Review by KC Carlson
Out today is Justice League: The Complete Series, and I can’t think of a better gift for any superheroic animation fan — even if it’s a gift that you give yourself. The set features all 91 episodes of both Justice League and Justice League Unlimited on 14 DVDs, plus ALL the Special Features that appeared on the previous DVD collections — all wrapped up in a nifty little collector’s tin slipcase. Plus there’s a bonus 15th disc, featuring a brand new 17-minute documentary: Unlimited Reserve: A League for the Ages, featuring all the key figures that worked on the show reflecting on the creation, history, and impact of the series.
The Justice League cartoons originally ran on Cartoon Network from 2001 to 2004 and are based on the popular comic book which has been running (in various incarnations) since 1960. The first two seasons of the animated show were based around the adventures of the “Big 7″ JLA members — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz, and Aquaman — although for the cartoon, Hawkgirl replaced Aquaman (who occasionally guest-starred) and this particular GL was John Stewart. Most of the episodes in the first two seasons were two-parters. They were usually first shown back-to-back, effectively making the series an hour-long show. This allowed the creators the luxury to spread out their stories, with plenty of airtime for the relatively large cast of characters. Also, the hour format allowed for some spectacularly choreographed super-heroic action and multifaceted battles. Having already developed (and completed) critically acclaimed animated series for both Batman and Superman, the show creators poured everything they had learned on those two shows into the creation of Justice League, ultimately making it one of the very best superheroic animated shows in history. But the best was yet to come.
Originally thinking that the series was done following the wrap-up of Season Two, almost everybody was surprised when Cartoon Network renewed the series for Season Three. However, there were two major conditions for the renewal: The network asked that the show be “rebranded”, and there were to be no more two-part episodes. In essence, the network was looking to simplify the program. The creators had other ideas.
Thus was born Justice League Unlimited, a far more complicated show than the previous two seasons. The cast expanded to include any and all characters in the DCU (not all in the same episode, but there were more than a couple that attempted it). The writers adapted to a seeming “done-in-one” episode structure, but fans quickly picked up on the fact that several ongoing plot threads crossed over from episode to episode, ultimately culminating in what seemed like season-long story arcs. It was one of the more amazing juggling acts in TV animation history. What was even more amazing that there was even more characterization packed into these episodes than in the previous two seasons — and those were no slouch in characterization department either.
The series also became slightly less majestic in tone than the earlier seasons, as Justice League Unlimited is sprinkled with crazy one-shot episodes, like the one where Wonder Woman is turned into a pig by Circe and B’wana Beast is enlisted to help capture her, while Batman and Zatanna must sing torch songs in a mysterious nightclub. Or the episode where Lex Luthor and The Flash exchange minds. Or the one (written by Gail Simone) where Green Arrow and Black Canary and The Question and Huntress are both on separate dates that bring them into conflict with each other. And that bizarre Warren Ellis-scripted episode starring the Atom dealing with nanotechnology, which I still haven’t figured out.
Many of the characters received significant attention throughout the series. The heart and soul of the show are the journeys that both John Stewart and Hawkgirl are involved in, both together and apart (with a remarkable revelation!). Hawkgirl also has a very touching relationship with the childlike Solomon Grundy which plays out over the entire series, while Batman and Wonder Woman seem to develop a more-than-friends interest in each other. J’onn J’onzz grows as a character, showcased in a wonderful Christmastime visit to Ma and Pa Kent’s farmhouse, and later makes a life-altering decision. Other, more minor characters shine — such as The Question in the latter seasons, and Supergirl making a couple of key appearances. The meeting between Superman and Captain Marvel in the final season is also amazing and pivotal — as is the entire last season story arc featuring the Secret Society of Super-Villains. (If you look closely and squint, you’ll see some clever references to the original Legion of Doom from another generation’s JLA show: Super Friends!)
If you don’t already own the Justice League on DVD, now is your chance to pick up the entire series in a very nice collector’s pack. If you already have the four previous season sets, I’m not sure if this new Collector’s Set is exciting enough to upgrade (although the tin is pretty nice!). But whatever format you decide on — get this series! It really is beyond amazing, and it’s the linchpin to the animated DC Universe. It might just be the best animated superhero series of them all!
(I just got this set, via studio review copy, a couple of days ago, which is not nearly enough time for me to plow through all 2062 minutes of Justice League goodness in one weekend. I’m gonna take my time and watch this great series all over again from scratch (and take notes!). So I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to share some more thoughts on this classic series. I’ve been wanting to watch these shows again for a long time and this new set is the perfect excuse! See you soon!)