Tag Archives: Justice League Unlimited

‘Justice League Unlimited: The Return’

JLU the return amazo GLs

I’ve had so many favorite TV series over the years, from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Star Trek” to “Justified.” But as surprising as it may sound, it just might be “Justice League Unlimited” – right up there with another animated series, “Jonny Quest” – that ranks at the top of the list.

“JLU,” as I’m going to refer to it here, ran for 39 episodes over two or three seasons – who could tell, really, the way “Cartoon Network” abused the show with its scheduling? – from 2004 to 2006. The animated series, featuring the work of true artists like Bruce Timm and Dwayne McDuffie, was a continuation of the two-season “Justice League” series, which ran from 2001 to 2004, which itself was a continuation of “Batman” and “Superman” animated series that dated back as far as 1992.

“Justice League” was a fun series, giving us our first “real” look at characters beloved for decades, in personas and performances that defined them for a generation. When I see DC/Warners trying to bring those characters to the screen now in the inadequate “Man of Steel” and unpromising “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice,” I just wish they had given the reins to the people – including voice director Andrea Romano – who brought the characters to life in animation.

I’m rewatching “Justice League Unlimited” now and I might share some thoughts on other episodes with you here. But after watching it today, I have to talk about “The Return.”

JLU cast

If you’ve seen the series – or even if you haven’t – you don’t need me to go into the plot in great detail. But a little context: In “JLU,” Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the other core members of the Justice League decide to expand the roster of the league as seen in the first two seasons. They do so for practical reasons – Superman explains a greater number of heroes can put out more fires, literally and figuratively – but for storytelling purposes, this opens up a wealth of possibilities.

Even though “Justice League” episodes had brought in characters like Dr. Fate and Aquaman, “JLU” not only brought DC A-listers into the fold but B, C and D-listers. Ever want to see Bwana Beast in action? The Creeper? Maybe best of all, The Question? Here’s your first, and probably only, chance. I can’t imagine The Elongated Man is going to show up in one of the big-screen movies.

The first few episodes of “JLU” were intent on showcasing characters other than the core, founding members of the League. The opener, which included Batman and Superman, focused on an emergency response team consisting of Green Lantern, Supergirl, Captain Atom and a reluctant Green Arrow responding to a rampage of a nuclear monster in an Asian country that is less than welcoming to the heroes. Other early episodes featured Wonder Woman teamed with Hawk and Dove, for example.

But it wasn’t until “The Return, an episode that aired in September 2004, that “JLU” hit its stride.

Amazo, an advanced robot that had figured into a “Justice League” episode, is returning to Earth, ostensibly on a mission to kill Lex Luthor, who had betrayed the robot and his creator, Professor Ivo.

JLU the return green lanterns

This meant the League has to protect Luthor from the unstoppable creature, which decimates first the Green Lantern Corps at their home planet Oa, then blasts through a defensive line in space that includes Superman and Green Lantern, then wipes out an airborne troupe that includes Supergirl and Red Tornado – who meets a startling fate – and finally trounces a ground-level line of defenders that include Wonder Woman and Flash.

Finally, it’s down to the Atom – voiced in great fashion by John McGinley – who is locked in an underground lab with Luthor – to come up with a solution.

And he fails.

JLU the return fate amazo

But just as the regrouped Green Lantern Corps arrives to blast Amazo … Dr. Fate shows up with a better solution.

It’s an ending as satisfying as it is unexpected and shows the depth of this series. A little-known DC hero could show up for a cameo, a funny in-joke – or a feat that saves the world.

“Justice League Unlimited” had many great episodes and I might touch on some of those here as I rewatch. But “The Return” showed what the series was capable of.

Superhero animation gets no respect on TV

If you’re a fan of “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” on Disney XD … well, let’s hope you didn’t get too invested in the show.

News began leaking out in recent days that Disney/Marvel has canceled the series – only part-way through its second season — and will replace it with a new series, “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” in 2013.

It’s not surprising, of course, that Disney/Marvel would like to have an animated series on the air that capitalize on the success of the big-screen “Avengers” movie. What’s confusing is that they already have that, with “A:EMH,” yet they’re flushing the show.

If you haven’t seen it — and I haven’t seen any of season two, not having Disney XD on my cable dial, but I’ve seen all the first-season episodes on DVD — “A:EMH” is a densely-plotted and populated take on the classic “Avengers” comics. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Black Panther and others take on bad guys ranging from Asgardians to home-grown baddies to invading aliens.

It’s a show that has been quite deliberate in its setting-up of its story arcs, taking several episodes to get all the characters together in NYC. It hasn’t been afraid to take its time with stories, devoting two or more episodes sometimes to a plot.

Which might be part of the problem.

Various websites have noted that Disney/Marvel want more accessible series with more jumping-in points. That might mean more standalone stories.

It definitely means a cast that is pattered after the one in Joss Whedon’s movie. So in the switch to a new series, Black Panther, Ant-Man and Wasp are gone, Black Widow is in and Hawkeye loses his classic purple mask.

This whole thing would be less frustrating to fans if it didn’t seem so familiar: After long runs on Warner Bros.-related TV networks, classic 1990s animated series like “Batman,” “Superman” and “Batman Beyond” were continued in the 2000s in “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited” on Cartoon Network.

Yet the WB-owned Cartoon Network repeatedly started and stopped airing the two series. Months would go by without a new episode. “Justice League” ended abruptly, only to be replaced by the better, in my opinion, “Unlimited” series, but that one bounced around the Cartoon Network schedule, disappearing for weeks or months, before finally falling by the wayside.

There are a number of reasons for this, including regime changes at studios and the apparent belief on the part of executives that viewers (many of them young, but many of them older geeks thrilled to see faithful treatment of classic characters like Batman and Captain America as well as animated versions of obscure characters like Blue Beetle) are restless and crave change. That’s why “Justice League” was retooled and it’s probably why “Young Justice,” currently airing on Cartoon Network, looks so different (new cast members and an apparent time shift) in its second season. Heck, the show even has something of a new name, “Young Justice: Invasion.”

I’m convinced there’s an audience out there for a weekly animated series based on classic comic book characters and stories.

I’m equally convinced that once a show has hit its stride, viewers will embrace it rather than push it away.

If given the chance, that is.

‘Man of Steel:’ Is Superman ‘edgy?’ No. No. No.

First of all, I guess we should remember that we’re talking about a stray comment from a teenage actor. But fan sites on the Internet today were ablaze with reaction to a quote from actor Dylan Sprayberry, who plays a younger version of Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent character in director Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” movie:

“When Zack [Snyder] and I were talking about it the first time, he was saying how Superman, they want to give it a more edgy feel like ‘The Dark Knight’ but also make it more realistic and emotional so it’s not just the all-american superhero that saves everyone. He has dilemmas and love and struggles throughout the whole movie, especially when he’s a kid.”

Can you guess which word had fans worried?

If you guessed “edgy,” you’re right. Edgy like “The Dark Knight.”

There’s been an undercurrent of concern about the tone of the Superman movie, which comes out in 2013, since producer Chris Nolan — who with the “Dark Knight” movies made Batman a blockbuster character but has added new depths of darkness to the already dark hero — took over the efforts to bring Superman to the big screen.

Bryan Singer’s 2006 “Superman Returns” didn’t completely work, in part because of its slavish devotion to the Richard Donner classic but also in part because of its somber, even moping, tone.

I think we’ve seen that a downbeat Superman movie doesn’t work. The tone just doesn’t fit with the character.

It’s the success of Nolan’s Batman movies — the third of which comes out this summer — that has led us to the point that some people are expecting Snyder’s “Man of Steel” to be dark. And kind of dreading it.

Make no mistake, there’s some angst to the classic Superman character. He is — at least in many versions of his story, but not all — the only survivor of his planet. He is, literally, a stranger in a strange land. There’s a reason he separates himself from the rest of the planet either by going to the Fortress of Solitude or the depths of space. The guy is lonely.

It is the loneliness that we all feel, at one time or another, even in a crowd. Who hasn’t felt alone and unreachable, even by those around them?

In the current Cartoon Network series “Young Justice,” the Superboy character — the Superman clone from recent comics — is mostly alienated from his companions, is often hostile, and is shunned by Superman himself.

But Superman isn’t a dark character. Not even in the best interpretations, the “Superman” and “Justice League” animated series. In some episodes of those series, Superman is considered suspicious by the U.S. government, even a rogue.

But he’s still Superman. So much so that in “Justice League Unlimited,” Batman chides Superman, noting that the (literally) child-like Captain Marvel is replacing him as the happy-go-lucky member of the League.

“He’s … sunny,” Batman says, intimating that quality is exactly what other League members have always liked about Superman.

So today we have a random comment by a teen actor who’s certainly not setting the tone for “Man of Steel.” He didn’t write the script. He’s not behind the camera.

And we also have some anxiety by longtime Superman fans that their hero — who can, if not properly written and played, seem like a stick-up-his-butt do-gooder prone to noting that airplanes are still the safest way to travel — is being turned into an angst-filled mess, a version of Hamlet in spandex.

We’ve got a year to go until we see if Nolan and Snyder’s “Man of Steel” is dark and edgy.

Regardless of whether their version is or is not, the fact of the matter is that our version — the one we’ve known for three-quarters of a century — is not.

Not dark. Not edgy.

New images: ‘Man of Steel,’ ‘Avengers’ on Disney XD, ‘Beware the Batman’

Images, we got images. Nah, it just doesn’t sing.

But nevertheless, we’ve got lots and lots of images.

In the days, weeks and months leading up to the debut of a new TV show or the release of a new movie, set photos and officially sanctioned photos of the cast turn up online and in magazines. But the geeks among us also enjoy seeing logos and promotional pictures.

So today was a bonanza, with new images released for “Man of Steel,” Disney XD’s “Avengers” series and “Beware the Batman,” the new Cartoon Network show.

First the big-screen movie, “Man of Steel.” It comes out in June 2013, but we’ve already seen set photos like this one of star Henry Cavill:

It is a cryin’ shame how that guy has let himself go.

Anyway, today came the release of the new “Man of Steel” logo, showing the Superman shield.

I think it looks pretty good. And I’m definitely pleased they’ve made the shield bigger on Supe’s chest than it was in “Superman Returns.”

If you haven’t seen “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” on Disney XD, you should check the half-hour animated series out on DVD. It’s a good show that feels very close in spirit to the Marvel comic. It also seems to dovetail nicely into the “Avengers” movie coming out in May.

Anyway, here’s a new photo from the Disney XD series showing what would appear to be a greatly expanded cast that includes the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and Wolverine. Some online comments said the picture reminded them of “Justice League Unlimited,” the Cartoon Network classic of the DC Animated Universe. What do you think?

Can you name all the heroes? I was stumped by only one.

Lastly there’s “Beware the Batman,” the new Cartoon Network series coming in 2013.

The image is pretty cool and hopefully the computer animation is a little more polished than in the new CN “Green Lantern” series.

But can any cartoon depiction of the Dark Knight ever top the classic “Batman: The Animated Series?” I can’t imagine it.

Will we ever see a ‘Justice League’ movie?

I watched “Captain America” on DVD last night and really enjoyed the movie, which brought Marvel’s World War II-era hero to the screen this past summer, all over again. The little sneak peek at next May’s “The Avengers” movie was fun. To say I’m looking forward to “The Avengers” is an understatement. The fourth issue of the “Avengers” comic, the one in which the heroes thawed Captain America and he joined the team, was the first comic book I ever owned, kindly given to me by an older friend.

But as much as I’m looking forward to “The Avengers,” I’m puzzled as to why DC — an arm of Warner Bros. — has been unable to get a “Justice League” movie into gear.

It’s not like “Justice League” can’t be translated into other media besides comic books. The “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited” series, set in the animated DC universe created with “Batman the Animated Series,” was a faithful adaptation of the comics. The “Unlimited” series expanded the membership of the League to include dozens and dozens of characters, both delightful and obscure (who would have thought of an entire episode built around hapless blowhard Booster Gold? Yet it was one of the best of the entire series).

And DC has also had good luck with “Justice League” animated in longer form, particularly “Justice League New Frontier,” a retro story based on Darwyn Cooke’s great graphic novel that set the hands of the superhero clock back to the 1950s and introduced Batman, Superman, Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman (not to mention a host of yes, obscure characters). Heck, even TV’s “Smallville” had a version of the League on a TV budget.

So there’s no reason a “Justice League” movie can’t happen, except:

– The Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale “Dark Knight” movies. With the third, “Dark Knight Rises,” coming out next summer, Nolan seems to be ready to wrap up his foray into the character’s world. Much has been made over rumors that Nolan and Bale don’t want their “realistic” Batman to be seen in the same movie with a bunch of other “fantastic” costumed characters. Of course, “Dark Knight Rises” features not only Catwoman and Bane in outfits that would turn heads on most sidewalks. So maybe Nolan is loosening up his standards.

– DC and Warner Bros. can’t seem to get any other characters launched. “Green Lantern” came out this summer and really wasn’t very good. “Wonder Woman” imploded and never got made. “The Flash” has been in the planning stages for years.

– They tried to make a “Justice League” movie a couple of years ago, even picked the cast and began pre-production. Actors like Armie Hammer were fitted for costumes. (Why hasn’t footage or pictures of Hammer in Batman drag shown up online?) But then a writer’s strike happened, production in Australian fell apart and, frankly, I wonder if somebody didn’t lose their nerve. Remember Nolan’s reluctance to have  a bunch of colorful costumed characters in the same room together? Maybe it was catching.

In the time it’s taken for DC and Warner Bros. to make a good “Batman” movie, begin another one, start work on a “Superman” movie and make a mediocre “Green Lantern” movie, Marvel — now part of Disney — has released two “Iron Man” pictures, a good “Hulk” movie, “Thor,” “Captain America” and is putting the finishing touches on “The Avengers.”

Will we ever see the members of the Justice League swooping down from their Watchtower to take on some globe-threatening menace?

 

 

 

 

New ‘Green Lantern’ has a lot to live up to

For Cartoon Network, Warner Bros and animation producer Bruce Timm, launching a new “Green Lantern” animated series must feel like a tricky thing.

When the computer-animated series went into production, Warner Bros. had a big-screen “Green Lantern” coming, its first attempt to turn WB’s DC Comics stalwart into a big-screen tentpole starring Ryan Reynolds.

The movie probably seemed like a sure thing, another step in establishing a DC franchise in movie theaters much like rival comics publisher Marvel was doing with “Iron Man” and, concurrent to the “Green Lantern” movie, “Thor” and “Captain America.”

But the “Green Lantern” movie, released this summer, was pretty lackluster, while “Thor” and “Captain America” were hits that only built anticipation for next summer’s Marvel team-up movie, “The Avengers.”

All of a sudden, “Green Lantern” — and the Cartoon Network animated series — must have felt a little daunting.

The new show not only had to live down the live-action movie but also live up to “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited,” the Bruce Timm-produced animated series that stand as the pinnacles of comic book animated series.

Yes, I know that Timm and Paul Dini’s “Batman: The Animated Series” is widely regarded as the best animated comic book show. But for me, “Justice League” and especially “Justice League Unlimited” are tops. Really, where else could you get the best — hands down — outside-the-comic-pages adaptation of Superman, Batman and other marquee heroes as well as obscure favorites like Dr. Fate, Black Canary and Bwana Beast, for goodness’ sake?

Cartoon Network previewed the opening episode of “Green Lantern” tonight — the series begins airing regularly next year as part of a DC block — and I have to say that while the show has potential it carries with it more liabilities.

Its computer-animated presentation is workmanlike at best. While a few scenes had some of the visual appeal of “The Incredibles,” for example, more often the show looked like unfinished footage included as a DVD extra. Piggy-looking Green Lantern Kilowog looked plastic. The look of the show needs drastic improvement.

And I’m not sold on the premise of the show either. Remember “Star Trek: Voyager,” the series that pushed a Federation starship to the edge of the galaxy and left it stranded there while the ship and its crew struggled to make their way home?

This is like “Green Lantern: Voyager,” with Green Lanterns Hal Jordan and Kilowog stranded millions of miles away from home, facing the Red Lanterns, a cranky group of outlaw ring-wielders.

Maybe it’s an effort to ensure the show and its characters stand on their own, but I’m not digging the idea of a show that will never allow Green Lantern to bump into Superman or Batman. Not to mention the absence of my favorite Green Lantern of all time, John Stewart, the African-American hero who — for all of us who loved “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited” — simply is Green Lantern.

When “Green Lantern” comes back next year, I’ll definitely give it a shot. I hope the show has as much imagination as the premise of its title character. It will have to go a long way — and come back from a great distance — to equal previous treatment of the character, however.

 

 

And Justice (Leagues) for all

As a comic book reader from way back, I’m loving the big-screen adaptations of some of the Marvel comics favorites from my childhood. “Iron Man,” “Thor” and “Captain America” were all top-notch.

Marvel’s longtime competitor, DC, has had a lot less success in movie versions. While the “Dark Knight” films are pretty good — although somewhat self-consciously non-comic-booky — “Superman Returns” was glum and very nearly boring and this summer’s “Green Lantern” was meh.

Honestly, the most consistently successful adaptations of comic books can be found, to no one’s surprise, in animated series and movies.

If you haven’t watched a superhero cartoon since “Super Friends,” you’re missing well-written shows that offer plenty of action for kids and characters and continuity for grown-ups.

The “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” show on Disney XD has the complex plots and myriad characters of modern-day Marvel comics and Cartoon Network’s “Young Justice” has engaging characters and an over-arching mythology that, several episodes into the series, is just beginning to build.

The premise of the series is that Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad and other proteges of adult heroes like Batman and Flash team up in a training exercise of sorts to prepare them for eventual entry into the Justice League. There’s intrigue in a shadowy group that appears to be manipulating the young heroes and there’s rivalry and clashing emotions among the members, who include a young Superboy who is, in a plot faithful to recent comics, a weeks-old clone of Superman.

“Young Justice” is surprisingly somber in its overall tone, maybe befitting a modern-day fantasy series.

It’s conspiracy-laden mythology reminds me in some ways of “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited,” two Cartoon Network series that ran for four seasons, more or less, in the mid-2000s. From the makers of the “Batman” and “Superman” animated series of the 1990s and early 2000s, the “Justice League” series was full of superheroics and enough characters to bewilder any fanboy. But it was marked by a surprisingly dark undertone of a government — and sometimes a public — suspicious of superheroes who often came across as aloof and frighteningly powerful.

“Young Justice” may very well grow into the equal of “Justice League.” It’s convincing blend of action and thoughtful character drama show a lot of promise.