Justice League: Doom Reviewed
Based on Mark Waid’s Tower of Babel story, Justice League: Doom features Vandal Savage putting together a villain team of Star Sapphire, Cheetah, Metallo, Bane, Ma’alefa’ak, and Mirror Master to defeat the Justice League. We see the hero team first after a battle with the Royal Flush Gang, where the League backs up Batman. Then it’s a matter of sending the members’ arch-enemies against them one by one, using (SPOILER ALERT, since this isn’t revealed until 50 minutes into the movie, although it’s also on the back of the DVD box) Batman’s contingency plans to take them down.
As such, the hour-and-17-minute movie is a sequence of battles and fight scenes, with Vandal Savage’s immortal origin in the middle. If you want to see superheroes in action, this is a great short film for you. If, on the other hand, you’re interested in exploring the moral and philosophical implications of Batman’s plans, read the comic and join an online discussion, because there’s not much of that in the movie itself. (And what there is is marred by Batman using the phrase “you people”, which never turns out well. Although see the Special Features section below.)
The Flash’s takedown plan didn’t make a lot of sense to me, although Wonder Woman’s was pretty ingenious, and Martian Manhunter’s particularly mean. The final battle features the teams squaring off with each other, as expected, which breaks down into one-on-one struggles. Silver Age readers will quickly find themselves wondering why they don’t swap foes. Overall, this isn’t a true Justice League story so much as six stories about Justice League members told simultaneously.
I’m glad to see Lauren Montgomery directing, but her work puts me in a little bit of a quandary, since I’m not a big fan of her design approach. Characters are drawn in a more simplified style, which sometimes makes them look doughy and unfinished. The thin lines give them more youthfulness than I suspect was intended, which I particularly noticed in the case of Superman. In contrast to Bruce Timm’s thick-lined style, these characters can seem weightless and less substantial. The animation seems more limited than in previous films, with various conversation scenes featuring the “let’s just animate their lips” approach.
I preferred seeing the Royal Flush Gang in action to the Justice League, since their costumes remain examples of excellent, eye-catching themed design, while the more famous outfits, like Superman’s S-shield or Wonder Woman’s bathing suit, just didn’t look right from certain angles. When Star Sapphire, wearing the stupidly designed glowing navel-bearing pink strips, appeared, KC noted “oh, look, it’s your favorite superhero costume”. Unfortunately, the youthful approach is particularly notable (and inappropriate) on her, making her appear to be a 12-year-old who’s wandered in from a nearby anime.
The best part of this movie, and the reason to see it, is the outstanding assembly of voices, including many favorites from previous cartoon versions. Nathan Fillion (Green Lantern) was my favorite, since he’s played as a smart aleck, but the cast also includes Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, Michael Rosenbaum as the Flash, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman, and Carl Lumbly as Martian Manhunter. The new, young hero is Cyborg (Bumper Robinson), playing a key role as an unexpected element.
I hadn’t previously noted the work of Robin Atkin Downes, who plays both Alfred and Jack of the Royal Flush Gang, but his dry performance as Batman’s butler is a welcome moment of humor. Trivia: Ace is voiced by Bruce Timm, while the queen of voice casting, Andrea Romano, plays the Batcomputer.
Of the villain league, the only voice I recognized was Alexis Denisof as Mirror Master. (Unfortunately, his costume looks like a Tang popsicle with a neck brace.) Carl Lumbly does double duty as the evil Martian Ma’alefa’ak. Vandal Savage is Phil Morris; Star Sapphire is Olivia d’Abo; Cheetah, Claudia Black; Metallo is Paul Blackthorne; Bane, Carlos Alazraqui.
With all the discussion over creator credits recently, I found it interesting to note which characters have “created by” credits on this film. The answer is Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Bane, and Cyborg, in that order. I suspect Green Lantern and the Flash’s credits are complicated by the Golden/Silver Age discrepancies. The characters are derivative of the earlier versions, but also distinct from them. Also relevant is that Mark Waid is credited for the original story in the press release, but nowhere in the actual film.
The Blu-ray comes with a DVD and a digital copy. In response to customer confusion and unhappiness, the packaging is clearly marked “UltraViolet digital copy” and “Digital copy files are not currently available for your iTunes library.”
The lead special feature is “A League of One: The Dwayne McDuffie Story” (36 minutes). This movie was McDuffie’s final film script, and it’s wonderful to see him remembered by various folks, including Matt Wayne, Denys Cowan, Andrea Romano, former Marvel editor Sid Jacobson, and McDuffie’s widow Charlotte. They briefly go over his early life, his work, and various phases of his career, including Damage Control, Milestone, and his animation work. I’m very impressed this was included, since it doesn’t sell anything for Warner. (If anything, it makes me wonder why I can’t buy a whole bunch of Static Shock comics and DVDs.) Instead, it’s an important recognition of how missed he is. It also makes me want an in-depth documentary on the story of Milestone. This is a memorial, so it doesn’t have the space or purpose to go into that whole story in the detail I’d like to see.
“Guarding the Balance: Batman and the JLA” is a more typical featurette. In its 19 minutes, Dan DiDio and Eddie Berganza explain the Justice League to us. Actually, it’s mostly political discussion about the necessity for the powerful to be accountable. I wish some of this analysis and subtext had made it into the film, instead of just this talking head documentary. It also needed more comic context, beyond the obvious Watchmen mentions. As it is, it seems like a way to make the characters seem more important by connecting them to big ideas, however loosely. It feels like the visual equivalent of the various superhero philosophy books that attempt to justify the hobby by connecting it up with thesis proposals. I found it boring.
(It also reminded me why I thought “Emerald Twilight” was an amazing story idea for Hal Jordan. We’re talking about vigilantism, characters who spend their lives deciding what’s right and wrong for others. What if one of them was wrong and didn’t recognize it? It would have made a terrific story and a wonderful exploration of the genre conventions. Didn’t happen that way, though, because that concept is too complex for the industry, and when it comes to fans, it’s a “not in my backyard” kind of story. “Use any character but the one I love.”)
I was looking forward to the six-minute “Cyborg: His Time Has Come” more when it was called “Their Time Has Come: Cyborg and the DC Universe’s New Diversity”. (I guess canceling the comics Mister Terrific and Static Shock made that a harder pitch.) Marv Wolfman (the original writer), Mike Carlin, and Geoff Johns talk about the origin of Cyborg in the comics and his place in the new Justice League title. Also included on the Blu-ray are Justice League cartoon episodes featuring the Royal Flush Gang, the two-part “Wild Cards”, written by Stan Berkowitz and Dwayne McDuffie; a digital comic teaser (three pages) for JLA #43, the first part of the “Tower of Babel” storyline, available in English or Spanish; and commentary by Geoff Johns and Mike Carlin.
Finally, we get a six-and-a-half-minute sneak peek at the next animated film, Superman vs. the Elite, due out this summer. It’s based on Action Comics #775, “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?”, written by Joe Kelly. That’s the introduction of Manchester Black and his team of superpowered antiheroes, in a story that serves as a response to the popularity of the Authority from WildStorm. The teaser is mostly explaining the story to new viewers. Superman is voiced by George Newbern, with Pauley Perrette playing Lois Lane.
The DVD edition (based on the DVD included in the Combo Pack) comes with the digital copy and the Superman vs. the Elite sneak peek, along with ads for digital comics (“build your collection whenever, wherever”), Thundercats, Young Justice, and Mad on DVD.
Although I found the movie itself disappointing, this Blu-ray is worth getting just for the Dwayne McDuffie memorial. (The studio provided a review copy.)