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This review is from: Justice League: Season 1 [Blu-ray]  [US Import] (Blu-ray)
Justice League, and its successor series Justice League Unlimited, are together quite easily the best superhero cartoons ever made - or at least that I've ever seen.
Justice League has its roots in Bruce Timm's original Batman: The Animated Series, and his not quite as successful Superman series. Both shows are part of the same continuity as Justice League, as too are less well known animated programs such as Static Shock, Batman Beyond, and The Zeta Project. But in my opinion, it's the Justice League shows that are the apex of the arc.
The art is stylish yet functional, following almost seamlessly in the style Bruce Timm first defined in Batman: The Animated Series. The characters and the world they inhabit are at once sleek yet densely solid, and everything has a certain visual gravitas. This fits perfectly with the writing, for unlike so many superhero TV-shows and movies, Justice League is a show with a great deal of self-respect. I actually stole that term - self-respect - from Steven Myers' review of Batman - Mask of the Phantasm, a feature-length production from the same continuity. It is the term that, perhaps better than any other, describes what makes this meta-series what it is. Within their own frames of reference, all of the shows within it take themselves seriously. While not without their own moments of humour, there is no camp parody, and there are certainly no moments where the writers give a nudge and wink to the audience to let us know that it's time to have a bit of a giggle over the absurdity of it all.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing for many adults then will be the fact that Justice League succeeds brilliantly on this entirely serious level. As incredible as it may sound to some people, this is a really good, intelligent, serious superhero cartoon. In episodes like Legends (parts 1 & 2) there is a combination of real pathos together with a quite casual, almost incidental implied social commentary; both of which are so lightly and deftly handled as to render ridiculous even the idea of comparing this show to old seventies horrors like Super Friends.
Finally, the series is graced with a full orchestral score for both title and background music. Again, this compliments the overall tone of the show perfectly.
So where does this product, Justice League Season One, fit into the picture?
Well, in my opinion, as good as Justice League is, Justice League Unlimited (which follows on more or less immediately in the same continuity) is better. On the other hand, because this is indeed very much a continuity - a cohesive universe with its own history and cosmology - it is best to start with Justice League and watch the entire thing through from the beginning. Bear in mind that there were two distinct seasons of Justice League before the switch-over to Justice League Unlimited, and you do now have a choice as to whether to buy the two Justice League seasons individually or together. Surprisingly, at the time of writing, it is actually slightly cheaper to buy them separately. As you can see from my Amazon Verified Purchase label, this is the option I chose.
For this reason, I cannot talk to you from personal experience about the extras you'll get if you buy the two seasons together. However, I can tell you that the extras you get with this product, Justice League - Season One (DC Comics Classic Collection), are superb. Both in the included "featurettes" and in the voice over commentaries, you do very much feel like you're getting a genuine insider's view from behind the scenes. You do feel like you're gaining real insight into how this show was made, and why things are the way they are in the final, finished version. Of course, I didn't always agree with the choices the writers ultimately made. For example, in the Legends episodes I mentioned earlier, I do wish they'd gone with their original creative impulse regarding the identities of certain "alternate" superheroes; I do believe that this would have greatly deepened the emotional resonance and undercurrents of the story (I won't say any more than that because I don't want to spoil things). But the point is, whether you agree with the writer's choices or not, you do come away feeling as if you've at least been privy to the discussion.
For me at least, that's what extras are all about.
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Initial post: 25 May 2012 20:59:59 BDT
An excellent review, Theo; your comments on the Justice League series bizarre ability to take themselves totally seriously and not snigger at themselves like the majority of the Marvel Studios movies (Iron Man & Iron Man 2 in particular) echo my own sentiments on super hero animation.
I consider JLU s1 to be the Watchmen, the Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One of super hero animation. JLU s2 is very good but s1 is amazing.
In reply to an earlier post on 25 May 2012 22:17:44 BDT
Thanks for your kind comment! :-)
IMO, as brilliant as the Project Cadmus story arc in JLU was, compared to Watchmen it was a flawed masterpiece. There was one moment in particular involving the near-martyrdom of one character (I'm sure you know the moment I'm talking about) where I really wish the show's creators had the courage to go all the way. It would've given the story so much more maturity and moral depth. This is something I dwelt on at greater length in my review of Watchmen:
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