After having great success with animating Batman and Superman, Bruce
Timm and Paul Dini took a bold step and decided to bring the Justice
League of America to the small screen. The classic DC Comics superhero
team had been around for decades, but previous cartoon versions always
left fans of the comics cold. Timm and Dini wisely avoided the pitfalls
of the early incarnations; there aren't any teens tagging along with the
group (something TV execs in the past had insisted on so that kids would
have someone to relate to. Apparently these executives had never
been kids themselves) and the dump pets that populated Superfriends
are not to be found anywhere. Instead Timm based the show on DC's
greatest heroes and concentrated on telling stories that didn't talk down
to kids. Filling the shows with superhero action and a touch of comedy,
the program is a worth successor to Batman: The Animated Series
and Superman. The first season has now come to Blu-ray, and
while it regrettably has the same fullscreen transfer that the DVD set
contained, the show looks better than ever.
Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, The Flash,
and J'onn J'onzz the Martian Manhunter: They are the world's greatest
heroes who have teamed up to protect the world from evil and threats that
are too great for any single member to combat. Guarding the Earth
from their satellite headquarters, this team is always ready to jump into
This first season has them fighting a slew of menaces, from war machines
that come from Mars to conquer our planet to Gorilla Grodd and a renegade
Amazonian, Aresia. Not all of the stories are based on Earth either.
When Green Lantern is kidnapped and tried in an alien court the heroes
travel off planet, and Superman and J'onn are taken prisioner on the War
World and forced to fight in gladiator-like combats. This mix of
terrestrial an alien menaces keep the show fresh and different, viewers
never know where the story will take them next.
The best part about this series is that it captures the fun and wonder
that the JLA and other superhero comics held when you were a kid.
The characters are still bigger than life and while each one has a distinct
personality, they are all heroic. Flash (based on the Wally West
incarnation of the character) is an impulsive guy who is quick to poke
fun at a situation and rarely takes danger seriously. Green Lantern
(the John Stewart version, mostly) is a hard-nosed military man who wants
to do things by the book. Batman is secretive and untrusting, and
Wonder Woman, new to 'man's world' is surprised by much that she sees and
experiences. The interaction between these heroes of differing temperaments
gives the show a sense of fun.
One great thing about this series is that they didn't let themselves
be limited by the half-hour format. All of the stories are multiparters,
taking two or three episodes to tell the tale. This is as it should
be. Earth shaking villains such as the once the Justice League faces
shouldn't be introduced, create terror, and be captured all in 22 minutes
(without commercials.) They stories need more time to unfold at a
good rate, but not feel rushed. While there are a couple of stories
that aren't quite as exciting as the others, it's to the creator's credit
that they took their time with all of these tales.
One of my favorite adventures in this season is "The Enemy Below" that
includes a guest appearance by Aquaman. He's decided enough is enough
and declares war on the surface world. Aquaman, the king of Atlantis
was very regal in this episode, something that doesn't always come across
in the comics.
Another great story was "Metamorphosis" which stared one of my favorite
DC characters, Metamorpho. Yeah, he's a bit silly, but in this episode
they tap into the tragic aspect of his story and it also shows just how
powerful someone who can change their molecular makeup at will can be.
I always though he was an underutilized hero and it was nice to see him
in this series.
The season really ends on a high note too, with arguable the best story
of the season. In "The Savage Time" the league returns from a mission
in space to discover that the world has changed drastically. The
whole planet is ruled by a dictator: Vandal Savage. The league
quickly discovers that Savage used a time machine to alter the outcome
of WWII and they have to travel into the past to set things right.
An exciting tale that includes a cameo by Steve Trevor from Wonder Woman
The most notable change that fans of the earlier Timm/Dini DC cartoons
will notice is that while Kevin Conroy continues to voice Batman, Tim Daly
is no longer the actor who plays the Man of Steel. He has been replaced
by George Newbern. There was a lot of criticism of Newbern's portrayal
when the series was first aired, and some of it was valid. In this
first year, Superman's voice doesn't quite have the gravitas and awe inspiring
feeling that it should. While he doesn't do a bad job, it's not quite
as impressive as Daly's performances. This is corrected in the second
season, where Newbern really gets a handle on his character.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The 26 episodes (telling 12 stories) that make up the first season
are presented on three Blu-ray discs. These come in a case about
1 ½ times as wide as a regular Blu-ray case with a page inside that
holds two discs. There is also an insert that gives the contents of each
The big disappointment with this set is that the video is presented
with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. While the shows were broadcast with that
ratio originally, they were designed to be shown in widescreen and the
creators have stated that this was their original intent. I
can only guess that they've followed Disney's lead and decided that children's
shows and movies should be released only in full frame. That really sucks
and they loose a star on the video rating for that.
Aside from that gripe, the show looks very good. The colors are
bright and vivid and the blacks and nice and solid. The lines are
tight too. On the digital side things also look good. There
is a small bit of banding in a couple of scenes, but it is never major.
Aside from that the show looks fine.
This set comes a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio that sounds fine for a children's
TV show but isn't really as dynamic and exciting as it could be.
The audio doesn't make as much use of the surrounds as I would have liked,
with most of the action centered on the screen. There is some use
of the front soundstage, including some nice pans during some of the action
sequences, but nothing exceptional.
The set ports over all of the bonus items found on the earlier DVD release
of this show, with the video extras being presented in SD. First
off there are a trio of commentary tracks by Bruce Timm, James Tucker,
Glen Murkakami, Rich Fogel, and Dan Riba. They comment on "The Enemy
Below Part 2", "Legends Part 2", and "The Savage Time Part 2", and their
comments are lively and interesting. They discuss the changes the
characters underwent going from the four color page to the small screen
and why, as well as how the stories evolved. A great set of audio
The video bonus items start out with "Inside Justice League" a 10-minute
discussion with the creators who talk about why certain characters were
selected for the team and the genesis of the show. It was very informative
and I wish it had lasted longer. There's also a five minute promo
that was used to sell the show, a look at the character designs, and a
look at how storyboards are used in the show. The extras are wrapped
up with a Blackhawk Theme music video.
A very fun and enjoyable show, if you liked the animated adventures
of Batman and Superman, you need to pick this up too. The Blu-ray
presentation makes these shows look better than I've ever seen them, but
it's too bad that they are still in full frame mode, rather than the director's
preferred 1.78:1 ratio. In any case, this is a set that belongs on
every animation fan's shelf. Highly Recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do
not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.