Justice League Unlimited, “Far From Home” (season 3, episode 10; originally aired April 15, 2006)

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The Legion of Superheroes is one of DC Comics’ coolest concepts, a team of young heroes from different parts of the universe united to fight for the forces of good in the 31st Century. The futuristic setting allowed creators on the various Legion Of Superheroes comics to stretch their imaginations as they developed a wide variety of alien characters and environments, building an expansive world that combined elements of science fiction, fantasy, and superhero genres with no shortage of soap opera in the relationships of the cast. DC hasn’t done right by the Legion of Superheroes in the New 52, launching two Legion titles at the start of the reboot that were some of the line’s first cancellations. There’s so much that could be done with the concept and characters, so it’s unfortunate that DC delivered two uninspired books for the New 52.

It was only a matter of time before JLU’s third season trip through the DC Universe would land in the 31st Century, but “Far From Home” isn’t a Legion of Superheroes story so much as it is a Supergirl story co-starring some of the futuristic team’s heroes. That decision to narrow the focus is a smart one by writers Dwayne McDuffie (story) and Paul Dini (whose teleplay for this episode is his final script for the DCAU), allowing them to explore the 31st Century while delivering a poignant conclusion to a character arc that has been developing since the very first episode of JLU.

“Far From Home” features some spectacular cosmic action courtesy of director Dan Riba and his team of storyboard artists—I love the moment when Supergirl fights back a wave of energy blasts, something that her cousin does all the time—but the character development is what makes it such a strong chapter of the series. On the surface, it’s an especially fantastic story, pulling three Justice League members from the past to help Brainiac 5 and Bouncing Boy save their abducted teammates from the Fatal Five, but it’s all just one big metaphor for growing up, leaving home, and forming your own identity.

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Supergirl has lived in Superman’s shadow for her entire time on Earth. She’ll always be his little cousin in this setting, but she has the potential to be so much more. It doesn’t help that present-day Earth is like the Stone Age compared to the technologically advanced Kryptonian civilization that Kara grew up in, forcing her to live a simpler life than the one she had before the destruction of her home planet. She doesn’t want to live as a normal Earthling, and rather than celebrating her 21st birthday the traditional way and hitting the town with Ollie and Dinah, she chooses to spend the occasion fighting robots in the Watchtower’s training simulator. As Kara takes out each of her cyborg opponents, John realizes that he doesn’t have anything else to teach her, and that’s when the two of them (plus Ollie) are pulled into the future by a time bubble sent into the past by Brainiac 5.

In the future, Kara discovers an environment where she doesn’t have to hide any part of herself. Supergirl’s time on Earth can be considered an educational experience not unlike going to college, putting her in a new setting where she learns the skills that will improve her life, but it’s not a place that she can spend the rest of her life. The training sequence at the top of the episode is Kara’s graduation, and when she’s whisked away to the future, she’s taking those first big steps to creating her own adult identity. For the majority of the episode, the viewer is led to believe that Kara will die in the future because historical records say that only Ollie and John return from the future, but the reason only two Leaguers head back to the past is because Kara decides to stay in the future where she can continue to have new experiences while being true to herself and her Kryptonian heritage.

One of those new experiences is falling in love. Kara is initially suspicious of Brainiac 5 considering his ancestor is one of her home planet’s greatest enemies, but she’s also very attracted to the adorable green-skinned blonde boy (voiced by Matt Czuchry of Gilmore Girls and The Good Wife). And Brainiac 5’s actions just make her like him even more. When the Fatal Five appears and places mind-control devices on the group, Brainiac 5 frees himself and then immediately goes to rescue Kara; he says he does it because she’s the most powerful member, but there’s clearly a shared affection between the two that influences them to take care of each other.

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Pairing up Supergirl and Brainiac 5 is a delightful move by the writers, allowing Kara to experience something a lot of young women go through: an attraction to a person that her family doesn’t approve of. The episode ends with Superman asking, “Now this boy that Kara likes so much. Does he have a name?” We don’t see Clark’s reaction to the answer to that question, but it’s easy to imagine his displeasure with the development. Luckily for Kara, he can’t do anything about it while stuck in the past, but she better hope that her big cousin doesn’t find a way into the 31st Century any time soon.

Clark fills the role of the dominating father in Kara’s life, but Ollie and John have served as her big brothers, taking a more sympathetic view of her struggle while still being protective of her. The relationship of these three characters has been one of the strongest of the series, and the decision to keep Superman in the past for this episode is an important one. So much of “Far From Home” is about Kara becoming her own woman and stepping out of her cousin’s shadow, and if Clark was with her in the future, the Legion would immediately look at her through her relationship with her cousin.

Clark would also probably force her to come back to the past, which would be a really shitty move on his part. Instead, Kara has her big brothers there to see her off, and John and Ollie understand how important it is for Kara to embark on this exciting journey. Sometimes you need to go far from home to discover the place where you truly belong, making Kara’s story this week one that is especially relevant to young viewers eager to explore the larger world.

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Stray observations:

  • One month after the airing of this episode, DC Comics rebranded Mark Waid and Barry Kitson’s Legion Of Superheroes series as Supergirl And The Legion Of Superheroes in a surprising bit of corporate synergy. She would stay on the team for almost two years, so if you’re interested in reading more about Supergirl in the 31st Century, I recommend checking out the series.
  • This episode being set in the 31st Century is actually a mistake. Three Legionnaires from 2979 appeared in Superman: The Animated Series, and considering the age of the characters in this episode, 21 years have not passed since the period depicted in “New Kids In Town.”
  • I love the Crisis On Infinite Earths #8 cover homage when John picks up an unconscious Kara. That’s a great shot.
  • Googy Gress, the voice of Bouncing Boy, has the kind of name that could easily be made up for the 31st Century setting.
  • The 3-D animated flags at the end of this episode look pretty weird. Did those really need to be CG?
  • Supergirl: “Just because he’s seriously cute doesn’t mean we should trust a Brainiac.” Green Arrow: “I’m not getting a bad vibe off the kid.” Green Lantern: “And apparently neither are you. ‘Seriously cute’, huh?”
  • “You know, Brainiac? Being organic and having a heart? Not the same thing.”
  • Brainiac 5: “I have a 12th level intellect.” Supergirl: “Great! You can knock him out with your diploma.”
  • “Maybe I was just trying to cop a feel.”
  • “So does this mean we’re going steady? (Brainiac 5 stares blankly.) Trust me: a thousand years ago, that joke was hilarious.”

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