25. "Secret Origins"
Season 1, Episodes 1 and 2
When Justice League debuted on Nov. 17, 2001, it represented the culmination of a decade’s worth of universe building, which began in the legendary series Batman: The Animated Series and carried through Superman: The Animated Series and subsequent programs. Created by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, Justice League united the DC Animated Universe versions’ of Batman (Kevin Conroy) and Superman (Scandal‘s George Newbern) with Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg), Green Lantern John Stewart (Phil LaMarr), Flash (Smallville‘s Michael Rosenbaum), Martian Manhunter (Carl Lumbly), and Hawkgirl (Maria Canals) against forces they couldn’t take on alone.
Over the course of its run, Justice League would soar to great heights as it adapted some of DC Comics’ most beloved characters (and eventually lead into Justice League Unlimited). However, “Secret Origins,” the three-part series premiere, which finds the League fending off a White Martian invasion, is definitely the show’s lowest point due to clunky dialogue and severe pacing issues. That being said, it’s hard not to get excited about this new group of super friends once the action gets going. – Chancellor Agard
Season 2, Episodes 13 and 14
Whenever the side plot is more interesting than the primary villain, it’s not a good sign for the episode’s quality. Flash’s flirtation with commercial work is much more interesting than the battle against Eclipso, who looks almost as goofy as the crazed old guardian chasing him down. – Christian Holub
23. "War World"
Season 1, Episodes 10 and 11
In “War World,” which is inspired by Superman #32, Superman and Martian Manhunter are abducted and taken to Warworld, a planet ruled by the dictator Mongul, who uses gladiator matches to oppress the population. Although Mongul is a formidable foe for Superman, the story never quite comes together, and this ends up being one of the series’ more forgettable episodes.
22. "Hearts and Minds"
Season 2, Episodes 9 and 10
The second of this show’s Green Lantern Corps episodes focuses mostly on the complicated relationship between John Stewart and his ex-girlfriend, fellow Green Lantern Katma Tui, but it’s not quite enough to carry a lackluster story (featuring an undercooked version of the villain Despero). Considering Stewart has one of the more interesting arcs of any character over the course of the series, there are plenty of other episodes with better development for him. – Christian Holub
21. "A Knight of Shadows"
Season 1, Episodes 20 and 21
While the villain of the week was rather boring, this Keith Damron-penned outing is notable for featuring the welcomed return of the demon Etrigan, who was introduced on Batman: The Animated Series, and a poignant subplot for Martian Manhunter, who finally confronts his loneliness. By the end of the episode, he has fully embraced the League as his new family. – Chancellor Agard
20. "The Brave and the Bold"
Season 1, Episodes 12 and 13
Part of the joy of Justice League was how it loved exploring rarely visited parts of the DC Comics Universe, and this buddy-cop comedy of an episode centered on the team of goofball Flash and straight-man, former marine Green Lantern takes us to Gorilla City. We’ll give this episode extra points because it’s the first episode of the series written by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie and because it introduces Batman and Wonder Woman’s flirtatious relationship. – Chancellor Agard
19. "Paradise Lost"
Season 1, Episodes 8 and 9
In the show’s first Wonder Woman-centric episode, the evil sorcerer Faust takes the Amazons of Themyscira hostage and forces the League to find all of the keys to hell for him so he can summon Hades. While the plot ends up being rather simple, the episode does offer a complex and relatable exploration of Wonder Woman’s relationship to her home, which is she banished from at the end of the episode. —Chancellor Agard
18. "Tabula Rasa"
Season 2, Episodes 3 and 4
Amazo, an android who can copy the League’s powers, makes his DC Animated Universe debut in this perfectly fine episode. “Tabula Rasa” lacks some of the interesting character drama of the show’s best episodes and feels like it’s held together by several fights, which, to be fair, are quite fun and thrilling thanks to Dan Riba’s direction. That being said, we’ll take any chance to hang out with Clancy Brown’s slimy version of Lex Luthor. – Chancellor Agard
Season 1, Episodes 22 and 23
“Metamorphosis” is a weird episode – not just because it sidelines most of the League in favor of a new character, Metamorpho, but because it produces some truly strange artistic sequences. The show makes the most of Metamorpho’s shapeshifting abilities, as in one particularly eye-popping fight with J’onn as the two transform into one shape after another mid-battle. – Christian Holub
Season 1, Episodes 14 and 15
Wonder Woman’s home island of Themyscira forbids men to enter, and generally takes a pretty anti-men attitude. When renegade Amazon Aresia tries to take that further and kill all men, it’s a setup for a women-only episode as Diana and Hawkgirl race to stop her. Unfortunately the episode doesn’t quite live up to its intriguing premise; the set pieces in particular are rather unimaginative. – Christian Holub
15. "The Enemy Below"
Season 1, Episodes 6 and 7
Aquaman has long been a pop-culture punchline, but in an era of increasing underwater pollution and worries about nuclear proliferation, he has a new kind of resonance. Justice League recognized this by making their Aquaman a serious king of a sovereign Atlantis who has real political gripes with surface-dwelling humans – and then makes him even more serious by cutting off his hand and making him face a palace coup. Luckily Deadshot is there to lighten things up a little. – Christian Holub
14. "Only a Dream"
Season 2, Episodes 5 and 6
Writer Stan Berkowitz dives into the League’s psychology in this at times trippy episode that pits them against Doctor Destiny, a villain who terrorizes them in their dreams. The episode juggles giving us an insightful and meaningful look at the League’s insecurities and fears (The Flash receives some much needed development) while also finding the fun in having an exhausted Batman being the one to take out this very creepy villain. – Chancellor Agard
13. "Injustice For All"
Season 1, Episodes 18 and 19
Big-name villain crossover aside, this episode is interesting as a demonstration of Batman’s role in the Justice League. Although he has none of his teammates’ superpowers, the Dark Knight is still a master of criminal psychology, capable of thwarting the Injustice Gang’s plan even while restrained in their prison. The final scene between him and Joker is worth the price of admission alone as a brief but hilarious insight into their eternal Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote relationship. – Christian Holub
12. "Savage Time"
Season 1, Episodes 24, 25, and 26
The three-part season 1 finale is a marked improvement on the show’s lengthy series premiere. “Savage Time” is a timey-wimey war epic that finds the League traveling back to World War II to stop immortal megalomaniac Vandal Savage from changing the course of history. It’s a fitting conclusion to the first season, which was mainly concerned with our character’s relationships to their pasts (see “Fury,” “Paradise Lost,” “In Blackest Knight,” “Metamorphosis”). Plus, it also found time to introduce important wartime figures from the comics like Steve Trevor and Sgt. Rock. —Chancellor Agard
11. "Secret Society"
Season 2, Episodes 17 and 18
This could’ve been a rehash of season one’s “Injustice for All,” but it isn’t. The Gorilla Grodd-led supervillain group’s ends up being used to explore the growing tension between the Justice League’s members. Stress of working together leads to a brief breakup, but by the end of the episode they’re back together and it’s clear this isn’t just a superhero group — it’s a family, too. – Chancellor Agard
10. "In Blackest Night"
Season 1, Episodes 4 and 5
One of the most important decisions in the creation of Justice League was the use of the John Stewart version of Green Lantern, rather than Kyle Rayner or Hal Jordan or the countless other characters who have held the mantle throughout DC’s history. Stewart’s internal conflict between his personal integrity, his past mistakes, and the demands of his job forms one of the primary backbones of the series. He gets a great spotlight in this episode, which also dives into the plentiful Green Lantern mythology (and even sports some timely O.J. trial humor from Flash). – Christian Holub
9. "Maid of Honor"
Season 2, Episodes 7 and 8
Wonder Woman has traditionally been a difficult character for comic creators to wrap their heads around, but the Justice League crew did the character justice with an interpretation that simultaneously showed off her beauty, dignity, power, naiveté, and love for peace. “Maid of Honor” is a great display for all those characteristics, as Diana flirts with Batman (and Princess Audrey of Kasnia), confronts Vandal Savage, empowers her friend, and ultimately saves the day. – Christian Holub
8. "The Terror Beyond"
Season 2, Episodes 15 and 16
Decades before Netflix, the original version of Marvel’s Defenders team was a loosely knit group of oddball superheroes, usually involving Dr. Strange, Hulk, and Namor the Sub-Mariner. Writer Dwayne McDuffie decided to pay homage to those stories by assembling the DC equivalents of those characters – Dr. Fate, Solomon Grundy, and Aquaman – and pitting them against inter-dimensional Lovecraftian horror monsters. It’s a bit of a break from typical Justice League fare, but the visuals are stupendous and Grundy’s surprisingly touching relationship with Hawkgirl keeps the whole thing grounded in human emotion. – Christian Holub
7. "Comfort and Joy"
Season 2, Episode 23
The title of the episode says it all. This Paul Dini-penned standalone episode is both comforting and joyful and takes a look at how the Justice League spends it holidays: Green Lantern and Hawkgirl get their flirt on; The Flash, with the help of the villain Ultra-Humanite, helps brings some Christmas joy to an orphan shelter; and Martian Manhunter spends Christmas with the Kents. As always, J’onn’s is the most moving. The episode ends with J’onn, in his normal form, singing a Martian song that is guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes. — Chancellor Agard
Season 1, Episodes 16 and 17
Written by The Flash executive producer Andrew Kreisberg, “Legends” is both a love letter to Silver Age comics and a critique of stubbornly holding onto the past, which may not be as perfect and simple as we remember. Green Lantern and the rest of the league travel to an alternate dimension where they team-up with the Justice Guild of America, a Justice Society of America stand-in. Set in this idyllic 1950s town, the episode makes little nods to the period’s problematic attitudes about race and gender roles, an indicator that everything isn’t quite perfect. However, all is not what it seems. This world is an illusion created by JGA’s biggest fan, who keeps this entire era alive through sheer force of telepathic will because he can’t stand to let the JGA go, even after they died saving the world. The episode is a strong reminder that the only direction is forward. – Chancellor Agard
5. "A Better World"
Season 2, Episodes 11 and 12
If you’re a superhero fan, your friends have probably tried to trip you up at some point with a question like this: Why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker? Why doesn’t Superman just kill Luthor? Wouldn’t that make everything better? Well, this exceptional episode tackles that question head-on by pitting our Justice League against the Justice Lords, a Flash-less, ruthless alternate universe version of the team who have no qualms about killing (the episode begins with Justice Lord Superman murdering President Lex Luthor in retaliation for killing Flash) and have taken over their own Earth. When the Justice Lords discover our League, they decide to subdue them and enforce order over this new Earth. The episode interrogates both teams’ philosophies, most notably in an incredible and poignant scene between the two Batmen. Obviously, League Batman ends up winning the argument, because this show believes in the aspirational aspect of superheroes — they remind of us how good we can be, and killing their foes would negate that.
However, what’s amazing about the episode is that it doesn’t let the Justice League off the hook. Yes, their no-kill stance in vindicated, but they still have to make some moral compromise to take back their Earth from the Justice Lords: They team up with Lex Luthor. At the time, this seems like a small mistake, but this decision has far-reaching consequences that end up serving as the backbone of the sequel series, Justice League Unlimited. — Chancellor Agard
4. "Wild Cards"
Season 2, Episodes 21 and 22
The Joker is one of the most enduring villains in popular culture, and even so, Mark Hamill’s voiceover version (variously evil and hilarious, with different laughs for each emotion) remains one of the character’s definitive interpretations. His final entry into the DCAU canon honors him with a unique episode format in which the Joker talks directly to the audience after commandeering the TV news. Together, he and viewers watch the Justice League attempt to dismantle his plot to blow up Las Vegas. Never one with much regard for the fourth wall, the Joker spends the episode calling out classic TV tropes (like Green Lantern and Hawkgirl’s sexual tension), placing bets on fights, and so on. There are also little “jokes” hidden throughout the episode, such as the fact that the Royal Flush Gang is voiced entirely by the cast of Teen Titans. It’s a wild, raucous combination that brings several series-long plot threads together and gives the Joker a well-deserved Timmverse send-off. – Christian Holub
Season 2, Episodes 19 and 20
Ever in search of new ways to boost sales, Marvel and DC will occasionally kill off their most famous superheroes to pique reader interest and provide dramatic stakes, only to miraculously bring them back a few months later. The most famous example of this is probably the “Death of Superman” in 1992, so it’s no accident that writer Dwayne McDuffie chose Superman for his referendum on the trope. After a villainous attack appears to kill Superman, McDuffie explores what the Man of Steel’s absence means to both the League and the world. Viewers learn that Flash was only so goofy because he always knew Superman had his back, and are later treated to the unexpected spectacle of Lois Lane and Lex Luthor tearfully embracing at the hero’s funeral. No viewer could seriously think Superman was dead for good, but the dramatic gravitas is established so well, and the characters feel the loss so intensely, it can’t help but have an effect. Thankfully Lobo pops up for some comic relief.
The second part is a beautiful bottle episode that shows viewers where Superman went: A far-flung post-apocalyptic world that has left the Man of Steel bearded and powerless. There, he runs into Vandal Savage, now the only other living being left on Earth after his plan to destroy humanity finally worked a little too well. So Superman is living a hero’s worst failure, and Savage is living a villain’s greatest dream, and it turns out they’re both the same: Stuck here in an empty wasteland, forever. Together they find a way out for both of them, a bittersweet solution that doesn’t feel cheap at all. – Christian Holub
Season 2, Episodes 24, 25, and 26
Justice League‘s two seasons were all building to this three-part series finale, an exciting, emotionally satisfying spectacle which also parallels “Secret Origins” in a few interesting ways. In this epic episode, the Thanagarian army arrives on Earth and it’s revealed that Hawkgirl was originally sent to Earth as a spy for her intergalactic empire, rather than the lost refugee she had always claimed. That twist works so well because it makes sense; there are several moments in past episodes where it’s clear Hawkgirl was hiding something. However, what hits even harder is that Hawkgirl sides with the Thanagarians, led by her fiancé Hro Talak, when the League tries to stop them from conquering Earth. Hawkgirl’s betrayal has a huge impact because the writers had done such a good job of building the relationships between the characters over the course of the two seasons.
“Starcrossed” has too many great moments to fit here; from the League revealing their identities to each other while on the run from the Thanagarians to Batman summoning bats to distract the army when it storms Wayne Manor, to the climactic and emotionally fraught fight that between Hro Talak and John Stewart and Hawkgirl (after she flips sides). However, the series ends on a bittersweet note of sorts: Shayera resigns from the League before hearing whether or not they voted to keep her in (for the record: they voted to let her stay, and Superman broke the tie). Thankfully, this wasn’t the last time we saw the DCAU world, but if it had been, this would’ve been a great way to end the universe because this episode is an example of everything the show did well. — Chancellor Agard
Season 2, Episodes 1 and 2
Many Justice League episodes feature a nefarious combination of villains, but none of those multi-member Injustice Gangs pose nearly as big a threat as the devastating two-man team-up of Darkseid and Brainiac, Superman’s two most terrifying enemies. Justice League mostly picked up where Superman: The Animated Series left off, but Superman’s relationship with Darkseid (who had brainwashed him and turned him against Earth during the epic finale of the former series) remained unresolved throughout season 1. So when they finally met again in the season 2 premiere, for the first time, viewers saw Superman get really angry. Superman is the guiding star of the League, always looking for the best in both friends and enemies, but he truly hates the Apokoliptian dictator. This animosity reverberates throughout the episode, leading to a climactic duel athwart an exploding spaceship as hero and villain go at each other with everything they have.
Darkseid is the greatest villain in the DC Universe, but unfortunately creator Jack Kirby was never able to finish his original story for the character. Bruce Timm and crew did an incredible job of picking up Kirby’s torch and fleshing out his Fourth World creations across their DCAU. They even manage to make New Genesis interesting here, by adding some fascinating social tension (even in heaven there is hierarchy, it appears). Kirby himself could hardly have dreamed up a better ending for Darkseid than having the dictator watch his foe escape and hiss “loser” with his last breath.
With such a powerful lineup of heroes, it’s hard to make a given Justice League episode feel truly epic. But between Brainiac’s apocalyptic attacks on Apokolips and New Genesis, flaring tensions between Superman and Batman, Hawkgirl’s ongoing pining for her homeworld, and an explosive resolution between Superman and Darkseid, “Twilight” pulls it off. – Christian Holub