The greatest elements of the greatest story…


Pound for pound, in my opinion, the DC Animated Universe is the best version of the DC mythology out there in any media, and that includes comics.

From the early days of Batman: The Animated Series to the last shot of Justice League Unlimited, and all the myriad connected series in-between, the universe crafted by Bruce Timm and the talented crew of writers, animators, actors and producers at Warner Bros. Animation featured, for many, the definitive versions of those timeless characters.

The best story from that world is what came to be known as “The Cadmus Arc.” Developed over the course of the Justice League Unlimited series, it picked up threads left as far back as Superman: The Animated Series and roped in characters from even earlier in BTAS. Like groundbreaking comic works like Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and Kingdom Come, the Cadmus Arc took the DNA Project concept originally conceived by Jack Kirby in his Fourth World books in the early ’70s, and used it to deconstruct the superhero genre, and question the notions of responsibility of power that these gods among us possess.

Both the League and their opposing force in Project Cadmus were painted in shades of gray, with viewers often struggling on which side they agreed with. It made for a multi-layered, fascinating story far beyond the “kids’ cartoon” milieu many expected from a series that had a tie-in toy line hanging on the pegs at your local Toys ‘R Us and Target.

My wife Cindy and I have been covering this story on our podcast, JLUCast, over on the Fire and Water Podcast Network. Join us and our special guests (one of whom should be familiar to 13th Dimension readers) for lively discussions on the series in general, and this fantastic story arc in particular. (On Monday, we cover Divided We Fall. Click here to check it out.) Below are 13 great moments from the development and execution of this sprawling epic — from the seeds that were planted years before, to their eventual fruition in JLU proper. (All images courtesy of

Superman Betrays Earth – STAS: “Legacy” Parts 1 and 2. Superman is abducted and brainwashed by Darkseid and is turned loose on his adopted planet. The Man of Steel eventually comes to his senses, but not before the world and the US government questions his intentions. Longtime ally Professor Emil Hamilton fears for his life when Superman forces him to care for an injured Supergirl. Hamilton’s heel turn in JLU is telegraphed when he tells the press he now fears his former friend, in the aftermath of the Darkseid debacle. Supergirl’s time in Hamilton’s lab will begin Cadmus’ legacy of cloning soldiers bred to take down Earth’s supposed champions, if the need arises.

The Justice Lords Take Over – JL: “A Better World” Parts 1 and 2. On a parallel world, President Lex Luthor executes the Flash. Superman then in turn assassinates Luthor to stop him from igniting World War III. These Justice Lords then take control of their Earth, and when they notice that another, similar world has a group of doppelgangers, they take it upon themselves to bring order to that planet as well. On our Earth, the Justice Lord Superman lobotomizes the mysterious Doomsday, who is hell-bent on destroying the Man of Steel. To defeat their fascist doubles, the League cuts a deal with Lex Luthor. He receives a full pardon for using his technology to rob the Lords of their powers. The chilling opening where Superman kills a foaming mad Luthor with his heat vision in the Oval Office reverberates through the first two seasons of Justice League Unlimited, fueling the Cadmus arc.

Answering the Question – JLU: “Fearful Symmetry.” When Supergirl has vivid nightmares of assassinating scientists, she turns to Green Arrow for help. The Question inserts himself into their investigation, feeling it dovetails with his many conspiracy theories. JLU’s take on the Question as an unhinged Fox Mulder-type is brilliant, perfectly executed by the masterful Jeffery Combs. When Supergirl acts insulted that the Question knows about her habits from digging through her trash, he responds, “Please… I go through everyone’s trash.” The three heroes barely survive their encounter with Galatea, an accelerated clone of Supergirl (who visually resembles the comics’ Power Girl), bred in the lab of her former friend Professor Emil Hamilton.

Enter Amanda Waller – JLU: “Ultimatum.” The Justice League has some new competition in the Ultimen, young heroes who are analogues for the made-for-TV additions to the Super Friends animated series. But the Ultimen discover they are clones with implanted memories. After they go berserk, government agents appear to collect them, led by Amanda Waller, voiced to perfection by CCH Pounder. The League refuses to let her take the sympathetic Long Shadow with them, but Waller pulls no punches, hinting to Batman that she knows his true identity. The League stands by as her unit takes the rest of the Ultimen away, but it isn’t the last we’ll see of them, or Waller.

The League Fires Its Fusion Cannon – JLU: “Dark Heart.” To defeat the alien Dark Heart, and its army of nanobot spiders from taking over first Nevada, then the planet, the League activates its secret weapon: a binary fusion cannon in the Watchtower, hovering above Earth. US military official General Eiling, played with authoritative disdain by J.K. Simmons, is shocked by the League’s possession of such a devastating weapon, and does not take the potential threat lightly. He confiscates the remnants of the nanobots, setting up the power struggle at the heart of the Cadmus storyline.

Batman Questions the League’s Actions – JLU: “Doomsday Sanction.” This episode (which we covered on JLUCast with none other than 13th Dimension’s own Dan Greenfield) cranks up the heat of the Cadmus arc in the early days of JLU Season 2. After a fantastic confrontation between Batman and Waller in her home’s bathroom, we learn Doomsday was created by Cadmus to destroy Superman and is now on the loose once more. Eiling orders a nuclear strike on a volcanic island Superman and Doomsday are fighting on, and Batman barely survives taking the nuke out. Superman’s solution for dealing with Doomsday is to sentence him to the Phantom Zone. An injured Batman tells his friend he’s acting like a true Justice Lord, as Batman legend Kevin Conroy gives us perhaps his angriest delivery as the Dark Knight. This episode represents a possible pivot point for this story, and the whole series, as the producers of the show nearly had Batman switch sides to work with Cadmus after these events.

The Suicide Squad Infiltrates the Watchtower – JLU: “Task Force X.” JLU does a “heist” movie, in this excellent episode with a story by Dwayne McDuffie, and a teleplay by Darwyn Cooke. Waller recruits a group of super villains — Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Clock King and Plastique — to infiltrate the Watchtower under the command of Colonel Rick Flagg, as “Task Force X” (the producers couldn’t get away with using the name “Suicide Squad”). The Squad manages to secure its package, the mystical Annihilator armor first seen in the JLU Season 1 episode “Hawk and Dove.” Deadshot’s intentional actions gravely injure Plastique, who is left behind. This story was developed so Cadmus could have a clear victory over the League in at least one episode.

Superman vs. Captain Marvel – JLU: “Clash.” When new League member Captain Marvel (voiced with youthful exuberance by Jerry O’Connell) inadvertently endorses Lex Luthor for President, he gets on Superman’s bad side. Luthor is manipulating events to make Superman look bad, and boy does he. He tricks Superman into believing a bomb is beneath his prototype “Lexor City” designed for low-income families. Captain Marvel steps in to try and reason with the Man of Steel, and the two old publishing rivals engage in an epic slobberknocker that not only levels the city, but makes Superman look like a loose cannon, and Lex a saint. At episode’s end we learn Lex is working directly with Waller and Cadmus on his smear campaign against the League.

The Question Learns the Truth – JLU: “Question Authority.” When the Question sees footage of the Justice Lord Superman murdering President Luthor, he’s convinced that history is about to repeat itself on their world. He confronts Superman with this knowledge, and the League’s attempt to cover it up. The verbal confrontation between Jeffery Combs as the Question, and George Newbern as Superman is more intense than most action scenes in the series. Afraid Superman will not heed his warning, Question attempts to kill Luthor before the Man of Steel has the chance and ends up in Cadmus custody. The image of the Question preparing to murder Luthor with his tie is downright subversive!

The Watchtower Destroys Cadmus Headquarters – JLU: “Flashpoint.” Attempting to rescue the Question from Cadmus’ facility, Superman and the Huntress are blocked by their teammate Captain Atom, under direct orders from General Eiling. Superman manages to defeat Atom and takes him and the battered Question back to the Watchtower. Things go from bad to catastrophic when the League’s binary fusion cannon fires at Earth, at the location of Cadmus’ headquarters. Waller and company survive, since they had secretly relocated, but she believes the League retaliated over the Question’s abduction. Unbeknownst to both the League and Cadmus, Lex Luthor was behind the security breach, but the world believes the League nearly destroyed a town in New Mexico with a power they cannot control. The devastation wrought by the fusion cannon is unsettling.

Brainiac Revealed – JLU: “Panic in the Sky.” With the world reeling from the fusion cannon incident, the founding Leaguers (minus Batman, of course) agree to turn themselves in to US custody until the matter is straightened out. Waller jumps the gun and orders an attack on the Watchtower. Galatea and an army of mindless Ultimen board the space station, and dozens of Justice Leaguers join the battle. When Batman confronts Waller with his suspicions about Luthor, she finds he’s right, and calls off the strike. Galatea refuses to listen, determined to defeat Supergirl and prove she’s her better. She doesn’t.

Batman and Waller confront Lex, and find he funded Cadmus only to build an immortal, android body for himself, and to destroy Superman’s reputation. When the founding Leaguers confront Lex, he writhes in agony, as advanced tech ruptures his flesh. A cold, mechanical voice tells the Leaguers he hoped to have kept himself hidden longer. Superman recognizes the voice as Brainiac. The sight of Lex’s flesh ripping apart as Brainiac’s mechanical parts emerge from beneath his skin was undoubtedly nightmare fuel for kids, and it was a twist no one, not even diehard comic fans, saw coming.

The Flash Saves The Day – JLU: “Divided We Fall.” Brainiac reveals he’s slowly been taking over Luthor since the STAS episode “Ghost in the Machine.” Absorbing nanotech from the Dark Heart, he merges with Lex, and the two set about building a machine that will gather the Earth’s knowledge and then destroy it. When the League arrives to oppose him, Luthoriac (as some fans tend to call him) creates nanobot copies of the Justice Lords, who confront the Leaguers with the moral quandaries plaguing them throughout the series. The heroes manage to overcome their duplicates, but Luthoriac smacks them down — all but the Flash, who barely escapes the fate he faced at the hands of President Luthor on the Justice Lords’ world.

Seemingly running away in fear, the Fastest Man Alive returns, blasting into Luthoriac at super speed. He races around the globe multiple times, each time increasing his speed beyond any previous limits, and coming back with another crushing blow for his foe. Crackling with lightning, he vibrates his hands through Luthoriac, destroying Brainiac and freeing Luthor. As the other Leaguers come to, they see Flash disappear. Wally West calls out to his teammates from the Speed Force; they lock hands and pull him back from the abyss. Having Flash, once portrayed in the series as the goofball, junior member of the team, prove to be the League’s heart, and their savior in their darkest hour, was a brilliant stroke on the part of the creative team, particularly primary Cadmus writer Dwayne McDuffie.

Project: Batman Beyond — JLU: “Epilogue.” The final episode of Season 2 jumps far ahead in the DCAU canon, even past the time of the Batman Beyond series. When he finds he’s an exact biological match for his mentor Bruce Wayne, Terry McGinnis confronts Amanda Waller, who confirms that she initiated a plan to replicate Batman, using the technology and research from the Cadmus Project. After the events of the Cadmus Arc, Waller worked as a liaison with the Justice League, and came to appreciate Batman most of all.

She tells Terry the story of how Bruce Wayne’s Batman was sent in by her to take out the terminally ill Ace, the young, matter-manipulating member of the Royal Flush Gang that Cadmus had helped create in the Justice League episode “Wild Cards.” Rather than use Waller’s methods, Batman sits and talks with Ace, and relates to her tragic back story. As she succumbs to death, Batman stays with her.

Impressed with Batman’s compassion and resilience, Waller set about manipulating events to recreate him, including overwriting the DNA of Terry’s father with that of Bruce Wayne’s, and even hiring an assassin (none other than Phantasm from the excellent Batman: Mask of the Phantasm animated film) to kill his parents in front of him, to motivate him to take up the cowl. When the assassin refused, Waller accepted her plans were thwarted, but fate had Terry meet Bruce Wayne and become Batman anyway.

This reveal, years after the Batman Beyond series wrapped, still polarizes fans. Timm and company took the plotline of a proposed Batman Beyond direct-to-DVD film, which had Catwoman behind the attempt to clone Batman, and integrated it into what they felt at the time was probably their last episode in the DCAU canon. (JLU was picked up for a third and final season following the development of this episode). Despite the controversy, the scene with Batman and the dying Ace is one of the most genuinely touching and haunting moments in DC Comics history.


— BATMAN’s KEVIN CONROY: The Voice of a Hero — And So Much More. Click here.


13th Dimension contributor Chris Franklin is a graphic designer, illustrator, writer, and podcaster, who co-hosts and produces several shows on the Fire and Water Podcast Network. In addition to JLUCast, he and his wife Cindy produce Super Mates, which will soon launch its 10th annual House of Franklin-Stein series, covering classic horror films, and comics featuring superheroes vs. classic monsters.

Author: Dan Greenfield

Share This Post On


  1. There’s no denying how powerful JLU’s Cadmus arc was. It fired on all cylinders.

    Post a Reply
  2. “Those plastic things on your shoelaces are called aglets, and their true purpose is sinister.” – The Question

    Post a Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: