As a proper child of the ‘70s and ‘80s, I watched the Superfriends constantly. In fact, I knew superheroes from the Superfriends long before I ever picked up my first comic book. That show introduced me to the brightly colored world of comics. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the Superfriends I watched wasn’t a single show, but a couple of different series randomly slotting in together. All I knew was that when the skull-faced dome rose up from the swamp, I was in for a good episode. I would get to see the Legion of Doom.
Even now, the Legion of Doom gets me giddy. Nostalgia has a powerful effect. So when it was announced that the next DCU animation was Justice League: Doom, well, I was six years old again, and that skull-faced dome was rising out of the swamp.
Justice League: Doom was better than I had hoped. Merging the classic imagery of Legion of Doom with Mark Waid’s brilliant Tower of Babel story and slicing in a touch of the new 52 JLA re-launch was brilliant. They kept all of the necessary nostalgic elements—the headquarters in the swamp, the name Legion of Doom, a balance of one villain per hero—but then they made the evil team a credible threat via the Tower of Babel story and the theft of Batman’s anti-hero files. Oh, and that touch of the 52 JLA re-launch? That would be the novice hero Cyborg making his debut on the team.
The animation and character design for Justice League: Doom was spot-on. I haven’t seen this design for Mirror Master before, so I don’t know if that is his current costume, but I thought he looked great. I even thought they did a good job with Bane, who is a character I normally can’t stand. He has been used well in Young Justice also, proving once again that it is the writer not the character that matters most. Vandal Savage makes a credible replacement for Ra’s al Ghul, and even though the superhero take-downs are less cerebral than Tower of Babel, the more action-orientated style is animation-friendly and works well.
The only attack I didn’t like was Wonder Woman. Suddenly surrounded by an entire city full of the Cheetah, Wonder Woman didn’t even try to reason things out but just went straight to the fighting taking down innocent people in the process. I thought that did Wonder Woman a disservice; she should be able to use her brain as well as her brawn.
All the right people are doing the voice acting; by which I mean that Kevin Conroy is Batman and Tim Daly is Superman. With those two anchoring the show, the rest of the cast can be mixed up in almost any direction. DC seems to be trying to maintain some continuity in voices; Nathan Fillion is back as Hal Jordan, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman, Carly Lumbly as Martian Manhunter, and Michael Rosenbaum as The Flash (Barry Allen instead of Wally West, which is a bit odd as Rosenbaum does both of their voices as essentially the same character). I didn’t recognize any of the other voices, but everyone suited their character.
Continuity is going to be a problem for DC with these animated releases. With new generations raised on continuing-storyline animation in the Japanese style, like Dragonball, rather than the random-episode style like the original Superfriends, I have seen a few younger viewers confused as to how this fits in with other DCU animations. Is this the same JLA from Young Justice? Where is Red Tornado? Why does Superman look different? All these things adults take in stride—we know the shows are only vaguely connected. But the run the risk of alienating younger viewers who are used to a certain style of storytelling. And without raising a new crop of kids on superhero animated adventures like I was, DC is going to find its future in trouble.
The Special Features on the Blu-ray were outstanding. The best one, of course, was the moving tribute to Dwayne McDuffie called Legion of One: The Dwayne McDuffie Story. Watching this, I realized how little I knew about McDuffie. Like the fact that he was a minor celebrity as a young boy, going to college at age 10. Or how he wanted to be an astronaut and only gave up when he grew past the maximum height requirement. Or his commitment to bring actual ethnic diversity to comic books. The submitted fan tributes via webcam to Dwayne McDuffie were truly moving. Expect to drop a tear or two.
The other two features are Guarding the Balance: Batman and the JLA—a look at American history, politics, and paranoia—and Their Time Has Come: Cyborg and the DC Universe’s New Diversity, which was less personal than the Dwayne McDuffie feature but still interesting.
One bonus feature that I wish DC would included on these animated releases are Who’s Who –style character profiles. They would be easy enough to include—just stagnant clickable screens—but I think they would add significant depth. With these animated releases DC reaches a much larger audience who aren’t familiar with their stable of characters. A history and profile of lesser known characters like Vandal Savage, Cyborg, and Star Sapphire would help orientate new viewers.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.