In an alternate dimension, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman storms the White House. Inside, Superman makes way into the Oval Office, where he confronts President Lex Luthor and stating that he's taking Luthor in for crimes committed in office. Half-mad, Luthor rants that he's not to blame: the people are, for not being able to see or accept his "grand design" for the world. Luthor prepares to press a button that will start a nuclear war, saying they will "burn" for their mistake. But then he calms himself, and waits to see what Superman will do: he points out that Superman can't stop him without deadly force. Superman hesitates, and Luthor mocks him, saying that the Kryptonian has been Luthor's greatest accomplice all along: he loves being a hero and all the glory that comes with it so much that he continues to thwart Luthor time and again, rather than having the guts to end it once and for all. Although Luthor may lose his presidency, he'll find a way out of prison eventually, and the whole thing will begin all over again. Alas, this proves to be Luthor's final error; Clearly affected by his arch-enemy's accusations, Superman decides that if being a hero has led to this endless cycle, he's done with it. A moment later, Batman and Wonder Woman barge in to find that Superman had burned Luthor to death. Turning around, Superman tells the others "I'm great".
Two years later, Earth has become a very different world as the Justice League, who now call themselves the Justice Lords, become effective rulers of the planet. It is reveal that the root cause for their tyrannical ways is due to The Flash's death at the hands of Luthor. Monitoring events from their new, heavily-armed Watchtower, they have taken over governments and subverted freedom of speech
, all in the name of the people's safety
. Meanwhile, Batman summon the Lords over to the Batcave and shows them that he had discovered the main reality of the Justice League where The Flash is alive and the League is still playing a passive, law-enforcing role; and has constructed a trans-dimensional portal to travel to other dimensions. Deciding that the alternate world needs their brand of law and order as much as their own did, the Justice Lords decide to intervene.
In the primary dimension, the League captures Lex Luthor. Shortly thereafter, the Lords' J'onn J'onzz emerges from a dimensional portal, saying he has been sent from an alternate reality by an embattled League that needs the "primary" League's help. Although the League has some doubts (especially Batman), they decide to trust Justice Lord J'onn. But once the League emerge in the Lords' universe, they are quickly lured and incapacitated into a trap. Only Hawkgirl manage to breakout but only to be struck out by the Lords' Green Lantern and taken into medical attention. Soon, the Lords, except their Batman, travel to the League's reality.
Just as the Lords arrive, the rogue behemoth Doomsday is on the loose. The Lords each attack, but none is a match for the creature except Superman. When it becomes clear that they are outmatched in strength and endurance, Superman ends the fight by lobotomizing Doomsday with his heat vision. The primary dimension's Lois Lane is shocked by Superman's brutality, but others in the crowd cheer, saying "It's about time" the heroes took a more aggressive approach. Watching this from prison, Luthor alone realizes that these "heroes" aren't the true Justice League.
Meanwhile, the imprisoned League are held under watch by the Lords Batman. Both the League Batman and Flash berate him for the extremes to which the Lords have gone, but Justice Lord Batman retorts that such a thing could just as easily have happened to them if they were pushed far enough—for the Lords, he admits, the "push" came with Flash's death. Although the Lords Batman ensure his prison from keeping the League escaping, the Flash tricks him by speeding up his own heart rate to the point where it appears to flatline, prompting a deeply concerned Lords Batman to check on him and being knocked out in the process. With the League freed, Batman stay at his counterpart's Batcave to activate the dimensional portal, while the rest of the League heads off to find Hawkgirl.
Just as the League left, Batman is confronted by his counterpart, who has anticipated all his moves. Concealed in the shadows, the two stalk each other through the cave, all the while debating the ethics of what the Lords have done. Batman says they have crossed the line by seizing power, but Justice Lord Batman replies that, with that power, they've made a world where no other eight-year-old boy will lose his parents to violence
, as they did. At that, Batman surrenders.
The League track Hawkgirl to Arkham Asylum, the only hospital equipped to hold metahuman patients. But the asylum is a far different place than the one from their reality: The staff are all former criminals, particularly from Batman's rogues gallery, all of whom are placid, docile, and lobotomized
. A very calm and polite Joker is acting as the superintendent. Pretending to be the Lords, the League asks to be taken to Hawkgirl. Joker requests a password, which J'onn gives by reading Joker's mind. Joker says they got it right, but he then triggers an alarm because Wonder Woman was supposed to say it. Robotic versions of Justice Lord Superman attack the League, but are easily defeated, and the League breaks Hawkgirl out.
At the same time, Batman and his counterpart drive through Gotham City towards Arkham. When they stop at a red light, they see a restaurant, where a customer is arguing with the manager about the amount of his bill, and in short order is arrested by the police for disturbing the peace
. Batman sarcastically remarks to his Lord counterpart that their parents would be proud
. By the time they reach Arkham the military has been alerted and the League is barricaded inside. By this time, Justice Lord Batman has had a change of heart, and call the military to back off.
As the League prepares to return to their reality to confront the Lords, Batman wonders openly what they will have to do: The Lords are their equals in powers and intelligence, and they are willing to kill whereas the League isn't. Superman isn't willing to cross that line, but Batman says that some kind of line will have to be crossed if they mean to succeed.
In the League's reality, the Justice Lords are arming the Watchtower just as they alerted to a prison breakout committed by Luthor. The Lords arrive to the prison, but are set into a trap by the League. In the fight that follows, each League member fights his or her counterpart, and neither side is able to gain the upper hand. However, the League turn into their favor as Superman brings with Luthor, who has rebuilt the weapon from his earlier fight with the League, which he fires at the Lords and draining out their powers. Powerless, the Lords are taken into custody while it's reveal that Superman made a deal with Luthor by granting him a presidential pardon for in exchange for Luthor's help in defeating the Lords. Lord Superman berate his counterpart that everything Luthor does from now on will be on his counterpart's head. Superman agrees that it's a high price, but declares that it's one of the many hard choices he's had to make.
In the end, Luthor holds a press conference to answer questions about his new freedom. He says that the business world doesn't seem as challenging as it used to be, but he has been giving some thought to politics
- Actually, I Am Him: After the League rescues Hawkgirl from the Justice Lord universe's Arkham Asylum, they are confronted by the military. Before anything can happen, the Justice Lord Batman arrives and orders the soldiers to stand down, whilst he takes them away. The League assumed that he was their Batman, who had disguised himself with the Lord Batman's costume in order to let them escape.
Superman: You fooled them. Even I thought you were him.
Justice Lord Batman: I am him.
- Alternate Universe / Mirror Universe
- Armor-Piercing Question: Justice-Lord Batman drives home one of these to his regular universe counterpart, to the reason why he helped create a totalitarian state;
Batman: You grabbed power!
Lord Batman: And with that power, we made a world where no eight-year-old boy will EVER lose his parents because of some punk with a gun.
Batman: *drops Batarang dejectedly* You win.
- This was such an armor-piercing question that the writers couldn't come up with a way to beat it. They had intended Batman to win... but after that, they couldn't think of a response. Wow.
- Batman turns it back on him later though, after stopping by a cafe and seeing a guy getting taken away by masked police for complaining about the bill:
Batman: They'd love it here, don't you think?
Lord Batman: Who?
Batman: Mom and Dad. They'd be so proud of you.
Lord Batman: ... Just drive.
- Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: Lord!Superman. In the comics, Doomsday killed Superman after already defeating the entirety of the Justice League of America, but Lord!Superman lobotomized him five minutes into the fight once it became apparent that his strength approached Superman's own.
- Beware the Superman: The Lawful Evil Justice Lords.
- Bruce Timm states in the commentary that the episode was originally supposed to be a straight up "Crime Syndicate" story, which involved characters that are almost-Evil Twins-but-not-exactly, but fell in love with the idea of using actual alternate versions of the regular characters. He comments during the Batman vs Batman fight in the Bat Cave that the scene was specifically animated to not make it clear from visual clues who was talking, so either character could be saying either side of the argument. Ultimately, Justice League Batman is unable to respond when Justice Lord Batman points out that in this new world "no 8 year old boy will ever lose his parents because of some punk with a gun." This scene arose from conversations among the writers, who were trying to find a way for Batman to successfully respond when they realized that there was no verbal response; they had meant for League Batman to win the argument, but the fact of the matter was that, because of who the characters were, the Lord Batman won instead. Justice League Batman does get his response later. After showing the zeal of the Police State his counterpart helped created, he sarcastically mentions to Lord Batman how their parents would be proud of what their son has done (by creating a world that goes against all what they believed). Justice Lord Batman is not pleased at this realization, prompting his Heel-Face Turn (or at least, willingness to rid his own universe of superpowered heroes). Perhaps the proper verbal response would be "I'm glad they're dead so they didn't have to live in this world", but there's no way Batman would be able to say those words.
- Brainwashing For The Greater Good: How the Justice Lords dealt with their Rogues Gallery.
- Amusingly, when we get to see the alternate Arkham Asylum and the various lobotomized supervillains, The Ventriloquist has no lobotomy scars, but Mr. Scarface does.
- Counterpart Combat Coordination: Though the League and Lords fought their counterparts, only The Flash fought Lord Superman as the other Flash died causing the Lords to form. Batman and Lord Batman had a one-one one fight earlier on.
- Empty Shell: Lords Batman's rogue gallery barely above mindless zombies, placed in Arkham Asylums. It's truly disconcerting when the League meet the lobotomized Joker in an abnormally calm and docile state but heartbreaking when the Flash happens to encounter the lobotomized version of Poison Ivy, who now has no signs of her former ambitions and no longer cares what happens to the world and its plants. Even though they were villains, the ruthless lengths the alternate Superman was willing to go through to maintain order places him squarely in Moral Event Horizon territory.
- Expy: The Justice Lords were heavily inspired by The Authority, which the producers had begun to read between seasons one and two, and inspired them to having to see what the world would be like if the League ever tried to emulate their tactics.
- The Extremist Was Right: The end result between the League and the Lords is the victory of the 'traditional' heroes when the Justice Lords attempt to clean up the League's Earth (out of what appears to be nothing more than the goodness of their hearts) and the message that 'sometimes Utopia Doesn't Justify The Means', but the writers professed the occasional trouble at giving the League the obvious moral high ground.
- Heel-Face Turn: Justice Lord Batman after realizing how turning his world into a Police State is wrong.
- Lawful Stupid: Justice Lords' Gotham City is so clean and orderly, people can be arrested just for complaining about being overcharged for food at a restaurant!
- Machiavelli Was Wrong: Inverted. In the Justice Lords' world, the people were in fear of the Lords. Even Hawkgirl brings up the fact that nobody seemed to like them anymore. However, while the world is not exactly paradise, the Justice Lords do have things under control much better than the Justice League.
- Except for the fact that they are defeated partly because one of their own, Justice Lord Batman betrays them because they rule through fear and tyranny.
- Mythology Gag:
- This episode nudges the fourth wall with the famous Superman/Doomsday fight ending with Lords Superman lobotomizing Doomsday with heat vision.
- Batman's passwords being the date of his first appearance in Detective Comics (91939).
- President Evil: Lex Luthor in the Justice Lords' reality.
- Right Makes Might: Downright inverted where a battle between Batman and Justice Lord Batman is interlaced with a debate between the virtues of the Justice Lords' fascist utopia and the free — but chaotic — world of the Justice League. Lord Batman wins through argument, just when Batman has gotten the upper hand. But Batman wins round two — completely nonviolently this time.
- Talking to Himself: The fight between the League and Lords Batmen. Even better is that the Batmen are deliberately hidden in shadows the entire time, making it so that the conversation could be interpreted as either one starting it.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: Most of the ends seem well worth the means, especially violating Lex Luthor's Joker Immunity and lobotomizing omnicidal maniacs, but the Lords quickly leaped off the slippery slope by getting rid of the right to vote or speak freely while arresting individuals for threatening to not pay for food. On the other hand, their world has no rape, murder, arson, or even litter. Unusually, this is one of the more even-handed examples, with both "Utopia" and "the means to it" being shown in fair measure. Fans of the show were left to wonder if, in a world where every prison's a Cardboard Prison, the Justice Lords might have had a point, and the Batmen even debate on it in the middle of the episode.
- An example of this is Gotham. Justice League Batman's version looks like it came out of a pulp noir story, and Arkham is a run-down creepy Bedlam House. Justice Lord Batman's version looks identical to Metropolis, and Arkham looks like a perfectly normal psychiatric institution (if you excuse the fact that parts of it are staffed by lobotomized supervillains). And people are arrested for making a scene at a restaurant.
- The very same episode also featured another version of this at the very beginning. Lex Luthor, as President, apparently did something that he justified with this belief. The episode never tells us what he specifically did, but whatever it was, apparently it backfired horribly and was about to start World War III before Superman kills President Luthor. When Superman walks into the Oval Office he exposits "Even this wasn't enough for you, Lex. You had to have it all. Now we're on the brink of a war that could destroy the whole planet." Lex—who appears to still be in a state of shock about his mysterious plans backfiring—ignores Superman and babbles to himself "Could have been so perfect! Paradise!" Then the conversation spirals out of control, and the scenario described in the trope page's two paragraphs comes into fruition.
- Victory Is Boring: The Justice Lords are rather bored, sitting in the Watchtower, since they have conquered the world, and the best crime they have to fight is the occasional college protest. You can even see how eager Martian Manhunter was when he heard of a storm and questioned if they needed assistance in evacuating, only to quickly become depressed when it was stated the area was already evacuated. It is actually because of this that the Justice Lords decided to invade the Justice League's universe to help "fix" it.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Justice Lords.