This article contains huge spoilers for The Guardians of Justice Season 1 ending. You can check out our spoiler-free season review by clicking these words.
Adi Shankar’s new series The Guardians of Justice is… a lot, to put things mildly. It’s an absurd, parodic blend of influences, styles, genres, and tones, mixing and matching animation with live-action and the plots of various well-known superhero stories with its own variety of whodunit and action extravaganza. With a finale that delivers big on twists and turns and an underlying mythology that’s part alt-history, part original, and part flagrant rip-off, there’s also a lot to unpack. So, let’s do that, shall we?
I’ll give a broad overview of the premise, some of the events that transpire within the seven-episode first season, and what each character and idea is a riff on. (That’s if I know. I’m far from a comic book expert, so if there’s anything else to add, shout it out in the comments.) Then I’ll do my best to lay out how it all concluded, to see if we can make sense of everything. Brace yourselves.
So, this universe is an alternate one in which Hitler survived the end of World War 2, reinvented himself as Mecha Hitler, and started World War 3, leading to the timely intervention of Marvelous Man, an obvious pastiche of Superman from the planet Caltron who solidified his role among humanity by tearing Mecha Hitler a new one and forming the Guardians of Justice.
The Guardians operate out of the Citadel of Justice, a space station that is the Justice League Watchtower in all but name. Members of the gang include Marvelous Man (Superman), Knight Hawk (Batman), Speed (The Flash), Awesome Man (Shazam), King Tsunami (Aquaman), Golden Goddess (Wonder Woman), Black Bow (Green Arrow), and Blue-Scream (Black Canary). The plot of The Guardians of Justice is kick-started when Marvelous Man seemingly kills himself using a “god-killer” caltronite bullet stolen from billionaire tech bro-God Logan Lockwood (Lex Luthor). Dismayed and driven apart by the loss of their leader and the mistrust that is brewing between them, the Guardians begin to investigate this event under the ostensibly temporary leadership of Knight Hawk.
In its broad strokes, this season’s narrative arc takes a lot of influence from JLA: Tower of Babel, a story in which members of the Justice League discover that Batman has been making plans on how to kill all of them, and The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller’s magnum opus about an aging Batman going postal and waging an excessively violent war on crime that puts him at odds with the U.S. government and Superman. There are some bits in and around the show’s setting of Carnegie City (Gotham, essentially) that involve the police commissioner’s corruption and a villain named Mr. Smiles (The Joker) that are cribbed from elsewhere, but they fall into the background of a narrative that instead focuses on the investigation into Marvelous Man’s death and the finger-pointing at various members of the team.
With the help of the team and Marvelous Man’s synthetic AI Cortex, which is halfway between JARVIS and Cerebro from X-Men and causes Knight Hawk extensive neurological damage with repeated use, we’re introduced to various characters and plot elements such as Little Wing (an even more psychotic version of Damien Wayne’s Robin), a Mandarin-style psychiatrist grifter named Dr. Ravencroft who was compelled to publish a tell-all memoir about Superman’s private therapy sessions by Lockwood, and the terrorist organization Anubis.
Thanks to some political macho one-upmanship between the U.S. President Nicholas Nukem and the Russian Premier Boris Smirnoff, the threat of nuclear war looms large as Anubis continues to wage their own campaign of terror, killing Sepia Spider (Spider-Man) and Red Talon, a pastiche of both Nightwing and Rambo. They also kill late-night talk show host Van Dawson, who seems like an analog for David Endocrine, a similar character modeled on David Letterman in the comic and Conan O’Brien in the film adaptation. It leads to all kinds of chaos, which is the backdrop for several last-minute twists and turns.
Firstly, we learn that Marvelous Man’s marriage to his wife Laura Louis was a publicity scam; she was having an affair with King Tsunami, and he was a closeted homosexual – there’s a lot of anti-gay rhetoric here – who had a love affair with Mind Master. There’s a bit of ambiguity around whether Marvelous Man pulled the trigger of his own volition or was compelled to do so by Mind Master, whose drug Mellow Devil factors heavily into the plot and the worldbuilding. Either way, Motion Blur (Reverse-Flash, aka Eobald Thawne), Speed’s arch-nemesis connected to the same “Fast Force”, aka Speed Force, stole the God-killer bullet from Lockwood at Marvelous’s Man’s behest, and it was the bullet that killed him.
The Guardians of Justice ending explained
But behind a lot of this turns out to be Knight Hawk. Towards the end of the season, an increasingly unstable Knight Hawk begins to build his own private army. We learn at various points that Mr. Smiles was in his employ, and Anubis were a creation of his to sow seeds of discord and distraction while building his ranks for a much bigger, more important fight to come. More on that in a minute. In the meantime, Speed emerges as the one hope for democracy, and she believes that she and Awesome Man, who she has developed a romantic connection with, can stop Knight Hawk. However, she didn’t anticipate that Awesome Man is Little Wing, and within that persona is totally under Knight Hawk’s thrall. Recognizing her as a threat, Knight Hawk orders Little Wing to kill Speed, which he does, rather brutally. A memorial statue is erected in her honor, but the gesture doesn’t stop her aggrieved voice from talking in Knight Hawk’s ear even after her death.
Certifiably insane at this point, and believing that an intergalactic titan named Galacron, the being who destroyed Marvelous Man’s home planet, is intent on devouring Earth, Knight Hawk keeps his army ready to take on the extra-terrestrial threat. But is he right to be so worried? Perhaps another season will tell us.
You can stream The Guardians of Justice exclusively on Netflix. Do you have any thoughts on the ending of The Guardians of Justice Season 1? Let us know in the comments.