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Justice League: Doom

Warner Bros. // PG-13 // February 28, 2012 // Region 0
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 28, 2012 | E-mail the Author
Clones. Mind control. Metahuman mimics. Counterparts on parallel words. Grief. Vengeance. Insanity. A complete loss of control. All of that's happened many times before, and it's just a matter of time before they happen again. The Justice League
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are heroes all, yes, but they're also the single greatest concentration of power the world over. The damage any single member of the League could inflict, were that power to be misused, is incalculable. In secret and over the course of many years, Batman has assembled a series of contingency plans to disable any one of his teammates should the need arise. Some of these methods of last resort strike at the core of their power; others attack their hearts and minds. All have been crafted with infallible precision. Now these plans have fallen into the wrong hands, and the Justice League is being swiftly dismantled one member at a time. Vandal Savage and his newly-assembled Legion of Doom -- Mirror Master, Bane, Metallo, Cheetah, Star Sapphire, and Ma'alefa'ak -- aren't doing this for something as mundane as mere vengeance. The stakes have never been higher, and with the Justice League in tatters, no force in existence can hope to stand in their way.

A few days before sitting down to write this review, I grabbed the "Tower of Babel" trade that Justice League: Doom uses as a springboard, and it's great. The premise is immediately compelling -- a schemer like Batman secretly plotting ways to disable or outright kill the people who trust him the most -- and the aftershock of the mistrust fostered by those contigency plans threaten to have a long-lasting impact. As much as I enjoyed those issues and as much of a fan as ever as I am of Mark Waid's writing, I was completely unprepared for how floored I'd be by Justice League: Doom. For what it's worth, this isn't at all a straight adaptation. The skeleton of its story, along with some of the general methods of disabling a couple members of the Justice League, are carried over, but most of what transpires here is unique to this movie. The League's roster has been pared down from Waid's storyline, here consisting of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, the Martian Manhunter, and Hal Jordan still carrying the mantle of Green Lantern. Cyborg makes his first animated appearance alongside the Justice League, and he's integral to the story despite not yet being a member of the team. The Tower of Babel that lent Waid's story its title has been replaced by a more directly brutal, genocidal scheme, and Ra's al Ghul and his mostly faceless henchmen make way for the far more cinematic Legion of Doom.

What really sets Justice League: Doom apart from the story that inspired it is...well, Dwayne McDuffie. This movie plays to just about all of the late writer's greatest strengths. In an animated movie with a lean runtime like this, every moment counts, and lesser writers would struggle to make the most of such a sprawling cast. McDuffie handles his character work with such brilliantly surgical precision, able to immediately establish who these heroes and villains are -- what makes them unique, what their temperments are, what their lives under the masks are like -- with just a few lines of dialogue a piece. Everyone has at least a couple of showcase moments that show off who they are and what they can do, and Justice League: Doom makes it a point to leverage their powers in inspired, wildly creative ways. It's hardly just a bunch of guys in tights punching each other and throwing stuff around. The relationships between the members of the Justice League are a defining element of this story, and the
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way they work together and the banter back and forth between them are handled remarkably well. As bleak as the tone of Justice League: Doom so often is -- teeming with mistrust, betrayal, and staring death squarely in the face -- McDuffie deftly balances that with a spectacularly witty sense of humor. The one-liners here are sharper and rightly earn more of a laugh than the previous twelve DC animated movies put together. Its final moments are also far more powerful, more effective, and more in keeping with the spirit of these characters than what made it onto the printed page.

Visually, Justice League: Doom is in the running as the strongest of DC's series of animated movies as well. The animation is dazzlingly fluid. I'm also impressed by how expressive the character designs are. There are so many flourishes that are expertly executed, such as an arm wrestling match with Superman where Ace's cybernetic arm slowly buckles and eventually shatters. I mean, it's a robot, for crying out loud, but the way it's drawn and animated still hurts to watch, and I mean that in the best possible way. The entire movie is propelled by a kinetic sense of energy that never lets up. The action sequences are intense enough to earn a PG-13 rating...not lazily exploitative or anything like that, but a few attacks do draw blood, and it's more that the fights don't pull their punches rather than revel in the sheer violence of it all. Minute for minute, I'd wouldn't be surprised if Justice League: Doom delivers more action than any of the other movies in this series to date. Again, the brawls are inspired, making the most of the heroes and villains' power sets with an aim to show viewers something they haven't seen time and time again. From the Martian Manhunter's shape-shifting battle royale in the climax to Wonder Woman unleashing some appropriately Greco-Roman wrestling moves, the action is just a blast to watch unfold. I mean, I could've watched that tremendous opening assault against the Royal Flush Gang for another twenty minutes, and it only gets better from there. Longtime fans of DC's animated universes will no doubt be thrilled to hear most of the Justice League's established vocal talent stepping in front of the mic again: Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman, Michael Rosenbaum as the Flash, and Carl Lumbly as the Martian Manhunter. Nathan Fillion, who previously voiced Hal Jordan in Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, reprises the role again here. As well-crafted as Justice League: Doom is on so many levels, I don't think it would've been nearly as effective with a different slate of voice actors.

Justice League: Doom is about as perfect a comic book movie -- animated or otherwise -- as I could ever hope to see. It delivers a particularly inspired premise, a tremendous visual eye, a phenomenal balance between its dark storyline and an occasionally smirking sense of humor, a more robust sense of characterization than I ever would've thought possible with an ensemble this large, and a breathless onslaught of superheroic action. Setting All-Star Superman aside since it's such a different animal, I'd point to Justice League: Doom as far and away my favorite of DC's series of animated movies, and this is from someone who's given high marks to just about all of them too. Highly Recommended.

Justice League: Doom has a distinctly different look to it than the rest of DC's animated movies. Everything else up to this point has favored crisply-rendered linework, while Doom prefers
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instead to cast its animation in a soft, almost diffused glow. I have to admit that the softer imagery did throw me off at first, and it certainly isn't as immediately striking in high definition as so many of these other movies have been. I settled into that different aesthetic fairly quickly, and even though I'm not sure how to quantify this, exactly, it eventually struck me as being more cinematic. Doom's muted palette reflects the bleaker, more ominous tone of the film as well.

I've reviewed so many of DC's animated movies and have found myself making the same complaints in just about all of them. I thankfully get to break away from that somewhat this time. No banding or posterization ever caught my eye throughout Justice League: Doom. The bitrate is modestly higher than what these movies are usually saddled with, and I couldn't spot any compression artifacting at all from a traditional viewing distance. If I more closely examine framegrabs, the seams do start to show somewhat, but it's not at all a concern in normal viewing. The same goes for aliasing, which I can see in some of the screencaps I snapped but isn't a problem in motion.

The softer linework certainly took some getting used to, but after settling into that, I'm really not left with any significant complaints at all. It's certainly appreciated that Warner has started to address some of the most frequently raised complaints of the past, and hopefully the next DC animated release will boast stronger authoring still. Justice League: Doom is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on a single-layer Blu-ray disc, and it's been encoded with AVC. The second disc in the set is an anamorphic widescreen DVD.

Justice League: Doom's 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack easily ranks as the best of these movies to date. The voice acting, as ever, is rendered with spectacular crispness and clarity, and the same holds true for every last element in the mix. A few stray lines do wind up sounding slightly difficult to discern -- I couldn't make out one whispered line that explains the torment that's about to be inflicted on the Martian Manhunter, for instance, which is kind of critical -- but that's not at all a constant nuisance. There's a very strong sense of imaging that takes full advantage of the multichannel setup, from Green Lantern flinging around large chunks of rubble in a frantic search for survivors all the way to something as simple as Alfred trotting across the Batcave. The use of the surround channels in general is more aggressive than any of DC's animated movies have been up to this point, brilliantly reinforcing the action while also fleshing out a strong sense of place. Bass response also snarls with an impressive ferocity, again outclassing everything else in this series of movies. Justice League: Doom's audio is by a considerable margin the most cinematic of DC's animated movies to date, and it's the first where a proper 5.1 setup is an essential part of the experience.

Justice League: Doom also includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 dub in French as well as a Spanish Dolby Digital stereo track. Subtitles are offered in English (SDH) and Spanish.

  • A League of One: The Dwayne McDuffie Story (37 min.; HD): Justice League: Doom is dedicated to the memory of Dwayne McDuffie, and its release on Blu-ray further honors one of the most passionate, brilliant writers in comics and animation with this heartbreakingly emotional retrospective. "A League of One" does delve into his lengthy career as a writer, from his early days at Marvel to the founding of Milestone Media all the way to his more recent work in the world of animation. It's far more than just a curriculum vitae, though, rightly directing its focus away from the specifics of McDuffie's work and instead more towards the lives he touched along the way. Tears are welling in the eyes of
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    virtually everyone that's interviewed, and understandably so. As a longtime admirer of McDuffie's work myself, "A League of One" proved to be perhaps the most intensely emotional piece I've watched on any DVD or Blu-ray disc, and it greatly heightened my appreciation for both McDuffie as a writer and as a man. I had no idea, for instance, that McDuffie was a genius in the most quantifiable sense, and he very well could've achieved his childhood dream of being an astronaut if not for being too tall for the program. I never knew he sold jokes to Letterman. It's revealed that he wrote the very-well-received pilot to the Static Shock cartoon in a single day, despite never having before penned a television script in his life. "A League of One" doesn't touch on how shamefully mistreated he often was in the world of comics, but I am glad to see that it paints such a strong picture of his legacy in corporate comics, creator-owned books, and animation. As spectacular a body of work as McDuffie has left behind, his future held so much more promise still. "A League of One" is a tremendous retrospective about one of the most towering talents the industry has ever seen, and it's absolutely essential viewing for anyone buying or renting this Blu-ray disc.

  • Cyborg: His Time Has Come (6 min.; HD): Cyborg makes his debut as a member of the animated Justice League in Doom, and this featurette delves into the history of the character -- both in DC's original and newly-rebooted continuities -- as well as the elements that make him so uniquely compelling. Speaking as someone who was kind of obsessed with the '80s Teen Titans books, it's more than a little bit of a thrill to see Marv Wolfman interviewed here.

  • Guarding the Balance: Batman and the JLA (19 min.; HD): The last of the disc's featurettes takes a very different bent, using Doom as springboard into the real-life political and psychological responses to concentrated power...the potential for abuse and the need for accountability. "Guarding the Balance" dissects many of the key themes touched on in the movie but starts to feel kind of self-indulgent and rambling after a while. I appreciate the gravity of the topic here but feel that this would've benefitted from a tighter focus.

  • Bruce Timm's Top Picks (42 min.; HD): The bonus episodes this time around are in high-def, and that's always nice to see. In "Wild Cards", a two-parter from Justice League's second season, The Joker hits Vegas with a glossy new primetime TV special. He's scattered bombs and a couple hundred cameras all up and down the Strip, and the Justice League has twentysomething minutes to find and disarm them before Sin City goes kablooey. These episodes also pit the Justice League against the Royal Flush Gang, so it plays off of Doom pretty well too.

    The menu mislabels "Wild Cards" as being a part of Justice League Unlimited, and I'll admit that I would've preferred to have seen something from JLU since none of that's found its way to Blu-ray (at least not in HD) quite yet. Still, seeing "Wild Cards" again does remind me that I never got around to picking up the second season of Justice League on Blu-ray, so I guess I ought to take care of that.

  • Audio Commentary: The commentary track for Justice League: Doom features Geoff Johns and Mike Carlin, two people who have worn all sorts of hats at DC Comics and are involved in these animated movies on an executive level. That does mean that no one who wrote, directed, or performed in Doom is featured, and although that was a bit puzzling at first glance, I'm kind of impressed how well that ultimately works. Rather than approach Doom from the filmmakers' perspective, talking about breaking the story or why certain creative decisions were made, Johns and Carlin discuss the movie from more of a comic book
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    historian angle. It's very character-centric, and the two of them also delve into what sets these animated movies in general and Doom in particular apart from their comic book counterparts. It's a worthy listen, and I'm particularly intrigued by the revelation that Dwayne McDuffie was in talks to write a Martian Manhunter book before his untimely passing.

  • DC Digital Comic Book: If you don't mind squinting at tiny word bubbles on your TV, JLA #43 -- part of the "Tower of Babel" storyline that inspired Justice League: Doom -- has been included on this Blu-ray disc.

  • Superman vs. The Elite Sneak Peek (7 min.; HD): Last up is a preview of the next DC animated movie, pitting the Man of Steel against a bunch of judge, jury, and executioner anti-hero types. As ever, this sneak peek doesn't show Superman vs. The Elite in motion, but you do get a quick look at storyboards, animatics, and conceptual art along with the usual barrage of interviews.

Again, the second disc in the set is an anamorphic widescreen DVD of Justice League: Doom, and a code to download or stream a digital copy of the movie has also been tucked inside.

The Final Word
Justice League: Doom delivers absolutely everything I want in a comic book brought to life: an inspired premise, dazzlingly fluid animation, a razor-sharp wit, skilled character work, and an unrelenting adrenaline rush of action. It's such a crushing disappointment that the life and career of Dwayne McDuffie was cut so short, but his many admirers can take heart that his final work with the Justice League is something so truly exceptional. Very Highly Recommended.
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