Warner Bros. // 2001 // 87 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // April 9th, 2003
What are we, a bunch of Superfriends?
With the popularity and success of the Batman and Superman animated franchises, Warner Brothers has gone to the well of DC Comics source material once again to bring us Justice League. Oh no, my friends, this is no variation on the Hanna-Barbera Superfriends of old. There is no Apache Chief or Black Vulcan, no Marv or Wendy, no Zan or Jayna, and no Wonder Dog or space monkey Gleek. This is Bruce Timm (Batman: The Animated Series) and Glen Murakami's (Batman Beyond) modern update of the Justice League comic book. The greatest of the DC heroes, stronger together than they are apart -- Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Hawk Girl. Too bad their animated adventures aren't more interesting.
This is the second Justice League DVD release, the first being the 90 minute movie pilot Secret Origins. Included on this disc are two separate two-part story arcs...
Episode 004 + 005: In Blackest Night (Parts One and Two)
Story by Stan Berkowitz, Directed by Butch Lukic
John Stewart, AKA Green Lantern (Phil LaMarr), is accused of destroying Arjuis 4, a planet of millions, innocently slaughtered by the reckless use of his power ring. The Manhunters, a team of ruthless security robots, is sent to track down and return Stewart to the Tribunal on Arjuis 5 to stand trial for his crime. It's up to Superman (George Newbern), J'onn J'onnz (Carl Lumbly), Flash (Michael Rosenbaum), and Hawk Girl (Maria Canals) to prove his innocence before sentence is passed.
Episode 006 + 007: The Enemy Below (Parts One and Two)
Story by Kevin Hopps, Directed by Dan Riba
A US nuclear submarine is attacked and rendered helpless by the Atlantean military under the command of its king, Aquaman (Scott Rummel). When the Justice League comes to the sub's rescue, they must convince the undersea ruler to settle his differences with the surface dwellers by diplomatic means rather than force. When an assassination attempt is made on Aquaman's life, his brother Orm rallies the Atlanteans into a full-scale war.
I'll be the first to admit, aside from Superman and Batman, Marvel Comics characters have held more interest for me than those found in the DC universe. In addition, the greatest sum of my Justice League knowledge comes from the old Superfriends days, aside from a brief run of interest during the Guy Gardner Green Lantern years. That being said, I was very interested to see what Bruce Timm and his team could do with these characters. Truth be told, I'm not so impressed. Granted, the production values are tremendous. The series looks great! Drawing on modern, silver, and classic Kirby-esque influences, they have a wealth of material and characters to work with -- but it lacks the heart and soul of the contemporary Batman and Superman series. Both shows were exceptional at telling stories through meaningful characters. Justice League doesn't seem to share those qualities, at least not yet.
"Blackest Night" is a great episode for Green Lantern fans. You get to see the Guardians, Killowag and other members of the Green Lantern Corps, the Manhunters, and travel to Oa. For people unfamiliar with Green Lantern history, this episode will come across as nothing more than a device to show a bunch of long, drawn out fight sequences -- the Manhunters battle on Earth with Superman, J'Onn, and Flash -- Hawk Girl's bar brawl with the ambivalent Green Lantern Corps -- and the final battle with the Manhunters on Oa. It was a good looking sandwich, but not very filling.
"Enemy Below" did an exceptional job of condensing the Aquaman mythos and bringing him in line with more recent character developments in the books. It was also nice to see Deadshot, DC's resident assassin. However, we once again have lots of action sequences with little in the way of main character development. Maybe it's a case of having too big of a cast. Maybe it's a case of me not really caring about these characters: John Stewart is an angry, bitter Green Lantern -- more so than I remember; Wally West is the resident comedian Flash; Hawk Girl is a surprising source of muscle; J'onn J'onnz retains his air of grandeur and mystery; and then you have the big three Superman (overgrown boy scout), Wonder Woman (still deflecting bullets with her bracelets), and Batman (the rarely-seen brains of the outfit). Maybe it's because they now reside in a space station high above the Earth. Or maybe the series just lacks those certain intangibles that give two-dimensional characters their heart and soul.
From a technical perspective, the transfer looks tremendous. The crisp, clean, digitally enhanced animation sizzles and pops. The space sequences in "Blackest Night" are light years beyond what we've seen from other galaxy hopping series. The underwater sequences in "Enemy Below" are equally impressive -- a true work of beauty. The Dolby 2.0 audio track is good, although the show lacks the epic scoring of the Batman and Superman series. The vocal performances are, as usual for WB, first rate. George Newbern (Father of the Bride) steps in with his best Tim Daly impersonation as Superman; Carl Lumbly (Alias) could not be more perfect for the role of J'onn; and Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville) gets to use his wide range of talents for Flash.
Bonus features run a little thin on this release. Episode Introductions by co-creator Bruce Timm provide insight behind the scenes of the series creation. The Look of the League gives fans some backstory on character design decisions. JL Watchtower is an exaggerated attempt at providing character bios along with voice over narration, music, and sound effects. Finally, I.D. is yet another kiddie game designed to see how observant you are, by showing pieces of each hero's insignia and letting you guess who it belongs to -- yea!
Film Score: 72
Disc Score: 69
Warner needs to seriously rethink its marketing strategy with these releases. With the DVD industry diving headfirst into the television market, releasing several episode discs here and there will do nothing to endear themselves to fans craving entire seasons of their favorite animated series. Given the cult following of a show like Justice League, a disc like this could generate a negative backlash. Save your money and catch the reruns on Cartoon Network. Case dismissed!
Review content copyright © 2003 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Introductions with Series Creator Bruce Timm
* Featurette: The Look of the League
* Character Bios: JL Watchtower
* Game: I.D.
* The World's Finest