A battle involving Superman, the Flash, Batman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl against a Giant Robot being piloted remotely by Lex Luthor goes wrong when the destroyed robot, starting to self-destruct, collapses onto the unconscious J'onn J'onzz, John Stewart and Shayera. Flash races to use his whirlwind-creating speed to hold it up, but instead triggers an explosion that causes the robot and the four heroes to vanish in a huge explosion. When it fades away, the four heroes are gone.
Meanwhile, the four then reawaken in an unfamiliar city, unharmed but confused. J'onn tries to contact Superman and Batman telepathically, but sees visions of the city exploding and almost faints. A local newspaper identifies their location as "Seaboard City", which none of them have ever heard of. Puzzlement has to wait, however, as a crime is being committed; a wild-looking red-haired man has just stolen one of the legendary Stradivarius violins from a local store; using an energy-blast-throwing accordion and a suped-up car that resembles a flute. The criminal, who goes by the name "Music Master", manages to escape — but not before the heroes recover the stolen violin.
Which unfortunately leaves them looking like the actual criminals when the city's own defenders arrive. They promptly attack the displaced Justice Leaguers, until their own speedster sees Flash save a child from being crushed by rubble as a result of a misplaced blast. He immediately calls his friends to a halt, insisting that nobody willing to save a child could be a criminal.
The local heroes take the Justice League quartet back to their headquarters, explaining that they are Seaboard City's defenders: the Justice Guild of America. Green Guardsman, who wields a mentally directed energy construct ring. The Streak, the team's Super Speedster. Tom Turbine, a genius whose "energy belt" allows him to imbue himself with power to achieve feats including Flight and Super Strength. And Catman and Black Siren, skilled martial artists. They also introduce the boy that Flash saved as Ray Thompson, their team mascot.
The Justice Guilders and the Justice Leaguers talk, with John Stewart explaining that the Justice Guild of America were characters in a 50s comic book series that he loved to read as a child. Tom Turbine and J'onn J'onzz theorize that the Justice Guild's world is one of myriad alternate worlds that form The Multiverse; the comic authors in the Justice League's world were subconsciously viewing the exploits of the Justice Guild and used these to create the comics, while Flash's absorbed vibrations from the giant robot opened a temporary rift that catapulted the Justice League into the Justice Guild's world. Tom Turbine reveals an interdimensional gate generator he has built, but admits he hasn't found a way to power it yet. He promises to do all he can to get it running so as to send the Leaguers home.
Meanwhile, Music Master is meeting with his own gang, the Injustice Guild — himself, Doctor Blizzard, who wears a headband that doubles as a Freeze Ray, Sir Swami, a stage magician with real magic, and Sportsman, who wields sports equipment themed weapons. While the latter are skeptical of Music Master's claim that there are new heroes in town, they decide to throw a contest; whoever can commit the most successful crime based on the four elements (Earth, Air, Water, Fire) can instead direct the Injustice Guild in its next big organized crime.
To the disbelief of the Justice League, the Justice Guild receives a letter warning them about the contest from the Injustice Guild itself, and the two superhero teams divide into four groups to go after each member of the Injustice Guild, while Tom Turbine stays behind to work on the gateway generator.
Unfortunately, it doesn't work. Sir Swami easily escapes Green Lantern and The Streak with the "Flame of Rasputin" ruby. The Sportsman manages to defeat Catman and Martian Manhunter whilst making off with the trophy for a clay court tennis championship after another psychic impression of the city exploding stuns J'onn. Music Master evades Hawkgirl and Green Guardsman whilst flying away in an antique airplane. And Doctor Blizzard's attack on a new city fountain not only goes off without a hitch, he captures the Flash and Black Siren in the process. For this feat, the Injustice Guild dubs Doctor Blizzard the winner and lets him come up with their next crime.
The Justice League quit the field first. Regrouping at the Justice Guild's headquarters, Shayera has disturbing news for her teammates; while she lost Music Master, she found herself crashing into a cemetery — where she found headstones dedicated to each of the Justice Guild's members. The "Justice Guild" they have been speaking to aren't real. Refusing to believe this, John Steward flies off, forcing Hawkgirl to go after him. This leaves only J'onn to help when the Justice Guild return and immediately have to go and stop a blimp-based attack on the Seaboard City Mint by the Injustice Guild. After a fierce battle, they free their captured friends and return triumphant.
Whilst they are doing this, however, Hawkgirl and Green Lantern are making unnerving discoveries. John Stewart also finds the same graves Shayera did; determined to find the truth, he sets out with her. Firstly, he interrogates the local ice cream truck's driver, having noticed he constantly circles the city but never stops. The man refuses to say anything, but hints ominously at the presence of someone who would be dangerous if they heard what Green Lantern is trying to find out. At the local library, the books are all blank, while the newspaper archives are bricked up. When Shayera breaks through the wall, they find themselves in the mangled ruins of a subway station, where they find two old newspapers from 40 years ago. One announces the imminent outbreak of war, the other is more disturbing...
When the Justice Guild, Flash and Martian Manhunter return to the Justice Guild's headquarters, Green Lantern and Hawkgirl confront them with the fact that the Justice Guild are not real — the second newspaper they found, dated the day that the Justice Guild comics stopped being published, declares the Justice Guild perished in an attempt to save Seaboard City from being consumed by nuclear war. Horrified, the Justice Guild are forced to admit that they are fakes — though they didn't know it.
It turns out that of the Justice Guild, only the "junior Guildsman" Ray Thompson is real; forty years ago, the nuclear inferno of war mutated him into a grotesque being with powerful psionics, which he used to generate an ultra-real illusion that recreated the city and heroes of his childhood. In the resultant battle, Ray nearly defeats the Justice League... but the Justice Guild, declaring that they can repeat their sacrifice, turn on him, finally rendering him unconscious and revealing the desolation that is the reality of their world, fading away into nothingness with this last act of heroism.
However, it turns out that Ray was not the only survivor; the other non-super people seen in the illusory Seaboard City were all human survivors, trapped in an endless loop-world to amuse Ray. They thank the Justice League from freeing them of their nightmarish prison, vowing to rebuild their home in reality.
Exploring the ruins of the Justice Guild's headquarters, Green Lantern is able to power Tom Turbine's gateway generator with his ring and return them home. Back home, Flash tells the others about their adventure while Green Lantern mourns the loss of his childhood heroes. He wonders why he's so sad when they weren't real, but Hawkgirl says they gave up their lives to save them, and they are real enough for her.
- The Ageless: Everyone on the Guild's Earth looks the same after the illusion wears off.
- Anti-Villain: Ray isn't so much evil as long since jumped off the slippery slope due to suffering something no child should ever go through and losing his idols at the same time.
- Aside Glance: The Flash does this, in conjunction with You Have Got to Be Kidding Me!, at the Bus Full Of Nuns.
- Bat Deduction:
- The Justice Guild gets a notice that the bad guys are planning a crime spree themed for the four classical elements. The Guild members immediately figure out what these refer to, even if they are only tangentially related to the elements themselves: The fire crime is the theft of the famed fire ruby (a gem), the air crime is the theft of an "antique flyer", the water crime is the theft of a new fountain being dedicated by the city's mayor, and the earth crime (this one is a doozy, and the biggest Bat Deduction of all) is the theft of the trophy for the clay court tennis championships. The League is pretty confused by this development, to be fair, which is one part of The Reveal that neither the Guild nor its enemies are real.
- The earth crime being the trophy for the clay court tennis championship makes a bit more sense when you consider that the criminal who commits it is the Sportsman.
- Big "NO!": Ray shouts this after J'onn exposes his true form.
- Bittersweet Ending: The Justice Guild are erased in a heroic sacrifice that defeats Ray and turns the town back into ruins, but the residents are happy to be free of the endless illusory world and vow to rebuild.
- Blank Book: The entire library.
- Body Horror: Ray Thompson's true form due to the radioactive fallout he absorbed.
- Bus Full of Innocents: An actual bus full of nuns on a collision course with a dynamite truck.Flash: You've got to be kidding.
- Captain Ersatz: The Justice Guild and Injustice Guild are based on the Justice Society of America and their nemesis team the Injustice Society from The Golden Age of Comic Books.
- Tom Turbine is based on Golden Age Atom, with elements of Golden Age Superman.
- Green Guardsman is based on the Golden Age Green Lantern.
- The Streak is based on the Golden Age Flash.
- Black Siren is based on Black Canary I, the first of the Golden Age incarnations of the character.
- Catman is based on Golden Age (and a bit of Adam West) Batman and Wildcat.
- Sportsman is based on The Sportmaster.
- Music Master is based on The Fiddler.
- Doctor Blizzard is based on The Icicle.
- Sir Swami is based on The Wizard.
- Rays powers are an amplified version of Brainwaves.
- Comic Books Are Real: In the Justice League's world, the Justice Guild of America were comic book characters that Green Lantern had read as a kid. J'onn brings up the possibility that the comics' authors in the primary universe had a subconscious link with the Guild's universe, hence why they existed only as comics characters in the primary universe. This is also why their comics abruptly stopped forty years ago: the year the Guild died saving the world from an atomic cataclysm.
- Curse Cut Short: Flash's comment to Dr. Blizzard about not having "a snowball's chance in hell" has the "hell" part cut off by the sound of a car horn that alerts him to the dynamite truck on a collision course with the bus full of nuns.
- Dead All Along: The real Justice Guild died forty years before the Justice League arrived to their dimension.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: The Justice Guild's distinctly 50s/Golden Age-based world is out-of-date to both the 2000s-based Justice League and any younger viewers, with cliches and routine elements of that era played for laughs. In a less humorous sense, they're also all Innocent Bigots.
- The Dog Was the Mastermind: Seemingly innocuous Tag Along Kid Ray is actually behind everything.
- Dream Apocalypse: Once the League and the Guild defeat Ray, Green Lantern at first attempts to apologize to the freed citizens for destroying the utopia-illusion. Unlike most examples, this was shown to unambiguously be the right thing to do, as the now-ex ice cream truck driver brushes off GL's apology, revealing that the people were trapped in the illusion against their will, and freeing them finally gives them a chance to live their own lives and repair their world.Ice Cream Man: Being stuck in an ice cream truck for forty years, that's a nightmare.
- Due to the Dead: Green Lantern mourns the Guild, which confuses him since the ones he met were imaginary beings.Green Lantern: Why should I feel like this? I mean, they weren't even real.
Hawkgirl: They gave their lives for us. That's real enough for me.
- Fate Worse than Death: How one of the survivors describes being trapped in Ray's false world.
- Faux Action Girl: Black Siren is portrayed as this. Although, she held her own in in the fight with the Justice League and got some good hits on Ray at the end.
- Genius Bruiser: Tom Turbine is an accredited nuclear physicist and inventor... he's also the Justice Guild's counterpart to Superman.
- Go Out with a Smile: The Guild smiles to the League after defeating Ray and ceasing to exist in the nuclear wasteland.
- Harmless Freezing: The Flash and Black Siren are subjected to this by Dr. Blizzard, The Flash for some reason not phasing through it.
- Heart Is an Awesome Power: The Injustice Guild has some of the strangest powers: Music Master, for example, has weaponized an accordion. The accordion's vibrations also knock out the League's members successfully. It's justified in that Ray has created the heroes and villains, and thus the villains have to be a legitimate threat.
- He Who Must Not Be Seen: For some reason, Luthor is never actually shown in Part 1's Cold Opening. All we get is a close-up of a malevolent grin and a back view of the Powered Armor he gained in "Injustice For All".
- Heroic Sacrifice: The Justice Guild charges into battle against Ray, despite knowing his defeat will result in a Dream Apocalypse that would take them along with it. In the backstory, the people they were based on did something similar to save the Earth from complete atomic catastrophe.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Ray created the Justice Guild to be just like the heroes he remembered from his childhood. So of course, once he's revealed as a villain, they have no trouble fighting him, even if it means their lives.
- Hostage Situation: The Guild and League can't take down the villains' blimp without getting a tied-up Flash and Black Siren hurt.
- Hurricane of Puns: When Flash fights Doctor Blizzard, he gets really into the spirit of the thing.
- Hypocritical Humor: When he gets back home, Flash snickers at all the cornball villains and their ridiculous puns, apparently forgetting that he was matching them pun for pun.
- In Name Only: Ray is clearly based on the Golden Age villain Brainwave, but is a significantly different character.
- Innocent Bigot: The Justice Guild displays some of the less than admirable qualities of 1950's morality — the unassuming sexism evoked by Black Siren's place among the team and the Streak calling John Stewart "a credit to your people", mainly. John is polite enough to take the condescending "compliment" in the spirit it was intended, although he does sound a mite frustrated at the same time.
- It Has Been an Honor: The Streak salutes Green Lantern just before fading away.
- It's What I Do: The Justice Guild contemplate that defeating the enemy will, in fact, kill them as well. The immediate reply The Streak gives is essentially this.The Streak: We died once to save this Earth, and we can do it again.
- Justice Will Prevail:
- The Justice Guild's catchphrase "Let Justice Prevail!"
- A pretty catchy variation, said by the Streak to The Flash, whom the Streak thinks is evil: "Villainy can never outrun justice!"
- Lampshade Hanging: The League frequently do this to the over-the-top Golden Age tropes, and this eventually becomes Spotting the Thread.
- Let's You and Him Fight: This is how the League first met the Justice Guild, who mistake the League for villains.
- Little "No":
- Hawkgirl when she finds the graves.
- Green Lantern when the Guild members fade away.
- Meaningful Echo: When they decide to sacrifice themselves by defeating Ray, they shout "Let Justice Prevail!".
- Musical Nod: At one point while the Justice Guild is doing heroics, a version of the classic Superman theme plays
- My Brain Is Big: Part of Ray Thompson's Body Horror mutations.
- Mythology Gag:
- Tom Turbine explains a vibration-based multiverse theory, which is pretty close to how the pre-Crisis DC multiverse worked.
- J'onn's theory for how the justice guild was also a comic book in their world, is pretty much identical to the one Barry Allen gave to Jay Garrick when they first met during Flash Of Two Worlds.
- In a Freeze-Frame Bonus, Black Siren's grave reveals her true name to be Donna Nance, a reference to Dinah Lance (a.k.a. Black Canary), her counterpart from the comics.
- Newspaper Dating: To John's confusion, the date matches their own universe despite everything looking straight from the 50s. He then finds a real newspaper dated forty years ago that describes what happened to this world.
- Nostalgia Filter: The episode deconstructs the fondly-remembered "Golden Age" of comic books in numerous ways, with the most blatant examples being the casual sexism and racism Green Lantern encounters, and the artificiality of their world. At the same time, it still portrays the Golden Age heroes as heroes.
- Not So Stoic: As the Justice Guild are about to fade away from existence, Green Lantern is shown visibly distraught. Once they do, Lantern could only try to reach out to them and says a Little "No".
- Not What It Looks Like: The Justice Guild shows up just as the Justice Leaguers get hold of the stolen violin, leading to the teams' Let's You and Him Fight meeting.
- Officer O'Hara: Complete with red hair.
- Official Couple: Black Siren and Catman appear to be this in spite of all her Ship Tease with the Flash.
- Psychic Powers: Officially, Ray Thompson creates psychic illusions. In practice, he comes off as a Reality Warper.
- Psychopathic Man Child: Ray has kept the form of a child for forty years though you can hardly blame him.
- Politically Incorrect Heroes: As noted elsewhere, the Justice Guild aren't very enlightened in their views on race and gender. Though they are more like Innocent Bigot due to Deliberate Values Dissonance of The Golden Age of Comic Books rather than outright malice.
- Rebuilt Pedestal: Downplayed since Green Lantern still idolizes the Justice Guild even after the You Are a Credit to Your Race comment, but he's also suspicious after learning they died forty years ago. The Guild then gives up their lives and existence to save the League from Ray. John grieves at the end, even though they technically weren't real; Hawkgirl tells him they're real enough for her.
- This episode is both an Affectionate Parody and reconstruction of The Golden Age of Comic Books. The episode points out the racism and sexism prevalent in the Golden Age and the Flash mocks the Guild's cheesy "let justice prevail!" catchphrase, but at the end of the story the Guild helps defeat the villain, knowing that they'll fade from existence when they do, and when they yell "Let justice prevail!" that time, it's completely awesome.
- The episode was dedicated to Gardner Fox, a rather influential comic writer, so it wasn't just Reconstruction; it was an Homage to the man.
- Retro Universe: Seaboard City, which feels like it came straight out of the 1950s... because the real one did, and Ray wouldn't allow the fake one to advance.
- Seemingly Wholesome 50's Boy: Ray at first seems like a parody of kid sidekicks during the era, particularly Robin from the Adam West Batman series, but is revealed to be a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing Reality Warper.
- The giant robot at the beginning of part 1 looks like it was commissioned by Gendo Ikari.
- It also bears a passing resemblance to Ultron.
- The Justice Guild's sidekick "Ray Thompson" is an expy of Golden Age fanboy supreme Roy Thomas.
- His first name is more than just being a letter off either, its is also a reference to renowned sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury whose work often had nostalgia as its theme.
- J'onn's first reaction to Seaboard City is "It seems we're not in Metropolis anymore."
- A Stepford Suburbia where everyone secretly lives in fear of a Creepy Child Reality Warper, sound familiar?
- The giant robot at the beginning of part 1 looks like it was commissioned by Gendo Ikari.
- Similar Squad: The Justice Guild is similar to the Justice League.
- Spanner in the Works: The Guild hasn't even learned they're dead until John shows them the newspaper. It's implied that if the League hadn't entered their dimension by accident, they and the townsfolk would have stayed like that for eternity.
- Spotting the Thread: Even before the discovery of the graves, The League notices several small hints that something is wrong, though they don't come up until The Reveal (the ice cream truck that never stops, the entire town only having two cops, the way danger just conveniently pops up whenever someone starts asking too many questions).
- Stay in the Kitchen: Parodied. Given that since the Justice Guild's world is based on the fifties, therefore it isn't considered at all awkward for the only female member of the 50's-esque team to suggest to Hawkgirl that they go get cookies while the "men" talk out the whole dangerous supervillain issue. Flash is amused. Hawkgirl... isn't.Hawkgirl: One word and you'll be the The Fastest Man Alive with a limp.
- Stepford Suburbia / Town with a Dark Secret: Seaboard City is actually a war-torn wasteland but the residents always smile because they're scared to mess with Ray's fantasy.
- This Cannot Be!: Ray's reaction when his recreation of the Guild attack him.Ray: What is this?!?
Tom Turbine: In Seaboard City, crime doesn't pay.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: Subverted; the Guild and League find themselves forced to overwhelm Ray until he dies and his brain gives out. He wouldn't have backed down peacefully.
- Tomato in the Mirror: The Guild learns that they aren't real, and that their Kid Sidekick Ray has been keeping them alive as a fantasy. They don't show much anguish about it, except to consider that if they defeat Ray before he kills the League then they will face Cessation of Existence. After a few seconds, they dive in to fight him, to Face Death with Dignity.
- Tragic Villain: Ray was heavily irradiated by nuclear bombs which killed his idols. In his insanity he created an illusion of a pre-war world and used his abilities to trap the survivors of the fallout into resuming their routines before the bombs dropped. He was seemingly killed when he overused his powers to maintain the illusion and defeat both the Justice League and Justice Guild.
- Turned Against Their Masters: The Guild was re-created by Ray but rather than live out this falsehood and enslavement of other survivors, the Guild turns on him to kill him, setting the world free at the cost of their own lives.
- Weaksauce Weakness: Green Guardsman's power ring has no effect on anything made from aluminum, a reference to the Golden Age Green Lantern, Alan Scott, who couldn't affect anything made from wood with his ring.
- Wham Line: "Here lies Scott Mason, The Green Guardsman."
- Wham Shot: Hawkgirl after getting knocked out finds gravestones with the Guild members' names on them. She utters a Little "No" and shows John.
- Whole Plot Reference: Starts as one to the annual "Crisis on Multiple Earths" crossovers that were popular in Silver Age DC comics. The second act abruptly shifts to one for It's a Good Life.
- You Are a Credit to Your Race: The Streak, when talking to Green Lantern, says that "You're a credit to your people", though his tone sounds less like he's implying unpleasant things about other black people and more trying to convey the far more well-intentioned but still amazingly out-of-touch sentiment of "You do your big black family proud". Green Lantern feels incredibly awkward after this.
- You Have Got to Be Kidding Me!: The Flash mutters this when he sees the imperiled Bus Full of Innocents. Just to drive the point home, the passengers are shown to be all nuns, calmly crossing themselves as they careen into danger.