The Fatal Five in Animation: A Retrospective

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RoyalRubble

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To celebrate the premiere of the new animated feature Justice League vs. the Fatal Five, I figured it would be a good time to look back on some of the characters' previous animated appearances. If everything goes well, you can expect more threads like this to be posted on this very forum over the next couple of weeks. This thread will focus on the villains of the movie, the Fatal Five.

Admittedly, there's not much to cover here, as the team of super-villains has appeared in only 3 animated projects over the years (and that's counting the new movie), but I think there is still enough for a decent sized retrospective. While these articles may not be as detailed or well-written as some of my previous retrospectives (due to various reasons, including but not limited to time constraints), I hope you will still enjoy reading through them. And keep in mind these are just my opinions. Feel free to share your own thoughts, comments or even point out any possible errors in my write-ups below! Most of the images seen in this thread are courtesy of The World's Finest.

The Fatal Five made their debut in 1967, in the pages of Adventure Comics #352, and were created by Jim Shooter with some help from Curt Swan and Mort Weisinger. The team consists of five super-villains, as the name implies, with their original roster consisting of Emerald Empress, Mano, the Persuader, Tharok and Validus. The membership changed occasionally throughout the years, but as far as I'm concerned this is the most relevant line-up. On a sort of related note, this kind of makes the team stand out from the likes of the Frightful Four or the Sinister Six, where there have been many changes in the roster and there's no real "definitive" (for lack of a better word) line-up of rogues.

Interestingly enough, this super-villain team was first assembled by the Legion of Super-Heroes (group of teenagers with super powers fighting crime in the 31st century - you must have heard of them before). They were brought in to help fight off a bigger threat in the form of a Sun-Eater. But as soon as the fight was over, the villains decided to stick together and became one of the Legion's most frequent enemies.

Here's a brief run-down of the Fatal Five:
  • Emerald Empress, who has no actual super-powers, but controls the Emerald Eye of Ekron, a giant floating green eye that can emit blasts of energy. It sort of works similar to a Green Lantern power ring, but at a much smaller scale.
  • Mano, a mutant that has the power to disintegrate anything he touches with his right hand. Always wears a containment suit that allows him to survive in the atmosphere of other planets.
  • The Persuader, who wields an atomic axe that can cut through anything.
  • Tharok, a man who is now half-cyborg (due to a bomb he stole exploding and vaporizing half of his body).
  • Validus, a giant monster with super strength, who can also shoot energy bolts from his brain.

This group of super-villains made their animated debut on Justice League Unlimited. The show was the sequel to the previous Justice League animated series, set in the DC Animated Universe. The highlight for Unlimited was probably the Cadmus story-arc which was spread throughout most of it's run. I found the majority of stories presented here to be pretty awesome, and I think the show had some great depictions for most of the characters, or at least the major ones and the occasional guest-stars. The final season focused less on conspiracy-heavy stories, and made room for more light-hearted (but still pretty dramatic) adventures.

The Fatal Five appeared in the episode titled "Far From Home", which aired in 2006 as part of the show's final season. The story focused on Supergirl, who was teleported to the 31st century alongside Green Lantern (John Stewart) and Green Arrow. They were brought there by Brainiac 5 and Bouncing Boy, the last remaining members of the Legion of Super-Heroes. The futuristic heroes needed their help in defeating the Fatal Five, who have managed to capture and mind-control most of the other Legionnaires, and plan an attack on the United Planets building. What Supergirl doesn't know is that according to a prophecy, she's apparently not meant to return to her own time-line from this mission, sort of implying something bad would happen to her. But that is resolved by the end of the episode, without contradicting the prophecy with her falling in love with Brainiac 5 and deciding to remain there. Even though her love story with him was kind of rushed, the episode was pretty good.


As for the villains, well they don't exactly get to do much in this story. They manage to also mind-control Green Lantern, and have him fight Supergirl in a pretty good fight scene, followed by a pretty dramatic homage to the cover of the Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 comic book. Meanwhile, Green Arrow and Brainiac 5 deal with the Fatal Five. The fight scenes are done well enough, but they seem too brief. Mano for example only needs to be tripped by Arrow to fall through several floors and is thus defeated. Arrow also manages to destroy the mind-control device they were using, thus freeing their comrades. Supergirl punches a hole through Validus (oh, so he was a robot the entire time?...), while Bouncing Boy disposes of not only Emerald Empress, but also Persuader and Tharok. Impressive, but also a little anti-climatic, I think. Emerald Empress was voiced by Joanne Whaller here, and was portrayed as the team's leader, as is usually the case. The only other voice actor credited for them is Tomas Arana, who voiced Tharok.

All in all, this was a decent outing for the Fatal Five. They kind of come across as rather generic villains, but that might also be due to the fact this was their only appearance on the series. It wasn't bad, and I liked how they added more of the Legion of Super-Heroes' lore into the episode. There was a limited amount of time to develop these characters while also offering a good story. I think the villains are presented well enough, despite their brief amount of screen-time, and you get a good idea who or what they are. There's no background information offered, but the same could be said about a lot of other minor villains that appeared on the show, in various fight scenes. You get the idea they're evil, and the heroes are fighting them for whatever reasons, and that should be enough. Besides, the story in this episode wasn't really supposed to be about them, anyway. It's a coming of age or whatever you want to call it story for Supergirl, and I think it works for the most part. The Fatal Five are still good antagonists for this episode.

Next: Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes!
 

RoyalRubble

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An animated series featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes premiered in fall of 2006, originally on Kids' WB and ran for only 26 episodes. Produced by James Tucker, the show focused on the adventures of a younger Superman fighting evil alongside the Legionnaires in the 31st century. The core members of the Legion were the likes of Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Bouncing Boy, Phantom Girl or Brainiac 5, but a lot more characters were featured during the show's run, some characters I never even heard of prior to this series. Notably, the series was apparently supposed to feature Superboy initially, but due to legal issues at the time they had to call him Superman, despite how young he was portrayed as (even taking into account the design change in the second season), which also made him stand out more from the other heroes whose names usually ended with "lad" or "lass". But that is kind of a minor complaint. The show as whole is pretty entertaining. I didn't watch it regularly when it first aired as the first couple of episodes didn't impress me too much, but giving it a second chance, now I think it's a pretty great cartoon. It takes a while for the show to improve, but it does and I think in the end it's a shame it never got a third season to give the story more closure. I've never been a huge fan of the Legion comics, but I greatly enjoyed this show. I presume folks more familiar with the team would enjoy it even more, and pick up on a bunch of nods I may have missed.

The Fatal Five were featured on the show as well, as recurring villains. The line-up is the same as before, but given their more frequent appearances here we do get to see them in action a little more. As well as more characters having speaking roles, with Emerald Empress voiced by Jennifer Hale (in season 1) and then by Tara Strong (in season 2), the Persuader voiced by David Sobolov and Tharok by David Lodge. Their designs stay true to the original looks from the comics, but are still different enough from the previous DCAU designs. Persuader in particular has a more unique look, which I thought was pretty cool. It's kind of a generic design overall, but I find that it makes him stand out some more from the other characters.


The villains made their debut in the series premiere, titled "The Man of Tomorrow". The story sets up the rest of the series, with the Legion traveling back in time to recruit Clark Kent as Superman... but they find him as an inexperienced teenager, who has not yet mastered his powers. He is brought to the 31st century, where he learns about his glorious future as Superman, as well as encounters the other Legionnaires and forms some sort of friendship with them (though it is more of a friendly rivalry with Lightning Lad, for now). The Legion needed Superman's help to fight the Fatal Five - a group of powerful criminals, who were going to attack them soon. They were previously defeated and imprisoned, but it took the entire Legion of Super-Heroes to accomplish such a feat - and as the episode shows, it didn't last too long, either.

The few Legionnaires stand up to the Fatal Five, but are soon over-powered and the Emerald Eye of Ekron puts them under Emerald Empress' control. Superman arrives on the scene and confronts the villains, he doesn't exactly manage to defeat them but survives their attacks. He uses his heat vision to push them aside, and damage the Emerald Eye which also helps Saturn Girl use her telepathic powers to free the other heroes. The fight continues, with some pretty entertaining but brief moments like Triplciate Girl and Phantom Girl defeating Persuader, Saturn Girl mind-controlling Validus into helping them and turning him against Mano, and Superman using his ice breath to freeze Emerald Empress. As the fight draws to a close, the villains still manage to teleport safely away before being imprisoned again. Clark decides to remain in the future a while longer, to help out as he can and learn more about his powers.

All in all, this was a pretty good way to kick things off. The story is kind of predictable but it does play out rather nice, and the characterizations seem good enough. Clark's situation is handled pretty well, and it is kind of a refreshing take on the character. As for the villains, well they didn't exactly come off that much more menacing than in their appearance on Justice League Unlimited, but this was just the start. Given their status as recurring characters this season, they would get a few more chances to shine.

The villains return in the episode titled "Champions", where they attack the Intergalactic Games event and try kidnapping the President of the United Planets, who just happens to also be Phantom Girl's mother. They only really appear towards the end of the story (though some of them show up briefly throughout the episode, using cloaking technology to disguise themselves), and once again they put up a pretty good fight. Highlights include Phantom Girl using Mano's hand to melt Tharok's cyborg leg, Matter-Eater Lad taking a bite out of Persuader's axe (well, the staff, anyway), Superman trying out the same heat vision trick he did before on the Emerald Eye but to no avail, and Ultra Boy using the trick Superman used previously and freezing Emerald Empress (which does work, for a little while). This time, the Fatal Five are imprisoned once more.

It almost feels like the Fatal Five's attack here is a sub-plot, since the main story focuses on Lightning Lad competing in the Intergalactic Games against his older brother, Mekt (a.k.a. Lightning Lord, though he does not yet use this code-name on the show yet). Their sibling rivalry is presented pretty well and does offer some neat moments as the story plays out. It also turns out Mekt was unknowingly helping the Fatal Five with their plans, something he didn't exactly want to, he was only planning on cheating during the Games. All things considered, this story was quite good. Like I said, the main plot was probably a little more entertaining than the fight with the Fatal Five. But I did like that the villains had a more complex plan this time, and weren't only out for revenge as in the previous episode.


The Fatal Five are next featured in the first season finale, a two-part story titled "Sundown". In the first part, we get to see the villains as part of a training simulation, where they easily dispose of just about every Legionnaire. Bouncing Boy was recently appointed as team leader, and was trying to coordinate such attacks, but has failed these simulations making him doubt his new role even more. The story is about the Legion having to stop a Sun-Eater, a device created by the alien race known as the Controllers during the "Great Crisis" as a weapon to end all wars. It is capable of devouring an entire star, dooming any nearby planets and as such is one of the most dangerous weapons in the galaxy. And its next target is Earth's sun.

The story remains pretty faithful to the original event from the comics, with the Legion realizing they need all the help they can get to stop the Sun-Eater and as such busting the Fatal Five out from Takron-Galtos (the prison planet) to recruit them for this mission. The Five agree, but make it clear that after they are done, all bets are off. Bouncing Boy coordinates the team, pairing Legionnaires and villains together and sending them to gather the components necessary to create a missile that would stop the Sun-Eater. It was a pretty nice change of pace, seeing the Fatal Five working alongside the Legion, and they all use their powers rather well. There are also some neat scenes showing all these characters confronting the Sun-Eater. But that doesn't last long, as the villains double-cross the heroes - once the missile is launched, they are ready to strike. However, Bouncing Boy expected as much, and set up a trap for them, which also included Shrinking Violet well, shrinking and messing with the Emerald Eye of Ekron from the inside.

In the end, the fight is won, but not without a heroic sacrifice. I will try not to spoil what exactly happens, but if you already read the comics, watched the cartoon or just found out about the climax since then, you would know. Don't worry though, it's not one of the Fatal Five, so they would be able to appear a few more times during the second season. As a whole, this first season was fun - as I said before, I didn't really give it a chance at first, but it is a pretty good show. The characters are handled well enough and their characterizations and interactions are nice. The stories were also pretty good for the most part, though you might not get that impression from only the episodes I covered here.

The second season featured a few changes, which I think made the show a little bit more entertaining and interesting. For starters, some design changes which resulted in a slightly older Superman (or at the very least more muscular) and the notable introduction of Superman-X, his clone from even further into the future. The villain for most of the season was Imperiex, who was a pretty credible threat. Imperiex also frees the Fatal Five, alongside a bunch of other villains (the so-called Legion of Super-Villains) and recruits them in his army. The Fatal Five (well, Four since Validus isn't present) return in the second part of the second season premiere, titled "The Man From the Edge of Tomorrow" where they attack the Legion (of Super-Heroes, that is) once again.

Notably, Esper and Tharok's combined attack injured Saturn Girl and puts her in a coma which would last for the majority of the season. This was just one of the more dramatic changes that would occur, since this season seemed to add a lot more tragedy to the heroes' lives (such as Triplicate Girl losing one of her selves and becoming Duo Damsel, or Lightning Lad losing an arm). The tone might be more dramatic, but don't get the wrong idea - the show is still a fun sci-fi adventure, with some humor spread throughout.

Emerald Empress is defeated after Matter-Eater Lad takes a bite out of her Emerald Eye of Ekron. This damages the device, but also injures the hero as well. Since she is now powerless, the other villains abandon her when they retreat and as such she is taken into custody by the Legionnaires. She's also willing to tell them what happened, rat out on her former allies, explaining how they were freed from prison and how they captured a bunch of Legionnaires and put them in their former cells. The heroes decide to rescue their friends, despite Superman-X's claims that defeating Imperiex should be a priority.

Imperiex attacks Computo - the Legion's giant computer database - and steals some information. He is aided by Validus, who basically acts as his bodyguard. They manage to defeat Superman-X rather easily. The Legion re-groups and decides to bring back the original Superman to help them out once more. As mentioned before, Superman is a little older this time, and isn't a "skinny Kryptonian" anymore. There are some neat interactions between Superman and Superman-X, now called Kell-El, to avoid confusion. And this would last for the rest of the season as well, especially as the latter becomes more adjusted to being part of a team and possibly even making some friends among the heroes. As such, the heroes fight the villains on Takron-Galtos and manage to win, and save their imprisoned friends. The fight scenes are pretty entertaining and have some cool choreography. All in all, this was a fun story and as before, set the stage for the rest of the season as well.

Validus remains free, and continues to work for Imperiex in a few more episodes. He's next seen in "Chained Lightning", where Imperiex plans on using a tachyon canon built by the aliens known as the Dominators. Validus is one of his soldiers, and as such he gets to fight the heroes a couple of more times but nothing really stands out here and there's not much to discuss about his appearance in this episode. The story focuses on Lightning Lad, and his brother now known as Lightning Lord, who is initially working for Imperiex as well. The episode reveals a lot about the two brothers' back-stories and even re-unites them with their long-lost sister as well, by the end. It's a very good episode, overall. I think the story is pretty emotional and kind of over-shadows Imperiex and his plan, not to mention Validus' brief scenes.


Next up, we have the episode titled "Who Am I?". This time, the Persuader is put in the spotlight, though not for the entire episode. As a note, there will be some spoilers here as it is hard to discuss about the episode without covering some of the plot twists featured here. The Legion devises a plan to have Chameleon Boy infiltrate Imperiex's army, by turning him into the Persuader. Not only physically, but also mentally as Brainiac 5 implants the villain's personality in the hero. The plan works, for a while anyway. As soon as the real Persuader escapes he attacks the impostor and more mayhem follows. Especially once it is revealed Imperiex also had a shape-shifting spy of his own inside the Legion. There are a bunch of neat action scenes spread throughout, it's a little tricky covering Persuader's scenes separately from Chameleon Boy's, and as a result we see Persuader fight the Legion, Validus and even Imperiex himself. As a whole, I think this is a pretty clever story and one of my favorite episodes. It doesn't add much if any character development to Persuader, and he's pretty much used only as a means to advance the story, but is still entertaining enough and it's cool seeing him act on his own. I am not sure there's really much more to the character in the comics over the years, but here he's still a pretty generic villain.

In "Message in a Bottle", Imperiex attacks Superman's Fortress of Solitude, and enters the Bottle City of Kandor looking for a weapon. Validus is at his side, as well as a few robots. Superman and a few other Legionnaires also enter the shrunken city where Superman is now powerless because of its red sun. A power suit solves this, for a while. In a fun turn of events, Shrinking Violet is now actually taller than the others and as such she manages to fight the shrunken Validus on her own for a few scenes. There's also a neat scene where Imperiex apparently understands what Validus is saying, despite his dialogue on the show being nothing more than grunts and growls. As before, there's really not much to discuss about the Fatal Five, or even only Validus. The story this time focuses on Brainiac 5, and his ancestor Brainiac 1.0, the one who shrunk Kandor in the first place. Brainy even has to resort to accessing his ancestor's programming to save the day, but he would soon become corrupted by it as well.

As a result, Brainy becomes more and more like his ancestor over the next few episodes, and in the finale (another 2-part story, titled "Dark Victory"), he joins Imperiex's army... which is revealed to have been Imperiex's plan ever since accessing the Computo database. He believed he would be able to control Brainiac, but that is not the case. Brainiac digitizes Validus, thus turning him into data he can control. Imperiex on the other hand, is simply deleted. As such, Brainy is now the big villain for the end of the season (and the series, as well). I won't try to review what happens next, seeing as it doesn't concern the Fatal Five at all, and also in an attempt to avoid adding more spoilers to this thread for those who have not watched the show. I know I am leaving things off kind of on a cliff-hanger, but the show also sort of has a kind of open-ending or whatever you want to call it. The plot is resolved, but there was still some potential there for future stories.

All things considered, this was a fun series and I think it would have been nice if it received at least one more season. As I said before, I wasn't much of a fan from the beginning, but it's still a very good show overall. As for the Fatal Five, they were handled pretty well. I don't really have an opinion on any of them, seeing as none of their appearances really left that big of an impression on me. I enjoyed them, and the resulting action scenes from their attacks, but that's about it. It was nice seeing them split up in the second season, and as a result focusing on some characters separately instead of a group, but again, not much character development was found here. Not that I mind too much, they were pretty entertaining for various action scenes, and I liked the episodes just as well given the focus on the heroes or the stories they came up with. But if you're looking for well-developed or tragic villains here, you're probably out of luck.

Next: The Fatal Five vs. the Justice League!
 
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RoyalRubble

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And that brings us to the movie that prompted me to start this retrospective in the first place, Justice League vs. the Fatal Five. The movie was released digitally last month, and made its home-media debut a couple of weeks ago. Seeing as it's a pretty recent movie, there might be a chance not all reading this had a chance of watching it yet, so please note this article will contain some spoilers. The movie also brought back most of the designs from the aforementioned Justice League Unlimited animated series, and there are a few callbacks to the DCAU as a whole. But there are a few contradictions or errors. The staff behind the movie does consider it to be in-continuity with the older series, but I won't dwell too much on any possible continuity issues that may exist here.

The title of the movie pretty much sums up the basic plot, but there are a few neat surprises along the way. The Fatal Five work rather well as the main antagonists, even though apart from offering some cool action scenes and being more credible threats, they don't really leave that big of an impression on me. Here, the cast included Sumalee Montano (as Emerald Empress), Philip Anthony-Rodriguez (as Mano), Matthew Yang King (as Persuader) and Peter Jessop (as Tharok). Their designs look good enough, slightly different than their looks on JLU, but they do feel like they fit in along with the rest of the designs in this movie.


Mano, Persuader and Tharok receive more screen-time than the others in this feature. After stealing the Legion of Super-Heroes' time machine, they arrive in present day in their search for the "Limelight". One of the Legionnaires, Star Boy, followed them and managed to trap them inside the machine. He is then taken to Arkham, believed to be insane - he does have some mental issues, and they are handled in a serious manner throughout the movie. As for the villains, they are trapped inside a stasis field for a few months, until they manage to break out thanks in part to Mr. Terrific who was studying the device.

As soon as they are free, the villains start wreaking havoc through the city. There are a few neat action scenes, and the villains do get a chance to use their powers effectively. For instance, Persuader injures Superman with his axe, leaving the Man of Steel bleeding on the ground (good thing this movie is rated PG-13, huh?). They also set up multiple bombs throughout the city, in an attempt to force the "Limelight" into joining them. The Limelight is none other than Jessica Cruz (you can check out her own retrospective here, if you're interested), Earth's newest Green Lantern. She has quite a few anxiety issues as well, and forms some sort of bond with Star Boy. It's handled well, which only makes things more tragic as the story progresses.

Thanks to Miss Martian, we see inside Star Boy's mind and via a memory flashback we learn how the Legion fought the Fatal Five and managed to capture Emerald Empress and Validus. They were imprisoned on Oa, the headquarters of the Green Lantern Corps. Thus explaining the villains' need of the present day Green Lantern, who could provide them with access to the planet and freeing their team-mates. Well, in Mano's case it was more than just a team-mate as it's revealed Empress was his lover in this version. It's a neat addition, and kind of gives him better motivation. Jessica is forced to do as the villains wish, and a fight on Oa ensues where the Fatal Five manage to injure a few Green Lanterns (including Jessica herself). There's also a neat nod to the "Starcrossed" episode of Justice League, with Persuader slicing off Jessica's power ring. The Emerald Eye of Ekron also absorbs the power from the central Green lantern power battery on Oa, giving them even more power.

As a result, more action scenes follow - Validus confronts Superman, Tharok versus Mr. Terrific (makes sense for the smartest guys to fight each other), Persuader versus Wonder Woman, and Mano versus Batman. This last pairing was probably my favorite one here, with Batman managing to hit some pressure points on the villain's body making it impossible for him to raise his hand. All this ends when Emerald Empress subdues the heroes and reveals her plan to destroy the Sun, thus dooming all of humanity and preventing the formation of the Legion of Super-Heroes. And they probably would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for Jessica, who has powered up again and manages to face her fears coming to rescue the others.

Jessica manages to defeat all of the Fatal Five members herself, in a pretty cool action scene. There's also a quick moment I found amusing for whatever reasons, with Mano falling and accidentally touching Empress' face, and disfiguring her. The fight ends with Jessica causing a mountain to fall on top of the villains. It was a bit anti-climatic, but I didn't mind too much. Jessica's scene was good and I think the villains pretty much played their part in the movie by that point. Other than a few more fight scenes, I don't think they could have really offered much more. The Sun is also saved, thanks to Star Boy. Not to diminish his feat or the consequences of his heroic sacrifice, but I'll leave it at that, considering this topic is supposed to be more about the villains than anything else.

Overall, the movie was great. The story is engaging, the characters are entertaining and the major players have some good, dramatic arcs. The DCAU designs and voice actors are just the icing on the cake, at least for me. I think the story could have offered the same action, comedy and drama, even using different looks and voices for the characters. Hopefully this won't be the end for these versions of the characters. Even if it's not exactly set in the DCAU, as long as the movies are this good, and they keep using these designs, would be enough for me.

As for the villains, well there's not a lot to add. Once again, they are not really developed that much (apart from maybe the Mano and Empress' romance). They do put up a good fight and manage to be presented as rather credible threats during the movie. These were probably the most destructive animated versions of them, at least so far. Their rampage through the military base (Argus?) when trying to take back the time machine, or only their attack on Oa and injuring Superman were some of the highlights here. I liked them for the most part, but the story and heroes kind of over-shadow them. It remains to be seen when or if this group of villains will appear again in animated form, but to be brutally honest, I am in no real rush to see them again.
 
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