It's a good time to be a superhero superfan, with the unprecedented hit The Dark Knight (based on DC's Batman comics) riding high in movie theatres and the folks at Marvel Films swimming in money from Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. But in 2001 (before Spider-Man hit theatres), the torch was still being carried by Bruce Timm and his comic-book-loving cohorts in the Warner Brothers Animation department. Having logged hours of acclaimed Batman and Superman animated adventures, creator/executive producer Timm got the greenlight for a Justice League of America series that would put the loveably corny Super Friends in its place.
Justice League gathered DC's big three: brooding Batman (Kevin Conroy), "Boy Scout" Superman (George Newbern), and Amazonian ass-kicker Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg). But it also introduced to a new generation of young fans—and reintroduced to giddy comic geeks—the forlorn Martian J'onn J'onzz (Carl Lumbly), horny wiseacre Flash (Michael Rosenbaum), testy ex-Marine Green Lantern (Phil LaMarr), and enigmatic Hawkgirl (Maria Canals). Only the greatest of challenges would necessitate the teaming of the world's finest superheroes, and Timm's stable of writers (including Rich Fogel, Stan Berkowitz, and Dwayne McDuffie) were more than up to the task. The sophistication of Timm's shows shames the simplistic animated adventures of my youth, and Justice League's first season was only a warmup for the amazing stories to follow. The highly visual, action-packed inaugural season offered a surprisingly consistent level of quality and creative energy as the writers gleefully raided DC's history for classic heroes and villains.
In visual style, these episodes owe a particular debt to the work of comics artist Jack Kirby, and the stories also benefit enormously from the full scoring by the likes of Lolita Ritmanis. Following the development from Batman: The Animated Series to Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League tells a lot of science-fiction/fantasy stories, with clear influences from Star Wars and Star Trek in design and plotting. The writers encourage tension within the ranks, including sexual tension: another evolutionary step for an animated superhero team-up series. Of course, the most important source remained the original DC comics, the rich history of which fed nicely into this upgrade to children's home entertainment. (Skip to the bottom of the page for the complete Blu-Ray/DVD review...)
1. “Secret Origins“ Writer: Rich Fogel. Directors: Dan Riba & Butch Lukic. Original Air Date: 11/17/01.
2. “Secret Origins, part II“ Writer: Rich Fogel. Director: Dan Riba & Butch Lukic. Original Air Date: 11/17/01.
3. “Secret Origins, part III“ Writer: Rich Fogel. Director: Dan Riba & Butch Lukic. Original Air Date: 11/17/01.
Senator and former astronaut J. Allen Carter (Gary Cole) enlists Superman's help in convicing the World Assembly to disarm their weapons of mass destruction, leaving the Earth vulnerable to alien invasion. The League forms to answer the crisis, and we learn the secret origin of Martian Manhunter J'onn J'onzz (Snapper Carr, voiced by Jason Marsden, covers the superhero beat). The awesome display of teamwork resolves in the newly built JL HQ: the Watchtower.
4. “In Blackest Night“ Writer: Stan Berkowitz. Director: Dan Riba & Butch Lukic. Original Air Date: 11/19/01.
5. “In Blackest Night, part II“ Writer: Stan Berkowitz. Director: Dan Riba & Butch Lukic. Original Air Date: 11/26/01
Green Lantern takes center stage in this intergalactic story that finds him on trial for his life. The Green Lantern Corps and Guardians of the Universe play key roles. A troubling question arises: though Green Lantern is innocent, couldn't he just as easily have been guilty? And what then? Perish the thought. Guest stars include Garrett Morris, Brian George, Rene Auberjonois, Kurtwood Smith, and James Remar.
6. “The Enemy Below“ Writer: Kevin Hopps. Director: Dan Riba. Original Air Date: 12/03/01
7. “The Enemy Below, part II“ Writer: Kevin Hopps. Director: Dan Riba. Original Air Date: 12/10/01.
The story of Aquaman (Scott Rummell), fierce defender of the underwater city of Atlantis. Treachery within his ranks complicates the League's attempts to make peace and leads to significant personal sacrifice for Aquaman.
8. “Injustice for All" Writer: Stan Berkowitz. Director: Butch Lukic. Original Air Date: 09/06/02.
9. “Injustice for All, part II“ Writers: Stan Berkowitz. Director: Butch Lukic. Original Air Date: 09/13/02.
This sinfully entertaining outing introduces a line-up of supervillains in opposition to the Justice League: Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown), the Joker (Mark Hamill), the Ultra-Humanite (Ian Buchanan), Copperhead (Jose Yenque), Cheetah (Sheryl Lee Ralph), Solomon Grundy (Hamill), Shade (Stephen McHattie), and Star Sapphire (Olivia d'Abo). Fast-paced and funny, complete with Zan & Jayna allusion.
10.“Paradise Lost“ Writer: Joseph Kuhr. Director: Dan Riba. Original Air Date: 01/21/02
11. “Paradise Lost, part II“ Writer: Joseph Kuhr. Director: Dan Riba. Original Air Date: 01/28/02.
To save her home of Themyscira (and her mother Hippolyta), Wonder Woman will need a little help from her Super Friends. The unholy alliance of sorcerer Felix Faust (Robert Englund) and Hades (John Rhys Davies) results in a spectacular battle between Superman and Wonder Woman.
12. “War World“ Writer: Stan Berkowitz. Director: Butch Lukic. Original Air Date: 02/24/02.
13. “War World, part II“ Writer: Stan Berkowitz. Director: Butch Lukic. Original Air Date: 03/02/02
The Running Man, superhero style, as Superman is forced to fight in alien gladiatorial games. A slugfest that also includes reference to "turning the other cheek," justice, and honor, "War World" features guest stars Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight), David Paymer, and William Smith.
14. “The Brave and the Bold“ Writer: Dwayne McDuffie, Rich Fogel and Paul Dini. Director: Dan Riba. Original Air Date: 03/10/02.
15. “The Brave and the Bold, part II“ Writer: Dwayne McDuffie, Rich Fogel and Paul Dini. Director: Dan Riba. Original Air Date: 03/17/02.
Flash and Green Lantern spend some testy quality time together in this distinctively funny two-parter about the best and worst of Gorilla City. Chief of security Solovar (David Ogden Stiers) growls, "Get your stinking paws off me, you filthy human!" and he's one of the good gorillas. Don't mess with Grodd (Powers Boothe); other guest stars include Virginia Madsen, Bill Duke, and Phil Morris.
16. “Fury“ Writer: Stan Berkowitz and Dwayne McDuffie. Director: Butch Lukic. Original Air Date: 04/07/02.
17. “Fury, part II“ Writer: Stan Berkowitz. Director: Butch Lukic. Original Air Date: 04/14/02.
Amazonian adoptee Aresia (Julie Bowen) declares war on men in this outing that's rather thought-provoking for a kid's cartoon. Tsukuri (Karen Maruyama) joins returning baddies Copperhead, Grundy, Shade, and Star Sapphire in aiding Aresia; on the heroes' side, Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl work overtime.
18. “Legends“ Writer: Andrew Kreisberg. Director: Dan Riba. Original Air Date: 04/21/02
19. “Legends, part II“ Writer: Andrew Kreisberg. Director: Dan Riba. Original Air Date: 04/28/02
Pure, unadulterated fun, as the creative staff pays tribute to Gardner Fox and the Golden Age of DC Comics. Standing in for the Justice Society of America, the Justice Guild meets the Justice League when a rift opens between alternate universes. The unusual situation allows Flash, Green Lantern, J'onn J'onzz, and Hawkgirl to schmooze with the Streak, Green Guardsman, Tom Turbine, Black Siren, and Cat Man.
20. “A Knight of Shadows“ Writer: Keith Damron. Director: Butch Lukic. Original Air Date: 09/20/02
21. “A Knight of Shadows, part II“ Writer: Keith Damron. Director: Butch Lukic. Original Air Date: 09/27/02.
The Camelot myth goes wild in this story involving Morgaine Le Faye (d'Abo), Jason Blood/Etrigan (Michael T. Weiss), a Hugh Hefner stand-in named Harv Hickman (SCTV's Dave Thomas), and the Philosopher's Stone, the powerful gem from the hilt of Excalibur. Bewitched by Le Faye, J'onn J'onzz almost trades in heroism for a pleasing fantasy: a reunion with his forever-lost family. Michael Gough (Batman), W. Morgan Sheppard, and Pam Grier guest star, and the infamous Batusi is also spottable on a dance floor.
22. “Metamorphosis“ Writer: Len Uhley. Director: Dan Riba. Original Air Date: 10/04/02.
23. “Metamorphosis, part II“ Writer: Dwayne McDuffie and Len Uhley. Director: Dan Riba. Original Air Date: 10/11/02.
Green Lantern John Stewart reunites with old friend Rex Mason (Tom Sizemore), but the good times are short-lived once Mason is turned against his will into a freak of nature capable of shape-shifting: the soon-to-be hero Metamorphosis. A King Kong climax puts a clever capper on a tragic, touching story of dealing with "monstrosity."
24. “The Savage Time“ Writer: Stan Berkowitz. Director: Butch Lukic & Dan Riba. Original Air Date: 11/09/02.
25. “The Savage Time, part II“ Writer: Stan Berkowitz. Director: Butch Lukic & Dan Riba. Original Air Date: 11/09/02.
26. “The Savage Time, part III“ Writer: Stan Berkowitz. Director: Butch Lukic & Dan Riba. Original Air Date: 11/09/02.
The common science-fiction tradition of imagining a "what if" world in which the Nazis won WWII gets a superhero spin in this epic that pulls in a large quantity of DC's '40s-set characters: the Blackhawks (Robert Picardo voices their leader), American operative Steve Trevor (Patrick Duffy), and Sgt. Rock (Fred Dryer). Other guest stars include Ted Levine, Dave Thomas, and Phil Morris as dictator Vandal Savage. War Wheels and a Hitler-sicle are only two of the amazing spectacles in the season finale.
Warner Home Video delivers a gorgeous presentation of Justice League on Blu-Ray, in a three-disc set that mirrors the content of 2005's four-disc DVD set. While the DVD set was nothing to sneeze at, the Blu-Ray transfers are crystal clear, with eye-popping color: nearly flawless, save for a very mild jaggie here or there. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack adds to the excitement of the big action scenes and rousing scores.
All of the bonus features from the DVD edition are retained. "The Enemy Below, part II" commentary by Bruce Timm, James Tucker, Glen Murakami, Rich Fogel, and Dan Riba covers why the series did two (and three) parters as a matter of course, the aspect ratio issue, casting, the Aquaman design, music, challenging action, and pushing the limits of a cartoon storyline. The "Legends, part II" commentary by the same folks discusses the development of a knockoff "Justice Society of America," setting the proper tone, the thinking behind the use or non-use of Green Lantern power-ring "constructs," and the ray of hope tacked onto an otherwise dark story. "The Savage Time, part II" commentary mostly geeks out on the resuscitated classic DC characters, but with lots of miscellany along the way.
"Inside Justice League" (9:11) is a creators' panel discussion with Timm, Riba, Tucker, and Fogel. Jason Hillhouse moderates as the creative staff explains their decisions in launching and refining the series. BEWARE: if you have not already seen later seasons of Justice League, this feature contains a major plot spoiler. "The Look of the League" (4:17) features Timm discussing character design as we see sketches and design sheets. "Justice League: The First Mission" (5:53) is the original promo reel pitch for the series, which displays certain character and stylistic choices that were wisely abandoned.
"Storyboards: The Blueprint for Justice" (7:10) alows Riba, Timm, and Tucker to explain the importance of storyboards to an animated show like Justice League; we also see some prime examples of the art. Previously a DVD Easter Egg, "The Blackhawk Theme" Music Video (2:40) no longer hides. Introduced by Bruce Timm, it's a Comic-Con reel of "Savage Time" footage set to Lolita Ritmanis' score. Superhero fans, run, don't walk to collect this terrific series, made sparkling on Blu-Ray.
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