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Justice League – Maid of Honour

This post is part of the DCAU fortnight, a series of articles looking at the Warner Brothers animations featuring DC’s iconic selection of characters. I’ll be looking at movies and episodes and even some of the related comic books. With the review of Wonder Woman earlier today, I thought I’d take a look at one of the better Wonder Woman episodes of the DC animated universe.

While Batman: The Animated Series leaned more towards noir crime stories or gothic tragedies, and Superman: The Animated Series favoured high-concept science-fiction and space opera, Justice League offered action adventure stories, typically told in two or three half-hour episodes for a somewhat grander scale than most of the episodes of the earlier series allowed. In particular, Maid of Honour is essentially a superhero taken on a quintessential Bond film.

They share quite a Bond...

There are many aspects of the episode which contribute to the feeling that this is essentially an animated Bond film, just staring Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince instead of everyone’s suave British secret agent. “Bon soir, Wonder Woman,” are the first words of the episode, introducing us to a globe-trotting adventure with a more European feeling. Wonder Woman wearing a classy black dress,  she wander into a part packed with tuxedos. There are gadgets and gizmos used by heroes and villains (bonus points to Vandal Savage for a pistol which actually disappears into his tuxedo). There’s even the equivalent of a Bond cold opening – complete with ambiguous and relatively unmotivated terrorists (“Down with the monarchy!” is all they manage to spit out before the inevitable beat-down), prompting the heroes to depart with an awkward “excuse me” to deal with the situation.

Vandal Savage, making the second of three appearances, plays the role of a Bond villain well. With his goatee and jumpsuit, he calls to mind Drax, the villain from Moonraker. He has an evil space station, a gigantic henchman with a speech impediment. He even has a very fetish-esque henchwoman (in a French maid outfit, no less). He gets to make one of the typical teleconferences to world, complete with demonstration of his threat and laundry-list of demands.

The story does well to focus on a fairly reduced roster. It’s primarily Wonder Woman’s story, with Batman playing a supporting role. Wonder Woman was the only one of DC’s “big three” to come to the Justice League television show without a long-running animated series to introduce her. While Batman and Superman were arguably relatively marginalised within the show, Wonder Woman actually got a fair amount of coverage. Maid of Honour represents perhaps the best example of a Wonder Woman story told within the few series – it’s not an especially naive version of the character, nor a particularly violent one. She isn’t wild, but she isn’t boring – and the episode does well not to paint her as yet another outsider (given that the League contains two aliens who are the last of their kind and another who claims not know about her species).

Wonder Woman is a little tied up...

Indeed, the sheer volume of innuendo in the episode amazed me – how much of this series must go straight over the head of the children in the audience? Indeed, if I were to go back and rewatch more episodes, how much would I spot. I wonder what younger members of the viewing audience would have made of Princess Audrey referring to a selection of hunks as her “party favours” – especially given her vow to “go out with a bang – several if possible.”

She even dares to offer a few to Wonder Woman, who doesn’t seem especially embarrassed, “You want a couple of them? We can go to the VIP room.” I’m surprised that there weren’t parents’ groups up in arms over it. No wonder there were parts of the girls’ night out that Diana made Princess Audrey swear never to speak of it – yet another hint that this version of Wonder Woman isn’t quite as innocent as some. Although, to be honest – and given the obvious role of overt sexuality in her early history – I am surprised that she has ever been presented as essentially naive.

The episode itself presents what must be a fairly low-level threat to the superhero team – given that they routinely face down alien invasions and the end of the world. Still, the narrow focus allows the episode to work better with the characters. We get to see Batman in action against ordinary mooks, for example, in a way that he rarely gets a chance to these days and are presented with a threat that Wonder Woman can essentially deal with by herself.

I can't even come up with a caption for this...

The Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern and the Flash all have relatively small roles at the climax – and they are all, as ever, well written and perfectly in-character (John Stewart reflecting on the sacrifices that military officers accept they may be asked to make, or Flash’s playfulness) – but the story is fundamentally a Wonder Woman adventure. In fact, it’s easy enough to imagine the episode reworked as a solo adventure featuring the character.

The episode is well handled, with the animation looking stylish and efficient. And, to be honest, I am generally not a fan of the more stream-lined animation style used during the later DCAU series. Even the CGI, which would frequently become a staple of the shows at this point in their history, looks quite decent here – the sequences featuring the space shuttle look quite effective, and don’t stand out too much from the surrounding story.

Maid of Honour isn’t the perfect example of a Justice League episode, but it is quirky good fun in the mould of a fun James Bond adventure. It’s perhaps the best Wonder-Woman-centric episode of the entire DC animated universe.

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