Saturday, September 27, 2008

Justice League Unlimited: A Review and a Prayer

If you haven't noticed yet, there is a serious glut of comic books making their way to the big and small screens. Surprisingly, most of these attempts are excellent, many are simply good, and only a select few are crap.

Of the outstanding ones, we have the first two X-Men films, the first two Spider-Man films, the two new Batman films, Superman Returns, Iron Man, Hellboy, and a few non-superhero adaptations like Road to Perdition and 300.

In the good category, there are the two Fantastic Four entries, The Punisher, both of the Hulk films (albeit arguably), Blade, and others like A History of Violence.

The garbage includes Daredevil and Ghost Rider (both directed by Mark Steven Johnson, which should tell people something), Catwoman (which had nothing to do with the comic book character) and most of the third entries in various trilogies (X-Men, Spider-Man, Blade, etc.).

On TV we get to watch apparently excellent Smallville (I have only seen a couple of episodes), the very good non-comic-based Heroes, and a plethora of cartoons, both good and bad.

Which brings me to the glorious standard of animated superheroes: the DC animated universe (DCAU). In it, we were given the absolutely phenomenal Batman: The Animated Series, the consistent Superman: The Animated Series, a couple of still-good but more obscure cartoons (such as Static Shock), and the pinnacle of superhero cartoons: Justice League Unlimited (which began life as the two-season Justice League).

Other DC entries have been, admittedly, child-oriented crap, and it's no accident that the aforementioned DCAU series was produced by the venerable Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, who have nothing to do with DC's other cartoons.

Marvel cartoons have only come close to the quality offered by the DCAU once, with the 1990s cartoon version of the X-Men.

Unfortunately, and somewhat inexplicably, Warner Brothers and DC pulled the plug on the DCAU, and motion picture comic fans have been feeling the sting ever since.

Justice League Unlimited was, and I can't emphasize this enough, the best superhero cartoon television series of all time. In fact, if one includes the DCAU Batman and Superman series, what we witnessed was the best superhero television-in-general series of all time.

Mature storylines, rife with violence, sexual tension, and geopolitical plots, supported by a who's-who of DC comic book characters, made this the must-see comic adaptation of the past, well, ever.

The characters were developed, dimensional, and depicted both strengths and weaknesses often ignored by other series. Even Superman, the one character most easily turned cardboard, was written with an attitude that made you love him or hate him, depending on what he was in the middle of.

The show explored relationships the comic book universe rarely explored, or even thought of (a hint of a Batman-Wonder Woman love affair was fantastic, even if underdeveloped and short-lived). The black Green Lantern, John Stewart, was taken from his stereotypical roots and given a believable background worthy of a superhero. And the list goes on.

But, alas, the show is no more, having been canceled in 2006. As such, we'll never get to see the Dini-Timm version of the Legion of Superheroes, set up via a backdoor pilot in an episode in the final season of JLU. We'll never get to find out what happened to Lex Luthor and Darkseid, who disappeared together in a blaze of glory in the series' final episode. We'll never know if the JLU was able to save Longshadow from his degenerative state. And we'll never get to see if Green Lantern reveals to Hawkgirl that he met their child in the future.

And that just plain sucks.

In all honesty, Heroes is not as intriguing as JLU was. As a cartoon, JLU wasn't limited by special effects, or by large casts. As a cartoon, it could sneak in pop-culture references without the gratuitous eye-rolling that often acompanies an audience reaction to a live-action series. As a cartoon, well, it could do damn-well whatever it wanted.

DC should bring it back. Given the current muddled state that DC's actual comic book universe is in, JLU was, quite simply, the best and most consistent product they were putting out.

Don't let it fade away.


  1. Give it time. Someone at DC will figure it out eventually. There's a reason their "All Star" titles are gaining in popularity.

    Posted by JeffScape on October 1, 2008 - Wednesday - 4:48 AM

  2. I wish they would bring it back, too. And they must hear it all the time from plenty of fans. So, they will never bring it back.

    I have come to the point, I believe, where the DC I knew and loved is dead. A new DC is in it's place, and frankly sir, I don't like it.

    Posted by Joe on September 27, 2008 - Saturday - 8:44 AM