It’s wonderful to see all the great DC comic book characters appearing in animated television series that depict them in a manner that respects their integrity, as well as the intelligence of their audience. Starting with BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES television animation took on a new maturity and a greater sense of style, which did not dumb down the characters and storylines for a perceived audience that did not exist. That sense of intelligence and style was maintained through a new SUPERMAN series, as well as a new incarnation of The Caped Crusader- namely BATMAN BEYOND. The latest animated superhero television series to ascribe to this level of sophistication and character integrity is entitled JUSTICE LEAGUE ($20).
Those of you that remember the awful Hanna-Barbera produced series SUPERFRIENDS could be scared off of JUSTICE LEAGUE, because both shows share a similar premise of superheroes teaming up to face common enemies. Unlike the totally inane SUPERFRIENDS, JUSTICE LEAGUE offers intelligent stories and characters that display unique personalities that sometime clash, as they might if they existed in the real world. There is also plenty of action in JUSTICE LEAGUE- something that was never achieved in the cheap animation of SUPERFRIENDS. The premiere episode(s) of JUSTICE LEAGUE entitled Secret Origins has been released on DVD by Warner Home Video, and while I’m glad that the show has come to DVD, I find the presentation somewhat questionable (more on that later).
Combining several heroes of the DC Comics universe with elements of the H.G. Wells story War Of The Worlds, the plot of Secret Origins brings together Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Hawkgirl and The Martian Manhunter to save the Earth from an alien invasion. Secret Origins opens with a US mission to Mars awakens a long dormant alien species that obliterated all life on the Red Planet- with one obvious exception. Arriving meteors, the war machines of the alien invaders begin obliterating the cities of the world, with the above mentioned superheroes teaming up to stand against the invasion force. Secret Origins is a good introduction to the series, which proves to be as entertaining for kids, as it is for more mature animation and superhero fans. JUSTICE LEAGUE features the vocal talents of Maria Canals, Susan Eisenberg, Phil LaMarr, Carl Lumbly, George Newbern, Kevin Conroy and Michael Rosenbaum.
Warner Home Video has made JUSTICE LEAGUE available on DVD in a full screen presentation- that is appropriate to certain Cartoon Network airings of the show, but does not reflect the intentions of the series creators. JUSTICE LEAGUE is also aired in wide screen on Cartoon Network, which represents how the show was conceived and how the action is framed by the show’s production team. The full screen version adds unused headroom and unnecessary picture information to the bottom of a 4:3 screen, but all the action takes place inside an area whose dimensions are those of 16:9 wide screen television. An ideal DVD release of JUSTICE LEAGUE would have included a 16:9 enhanced wide screen presentation, in addition to, or in place of the 4:3 full screen version. As it stands, JUSTICE LEAGUE looks very good on a 4:3 display- with a sharp and very colorful image. The animation is somewhat better than standard television fare, but certainly below that of theatrical quality. Still, it is cleanness and style of the animation that allows the DVD presentation of JUSTICE LEAGUE appear noticeably superior to the full screen cable airing on Cartoon Network. I can only imagine how good JUSTICE LEAGUE would look in wide screen, with the extra resolution that 16:9 enhanced presentations have. The single layer DVD doesn’t display any noticeable traces of digital compression artifacts.
JUSTICE LEAGUE is offered on DVD with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack that decodes to standard surround. This is a good sounding track that has been mixed within the parameters of broadcast television. The forward soundstage is prominent, with the surround channels adding mild effects, ambient fill and musical augmentation. Dialogue is very clean and highly intelligible, as one might expect from a newly produced animated TV series. No alternate language tracks or subtitles have been included on the DVD.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few extras. Short biographies for the superheroes have been provided, as well as a cast & crew listing. Trailers for BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER, BATMAN & MR. FREEZE: SUBZERO and THE BATMAN SUPERMAN MOVIE are included on the DVD, along with Scooby-Doo DVD promos.
JUSTICE LEAGUE is solid entertainment for animation and superhero fans. While I did enjoy watching JUSTICE LEAGUE on DVD, I think fans would be better served had the artistic intentions of the show’s creators been preserved with the inclusion of a 16:9 enhanced presentation.
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