REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE: GODS AND MONSTERS CHRONICLES

CAST (VOICES)

Benjamin Bratt (Traffic)
Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
Tamara Taylor (Bones)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Paget Brewster (Criminal Minds)
Daniel Hagen (The Bonfire of The Vanities)
Penny Johnson Jerald (Star Trek: DS9)
Josh Keaton (The Spectacular Spider-Man)
Tahmoh Penikett (Man of Steel)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Bruce Thomas (Legally Blonde)

Big changes were promised with Bruce Timm’s latest project at Warner Bros. Animations, offering an alternate take on DC Comics’ resident super-team in Justice League: Gods & Monsters. Re-imagining DC’s Big Three as the son of a Kryptonian general, a vampire, and a new god, the animated feature proved too limiting to show just what was made possible in terms of storytelling – meaning the early release of a number of Chronicles; animated shorts introducing fans to these radical takes. The first such episode sent a vampire Batman up against Harley Quinn (with predictable results), and the second installment, titled “Bomb,” shows a darker side of Superman. Not darker in his motivations or character, per se – simply willing to do things that the typical Man of Steel is not.


If the goal of these shorts is to show fans that Gods & Monsters is up to snuff with the rest of Timm’s work, we would say they are succeeding. Reinventing heroes simply to grab attention is nothing new, but we know Timm is interested in proving naysayers wrong – and “Bomb” shows that he and the writers aren’t wasting any opportunity to subvert their audience’s expectations.


People have proven to take exception to the idea of a Superman who kills, but Gods & Monsters manages to dodge those issues with its alternate timeline. In this version of the DC Universe, Amanda Waller has given up her role as the head of the Suicide Squad, residing instead in the White House (with the supervillain Dr. Sivana as a top advisor), with classic Superman villain Brainiac now an engineered Superman-deterrent.

From visionary producer and animator Bruce Timm (Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series), Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles turns the DC Universe upside-down. In this dark, alternate world, telling the good guys from the bad guys is never easy: Superman is not the son of Jor-El, he’s the son of General Zod; Wonder Woman is not from peaceful Themyscira, but rather the warring nation of Ares; and Batman is more vampire-bat than man…and he’s not Bruce Wayne. It is unclear if our greatest heroes are here to protect us…or to rule us. Machinima has already announced a second season, which will come out in 2016.

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REVIEW: BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD – SEASON 1-3

Image result for batman the brave and the bold logo

MAIN CAST

Diedrich Bader (Vampires Suck)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Dee Bradley Baker (American Dad)
Will Friedle (Batman Beyond)
Jason Marsden (Full House)
James Arnold Taylor (Star Wars: The Clone Wars)
Marc Worden (Ultimate Avengers)
Grey DeLisle (The Replacements)
John Dimaggio (Futurama)
Tom Kenny (Super hero Squad)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Corey Burton (Critters)
R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket)
Scott Menville (Teen Titans)
Vyvan Pham (Generator Rex)
Bumper Robinson (Sabrina: TTW)
Mikey Kelley (TMNT)
Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville)
Will Wheaton (Powers)
Xander Berkeley (Kick-Ass)
Loren Lester (Batman: TAS)
Phil Morris (Smallville)
Jeff Bennett (James Bond Jr.)
Oded Fehr (The Mummy)
Ellen Greene (Pushing Daisies)
Armin Shimmerman (Star Trek: DS9)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Tom Everett Scott (Scream: The Series)
Billy West (Futurama)
Jeffrey Tambor (The Hangover)
Paul Reubens (Gotham)
Diane Delano (Jeepers Creepers II)
Peter Woodward (Crusade)
Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)
James Remar (Flashforward)
Jeffrey Combs (Gothman)
Ioan Grufford (Ringer)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
William Katt (Carrie)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Tress MacNeille (Futurama)
Hynden Walch (The Batman)
Kevin Conroy (Batman: TAS)
Mark Hamill (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Adam West (BAtman 60s)
Julie Newmar (Batman 60s)
Dana Delany (Body of Proof)
Tony Todd (Chuck)
Peter Scolari (Gotham)
Cree Summer (Batman Beyond)
Steve Blum (Wolverine and Thje X-Men)
John Wesley Shipp (The Flash)
Alan Tudyk (Firefly)
Olivia D’Abo (Conan The Destroyer)
Mae Whitman (Independence Day)
Fred Tatasciore (Hulk Vs)
Vanessa Marshall (Star Wars: Revels)
John Michael Higgins (Still Waiting)
Michael Jai White (Arrow)
Morena Baccarin (Gotham)
Tippi Hedren (The Birds)
Gary Owens (That 70s Show)
Ted McGinley (Highlander 2)
Henry Winkler (Happy Days)

There’s a gloriously meta moment in the back half of this season of Batman: The Brave and the Bold where the show’s producers are raked over the coals at Comic-Con. One of the twentysomethings in the crowd grouses and groans about how the Caped Crusader in the cartoon isn’t his Batman, and…well, he’s not wrong. DC’s comics anymore are joylessly grim and gritty…22 monthly pages of misery and scowling and torture and dismemberment and death and high collars and way too much crosshatching. Batman: The Brave and the Bold, meanwhile, is defined by its vivid colors and clean, thick linework. It’s a series whose boundless imagination and thirst for high adventure make you feel like a six year old again, all wide-eyed and grinning ear to ear.


You know all about The Dark Knight’s war on crime, and in The Brave and the Bold , he’ll duke it out against any badnik, anywhere. He doesn’t go it alone, either, with every episode pairing Batman up with at least one other DC superhero. Heck, to keep it interesting, The Brave and the Bold shies away from the obvious choices like Superman and Wonder Woman. Instead, you get more interesting team-ups like Blue Beetle (more than one, even!), Elongated Man, Wildcat, Mister Miracle, Kamandi, and B’wana Beast.
Other animated incarnations of Batman have been rooted in something close enough to reality. Sure, you might have androids and the occasional Man-Bat, but they tried to veer away from anything too fantastic. The Brave and tbe Bold has free reign to do just about whatever it wants. One week, maybe you’ll get an adventure in the far-flung reaches of space with a bunch of blobby alien amoebas who mistake Batman for Blue Beetle’s sidekick. The next might offer up Tolkien-esque high fantasy with dragons and dark sorcery. Later on, Aquaman and The Atom could play Fantastic Voyage inside Batman’s bloodstream, all while the Caped Crusader is swimming around in a thirty-story walking pile of toxic waste. He could be in a Western or a post-apocalyptic wasteland or a capes-and-cowls musical or even investigate a series of grisly something-or-anothers alongside Sherlock Holmes in Victorian England.

Batman has markedly different relationships with every one of those masked heroes. There’s the gadget geekery with an earlier incarnation of the Blue Beetle. With the younger, greener-but-still-blue Beetle, Batman takes on more of a mentor role.

More of a stern paternal figure for Plastic Man, and a rival for Green Arrow. Sometime it might not even be the most pleasant dynamic, such as a decidedly adult Robin who doesn’t feel like he can fully step outside the long shadow that Batman casts.

There are some really unique takes on iconic (and not so iconic!) DC superheroes here, and far and away the standout is Aquaman. This barrel-chested, adventure-loving braggart is my favorite incarnation of the king of the seven seas, and if Aquaman ever scores a cartoon of his own, I hope he looks and acts a lot like this. Oh, and The Brave and the Bold does a spectacular job mining DC’s longboxes for villains too, and along with some of the familiar favorites, you get a chance to boo and hiss at the likes of Kanjar Ro, The Sportsmaster, Kite Man, Gentleman Ghost, Chemo, Calendar ManKing, Crazy Quilt, and Shrapnel. The Brave and the Bold delivers its own versions of Toyman, Vandal Savage, and Libra while it’s at it, the latter of whom has the closest thing to a season arc that the series inches towards.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold is every bit as fun and thrilling as you’d expect from a series where every episode’s title ends with an exclamation point. Each installment is fat-packed with action, and the series has a knack for piling it on in ways I never saw coming. Even with as imaginative and off-the-walls as The Brave and the Bold can get, it still sticks to its own internal logic, so the numerous twists, turns, and surprises are all very much earned.

The majority of the episodes have a cold open not related to the remainder of the episode. Despite its episodic nature, if you’re expecting a big storyline in these 26 episodes, you’re going to be pretty disappointed as the extent of an overarching story in the season is the occasional villain that appears more than once, like Starro, but that’s really the only connecting bridge between episodes.

Season 2 contains one of my favorite episodes of not only this particular season, but probably in the entire series, “Chill of the Night!”, which goes back to Batman’s origins as Bruce Wayne learns more about the man who murdered his parents, turning him into the crime-fighter he would become, it’s one of the most well known origin stories in media, ever, but it’s done so well here. Another reason I love this episode is my blinding nostalgia for the voice cast.

The original 1960’s Batman, Adam West, guest stars as Batman’s father, Thomas Wayne, while Julie Newmar, who starred opposite of West as Catwoman from the original Batman TV show, plays Batman’s mother, Martha Wayne. My favorite Batman of all time, theatrical or not, Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman from Batman: The Animated Series and various other series/movies/games, voices the Phantom Stranger. Lastly, the baddie of the episode, The Spectre, is voiced by none other than Mark Hamill, the definitive voice of the Joker.

The Episodes in season 3 are wildly imaginative; so much so that purists will probably be put off, at least initially. They range from “Night of the Batmen”, where batman is incapacitated and it is up to Aquaman, Green Arrow, Captain Marvel, and Plastic Man to don the cowl, and keep gotham safe. As weird as that may sound, this episode is pure fun, and a joy to watch. Other stand outs are the never before seen in the states “The Mask of Matches Malone”, “Shadow of the Bat”, “Scorn of the Star Sapphire”, and “Powerless”.

Special mention has to be made of the final episode of the series however, “Mitefall”. In this meta episode, Batmite does a fantastic job breaking down why the series is ending, and the disconnect of the so-called “purists”, whose baseless, closed minded, ignorance eventually doomed this excellent series.

When all is said and done, we received three outstanding, and criminally underrated, seasons and it is a joy to see.

REVIEW: BATMAN BEYOND – SEASON 1-3

 

 

CAST (VOICES)

Will Friedle (Boy Meets World)
Kevin Conroy (Batman: TAS)
Teri Garr (Young Frankenstein)
Ryan O’Donohue (A Bug’s Life)
Lauren Tom (Futurama)
Cree Summer (Inspector Gadget)
Seth Green (Family Guy)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Michael Gross (Tremors)
Sherman Howard (Superboy)
George Takei (Star Trek)
Sam McMurray (Drop Dead Gorgeous)
CCH Pounder (Avatar)
Clyde Kusatsu (The Interpreter)
Frank Welker (Transformers)
Marc Worden (Ultimate Avengers)
Rino Romano (The Batman)
Corey Burton (Transformers)
Shannon Kenny (7th Heaven)
Stockard Channing (Grease)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Clevland Show)
Melissa Dinsey (In A World..)
Scott McAfee (Midnight Run)
Bill Smitrovich (Ted)
Pauley Perrette (The Ring)
Linda Hamilton (Chuck)
Michael Ansara (Star Trek)
Tress Macneille (Futurama)
Chris Mulkey (Whiplash)
Olivia d’Abo (Conan The Destroyer)
Amanda Donahue (Liar Liar)
George Lazenby (Gettysburg)
Scott Cleverdon (The Prophecy 3)
Brian George (The Big Bang Theory)
Ian Ziering (Sharknado)
Larry Drake (Firefly)
Jon Cypher (Masters of The Universe)
Vernee Watson (The Big Bang Theory)
Dorian Harewood (Gothika)
William H. Macy (The Cooler)
Kimmy Robertson (Stuart Little)
Paul Winfield (The Termiantor)
Miguel Sandoval (Medium)
Ice-T (Tank Girl)
Lindsay Sloane (The Other Guys)
Stephen Collins (No Ordinary Family)
Ethan Embry (Eagle Eye)
Rider Strong (Cabin fever)
Stacy Keach (Two and a Half Men)
Carl Lumbly (Alias)
Daphne Zuniga (Spaceballs)
Sarah Douglas (Superman)
Jason Marsden (Full House)
Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville)
Henry Rollins (Wrong Turn 2)
Kate Jackson (Charlie’s Angels)
Shiri Appleby (Roswell)
Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons)
Tim Curry (IT)
John Ritter (bride of Chucky)
Rachael Leigh Cook (Antitrust)
Adam Wylie (Superman Doomsday)
Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap)
Andy Dick (Dude, Where’s My Car?)
Gary Cole (Chuck)
Kerrigan Mahan (Power Rangers)
Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory)
Chris Demetral (Lois & Clark)
Patton Oswalt (Caprica)
Mitch Pileggi (Stargate: Atlantis)
Curtis Armstrong (American Dad)
Bumper Robinson (Sabrina: TTW)
Eli Marienthal (American Pie)
Angie Harmon (Agent Cody Banks)
Robert Patrick (Terminator 2)
Olivia Hussey (Black Christmas)
David Warner (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Adrienne Barbeau (Swamp Thing)
Farrah Forke (Lois & Clarke)
Christopher McDonald (Fanboys)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Alexlis Denisof (Angel)
Diedrich Bader (Batman: TBATB)
Julie Nathanson (The Zeta Project)
Kurtwood Smith (That 70s Show)
Keone Young (Crank)
Keith Szarabajka (The Dark Knight)
Sean Marquette (13 Going on 30)


Fifty years after Batman: The Animated Series came to a close, Gotham City is without a protector. Failing health and a chilling act of desperation prompted Bruce Wayne to give up Batman’s cape and cowl, and the corporation that had stayed in his family for generations has been wrest from him by a corporate raider named Derek Powers. Never married and abandoned by his sidekicks, the elderly, embittered Wayne lurks inside a sprawling mansion that seems more like a mausoleum than the stately manor of old. Derek Powers is using the remnants of WayneCorp to illegally manufacture an endlessly destructive but extremely profitable nerve gas, a secret that Wayne/Powers employee Warren McGinnis stumbles upon and pays for with his life. His troubled son Terry blames himself for the murder, but a chance encounter with Bruce Wayne results in the theft of a Batman suit brimming with cutting-edge technology and the revelation of the man truly responsible for his father’s death. By the time the two-part episode “Rebirth” is over, Bruce Wayne has agreed to guide Terry as the new Batman, and an irradiated Derek Powers is a walking fusion reactor.batman-beyondBatman: The Animated Series, Superman, and Justice League all drew heavily from the established mythos, but Batman Beyond is a largely original creation. Sure, there are quite a few nods to the original series — it’s still set in Gotham City, Barbara Gordon has taken the mantle of police commissioner, and there are winks to fans like the Grey Ghost costume in the Batcave.
Terry McGinnis is a very different lead character than Bruce Wayne was in Batman: The Animated Series. In the previous series, it seemed more as if Batman was who this man really was and Bruce Wayne was just an occasionally convenient mask for him to wear. Terry is seen out of costume much more frequently than Bruce ever was and feels like more of a fleshed-out character. He has friends, he has family, and he has a life outside of the pointy-eared hood. Gotham City is still teeming with bad guys, but even though Batman has been transplanted to the future, he’s not squaring off against Joker II or The Riddler Redux. The rogue’s gallery of this futuristic Batman doesn’t lift much from the previous animated series or even from the comics. The only familiar faces are Mr. Freeze, The Royal Flush Gang, and, briefly and unrecognizably, Bane. The other villains are original creations with some striking character designs, such as the amorphous corporate saboteur Inque, sound-engineer-with-a-power-suit Shriek, and the hypnotic Spellbound. This season also doesn’t rehash the same villains over and over again, with Inque being the only badnik other than Derek Powers’ Blight to strike more than once.

 


Several of the supervillains aren’t costumed-threats-of-the-week, but ordinary people in extraordinary situations: Willie Watt in “Golem” is a nerdy high schooler who seizes control of a two-story-tall construction robot to exact revenge on the bullies who torment him, and “The Winning Edge” is about high school athletes using steroids yet deftly avoids playing like ‘a very special episode of Batman Beyond’. One thing Batman’s adversaries, costumed and plainclothes alike, have in common is their origins. Nearly all of the villains in Batman Beyond are born of tragedy or greed, and that gives these episodes more of a resonance than something like The Joker pumping Gotham City with laughing gas for no reason in particular.

Another stand-out is “Shriek”, pitting Batman against an enemy whose technology enables him to manipulate sound. One of the most inventive sequences in the entire run of the series is set in a car factory where Batman starts setting off every piece of equipment in arm’s reach as a distraction. Shriek uses his technology to block out the noise and isolate Batman’s movements, resulting in an almost entirely silent battle with no dialogue, few sound effects, and a sparse, subtle score.

This first season of Batman Beyond is remarkably consistent, offering perhaps the strongest debut of any DC animated series to date.

Batman Beyond—Season Two would be ambitious and further expand the adventures of Terry McGinnis, the new Dark Knight of the Gotham City’s future, but it would also be quite different from the first season in several ways. For one thing,  the creators had killed off Terry arch nemesis Derek Powers (a.k.a. Blight) at the end of season and despite having a cliffhanger ending, the character never returned for season two, or season three for that matter. In fact, the fundamental change between the two seasons was that the network requested more episodes be written around Terry and the kids he interacted with in his high school, instead of focusing on a corporate espionage subplot like in the previous season. The producers did not argue with this as it was more or less the direction they were interested in going too. The network also wanted the show to introduce a stronger female character that could assist Terry in his mission as Batman. The not led to the creation of new supporting character Maxine “Max” Gibson, a beautiful and intelligent girl at Terry’s high school who would discover his secret in her first episode and would become one of his allies for the rest of the series. She was always intended to be her own character and not a placeholder for Robin, Batgirl, Alfred or anyone from the classic Batman supporting cast. Most of Terry’s teenage peers like Dana Tan, Chelsea Cunningham, Blade Summer and Nelson Nash came back in this season and is some cases got slightly more prominent roles. But there was also at least one more friend of Terry’s introduced named Howard Groote, a nerdy comic relief who design was, amusingly, inspired by producer/writer Paul Dini.

As for villains this season, many characters like the Jokerz gang, Ten of the Royal Flush Gang, Spellbinder, Willie Watt, Shriek and Curare return for further episodes. But there were also several new villains introduced, though unfortunately many of them were only one-time threats and did not become members of terry’s recurring rogues gallery. The three major recurring villains introduced this season were the Stalker, a cybernetically-enhanced big-game hunter who sees Batman as his ultimate prey, the insanely liberal bomber Mad Stan, and the terrorist snake cult known as Kobra). Memorable one-shot villains include gene splicer Dr. Able Cuvier, the A.I. ‘ghost’ of a former corporate mogul who takes control of the Batsuit, a rat boy named Patrick that kidnaps Dana, the father of one of Terry’s friends who becomes a supervillain named Armory, a burly woman named Mom Mayhem and her two sons, a snobby gossip reporter using invisibility technology, and a vigilante named Payback who takes his revenge against tormentors of troubled teenagers too far.

Overall, Batman Beyond—Season Two is twice and big as the first season, and just as strong.

The episodes in this final release aren’t as dark as some of the great shows in the first box, but they’re still very exciting. The villains don’t have that tragic quality which translated so well from the regular Batman universe, but this lack of atmosphere is made up for with a great sense of adventure and fun.

“The Call”, for example, is a fantastic two-parter that sees Batman team-up with a future Justice League – it’s probably too much to assume that this “Justice League Unlimited” was a conscious forbearer to the actual series, but it’s certainly a great cartoon-geek moment. In the episode, Terry McGuiness uproots a villain who conspires to take over the JLU  in a suspenseful story that has a great connection to the original comic book origin of the League.

But the champion episode of the box – and perhaps the series – is “Out of The Past” (would it surprise you to learn that it’s penned by Paul Dini?). Not only does the episode bring back two excellent characters from Bruce Wayne’s past, Ra’s Al Ghul and Talia, and not only does it do it in a way that resonates with both Batman and Bruce, but it’s got, hands down, one of the best tongue-in-cheek moments in the entire DC Animated Universe. It is the stories, and their execution, where the true appeal of these episodes lies. Sure there’s a great setting and a great character, but each of these mini sci-fi/fantasy stories is a very fun and exciting peak into a great imaginary world. Sure, one that happens to borrow a lot from the Batman mythology, but it’s the show’s imaginative qualities that make it a unique world that translates perfectly to the cartoon form.

While the traditional episode structure does tend to bore, it also does its job. Furthermore, the imaginative fight scenes – whether they be with a villain who is physically untouchable, or a fight in a giant wind tunnel – will keep your attention long after more kinetic, but ultimately rote new series have lost their appeal.


A major sticking point to this set is the lack of a satisfactory conclusion. The series was rather abruptly put to a stop after its checkpoint 52-episode run in 2001. It wasn’t until Justice League Unlimited’s Season Four finale, “Epilogue”, that Batman Beyond was given a proper send-off. But what a send-off it was! After you finish this set it is highly recommended that you seek out the aforementioned episode. While this box’s closer, “Unmasked”, is a nice story, it’s not the series finale that, ironically – yet thankfully – another series would provide.  Batman Beyond was born out of a WB executive’s desire to cash in on a popular and recognizable franchise. Because of the fantastic people behind the show, what might have been a hollow concept was turned into something fresh, imaginative, and very worthwhile.