Episode #37 - Ancient History
Original Airdate - April 29th, 2006
The Shadow Thief returns and so does Hawkman as more mysteries from
“Shadow of the Hawk” are explored.
Review by SJJ
Media by Bird Boy
Story by Matt Wayne
Teleplay by Geoff Johns
Directed by Joaquim dos Santos
Animation by D.R. Movie Co., LTD.
Music by Michael McCuistion
Maria Canals as Hawkgirl
Phil LaMarr as Green Lantern
James Remar as Hawkman/Shadow Thief
Gina Torres as Vixen
Hector Elizondo as Hath-Set
Robin Atkin Downes as Gentleman Ghost
Cartoons invariably have a shorter shelf life than live action.
Often they are aimed at a younger audience, which means animation is
taxed by mandatory "action requirements", restrictions on mature themes
(such as death, violence and certain other adult scenarios), the need to
promote ideological straight forward plotlines devoid of serious
complications and of course, the real humdinger of mediocrity, the need
to sell toys and garner oodles of advertising revenue.
With such a tight band of restrictions, even the most ambitious kid's
cartoon series can start to show wear after a couple of seasons.
As season three comes nearer to a close, "Ancient History" is an example
of how a good show fights from becoming formula.
The first half is, quite honestly, JLU by the numbers. The chase,
the fight, you've seen it all before. It's not badly executed, far from
it. There is that touch of humor, that good bit of action, but one feels
the urge to get past the battles. Five seasons of meta-battles and maybe
it's all becoming a little au fey. Still, always nice to see Brit actor
Robin Atkin Downes get work and he does a good job voicing The Gentleman
The set up reintroduces Carter Hall who debuted earlier this season in
the excellent episode, "Shadow Of The Hawk". Naturally, with Carter Hall
- Hawkman to his friends - being obsessed with Shayera and John
pretending not to be obsessed by Shayera, there is some friction
established. Of course, antagonism between two set heroes is something
we've seen throughout JLU many times before. Being a kid's show,
you know it will be resolved, it's just whether the numbers it goes by
will be interesting.
Next up is Vixen and Shayera in one of those slightly tongue in cheek
"off duty" scenes that JLU excels at. John's concern for Shayera,
Shayera's clear interest in John and Vixen's attempt to downplay her
concerns are all well played out. Unfortunately the "will they?/Won't
they?" tension between Shayera and John Stewart is rapidly translating
into a wealth of "I-don't-care-anymore". This character arc has been
wobbling on for two whole seasons and aside from the nice twist in "Once
And Future Past" it's not really felt as if it's gone anywhere.
After some more mandatory brawling, Green Lantern is captured by the
Shadow Thief, a character you may also remember from "Shadow Of The
Hawk". By the commercial break there is a half hearted temptation to
leave the room. It's not bad JLU, it's probably great for the
demographic it's aimed at, but if you are looking for that extra kick
that the show normally pulls from under it's cape, it's not really there
yet.. or maybe as I said initially, maybe we've just got too used to the
However part two really makes up for the lackluster part one as the show
does something a little different and a little more adult. Anyone who'd
made the mistake of wandering off to chase sweet wrappers in the break
may regret leaving.
The second part, with Vixen, Carter, Shayera and Green Lantern at the
mercy of Shadow Thief is far more interesting. We are treated to a
beautifully rendered flashback to ancient Eygpt with some great visuals
and some very nice direction. The story takes us deeper into flashback
seen in "Shadow Of The Hawk" (and one wonders whether this episode had
made bigger impact if it had sat side by side in the schedule) and
explains in detail the tale of Shayera's incarnation as a Thanagarian
ruler of Egypt, married to a previous incarnation of Carter Hall.
Considering the fairly short length of this segment, it manages to
develop these characters backgrounds and motivations with seeming too
There is a surprise player in this flashback is an earlier incarnation
of John Stewart, who in this incarnate is the King's most trusted
friend. The current love triangle is echoed in this tale, creates a very
adult scenario swamped in jealousy, murder and suicide. The scenes are
all handled with attention and care along side some excellent
storyboarding. The scene when the king finds his wife and friend dead
together is beautifully paced and rather poignant. You don't have to
care about John and Shayera's over played out love affair to enjoy this
sequence. What's best about the whole flashback is it's devoid of fight
sequences so we get to see JLU do some really nice straight
forward character based storytelling.
The episodes final revelation that the Shadow Thief is the darker nature
of Carter Hall made manifest, is certainly a compliment to the voice
acting of James Remar who plays both characters without revealing this
The final battle is a little more interesting than the standard affair
thanks to the horrific break of a forearm, courtesy of a yelping Green
Lantern. Beyond this upteenth battle in the space of half an hour, Hall
and Stewart shake hands by the end of this episode as Hall rather
rapidly realizes the truth behind Shadow Thief and his actions.
How does this resolve? For a kid's show, not as one totally expected.
While Carter's story is completed with a little too much haste, the
relationship between Green Lantern, Vixen and Shayera isn't really
fixed. John tells Shayera about Warhawk - their potential future son -
but explains he has no interest in creating that future as a pawn to
destiny. Unless the relationship changes naturally, he'll be staying
Of course, as an audience we know that they get together since Warhawk
appears in Batman Beyond, "The Call". This makes the unresolved
outcome of "Ancient History" more palatable. It's very much in character
for John Stewart to fight any form of manipulation - even if it means
fighting the universe himself. He wants a relationship on HIS terms, not
destiny's. One could argue by fighting destiny he's just simply denying
what will be for longer, that maybe it would be logical to just accept a
fate that you want (it's quite clear he's not adverse to the idea of
having a son and Shayera) and maybe he should stop being so bloody
minded... but that's people for you, and an example of how the
characters remain well written throughout. The only downside to this
epilogue is that the two seasons of tension between John and Shayera
feels utterly unresolved. For its patience, the audience may feel a
With a nice coda between Shayera and a non speaking Batman, this episode
wraps on a far more dignified level than it began. Whether its audience
overexposure or simply we are near the end of JLU's longevity
span, I do feel this is the best time to wrap JLU. This episode
fought against formula and succeeded in creating something special.
There were certainly some definitive and successful attempts to break
the mold here.
Nevertheless, this is an episode which feels it's main story should have
been resolved a long time back and there are certainly a great deal of
elements which feel over familiar. All in all a mixed bag of success and
occasional predictability that shows JLU still has some punch,
but it's having to pull out the stops to drive them home.
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