Justice League: The Animated Series (Retrospect)

With all the luck DC is having in the way of animated feature films, it’s surprising to see that their television series are experiencing a bit of a decline. Justice League and Teen Titans were the most popular, running for five seasons each, making the more recent cancellations of Young Justice and Green Lantern: The Animated Series a bit of a shock to fans of the shows. Young Justice seemed like it grabbed the best of both of its predecessors, yet it got the chop after only two seasons. Thankfully, Cartoon Network and Netflix partnered up and are giving the fans a chance to show how much we love these shows.

jl-season2-3Bruce Timm’s universe has captured the hearts of comic book fans for years, and Justice League, like the Superman and Batman series that ran before it, was phenomenal. Timm’s shows and features had a way of bringing the grand scale of the DC universe to life in a format enjoyable for fans of all ages. If any one thing could distinguish his characters from other renditions it would be the larger than life shoulders. The animation kept up that grandeur that comes along with a team as powerful as the league. Giving off the same sense of “gods among us” that an Alex Ross depiction would, with a more youth friendly appeal of course.

Justice League is structured in hour-long segments but clipped into thirty-minute slots, which made for a “to be continued” ending every other episode. The best part about the show being on instant watch is that the cliffhangers don’t really factor in anymore as you are in control of when the next time you watch will be. It wasn’t until the Unlimited subtitle was added that the series finally broke down and started telling half-hour stories. This was also when they turned up the heat on the show overall. Going back and watching it now, I’ll admit that I have a few qualms with the characters’ display of abilities not being up to par with what we all know they can do. In the amazing documentary Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman, which I highly recommend regardless of your feelings towards Supes, it was explained how difficult it is to tell the story of Superman in different mediums and keep his strengths and abilities along the same lines. In other words, sometimes you have to “nerf” down the Man of Steel to be able to drop him into dangerous situations on a regular basis. In the league, they have to do this with all the characters or else there wouldn’t really be a point in having them form a team in the first place. For comparison we can look at Marvel’s Avengers team(s) and see how each member brings something more unique to the team that makes the need for the team more necessary. This isn’t a bad thing for the league, but sometimes it’s a bit bothersome. It definitely makes for some interesting conflicts. When you have seven of the world’s biggest heroes on one team, it’s easy to see where elbows can get rubbed and egos get in the way.

Batman_and_Wonder_Woman_(Justice_League_Unlimited)2Superman for example, knows his rank on the totem pole and even chooses to point it out sometimes, and though it might look like he’s power tripping, he’s really just trying to explain that if he can take it, there’s no reason anyone else should have to. We actually get the biggest piece of insight into Superman towards the end of the series when he explains why he has to hold back all the time. The league is always quick to remind him that he doesn’t have to act alone, and in this we get to see why these heroes need the camaraderie, if not for the world’s sake then for their own.

Even Batman, who is famous for needing at the most a sidekick, benefits from the league in major ways. I mean think about it. Batman, the best at everything he does, now has back up. If you were to split the league into roles, it would be Batman and everyone else. Okay, so that’s oversimplifying it a bit, but think of it like this, on a team where he’s the only one without superpowers, Batman comes in handy more often than not as the one who gets to move through the conflicts in stealth and take out the device or disarm the weapons while the rest of the league handles the heavy lifting.

Another great thing about this series is, unlike this article so far, the show does a fantastic job at shedding light on the rest of the league as well. Filling out the third end of the trinity is Wonder Woman, the Amazonian princess who, banished from her homeland, joins the league as the perfect example of someone who gets the job done. If I had to define her role, she’d be just as much a soldier as Green Lantern or Hawk Girl. These are the characters that know the difference between a call to arms and a time for diplomacy. Speaking of Green Lantern, this show was the platform in which Jon Stewart was able to shine (get it?) and show us how the power ring truly is a formidable weapon. GL’s area of expertise is battle itself. Always organized and always showing his military roots. Thanks to the lack of a season wide story arc, each member of the league gets an episode centralized around them and one of their own villains. The Unlimited part of the series gives us more insight into the characters outside of the original seven members. I mean how many of you knew there was a character named Vigilante that was a cowboy who rides a motorcycle? Who by the way is voiced by fanboy favorite, Mr. Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle).

JL_FlashThere are several great actors who lend voices to the heroes of the league. To me, the quintessential Batman voice IS Kevin Conroy. Conroy has lent his vocals to the dark knight more times than I care to count and in this writer’s opinion should be the standard to which anyone else dawning the bat crest should be held to. Another great voice is that of Phil LaMarr, long time and multi talented voice actor who brings Green Lantern John Stewart alive with perfect tonality. There are several others who voice the masses of the DC heroes and villains, including Mark Hamill who reprises his role as The Joker and even Solomon Grundy, yet another quintessential voicer setting the standard. Other’s you might recognize include Michael Rosenbaum, who played Lex Luthor in the hit TV series Smallville, gives the quirky humor to the Flash that we all grow to love, Ted Levine (Sinestro), Ron Perlman (Orion), James Remar (Hawkman), Morena Baccarin (Black Canary), and even Lord of the Rings actor John Rhys-Davies (Lord Hades) helps give some zest to the characters.

Dustin Sanson

Dustin Sanson

Dustin Sanson

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