Judge Maurice Cobbs has a super-power: the power to turn invisible, but not all of him at the same time.
"Hey—all in a judgment day's work!"—Booster Gold
So, when is Warner Bros. going to start releasing Justice League in boxed collections?
Don't get me wrong; I'm enjoying the heck out of these little three-episode DVDs. Ever since the shift to the Justice League Unlimited format, with the apparent aim of animating every single hero in the DC Comics universe, it's easier than ever to get your superhero freak on. Like, who ever thought that we'd see an animated version of Rocket Red? Or Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.? Merciful Minerva, they've got the Composite Superman—are you kidding me? This is great! They've even got the Elongated Man, for cryin' out loud!
But it makes sense, you know? I mean, who are you gonna call when the shinola hits the fan big-time? Let's say that you've got a super-powerful unstoppable android cutting a swath of destruction across the galaxy as it heads towards Earth with a single all-consuming obsession—who are you gonna call to handle that? The Seven Soldiers of Victory? I don't think so, buddy. You better call out the big guns, or kiss your butt goodbye. I'm talking about Superman (George Newborn), Batman (Kevin Conroy), Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg), Green Lantern (Phil LaMarr)…you know what I mean. But more importantly, who are you gonna call when you've got a whole bunch of guest characters to provide voices for? If we judge by this particular compilation, you call Oded Fehr (The Mummy), Tom Everett Scott (Boiler Room), Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager), Jeremy Piven (Runaway Jury), Chris Cox (Swing Blade), Will Friedle (Batman Beyond), and John C. McGinley (Scrubs). Dr. Perry Cox versus a super-powerful android from space? Try and keep me away from the TV!
Okay, we'll deal with the android stuff in a minute; I'm getting ahead of myself. As much as it pains me to say this, this DVD is not perfect. Oh, it's not that I'm not grateful for the chance to revisit my childhood, when I'd sprawl out on my bedroom floor with a Coke, some Twinkies, and the latest 100-page Giant Super Spectacular, back when it really honestly mattered that Kanjar Ro was about to destroy the JLA after enslaving the planet Rann. No, this has to do with the more episodic nature that the show took on upon becoming Justice League Unlimited. It seems to me that the half-hour format is just too short to accommodate the ambition of the types of stories that the creators want to tell. The result is stories that are undeniably action-packed, but which also lack some of the of depth that was present when the series was just plain ol' Justice League.
Take, for example, the first selection on this disc—an adaptation of Alan Moore's classic story from 1985's "Superman Annual" #11, "For The Man Who Has Everything." It's Superman's birthday, and Wonder Woman and Batman arrive at the Fortress of Solitude to celebrate, only to find the Man of Steel comatose, under the thrall of the parasitic Black Mercy—a "gift" from the intergalactic villain Mongul that kills by granting its victims' greatest desire. For Superman, that means a chance at a normal life on his long-dead home world of Krypton. Can he fight off the happy fantasy of the Black Mercy? Or will Wonder Woman and Batman be the first to die in Mongul's conquest of Earth? This is a great story as it is, but had it been told in two episodes, it might have been spectacular. The episode is simply too short to do the story real justice, and many of the nuances that gave such impact to the comic version, as we see Superman's dream existence slowly turn into a nightmare, are lost in the translation from page to screen.
But original stories also suffer slightly from the shortened format. Take "The Return," in which Professor Ivo's super-android A.M.A.Z.O. returns from the far reaches of space with one goal—to find the newly reformed Lex Luthor, who once betrayed him. Nothing will stand in his way: not the Green Lantern Corps, not the combined forces of the Justice League, and not Luthor's technological genius. But Dr. Fate realizes that there is more to this situation than meets the eye, and that there may be a way to stop A.M.A.Z.O. without destroying the Earth. Although this episode works splendidly as is, had the creators spooled the story out over two episodes, it might not have seemed as rushed, and more time could have been spent building suspense and expanding on the action sequences; as it is, it seems like half the heroes in the DC universe show up, but hardly even put up a decent fight. Still, there is a nice payoff at the end—two, in fact. The title "The Return" has multiple meanings; at the very end, we find out what has become of a character not seen since the previous Justice League series.
Meanwhile, in the great hall of the Justice League—heh. Sorry. Couldn't resist. And anyway, it's a satellite. Meanwhile, in the great satellite of the Justice League…doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it? Still, I suppose that there's a hall somewhere on the satellite…the point is, the world's greatest heroes are assembled there—or they would be, if they weren't in Metropolis, getting their collective butts kicked by Mordru the Mystic, who's in town from the 30th century and loaded for bear. Maybe he was ticked off about being portrayed so crappily in that '70s Challenge of the Superheroes TV special—I mean, they had him on a ski-doo, for pity's sake. Anyway, the Martian Manhunter, directing the action from that satellite (though not from the hall), throws every available hero into the fray; even the Elongated Man gets in on the action. But wannabe hero from the future Booster Gold is denied the glory he craves and gets stuck with crowd control. That is, until the fight causes an experimental power source to go out of control, approaching critical mass and threatening to destroy the Earth. The rest of the heroes have their hands full with Mordru's rampage—but will Booster rise to the occasion, save the world, and get the girl? Whatever happens, this will definitely be "The Greatest Story Never Told." This tale has the lighter feel of the Keith Giffen–era Justice League, and works the best of the three stories in the single-episode format, but having Booster without his crime-fightin' buddy Blue Beetle is sort of disappointing (Beetle can't appear due to rights issues). Mutter, mutter, grumble, gripe.
There are a couple of cool features included. "The Science of Superheroes" takes a brief look at the real-life principles behind some of Superman's powers, such as flight and x-ray vision, and three of the show's stars get to talk about their voice work on the show in "Voices of Justice." Also included is the obligatory lame DVD time-waster—in this case, a short quiz in which you match a list of super-powers with the appropriate hero.
Justice League Unlimited is good, very good—but it could be better. Still, when you're hanging out in a hall, a satellite, or just your plain old living room and you need a quick dose of superhero shenanigans, you could do a lot worse than this show. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "The Science of Superheroes: Secrets Behind Superman's Power of Flight"
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