Justice League

Justice League (2002)
Warner Home Video
Extras: Character Bios, Talent Files, Trailers

"Justice League" is the latest animated series from the creative folks at Warner Brothers Animation who forever changed the way "cartoon" superheroes were treated with their critically-acclaimed "Batman: The Animated Series" back in 1992. Bruce Timm and crew have now turned their focus to that most difficult of concepts, the ensemble piece (and with superheroes to boot).

Appearing regularly on the Cartoon Network, "Justice League" features the continuing adventures of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Hawkgirl, and J’onn J’onzz, The Martian Manhunter. This DVD features the hour-long debut episode, "Secret Origins," that started off the series.

The show opens with two astronauts investigating a strange portal found on Mars. When they open the door a dark and malevolent power escapes. A few years later one of these same astronauts is now a U.S. Senator proposing a worldwide ban on all weapons of mass destruction with Superman to be the one and only keeper of the peace.

But Superman has lately fallen victim to some sort of mind attack that renders him helpless at the most inopportune times. With a curious Batman in tow, Superman discovers J’onn J’onzz, the last surviving Martian of a long dead race, who came to warn the earth of an impending attack but who is instead being held captive by the government.

Using his mental powers, J’onn has summoned Superman, Batman, and the other superheroes to stage a last-ditch effort against the coming alien invaders. After routing the aliens (not really much of a spoiler now is it?), the group of seven decides to form the Justice League and hang out on Bruce Wayne’s mega-cool orbiting space-station when not saving mankind from certain destruction.

"Secret Origins" is a great start to what has matured into a very fine series. This opening piece focuses on the two heavy-hitters of the group — Superman and Batman — but the others get their time in the spotlight in later episodes. Each hero has their own distinct personality and the interplay between them adds a level of complexity to the show that is missing from most so-called "kiddie" entertainment.

"Justice League" is presented on DVD in a <$PS,full frame> 1.33:1 aspect ratio. While the show is animated to this ratio, it is also re-broadcast in a matted <$PS,widescreen> format and it’s too bad that both versions aren’t presented here. In actuality, I find the <$PS,widescreen> version of the series to be a bit over-matted for my tastes so I’m more than happy with the <$PS,full frame> version but the lack of a choice is a shame.

The quality of the video transfer is fairly good with solid colors and black levels and no compression artifacts or other blemishes. But, even though the series is visually quite pleasing and dynamic, the animation is nowhere near on par with the quality feature film animation that most are used to seeing on DVD releases. But this is how the show looks and the disc does a fine job in presenting "Justice League" in the best possible light.

Audio is presented in an English <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0 Surround mix that is surprisingly quite dynamic. Surrounds are used frequently to great effect and there is enough deep bass to give the soundtrack some real life. Dialogue is always clear and firmly anchored to the center speaker and the fine musical score comes across very well indeed.

The DVD also offers up a few meager bonus features. First up are character bios for the superheroes followed by a listing of the primary voice talent. Trailers for "Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker," "Batman and Mr. Freeze: Subzero," "The Batman/Superman Movie," and "Scooby-Doo Sneak Peeks" are also available.

While I’m a big fan of "Justice League" the show, I’m only a lukewarm fan of the DVD. My biggest peeve is that the disc contains but one 60-minute episode and no real extras. I’ve come to expect television programs to be presented as complete season sets and these singletons are a real disappointment. In addition — and especially given the great amount of empty space on the DVD — the lack of a <$PS,widescreen> version is really unfathomable.

Fans of the show will still want to grab this disc but it could have been so much better. Still, quality animation that appeals as much to adults as it does to kids is such a rarity that it would be a shame to pass up this release. That’s about as much of a recommendation as I’m willing to give "Justice League" on DVD.