|Justice League - Secret Origins|
|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Tuesday, 01 June 2004|
These are not your parents' Super Friends. Bruce Timm and Rich Fogel, two of the team responsible for "Batman: The Animated Series," have adapted DC Comics' oldest and most popular superhero team. The animated adventures of the Justice League were launched on the Cartoon Network with this three-part premiere, "Secret Origins."
When two American astronauts accidentally uncover a deadly force on Mars, Earth is invaded by deadly unstoppable creatures straight out of "War of the Worlds." Earth's mightiest heroes -- Superman, Batman, the Flash, and Green Lantern -- are joined by newcomers J'Onn J'Onnz, Hawkgirl and Wonder Woman to fight the shape-shifting alien invasion force.
Produced for television, the animation is not on a par with the "Batman" animated theatrical release "Mask of the Phantasm" or recent direct-to-video fare "Subzero" and "Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker." However, the visuals are strong, and the action sequences handled particularly well. Writer Fogel's script is not quite up to the standards set by veteran Batman writers such as Paul Dini or Michael Reaves and suffers from having so many leads to cover and characters to balance. Superman in particular is watered down in order to facilitate the plot. At times, the pacing is awkward, as the storyline also has to incorporate the origin of J'Onn J'Onnz (who is never actually referred to as the Martian Manhunter) and a brief origin of Wonder Woman. . However, the story serves its purpose, bringing the Justice League into the 21st century and introducing the characters to a whole new audience.
Kevin Conroy continues to voice the perfect Batman, while George Newbern takes over voicing Superman from Tim Daly, who was unable to reprise his role due to work on "The Fugitive." Michael Rosenbaum, currently appearing weekly as a young Lex Luthor on "Smallville," stands out as Wally West, making the Flash's juvenile patter entertaining and selling what could have become a very annoying character. Carl Lumbly brings a perfect sad but proud tone to the last surviving Martian. Maria Canals, however, steals the show as kickass chick Hawkgirl, who leaps into the fray with a mace and a bloodthirsty warrior attitude as impressive as any of her male counterparts.
Unfortunately, Susan Eisenberg does not fare as well -- her Wonder Woman sounds as if she is reading off cue cards, and is a far cry from Lynda Carter, who set the bar high for an entire generation of fans. Comic book in-jokes abound, and the inclusion of League "mascot" Snapper Carr alone makes this disc a must-see for many comics fans.
Despite the series being aired in "letterbox" format (which inexplicably cropped the full-screen version), the DVD release is in standard full screen format. The transfer is clean, with bright, saturated colors befitting a comic book adaptation. Sound is crisp and clean, and the dialogue is never overpowered by the effects, which make good use of surround sound. The disc also features a stirring score by Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion and Kristopher Carter.
Menus are straightforward, featuring character artwork created by Bruce Timm. However, the navigation in the special features section is slightly confusing as selecting an option automatically chooses it without using the enter button. Extras include character bios and cast and crew credits that unfortunately are difficult to read due to font choice. Also included are trailers for other Warner Bros. animated DVDs such as "Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker," "Batman: Subzero," "The Batman & Superman Movie" and a series of Scooby-Doo animated adventures produced for Cartoon Network.