Spoiler alert for the 2003 two-part Justice League animated series episode “A Better World.”
Last night, late night host Jimmy Kimmel aired a humorous segment combining audio from Donald Trump’s surreal first television interview since becoming president with footage of Lex Luthor and Superman from the Justice League Season 2 episode, “A Better World,” in which an alternate-reality Lex Luthor is president of the United States, and is confronted by Superman. Kimmel focuses on the perception of Trump as a supervillain as the basis of the joke, but could the comparison have a deeper, more sinister meaning?
“I know people have been saying Trump sounds like a supervillain sometimes, but last night he sounded so much like a supervillain, we took his words, and we matched them up with a video from the Justice League cartoon,” Kimmel said, introducing the segment, which you can watch below:
Glossed over, perhaps, in all of this is what really happens in the scene in question. In the original cartoon, Superman confronts Lex Luthor, who taunts Superman for refusing to stop Lex from committing evil acts because Superman is too obsessed with his own ego and idea of being hero that he won’t kill Lex. Lex must not have watched Man of Steel, because this alternate-reality Superman doesn’t hesitate for long. Though it occurs off camera, it’s implied that Superman melts President Luthor with his heat vision.
See for yourself:
While its doubtful Jimmy Kimmel and ABC meant to joke about killing President Trump, the association with the story “A Better World” does raise interesting moral questions.
In the original scene, Lex Luthor’s finger hovers over an ominous red button, hinting at the damage that President Luthor could potentially cause. The internet has feverishly debated the morality of punching Nazis for the past week, since Nazi Richard Spencer was punched at a protest on Inauguration Day. What would an internet debate about the morality of melting a President Lex Luthor with a heat ray look like? Which side would you be on?
In 2003’s Justice League, the question played out over the two-part “A Better World” story. After killing President Luthor, the alternate reality Justice League become the Justice Lords, ruling over their Earth with authoritarian control and turning the world into a dystopian nightmare. When Justice Lord Batman discovers the prime Earth and its own Justice League, the Justice Lords invade to impose their rule on a new Earth. The story ends with the prime Justice League triumphant, though Superman must cut a deal with his Earth’s Lex Luthor to defeat the Justice Lords.
But 2003 was a much different time for superheroes, before Identity Crisis, before Civil War 1, Avengers vs. X-Men, and Civil War 2, before superheroes became both way more cynical and way more divided. And before President Trump. If faced with the same choice now, what would today’s heroes do? What would you do? What would Warren Ellis do?
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