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Butch Lukic, Dan Riba
Phil LaMarr, Carl Lumbly, George Newbern, Michael Rosenbaum, Kevin Conroy
Stan Berkowitz, Rich Fogel

Not Rated.

Standard 1.33:1
English Dolby Surround
None; Closed-captioned

Runtime: 60 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 4/23/2002

• None.


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Justice League (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Although my days as an active comic book fan reside long behind me, I retain an interest in the form and the characters. Because of this, I decided I’d give Justice League a look when it arrived on my doorstep.

The DVD offers the pilot episode for an animated TV series that will look familiar to fans of other WB-created programs like Batman Beyond. In this show titled “Secret Origins”, we start with a prologue. Some astronauts explore Mars and discover a secret underground lair. Although something interesting happens, we don’t see the final results, and the program jumps forward two years to the “present” (which really all seems to be the future - after all, we don’t currently have astronauts on Mars).

While there, Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy) and Superman (George Newbern) battle an odd force. In addition, Senator J. Allen Carter (Gary Cole) - one of the astronauts who we saw on Mars - promotes a peace plan through which Supes will act as the world’s defender. As part of this, all nuclear warheads are dismantled.

Unfortunately, problems arise. We quickly find that an alien force has started to infiltrate Earth, and they begin an active course of domination. Soon we meet J’On J’Onzz (Carl Lumbly), the sole survivor of the Martian culture. (Also known as the Martian Manhunter, I don’t think this show ever called him that.) J’Onzz used his psychic powers to contact a variety of superheroes, and they eventually decide to work together to stop the alien menace. In addition to J’Onzz, Supes and Bats, we encounter Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg), the Flash (Michael Rosenbaum), Hawkgirl (Maria Canals), and the Green Lantern (Phil LaMarr). (Interestingly, I don’t believe anyone refers to Wonder Woman by that name; they just use her real name of Diana. Perhaps both the titles “Martian Manhunter” and “Wonder Woman” will appear on subsequent episodes.)

Anyway, the program essentially just follows the battle to keep the aliens from taking over the Earth. The latter create factories to blot out the sun, since the aliens can’t be in the sunlight. The heroes have to work together to fight this menace at its source.

Overall, Justice League provided a moderately interesting start to the series, but the story itself suffered from a serious case of déjà vu. It applied liberal doses of War of the Worlds and War of the Worlds and lacked much originality. I also could have lived without the barely-disguised environmental theme seen via the aliens. Actually, League stole that from ID4 as well, since both featured aliens who were parasites.

The story included some logic errors that seemed glaring even for a comic book tale. Although we learn that the aliens can’t live in the sunlight, it’s very clear that at least a view of them must have survived that way. I won’t go into details - they might provide some spoilers - but the fact is that at least one or two characters had to spend time in the sun for the plot to work. No explanation appears to communicate how this could occur.

Still, it’s good to see all of the old gang, even though I don’t recognize the new Green Lantern and any memories of Hawkgirl are fuzzy at best. The Flash creates a good personality, since he’s the only joker of the bunch, and the story gets a few funny gags at Bats’ expense. The others seem somewhat flat, but again, I expect they’ll grow as the show progresses.

So I think Justice League has some potential, but the pilot episode didn’t really exploit that. The show offered some entertaining moments but simply seemed too derivative to become truly engaging. As an old superhero fan, I enjoyed my revisiting of the characters though, and I’d be interested to see where the series goes with them.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio C / Bonus D-

Justice League appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though it displayed its roots as a television animation project, the picture largely looked solid.

Sharpness was solid for the most part. A few wider shots came across as slightly soft and fuzzy, but these were rare. Overall I found the image to look crisp and detailed. Probably the most significant issue related to jagged lines. They popped up more frequently than I’d like, but that’s not rare for this sort of piece. Print flaws seemed completely absent; I detected no signs of scratches, grain, grit, speckles, tears or other defects.

Colors looked quite bold and vivid - they provided a highlight of the show. From rich blues to solid greens to accurate reds, the hues appeared quite rich and distinct. Black levels were also deep and dense and they seemed nicely rendered. Shadow detail was appropriately opaque but not excessively dark. All in all, Justice League provided a satisfying image.

While the Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Justice League had some positive elements, it suffered from some serious flaws that made it seem substandard as a whole. However, these didn’t relate to the soundfield, which appeared fairly good. It provided a nicely moody atmosphere much of the time. Quieter scenes demonstrated a solid sense of creepy ambience, and the louder ones featured decent levels of activity and involvement. The track never really caught fire and engaged me as it might, but the effects offered good movement across the front channels and the audio blended together reasonably well. The surrounds contributed moderate reinforcement of music and effects as well; they helped create a fairly good environment.

Audio quality caused the main problems. Speech seemed fine, as dialogue appeared natural and distinct. I heard no concerns related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects and music also showed acceptable clarity, and they demonstrated no distortion.

Where I encountered concerns related to the lack of range heard in the music and effects. Midrange totally dominated this track. As such, highs seemed somewhat flat and lifeless, though even they were fairly acceptable for the most part; they should have sounded brighter and more vivid, but I could live with those elements.

Unfortunately, Justice League featured rather weak bass. This really hurt the quality of the audio. The show included many action segments that screamed for deep, loud low-end response, but the soundtrack failed to deliver them. Something exploded, or a giant object crashed to the ground, but the audio emitted little oomph. This made the entire mix lifeless and ineffective. The breadth of the soundfield remained good, and the audio failed to suffer from any overt flaws like distortion, but I thought the soundtrack seemed awfully limp and tepid.

Only a few minor extras appear on Justice League. We get Character Bios, a section which offers quick notes about the seven heroes of the Justice League. Cast and Crew just shows a listing of some actors and filmmakers; we find no additional information. In the Trailers domain, we discover ads for fellow animated programs Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Batman and Mr. Freeze: Subzero, and The Batman Superman Movie as well as Scooby-Doo sneak peeks. No, the latter doesn’t offer a look at the upcoming feature film; instead, it simply touts six different animated DVDs.

Although the disc’s “Special Features” menu touts an “all-access pass” for DVD-ROM owners, all this means is you get some weblinks. The disc connects to the official WB site, WB Kids Online, and “Special Events”. Yawn.

We may not see many comic book adaptations on the big screen, but it appears the form is alive and well in TV cartoon form. While I thought Justice League suffered from a trite story, the show had promise and remained moderately entertaining. The DVD offered very good picture but only provided lackluster sound without extras. Big fans of the series will want to pick up this disc, but others may prefer to wait and see if other - potentially better - episodes appear.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.275 Stars Number of Votes: 40
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