REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE – SEASON 2

Main Cast

Kevin Conroy (Justice League Doom)
George Newbern (Law & Order: SVU)
Susan Eisenberg (Lego aquaman)
Phil LaMarr (Futurama)
Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville)
Carl Lumbly (Alias)
Maria Canals (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns)

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Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Michael Ironside (Total Recall)
Corey Burton (Transformers)
Ron Perlman (Hellboy)
Rene Auberjonois (Star Trek: DS9)
Michael Dorn (Ted 2)
Mitchell Ryan (Halloween 6)
Rob Paulsen (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager)
Lisa Edelstein (House)
Tom Kenny (The Super Hero Squad Show)
William Atherton (Die Hard)
Fairuza Balk (The Craft)
Dana Delany (Tombstone)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Peri Gilpin (Frasier)
Mark Rolston (Aliens)
Jason Marsden (Hocus Pocus)
David Kaufman (Prom Night)
Dorie Barton (Down With Love)
Phil Morris (Smallville)
Larry Drake (Darkman)
Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2)
Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons)
Keith David (Pitch Black)
Kim Mai Guest (TMNT)
Dennis Haysbert (24)
Michael Jai White (Arrow)
Brian George (The Big Bang Theory)
Diane Pershing (Gotham Girls)
Bruce McGill (Lincoln)
Ted McGinley (No Good Nick)
Lauren Tom (Bad Santa)
Lukas Haas (Inception)
Tracey Walter (batman)
Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars)
Brian Doyle-Murray (JFK)
Oded Fehr (The Mummy)
Scott Rummell (Six)
Kristin Bauer van Straten (Nocturnal Animals)
Powers Boothe (Sin City)
Ted Levine (The Silence of The Lamabs)
Stephen McHattie (300)
Brad Garrett (Tangled)
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Hot Shots)
Arleen Sorkin (Days of Our Lives)
Khary Payton (The Walking Dead)
Greg Cipes (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Scott Menville (Teen Titans Go)
John C. McGinley (Scrubs)
Hynden Walch (Groundhog Day)
Ian Buchanan (Panic Room)
Mike Farrell (Patch Adams)
Shelley Fabares (Coach)
Kimberly Brooks (Voltron)
Robert Ito (Midway)
Victor Rivers (The Mask of Zorro)
Hector Elizondo (The Princess Diaries)
Elizabeth Peña (The Incredibles)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)

MV5BMTkxOTY5NTY5N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjEwOTM2MjE@._V1_Now this is more like it. Justice League’s second season takes all of the wrinkles found in the first year and smoothes them over. The action is bigger, the stories are more exciting, and Batman’s rating on the cool-o-meter reaches new highs – exactly how things should be. The result is a boxed set that offers perhaps the finest collection of superhero animation that your hard-earned dollars can buy. They don’t come any better then this, kids.MV5BODg3ODYzM2QtNTIwOS00YzhjLThmMDItZTY4MDc0NzU1NDhkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_Much like the comic book universe from which these characters came, the Warner Bros. superhero shows headed by Bruce Timm and friends (Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond) have created a continuity and universe all their own. Justice League is the latest (and, sadly, final) entry in this cartoon universe and it takes all of the best stuff from what has come before it and combines it into a near-perfect superhero animated series. While the first season was light on character development and solid storytelling, the second season gets the balance of action, story, and character just right. Again we’ve got great supporting characters and villains from the DC universe; Darkseid, John Dee, Despero, and even Doomsday all make appearances.MV5BMTQxNzgzNDg3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTAwOTM2MjE@._V1_The action is also a lot more exciting, with more imagination having gone into the writing of the fights. Furthermore, this season we’ve got some great CG effects (used for vehicles and ships) – the air dogfight in Maid of Honor between the Batwing and some jetfighters is especially cool to watch.  Another standout this season is the music. The series composers (Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion, and Kristopher Carter) have created some amazing stuff here. In each episode you’ll find several musical cues that will really get your attention and at least one that will tug at the ol’ heartstrings. The music knows when to fade into the background and let the images do the work and when to take centre stage. With stuff this good you want the music to take centre stage as much as possible. There is a Princess Mononoke-esque “nature endures” moment in Hearts and Minds where the score was just wonderful. The music in these episodes is too good for a cartoon TV show.MV5BMTQ1MjM0MTMwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjc5ODM2MjE@._V1_So the action is awesome, Superman is fixed, and the music is one-of-a-kind. All that’s left is the writing… and it’s the best part. The writing here is really great, with story and character always being the focus of each episode. A Better World answers a simple question in an interesting way: what if Superman crossed the line? In an alternate universe, Superman realizes that Luthor really is an unredeemable villain and he kills him. We see that the murder – even the murder of a monster like Luthor – changes both Superman and the League. They become Big Brother-like sentries of the planet. When a cross-dimensional rift is opened, this “darker” league (known as the Justice Lords) has a showdown with our untainted heroes. The episode brings up some very interesting questions and is a blast to watch.MV5BMTYwOTU0OTUwMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTk5ODM2MjE@._V1_We’ve also got some fantastic variety. The Paul Dini-penned Comfort and Joy is a very touching Christmas episode, while Hereafter transports Superman to a Planet of the Apes-ish future where he is the planet’s sole survivor (he even grows a Robinson Crusoe beard and fashions himself a jungle-machete!). The Terror Beyond makes for a very fun H.P. Lovecraft-inspired romp which sees Solomon Grundy fighting his way into the brain of the massive Ichthulhu (voiced by Rob Zombie) and wrestling a nightmare creature inside this thing’s head. Very bizarre, but very cool. Finally there’s the three-part season finale, Starcrossed. This is a balls-to-the-wall action spectacular which culminates in Batman piloting the League’s watchtower into the planet, while Green Lantern and Hawkgirl’s relationship is torn to shreds.MV5BMTkxMDQzODI2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDIwOTM2MjE@._V1_This is a fantastic collection of episodes, to be sure, but there are still a few nitpicks that keep the set from getting a perfect score. For one, while Superman is tougher, much of the new attitude doesn’t feel genuine – it seems that they wanted to make him “cooler” so they made him more badass. Problem is, Superman isn’t a badass character. Second, there are a few episodes (Maid of Honor and Eclipsed) that feel somewhat stale, and one episode, Wild Cards, that, sadly, let its driving gag get the better of the story. On TV you’ll find many cartoons, but you’ll only find one Justice League – its second season is a shining example of superhero animation done right in virtually every respect. Most importantly, the show’s creators have crafted a series that respects the intelligence, attention-span, and maturity of its audience. This isn’t just a kids show nor is it just a television show. It’s Justice League – and it’s great.

REVIEW: BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – VOLUME 4

Starring

Kevin Conroy (Justice League Doom)
Mathew Valencia (Lawnmower Man 2)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Loren Lester (Red Eye)
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Hot Shots)
Bob Hastings (McHale’s Navy)
Robert Costanzo (Total Recall)

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Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Ron Perlman (Hellboy)
Arleen Sorkin (Days of Our Lives)
Diane Pershing (Gotham Girls)
Marilu Henner (Taxi)
Liane Schirmer (Dark Wolf Gang)
Tress MacNeille (Futurama)
Corey Burton (Transformers: The Movie)
Peter Jason (Mortal Kombat)
Richard Moll (Scary Movie 2)
Lloyd Bochner (Point Blank)
Jeff Bennett (Johnny Bravo)
Michael Ansara (The Message)
Lauren Tom (Bad Santa)
Cree Summer (Voltron)
Jeffrey Combs (The Frighteners)
Pamela Adlon (Better Things)
Adrienne Barbeau (Swamp Thing)
Townsend Coleman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Billy Barty (Masters of The Universe)
Earl Boen (The Terminator)
George Dzundza (Basic Instinct)
Mel Winkler (Coach Carter)
Paul Williams (Battle for TPOTA)
Allan Rich (Serpico)
Sam McMurray (Raising Arizona)
Tippi Hedren (The Birds)
Barry Bostwick (Spy Hard)
Sela Ward (Gone Girl)
Bumper Robinson (Sabrina: TTW)
Dennis Haysbert (Heat)
Billy Zane (Titanic)
Roddy McDowall (Planet of The Apes)
Henry Silva (Aove The Law)
Mark Rolston (Aliens)
Thomas F. Wilson (Legends of Tomorrow)
Brooks Gardner (Raw Deal)
Buster Jones (Transformers)
Laraine Newman (Coneheads)
Dorian Harewood (Terminator: TSCC)
Jim Piddock (Mascots)
Ian Buchanan (Stargate SG.1)
Pamela Hayden (The Simpsons)
Neil Ross (Transformers: Ther Movie)
Gary Owens (That 70s Show)
Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap)
Michael Ironside (Highlander 2)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Nicholle Tom (Gotham)
Lori Petty (Tank Girl)
Linda Hamilton (The Terminator)
Tim Matheson (Animal House)
Malachi Throne (Star Trek)
John Glover (Smallville)
Steven Weber (2 Broke Girls)
Billy West (Futurama)

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The  this fourth boxed set Batman: The Animated Series is finally available on DVD in its entirety. For anyone that grew up loving this ’90s legend, that’s a very good thing indeed. Technically the show “ended” with the third volume, but when the producers moved on to Superman: The Animated Series, they were asked to bring back a Batman cartoon, and they did – making a few changes in the process.MV5BMzIwOTM3ZDYtMWVhMi00NDhlLWI1ZmItM2JlODc1NTgyYmE4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1342,1000_AL_Any fan can tell you that the new series, dubbed Gotham Knights and airing as the part of the double-feature The New Batman/Superman Adventures, wasn’t as good as what had come before. Even so, if you’re a fan then it’s certainly worth checking out as it serves as a nice precursor to what we’d get with the Justice League series. Plus, there are some great episodes here that any Bat-fan shouldn’t miss. An animated segment from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns? Yes, please! While the show is essentially the same as the previous version, there are some differences. For one, the episodes here take place two years after the events in the original show. The Bat family has been expanded to include Batgirl and Nightwing, and the first thing you will notice is the abundance of new character designs.MV5BZTA4ZjYzNzAtM2FkYS00Y2E2LTgxYTYtNjA3ODkwOWMzM2QwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_When coming up with a fresh take on the aging series, producer Bruce Timm decided that sprucing up the characters would give the show more punch. For the most part, he was right. Some of the characters got slight touch-ups while others were totally redesigned. For example, the new Joker looks more menacing, but the lack of red lips to surround his wicked grin takes away from the impact of the character. On the other hand you’ve got the new Scarecrow, with demented eyes staring out at Batman through a terrifying burlap mask, which is far creepier than the old design.MV5BZjg2OGFkMmUtYmQwNC00ZjIyLWFkMGEtNjJkNzA3YWY2YjY4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1340,1000_AL_Batman himself suffered some changes too; the costume loses the yellow around the Bat-insignia and the chin is longer, giving Bats’ head a more rectangular shape. Overall, the changes are welcome and they add more than they take away. While the cosmetic upgrades are easy to spot, they are not the most important change; after a few episodes you’ll see exactly what it is. The show just isn’t as good as it used to be. That isn’t to say that it’s bad – it’s still one of the better animated series out there, but the atmosphere and maturity of the earlier episodes is missing. The greater reliance on secondary characters (Robin, Batgirl) and gadgets (glider jetpack) injects the show with a more playful tone than it had in the past. You’ve got less character, but more characters. At first I saw this as a shortcoming, but I quickly came to see it as something different – an opportunity.MV5BYTI0Nzg2MmQtNTBiNC00NzBjLWE5NDItZTFmODRjYzZiN2EzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_You’ve already got three boxes worth of classic, wonderfully moody Batman material. If the showrunners want to take the show to hipper, more action-oriented place, I say let them. After all, as far as experimentation goes, there’s some great stuff here. There are a number of gimmicky episodes, but don’t count that out as a bad thing. There’s still a lot of fun to be had. Meanwhile, other DC Universe characters are brought in, making the show feel more connected to what would follow (Superman, Justice League). The Demon Within brings in the mystic characters of Etrigan/Jason Blood and Klarion the Witch Boy (talk about timely). Girl’s Nite Out sees Batgirl and guest Supergirl team up to take down Live Wire (from the Superman show), Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn.MV5BMTUwMzU0OTUzMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODE4OTQ1MjE@._V1_But, hand’s down, the standout episode of the box, and one of the coolest of the series, is Legends of the Dark Knight. A group of kids get together and swap stories of what they think Batman is “really” like. One kid tells the story of a campy, golden age interpretation of Batman… and we get to see it animated! It’s a classic story where Batman and Robin battle the Joker in a giant musical instrument museum (?!). The voices and music are hilarious and lovingly done in the ’50s Dick Sprang style; there is no sarcasm here. Seeing the Joker tie our heroes to giant piano strings and then jump on piano keys (in an attempt to squash them) is very amusing for its innocence and simplicity. Next, we have the second kid’s story: she thinks Batman is an old, stoic avenger. In other words, the interpretation that Frank Miller used to catapult Batman into the serious mainstream. We are then treated to a great segment from Miller’s classic The Dark Knight Returns book as it is brought to life.MV5BMjU3OWFhMWYtYzdlZS00NzRmLWFkMWMtZWZmMjYxMTk3YTg1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_Watching Batman take down the mutant leader in a mud-pit, set against grungy ’80s music, is a real treat. What you get with these two segments over the comics is the great voice acting and an additional storytelling layer by way of background music. The voices and music add a wonderful texture to these classic tales and the idea of juxtaposing bright and goofy with dark and serious makes for a very satisfying episode. While these action-focused and gimmicky episodes are not the show at its best, they are a great diversion and a fun reinterpretation of an aging show. It’s not as good as it used to be, but it’s still Batman: The Animated Series. And that makes it worth your time.

 

REVIEW: BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – VOLUME 2

Starring

Kevin Conroy (Justice League Doom)
Loren Lester (Red Eye)
Bob Hastings (General Hospital)
Robert Costanzo (Total Recall)
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Hot Shots)

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Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Julie Brown (Clueless)
Paddi Edwards (The Little Mermaid)
Diane Pershing (Defenders of The Earth)
Diana Muldaur (Star Trek: TNG)
Roddy McDowall (Planet of The Apes)
Adrienne Barbeau (Swamp Thing)
Bud Cort (Coyote Ugly)
John Rhys-Davies (Lord of The Rings)
Eugene Roche (Soap)
Thomas F. Wilson (Legends of Tomorrow)
Brion James (Blade Runner)
Linda Gary (He-Man)
George Dzundza (Crimson Tide)
Mark Hamill (Star wars)
Arleen Sorkin (Gotham Girls)
Mari Devon (Digimon)
Buster Jones (Transformers: The Movie)
Robert Ito (Midway)
Edward Asner (Elf)
Brock Peters (Star trek IV)
Ingrid Oliu (Real Women Have Curves)
Mary McDonald-Lewis (G.I. Joe)
Treat Williams (The Phantom)
Frank Welker (Transformers)
Paul Williams (Smokey and The Bandit)
Ray Buktenica (Heat)
Melissa Gilbert (Little House on The Prairie)
William Sanderson (Blade Runner)
Jeff Bennett (Johnny Bravo)
Leslie Easterbrook (Police Academy)
Lloyd Bochner (Point Blank)
John Glover (Smallville)
Ernie Hudsdon (Ghostbusters)
Harry Hamlin (Clash of The Titans)
Marc Singer (V)
Jim Cummings (Christopher Robbin)
Peter Scolari (Gotham)
Meredith MacRae (Bikini Beach)
Rene Auberjonois (Star Trek: DS9)
Aron Kincaid (Transformers)
Sam McMurray (Raising Arizona)
Neil Ross (An American Tail)
Marilu Henner (Taxi)
Seth Green (Family Guy)
Brian George (The Big Bang Theory)
Sal Viscuso (Spaceballs)
Barry Dennen (The Dark Crystal)
Helen Slater (Supergirl)
David Warner (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II)
Michael York (Cabaret)
Matt Frewer (The Order)
John Vernon (Dirty Harry)
Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager)
Maurice LaMarche (Futurama)
Ron Perlman (Hellboy)
Marcia Wallace (The Simpsons)
Joseph Campanella (Mannix)
Vincent Schiavelli (Ghost)
John de Lancie (Star Trek: TNG)
Paul Winfield (The Terminator)

MV5BODY3Mjk5ZWYtMWE5MC00MjdmLTkxZWItZTdhYWI0ZTkzNmRjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_Having starred in radio shows, serials, a succession of movies, live action television shows and cartoons, Batman remained a consistently hot property since his first appearance in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. One of my favorite incarnations of the Dark Knight Detective was the 1992 cartoon Batman: The Animated Series. Though that initial run has spawned over a dozen other series, it remains my favorite. Though it was positioned as a cartoon for kids, it was easily something that adult fans of the Caped Crusader could enjoy too. The cinematic staging and gothic designs gave it an undeniable visual appeal while the smart writing and first-rate voice acting made the whole show sophisticated and believable. To the great joy of longtime fans and those who missed the show in its initial run, Warner Brothers has just released Volume Two, a four-disc collection of 28 episodes.MV5BMDk1MjFmYjItYjkxNC00NTM1LWIzNWEtYWNlNTVjMWVjMmM1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_You’ll notice that these DVD sets are labeled “volume” rather than “season.” That’s because Batman: The Animated Series had a very unbalanced production schedule. Though the first season consisted of 60 episodes, the second through fourth seasons had less than half that number taken altogether.  The episodes on Volume Two are taken primarily from the second half of the show’s first season but it still leaves some gaps here and there. MV5BMmU5YjM4ZjEtODkzMC00OGIyLTgxYTktYjRmOWFjYjBjOTU2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_This volume has my all-time favorite episode, “The Man Who Killed Batman,” in which a small-time hood finds himself the hero and target of Gotham’s underworld after he apparently kills Batman. In “Almost Got ‘Im” some of Batman’s main enemies reminisce over poker about the times each of them almost killed the Caped Crusader. “The Mechanic” has the Penguin targeting the man who designed and built the Batmobile. “Harley and Ivy” is a great team-up story between Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. In “I Am the Knight,” Batman begins to question his effectiveness after Commissioner Gordon is shot.MV5BNmZlODI1ODktMzU2ZC00MTI5LThlNGItNjcxM2IwMTAzZWZkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_You also get the first Riddler episode with “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?” and the first Ra’s Al Ghul episode, “Off Balance.” This volume also includes two great two-part episodes. “Robin’s Reckoning” delves into the origin of Robin’s character and “Heart of Steel” introduces us to HARDAC, a computer that’s been replacing key figures in Gotham with look-alikes.MV5BMmQ2MjM3ZGUtNjg1MC00ZTQ2LWFlYTktNDBlZjIyMzFiNjk0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_Since Warner has decided to release the episodes without regard to their production or airdate order, it would at least be nice to have more thematic continuity within this volume. HARDAC is introduced here but the final HARDAC episode, “His Silicon Soul,” isn’t included in this volume. Ditto for the introduction of Ra’s Al Ghul; his story won’t be wrapped up until the two-part “The Demon’s Quest.”MV5BZDc1NDM0MDItODEzZC00NDcwLTgwZTUtODc4MmU3YWNlZDc2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_Dr. Langstrom is here in “Tyger, Tyger” and “Terror in the Sky” but his first episode, “On Leather Wings,” is on Volume One. You do get a few story arcs started and wrapped up on this disc, as with the story of Bruce’s old nemesis, Kyodai Ken, but you’ll still have to wait for the resolution of some of the more important story threads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – VOLUME 1

Starring

Kevin Conroy (Justice League Doom)
Loren Lester (Red Eye)
Bob Hastings (General Hospital)
Robert Costanzo (Total Recall)
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Hot Shots)

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Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Richard Moll (Scary Movie 2)
Lloyd Bochner (Point Beak)
Clive Revill (Transformers: The Movie)
Marc Singer (Arrow)
Rene Auberjonois (Star Trek: DS9)
Meredith MacRae (The Rockford Files)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Mari Devon (Digimon)
Henry Polic II (Mork & Mindy)
Pat Fraley (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Diane Pershing (Gotham Girls)
Ingrid Oliu (Real Women Have Curves)
Michael Pataki (Halloween 4)
Ron Perlman (Hellboy)
Dorian Harewood (Space Jam)
George Murdock (Star Trek V)
Jim Cummings (Aladdin)
Justin Shenkarow (Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse)
Robert DoQui (Robocop)
Murphy Cross (Taxi)
John Vernon (Dirty Harry)
Linda Gary (He-Man)
Townsend Coleman (The Tick)
Jeff Doucette (Bedazzled)
Peter Jason (They Live)
Josh Keaton (Voltron)
Eugene Roche (Soap)
Lndsay Crouse (Buffy: TVS)
Paul Williams (Adventure Time)
Rob Paulsen (Animaniacs)
Michael Ansara (The Message)
Michael Bell (Transformers: The Movie)
Adrienne Barbeau (Argo)
Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek: Voyager)
Mary McDonald-Lewis (Grimm)
Neil Ross (An Americal Tail)
Frank Welker (Transformers)
Michael Gross (Tremors)
Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale)
Jean Smart (Garden State)
Brock Peters (Star Trek IV)
Adam West (60’s Batman)
Edward Asner (Elf)
Ed Begley Jr. (Better Call Saul)
Dick Gautier (Get Smart)
Arleen Sorkin (Days of Our Lives)
Aron Kincaid (Transformers)
Alan Rachins (Showgirls)
Jeff Bennett (Johnny Bravo)
Diana Muldaur (Star Trek: TNG)
Jeffrey Tambor (The Hangover)
Roddy McDowall (Planet of The Apes)
Kimmy Robertson (Speed 2)
Loretta Swit (M*A*S*H)
Takayo Fischer (Moneyball)

MV5BYTcwYzdlOTctNmRmMS00ODkxLThjZDgtNDRiMzMwNTgzZWFhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTAyODkwOQ@@._V1_In 1992, Warner decided to revive Batman for TV as an animated series. Luckily, they had a couple of talented individuals already working on Tiny Toons – animator Bruce Timm and background artist Eric Radomski, who were keen to take a stab at the character. They created a pilot film involving Batman and a Gotham City that was at the same time modern and a throwback to the pre-50’s styleMV5BNGQzNzZmNTgtYmJkZS00MzFlLTk0Y2YtOWUxZTg5M2FiMWM5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_It’s fitting that this set is called ‘Volume One’ and not ‘Season One,’ as the episodes were aired completely out of order, with a few episodes of this set not reaching airwaves until the second year. However, you get the first 28 shows to see production, which arguably contain the best of the series’ four-year run as well. As this series is a reinterpretation of the world created in the comics, most of the episodes here are origins of the villains, and for the most part the episodes work very well. What allowed this series to age so well (in fact, I think I can appreciate it even more now than when I was twelve) is that the writing is top notch. Each episode feels like a self-contained short film, and the writers have at once managed to give every character a great deal of humanity and individuality to underscore the directness of the visuals.MV5BODY0MmZlYmEtOWExMC00ZGFhLWEyZmEtZjFlZGE1ZjBjZTY5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_Paul Dini had been writing for television a decade prior to this, but Batman was where he finally got his chance to shine, and the episodes he crafted, particularly Heart of Ice are some of the most effective of the series. Timm, Dini and Radomski were able to create a world that was iconic without being one-sided or silly. The idea of a guy who runs around in a cape essentially beating enemies into submission can’t be presented effectively at face value, and the creators of this series were more than willing to delve into the psychological aspects of their characters. Batman is never entirely good, nor are most of his enemies entirely evil. Rather the show focuses on people who have been emotionally scarred in life, and deal with those scars by either seeking to help other people, or harm them. What drives Batman isn’t too different from what drives his villains. It’s not uncommon to feel more sympathy for one of the show’s villains than the hero himself, because more often than not the villain isn’t even entirely sure what they’re doing or why they’re doing it.MV5BNjBlMjNmMWUtMjczYy00YWU5LTg5MzEtNzIwM2I3MDQwMWMwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_The Two-Face episodes are a prime example of the quality of storytelling in the series, because the character, who is such a silly concept (a two-faced man flipping a two-headed coin to decide evil deeds) is handled very subtly, with the emphasis placed on childhood trauma and emotional repression. Not every episode shines, however. The two part introduction to Catwoman, The Cat and the Claw, is plagued with generic characters and situations, and plays too heavily on the environmental card. And there are a few other stinkers, although you can generally tell which episodes are going to be good by who’s writing each. MV5BN2MxNWJkZDktN2U5YS00OTc5LWI2NjMtODI5YjViYTJjMmEzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_Casting is absolutely perfect. As vocal director Andrea Romano discusses in the extras, rather than hire trained vocal artists to develop new characters, the producers instead sought out actors with specific character already in their voices. Mark Hamill has the performance of his career as the Joker, with just the right mix of menace and hilarity. Hellboy’s Ron Perlman shows up as Clayface for a few episodes, ’70s bombshell Adrienne Barbeau is sultry as Catwoman and Edward Asner features as a prominent crime boss. The cast list is an absolute who’s-who for any film buff.MV5BNTIxOTc5MDQtMGIxMi00ODgzLWFlMmMtOWI4ZmExMDc0NDAwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_But it’s episodes like “Beware of the Gray Ghost” where the casting really shines. Batman teams up with a former television hero who’s down on his luck. In an inspired decision the producers cast former Batman Adam West for the role, who brings such humanity and poignancy to the part that it ends up one of the best episodes in the series.MV5BOWIyOTg5ZTYtMjM4NC00MzMxLWFiMmItOGEzYTA3ZTNlYzQ5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_All minor quibbling aside however, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another collection with writing, acting and visuals this stellar from the early 90’s. The impact of “Batman: The Animated Series” was overwhelming to television, with a noticeable shift from the slapstick “Animaniacs / Tiny Toons” style to markedly darker action fare, many of the shows still being overseen today by Timm, Radomski and Dini themselves. “Batman: The Animated Series” changed what American TV animation could be, and this set is a fantastic glimpse into the origin of that.

 

REVIEW: BATMAN UNLIMITED: MONSTER MAYHEM

CAST

Roger Craig Smith (Avengers Assemble)
Chris Diamantopoulos (About A Boy TV)
Will Friedle (Batman Beyond)
Troy Baker (The Avengers: Earths Mightiest Heroes)
Khary Payton (Teen Titans)
Yuri Lowenthal (Legion of Super Heroes)
Kari Wuhrer (Hellraiser: Deader)
Fred Tatasciore (Hulk Vs)
Alistair Duncan (The Batman)
Steven Blum (Wolverine and The X-Men)

Batman Unlimited is DC’s all-ages animation line. The dialogue and storytelling don’t pander to a younger crowd, and while the superhuman slugfests are family-friendly, they’re still every bit as well-staged and thrilling as DC’s PG-13 animated efforts.
Thor-2As much as I dug Animal Instincts, the premiere entry in the Batman Unlimited series, Monster Mayhem easily tops it. The basic formula pretty much remains the same: a motley crew of four super-villains are pulling off heists all across Gotham, it turns out that a scheming master villain-type is yanking their strings, and only Batman and his buddies stand any chance of stopping the technologically-fueled apocalypse. Monster Mayhem reigns supreme over Animal Instincts because of…well, everything! For one, the roster of super villains is a lot stronger this time around. Silver Banshee hasn’t scored a whole lot of screentime in DC’s animated movies or TV series, so it’s pretty great to have her take something close enough to center stage here.MV5BMjM1MzYwMDM1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTg2MjkzNjE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_

Clayface is a character that works more brilliantly animated than in any other incarnation, and Monster Mayhem takes full advantage. I’m not wild about Scarecrow’s pro wrestler redesign, and he’s the most underutilized of this bunch, but the guy’s obviously a great fit for a Halloween-themed rogues gallery. Oh, man, and Solomon Grundy…! Undead and loving it, everyone’s favorite Southern-fried zombie runs away and steals every single scene he’s in. Seriously,The movie keeps its cards close to its chest and takes a while to reveal that the Joker is the sinister mastermind behind it all, but he’s right there on the cover, so you probably figured that out anyway.  Monster Mayhem is so. much. fun.I mean, look at all those clever battles in an abandoned amusement park, complete with Solomon Grundy squaring off against the Caped Crusader in the Tunnel of Love. The movie is pretty much just one “oh, wow!” after another: from its lengthy, masterfully staged, adrenaline-pumping action sequences to the wildly imaginative ways it plays with and against!)its futuristic tech. Though Monster Mayhem is meant to be a cross-promotional thing with Mattel’s action figure line, the dinosaur tie-in is genuinely pretty great and makes sense in context. Not having to deal with any origin stories lets Monster Mayhem hit the ground running and relentlessly plow forward. There just isn’t a wasted moment anywhere throughout this sucker. The master scheme is vastly superior to the one in Animal Instincts, and it’s riddled with twists and turns along the way that make the whole thing that much more engaging.

REVIEW: BIRDS OF PREY

MAIN CAST

Ashley Scott (Into The Blue)
Dina Meyer (Starship Troopers)
Rachel Skarsten (Reign)
Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds)
Ian Abercrombie (Army of Darkness)
Mia Sara (Legend)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Chris Ellis (The Dark Knight Rises)
Shawn Christian (Las Vegas)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
AJ Michalka (Super 8)
Maggie Baird (Eragon)
Silas Weir Mitchell (My Name Is Earl)
Brent Sexton (Flightplan)
Joe Flanigan (Stargate: Atlantis)
Robert Patrick Benedict (Waiting)
Autumn Reeser (The American Mall)
Riley Smith (Eight Legged Freaks)
Michael Welch (Twilight)
Brody Hutzler (Angel)
Lori Loughlin (Full House)
Stephen McHattie (300)
Shane Johnson (Behind Enemy Lines)
Sarah Brown (VR Troopers)
Kristoffer Polaha (Dollhouse)
Brian Thompson (Hired To Kill)
Annie Wersching (The Vampire Diaries)
Sung Hi Lee (The Girl Next Door)
Neil Hopkins (Lost)
Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files)
Bob Papenbrook (Jeepers Creepers 2)
Llia Volok (Power Rangers Wild Force)
J.P. Manoux (Euro Trip)
Bob Clendenin (That 70s Show)
Ian Reed Kesler (2 Broke Girls)
Kirk Baltz (Natural Born Killers)
Steve Hytner (Roswell)

Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)

untitled-3-copyLoosely based on DC Comics and a variety of other sources with a touch of Marvel’s the X-Men thrown in, the series continues the legend of The Batman. We enter the future, dark and fantastic world of New Gotham City. Long after The Batman has driven himself into exile, his legacy lives on in the form of the Birds of Prey – Black Canary, Oracle, and the Huntress. From the creators of the CW hit Smallville, Birds of the Prey was produced in 2002 for the now defunct WB, but had only 13 episodes before cancellation. Since then, its devoted fan base worked tirelessly to have the series released on DVD. It was a really exciting action show, breaking new ground because ALL of the lead characters were women.This boxed set collects all 13 episodes and a never-collected-on-DVD before Flash-animated series “Gotham Girls.” Awesomely, it also includes the unaired pilot, which featured Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks) in the role of Dr. Quinzel. Mia Sara was later cast as Quinzel in the series. She also appeared in the AIRED pilot. Interestingly, all of the scenes featuring the character in the AIRED pilot were reshot with Sara, word-for-word. Also of note, the aspect ratio of the episodes in the set will be full frame, but will have dark bars on top and on bottom to mimic widescreen. While normal citizens slept, the Birds of Prey flocked together to fight crime on the streets of New Gotham City. Several years after the city was abandoned by Batman, the awesome threesome of Huntress (Ashley Scott), Oracle (Dina Meyer), and Black Canary (Rachel Skarsten) was formed. Huntress is the daughter of Batman and Catwoman, and can smell danger from miles away. Black Canary has the gift of clairvoyance and Oracle leads the team through her cyber experience, despite being wheelchair bound by Batman’s nemesis, the evil Joker.When the series opens, we learn that New Gotham’s Batman has disappeared leaving behind a daughter from his long-time love Catwoman. Her name is Helena Kyle, who transforms herself into the mysterious superhero known as “The Huntress.” Helena has hypersensitive senses and agility, but uses her gifts selfishly. Fate brings her face-to-face with her choices as well as a wheel-chair-bound Barbara Gordon, the hero Oracle, who befriends her but agrees to train her only if she uses her powers for good.splash_780-1376-720x340She teams up with Barbara, who had been “Batgirl” prior to being paralyzed by the Joker. By day, Barbara is a teacher at New Gotham High, but by night she fights crime from her secret lair in the New Gotham Clock Tower. The two meet a determined Dinah Redmond, a young woman who was drawn to New Gotham to learn more about her powers. Dinah is a touch-telepath and psychic who had terrifying dreams about Batgirl’s brutal incident that resulted in her paralysis. The Huntress resists working with Dinah, but Oracle convinces her to give the younger woman a chance. Now, they must learn not only how to work together as New Gotham’s protectors, but also as a family.Special recognition goes to Mark “Star Wars” Hamill who briefly reprises his award-winning voice role as the Joker from the iconic classic, Batman: the Animated Series. In Birds of Prey, “Mister J” on-camera is portrayed by actor/stuntman Roger Stoneburner but Hamill’s voice was dubbed over Stoneburner’s performance.  During the course of the series, the women are often confronted with schemes masterminded by the Joker’s on-and-off girlfriend, psychiatrist Dr. Harleen “Harley Quinn” Quinzel (Mia Sara), but they always prevail and eventually beat her at her own game.jsyjp3Other characters of note are: Alfred Pennyworth (Ian Abercrombie), who serves Helena as heir to the Wayne estate, and Police Detective Jesse Resse (Shemar Moore), confronted with crimes and abilities he cannot explain. A central feature of the series is the concept of metahumans: Individuals born with powers that cannot be explained. No two metahumans have the same specific ability (or set of abilities) and there exists a whole sub culture of metahuman society that the outside world knows nothing about. It is this world that Detective Reese is drawn into, reluctantly teaming up with Huntress and the Birds of Prey to defeat metahuman criminals. At first, he is disapproving of Helena’s vigilantism, even trying to arrest her, but eventually he realizes there is a need for the Birds of Prey to take down criminals the police can’t handle. Episodes in this four-disc collection are: the Pilot; Slick; Prey for the Hunter; Three Birds and a Baby; Sins of the Mother; Primal Scream; Split; Lady Shiva; Nature of the Beast; Gladiatrix; Reunion; Feat of Clay; and Devil’s Eyes. Very popular theme song “Revolution” was performed by Aimee Allen.