DCAU appearance for four of the "original seven" Justice Leaguers: Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, J'onn J'onzz, and Green Lantern (John Stewart). Batman and Superman debuted in their own respective series while Flash first appeared in the Superman: The Animated Series episode "Speed Demons". A Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, previously appeared in Superman: The Animated Series.
  • This episode implies this is the first adventure for both Wonder Woman and J'onn J'onzz, as both are given brief origin stories while John Stewart and Hawkgirl are indicated to have been active for a while, with Batman even recognizing the latter when she is summoned by J'onn.
  • The Imperium invaders and their equipment show a tribute to H.G. Wells's classic War of the Worlds (General Wells's character may be an indirect reference to the author). Like the Imperium, Wells's Martians use three-legged war machines equipped with ray devices that easily overwhelm Earth's military, and a "black smoke" that blots out the sun.
    • One obvious difference is that the Imperium invaders come from Mars but are not actually native to that planet. Several later adaptations of War of the Worlds have been based on the same premise.
  • Another reference to popular Martian-themed science fiction is the way Senator Carter is replaced by an identical Martian agent similar to the way the Martians of Gerry Anderson's series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons advanced their war against the Earth. In fact. the primary antagonist in that series was an astronaut who was replaced by a Martian and sent back to earth similar to Senator Carter's "sleeper twin".
  • The Imperium invaders also bear a strong resemblance to the White Martians in DC Comics, a violent genetic offshoot of the peaceful "greenskins" who share all of J'onn's powers and use them in an attempt to take over the Earth. The story featuring the White Martians' first appearance also bears strong similarities to this episode. Before actually attacking, the White Martians shapeshifted into superhero personae to win favor with Earth and easily bypass certain defenses (as the invaders impersonated Senator Carter and some scientists to do the same). The same story was also intended to restart the Justice League with the "original seven" (with some small changes) as well. In both stories, Batman is thought killed by the enemy, rescues his captured teammates, and discovers the enemies' weakness to use against them.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Showtime" (which aired on January 7, 2003), Andrew mentions the Justice League putting "their differences aside to stop the Imperium and his shape shifting alien horde".
  • Superman disarming all the world's nuclear weapons was the plot line of the movie Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. In the movie, however, Superman threw all the world's nuclear weapons into the sun.
  • When Stewart was knocked out by the sleeping gas, the color of the gas was yellow which seemed to bypass John's shield with no trouble. This could be a reference to mainstream comics, where, up until recently, power rings had no effect on the color yellow.
  • The Imperium posing as Senator Carter calls the six captured superheroes "Earth's Mightiest Heroes", which is a subtle nod to The Avengers, a team of superheroes owned by DC's rival Marvel Comics and who are also known by this name in the title of their comic book.
  • J. Allen Carter is a reference to John Carter, the protagonist of many novels which were set on a fantastical version of Mars.
  • Likewise, Ed Reiss' name is a reference to John Carter author Edgar Rice Burroughs.
  • Flash's sarcastic suggestion that they call themselves "Super Friends" is an obvious reference to Hanna-Barbera's animated TV series Super Friends (also based on the Justice League).
  • The sounds of the lasers that the Martians fired sound similar to Cyclops' "Optic Blast" from X-Men: Evolution.


Actor Role
George Newbern Superman
Imperium soldier (uncredited)
Kevin Conroy Batman
Technician (uncredited)
Susan Eisenberg Wonder Woman
Mother (uncredited)
Carl Lumbly J'onn J'onzz
Michael Rosenbaum The Flash
Protester (uncredited)
Martian (uncredited)
Phil LaMarr Green Lantern
Ed Reiss
General (uncredited)
Rioter (uncredited)
Maria Canals Hawkgirl
Little Girl (uncredited)
Corey Burton Bald technician
Doctor (uncredited)
Max Brooks Howie
Clyde Kusatsu Japanese ambassador
Asian technician (uncredited)
Gary Cole J. Allen Carter
Wanda Christine Female technician
Paramedic (uncredited)
Kevin Michael Richardson General Wells
Imperium Leader (uncredited)
SCU Officer (uncredited)
Squadron leader (uncredited)
Bikers (uncredited)
Susan Sullivan Hippolyta
Jason Marsden Snapper Carr
SCU officer (uncredited)

Uncredited appearances[]


J'onn J'onzz: I came to warn you, but I was captured and imprisoned. They wouldn't listen.
Batman: Big surprise.
J'onn J'onzz: I sense you don't trust me. Perhaps this will help. (Shapeshifts into humanoid form) I am J'onn J'onzz.
(Offers his hand, which Batman doesn't take.)
Superman: Don't take it personally, J'onn, he doesn't trust anyone.
J'onn J'onzz: A wise policy.

Flash: Whoa! Where have you been all my life?
Wonder Woman: Themyscira.
Flash: Huh?
Hawkgirl: The home of the Amazons. I always thought it was merely a legend.
Wonder Woman: I assure you, it's as real as the ground on which we stand on. I am Diana, Princess of the Amazons.
Flash: Pinch me, I must be dreaming. (Superman elbows him) Ow!

Wonder Woman: So, J'onn J'onzz, you came from Mars to warn us?
Flash: This is just too weird.
Green Lantern: I've seen stranger things.

Flash: What's the problem? Can't you just whip up another batch of that nerve gas?
J'onn: Unfortunately, no. The gas can only be made from a rare Martian plant. I brought a sample with me, but it was destroyed when I was captured.
Flash: Uh, what's Plan B?

Green Lantern: Lady, this is no job for amateurs.
Wonder Woman: We Amazons are warriors born! Want to test me?
Superman: Let's not fight among ourselves. John, we're going to need all the help we can get.
Green Lantern: Fine. Sorry, "your highness". Tactically, we'll have multiple objectives. We'll need to split into teams.
Flash: Dibs on the Amazon!
(cut to Flash and Green Lantern)
Flash: You are no fun!

Superman: Are you always so eager to fight?
Hawkgirl: My homeworld, Thanagar, is a war-like world. There, one must strike first or die.

Imperium: You're hiding something. A secret in the recesses of your mind. Is this another of your Martian tricks?
J'onn J'onzz: Do I sense fear?

Superman: I once thought I could protect the world by myself. But I was wrong. Working together, we saved the planet. And I believe that if we stay together, as a team, we would be a force that could truly work for the ideals of peace and justice.
Flash: What, like a bunch of Super-Friends?
Superman: More like a Justice League.
Flash: Do you have any idea how corny that sounds?

Batman: I'm not really a "people person". But when you need help—and you will—call me.


  1. The making of Justice League (DVD Featurette )
  2. Justice League season 1 (various interviews)
  3. Bruce Timm World's Finest interview, 2001
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Steve Austin" - Vibrational Frequencies: The Art of Tommy Tejeda (February 11, 2008)
  5. "Alien Dog" - Vibrational Frequencies: The Art of Tommy Tejeda (February 11, 2008)
  6. Bruce Timm forum post (2021) https://animesuperhero.com/forums/threads/vintage-interviews-with-the-makers-of-the-dcau.5787503/post-87748008
  7. Justice League Unlimited Voices of Justice (DVD featurette)