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Justice League Unlimited: Season Two

Warner Bros. (2005), Warner Home Video (March 20, 2007), 2 discs, 299 mins plus supplements, 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Not Rated, Retail: $19.98

Storyboard:

The Justice League, having faced almost every threat imaginable already, finds they are targeted by an all-new secret society of super-villains.

The Sweatbox Review:

When Justice League ended its original two-year run on a high note, the creators thought they had gone out with a bang. When they unexpectedly got picked up for another season, they revamped the show, expanded the League’s roster, and produced some of the finest television cartoons ever in the re-titled Justice League Unlimited. They wrapped up a number of plot threads, even tying everything up with the prior Animated DC Universe shows. So, another high note. Then, they got picked up for one last season. Oh, man… what to do? Howzabout… throw in everything but the kitchen sink, use every DC Comics character we love but haven’t featured yet, and have all the supervillains we can fit on screen team up against the Justice League? Hmmmm. It had possibilities.

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The result was a wild ride of a season that was like a valentine to all the DC Comics fans— whether in printed or animated form— who had been enjoying the set of shows that dated back to the 1990s’ Batman: The Animated Series. Those who tuned in to the final season of Justice League Unlimited were treated to a delightful variety of guest stars, plenty of action, and even some interesting human drama. The Cadmus arc from the true second season (collected along with the first season in the last, mis-titled, DVD set) was certainly the high point for the show, but this final season is the winner for pure, joyful geekiness. The producers plotted out a season that jammed in so much fun stuff, one can easily imagine how each episode originated.

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Disc 1
I Am Legion (or, Wouldn’t it be neat to have Luthor drafted into a new Secret Society? And hey, let’s throw in Blackhawk Island!) – The title is an allusion to the Legion Of Doom from the old Challenge Of The Superfriends show, although the Secret Society of supervillains here never goes by that corny nickname. Lex Luthor’s prison break leads to his recruitment by Gorilla Grodd into a merry band of bad guys. Little does Grodd realize that he may be getting an extra villain, as Lex still has Brainiac on the brain from their merger last season. Lex’s first mission takes him and a few others to Blackhawk Island, forcing the League to investigate with the help of a former Blackhawk pilot from WWII. Also, King Faraday is introduced as a liaison between the office of the Attorney General and the Justice League.

Shadow Of The Hawk (or, Wouldn’t it be cool to introduce Hawkman to the show?) – Archaeologist Carter Hall shows up at a Justice League battle to present Hawkgirl with an ancient Thanagarian sword. He has an interesting story to tell, but is he legitimately Hawkgirl’s reincarnated lover from ancient Egypt, or just a psycho stalker?

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Chaos At The Earth’s Core (or, Wouldn’t it be cool to have a Warlord episode?) – Well, I never would have expected the League to travel to the inner Earth world of Skartaris to meet Travis Morgan, the dinosaur-battling Warlord from Mike Grell’s cult favorite 1970s comic series. And yet, here they are, fighting Secret Society members who are trying to steal a big, glowing rock. This is the League’s first inkling that there is a new Secret Society, and the battle they have is ferocious. That’s all pretty neat for sure, but what sets the story apart is the interplay between Supergirl and a very jealous and immature Stargirl. With Supergirl oddly de-powered, she has to win Stargirl’s respect through grit and determination. If this isn’t enough to sell you on this episode, did I mention the Leaguers fight a very Gamera-like monster in Japan to start things off?

To Another Shore (or, Wouldn’t it be cool to do a Viking Prince story?) – I so did not see this one coming. The Secret Society is after the corpse of the Viking Prince, buried in a glacier for hundreds of years, and the League must stop them. If those aren’t real Joe Kubert drawings in the flashback montage, then someone at Warner Animation is darn good at aping his style. Whichever it is, it was much appreciated by this old comics fan. In addition, this story deals with J’onn’s disconnect with humanity, and oh my gosh— they gave us the Linda Carter Wonder Woman twirl!!!

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Flash And Substance (or, Wouldn’t it be cool to do a story with Flash’s unique Rogue’s Gallery?) – This episode is just so much fun. If you’ve ever read a Flash comic, particularly from the Silver Age or Bronze Age, keep your pause button handy for all the Easter eggs planted in this episode, especially in the Flash Museum. This is a great examination of the Flash as a hero for the people, showing exactly how such an apparent buffoon would gain the respect of Batman. More fun: Mark Hamill reprises his Trickster role from the Flash live action show, though he sounds less like the Joker here than he did previously (his Trickster was largely the prototype for his Joker rendition on BTAS shortly afterward).

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Dead Reckoning (or, Wouldn’t a Deadman episode be just awesome?) – Why, yes, it would be awesome. The general public would have no idea who Deadman is, but he is one of my favorite comics characters. The Secret Society invades Nanda Parbat and steals a mystic totem. Deadman goes to the Watchtower to find super help. I like how they addressed the comic’s link between Deadman and Batman with them mentioning how Batman helped Deadman find his killer. So, how could this episode be even better, Silver Age fans? JLApes. That’s right.

Patriot Act (or, Wouldn’t it be cool to do a Seven Soldiers Of Victory story?) – OK, how many people even know there was ever a super-team in the 1940s comprised of Green Arrow and six others? Well, for all five of you in the viewing audience (six, including me) this story gives us the modern version, with Green Arrow, Speedy, Vigilante, Shining Knight, Crimson Avenger, and Stargirl & S.T.R.I.P.E. Say, let’s also throw in a retro flashback to WWII with Spy Smasher, and then give a nod to more modern comics by turning General Eiling into a monster? I tell you, some of these writers seriously know their DC Comics.

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Disc 2
The Great Brain Robbery (or, Wouldn’t it be cool to have Michael Rosenbaum voice Lex Luthor, just like he does on Smallville?) – Indulgent? Yes. But the episode is also clever, witty, and dramatic. Though the casting stunt was done due to Rosenbaum’s presence, and it is indeed enjoyable to hear him do Lex for this show, Clancy Brown also does a hilarious rendition of The Flash. As a big fan of the current Justice Society comic, it was great seeing Mr. Terrific get some screen time in this episode, not to mention Steel and Red Tornado.

Grudge Match (or, Wouldn’t a Birds Of Prey story be cool?) – Huntress follows Black Canary, who does not seem like herself lately. Too bad they couldn’t use Barbara Gordon from the Birds Of Prey comic, too, but they make up for it by throwing in a few more female Leaguers (and The Question) in this story of mind control by the Society in Gotham’s suburb of Bludhaven.

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Far From Home (or, Oh, a Legion Of Super Heroes show would be just too cool!) – The ending is telegraphed a little too much, but this is still a grand story set in the 31st Century, also featuring Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and most importantly Supergirl (here apparently Superman’s true cousin, unlike in Superman: The Animated Series). This isn’t quite the same Legion that appears in their own show right now, but it is a classic take on one of comics’ best-loved teams, not to mention their adversaries the Fatal Five.

Ancient History (or, Oh, right— we have to finish off the Hawkman thing.) – Comics writer Geoff Johns brings to animation a tale he originally did in the comics, telling a story of how two police officers from Thanagar crash-landed in Egypt thousands of years ago, and were reincarnated in our time to become Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Readers of the comic version will still find a few twists that fit well into the animated continuity, but Johns also throws in a few treats for those that know the comics (like the mention of Teth Adam, later to be an enemy of Captain Marvel).

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Alive! (or, Wouldn’t it be neat to do a whole show on just the villains?) – Lex and Grodd battle for control of the Society. It’s a big supervillain slugfest, but as usual the writers have a surprise twist that places the episode a cut above your average animated program.

Destroyer (or, Ohohohoho! He’s ba-a-a-a-a-ack!) – picking up where the previous episode left off, Earth finds itself invaded by an old foe of the League and Superman in particular. (This follows the Mark Waid theory of DC Comics writing: Any story with Superman in it is a Superman story.) The heroes and villains must team up to save Earth, and Lex undergoes a startling transformation. This could have been a mess, but it still makes for a solid episode, and a nice capper to the series. Watch the ending closely and notice how they ordered the running heroes to honor prior incarnations of the Justice League. It’s exactly this respect for comics tradition that always made this show so enjoyable.

The only thing that would have made this season more awesome would have been if the producers had been allowed to use the A-list Batman villains. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be had dictated that the big bat-baddies were off-limits due to a perceived conflict with the concurrent show The Batman. Yes, it’s silly, but that’s why one sees no Joker, Two-Face, etc. Of course, one gets the idea that the other villains would have some disdain for the Gotham wackos anyways. The producers did sneak in a couple of C-listers, however, with appearances by Cat-Man and Blockbuster.

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Is This Thing Loaded?

This is the fourth DVD set for Justice League, so we shouldn’t expect too much more by now, I suppose. However, what we do get here is pretty good. Disc One has just one extra, but it clearly makes up for a boo-boo made with the previous set. It seems that the “first season” set was indeed supposed to include only the first season, but after the second season got thrown in, the extras for it were either not produced in time, or they were simply left off. Now, Cadmus Exposed (23:22) corrects that problem, with a lengthy discussion between the producers, hosted by Mark Hamill, about the true second season of the show and its landmark Cadmus storyline. Sure, it has no business on this set, but better late than never. During the talk, they even mention that Cadmus was 8 parts in a thirteen-episode season, which indeed makes it the back end of the “Season One” DVD set (and one heck of a bonus feature!).

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Disc 2 has the ad for this set as well as for the Batman Beyond: Season Three DVD. The menu also offers a trailer for the third season sets of Teen Titans and The Batman, as well as one for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Moving on to better things, Justice League Chronicles (33:40) is basically a video commentary by the producers for the second acts of three episodes from this season. With its significant running time, they delve into the most important aspects of the final JL season, discussing the decision to do the “Legion Of Doom”, adding Hawkman to the show, and more. A few storyboards are also shown. Lastly, there is a Music-Only Track For Destroyer, an episode with an unusually active musical soundtrack; Bruce Timm narrates a one-minute introduction.

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Case Study:

This set uses an ultra-slim digipack with overlapping discs in a single tray, with a slipcase, just like the first Batman Beyond set. The only real blemish on this set is some sloppy use of artwork, which includes incorrect images of several characters. Hawkgirl appears in the Thanagarian uniform that she abandoned some time ago, Supergirl has her old white T-shirt on, Green Lantern appears on interior art with his old hair, and for some reason there’s an image of Manhunters on the back cover. Likewise, the menus on the discs have the wrong Supergirl and Hawkgirl costumes, as well as characters that don’t figure in this season, like Aquaman. Sure, noting all of this is anal retentive, but that’s what you read this section for, right? It’s not a make-or-break kind of thing; it just diminishes the set a wee tiny bit.

Ink And Paint:

The episodes are correctly presented in anamorphic widescreen. Contrary to the box’s mention of these being “matted” widescreen presentations, I believe these episodes were actually produced in widescreen to begin with. (Warner Home Video can’t seem to get this straight.) These are very good transfers, though not perfect. The source material is quite clean, and most of the time the picture is perfect. There is just the occasional glitch in the picture where a line wavers or shimmers. It certainly better than the non-anamorphic presentation in the Season Two set for Justice League.

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Scratch Tracks:

The 2.0 English stereo track is among the best I’ve heard on an Animated DCU set, with plenty of force and even decent rumbling low end. At times I was thinking they had switched to 5.1 tracks, so impressed I was by what was being offered. These people take their sound effects seriously, and it makes the show just that much more rewarding to watch and listen. A Portuguese track is also included, as are Portuguese subtitles.

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Final Cut:

If you’ve followed the show this long, you shouldn’t stop now. Sure, the previous season was hard to beat for dramatic storytelling, but this final season is a love letter to fans of the comics and the animated DC Universe. This is all-out superhero mythmaking, and it’s a ton of fun. After its relatively weak but enjoyable first season, Justice League never looked back while becoming possibly the greatest animated superhero show ever. Looking back to when Batman: The Animated Series started, I never dreamed that it would further evolve into such a phenomenal program like Justice League Unlimited. It’s been a great ride and I’m grateful to the folks who believed in making such a quality run of programs that could be enjoyed by even the most critical comics fans.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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