The late Dwayne McDuffie had credits on over 60 episodes of the Cartoon Network Justice League Series. In the wake of is death, I wanted to review one of his most memorable episodes. This one has magic, aliens, multidimensional monsters, zombies, gangsters, and Aquaman!
“The Terror Beyond” is from the second season of Justice League, and like most episodes from the series, is split into two parts. It opens with the US Military hunting for a very large target, revealed to be Solomon Grundy. After a rocket propelled grenade to the face, Grundy chucks around some tanks like they were nothing. One tank fires a laser(!) on him, and as the military prepares to capture Grundy and take him in, Aquaman comes to his rescue. Riding atop a purple sea serpent, Aqauman announces “If you want to live, come with me” and the two escape under water. Now I remember how awesome this show is. Ha!
Aqauman arrives not in Atlantis, but the tower of Doctor Fate. Fate’s wife Inza greets them, and Grundy is offered a chest full of gold in exchange for some task or information. As a more immediate reward he scarfs down two cupcakes. Doctor Fate arrives and is pleased to me “Mr Grande.”
Fate is interested in Grundy’s origin, but Grundy “has always been Grundy” so Fate casts a spell of
exposition, err revelation. Grundy was once a gangster, and judging by the sepia tones of the flashback, it was in the prohibition era. As Cyrus Gold, he murdered and robbed, until one day he is double crossed by some other gangsters. Enter a black man a gold tooth, who shoots Gold about a hundred times with a tommy gun. McDuffie was well known for introducing minorities into his stories, but this wasn’t exactly a shining moment for progress. The gangsters cursed (!) Gold and dropped him in a swamp. After some time, Grundy crawls out of the swamp, soulless and undead. Aquaman needs Grundy now to “save” his kingdom. Knowing his past now, Grundy doesn’t want the gold, he wants his soul back.
Diana, Hawkgirl, and Superman are back where the fight took place, helping to clean up. The general informs them Aqauman was responsible for Grundy’s escape, and as the leave the scene wondering if Aquaman has gone back, they spot a cruise ship under attack from sea monsters. After a fight, they head to Atlantis to find out whats going on. Space cop Hawkgirl gives Aquaman’s wife a hard time about the events above before they’re dismissed, but not before finding out that Doctor Fate is involved.
The trio head to Fate’s tower, but Superman’s power doesn’t work on magic to break in. Hawkgirl swings with her mace and they enter to Fate’s incantation involving Aquaman’s trident and Grundy tied down. Grundy screams as Fate begins chanting about sealing a breach. Diana charges in but his knocked back. Hawkgirl gets another swing in with her mace to stop the spell.
Grundy, Fate and Aquaman, the only ones who know what the hell is going on, attack the three leaguers. Grundy gives Superman a pounding after they’re teleported Egypt. Superman is not the best interrogator, and getting info out of simpleton like Grundy yields no results. Diana takes on Aquaman on Easter Island, and he tries to drown her, still not giving up any information. Back in the tower, Fate quickly outmatches and outnumbers Hawkgirl. She spots Thanagarian runes on his altar, and demands to know what he knows. Aquaman returns with a defeated Diana, and Superman drags in Grundy unconscious. Superman makes quick work of Aquaman, and they head back to Fate.
Fate is cornered and they demand to know what is happening. A spooky head appears from another portal and Fate says he was “trying to prevent that!” End part one.
Aquaman warns all to stay back, as Fate challenges the Cthulhu. Hawkgirl gives him aid, and they knock back the beast for a moment. Fate now has time to issue his exposition, claiming Atlantis former ruler Poseidon cast a spell with his trident to prevent Cthulhu from taking over Earth, at the cost of his kingdom falling under the sea.
Hawkgirl reveals Thanagar once worshiped Cthulhu and she knows the chants Fate may need to prevent the takeover. Superman stands in the way, saying Grundy cannot be sacrificed even if he volunteered for the spell. Superman obviously doesn’t read much Lovecraft otherwise he’d know Cthulhu would make short work of him. Diana asks if there another way, and Hawkgirl suggests they cross over to the ancient one’s world and fight on his plane. This plan is quickly adopted.
Fate leads Diana, Hawkgirl, Grundy, and a bewildered Superman into the other realm. Aquaman returns to Atlantis and says he can’t hear the fishes anymore, just in time for a portal to open up for monsters to attack the underwater city.
The leaguers encounter monsters on their end as well. Hawkgirl helps Grundy beat back some beasts, earning his primitive respect and trust. In a rare moment for the series, Doctor Fate actually calls Diana “Wonder Woman” and asks her and Superman to halt the advance of the creatures via the portal. Fate, Grundy, and Hawkgirl find Cthulhu, and while the Thanagarian is granted an audience because of her lineage, the other two are attacked.
Cthulhu argues with Hawkgirl over why her people disregarded him as their god. Grundy leaps up and attacks directly, demanding his soul. He tears open a hole and charges into the beast.
Superman and Diana are joined by Aquaman via the portal and they close it up using a giant rock(!).
Grundy is now charging around inside Cthulhu and punching random holes in the internal organs. Another beast is within, who burns away his clothes with fire breath, but Grundy is undeterred, snapping off a claw and mercilessly stabbing it in the neck until is dies and dissolves. Grundy falls, and Hawkgirl swings at the glowing heart as a final act of defiance to her peoples’ former god.
Hawkgirl holds Grundy’s hand as he slips off. He asks if his soul will be waiting for him when he dies, and though she doesn’t believe she comfort him in his final moments. He smiles at the thought of getting his soul back, “Grundy gets his reward” are his last words.
Hawkgirl and the other bury Grundy according to human customs and is taught a lesson faith somewhere in the realm shattering battle that took place just before. The episode closes on the tombstone “Solomon Grundy – Born On a Monday.”
McDuffie was skilled at throwing several big characters together and lots of big adventures all at once. Justice League was very different from Superman and Batman animation before it because of this. Crossing borders, planets, dimensions, and time were commonplace for the heroes, and facing down Cthulhu as voiced by Rob Zombie was just another episode. Side note: Doctor Fate, Aquaman, and Solomon Grundy are kind of stand-ins for Marvel Comic’s Defenders: Dr Strange, Namor, and The Hulk.
Dwayne McDuffie left a legacy of over the top heroics on screen and on the page, and it is a shame his life ended before he’d had his chance to do more.