Case Number 12979: Small Claims Court


Warner Bros. // 2006 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski (Retired) // February 13th, 2008

The Charge

"We've got a supervillain brawl a'brewin' here folks, and it looks like it's gonna be a doozie!"
-- Announcer at the Intergalactic Games

superboy and the legion of superheroes

The Case

Warner Bros. is up to its old tricks again -- both the good and the bad kind -- with Legion of Super Heroes: Volume 2. They've produced a great little animated superhero series and have now released it on DVD in the greediest, most insulting way possible. As with Volume One in this series, a Volume Two purchase will get you a mere four episodes of the show on a single disc with no bonus features. As many angry customers have pointed out, this kind of marketing scheme seems geared squarely at the most impatient of children and the most ignorant of consumers. Fans of the series should clearly wait for the entire season to be released as a whole. So to be crystal clear from the get-go, my rating of this DVD release reflects a combined score of about 85 for the quality of the content and 50 for the shoddy DVD release itself.

Legion of Super Heroes is based on a DC Comics series in which the Legion, a superhero team from the 31st century, travels back in time to recruit Superman to help them fight evil back in the future. In this animated variation, the Legion miscalculates their time-travel and come face-to-face with a younger Clark Kent who has not yet mastered his abilities. The four first season episodes included on this disc are as follows:

* "Champions"
In the least remarkable episode of the bunch, Lightning Lad goes for the gold at the Intergalactic Games, where he faces a surprising competitor: his estranged brother. Meanwhile, Superman and Phantom Girl protect her mother, the President, from an insidious assassination plot perpetrated by the extra-insidious Fatal Five.
Grade: B-

* "Fear Factory"
This fun episode mixes genre chunks of sci-fi and horror into its animated superhero adventure base. After an old-fashioned horror movie marathon, the Legion stumbles upon a creepy old space station in the middle of a cosmic storm. When they go in to investigate, they face an old-school haunted house scenario, and, of course, their deepest, darkest fears.
Grade: A

legion of superheroes at the haunted house

* "Brain Drain"
When Brainy's "alignment" with his distant race goes unpredictably wrong, the Legion must travel to "the most inhospitable planet in the galaxy" to find a cure for his degenerative dementia. In transit, Brainy experiences a strange split -- and not in his personality.
Grade: B

* "Lightning Storm"
Feeling more mature than his fellow Legionnaires, despite his incredibly childish name, Lightning Lad finds himself drawn to an older, tougher superhero team, the Light Speed Vanguard. Saturn Girl has misgivings about the LSV, though, which aren't helped by the discovery of an old rival within their ranks.
Grade: B+

Legion of Super Heroes: Volume 2 joins the ranks of Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans and many other high-quality superhero cartoons of the past decade or so, but in tone it is most like the latter. Though your 24-year-old reviewer had a blast watching these episodes, they do bear the marks of targeting a kid demographic. Silliness crops up often, as in the Legion auditions that are a subplot of "Lightning Storm," and the substance of the series in these four episodes doesn't veer too far toward the dark side, mostly focusing on time-tested kid morals like "cheating is bad" and "don't change who you are just to seem cool." But hey, these are the classics, right? And they're well-rendered here with fun characters and strong writing. Adults might yawn at exchanges like this one in "Lightning Storm:"

Lightning Lad: "I thought they were so cool. It made me forget what being a hero is all about."
Saturn Girl: "But you didn't. You're a good person, Lightning Lad, and that will never change."

But such moments are brief and not overly condescending. Luckily, the writers have learned that invaluable Pixar trick of writing for kids and adults at the same time, making sure to include moments in each episode for the more developed sense of humor, and for knowledgeable fans of the comics and the wider DC universe. An example of the latter is the complex relationship between the benevolent Brainiac 5 (or "Brainy" for short) and the young Superman. Shades of the Superman/Brainiac are alluded to in their interactions, as when Brainy decides not to tell the young Superman that his powers derive from the earth's yellow sun:

Brainy: "There are some things you have to figure out yourself, in your own century."
Superman: "I wonder what else you haven't told me."

The humor is also pretty good on the series, from the spectacle of seeing Brainy, the most somber member of the Legion, hallucinating and jumping around in "Brain Drain" to the brief, witty dialogues that crop up every few minutes, such as this one:

Superman: "So, what do you wanna do while we're waiting? Play checkers?"
Timber Wolf: "What's checkers?"
Superman: "It's a game we play in Kansas."
Timber Wolf: "What's Kansas?"

In another instance, Lightning Lad hasn't gotten the memo about Legion auditions and is dismayed to see the lame crop of wannabe heroes that have shown up. He feels like the Legion is for babies, and sulkily asks Brainy about any other memos he has missed. Brainy replies, "Do you know about the bake sale on Tuesday?" After an icy glare from the Lad, he concedes, "That would be a joke." The funniest moment for me, though, was when the Intergalactic Games announcers began commenting on the action in the supervillain fight rather than in the events. Interrupting themselves, they remind us that, "Our coverage of this attack is brought to you by Little Deepzorg Snack Cakes." Alien sports announcer humor is nothing new, but the Legion writers do it better than George Lucas, for sure!

legion of superheroes -- deepzorg

My last bit of praise for the writing is that all four of these episodes finish with a great punch line. The best visual punch line comes at the end of "Champions" when Phantom Girl's mother makes a comment that elicits the usual exasperated teenage slouching and eye roll. But because Phantom Girl can make herself intangible, her exaggerated slouch actually takes her body halfway down through the floor!

And on the subject of visuals, Legion has a nicely appealing look to it, which is well-presented on Legion of Super Heroes: Volume 2. A pleasing mixture of anime and American comics influences, the heroes are rendered here with nice crisp lines, bright colors, and good details in shading and focus manipulation, as in this frame of Superman:

legion of superheroes -- superboy

As highly as I can recommend Legion of Super Heroes as a series, especially (but not only) for kids, I can't recommend a purchase of this DVD from Warner Bros. An individual disc release with four episodes and no extras? Sounds like a scheme from the Fatal Five to me.

Review content copyright © 2008 Jennifer Malkowski; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 68

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)

* English

Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* None

* IMDb

* Official Site

* DVD Verdict - Volume 1