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: SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – VOLUME 2

Starring

Tim Daly (Madam Secretary)
Dana Delany (Desperate Housewives)
David Kaufman (Stargate SG.1)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)

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Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Lisa Edelstein (House)
Robert Ito (Midway)
Robert Hays (Airplane!)
Jonathan Harris (Lost In Space)
Gilbert Gottfried (Critters: A New Binge)
Mike Farrell (Patch Adams)
Shelley Fabares (Coach)
Sandra Bernhard (Hudson Hawk)
Tress MacNeille (Futurama)
Frank Welker (Transformers)
Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange)
George Dzundza (The Deer Hunter)
Lauren Tom (Bad Santa)
Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters)
Joseph Bologna (Big Daddy)
Brion James (Blade Runner)
Lori Petty (Tank Girl)
Jim Meskimen (The Punisher)
Victor Brandt (Neon Maniacs)
Joanna Cassidy (Six Feet Under)
Brad Garrett (Tangled)
Dean Jones (Beethoven)
Mae Whitman (Scott Pilgrim vs The World
Aria Noelle Curzon (The Muppets)
Michael Horse (Roswell)
Corey Burton (Critters)
Michael Ironside (Total Recall)
Bruce Weitz (Half Past Dead)
Michael Dorn (Star Trek: TNG)
Robert Morse (Mad Men)
Kevin Conroy (Batman: TAS)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Arleen Sorkin (Days of Our Lives)
Bob Hastings (The Poseidon Adventure)
Robert Costanzo (Die Hard 2)
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Hot Shots)
Ted Levine (The Silence of The Lambs)
Jennifer Lien (Star Trek: Voyager)
George DelHoyo (Rango)
Cree Summer (Voltron)
Dorian Harewood (Full Metal Jacket)
Cam Clarke (Akira)
Joely Fisher (The Mask)
Gregg Berger (Transformers)

MV5BMTQ5Mzg4MDE4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjUzNzU2MjE@._V1_Having written about virtually every Superman TV show released on DVD, I can say with more than a little certainty that the episodes found on The Animated Series – Volume 2 are some of the best Superman stories ever committed to film. Ever. You get it all – the whizzes, the bangs, the imaginative storytelling. After all, any show that has as much fun with Mr. Mxypltk as this one does deserves, in the parlance, “mad props;” seeing that fifth-dimensional imp cry “McGurk!” is both hilarious and classic at the same time.MV5BOTViZjU0MDAtYzJkYy00ZGVmLTg0ZGYtZjc1N2FjMzlhMDZiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_I went into this set expecting to like it, but not this much. Sure, I’ve always enjoyed the show – the first boxed set was good fun – but I don’t ever recall it being this entertaining. I mean, everyone knows that this series pales in comparison to its predecessor, Batman: The Animated Series, but I think these eighteen episodes prove that Superman: TAS can be just as excellent.MV5BMTQ2MzA4NzQyM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjgyNzU2MjE@._V1_What’s perfect about these episodes is the balance the writers and animators strike between ol’ Supes being perfectly impervious to physical harm and yet imminently vulnerable to real and very human emotional frailty. Superman always suffers complaints that he’s plain too invulnerable – there’s nothing interesting to do with a character who can shrug off meteors like they were dandelions. But rather than offering yet another series of action set pieces or a collection of purely existential crises, this show gets it right, balancing the man with the super in a serendipitous combination that reminds audiences why he’s such an enduring and beloved character.MV5BMTkzNWJhNzMtMDdiNC00Y2NlLTk2MzEtMDQ3NWZmMmY1MjY4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_Take for example the Metallo episode “Action Figures,” in which the partly-human T-1000 finally emerges from his long walk across the bottom of the Ocean (where Superman sank him last season), having lost his memory. He arrives on an island that is being used as a volcanic research station where he makes friends with two little kids who are at first frightened of him, but quickly come to adopt him as a pet, or perhaps their own personal superhero.MV5BMTgwNjMxOTgxMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTQzNzU2MjE@._V1_Of course, the villain slowly regains his memory and reveals himself to be anything but a hero. Hearing reports of a robotic creature on the island, Clark Kent comes to investigate and quickly learns that his suspicions are confirmed: Metallo has returned. Naturally, the two duke it out, but not just in any old way; during the course of their fight the volcano on the island erupts, forcing Superman to save the civilians and battle the villain simultaneously. I’m sure that having one’s head dunked in flowing lava is painful, even for Superman. This episode is a great example of the balance between action, meaningful storytelling, and plain old cartoon fun.mxyzpixilatedMxyzpixilated is probably my favorite episode out of the bunch. It features the introduction of one of Superman’s goofiest (and funniest) villains, a fifth-dimension sorcerer imp named Mr. Mxyzptlk (Mix-Yez-Spit-Lick) who can only come to our dimension every ninety days. He makes a deal with Superman: if Supes can get him to say his own name, he’ll return to where he came from until the next inter-dimensional window is open, three months later. Of course, Superman finds creative ways to foil the little gnome every time.superman-animated-bannerOne of the episode’s gags had me laughing out loud. Frustrated with his failure, Mxyzptlk is seen in his home, over the three month period, constructing a massive robot battle-suit. A good three minutes is devoted to an amusing montage of him putting the thing together. Finally the moment of truth arrives: he jumps in the suit and teleports to Metropolis, ready to destroy Superman. However, we don’t follow him – the camera stays in his room. Five seconds later he teleports back, stomping around in the suit, obviously foiled again, “NUTS NUTS NUTS!” You’re led to believe the whole thing will lead to a massive Superman/Giant Robot showdown, and the episode (written by the excellent Paul Dini) has a great time undercutting the situation for humorous effect.maxresdefaultBrave New Metropolis gives us an alternate world where Lois dies and Superman becomes a fascist. Monkey Fun is essentially Superman versus King Kong. Ghost in the Machine sees the return of Brainiac. And World’s Finest is the excellent three-episode “movie” that sees Batman team up with Supes to take down the villainous duo of Lex Luthor and the Joker. These are all great Superman stories, making good use of the character’s strengths and smoothing over his weaknesses. The ratio of killer-to-filler episodes in this box is very high (in the good sense) and is easily equal to Batman’s best run. I went into this set expecting to have a good time, and I’m delighted to report that my expectations were off. I had a great time.