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"Justice League Unlimited" Vol. 2: The DC Entry Drug

The original Justice League was a little on the bland side. Sure, the occasional episode was magnificent, but too many generic alien baddies decreased enjoyment of the show. Batman: The Animated Series, most of Superman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond raised the bar so high that Justice League seemed like a pale attempt to cash in on the success of predecessors.

But the second incarnation of the show, Justice League Unlimited, shattered my preconceptions of what a cartoon could be. The premise is ingenious – take characters who would otherwise never have seen anything beyond the DC printed medium and combine them into one big super-show. Expanding the original seven-person roster to include dozens upon dozens of unique and interesting characters while keeping the plot and characterization balanced was a feat thus far unprecedented.

The first episode on this DVD, “For the Man Who Has Everything,” is adapted from the classic story by Alan Moore, featured in Superman Annual #11. It’s Superman’s birthday and Batman and Wonder Woman arrive at his Fortress of Solitude with gifts in tow, only to find that Mongul (evil space guy) has a birthday gift of his own: an alien creature that has attached itself to Superman, keeping him in a comatose state of euphoria.

While Batman and Wonder Woman battle Mongul, the episode’s real fight rages inside Superman’s mind. The creature causes him to dream of a perfect life on Krypton. He’s married to a beautiful woman (a cross between Lois Lane and his childhood sweetheart, Lana Lang) and has a son. Superman eventually breaks free of this illusion thanks to outside intervention from Batman, but not before a heartbreaking goodbye to the son he never had. This episode is absolutely superb, perfectly conveying Superman’s love for his imagined family. The scene where he hugs his son goodbye is truly depressing.

Cameos in this episode: As the first episode in the series to deal solely with the “big three,” this episode is light on the patented JLU cameos, but watch for a small appearance by Krypto, the super dog.

The second episode, “The Return,” deals with Amazo, the renegade nanomachine android from the first Justice League series. His return to Earth to take revenge on Lex Luthor for previously betraying him is halted by the intervention of the Green Lantern Corps, as well as Dr. Fate and Ray Palmer, a.k.a. The Atom. The Atom has the ability to shrink down to atomic size, so naturally the league sends him in to help Lex deal with Amazo. There is some fun from seeing the supposedly-but-obviously-not-reformed Lex Luthor, and his final conversation with Amazo is very well written.

Before the Green Lantern Corps can destroy him, Dr. Fate intervenes and offers to help Amazo find his purpose in life. The ending of the episode is shocking, as Shayera Hol, a.k.a. Hawkgirl, makes her first appearance since the finale of the original series. I love continuity, and the appearance of Kyle Rayner with the Corps works well in hearkening back to Superman: The Animated Series. This episode was full of great action and features a diverse cast, but one little thing bugged me. Amazo is not truly evil, so when the league launches their armada of battlecruisers to stop him and he destroys them, doesn’t he kill hundreds of people? I guess we can just say they were unmanned, but I wish the show had addressed it.

Cameos: A ton of heroes make an appearance in this episode. Steel, Fire, Ice, Orion, Supergirl, S.T.R.I.P.E., Dr. Light (the female, not the villain from Teen Titans), Red Tornado, Captain Atom, someone who may be Rocket Red, and one or two that I can’t identify. All that is saying nothing for the other Green Lantern Corps members: Inza, Kilowog, Tomar Re, The Guardians, and a slew of other creatures that I couldn’t begin to name.

The third episode, “The Greatest Story Never Told,” is my personal favorite of the disc. Michael Jon Carter, a.k.a. Booster Gold, comes from the future with his robot partner Skeets to seek fame and fortune in our time as a superhero. As the evil sorcerer Mordru wreaks havoc on Metropolis, J’onn J’onnz dispatches a team of heroes to assist Superman and the others. Seeing this as a perfect chance to show what he’s made of, Booster eagerly goes along to help, but thanks to Batman, he’s stuck with the unceremonious duty of crowd control.

After performing small tasks like helping an old woman find a subway and rescuing an ant farm from a burning building, Booster finally finds the threat he’s been searching for in the form of a scientist with a gravitational black hole imbedded in his chest. With the city (and possibly world), as well as the admiration of a beautiful scientist at stake, Booster flies into action, proving that he does indeed have the talents to back up his attitude.

This episode is strictly comedy with a light smattering of action, and despite the battle with Mordu, which is basically background noise, it stands out as one of the best in the series. Booster Gold may be a glory hound, but he has a good heart and means well, making him an instantly likable. I found myself laughing out loud at all the times citizens would confuse him with Green Lantern. I have to agree with Booster on this one though. B-list or not, if he was Green Lantern, he’d be wearing green!

Cameos: Lots! Hawk, Dove, Vibe, Shining Knight, Vigilante, Stargirl, S.T.R.I.P.E, Fire, Ice, Captain Atom, Huntress, Elongated Man, another guy I’m not sure of, and even a mention of Plastic Man.

The extras on this disc are standard but it was nice seeing the segment with the voice actors. The Superman segment shows that, yes, kids, you can learn while watching action cartoons. The only gripes I have with this release are with the packaging, which is cheap cardboard, and the release system, which puts episodes on the DVDs out of the order in which they aired. The widescreen aspect is another casualty, but the picture is so beautiful and the animation so superb that I forget about that two minutes in.

Sure, much of the fun of JLU is seeing which heroes appear and going “Hey, I know him! That’s so and so!” but the show is so wonderfully crafted that a prior knowledge of their identities or backstory is unneeded. Justice League Unlimited doesn’t require knowledge of the DC universe, it makes you want to learn.

Before this show’s premiere last year, I had very little interest in DC comics. Flash forward to now, and thanks to Justice League Unlimited, I’m as well-read in them as anyone. This disc is a necessary addition to the collection of any comic book fan and anyone who wants to see the finest in American cartooning. Just get it!

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