Batman the Animated Series, created by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, began in 1992. Eventually, it spawned its own extensive universe of DC comics-related animated fiction, including Superman the Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Static Shock and Justice League among other shows. Over ten year later, they created Justice League Unlimited, the pinnacle of a decadeâ€™s worth of dedication and imagination.
â€œJLUâ€ is a prime example of what superhero stories should be like, a perfect blend of humor, action, morality and character depth. The shear scope of JLUâ€™s story telling is phenomenal, providing complex stories which have truly grown up with the audience. This series makes maximum use of the decade of history and background, working-in elements and plot threads from as far back as Batman the Animated Series and tying in every single show from the â€œDCAUâ€ (DC Animated Universe), including the really cruddy ones like the Zeta Project.
While the first Justice League series told stories through multi-parters, that concept was dropped for JLU. There are few multi-parters and most episodes, while generally self-contained, provide elements of a larger story to come. Even episodes that seem rather pointless have a meaning if youâ€™re willing to pay attention. I remember when the series first began I was rather disappointed. They started things off with three, yes three, comedy relief episodes almost in a row. I felt the series had taken a nosedive in intellectual quality, as funny as those episodes were. It wasnâ€™t until much later in the season I understood what theyâ€™d been building up to, and that you really needed those comedy episodes considering how dark things were going to get.
This set contains the first two seasons of JLU (there were a total of three) across four disks, with each 13-episode season conveniently occupying two disks. The first season is the weaker of the two, I must confess, though it sets up everything for the second.
â€œInitiationâ€ brings Green Arrow into the fold at long last and picks up in the aftermath of the â€œStarcrossedâ€ incident from the last season of the regular Justice League show. You get a sweet battle against Brimstone (though his origin has undergone a complete and total overhaul from how it was presented in the comics) as well as the introduction of Captain Atom and Supergirl, who along with Green Arrow, will prove to be three of the more prominent characters in the series. â€œFor the Man Who Has Everythingâ€ is a virtually spot-on adaptation of story written by Alan Moore, which remains one of the greatest Superman stories ever written. â€œHawk and Doveâ€ is my least favorite story of the bunch, containing two of my least favorite characters. The whole gimmick of the episode is a reunion between Wonder Years brothers, Fred Savage and Jason Hervey as the title characters. Still, the introduction of the Annihilator in this episode serves a purpose.
â€œFearful Symmetryâ€ introduces the best character to come out of this series, the Question, voiced by the Re-Animator himself, Jeffrey Combs. It also has a brief cameo from the robots that would become Zeta in the Zeta Project, begins the Cadmus arc, introduces Galatea (AKA Powergirl) and fleshes out Green Arrowâ€™s and Supergirlsâ€™ roles in the series. â€œKidâ€™s Stuffâ€ is the first comedy relief episode of the show, where Morgan Lafayâ€™s son traps all the adults of the world in another dimension, requiring Morgan to transform Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern into children so they can defeat him. Itâ€™s cute and really pretty funny. â€œThis Little Piggyâ€ is another comedy episode involving the witch Circe turning Wonder Woman into a pig. In order to rescue her, Batman has to sing. Trust me, itâ€™s awesome. â€œThe Returnâ€ features the, er, return of Amazo, now virtually a god. Brings Lex Luthor into the spotlight and has a very important effect on the story. You also finally get to see Kyle Rayner again, who has been absent since Superman the Animated Series.
â€œThe Greatest Story Never Toldâ€ is another comedy relief episode and maybe my favorite of them. This one focuses on Booster Gold, the showboating superhero from the future. Billy West plays his robot sidekick, Skeets, and itâ€™s genuinely hilarious. A shame that due to licensing rights we were never able to get a classic Blue Beetle/Booster Gold team-up, but this was better than nothing. â€œUltimatumâ€ is pure genius. The expansion characters from Superfriends are re-envisioned as villains. So, in other words, itâ€™s Apache Chief, Samurai, Black Vulcan and the Wonder Twins vs. the Justice League. This really gets the Cadmus arc going and is too damn cool.
â€œDark Heartâ€ is a weaker episode, despite its overall importance to the storyline. It has a heavy focus on the classic Justice League character, the Atom, featuring a battle against a horde of nano-tech spiders from outer space. â€œWake the Deadâ€ features the return of Solomon Grundy as well as Hawkgirl, who had been in self-imposed exile since â€œStarcrossedâ€. Personally, I thought it was a little pointless since they only bring Grundy back to get rid of him again, but I suppose it was required to get Shayera back into the picture.
â€œThe Once and Future Thingâ€ is the two-part season one finale, featuring former lame-o time-traveling villain Chronos sucking Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern through history. Their first stop is the Old West, where they team-up with classic DC Western heroes, Jonah Hex, Bat-Lash, El Diablo and Sheriff Pow Wow Smith. Itâ€™s great seeing Jonah Hex again, considering he hadnâ€™t been seen in the DCAU since the last season of Batman the Animated Series. Thereâ€™s also a great cover of the JLU theme done in a Western style. The second part features the trio chasing Chronos into the future setting of Batman Beyond where they team-up with Terry McGinnis (future Batman), Warhawk and Static (from Static Shock). It also contains the return of the Jokers as they appeared in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, as well as a brief but hilarious cameo from Hal Jordan.
Season two starts out strong with â€œthe Cat and the Canaryâ€, a story that starts the budding romance between Green Arrow and Black Canary. It also introduces Wildcat and has some of the absolute *best* fight choreography in the whole series. â€œThe Ties that Bindâ€ is a spotlight on Mr. Miracle and Big Barda, two classic Jack Kirby characters, and shows us some of the aftermath from the apparent death of Darkseid (which happened during the regular Justice League show). Ed Asner reprises his role as Granny Goodness and we also get a kick ass appearance from Vermin Vunderbar, a terrifically wacky Kirby villain. Michael Dorn returns for the role of Kalibac, but for some odd reason, does not reprise the role of Steel (who is now voiced by Phil Lamar). â€œThe Doomsday Sanctionâ€ brings us the battle between Superman and Doomsday at very long last. It also revives a few characters not seen since Batman the Animated Series, namely Dr. Milo, whose story was left unresolved until now. Dr. Hugo Strange also makes a very brief appearance in this episode.
â€œTask Force Xâ€ ushers in the Suicide Squad, a government run group of supervillains on deathrow, taking on impossible jobs for a chance to earn a pardon. This episode manages to capture the best thing about the Suicide Squad comic: rooting for the badguys. You really want them to win, even though you know theyâ€™re evil. The Suicide Squad members in question are Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, Plastique and the Clock King (yet another character not seen since Batman the Animated Series). â€œThe Balanceâ€ deals with Wonder Woman and Shayera patching things up, as well as the return of Felix Faust (voiced by Robert Englund!). â€œDouble Dateâ€ is another damn good Question-centric episode which also brings in one of JLUâ€™s better characters, the Huntress. It further develops romance between Green Arrow and Black Canary as well as starting one between Question and Huntress. â€œClashâ€ features a highly-anticipated throw-down between Superman and his Fawcett Comics clone, Captain Marvel. The references to Kingdom Come bring a tear to my eye.
â€œQuestion Authorityâ€ focuses on, you guessed it, the Question! Some references to Alan Mooreâ€™s Watchmen in this episode (which featured a character named Rorschach who was inspired by the Question) and kicks the Cadmus arc into high gear. â€œHunterâ€™s Moonâ€ is placed out of continuity order in this set, which is kind of annoying, as it kills the pacing of the Cadmus arc. This one deals with more backlash from â€œStarcrossedâ€ and has a heavy focus on Vigilante, Shayera and Vixen. â€œFlashpointâ€ picks up immediately where â€œQuestion Authorityâ€ left off and brings us a fight between Superman and Captain Atom and also has one of the most incredibly frightening and risk-taking moments in the entire DCAU. â€œPanic in the Skyâ€ brings the Ultimen and Galatea threads to fruition and has the all-out JLU free-for-all weâ€™d been waiting for, as all the members of the JLU take on hordes of Ultimen clones. â€œDivided we Fallâ€ is the grand finale, bringing everything together at long last and featuring a great team-up between Lex Luthor and Brainiac (reminiscent of â€œWhatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrowâ€ by Alan Moore). The fact that a certain main character who had been terribly underused throughout the series got to save the day really thrilled me. â€œEpilogueâ€ was written as an epilogue to the DCAU-itself, back when Bruce Timm thought the series had been cancelled, unaware they would get a third and final season. This one ties up all the loose ends from Batman Beyond and is a great send-off to that series. Additionally, it features a gorgeous symmetry with â€œOn Leather Wingsâ€, the first episode of Batman the Animated Series.
JLU was shown late Saturday Nights and was aimed at a much more mature audience than even the regular Justice League series. As a result, the story telling in JLU is markedly more risk-taking. There are numerous suggestive themes, some very intense violence, stories far too complex for the Saturday Morning Cartoon crowd and numerous moments of frightening imagery.
I figure, since I might as well bring it up, Phil Lamar was spread out a bit too thin. He voiced Green Lantern, Steel, Static and Mr. Terrific. Heâ€™s a great voice actor, but even he only has so much range.
Regretfully, the special features on this set are some of the weakest any DCAU box set has been given. All that is featured is a documentary, â€œAnd Justice for Allâ€, which is comprised of brief interviews with the creators and is terribly short. There are commentary tracks on only two episodes, â€œThis Little Piggyâ€ and â€œThe Returnâ€, which are certainly *not* the two episodes I would have really wanted to hear commentary on. Finally, there are music tracks from select episodes provided clear, without sound effects or character voice-overs. A nice spotlight for the quality of the music in the series, but nothing too exciting.
The real attraction to this set are the episodes themselves and theyâ€™re the best thing to come from the DCAU. The third season of JLU, which will most assuredly be collected in JLU volume 2, is excellent, but these two seasons are the showâ€™s real highlight.