Background: I've been a fan of comic books super heroes for as long as I can remember, collecting them back in the 1960's and beyond as I reveled in their exploits of daring do. More of a DC Comics fan (initially) than Marvel or third party producers, I would go to conventions back when most of us did so for the fun of the material, not as a means of financial enrichment. One of my favorite groups of heroes was always the Legion of Super Heroes, a band of futuristic teenagers that were created in the late 1950's as a spinoff of the popular Superboy series, the group starting off small but growing with time. Well, it took long enough but back in 2006, the CW Network finally decided to release a show about the team, and I now get to review Legion of Super Heroes V3.
The sparse menu page
Series: Legion of Super Heroes V3 is a set of five episodes from the first season of the show, including the two part season finale. Set in the 31st Century, a group of three teenagers with special abilities saves the life of the richest man in the Universe. Out of appreciation, he sets them up to form a group where they go around saving people and planets (if not the Universe itself) with their gifts, the team growing as others hear of their mission, their inspiration being the exploits of a certain super powered being a thousand years prior that wears a large "S" on his chest. In this version of the group, Superman is more of a clueless teenager (ala Smallville) but afforded the respect he earned from decades of fighting villains and saving the day even though he is unaware of it just yet. The other major players are telepathic Saturn Girl, electric wielding Lightning Lad, hyper intelligent Brainiac 5, rotund Bouncing Boy, immaterial Phantom Girl, and others given less screen time. Remember that the group has evolved tremendously over the decades since its creation in 1958 so the multitude of liberties is to be expected.
Not having seen the previous two volumes of the show (which I skipped watching since WB decided to not offer season sets), I am at a disadvantage to providing a detailed summary of the beginning of the show but I can state with a modicum of confidence that having kept up with the LoSH from the late 60's until the mid 80's, I have a fair background in what worked (and what didn't) when it came to the dynamics of the comics they were in. I was a bit put off that they skipped on Supergirl as well as some of the better heroes of past generations but the basic elements for a successful run were present. Superman (voiced by Yuri Lowenthal of Ben 10: Alien Force fame) was clutzy and not the polished hero of past efforts with the group, and Brainiac 5 was as egotistical as ever, albeit not stuck in his lovesick phase due to the missing Kara. Most surprising of all was the leadership role by Bouncing Boy (the lamest character ever invited to join the group) here since he did manage to prove his worth in the comics, it took a very long time to establish and others were far superior. If you're going to make an animated series out of a comic book, wouldn't using the best material first strike you as the best path to take?
The team holding auditions
Okay, the five episodes here were The Substitutes, Child's Play, Chain of Command, and parts one and two of Sundown. The first one dealt with the always weak Legion of Substitute Heroes, teens that tried out for the major leagues and ended up relegated to the minors. They proved their worth in this episode but it could have been done better with less comic attempts to make them appear stupider than they are (were!) and as the first episode I watched, it set a bad tone for me. Just as unappealing was the second episode that used a nasty little magician as the main foe of the show, really giving the heroes little to do (and causing me to fall asleep twice when I watched it). The following three episodes were much more in tune with the feel of the original comic books (at least the late 1960's version of the Legion), albeit watered down in terms of character development, but at least some of the angst of the characters facing tough decisions was presented and the greater good of the group was showcased.
The Legion of Substitute Heroes getting thanked.
I'll be the first to admit that breaking up the season into three discs pissed me off and getting two shitty episodes to start my viewing of the show pushed me further along the "why am I doing this?" path, but the basic elements that I needed to see to like the show were there, just not reaching their full potential. I hear the show made a second season that was better in most ways but was cancelled over ratings issues, maybe future releases will include the whole series at a decent price to sweeten the deal. To be fair, the LoSH was always designed to appeal to a younger crowd and my day in that sense is long gone, but my sense of the marketing done by Warner Brothers for shows like this always leads me to wonder if they expect instantaneous results with weak marketing efforts deployed to save a few bucks. In any case, this DVD not having any extras and the episodes airing freely on television without anything extra makes this one a tough call but I'll be generous as a long time fan of the group itself and rate it as a Rent It.
Four of the Fatal Five
Picture: Legion of Super Heroes V3 was presented in a colorful 1.33:1 ratio full frame as it was originally created for airing on Saturday morning television back in 2006. The MPEG-2 encoding for this standard version, 480i resolution offering was decent and while I have not been able to compare it to the broadcast version, it struck me as standard fare for the genre (nothing special). The cartoonish animation was less Japanese like than I am used to but I'm not a snob in that sense so while I would have preferred it look more detailed and have a better frame rate, it was passable for what it was designed to do (provide a kiddy audience with some immediate gratification). That limits the adult appeal of the show and may have been a reason why it failed but the characters were cleanly depicted and I saw few visual blemishes worth discussing outside of some light pattern noise on rare occasion. I included some screen captures to give you a better idea of the look, even if the video bitrate tended to be on the low side when I checked.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of an English 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo using a 192 Kbps bitrate with 48 kHz sampling rate or a French dub under the same specifications, both with optional dub-titles in English for the hard of hearing. The voice actors could have used more polish and the balance between the music (too generic) as well as the audio effects was not always as good as expected but it was generally better than most of the weekend fare I'm used to listening to. There was little separation between the two channels and the dynamic range indicative of a low budget cartoon but again, I expected very little from it.
Extras: There were no extras at all.
Final Thoughts: Legion of Super Heroes V3 could have been a major contender for my hard earned cash if it had been treated right from the very beginning but it lacked a lot of marketing push, the writing fell flat all too often, and the low budget look of the show was as much at fault as the creative decisions to dumb it down to the lowest common denominator much of the time. I know that cartoons must rely on a different sensibility than written comics and episodes are so quickly over with that a writer is often confined to certain types of plots but no new ground was tread here, nor was the entire concept of the Legion of Super Heroes ever really explored to the degree it could have been. In Chain of Command it showed more promise than the rest of the volume in terms of character development but even then it was inconsistently applied, making me long for a day when a more adult version of the material is given a chance to shine in an animated format but give it a look if you have potential young legionnaires in the house as it might interest them enough to check out your old stash of classic comics on the group.