Superheroes combine might to stop an invasion of earth in Justice League: War (Warner Home Video, rated PG-13, $24.98).
This direct to Blu-ray, PG-13 cartoon adapts the first six issues of artist Jim Lee and writer Geoff Johns’ 2011 reboot of the famed Justice League of America comic-book series.
The comics starred Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg and Wonder Woman in an epic struggle against the near indestructible and deliciously evil Darkseid.
Let’s stop right here. This comic fan has really grown to hate the word “adapt.”
Adapt allows director Jay Oliva to swap Aquaman (I guess he was unavailable for the shoot) for Captain Marvel/Shazam.
This might make sense if the toon was crafted as an original story, but swapping Billy Batson’s alter ego into the story that had clearly costarred Aquaman (for good reason) quickly soured my potential appreciation of the effort.
Nonetheless, I digress. The story does offer an action-packed origin of the Justice League’s first meeting.
Specifically, bookended between some witty introductions and a pat on the back for the great work of the Super Seven (watch and giggle) from the U.S. president, viewers do spend an inordinate amount of watching the heroes killing Darkseid’s force of Parademons (creepy cyborg bat beings transformed from earthlings).
Actually, I’d report 69 of the 79-minute run time involves someone getting punched, gouged, sliced or crushed.
The cartoon often stays true to the comic-book series, liberally pulling dialogue and scenes while offering an impactful origin of future Teen Titan’s star Cyborg.
Now, I must have reached Warner Bros. Animation fatigue as I appreciated much of the onscreen design and color and some of the incredible high-speed chase and battle sequences.
Whoops, spoke too soon. Why is Superman’s neck the same width as his head? Not really the Jim Lee-style; more of an homage to artist Rob Liefeld’s exaggerated form choices, for what it’s worth.
While on whoops, the voice acting is adequate at best. Kudos to Jason O’Mara as Batman, performing his best Kevin Conroy imitation, but boo to Alan Tudyk for never really capturing the vocal authority of Superman.
As far as my new favorite animated hero, Green Lantern makes out best here. I enjoyed his wiseacre personality (often trumping Flash) and his glowing green constructs (from a locomotive engine to fighter jet and a massive dragon), emanating on command from his Power Ring.
Despite enjoying the high-definition action, I’ve got more issues with Justice League: War.
A cartoon that allows a citizen of the District to tell Wonder Woman that she’s “dressed like a whore,” does not sit well with me — nor does the influx of profanity into the dialogue that does nothing to embellish the plot.
The comic-book series sparkled without any of this stupidity and its simply sophomoric decision making to add these elements.
When the last minion has been sucked into a boom tube and back to Apokolips, Justice League War is a rousing donnybrook worth watching but never attains the greatness or emotion of the original comic-book series.
Best Extra: Viewers enjoy a 37-minute documentary on the man responsible for penciling the original sequential art tied to the cartoon. In “Creating Heroes: The Life and Art of Jim Lee,” we get, among interviews with the star, a look at his family and upbringing, pretty slick sketches when he was a 12-year-old budding artist, his success at Marvel Comics on titles such as Alpha Flight, Punisher War Journal and X-Men, his co-creation of the 1980s publishing house Image Comics and his work for DC Comics including the fantastic Batman: Hush storyline.
Of course, we also get a treasure chest’s worth of classic Jim Lee art floating across the screen throughout as DC Comic’s leaders Mike Carlin and Dan Didio praise his career. As a huge fan of Mr. Lee, I could have watched a biography three times as long.
Next is four cartoons from the DC Vault, The best of the quartet is the 2011 episode “The Malicious Mr. Mind” from Cartoon Network’s series Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
The 23-minute effort co-stars the too-retro cool heroes Kamandi (the last boy on Earth), Dr. Canus, the Marvel Family (Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr.) and a Caped Crusader looking plucked from the animated intro of the 1960s television show.
They battle the fiendish physicist Doctor Sivana, the Monster Society of Evil and a too-smart worm while Batman deals the effects of an age ray that turns him into a tyke,
The slathering of witty word play, its nostalgic animation style and tongue-in-cheek moments make the episode a pure joy.
My least favorite extra is the 23-minute featurette “Deconstructing Justice League: War.” Mr. Lee and Jay Oliva examine a few clips while Mr. Oliva rationalizes his changes to story in front of Mr. Lee. I mean, really? Mr. Lee agrees with the swap of Aquaman for Shazam to delver a more youthful tone, but I still don’t. Overall, it’s a pretty lame replacement for a full commentary track.
Real all about it: For the love of the King of the Seven Seas, please go and read the original source material. Grab an iPad now, get the DC Comics app and absorb the trade paperback Justice League: Origin ($12.99).
Mr. Lee’s art is often spectacular, Darkseid’s minions are really creepy and his Batman interpretation is one of the best in the character’s history imbuing the brilliance of Neil Adams and Frank Miller.
It continues to perplex me that Warner Bros. Animation can’t figure out how to deliver much more compelling animation style based on legendary comic-book creator works. How much better of a storyboard do they need?