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Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths — The DVD Review
February 28, 2010

It’s an alternate Earth, a place where Lex Luthor heads up the good guys and the characters most like “our” Justice League are murderers. (Hmm, maybe that’s not so different from current comic continuity. The darkening of superhero comics makes it hard to tell the good guys from their “evil twins” these days.) Anyway, Luthor needs the Justice League to help him return democracy to his world and overthrow the Crime Syndicate.

I liked the alternate Joker from the opening scene. He’s dressed more like a court jester and behaves not as crazy as people like to portray him these days. And what’s more heroic than a sacrifice to save your friend? But I quickly found myself wondering who the audience for these films are supposed to be. It’s rated PG-13, so younger kids are out. An early scene features a naked Luthor — “as you can see, I’m not armed” — and stupid jokes about that. The humor seems aimed pretty low and juvenile. Are they targeting adults? Teenagers? Old fans? New viewers? Did they need to use the words “crap” and “ass”? It makes the characters sound too young.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths cover
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
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I suppose I don’t have to know the answers to those questions, but one of the things I ask myself as a reviewer is “did this succeed at what it was aiming to do?” Without understanding what they’re trying for, I’m left feeling muddled. I think a clear vision, well-communicated, makes for better art. The action scenes are pretty good, but that’s not why I watch these movies. Maybe I’m weird that way. Maybe that’s all I should expect. The fight choreography is well-done and creative in places. Perhaps that’s all animated movie fans want, just one big fight, where you can see the characters actually moving. There’s not a lot of story here, just plenty of action. That’s the best thing about the film.

The animation and design aren’t as good as they were on the original TV shows (which makes me wonder if there’s a little too much cost-cutting going on to keep the film series going, or if I’m just overly nostalgic and remembering the older show too fondly). Maybe those involved just have different tastes than I do, and they wanted something that seemed a little edgier. In keeping with the parallelism theme, the film had two directors: Sam Liu, who previously directed Planet Hulk and Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, and Lauren Montgomery, who handled Green Lantern: First Flight and Wonder Woman.

I liked the way they used different powers for Superman, beyond the typical flying and punching things. We see super-breath, vision powers, even speed-spinning to drill into the floor. On the other hand, I found the Martian Manhunter origin sequence confusing (due to its wordless lack of explanation) and unnecessary. There’s always this problem with that character: he’s an alien Superman, so they try to emphasize his background to make him different, and that looks like they’re trying to hard to prop him up in spite of viewer disinterest.

There was a huge opportunity missed for extras on this disc. They should have done a trivia track that popped up onscreen to identify the many supporting characters. It appears that the Crime Syndicate use the Outsiders and Justice League Detroit to do their dirty work, with characters that looked like Halo (identified as Breakdance), Gypsy, Vibe, Vixen, Black Lightning, and a punked-out Elongated Man. But they aren’t named, and while we see some of their powers, we’re just guessing at who they’re supposed to be. The pink girl with the hypnosis and red hair (with pink? really?) I was lost on.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths cover
Blu-ray version
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I wanted to know more about some of them, and it could be a great introduction to more of the DCU for the viewer. As it was, there were names used I didn’t have anything to connect with and characters I watched I didn’t know who they were, because they weren’t named. It’s a terrible job of identifying characters. Maybe that’s another (poorly chosen) way they’re trying to be like the comics. You have to be a fan who already knows this stuff or go online and read up on annotations to know who anyone is. In this case, it’s worse, because you have to know the original character in order to figure out who they’re analoguing.

The parts we enjoyed most were the little, funny moments. Like Flash scooping up alternate Black Canary, running out into the ocean, dropping her, and running back. Or Superwoman getting smacked by a plane with a “chameleon circuit” (someone’s a Doctor Who fan!). I also enjoyed seeing Superwoman (Gina Torres) and Owlman (James Woods) interact, as a couple of psychopaths who know what they are — they were also the voices I thought did the best job, followed by Bruce Davison as President Wilson. The end also makes more sense if you know that this was originally intended to be the bridge between the Justice League cartoon and Justice League Unlimited, which used more of the DC universe.

Special Features and Batman: Under the Red Hood

Disc one has, in addition to the film, three “first looks” that have already been released on other DVDs — Green Lantern First Flight, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, and Wonder Woman — plus trailers for Halo Legends and Naruto: Shippuden: The Movie. The new content is “A First Look at Batman: Under the Red Hood”, which will be the next direct-to-DVD DC animated film. It shows sketches, storyboards, work in progress, and lots of talking heads — Bruce Timm, director Brandon Vietti, voice director Andrea Romano, DC flack Gregory Noveck, the writer, the actors. (You can see it on YouTube.)

The movie is written by Judd Winick, based on his graphic novel, and tells the story that takes place after A Death in the Family. That was the death of the Jason Todd Robin, “Batman’s greatest failure”, as Winick puts it. Now, the mystery is “who’s under the red hood?” Given where this starts, I bet I can guess.

There’s much talk about how dark this is, in terms of look, tone, and characters. Red Hood is played by Jensen Ackles (Supernatural), while Bruce Greenwood is Batman and Neil Patrick Harris (yay!) plays Nightwing. I think this animated film production group in general handles Batman best of all the DC characters, so I’m sure this will be one of the best — I’m just not very interested in the premise.

Disc Two: The New World

Disc two contains a two-part (thus hour-long) Justice League episode about a different alternate world team, so you can compare cartooning then and now, and the new 25-minute featurette “DCU: The New World”, which promises to explore how “DC Comics raised the stakes with talented writers, editors, and artists pushing the boundaries”. Note the order of role listing there. Significant?

It starts by talking about how the word “Crisis” has become a signpost for important events in comics, specifically in terms of Identity Crisis. Guests include Paul Levitz, Rags Morales (artist for Identity Crisis), Geoff Johns (writer, Infinite Crisis), Mike Carlin (editor, Identity Crisis), Brad Meltzer (writer, Identity Crisis), and Dan DiDio. (Oh, and check out the cover wall behind Carlin for hints of how long ago this was filmed.)

Paul’s presence is kind of weird, because they’ll drop in him talking about one of the original Crisis crossover stories, and then cut to some Identity Crisis mention. I know they’re trying to tie that atrocity into the storied history of the DCU, but since I reject the premise of Identity Crisis (and all the resulting stories), it doesn’t work for me. I found it laughable. They pull out the expected lines: comics were maturing post-9/11 and becoming more sophisticated. I cannot believe any definition of “sophisticated” that involves the Justice League in rape and postulates a mystery solution that uses a shrunken person with a flame thrower leaving brain footprints.

When Frank Miller was mugged, he gave us a seminal Daredevil run. When Joe Orlando was mugged, he helped rework the Spectre with Michael Fleisher into a vengeful, eye-for-an-eye spirit. When Dan DiDio was frightened by cops with semiautomatic weapons in the subway, he gave us this crap and ruined the DC line for a decade. I don’t want to minimize the significance of the event, but to the rest of the world, this looks like New York overreaction.

Everyone starts using the phrase “raise the stakes”. Carlin says they wanted to redefine what it means to be a superhero. What happened to telling entertaining stories instead of making a statement? When people set out to tell “important” stories that redefine things, the opposite often happens. So given all this, why do I recommend buying this disc? Because of

DC Showcase: The Spectre

I was looking forward to this almost more than the main feature, in part because it was shorter. (I have some weird thing with cartoons where it’s hard for me to focus on them for more than about half an hour, or I get really sleepy.) I like the concept, and I’m looking forward to seeing more variety in the characters animated under this umbrella title.

The Showcase opening freaked us out. The camera pans through a comic shop stocked with old DC comics in mint condition, although it looks like a modern shop, with racks and bins, plus a spinner rack. (In addition to the males in the store, there’s at least one female and a black person, which I appreciated as an attempt to be well-rounded.) The camera finally stops on an issue of The Spectre, and the logo moves forward against a background of, all things, go-go checks.

Once the cartoon starts, the soundtrack makes you think you’re in the 70s, as does the fake scratches and grain in the image. (Nice touches.) Gary Cole plays the cop Jim Corrigan, investigating a mogul’s murder. The dead guy’s daughter is a beautiful blonde who throws herself into his arms. She’s wearing what I think are meant to be short-shorts, in keeping with the period, but it looks more like she just forgot to put her pants on.

Corrigan’s sweater vest is similarly silly-looking and doesn’t seem particularly period. The rest of the costuming is well-chosen — the suits *look* polyester, with wide ties. In contrast to my take, KC thinks that the vest is a nice subtle touch to show that Corrigan is a man out of time, originally a 40s character. Either way, I like the white streak in his hair.

Writer Steve Niles has created disco noir. The short has some very neat effects, as the Spectre first appears to a murderer as a dead guy, dissolves into mist, and then animates various puppets and mannequins to attack him. Much of the cartoon consists of scenes of vengeance, as the Spectre takes out the bad guys in creepy ways. They’re reminiscent of 70s cinema: a car crash and killer vehicle, zombie attack, blood money.

It’s got the feel of the classic comics featuring the character, full of poetic justice. Guilt must be punished, no matter what — it’s that simple to the Spectre. Cole does an excellent job with the voice, harsh and cruel when needed, and then mystically deep and menacing. I’d like to see many more of these shorts, please. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

Similar Posts: Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths Due in February With New Spectre Short § Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths Interview With Bruce Timm § Justice League: War Extras, Images, and Video Clips § Justice League: War Launches New Line of Connected OVAs § Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths Introductory Clip

25 Responses  
geoff writes:  

The girl in pink was Looker from the Outsiders.

 
Johanna writes:  

OH! I remember her. Would never have guessed that. Thanks!

 
Don MacPherson writes:  

Also, I believe Breakdance is the name for evil Vibe. After all, Vibe (created in the 1980s) was a breakdancer.

Given the significant (although brief) spotlight Evil Looker gets, I was surprised she wasn’t named.

Also, the “Made Men” who work for Superwoman are an Evil Marvel Family.

 
Christopher writes:  

I liked the movie; it had some great animation. It was also fun to see some characters I didn’t know before. I initially thought Jester was supposed to be an alternate Toyman, until I got a closer look at what was def Joker. I had never heard of Vibe, but when I saw Breakdance I thought “me like the hip-hop hottie.” GL & Flash looked yummy, too.

 
Thom writes:  

The Spectre short made me think it would be kind of cool to build a supernatural/crime noir series around him, maybe having him introduce the story, then seem to step back, returning at the end of the story to exact vengeace in some scary way.

The thing that killed me in the “Isn’t DC Bold” documentary was that they tried to argue that they needed books like Identity Crisis to up the ante, because we needed to see that heroes put their lives on the line. That, like a rescue worker on 9/11 running into a building that could collapse, the super heroes could die at anytime in their line of work.

And that might have had meaning if they hadn’t, since 9/11, resurected many dead characters…like, say, Barry Allen?

 
Thom writes:  

BTW, weird additions to the Blu-Ray? The pilot for the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series and the pilot for the CW’s proposed Aquaman spin-off which starred, not the actor who played Aquaman on Smallville, but the guy who plays Green Arrow on Smallville.

 
Johanna writes:  

Thom, good catch. There are many contradictions between what they say about Identity Crisis and what it actually was, but that’s one of the big ones.

Based on what you say about the Blu-Ray, I’d fear that it’s becoming shovelware. Just throw whatever you’ve got on there to fill up the space.

 
Johanna writes:  

Don, I kept waiting for them to name Superwoman’s minions, because I really wanted to know what they were going to warp them into, since they couldn’t use Marvel. Alas, I was disappointed.

 
Jay Faerber writes:  

I’ve always been struck by how terrible most super-hero cartoons are at calling characters by name. As much as I love the Bruce Timm Justice League shows, they were always pretty bad at introducing characters. And that new Wolverine & The X-Men cartoon is really, really bad at it. There was an episode in the first season that featured Gambit as a very prominent guest star. He had a speaking role, and much of the plot revolved around him. And unless I missed it, he was never once referred to by name.

Sorry for the rant, but this has always bugged me!

 
Thom writes:  

Johanna,

In general, that hasn’t been an issue with Blu-Ray-if anything Companies are not taking advantage of the options the space presents tem. On the other hand, these DC animated films seem all about packing in repeat extras from other releases (although, included additional Justice League episodes is kind of cool).

 
Johanna writes:  

Jay, it feels like someone responsible is so into this stuff that they figure that everyone else is too, so it’s obvious who these characters are. Unless you’re a new viewer — but those are rare these days. And with this attitude, not providing the basic pieces of information, they’ll continue to be.

 
Jay Faerber writes:  

Johanna — yeah, exactly. They figure the only people watching these things are the existing fans. Which could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 
George Grattan writes:  

Johanna,this is just brilliant; I don’t know that I’ve seen it put so well, so succinctly:

“When Frank Miller was mugged, he gave us a seminal Daredevil run. When Joe Orlando was mugged, he helped rework the Spectre with Michael Fleisher into a vengeful, eye-for-an-eye spirit. When Dan DiDio was frightened by cops with semiautomatic weapons in the subway, he gave us this crap and ruined the DC line for a decade.”

Thanks for the review–very balanced, and open about your biases (which I share). This’ll be a rental for me, if they end up renting out the two-disc set, just so I can see the Spectre piece, which sounds very interesting.

 
Johanna writes:  

Thank you. I don’t think I’ve gotten a “thank you for being biased” before. :)

I may have given the wrong impression, though. I don’t have the disc right now to check, but I think the Spectre short is on the first disc. The second is just the DC promo doc and the extra cartoon show episodes.

 
Michael D. writes:  

I greatly enjoyed this movie – it looks spectacular on Blu-Ray although the audio is quite lacking. The voice talent seemed perfectly cast to me, having not watched any DC animation in the past couple of decades. James Woods in particular was standout as Owlman.

The Spectre short, which everyone is raving about, certainly gets outstanding marks for mood and its style. It’s pretty flat on plot, however. I thought, “hey this could be a real murder mystery,” but that element is not even really tackled – the audience has no opportunity to guess about who did it, why, or much less care. Still, it is stylistically captivating and definitely a cool addition.

Johanna, I had a very similar thought as you did along “New York overraction.” Although I am hesitant to call it that, since the trauma of any and all New Yorkers regarding that event must be huge compared to what any of us experienced, I did think that Didio had let his own shock impact how he wanted comics told. His reaction is not one I think I would have about comics, even in the wake of 9/11. In particular, the comment about needing to know that heroes put their lives on the life struck me as not just odd, but completely wrong. I know that my heroes aren’t going to die; I’m not interested in seeing them “put their lives on the line.” I’m much more interested in how they solve the situation, the character developments, and the psychology of how do you navigate difficult situations? Your example of the Miller DD run is excellent and I would argue that Morrison’s RIP storyline in Batman was about that also.

Also, the segment is interesting for what the people don’t say about it – how these events drive or are driven by marketing, if thinking about comics like TV episodes is a good or bad thing, how /why/should post-9/11 comics be different from post-WW II comics, among other topics.

 
Bytowner writes:  

I still boggle at Brad Metzler’s assertion that Identity Crisis reaffirmed the viability of the secret ID as a needed genre convention. That story demolished the credibility of that particular rule forever.

 
Batman: Under the Red Hood » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] (which I thought was the best part of the previous release — The Spectre was featured in the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths package) will be Jonah Hex, timely, considering the summer movie of the same name. It’s [...]

 
DC Doesn’t Want to Animate Super-Heroines » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] Lantern (July 28) and Batman: Gotham Knight (July 8) were summer releases. The most recent DVD, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, came out February 23, so it would be interesting to know how those sales compared to WW, although [...]

 
More Superman/Batman Apocalypse News, Including Casting » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] Apocalypse is produced by animation legend Bruce Timm and directed by Lauren Montgomery (Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths) from a script by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Tab Murphy (Gorillas in the Mist). [NB JDC: [...]

 
Batman: Under the Red Hood (DVD Review) » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] last gripe: Continuing from the last original DC animated movie, I really hate the tendency of these films to introduce second- or third-tier bad guys who look [...]

 
DC Showcase Original Shorts Collection Announced » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] The Spectre (originally released with Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths) [...]

 
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] line. That trailer is also available through the disc menu, as are trailers for Public Enemies, Crisis on Two Earths, the Jonah Hex motion comic, and Lego Universe [...]

 
All-Star Superman Next DC Animated Movie » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths [...]

 
Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam — The DC Showcase Shorts Collection » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] The Spectre (originally released with Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths) [...]

 
Batman: Year One » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] impressed. This was put together by the usual suspects — co-directors Lauren Montgomery (Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, many other DCU cartoons) and Sam Liu (All-Star Superman), writer Tab Murphy (Superman/Batman: [...]

 
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