In brightest day, in blackest night, see a film Judge Douglas might.
Our reviews of Justice League (published May 16th, 2002), Justice League: Season One (published April 12th, 2006), Justice League: Season Two (published July 19th, 2006), Justice League: Justice On Trial (published April 9th, 2003), Justice League: The Brave And The Bold (published November 17th, 2004), Justice League: The Complete Series (published November 23rd, 2009), Justice League Unlimited: Season One (published January 3rd, 2007), Justice League Unlimited: Season Two (published May 2nd, 2007), and Justice League Unlimited: Saving The World (published March 23rd, 2005) are also available.
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Facts of the Case
There's a lot of danger in the world, and some heroes have banded together in order to fight it. J'onn J'onzz (Carl Lumbly, Alias), also known as Martian Manhunter, is the last surviving Martian. His unique abilities enable him to read minds, change shape, and pass through solid objects. Wally West (Michael Rosenbaum, Smallville), aka The Flash, is the fastest man alive. John Stewart (Phil LaMarr, Family Guy), a member of the Green Lantern Corps, has the ability to create all kinds of wonderful things using only his mind. Diana, Princess of Themyscira (Susan Eisenberg, Jackie Chan Adventures), is known as Wonder Woman. She has several considerable skills: flight, super-strength, and the ability to stop bullets with her magical bracelets. Billionaire Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy, Batman: The Animated Series) spends his nights posing as Batman, the world's greatest detective. He has no superpowers, but his intelligence, combat training, psychological expertise, and scientific skills make him a very formidable human being. Shayera (Maria Canals Barrera, Wizards of Waverly Place), aka Hawkgirl, has a unique gift for hitting things really hard. She can fly, and wields a mighty mace that can take down almost anything. Finally, there's Superman (George Newbern, Providence), the man of steel. You know him, right? He's got pretty much everything a superhero could want: super-strength, X-ray vision, laser vision, flight, and incredible hearing. Together, these seven heroes have formed the Justice League, vowing to protect the citizens of earth.
Twenty-six episodes are spread across three Blu-ray discs. Unless indicated otherwise, each story is told over the course of two episodes
"In Blackest Night": John Stewart has been accused of a terrible
crime. He is captured by The Manhunters, a group of robotic bounty hunters.
Other members of the Justice League are certain that John couldn't have
committed the crime. Superman, Martian Manhunter, Flash, and Hawkgirl determine
to prove John's innocence, even though John surprisingly maintains that he is
"The Enemy Below": Aquaman, king of the lost city of Atlantis, has
sunk a nuclear submarine. He feels that such weapons are dangerous to the sea,
and is prepared to take any action necessary to eliminate such threats. Superman
feels that a more diplomatic solution could be reached, and encourages Aquaman
to speak to World Assembly about his feelings. The king reluctantly agrees, but
soon finds himself usurped by one of his power-hungry generals. Can Aquaman and
the Justice League prevent the armies of Atlantis from destroying the world?
"Injustice for All": Lex Luthor learns that his frequent exposure
to Kryptonite has given him cancer. He doesn't have much time left to live and
seeks the assistance of a super-intelligent gorilla named The Ultra-Humanite.
While attempting to find a way to stay alive, Luthor forms the Injustice League,
which also includes such suspicious members as Copperhead, Solomon Grundy,
Cheetah, Sapphire, and The Shade. Things take an even nastier turn when The
Joker decides to toss his hat into the ring. Their mission: destroy the Justice
"War World": Superman and J'onn are captured by bounty hunters and
sold to an evil villain named Mongul. They are sent to a strange planet called
"War World," a wicked place that revolves around Gladiatorial battles.
Superman is a strong guy, but he's unwilling to take a life in order to defeat
his opponents. Green Lantern and Hawkgirl attempt to stage a rescue mission. Can
they get there in time before Superman is forced to sacrifice himself?
"The Brave and the Bold": Some isotopes are stolen from a delivery
truck, and Flash has to find out why. Things take a messy turn when he discovers
that one of his old enemies is behind the plot: the devious and intelligent
Gorilla Grodd. Just as Flash is starting to piece together the clues, he finds
himself drugged and placed under some sort of strange influence that forces him
to commit crimes against his will.
"Fury": The Injustice League has re-formed, but this time Luthor's
not in charge. A mysterious new woman has taken control of the gang, and
Batman's determined to find out who she is. After some research, the evidence
seems to indicate that the woman is an Amazon. Wonder Woman doesn't believe it,
insisting that someone from Themyscira would never turn to a life of crime. If
this strange woman isn't an Amazon, who is she, and what is she attempting to
"Legends": The Justice League is sent into alternate dimension, a
placed called Seaboard City. It's a strange place, where everything seems
perfect and a host of corny villains always lose battles to a band of
superheroes called the Justice Guild of America. Everything seems good…too
good. What is the secret behind the strange place, and what sinister person is
pulling the strings?
"Metamorphosis": The Justice League is facing a particularly
threatening new villain. An innocent man has been turned into a forceful and
violent being known as Metamorpho. He has the unique ability to mimic the
talents of anyone he faces in combat. The more Justice League members that join
the fight, the more power Metamorpho gains. How can they stop this dangerous
creation from destroying them all?
"The Savage Time" (3-part story): The Justice League finds that
the world has suddenly been changed, and things on this new earth are not
pleasant. The world is a dictatorship run by an immortal man named Vandal
Savage, and Batman is a vigilante leader attempting to stage a rebellious strike
against the government. Did someone go back in time and change things, or is the
League stuck in an alternate dimension?
Okay, geek confession time. I'm a huge fan of DC Comics. My apologies, Stan Lee…I've always had a thing for Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Martian Manhunter, The Spectre, Green Arrow, Black Canary, The Question, Captain Atom, Booster Gold, and…well, you know I could go on and on. My enthusiasm for DC started back in the 1990s with the wonderful Batman: The Animated Series created by Bruce Timm and his band of cohorts. In addition to slowly getting addicted to a wide variety of DC Comics, I also followed the new animated series as they came along: the enjoyable Superman: The Animated Series, the hit-and-miss Batman Beyond, and finally Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.
From 2001 to 2006, the animated Justice League series would grow increasingly strong, seemingly getting better and more engaging as it went along. However, it had a little bit of trouble taking off. This first season of Justice League is still well worth checking out and is far superior to the average animated action show. It's just a pretty considerable distance from the heights that this show would eventually reach. It's more than evident that the program is trying to find its footing. Admittedly, it can be difficult to craft a good Justice League story. Not only do you have to nail down who the characters are and how they would interact with each other, but you have to create situations that actually would require the considerable talents of an entire team of superheroes. The adventures here are frequently pretty huge in terms of size and scope, so we never have a story that is handled in just one episode. Most stories here are two-parters, and a couple of them are told in three parts.
The first strong story is "In Blackest Night," which gives us our first good look at John Stewart, the league's resident Green Lantern. Stewart is not the most popular Green Lantern of the comic book world; most would pick Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner, or even Guy Gardner. However, John Stewart is a pretty good character and brings some very welcome diversity to the team (Stewart is an African-American). "In Blackest Night" not only introduces us to Stewart, but also gives us a pretty good look at the Manhunters, the Oans, and other members of the Green Lantern Corps. It's essentially a courtroom drama of sorts (with lots of action scenes worked in, of course), and a reasonably well-told story. There are also some funny moments here courtesy of The Flash ("If the ring doesn't fit, you must acquit!"), who is forced to serve as Stewart's lawyer. Though we're never actually given honest-to-goodness "origin stories" for each of the characters, specific episodes give us a more in-depth look at individual characters. This one covers Stewart, the pretty decent "Paradise Lost" digs into Wonder Woman's world, and "The Brave and the Bold" is essentially a Flash story (highlighted by a strangely wonderful dream sequence).
"The Enemy Below" is a very good Aquaman story, which is sure to help heal the wounds of fans disappointed that Aquaman wasn't included as an official member of the league. The portrayal of Aquaman here is a particularly good one. He is presented as a fierce and violent warrior of the sea, more or less willing to do anything in order to protect the sea from irresponsible humans. He doesn't care how many people he has to hurt in order to do this. This is a portrayal that the writers probably couldn't have gotten away with if they made him an official part of the league, where Aquaman would have needed to be a little more heroic. It really focuses more on Aquaman and the world of Atlantis than the Justice League, but it's still a very solid story that ranks as one of the better tales of this season.
I also liked "The Injustice League," mostly due to the fact that Lex Luthor and The Joker are involved. I like the portrayal of Luthor here (well-developed over the course of the Superman show), and he's one of the better villains included in this season. I do wish he would quit re-forming that silly "Injustice League," though. I mean, come on, really? The Injustice League? It sounds pretty weak, Mr. Luthor. Mark Hamill's dementedly funny take on The Joker is considered by many fans to be one of the most iconic versions of the character, and he's in top form here. His scenes with Batman are just plain terrific, making the whole story worthwhile despite its flaws.
"Legends" is one of my favorite tales of this season, sending the Justice League into a dimension that resembles a superhero version of Leave it to Beaver. This is not exactly a real world, but an idealized version created by a very 1950s mentality. As such, there's some interesting social statements being made here about stereotypes, and it's told in a surprisingly subtle and non-patronizing manner. All seven of the characters are involved here, and each gets a chance to shine in some way. The story is simultaneously a tribute to Golden and Silver Age comic books and a critique of them. It's excellent stuff.
The great big three-part finale is another success. It's perhaps the biggest story here, and it's exceptionally entertaining. The big action scenes are beautifully animated, the character interaction finally hits a very natural comfort level, and the humorous moments all click. In addition, this is one of the few stories that feature a really good villain, the immortal Vandal Savage. This lengthy story is a great way to finish up the set, and also serves as a solid lead-in to the generally more successful and enjoyable second season of Justice League. Best of all, "The Savage Time" is gloriously huge in scope, constantly providing large-scale scenes with lots of lovely detail and complex animation.
Most of the characters are handled pretty well here. The Flash is easily the most light-hearted member of the league, almost always adding just the right amount of irreverent humor into the proceedings. Martian Manhunter has often been regarded as a less interesting version of Superman, but he's handled far better than the Man of Steel (more on him later). J'onn J'onzz is portrayed as a wise and solemn character, one who is understanding but doesn't tolerate foolishness. The most spirited member of the league is probably Hawkgirl, who often fares the best in hand-to-hand combat. Her gut reaction to almost any situation is always "hit something with my mace," a reflection of Shayera's very war-like mentality. Wonder Woman is a bit less aggressive. She's proudly noble as a superhero, but a bit awkward when it comes to interacting with others. The fact that she has lived life on an isolated island of paradise her entire life makes her somewhat uncomfortable with handling the messiness of the rest of the world. Best of all is Batman, who is nothing short of perfect here. Timm and co. nailed the character over the course of several seasons of Batman: The Animated Series, and here give the character very strong treatment. He is once again provided with the sublime voice of Kevin Conroy, who is officially the voice of Batman as this point. I never get tired of hearing those rich, grim, deep tones.
Most of you reading this review have probably all ready seen the show, and are just curious about whether or not this hi-def release would be worth the upgrade (the DVD was released just a couple of years ago). I don't know whether you'd want to buy this first season all over again, but it sure does look gorgeous in hi-def. There's some very solid animation here, and the colors are particularly rich and vibrant. Sound is solid, moreso in terms of sound effects than music. The all-synth scores feel a little suppressed at times, but the fight scenes often pack a solid punch. Extras are mostly ported over from the DVD release. We've got three episode commentaries, a music video, a panel discussion, plus an early promo reel, storyboards, and a look at character design. It's all pretty good stuff, particularly the commentaries and the panel, though I wish there were a little more here.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A few of these stories are either misfires or just don't live up to their level of potential. Perhaps I'm being a little harder on some of these because I know how badly they compare to the heights the show would eventually reach. As I said before, they're not bad in comparison to the average show, just in comparison to other episodes of this show. The three-part opener, "Secret Origins," is one of the less interesting tales. Although it's one of the few stories to feature all seven members (most just have three or four members included), it just isn't that interesting. This overlong battle between the league and some strange space creatures is a pretty straightforward action tale, not really telling us anything interesting about most of the characters. It's a decent enough introduction to Martian Manhunter (one of the less well-known members of the league), but easily could have been told just as effectively in only two parts.
Another miss is the silly "War World," which employs the tired old concept of taking our heroes to a gladiator planet where one of them must do battle to save their life. It's probably the weakest point of the season, and is regarded by fans as one of the less-than-wonderful tales told over the course of the entire run. Mongul has the potential to be a very good villain, but here proves to be nothing more than a big bully. "Fury" is another less-than-ideal outing, spotlighting a villain intent on killing all the men in the world. It just doesn't work so well. Finally, "A Knight with Shadows" is somewhat uninteresting due to the fact that Morgaine le Fey is the primary villain. She's just not that compelling, and her bratty little kid gets really annoying fast. By the way, this episode was more than compensated for in season one of Justice League Unlimited, in which…well, that's another story for another time. This one's kind of interesting in an Elseworlds sort of way in that Batman gets to literally be "The Dark Knight," but otherwise it's kind of bland.
On some occasions, there established abilities of the characters seem to be ignored. The best example can be found in "The Brave and the Bold," where Flash seems unable to catch a delivery truck. We've seen the guy blaze across countries in seconds. Why can't he catch a truck going 70 miles an hour?
The show's biggest weakness (one that was never entirely fixed) is Superman. It's strange that Timm and co. did such a terrible job with that character. I thought they did a superb job handling Supes in the 1990s animated series dedicated to the character, but here they just screw everything up completely. Superman was presented as an endearingly noble and intelligent hero in his own show, a benevolent protector who was occasionally hurt by his willingness to sacrifice himself for others. Here he is a big, sour, ineffective dummy. In any fight, Superman is almost always the first person to get taken down; usually because he did something incredibly stupid. Superman should be the team's heart and soul. Instead, he's more like the village idiot of the Justice League. Sure, there are a few good moments for Superman (most notably in the large-scale season finale), but this portrayal of the character falls uncomfortably in line with Frank Miller's depiction of the character as one-dimensional government tool. Also, his voice work simply isn't good. Tim Daly did a terrific job with the character during Superman: The Animated Series, why wasn't he brought back? George Newbern makes a poor replacement, failing to capture any the character's compassionate humanity. Here, Superman always sounds like he's sick and grumpy.
Justice League is a show that cries out for big adventures, and as such, big villains. This season is also a disappointment on that level. Where are the heavy hitters? No Braniac, no Darkseid, no Doomsday. Though it's nice to have Lex Luthor and The Joker onhand, this season is marked by a noteworthy lack of genuinely threatening villains.
Yes, this season doesn't represent the very best of the DC Animated Universe. You know you want it anyway. Justice League: Season One looks hot in hi-def, so if you haven't picked up the show yet, this is by all means the way to go. The hit-and-miss quality of the episodes does discourage me from recommending spending forty bucks on an upgrade. Still, here's hoping we see a lot more DC Animated stuff reach Blu-ray before too long.
Not guilty. The Justice League wins again!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Three episode commentaries
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