I was asked yesterday about whether I’d thought about reviewing any Justice League Unlimited and coincidentally I had just that day. Justice League Unlimited, which ran for 39 episodes, followed Justice League, which ran for 52 episodes, of which the majority of stories were either two or three-parters. JLU had more “one-off” episodes, but there was a bit of a serial aspect, especially up to the end of season two. The DVD boxsets collect season one and season two as Season One, with season three collected as Season Two. I’m going to look at three random episodes from that final season, which saw the introduction of a certain band of villains.
I Am Legion (by Dwayne McDuffie)
Lex Luthor is on the run from the law following the events of the previous season and still talking to an unseen figure (Brainiac). About to be recaptured, he is rescued by the Key, who takes him to a swamp and Gorilla Grodd, who has set up a “You watch our back, we’ll watch your back” association… the Legion of Doom! First mission for Luthor to prove his worth: steal the Spear of Longinus.
The first Justice League season had tried to play itself seriously, but the producers realised over time to have more fun with the characters and stories. This would be the pinnacle of it, with total excessiveness, a mix of characters, plots and concepts. Shayera Hol (Hawkgirl out of costume), the Flash and Fire, assisted by former Blackhawk Chuck, against Luthor, the Key and Doctor Polaris could not be a more random or fun collection of characters if they were picked out of a hat, but they totally work. Add in robots, including the former Hawkgirl fighting a giant hawk and flying hammerhead sharks and a squid launching out of the water, and it’s lots of fun.
No longer holding back means we get a new take on the Hall of Doom, lots of Easter eggs on Blackhawk Island. There’s a bit of flirtation comedy with Flash and Fire. The late Powers Boothe (who I didn’t realise had died until I began research for writing this review) is fantastic as always as Grodd. Less so is Maria Canals-Barrera’s accent as Fire. Her characterisation, as a bit of a bimbo, isn’t much better, and it’s not like I’ve not got time for bimbo characters.
Patriot Act (by Matt Wayne)
In a castle in Germany during World War II, Spy Smasher stopped Nazi scientists from using a formula to create super-soldiers. The disgraced and embittered General Wade Eiling finds out about it and uses it to transform himself into a monster to get revenge on the Justice League. The opening scene as a flashback is presented in black and white and looks great, but a CGI plane sticks out like a sore thumb.
A clever device is used again, similar to The Greatest Story Never Told, of having a big event happening in the background, with the focus on a motley group of Justice Leaguers who coincidentally happen across trouble. The members in question are Vigilante, Shining Knight, Stargirl, STRIPE, and Green Arrow, later joined by Speedy and the Crimson Avenger (for comic fans, the Seven Soldier of Victory). Vigilante, played by Nathan Fillion, is presented as the cool character, but I found myself more drawn to the square Shining Knight. I should also mention that I have never got the dynamic of Stargirl being this teenage superhero chaperoned by her stepdad in a robot suit.
JK Simmons is a great actor and totally fits, vocally and visually, for General Eiling, but when he has his monster moment, like General Ross as Red Hulk, he makes little effort to differentiate the two voices, which is disappointing. He didn’t need to show less intelligence or appear more primitive, but something to suggest a change in his physicality.
Other voice issues – CCH Pounder, who I’ve always thought was incredibly wooden, is around for a cameo as Amanda Waller and then an awful role as an old lady who sticks up for Shining Knight and the other heroes against the General. After a pretty awesome battle between Knight and the General, where Knight gets all of his cred by taking a beating and not backing down, it makes the episode really corny. I would’ve preferred a David and Goliath story between them from start to end, but it was not to be.
Far From Home (by Dwayne McDuffie and Paul Dini)
Finishing for now with this episode, which I believe was intended to be a backdoor pilot for a Legion of Super-Heroes show in the DCAU, then they just ended up doing their own thing unconnected. Green Lantern, Supergirl and Green Arrow are transported to the 31st century by Brainiac 5 and Bouncing Boy to help out the Legion against the Fatal Five.
The sizzle is the JLU against the Fatal Five, but the supposed steak is the personal growth of Supergirl, supposedly becoming more of her own person but looking more like Superman, doing her own thing, but becoming a member of another group. The story idea’s not bad, but it’s one of Paul Dini’s worst scripts, the dialogue in particular being really poor and forced, especially the Supergirl/Brainiac love story that’s more forcibly accelerated than Romeo and Juliet. Bouncing Boy, presented as the heart of the group, is a bore. Green Arrow, who I never took to in this show, isn’t helped at all either. I’ve not been commenting on him too much in my The Brave and the Bold reviews, but the funny, arrogant jerk in that show is a million miles better than here.
The Fatal Five don’t really get a lot of time on screen, but have potential. Joanne Whalley, who was the babe in Willow, fills the role of posh English actress to play Emerald Empress. I think they should’ve gone for Amanda Donohoe or Sarah Douglas if they wanted that, but both had been used before. Empress controls a mob of Legionnaires with her psychic powers, none of whom get named or get to show off their powers. The bizarre Validus is used as the brute, but not really explained.
Conclusion: I picked a random smattering of episodes – one good, one alright but could’ve been better, one as poor as any time the Superman series shit the bed, but even worse for being overwrought. That’s the way it goes sometimes, though, and it’s not a reflection on the series overall. I’ll probably have a look at some random JL and JLU episodes here and there again, maybe even venture into Superman and LOSH too.