Justice League: The Complete Series Review

Before I start gushing about just how great this cartoon and, by connection, this set are, let’s establish two things. First, for every good thing I have to say about the entire set I include a single footnote: this should be available in a Blu-ray release as well, the animation would be sharper and bolder, the audio would be stunning and the entire package would have had that much more relevance considering the current trends of digital media. Second, this is so much more than just a ‘cartoon’. As is said a few times in the extra features of the series, Justice League may be the greatest superhero animated series to have ever existed. So what does that imply about this complete series set? One of the best ever?

Bruce Timm, the animation giant who gave Warner Brothers Batman: The Animated Series, their first commercial animated success that didn’t feature a Bugs Bunny off-shoot, has a reputation for animated greatness. DC Comics has a pantheon of heroes with an impassioned following and a classic sensibility. Combine the two and you get (so far) three compelling and top-shelf animated programs. Batman: The Animated Series and Superman were excellent unto themselves (the former eclipsing the latter), but they were both just paving the way for the coup de grace of animated series. Bringing an ensemble cast of seven superheroes to life, with some more well known than others, Bruce Timm and his talented cast and crew gave each persona a unique personality and a set of conflicts to exist within each pairing of the group. Again, some might call this a cartoon but it achieved more in its run than many “adult” series ever did.

A major component of the show’s first level of awesome (of which there are three) is the voice acting. Not only did it maintain the top voices of the preceding two series, Justice League attracted a bevy of terrific talent that filled out the roles in ways that never detract from the story at hand but also make the attentive ear perk up and say, “Wait, is…is that J.K. Simmons?” Yes it is. Name dropping is shameless – when you do it for yourself. But since we’re trying to give you some scope as to the titans the series attracted to its supporting cast here’s a list of names: Clancy Brown, Jennifer Hale, Corey Burton, Mark Hamill, Powers Boothe, CCH Pounder, Dana Delany, Olivia d’Abo, Ted Levine, Rene Auberjonois, Gina Torres, Oded Fehr, Ron Perlman, James Remar, Michael Ironside, Virginia Madsen, John C. McGinley, Adam Baldwin, Lauren Tom, Eric Roberts, Robert Englund, Dennis Haysbert, Patrick Duffy, Jeremy Piven, Lisa Edelstein, Kurtwood Smith and Neil Patrick Harris. That list is pretty ridiculous right? That’s not even all of them. But before we move on to point two, we have to acknowledge the stellar performances of the main seven including Carl Lumbly, Phil LaMarr, George Newbern, Kevin Conroy, Maria Canals-Barrera, Michael Rosenbaum and Susan Eisenberg.

The second and third successes of the film are closely linked: the stories told and how they’re portrayed. The writers for the show took out all the stops and adopted many of the popular Justice League storylines. In order to update them certain alterations were made but from what I can remember from the comics, the changes aren’t ever so drastic that they disappoint. At times the changes even work better thanks in large part to the team dynamics established in the first two seasons. However, any comic book fan can tell you that the most extensive and best comic book plots would take more than 20 minutes to tell and Bruce Timm and co. knew it. Occasionally you’ll find a standalone episode in the first few seasons, but by the time you reach Justice League Unlimited they’re almost nonexistent. Some of the more impressive arcs stretch on for four to five episodes with the longest reaching a stunning eight (there’s even a great extra feature about it). The added bonus of getting to see some of the more obscure characters (like the Question – who is fantastically hilarious) interact in the Justice League Unlimited episodes makes for a refreshing effect on the concept as a whole. The first two Justice League seasons were phenomenal, but adding a huge supporting cast only opened up the potential, it never limited it. Justice League fans couldn’t have asked for a better incarnation of the series and, unfortunately, this will cast a huge shadow over any live action movie they attempt.

DVD Bonus Features

Here’s the major downside of the set. While the specially made tin case makes a much more formidable impression sitting on your shelf as opposed to the four cardboard case sets that are currently offered, you can’t help but feel like you’re getting gypped in the extra features department. With only one new extra feature complementing those already existing for the older releases, it comes as an even bigger disappointment when you realize that the new extra feels like a rehash or summary of some of the better and longer older ones. Many of the same sentiments from the “Cadmus Exposed” round table (including Bruce Timm, Mark Hamill (moderator), and producers) and “Justice League Chronicles” are spliced into smaller pieces but in the form of newly filmed interviews to discuss the topic of character interactions.. It says nothing new and really does nothing to further complement the set.

But, if you have never bought the sets before, we’ve compiled the extra features list for each season right here.

Justice League: Season One:

Featurettes include a set of storyboards, character designs, audio commentaries for three episodes, a promotional spot and a round table panel with the show’s creators.

Justice League: Season Two:

Included are audio commentaries on three episodes; “Voices of Justice” – a featurette where cast members answer questions posed by fans and a look into a recording session; “Look, Up in the Sky!” – an excerpt from the quite entertaining and worthwhile documentary about Superman produced by Bryan Singer and Kevin Burns; and “Justice League Declassified” a behind the scenes look at the show.

Justice League Unlimited: Season One:

Included are audio commentaries on two episodes; “And Justice for All” – a featurette about changing the direction of the series by adding a huge roster of heroes to the cast; “Themes of Justice” – a Justice League jukebox.

Justice League Unlimited: Season Two:

Included are the aforementioned featurettes “Cadmus Exposed” and “Justice League Chronicles”, a retrospective clip show of the favorite moments from the series by the show’s creators and a music only track of the series’ final episode.

The real benefit of this metallic behemoth is having all the seasons of one of the greatest animated series ever cobbled into one smashing looking package. So if you already own them all, it’s a toss-up for you: sell off your old copies for the shiny new package or just stare wistfully and maintain your pride in having the “original” releases.

"Justice League: The Complete Series" is on sale November 10, 2009 and is rated NR. Action, Adventure, Animation, Comic Book. Directed by Dan Riba, Butch Lukic, Joaquim Dos Santos. Written by Dwayne McDuffie, Stan Berkowitz, Bob Kane, William M. Marston, Joe Shuster, Jerry Siegel, Rich Fogel, J.M. DeMatteis, Matt Wayne, Paul Dini. Starring CCH Pounder, Clancy Brown, Corey Burton, Jennifer Hale, Lauren Tom, Maria Canals Barrera, Michael Rosenbaum, Nathan Fillion, Phil LaMarr, Carl Lumbly, George Newbern, Kevin Conroy, Susan Eisenberg, Mark Hamill, Powers Boothe.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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