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Justice League Review

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by Simon Crust Apr 1, 2006 at 12:00 AM

  • Bob Kane's 1939 creation of Batman is a wonderfully complex character. Haunted by the murder of his parents, Bruce Wayne dons his cowl to strike terror and vengeance on wrong doers, a steadfast vigilante, a loner, a horror. At least that was his original premise and that is how he is generally perceived nowadays. Yet previous to 1989, Batman's demeanour was considered slightly less, as memories of Adam West's campy portrayal dominated the psyche. It took enterprising director Tim Burton to restore the dark to the Dark Knight, and it is his interpretation that forever changed how he is projected on screen. In fact it was this direct comparison that set the mood for Bruce Timm's 1992 cartoon Batman, even down to the music. Concentrating on mood, characterisation and then action and adventure, Timm's interpretation refused to compromise to children, it was an adult show with adult themes, and the kids loved it. Following this success Timm and his team turned to Superman, adding their own darker spin to this much loved superhero, with very similar results. Perhaps, inevitably, then Timm approached the Cartoon Network, the station financing the shows, with an even bigger idea; the Justice League (of America). Based, again, on the DC comic of the same name, which was produced at a time of dwindling individual comic books, an idea to put together, in a permanent cross over, all the top selling superheroes, together with some slightly less so, in one all encompassing crime fighting league.The heroes chosen for the show were, obviously, the big three, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman (don't ever remember her being able to fly though; I thought she had an invisible jet plane?) together with The Flash, in his latest guise of Wally West, J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, (abilities include telepathy and shape changing), Hawkgirl, a police officer with wings and a mace, from the planet Thanagar, and finally John Stewart of the Green Lantern Corps. (controversially chosen over apparent fan-favorite Hal Jordan). These last two were chosen to add some diversity to the group dynamic. So, seven superheroes, each with their own story to tell, united with the common goal of saving Earth. Can anyone see the problem? Thankfully the creators did to, with so many characters, each needing screen time to tell the story, episode length was always going to be a problem; the standard half hour show (actually twenty minutes with adverts removed) is simply not enough time so each story is given two, or three episodes. Not only does this expand the story line, but also adds that 'Saturday morning serial' feel, you have to tune in to see the outcome of the adventure. And what adventures the League have, defending the world against the same alien invaders that decimated Mars and J'onzz own people, battle the armies of Atlantis as Aquaman's brother declares war on the surface world, fight against Lex Luthor's Injustice league in what is the best episodes of the series, defend the Isle of Amazons from a dark wizard, battle rogue Amazons, are transported to alternate dimensions and also back in time, to name but a few. The emphasis is on action and adventure, thrills and spills, a departure from the character driven fair of the earlier cartoons, and this, together with the amount of characters does create a problem. Principally the season is all crash bang wallop, there is pretty much no depth given, so very quickly becomes monster of the week, fight, fight, fight. Even for kids this is not enough, especially since the shows forbearers were so much darker and complex. Though a little characterisation was added towards the end it is rather too little too late; though sensing this, the creators have improved the story writing considerable in later seasons.

    One area hailed as a significant problem was the apparent weakness of Superman, it seems anything electrical can render him useless. This is addressed by the creators in their discussions and commentaries as beefing up the enemies, “if they can take down Superman, they gotta be tough”, though admittance is made, that they did go a little too far and weakened him too much. Personally, I didn't find it too much of a problem, ever since Chris Reeve turned back time 1978, Superman has become rather more than super, more impossible; so it was a refreshing change to see him super, but fallible again. Of course no such problems with Batman, once again voiced by Kevin Conroy, a job his held since 1992 now. Always in the background, preferring to “work alone”, if ever the League get into too much difficulty, he is always there to save the day. Other recognisable voices are Clancy Brown reprising his Luthor voice from Superman Animated series, Mark Hamill is back as The Joker, other includes Rene Auberjonois, Powers Boothe, Robert Englund, Udo Kier, Virginia Madsen, Robert Picardo, John Rhys-Davies and Eric Roberts, to name a very few.

    The style of animation is in keeping with the other series', quite angular with emphasis on shadows and depth. It is, however, much lighter in tone, with a complete redesign of Metropolis to a more open platform. I quite like it, there are decent attempts at three dimensions, movement is not stilted and voice sync is very good. As mentioned above one or two too many explosions, but at least they look good.

    Overall the season arc is wholly good, the short comings in the script not with standing the action and style are enough to keep one tuning in week after week, even if twenty six episodes at once was a little over powering.