"Wild Cards" is the forty-eighth and forty-ninth episodes of Justice League. It originally aired on December 6, 2003.
In the Watchtower, Green Lantern and Hawkgirl are trying to hack into bank records and get into an argument. Lantern points out that Hawkgirl only ever behaves like this when they are alone. Though she denies it, they appear on the verge of kissing when they are interrupted by a call from Batman.
Batman confronts a television network executive for selling airtime to a certain "Gwynplaine Entertainment", telling him that it is actually the Joker. The executive quickly calls to shut off the channel station before the Joker goes on air, but they see that the Joker has bought the same amount of airtime on all the other channels as well, to broadcast his own reality television special from Las Vegas: he's planted a time bomb somewhere on the Strip, and only the Justice League can disarm it, because if anyone else tries, he'll detonate it immediately. The bomb is set to go off in just under twenty-three minutes. Joker also planted a large number of cameras all over the city, allowing him, and the viewers, to keep track of the League's every move.
As people flee the city in panic (save for one old woman, who spends the entire ordeal playing slots, unaware of her surroundings), the League — Superman, Batman, Hawkgirl, Lantern, and the Flash — arrive in Vegas. Superman quickly locates the bomb with his x-ray vision, but the League is attacked by Joker's own squad of superpowered henchmen, the Royal Flush Gang. As they battle the League, Joker explains their origin: a group of five kids born with superpowers, they were taken from their families and imprisoned by the government as teenagers to be trained as human weapons, until Joker came and freed them.
As the rest of the League fights, Batman defuses the bomb, only to find it is a fake. Superman scans the Strip, and finds twenty-five bombs, with just under fourteen minutes left. There's no way to tell which might be more fakes and which are real without searching them all out.
The League splits up to disarm them, with the Gang continually popping in to hinder their efforts. Batman, impressively, manages to talk Flash through disarming a bomb while battling Jack. At the replica of the Statue of Liberty, Superman discovered another bomb, but is busy fighting Ten, preventing him from defusing it. Superman tries to talk with Ten, but all he cares about is beating Superman.
Joker decides to take a break from watching Superman and Ten fighting and moves onto Green Lantern, who has found another bomb at a casino. However, before he can begin to disable it, Queen arrives and attacks him from behind. She uses her powers to create spikes and aims them at Green Lantern, who forms a shield with his ring and is able to destroy the metal. Queen then creates a metal armor suit and begins to battle him using a sword she created. Hawkgirl soon arrives, so Queen morphs her sword into a mace and begins to fight her until Hawkgirl knocks her unconscious.
Lantern begins to disable the bomb, but he and Hawkgirl soon get into another argument. Hawkgirl advises him that it might be a better idea to let the bomb explode while he creates a forcefield around it, but Lantern replies that he doesn't know if he is able to contain the explosion. Hawkgirl then decides to defuse it herself, but Lantern becomes angry and tells her to shut up. Back at the studio, the Joker and Ace are watching the argument. Joker realizes there is something more between them, and begins to mock their romantic tension and also wonders aloud if they will ever confess their feelings. However, he announces "not on my show" and presses the detonator for the bomb.
Hearing a beep, Lantern ejects Hawkgirl from the building, just as the bomb explodes with Lantern still inside, much to Hawkgirl's horror.
Frantic, Hawkgirl searches the wreckage of the casino for Lantern. She finds him, gravely injured. She tries to revive him with CPR, then finally succeeds with an impromptu electroshock from her mace. Abandoning the bomb hunt, she flies Lantern to get medical help, ignoring Batman's orders to return as quickly as possible.
Still fighting Jack, Batman manages to down a helicopter carrying Harley Quinn. Batman plays on her jealousy by insinuating Joker's seeming affection for Ace, the last member of the Gang. This causes Harley to punch him, seemingly knocking him out.
By then, there was only one bomb left, with only a few minutes remaining. Superman holds off Ten and King while Flash tries to disarm it, but Joker distracts him. With exactly one second left, Flash grabs the bomb and disappears – incredibly, managing to carry it out of the city, drop it, and get to safety, just as it explodes.
The Joker applauds the League's success, but then reveals the horrific true nature of his plan: Ace has a basilisk gaze, the power to drive people insane just by looking at them, either in person or on TV; a power so deadly, she was taken away by the government as a toddler. The whole bomb plot was a ploy to drive up the viewership of the program to the maximum – by Joker's estimate, sixty or seventy million people are now watching – and now they can't look away, as Ace has them mesmerized. In a few minutes, their minds will all be destroyed.
A furious Harley arrives at the studio, inadvertently leading Batman to Joker's hideout. Batman confronts Joker, but is disabled by Ace. Joker attacks him, literally "kicking him while he's down", and Batman tries to defend himself. As they struggle, Batman pulls something out of Joker's pocket – the mind-control headband that Ace's government handlers used to pacify her. Seeing it, Ace is enraged, and turns her power on Joker, driving him into a catatonic state. Ace walks out; Batman is too weak to follow her.
Up in the Watchtower, Hawkgirl reports to Batman that Lantern is out of danger. She tries to apologize for disobeying him, but Batman cuts her off, telling her she did the right thing. Hawkgirl goes to check on Lantern, who wakes up and confronts her, saying it is time for them to admit their feelings for each other. Hawkgirl tries to avoid the subject, but when John admits he knows that she feels the same, she allows them to discuss their feelings.
She tries to explain that a relationship won't work between them as they can't worry about each other while facing their enemies, but John points out it's already a little late and asks for the real reason. Hawkgirl states they are so different from each other as she is an alien, while John himself is human. However, John tells her that he only sees a man and woman together and begins to remove her headdress. Hawkgirl is reluctant at first, but then allows him to proceed, revealing her true and beautiful face. John and Hawkgirl then share their first kiss together.
Back in Las Vegas, the old woman finally wins the jackpot on the slot machine.
- Green Lantern and Hawkgirl's relationship will later be put to the test in the three-part finale "Starcrossed".
- When Ten says he's stronger than Superman, the Man of Steel dismisses it by saying he's heard it before. This alludes to the Superman: The Animated Series episode "The Way of All Flesh" in which Metallo claimed the same thing.
- Harley Quinn references the time the Joker traded her up for a commuted sentence, which was mentioned in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Trial".
- It is later revealed in the Justice League Unlimited episode "Fearful Symmetry" that the Royal Flush Gang were products of Project Cadmus.
- It is also revealed in the Justice League Unlimited episode "Epilogue" that the genetics technology that Joker used on Tim Drake in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker came from Cadmus, thus hinting that he stole it from Cadmus at the same time he freed the Royal Flush Gang.
- The Joker states that Harley always returns to him, referring to several Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures episodes where Harley forgave him in spite of his abusive behavior, namely "Harley and Ivy", "Harlequinade", "Trial", "Beware the Creeper", "Joker's Millions" and "Mad Love".
- When Batman approaches the first bomb, Joker claims, "Him again, it's always him!" The Joker previously said this in the Superman: The Animated Series episode "World's Finest".
- Flash's stunt with the last bomb is similar to one Batman pulled with a bomb planted by the Clock King in "Time Out of Joint".
- Near the end of the episode, Ace turns on Joker, using her powers to render him catatonic. However, his appearance in the flashback sequence and in the future in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker clearly indicates that he somehow survived this experience. This is just one in the many times Joker has survived an apparently life-threatening situation.
Home video releases
- Justice League - Season Two (DVD)
- Justice League - Season Two (Blu-ray)
- Justice League - The Complete Series (DVD)
- Justice League: Doom (2DVD, Blu-ray only)
- When Batman tells the television executive that Gwynplaine Entertainment is the Joker, the executive reacts in shock before Batman finishes his sentence.
- Batman tells the Flash to disarm the bomb by disconnecting four wires in a specific order. After Flash's hands stop moving, all of the wires (more than four) have been disconnected. Likewise, when Superman disarms a bomb, he uses his heat vision to disconnect different wires, and in a different order.
- When Superman and Flash start having hallucinations by watching Ace, there are no people around them, but when the camera cuts to a wider view, there are several people standing behind them.
- Part I ends with Hawkgirl calling out for John in horror, with 7:00 to go on Joker's onscreen timer. However, at the beginning of Part II, Hawkgirl is seen on her feet at 7:06 trying to rescue John.
- When Superman is trying to convince Ten and King to give up, he claims they have "less than a minute", but the timer is at 1:10. However, Superman cannot see the timer, so this may be justified.
- When explaining the Royal Flush Gang's abilities, it is said that Ten cannot feel pain, yet he is clearly in pain when fighting Superman, judging by his facial expressions and yells.
- Title reference: Joker refers to the Royal Flush Gang as his "wild cards."
- The Joker does not perform his trademark laugh at any point in the entire episode.
- This episode marks the first time Hawkgirl's face is seen.
- Most of part 1 occurs in real time as there is a clock counting down. This was a common element in the series 24, which also uses a clock counter and occurs in real time.
- Aside from a cameo on one of the Joker's monitors, Wonder Woman and J'onn J'onzz do not appear.
- This episode also marks the last appearance of Joker and Harley Quinn in the DCAU (though their final chronological appearance was in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker), and also Arleen Sorkin's final performance. Both Sorkin and Mark Hamill would reprise their characters six years later in the video game Batman: Arkham Asylum.
- The Joker's countdown starts just below twenty-three minutes, the average length of a half-hour television episode without commercials.
- The Joker's line about stealing the kids away from their government handlers, "and they would have gotten away with it, too, were it not for me meddling with the kids!" is a spoof on the well-known catchphrase from Scooby-Doo. Hamill has often voiced characters in the direct-to-video movies of Scooby-Doo.
- Joker buys his airtime using the alias "Gwynplaine Entertainment". Gwynplaine is the hero of Victor Hugo's novel "The Man Who Laughs", a circus performer who was abducted as a child and mutilated by having a permanent grin carved into his face. Batman's creator, Bob Kane, admitted that he used Gwynplaine (specifically, Conrad Veidt's take on the character in the 1928 film adaptation) as a model when he created the Joker. "The Man Who Laughs" is also the name of a comic serial featuring Batman and the Joker.
- Hawkgirl mockingly refers to Queen, after she assumes her metal armor and sword, as "Joan of Arc".
- During the scene after Joker tells Ace's backstory, a fat man in a mouse suit with a coffee mug walks behind the two, indicating that Ace's insanity-inducing mind power has started to take effect over the audience.
- Contrary to Ten's belief, it seems unlikely that any of the bombs would have been powerful enough to kill Superman, since his clone, Bizarro, had managed to survive an explosion equivalent to half a kiloton, or 500 tons, of TNT in "Identity Crisis". In real life, the largest conventional, i.e. non-nuclear, explosives top out around 50 tons of TNT.
- The episode is a subtle crossover with the Teen Titans animated series, as the members of the Royal Flush Gang are all voiced by actors from that series, with similarities to their Titans characters.
|Royal Flush Gang||Actor||Teen Titans||Similarities|
|Ten||Khary Payton||Cyborg||Built physique and super-strength|
|Jack||Greg Cipes||Beast Boy||Shapeshifting|
|Queen||Tara Strong||Raven||Mind control over objects|
|King||Scott Menville||Robin||Staff wielding leader|
|Ace||Hynden Walch||Starfire||Large, glowing eyes|
- Bruce Timm has confirmed that the kids' distinctive-looking "headmaster" was designed as a cross between Marvel's Professor Charles Xavier, from their X-Men title, and DC's John Lynch, from Gen-13.
- The final scene is similar to a famous scene from Alfred Hitchcock's film To Catch A Thief, when a couple falls down onto a couch, kissing, and then the camera shifts upward to show fireworks going off outside.
- The casino that explodes with John inside is named after Amos Fortune, the villain who originally founded the Royal Flush Gang.
|Maria Canals|| Hawkgirl|
Old lady (uncredited)
|Phil LaMarr||Green Lantern|
|Michael Rosenbaum||The Flash|
|Mark Hamill||The Joker|
|Arleen Sorkin||Harley Quinn|
|John C. McGinley|| Network Executive|
Joker: Ah, ah, ah, don't touch that remote. I know it's heartbreaking to have your favorite shows preempted, but look what you're getting instead: me! And a whole truckload of mindless violence and wanton property damage - everything that makes TV great! So stay tuned, you won't believe your eyes.
Joker: Oh, you're breaking an old man's heart, kids. Stand up to them, like I would! If I were there, and if I had superpowers, and... Oh, for Pete's sake, go back there and beat on them!
Bookie: Smart money's all on your boy Jack, Mr. J.! Batman has the edge in experience—and weight, I can't help noticing; I suspect he's indulging in too many "Bat-donuts"—but Jack is younger and he definitely has the longer reach.
Joker: I can't believe he didn't suspect a trap. See what happens when you don't watch enough television?
Joker: Whew! Is it just me, or is there something going on between those two? Will Green Lantern ever admit to his feelings? Will Hawkgirl ever stop sublimating her passions with that BIG HONKING MACE?! Will true love conquer all?
Joker: Ooh! Medical drama, life and death stakes, compelling human conflict...RATINGS!
Batman: Harley, where's Joker?
Joker: You know, our show was picked up by all the news channels. And the last 15 minutes or so's been running on the Broadcast networks. According to my projections, we've got somewhere between 60-70 million people watching right now, and that was the point all along. This whole thing was a stunt, to get as many of you watching as possible, and it worked! My Royal Flush Gang provided the conflict, the Justice League brought the star power, and I brought the shocking surprise ending. Everyone watching this show right now is witness to my greatest joke ever. In just over five minutes, you'll all be hopelessly, incurably insane.
Joker: Even as I speak, millions of you slack-jawed couch potatoes are losing your grip on reality—which, in my opinion, is highly overrated anyway. But you can't look away, even though you know something's terribly wrong. And the best part: I'm immune to all this because I'm already crazy. Turn it up, baby!
Old lady: Well, it's about time.