Monday, January 28, 2008

Justice League/Justice League Unlimited Re-Watch

After a month, I've finished re-watching all four seasons of the Justice League/Justice League Unlimited animated show on DVD. I thought it was outstanding when I saw it in first run on the Cartoon Network from 2001-2006, and after watching it all again my esteem for the show has only increased. It continues the tradition of quality that producer Bruce Timm began with Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series in the 1990s.

Anyone interested in writing superhero stories, or even action adventure stories in general, should watch this because it's some of the finest superhero storytelling in any medium, showcasing a good grasp of character development and especially relationship development (which a lot of live action non-genre shows could even learn from) without ever skimping on people in colorful costumes fighting bad guys. Good dialog, too, including a surprising amount of innuendo at times.

The first season plays it a little safe, but starting with the second season it takes on a bolder, more epic quality, culminating in the final two seasons when the League expands from seven members to over fifty, allowing for appearances from many different heroes, ranging from the well-known to the obscure.

Head writer Dwayne McDuffie deserves much of the credit for its development, and it also features episodes written by Warren Ellis, Gail Simone, Paul Dini, Darwyn Cooke, J. M. DeMatteis, and Geoff Johns, plus the story for one episode is credited to Jim Steranko and another is adapted from an Alan Moore story.

Best version of Green Lantern John Stewart? Here (voiced by Phil LaMarr). Best version of Hawkgirl? Here (voiced by Maria Canals). The romance of those two characters is particularly well written. Short of Christian Bale, Kevin Conroy may just be the best Batman (a character he began voicing in Batman: The Animated Series). Whenever I read a comic with the Flash (Wally West), the Martian Manhunter, or Wonder Woman in it, I can't help but hear the voices of Michael Rosenbaum, Carl Lumbly, and Susan Eisenberg. Fans were initially displeased by George Newbern's Superman, but I think he brings some attitude to the role of Kal-El and by the end of the fourth season it's hard to imagine another voice actor doing it so well.

The guest stars in the third and fourth seasons are a veritable Whedonverse reunion (Firefly in particular), with Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Adam Baldwin, Morena Baccarin, Amy Acker, Juliet Landau, and Alexis Denisof all voicing characters. Fillion as cowboy hero Vigilante is simply awesome, and he has a hilarious scene where he argues the merits of Dirty Harry with the Shining Knight.

The other guest stars over four seasons are no slouches, either, including Mark Hamill, Ben Browder, Ioan Gruffudd, Jeffrey Combs, Billy West, Robert Picardo, Lisa Edelstein, Ron Perlman, Michael Dorn, Michael Ironside, Oded Fehr, Robert Englund, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Clancy Brown, Tom Sizemore, Eric Roberts, Patrick Duffy, Jeremy Piven, Fred Savage, Jerry O'Connell, Dennis Farina, Dakota Fanning, Michael York, Michael Jai White, Ed Asner, John Rhys-Davies, Lori Petty, Dana Delany, J. K. Simmons, CCH Pounder, Brad Garrett, Tim Matheson, Daniel Dae Kim, and Dick Miller.

The theme music is memorable, from the version used in the first two seasons to the one used in the final two, all set to beautifully drawn opening title sequences.

Much effort was put into making Justice League/Justice League Unlimited really good, from the writers to the voice cast, and it all pays off in a superbly entertaining animated show. It's a shame that it was canceled so soon, when it still had stories left to tell.

Next up: I'm going to re-watch the entire runs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel on DVD.