- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The latest attempt by Warner Bros. Animation to turn a classic DC Comics’ sequential-art series into a PG-13 cartoon arrives direct-to-Blu-ray with, yet again, mixed results.

Dwayne McDuffie, who died in 2011, loosely adapted writer Mark Waid’s decade-old JLA comic-book story “Tower of Babel” into the 77-minute effort Justice League: Doom (Warner Home Video, rated PG-13, $24.98) with dramatic teeth but visual mediocrity.

When supervillain Vandal Savage steals Batman’s secret database that compiles the weaknesses of his superpowered pals (called a “contingency plan” by his Batness), he uses it to unleash a near-lethal version of the Legion of Doom against the Justice League.

The battle royale stars Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Flash and the Teen Titans’ Cyborg challenged by Mirror Master, Bane, Mettalo, Cheetah, Ma’alefa’ak and Star Sapphire.

Although it deviates and pulls too many punches from the original source material for me, it satisfyingly delves into the overtly gruff and paranoid side of Batman while delivering some slick, very personal combat scenarios.

For example, Star Sapphire plays upon Green Lantern’s underlying doubt and fear to emotionally crush his alter ego, Hal Jordan, by forcing him to watch the apparent death of his true love Carol Ferris.

Cheetah poisons Wonder Woman with a hallucinogen and takes advantage of her never-quit attitude, which could prove fatal as she fights an unlimited supply of her adversary.

And Bane nearly delivers the ultimate death knell to Batman as he gets Bruce Wayne to buckle to his past in a cemetery, nearly perishing in the worst type of death imaginable.

Unfortunately, the story is told via another round of uninspired animation. The high-definition format does lend a hand, as characters take on an almost 3-D quality as the pop from the backgrounds.

Out of the 13 projects, however, my benchmarks for the cartoon pact between DC Comics and Warner Bros. Animation are still, in this order, “Batman: Gotham Knight,” “Batman: Year One” and “All Star Superman.”

A welcome addition to “Justice League: Doom” is the use of a voice cast culled from many of the most popular DC Comics-themed animated shows over the years, including Kevin (“Batman: The Animated Series”) Conroy as Batman, Tim (“Superman: The Animated Series”) Daly as Superman, Susan (“Justice League”) Eisenberg as Wonder Woman, Carl (“Justice League”) Lumbly as Martian Manhunter and Michael (“Justice League”) Rosenbaum as the Flash.

Best extras: Let’s start with an informative 36-minute tribute to prolific cartoon and comics writer Dwayne McDuffie with memories from friends including writer Stan Berkowitz, McDuffie’s widow Charlotte, artist Denys Cowan, former editor of Marvel Comics Sid Jacobson, Warner Bros. Animation producer Alan Burnett, creator Joe Kelly, voice-over actor Phil LaMarr, creator Bruce Timm and DC Comics’ creative director Mike Carlin.

McDuffie will be remembered as a brilliant, well-rounded creator who was in college by age 10 and who even sold jokes to David Letterman. He was referred to as a “storytelling GPS” and associated with such properties as Deathlok, Justice League of America, Ben 10, Static and Milestone Media (a coalition of black artists and writers).

Next, there’s a fascinating 18-minute look at how power can corrupt, offering professors analyzing Batman’s motives with JLA against real power abuses and the checks and balances of power in U.S. history such as President Andrew Jackson vs. the Whigs. Best of all, it’s loaded with painted artwork by Alex Ross.

I also enjoyed a brief introduction to the origins of Cyborg, including interviews with writer Geoff Johns and the co-creator of the character, Marv Wolfman.

Finally, Bruce Timm offers a pair of his favorite Justice League episodes. This dynamic duo, from the 2003 two-parter “Wild Cards,” almost eclipses the main feature as the Joker (voiced diabolically by Mark Hamill) causes explosive mayhem in Las Vegas.

Read all about it: Viewers can see the first three pages from issue no. 43 of JLA — the first part of the four-part “Tower of Babel” storyline — broken down by each art panel, not even a motion comic.

Yes, that’s it — and in the era when digital comics consistently are becoming the mainstream solution to appreciating the sequential-art industry, it’s a huge miscue.

Considering that Top Cow Productions teamed up with 2K Games for the video game Darkness II to include codes for free access to two full volumes of Darkness comics through either a computer or iOS device, this lame extra makes Warner Home Video and DC Comics look Neanderthal by comparison.

More confusing, DC actually offers a commercial on the disc touting its online comics reader through Comixology (www.comixology.com). So why not offer a code for at least a complete issue?

Don’t bother with this silly extra and just go to Comixology and buy the entire four-issue series for your iPad (nos. 43 to 46 for a paltry 99 cents each). You will not be disappointed.

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