Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Justice League, the Animated Series

Hello once more, citizens! Once again, I apologize for the lateness (and length) of this review. But as promised, here is my review of the Justice League animated series!

I’ve never read too many comics from DC, so most of my exposure to the characters has been from the animated universe. But the DC animated stuff and I have had a mixed relationship. I loved Bruce Timm’s Batman, but I never watched the Superman series that aired alongside it. I loved Teen Titans, but I didn’t actually watch the Justice League or Justice League Unlimited until a few years after they ended. I saw an episode or two, but none of my friends were really all that into superheroes then. However, one of my friends loaned me his DVDs of the entire series, and I began kicking myself for not watching the show sooner.

Justice League ran from 2001 to 2004, before undergoing some pretty major changes and being retitled to Justice League Unlimited. It featured Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, and Martian Manhunter.

Batman, aka Bruce Wayne, was voiced by the wonderful Kevin Conroy, who provided the voice for the Batman series that had run prior to Justice League. Batman was of course going to be part of the series, since the success of his own series helped get support for this project, and he and Superman had already done crossovers with each other, so this was the next logical step. Like most of the characters, this is where most of my experience with the character comes from. The way he’s portrayed in this however does differ from that of some people’s idea, in that he is NOT prepared for every conceivable thing (as well as several inconceivable ones). Oh sure, he’s prepared for a whole hell of a lot, but he does get taken surprise once or twice, and he does need the League’s help with some things. However, he’s also very stubborn, and not entirely sold on the idea of having backup. There’s instances where he sort of rolls his eyes at the whole thing, and he never officially joins, which is odd considering how he’s financing them and still takes turns on monitor duty.

Superman, aka Clark Kent, initially had the same voice actor as in his own animated series, but due to a conflict with another project, had to be replaced by George Newbern. I actually didn’t even notice the change until looking up info for this post. Newbern apparently impressed the folks at DC, since he’s continued doing work as Superman since then. Like I said before, I never watched the Superman animated series, so I didn’t really have much exposure to the character beforehand. The only other things I’d seen with Superman were some animated shorts produced in the early 1940’s, and the Super Friends, which I thankfully can barely remember. When I initially watched the series, I honestly didn’t think much of Superman. He just seemed like too much of a caricature rather than a character. However, more recently, I’ve been talking with people about Superman, and have actually been thinking about Superman as something more, and I’ve really warmed up to him. In re-watching the series for this review, I realized that he had a lot more depth than I’d given him credit for. You can actually see him struggling with moral questions at points, as well as trying to work with the League. It may have been his idea to form it, but he’s not used to working so closely with others so often, and there’s actually moments where he displays arrogance, but then humility. It actually makes me really want to check out some of the better Superman stories out there.

Wonder Woman, aka Diana, was voiced by Susan Eisenberg. Wonder Woman is one of those characters that I’m really interested in, but know entirely too little about. Her inclusion in the League was more or less a given, since she is one of DC’s most iconic characters, as well as a long standing member of the League. Like Superman, this is the depiction I’m most familiar with, and I’m rather fond of it. In the series, she has only just left her home in Themyscira, so she has to adjust to the world of man, doing so gradually over the course of the series. She has her super strength and durability, as well as the ability to fly (something she doesn’t always have in the comics, for some reason), and she possesses her indestructible bracers and magic tiara, though I only recall her using it once. I guess Sailor Moon patented that move at some point. She also has a lasso, though it’s never shown to actually be the lasso of truth, though it is incredibly strong. She also doesn’t have the invisible plane, which is just fine because I always felt that it was a silly idea anyway. Interestingly, she and Batman sort of have a thing in the series, in contrast to just about everything else which pairs her with Superman.

The Flash in this is depicted as Wally West, instead of Barry Allen who many consider to be the more iconic one. I’m guessing that they did this in order to reflect the current state of affairs in the comics at the time, since Barry Allen was dead at the time. From what I’ve been able to find, this Wally West is pretty different from the one in the comics, and has more in common with Plastic Man, being the comic relief of the group. I don’t get why they would do that, instead of just using Plastic Man. Sure, Plastic Man isn’t as iconic as the Flash, but come on, you’ve got Hawk Girl and a lesser known Green Lantern, why not just have Plastic Man? Anyway, I’m honestly kind of put off by this version of the Flash. I get that they felt they needed some comic relief, but he really just comes off as more dumb and irritating than funny.

Green Lantern, aka John Stewart, was voiced by the very talented Phil LaMarr. I had never actually heard of John Stewart before this series. I’d heard of Hal Jordan (who was the Green Lantern in several episodes of Super Friends) and Kyle Rayner, but I had thought that they were the only Green Lanterns. Oh man was I wrong. I’ve heard some mixed things about John Stewart, but I actually really liked him in this. He’s apparently from my home town of Detroit, which is always nifty. He’s very gruff most of the time, which makes sense given that he’s a former Marine, making me think he went from the Marine Corp to the Green Lantern Corp. However, he does have a softer side. He’s good friends with Wally, and also develops a relationship with Hawkgirl, and is a fan of Golden Age comics and Old Yeller.

Martian Manhunter, aka J’onn J’onzz, was voiced by Carl Lumbly. MM is a character I’d never even heard of before the series, which seems sort of lame considering much less interesting characters seem to get more exposure. He’s got some nifty powers including telepathy, shape-shifting and the ability to become intangible. His telepathy seems like more of a detriment than an asset though, since I’ve seen it knock him into unconsciousness more times than I’ve seen it help the team. He’s pretty stoic, though there are a few moments where he gets emotionally, as well as a few humorous lines made all the better by the deadpan delivery. Beyond that, I’m not really sure what to say about him, except that reminds me a bit of the Marvel character, The Vision.

Hawk Girl, aka Shayera Hol, is voiced by María Canals, and is yet another character I wasn’t familiar with prior to the series. Her inclusion seems kind of strange, since it’s not like she’s an iconic member of the League. It feels like the main reason they added her was to add another woman to the team, which it needed. I’m honestly not a fan of Hawkgirl as she’s presented in the series. It feels like 60% of her screen time was charging in recklessly only to get knocked down with one hit, 35% was needless antagonism, and the other 5% was her actually contributing to the team. I’m sure she wasn’t as ornery and useless as I’m making her out to be, but that’s what stands out in my memories most, even after re-watching the series for this.

The series also has a bunch of recurring characters. I could go on for thousands of words about all of them, so I’ll limit myself to the ones who stand out the most.

Lex Luthor, Superman’s arch nemesis, was voiced by the incredibly talented Clancy Brown. This is easily my favorite version of Luthor I’ve ever been exposed to. It shows the business savvy side of him, his mad-scientist side, and his criminal mastermind side in more or less equal measure. He’s cold, ruthless, manipulative, cunning and calculating. He’s only in a few episodes, but he leaves a greater impression than most of the other villains.

Aquaman, king of Atlantis, was voiced by Scott Rummell. Most people tend to make fun of Aquaman, and I think that most of that stems from his portrayal on the Super Friends. In every other depiction I’ve seen of Aquaman, he’s something of a badass, and this version is no different. First off, he’s sporting a rather Nordic look, with the long blonde hair and full beard, which immediately gives him points. He’s able to go toe-to-toe with Wonder Woman no problem, which gives him even more points. Most badass of all, however, is when he loses his hand. He gets trapped over a volcanic vent, along with his son. His son begins to fall into the vent, and the only way he can get loose is to cut off his hand using his abnormally sharp belt buckle. He then gets an enormous hook grafted onto his arm, and proceeds to kick the ass of the guy who tried to kill him. In his second appearance, he takes on the forces of an elder god (who is clearly supposed to be Cthulhu, but for some reason they don’t call him that in spite of the fact that Cthulhu is within the public domain.). This is another case where the series has made me want to check out the character in the comics.

Last up is Vandal Savage, voiced by Phil Morris. Vandal Savage is yet another character I was unfamiliar with prior to watching the series, but I think I like him more than any of the others. Vandal Savage, for those unfamiliar with the character, is a caveman who was given immortality, enhanced intelligence and enhanced strength by sleeping next to a meteors work like that, right? I’m not sure what it is about him that I like so much, since he doesn’t seem to offer too much. I think it’s because I like the idea of a villain who plays the long game so well, even if his plans in the series are kind of poorly thought out. He also makes as many appearances as Luthor, including in one of my favorite episode arcs.

One of the things I really liked about the series was the format. With the exception of one episode, all of the stories took two to three episodes to tell. It gave them more room to let things develop as well as have some good action. However, I was disappointed in there not being any sort of overarching plotline. There was a sense of continuity, with things building on previously established ones, but I feel it would’ve been nice if each season had been building to a major conflict at the end with a foe that had eluded them throughout. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed both of the season finales, but I just wish they’d been part of a larger story. All that said, here are some of my favorite episodes.

Injustice for All: These episodes the first appearance of Luthor, who discovers he’s dying of a rare disorder brought on by long term exposure to kryptonite. He decides to attempt to take down the Justice League, blaming Superman for his illness. He gathers together a bunch of villains including Solomon Grundy, Shade, and Ultra-Humanite, dubbing them the Injustice Gang. The Joker also joins the group, though on his own initiative, but he proves his usefulness by aiding in the capture of Batman. Humanite devises a technological thingamajig to keep Luthor alive, but the Injustice Gang ends up defeated. This is the first time we got to see the League squaring off against a group of villains, and we end up getting some really good fight scenes, made all the better by the variety of powers and tactics on display. We also get to see Batman manipulating most of the members of the Gang like they’re all his puppets.

Legends: While attempting to stop a giant robot from destroying Metropolis, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Flash and Hawkgirl are sent to an alternate dimension. This alternate dimension has a group of heroes called the Justice Guild of America, whose members are homages to Golden Age superheroes. This amazes Green Lantern, because they were all characters of comics that he read when he was younger, and they had a noticeable influence on him. However, you can’t have superheroes without supervillains, and the ones in this city cause trouble while the League is around. Throughout the two episodes, MM keeps getting psychic flashes of something being not quite right, and Hawkgirl finds a bunch of graves marked as belonging to the Guild. Once the villains are defeated, it’s revealed that almost everything is just an illusion created by the Guild’s mascot, a boy named Ray. The city was apparently bombed, and the fallout mutated Ray, giving him incredible powers. The League tries to fight him, but they don’t have any luck. The Guild briefly discuss if they should try and stop Ray, since doing so will mean their deaths. However, being heroes, they decide to sacrifice themselves. The world is restored to the grim reality, but the few survivors (who were minor characters within the episodes) tell the League they were glad to be freed. The League manages to return home thanks to an interdimensional portal one of the Guild members had been working on before the city got nuked.

The Savage Time: This one is the three-part first season finale. The League, excluding Batman, are returning from a mission in space, when they see a blinding light coming from the Earth. When the light fades, they find the Watchtower missing, and J’onn can’t sense it or Batman. They land, and find that Metropolis has been redecorated in their absence, finding giant posters of a ruggedly bearded man everywhere. Turns out that Metropolis is under the rule of some terrible dictator, and our heroes meet up with a resistance group, led by Batman. However, he’s not the Batman they know and like, since his outfit is different and he doesn’t have any problem using guns. They learn that apparently, the Axis won WW2 thanks to the brilliant inventions of the Führer, Vandal Savage. They deduce that Savage went back in time and did something that allowed the Axis to win and assumed control of Germany. They find his time travel device and go back themselves. Yep, it’s the Justice League fighting Nazis, which is just all kinds of awesome. I don’t care if it’s been done before, and I don’t care about the weird way time travel seems to work in this instance. Nazi punching will never get old to me. The League actually gets split up, with most of the heroes joining up with some Golden Age heroes from DC’s roster. Green Lantern finds himself in the company of Easy Company, but without any power left in his ring, forcing him to rely on his Marine training. Wonder Woman finds herself with Steve Trevor, and they are involved in some espionage shenanigans. Hawkgirl, Superman and the Flash join up with The Blackhawks, and they’re involved in some good ol’ fashion dogfighting and bombing. Martian Manhunter, meanwhile, gets captured but escapes easily and gathers some good intelligence on Savage and his plans. Oh, and he discovers a frozen Hitler. Eventually, the League manages to reunite and stop Savage’s plan of an invasion of the United States. There are a lot of problems with this plan, as well as some other stuff, but I’m not going to get into it. The day is saved, Nazis are punched, and Vandal Savage is assumed dead because they don’t know he’s immortal yet.

A Better World: We start of with Superman killing the president of the United States, Lex Luthor. We then see that Superman and everyone else has apparently taken over the U.S. (loosely, since there’s still a president and such) and act as dictators. And then we learn this is a parallel universe, making things much less bizarre. However the “heroes” of this universe, known as the Justice Lords, discover the primary universe and decide to “help” them. By help, I of course mean “capture them, hold them in the Lords’ universe, and install their little tyrannical government in the League’s universe.” We learn that the reason the Lords turned to the dark side is because their version of the Flash was killed. The Flash is able to free the others, save for Hawkgirl who is in a hospital. Batman stays behind to find the dimensional portal, while the others go to get Hawkgirl. Batman ends up battling his evil counterpart, culminating in a philosophical debate about ends justifying means. Normal Batman surrenders, and him and Dark Batman go to apprehend the other League members. However, this was all a ruse on Normal Batman’s part, and he manages to convince Dark Batman that he and the other Lords have been in the wrong with all of this. Dark Batman then helps the League return to their universe to stop the Lords. The League has a brief discussion on how to accomplish this, since the Lords have proved they’re more ruthless than the League and just as powerful. Superman works out a deal with Lex Luthor, exchanging a full pardon for a power-draining ray, allowing the Lords to be easily taken into custody.

Wild Cards: The main reason I like these episodes is because of the Royal Flush Gang. Each member is voiced by one of the voice actors from Teen Titans, and supposedly the character models were even based on the voice actors. Otherwise, the episode’s not bad, but not great, I just like that little Easter Egg.

And that, citizens, is my review of Justice League. I’ll be doing Justice League Unlimited at the end of the month, but don’t expect quite the same sort of review for that. For one thing, there will hopefully be pictures! I had some issues watching these episodes, and my Mac doesn’t seem to want to take screen shots. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get these issues resolved prior to the review.

Check back on Thursday for your usual update!

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