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Justice League: Season One (2001-2002)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/19/2008

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/16/2008

In my recent review for DC Super Heroes, I wrote about how super hero TV shows and movies go in cycles. In 1992, the success of the Batman films spawned a new show Batman: The Animated Series. This show was inspired by the dark look of Tim Burton's movies, but it actually took that look even farther, creating a Gotham City which could have existed in many different eras and which was inhabited by all sorts of fiends. The success of that show compelled Warner Bros. to look into other characters -- this spawned Superman: The Animated Series. So, if a show with one character can be a success, why not have one with many characters. Thus, Justice League came on-board in 2001. The first season of the show has just arrived on Blu-ray Disc.

Justice League brings together Superman (voiced by George Newbern), Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy), Green Lantern (voiced by Phil LaMarr), The Flash (voiced by Michael Rosenbaum), Wonder Woman (voiced by Susan Eisenberg), Hawkgirl (voiced by Maria Canals-Barrera), and J'onn J'onzz (voiced by Carl Lumbly). The team formed when the Earth was invaded by giant aliens. J'onn J'onzz, The Martian Manhunter, was the only survivor of a similar attack on Mars and he's come to Earth to warn us. The aliens begin to decimate Earth’s major cities, and J’onzz joins Batman, Superman, The Flash, Hawkgirl, and Green Lantern in the fight. Viewing the destruction from her secluded island, Wonder Woman defies her mother’s orders and heads to the outside world in order to assist. Once the battle is done, the group decides to band together as a force of justice. Batman builds a space platform, called The Watchtower, to serve as a headquarters for the team. From that point on, the super heroes assist one another in battling evil around the globe.

Many articles and books have been written about the films of the 1970s. The movies of this era were very raw, gritty, and violent -- presumably a reaction to the Vietnam War. And what did kids of that time get on TV? The SuperFriends. This was a watered-down version of the “Justice League of America” comic, which was further hampered by a series of goofy sidekicks -- Marvin and Wonder Dog at first, and then The Wonder Twins and their monkey, Gleep. This show set back comic book adaptations for years.

The 2001 Justice League is the show that the 1970s deserved, but with a very modern flair. I know that this statement gets thrown around a lot, but "This show really isn't for kids." While it would be inaccurate to call the show dark, as the artwork is very colorful, the series never pulls back from showing violence and characters in peril. Also, the actions of the villains typically go far beyond the usual robberies or vague "world domination". The plotline with Lex Luthor in "Injustice for All" will tell you that this isn't a kiddie show. Every episode here is at least a two-parter, so the show demands viewer loyalty. The series also does a good job of incorporating well-known villains from the comics. Nothing can perk up a series like this better than being true to the source material. The storylines are varied enough that Justice League isn't the kind of show which suffers from the kind of back-to-back viewing offered by this package. On a similar note, the team roster shifts from show-to-show, so things don't get redundant.

While Justice League is a shining example of what an animated show based on a comic could and should look like, the series does have some deficits. The quality of the animation varies at times. While the designs of the major characters is impressive (save for the fact that some don't have pupils -- that's one way to cut corners), some of the background players lack in detail. The writing is consistently good, but the show does hit some speed-bumps, with "War World" being the season's nadir. This story here could have easily been lifted from an episode of Star Trek. A minor issue with the show is the ever-changing line-up of which Justice League characters will appear on each episode. Each character is given a stand-out episode, which is quite nice (while I wasn't crazy about the gorillas, I liked the fact that the wise-cracking Flash was prominently featured in "The Brave and the Bold".), but there's going to be at least one ep which doesn't have enough of your favorite character, whichever one that my be. And I realize that he has his own show, but there simply isn't enough Batman here.

I've mentioned before that I'm more of a Marvel person, but I appreciate the DC characters. This series only helped to enhance that appreciation, as Justice League offers diverse storylines, gritty action (at times), and interesting characters. I look forward to checking out later seasons in the future.

Justice League: Season One flies onto Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. This three-disc set contains all 26 episodes from the first season of the show. The episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 15 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and not a speck of dirt from the source materials. The colors look fantastic, especially bold reds and blues, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The HD transfer has revealed some blurring in the animation and some character outlines become jagged in certain shots. The Disc features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and 640 kbps. This track provide clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects become prominent during the action scenes and they are quite good at times. We don't get as much surround sound action, but some battle sounds and musical cues do find their way to the rear channels. The subwoofer effects are limited to explosions, but they don't offer much thump.

The Justice League: Season One Blu-ray Disc set offers a few extras. Producers Bruce Timm, James Tucker, Glen Murakami, Rich Fogel and Director Dan Riba provide AUDIO COMMENTARIES for the episodes "The Enemy Below - Part 2" (Disc 1), "Legends - Part 2" (Disc 2), and "The Savage Time - Part 2" (Disc 3). On these talks, the group discusses the making of the episodes, and how they incorporated ideas from various sources into the show. The remainder of the extras are on Disc 3. "Inside Justice League" (9 minutes) has a discussion with Timm, Tucker, Fogel, and Riba who talk about how the show came about, how they decided on which characters to include, and the freedom that they have on the show. (Even they admit "War World" is bad.) Timm describes the process of designing the Justice League members "The Look of the League: Character Design" (4 minutes). "Justice League: The First Mission" (6 minutes) is another chat with Timm & Tucker who present the promotional reel which was used to sell the show. The promo was made using some scraps from other DC shows. The actual promo reel is only a little over a minute. "Storyboards: The Blueprint for Justice" (7 minutes) gives an explantion of storyboarding and shows many examples from the show. Finally, we have the MUSIC VIDEO for "The Blackhawk Theme" (3 minutes), with an intro by Timm.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long