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"Justice League Unlimited": The Balls Are Back!

by on October 21, 2006

When Justice League Unlimited was originally announced, I remember being very suspicious. The original show often had difficulty juggling seven characters in 40-minute story – how did they hope to use 50 plus without someone getting the shaft? I admit some of the worrying was brought on from personal bias – in my opinion, a lot of the characters they were intending to bring into the show would need a hell of a lot work done in order to make them interesting again.

For those not in the know, Justice League Unlimited takes place a short time after the events of “Starcrossed,” the season finale of Justice League and features an expanded take on the Justice League – every DC comics character you could care to count is featured in the show (except Plastic Man, but really, who cares?) The show continues the rich history of the DC animated universe and is to many, the best work Timm and co ever did by revisiting the past and oddly enough, the future. The show became bigger, better and bolder than it’s predecessor because it had balls. The original members were back and better than ever, and the majority of the new members were more than welcome to come back each week for me – the only ones who I found myself less than thrilled with were the ever annoying Supergirl, the wimpy Hawk And Dove and ‘My God, she’s worse than Supergirl” Stargirl when she appeared in season three. Green Arrow brought a new everyman appeal that the League needed, Zatanna, The Huntress and Black Canary filled out the women’s roles nicely, especially after Hawkgirl’s absence and The Question proved to be coolest member ever, even managing to reach Batman levels of bad ass. Wrap all this in super sharp writing, superior visuals and absolutely breathtaking staging and you have what is the coolest superhero cartoon of the last ten years by a wide margin.

As good as the writing was in the previous DC series, it took a huge leap in quality here and dared not look back. Rather than going for the two part stories, the show reverted back to the half hour formula, with each episode usually playing a role in the larger story they were planning to tell, which brought back fond memories of the likes of Spider-Man and The X-Men back in my younger days when the thought of waiting an entire week to find out what happens next seemed almost cruel in its intentions.

In the series, The League battles their biggest enemy yet when normal people begin wondering what happens if they ever go out of control. Who watches the watchmen? What follows is full of fun, thrills and twists and astoundingly good action sequences, mainly thanks to the excellent efforts of new series director Joaquim Dos Santos who made watching Captain Marvel and Superman pounding the crap out of each other more fun than it’s ever been.

Special kudos must go to the new villain of the season, Amanda Waller. One could consider her the Batman of the bad guys in that she’s nothing more than a resource rich women who uses her every resource to stop the League – and I don’t care who you are, you can’t not love the “rich boy” line.

Watching the series it’s obvious the adventure was meant to conclude here as the final episode on the set is a more fitting episode than anyone could dare hope for and answers the big question in the DCAU – is Batman Beyond the future? The answer is yes, of course, some of us have known that for years but for the none-believers – here’s your proof.

Whilst the season long story arc kicks all kinds of ass, one shouldn’t demerit the strength of the individual episodes. “For The Man Who Has Everything” is the strongest Superman focused episode since his own series ended, “The Once And Future Thing” brings spine tingling fanboy moments as Batman comes face to face with Batman and Batman and “This Little Piggy” features Batman belting out a tune. Is there anything he can’t do?

The bad episodes, on the other hand are pretty much thankfully absent. “Hawk And Dove” is tedious and thus concludes our paragraph on all that is bad with Justice League Unlimited.

Warner Home Video has surprised many and collected the first two seasons of the show in the set. Unfortunately, they forgot to tell the producers they were doing this and thus, nothing in the Cadmus saga has a commentary track attached to it. Fear not though, as it has since been revealed that the producers will talk about the Cadmus saga on the next Justice League Unlimited set.

The two episodes selected for commentaries are “This Little Piggy” and “The Return,” both episodes surely worthy of commentary. Starting with “This Little Piggy,” the crew humorously explains the episode’s origins and the infamous scene featuring Kevin Conroy’s singing. Alas, no extended cut of Am I Blue? Is included, but this is the perfect Easter egg for the final set, so hopefully they won’t disappoint. The fun commentaries conclude with “The Return,” which is most notable for the director’s commentary, who was in fine form. If you’ve listened to the previous commentaries, you already know what to expect here – the fun is listening to them, so I won’t spoil it for you any further.

The isolated score feature found on the previous Batman Beyond set returns, and rather shockingly, Am I Blue? Isn’t anywhere to be found! I’ll keep my grumpiness to a minimum since I’ve already complained, but the remaining scores are well worth listening to, especially since we’ll probably never get a soundtrack. I would’ve loved to have some of these included on the Batman: The Animated Series sets, that’s for sure.

The fact that this set was originally only supposed to feature the first season of 13 episodes becomes even more apparent in the featurette – the first 13 episodes are discussed in length and Cadmus is mentioned only briefly. Credit to them though, it remains entertaining and we hear from the majority of the creative team. I’m an utter geek for things like this and find that it runs a little short, but the previous ten DCU sets had me well prepared for it’s short running time.

As far as the set itself goes – I’ve not seen a cartoon look this good since Sony released Spider-Man: The New Animated Series back in 2003. The show looks stunning in it’s anamorphic transfer – everything just pops on screen. No ads, no annoying logos, great sound quality; I couldn’t be happier with the show’s presentation.

In closing, you have the best superhero cartoon in over a decade in the best state it’s ever been with a handful of highly entertaining features. We have an extended look at the DCU, the best fights in animation and a fitting finale to the universe many of us grew up with. What more could you possibly want? Another season? We got that too! Truly, this set is the balls.

The images in this review appear courtesy of The World’s Finest

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