Justice League: The Season So Far
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, © 2002
Directors: Butch Lukick, Dan Riba; Writers: Rich Fogel, Stan Berkowitz
||Superhero animated series / comic adaptation
||August 28, 2002
9/10 (What Is This?)
The first season of Cartoon Network's "Justice League" animated series has been
on the air for nearly a year now -- most of the time in reruns. Which is unfortunate
for those of us who are attempting to become addicted to the show. I reviewed
the first feature-length episode, "Secret Origins," when it premiered. You can
find that review here. As I write this, a 3-episode story will air as a movie-length
story, and a couple of new two-episode stories are left in the first season. A
second season is already in the works.
I've rated all the episodes individually, and then as a whole. While we're waiting for the new shows (and waiting, and... OK, I'll stop right there), here is the season so far.
IN BLACKEST NIGHT
This one established the John Stewart Green Lantern's character in a big way. It presented in animated form, for the first time, much of the Green Lantern comic book mythos, including GL's bosses, the little blue Guardians, the robot Manhunters, and members of the alien Green Lantern Corps, including Tomar Re and Kilowog, a fan favorite in 1980s Justice League comics.
John is the fourth character to hold the Green Lantern ring in animation. The 1960s-1990s comics GL Hal Jordan is the one everyone saw on "Super Friends." Kyle Rayner, the current comics GL, was introduced in an episode of "Superman: The Animated Series" (and is not mentioned on this series). A future GL was in an episode of "Batman Beyond."
In this episode, John is taken to intergalactic court for destroying a planet, and he admits his own guilt. John Stewart's strictly by-the-books character is given more focus in these two episodes than any other character has received throughout. It's really neat to see so much of the GL minutiae in animated form (but it's all explained well, for those who aren't well-versed). Setting all that aside, the story is quite good. Hawkgirl gets a fun scene where she beats on several Lanterns like they were rented mules, but it's totally Green Lantern's episode, including a big robot battle scene at the end.
The character is established immediately at the opening credits when he walks into his old neighborhood wearing a trench coat, and a 1970s funk-style bow-chika-BOW-BOW! theme plays. John Stewart is Shaft with a power ring. Like a true bad mother, he talks some smack to the other Green Lanterns at the end of the episode for not believing he was innocent.
THE ENEMY BELOW
Everyone knows Aquaman as the Super Friend no one wanted to play when they were kids. The comics have been trying to shed that image of him ever since, and writer Peter David succeeded, I think, in a multi-year run on an Aquaman comic that started with Aquaman having his hand eaten off by piranhas.
Aquaman was in one "Superman: The Animated Series" as a sort of eco-terrorist,
in his "Super Friends" costume, but here he's bare-chested king of undersea Atlantis
-- with his hand intact. Orm is the villain of the piece, a corrupt Atlantean
army general (he's Aquaman's evil brother Ocean Master in the comics). Orm wants
to seize the throne, of course, and tries to kill Aquaman and his son. I was surprised
to see Aquaman lose his hand here, too, in a different, and I think better, way
than in the comics.
Aquaman here is very cool. Frankly, he needed to overcompensate, after spending
the 1970s sitting in the passenger seat of Wonder Woman's invisible jet. The League
members are bystanders here, as Aquaman is given center stage to be a kicker of
sea ass. And it doesn't end like you might expect -- Aquaman shows no mercy to
the backstabbing Orm. Good stuff.
The focus here is on Wonder Woman. Evil wizard Felix Faust, voiced by "Nightmare on Elm Street"'s Robert Englund, has a big plot to use some Amazon whatchacallits to open a portal to unleash Ares, the god of war. John Rhys-Davies' booming baritone as the furious god of war is great. Paradise Island is shown, so is Wonder Woman's mother Queen Hippolyta, and Superman and Wonder Woman get in a big fist fight. Each of them is ensorcelled to think the other is a monster, but regardless, Wonder Woman wins. Up yours, Smallville!
This one's OK, but just that. While it did go into Wonder Woman's background and
character, and it gave her a lot to do, it wasn't really as entertaining as the
Green Lantern episode that did the same thing with him.
This one just didn't do anything for me. Every story in the series is 2 episodes long, but this is the first one where I felt it could have easily been done in one. It's a gladiator riff, with the cruel overlord and the honorable opponent. Mongul is the evil overlord, and Draaga is the worthy foe, both from the comics.
Nearly every Justice League episode has guest voice actors, and the guests for this one are the only really notable part about it. Eric Roberts, of direct-to-video murder flick fame, plays Mongul. Gravelly voiced William Smith plays Draaga. Smith has been in a zillion things, but I know him best as Conan's father in "Conan the Barbarian":
"No one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts." Oh yeah.
The best thing about this one is that thankfully -- finally! -- it settles the
question that has raged furiously among as many as 2 or 3 comics fans: Is it pronounced
Mon-GHOUL or Mon-gull, like the Mongols? Turns out it's Mon-gull. So I've been
wrong this whole time. I'm man enough to admit it.
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD
The series' pilot episode, "Secret Origins," was solid, but I might not have rated it so high if I wasn't flush with the exuberance of seeing all these characters walking and talking. Several of the episodes are at least as good as the pilot, but this one is the first one that is head and shoulders above it.
Green Lantern (Phil LaMarr) and Flash (Michael Rosenbaum, who double-dips in the
DC universe as Lex Luthor or "Smallville") are the stars, and their interaction
is very funny. Grodd the Super-Gorilla is the bad guy. Really, what's more fun
than a talking gorilla with a mind-control powers? Green Lantern is the by the
book guy, and The Flash isn't. It's a simple Lethal Weapon-formula setup, and
the dialogue delivers. Among a bunch of great one-liners, my favorite is when
Flash and GL infiltrate a crowd of mind-controlled humans to try to get to Grodd.
Flash hollers up at Grodd, and GL curtly whispers "Flash! Don't heckle the super-villain!"
This one features the return to DC Comics adaptations of David Ogden Stiers, Major
Winchester from "M*A*S*H." On the never-aired Justice League live-action pilot,
he played J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, all shirtless and slathered in
green body paint. J'onn J'onnz's voice is already taken on the series, by Carl
Lumbly ("MANTIS"). Instead, Stiers plays the good-guy talking gorilla Solovar
-- who ALSO doesn't wear a shirt! At least Stiers didn't have to put on a monkey
suit while doing the voice work (as far as I know). Will he ONLY play DC characters
who don't wear shirts? How many of those are left?
These two episodes are just straight-ahead fun. There's a villain, a mind-control device, a dastardly plot, two heroes, and some fighting. It's everything you want in a superhero adventure.
This episode, the sixth two-parter that aired, is the first one where anybody calls Wonder Woman "Wonder Woman." She's called by her name, Diana, in every other episode she's in. Wonder Woman is better here than in "Paradise Lost." A renegade Amazon recruits a gaggle of super-villains, including, from the "Super Friends"'' Legion of Doom, Solomon Grundy (voiced by the Joker himself, Mark Hamill). She unleashes a virus that eliminates men -- so Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl take care of business.
Hawkgirl, for me, is the show-stealer. She's never had much personality in the comics; there was never much to differentiate her from husband Hawkman. There's no Hawkman here, and the show does not need one at all. Hawkgirl is a one-woman wrecking crew who speaks fluent sarcasm and carries an electrified mace. Her eloquent battle cry "YeeaaARRRRGGGHH!" is always followed by major property damage to buildings, ships, monsters, and villains. That's just good entertainment.
Oooooh. . . I was SO MAD when I heard details about this episode months before it aired. My favorite DC comics heroes, the Justice Society, were originally set to appear. I was tickled pink, bursting with fanboy excitement to see them talk and otherwise be animated. I was also excited to see them expand the JL cartoon continuity to include those heroes, most of whom debuted in the 1930s and 1940s. I anticipated cartoon versions of those JLA-JSA teamups I read slavishly throughout my youth -- wheeeeee!
Then DC refused to let the show's producers use them, like some kind of corporate
player haters (if you can pretend that a comics nut like myself could be called
a "player.") So the producers had to replace all the JSA characters, including
the episode's villains, with brand-new made-for-cartoon ones. I was nonplussed,
needless to say. (If you want to see my earlier screed on this subject, see my
RevSF news piece HERE.)
An interview on Toonzone.net later reported that DC big bossmen thought that the
episode reflected negatively on the characters, which might, to their line of
thought, hurt sales on their big-selling Justice Society comic. That didn't make
me feel any better -- any exposure at all should be sought after, right? How bad
could the episode be?
Then I saw it... and it's really, really good. The "Justice Guild" characters are homages to the way superheroes were in DC Comics from the 1940s and 1950s. They're square-jawed and corny. The episode has fun with their quaint, cheesy behavior. The female member of the Guild assumes Hawkgirl would just LOVE to help her make snacks for the guys.
I mentioned before the show's celebrity guest voices. A really large lineup of
guests you've heard of populates this one. Among several others, including very
busy voice people Corey Burton and Jennifer Hale, are Jeffrey Jones (Mr. Rooney
from "Ferris Bueller"), Michael McKean ('Spinal Tap"). Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie
Howser, and soon to be Spider-Man on an MTV cartoon), David Naughton ("American
Werewolf in London"), Ted McGinley ("Married With Children"), Stephen Root (Bill
on "King of the Hill"), and William Katt, who returns to superheroism after starring
during the 80s in "Greatest American Hero."
Sure, some of these names are not who the general public might think of as "A-list"
-- but remember, when Hollywood big shots like Matt Damon and Drew Barrymore did
cartoon voices, it was the generic "Titan A.E." This show is very well-done, with
good writing, acting, and animation. It's a worthy successor to Batman: The Animated
Series. What was up with me, thinking they didn't know what they were doing?
|RevolutionSF News Editor and Humor Editor Joe Crowe likes his lanterns green and his women with hawk-shaped helmets.|
Things to Buy
Yes, YOU can get more from the brains behind RevSF.
RevSF on a two-tone jersey, just like the cool kids wear.