There’s no question that Marvel Comics rules the big screen, pumping out one blockbuster after another. But when it comes to the small screen, it’s their “Distinguished Competition” who owns that territory.
It all began with Batman: The Animated Series in 1992. Gone were the unoriginal plots, bland characters, and juvenile atmosphere of the DC superhero cartoons of the 1960s and 1970s. This was done as a dramatic series that just happened to be animated. The writing was mature and smart, and the characters had distinct personalities, along with the typical human strengths and flaws. The series even won four Emmy Awards during its run. Batman spawned other animated shows by DC, including Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited, which maintained that mature storytelling and character development. The company also released a slew of direct to DVD original movies, many of which were geared toward a more adult audience.
With the Superfriends cartoons of the 1970s, nothing stood out in those stories, save for the lack of imagination and the fact all the heroes were goody-goody good guys who never did any wrong. Not so with the DC TV shows and movies from 1992 on. The heroes and heroines made mistakes, let their emotions get the better of them, and had to live with the consequences of their actions. That led to some shocking moments in these shows and movies. But which ones are the most shocking? Which ones had fans stare at their TVs, mouths agape, asking themselves, “Did that really happen?”
We’re about to find out. Here are my picks for the Top Ten Most Shocking Moments in the DC Animated Universe.
Do I even need to warn you that the following contains spoilers?
#10: JOKER THROWS HARLEY QUINN OUT A WINDOW
Romeo and Juliet. Han Solo and Princess Leia. Captain Sheridan and Ambassador Delenn. These are some of the greatest fictional love stories ever.
Then you have the Joker and Harley Quinn.
Created just for the Batman series, Harley became one of its most popular characters, with her doey-eyed devotion to her “Mr. J.” She even brought out a softer side to the Joker at times, though it wasn’t unusual to see him go from talking sweetly to Harley to screaming at her in the span of three seconds.
In The New Batman Adventures episode “Mad Love,” Harley captures Batman and has him dangling over a tank filled with piranha, hoping to impress the Joker. Instead, when he shows up, he slaps Harley and blows his stack, claiming he has to be the one to kill Batman. Nothing we haven’t seen him do before to his significant other.
Then he does something fans hadn’t seen before. In a fit of rage, the Joker shoves Harley out a third story window, sending her crashing onto a stack of crates below.
Yeah, the Joker’s a psycho nutjob, but . . . damn! I mean, that was Harley he did that to.
Maybe even more shocking was Harley’s reaction. Lying in the wreckage of the crates, bleeding and half-conscious, she mutters to herself, “My fault.”
#9: DARKSEID KILLS DESAAD
Desaad has been Darkseid’s chief torturer and all-around right hand man for decades (His first appearance in 1971 in Forever People). Fans are accustomed to seeing him at the side of the cruel ruler of Apokolips. As with all villains, Desaad has had his fair share of screw ups. Despite those failures, Darkseid never kicked him completely to the curb.
That changed in the Justice League episode “Twilight.” Darkseid launches an operation against New Genesis as part of his quest to secure the Anti-Life Equation. The New Gods, however, blast Darkseid’s fleet to pieces, then take their reprisal one step further. They send the debris through a boom tube and drop it on Darkseid’s capital city.
While Darkseid overlooks the devastation, Desaad comments that searching for the Anti-Life Equation is a, “Fool’s errand.”
Most fans probably expected a tongue-lashing from Darkseid, or sending Desaad to the slave pits for a month or two so, “You can think about what you did.” Imagine the double-take they did when he blasted his most loyal servant to atoms with his Omega Beams. Just like that. An established character, gone. Normally, something like that would happen toward the end of an episode. But Desaad got vaporized five minutes into “Twilight.”
The scene was also a great depiction of Darkseid’s cruelty and absence of any amount of respect for life. After dispatching Desaad, he says, “No one questions me, Desaad. No one.” Then he goes back to watching the repair efforts to his city, not showing an ounce of remorse over killing one of his top henchmen.
#8: SINESTRO KILLS A CRAP-TON OF GREEN LANTERNS
This is from the movie Green Lantern: First Flight, which featured Law & Order: SVU star Chris Meloni voicing Hal Jordan/Green Lantern.
A newly-recruited Lantern, Jordan is whisked away to Oa to be trained by Sinestro. To no one’s shock, Sinestro turns bad, claims the yellow power ring, and attacks Oa. That, however, leads to this shocking moment.
Sinestro uses the yellow battery that powers his ring to destroy the green battery. Without their power source, none of the Green Lantern rings work. Sinestro finds himself standing in front of a rain of power rings. Hundreds of power rings! All from Green Lanterns who were in space when the green battery was destroyed. Fans had to wrap their minds around the fact hundreds of Lanterns were snuffed out in the blink of an eye.
#7: ROBIN FIGHTS THE TEEN TITANS
I’m going to admit, Teen Titans never held much appeal to me. The few episodes I did watch were too silly and over the top for me. Still, the show did pull off a shocker in the Season One finale.
The villainous Slade infects Robin’s teammates with a nanovirus and gives the Boy Wonder an impossible choice. Serve him or watch Starfire, Cyborg, Beast Boy and Raven die.
While performing a break-in on Slade’s behalf, Robin runs up against the Titans. So how does he warn them about Slade’s plans?
He doesn’t. Robin starts fighting the shocked Titans, with Slade ordering him to, “Fight to win.”
Which is exactly what Robin does.
#6: SUPERMAN SERVES DARKSEID
How can this be? The Man of Steel working for one of his greatest enemies? Fans were wondering that when the episode “Legacy” opened with a powerful, dark-suited figure subjugating a planet. Following the conquest, this being appears before Darkseid, removes his helmet, and reveals he’s . . .
It wasn’t a robot or a clone. The actual Superman was helping Darkseid expand his empire. It turns out Darkseid’s forces kidnapped him and brainwashed him into believing he was raised on Apokolips. Still, seeing one of DC’s greatest heroes fighting for one of its most malevolent villains came as a hell of a shocker for fans.
Superman did recover from his brainwashing, and gave Darkseid one hell of a beat down. Still, Superman’s actions in “Legacy” had several repercussions during the run of Justice League.
#5: WONDER WOMAN DECAPITATES AQUAMAN’S WIFE
You’d think, with a title like Justice League: War, it would be the bloodiest, most violent animated movie ever released by DC.
Nope. Not even close. That distinction goes to Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox.
The Flash goes back in time to prevent his mother from being murdered, and he’s successful. That’s good, right? Sadly, it’s not. His actions cause temporal ripples that FUBAR the whole timeline. Bruce Wayne is murdered as a boy, his father becomes Batman, and his mother becomes the Joker. Kal-El is powerless and imprisoned by the government. The Amazons and Atlanteans are at war. Europe lies in ruin. Heck, you could make a Top Ten Most Shocking Moments list from this movie alone.
Even with all the insane changes to the timeline, none of them comes close to the jaw-dropping death of Mera.
In a flashback sequence, Aquaman and Wonder Woman meet to negotiate a truce between their respective nations. These negotiations happen to include a tryst between the two, which Mera witnesses from the shadows. She confronts Wonder Woman about it, and the two fight.
In the next scene, we see Wonder Woman putting on Mera’s crown, then holding up her severed head. This is something you’d normally see in an R-rated horror movie, not an animated feature. But it is certainly the one scene that sticks out in the minds of everyone who’s seen this movie.
#4: LEX LUTHOR IS BRAINIAC
Lex Luthor and Brainiac are, without a doubt, two of Superman’s most intelligent foes. Now imagine them combining their powers and intellect . . . literally.
In the culmination of the Cadmus story arc for Season Two of Justice League Unlimited, we see some changes in Lex Luthor. Somehow, he’s gained superhuman strength, which he uses to beat the living crap out of the Question when the faceless hero tries to kill him to prevent a possible future where the Justice League rule Earth. Fans were scratching their heads, wondering how a middle-aged billionaire could be that strong.
Maybe he hit the gym every day. Maybe it was steroids.
Nope. When confronted by the original Justice League members, Luthor is just about to make a defiant speech when he’s interrupted . . . by metal prongs and tentacles popping out of his body. That’s when fans learn one of the biggest plot twists ever for JLU. Brainiac fused part of his being with Luthor. While completely out of the blue, it is explained that Brainiac injected part of himself into Luthor during their first encounter in Superman: The Animated Series, and was just waiting for the right time to reveal himself. And what a shocking reveal it was for characters and fans alike.
#3: DARKSEID KILLS DAN TURPIN
It’s the third time Darkseid makes this list. While this villain has racked up a very, very high body count, perhaps none of his kills made characters and fans gasp more than this one.
Dan Turpin was a gruff, no-nonsense detective with the Metropolis Police Department. Through much of Superman: The Animated Series, he had a deep distrust of the Man of Steel. But as the series progressed, his opinion of Superman softened, and he even developed a friendship with him.
In “Apokolips . . . Now!,” Darkseid invades Metropolis. In the process, he pounds Superman senseless and straps him to the front of a massive tank to try and convince the masses even their greatest hero can’t save them.
Turpin, however, is not convinced. He rallies the police and the citizens of Metropolis to rise up against Darkseid. Superman eventually frees himself to help turn the tide in favor of humanity. It’s at this point Darkseid decides to get the hell outta Dodge, with Turpin taunting him as he’s walking into a boom tube.
At the last second, Darkseid turns and fires his Omega Beams at Superman. But the beams whip around him and blast Turpin to dust.
What follows is probably one of the most emotional scenes in DC animated history. With Darkseid escaping back to Apokolips, Superman just loses it, crying out in rage and sorrow while pounding an alien tank into scrap.
Turpin’s funeral is very touching, and pays great respect to someone who was really a supporting character. His tombstone reads, “Daniel Turpin: Earth’s Greatest Hero.” Superman paid a simple tribute to the fallen cop by saying, “In the end, the world really didn’t need a Superman . . . just a brave one.”
#2: HAWKGIRL BETRAYS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE
Superheroes fight on the side of right, of justice. Their methods may vary, but at the end of the day, they always know which side of the fence they’re on.
A minor character in the comics, who was limited to a couple of appearances in Superfriends in the 1970s, Hawkgirl became a key member of the Justice League during the animated series. She was tough, her character was given depth, and she was even involved in a well-developed relationship with Green Lantern. Her alien origins didn’t cause anyone to be suspicious of her, not when the League had two other aliens (Superman and Martian Manhunter), and a human who got his powers from aliens (Green Lantern).
But when the Thanagarians came to Earth, everything we knew about Hawkgirl went out the window. The winged aliens revealed that Hawkgirl (a.k.a. Shayera Hol) was actually one of their advanced scouts, feeding them information about Earth. Naturally, this revelation blew away her teammates, and fans, who had no inkling this was coming.
Things got worse for Hawkgirl. At first, the Thanagarians came off as wanting to help Earth fight an alien menace. It turned out they were the ones who were the menace. They took over the Earth, forcing the Justice League to go on the run. Hawkgirl, meanwhile, spent most of the episode trying to figure out where her loyalties lay. Even though she did turn on her own race to help liberate Earth, many of the League members could not forgive her deception. She leaves the team, ends her relationship with Green Lantern, and spends a good chunk of Justice League Unlimited as an outcast, trying to figure out her place in the world. Even when she does come back to the League, many members, including Wonder Woman, don’t trust her at all.
#1: TIM DRAKE IS THE JOKER
In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, 35 years have passed since the Joker’s death. So why the hell is the Clown Prince of Crime back in Gotham? That’s what Terry McGinnis, the Batman of the future, is trying to find out.
What he discovered blew everyone’s mind.
The audience learns through flashbacks that the third Robin, Tim Drake, was kidnapped by the Joker, who tortured and brainwashed him into trying to kill Batman. At the last second, Robin turns around and actually kills the Joker. There are two versions of this scene in the movie. In the edited version, Robin shoves Joker into some hanging wires, electrocuting him. In the un-cut version, Robin shoots Joker in the heart with his BANG! spear gun. What follows is a scene you’re transfixed at. Robin, standing over the Joker’s corpse, laughing hysterically while tears stream down his cheeks.
And that’s not even the most shocking part of this movie.
McGinnis/Batman discovers that the now middle-aged Tim Drake has been implanted with a device that contains the Joker’s consciousness and DNA. When activated, the former Robin actually turns into the Joker! McGinnis winds up destroying the device and saving Tim, but holy crap, I don’t even want to imagine what his therapy bills were like after all this.
John J. Rust is sports director for a radio station in Arizona, as well as a published author. His books include the sci-fi thrillers “Dark Wings” and “Sea Raptor” and the sports-themed novels “Arizona’s All-Time Baseball Team” and “The Best Phillies Team Ever,” all of which are available on Amazon.