Trapped In Time
Sometimes a special present just shows up -- the best kind of surprise. But how in the heck Target managed to order up an original animated project featuring the Justice League without it leaking to anyone is beyond me. Yet they did. UPDATE: This goes into general release on DVD and Digital on May 20th!
It's not the JLA that DC wants to sell you -- because they think you're somewhere in your 20s, 30s and 40s and like your superheroes to be violent jerks who solve their problems with lots of 'splosions. Maybe they're right.
This JLA -- which admittedly ties in to action figures, toys, games and various products that Target has quietly been selling exclusively for about a year -- well, this is a JLA that gets kids excited about superheroes without being infantile.
Echoing an old Super Friends episode (but really, somewhere in Justice League history some villain had to have thought of this in the comics), Trapped In Time opens with the Legion of Doom suffering defeat somewhere near the Arctic Circle. Superman calls forth his Justice League friends and Lex Luthor gets lost in the ice, for which Captain Cold carries the guilt.
Flash forward a thousand years, and potential superheroes Dawnstar and Karate Kid gaze at a statue of Superman. Frustrated that they have not been called to full membership in the Legion of Superheroes, the two teen heroes turn their attention to a huge block of ice containing Lex's frozen body, found a couple hundred years earlier.
Okay, so the logic isn't going gangbusters, but it somehow felt like a story out of the 60s or 70s, fun but not able to stand up to much scrutiny. This is fantasy, after all. Because of course Karate Kid shows off to Dawnstar and finds the weak point in the ice, and of course despite his stopping short of striking it, that is still enough to crack the ice and free Lex Luthor.
And of course, Lex stumbles across a scary looking hourglass that contains the spirit of Legion of Superheroes' villain the Time Trapper. Having discovered that Superman is Clark Kent, Lex returns to the 21st century ready to get the Legion of Doom to stop the Kents from ever adopting the infant Kal-El.
This group includes the second-most disturbing version of the Toyman, the one that is a huge wooden toy himself. The script also finds humor in how ridiculously boring and monosyllabic a conversation between Solomon Grundy and Bizarro must be.
On the heroic side, the designs seem somewhat close to the New 52 Justice League, and yet they all act so much better. Superman doesn't have trunks, and Batman has a chin strap. But Robin is an impulsive teen, and somebody remembered that Cyborg started out as a football player before his injuries. Aquaman is closer to the Young Justice version of Aqualad, but there's something incredibly nostalgic about hearing the old sound effect of his fish telepathy
The other shout-out to Super Friends is that even though Karate Kid is even name-checked as Val Armorr, that costume looks suspiciously like he wants to grow up and become Samurai..
The voices are mostly journeyman animated players, including Diedrich Bader returning to the role of Batman after the end of Batman: Brave and the Bold. Welcome back, Diedrich. The animation is not near the quality of the DC Universe DVDs, but still better than the old Super Friends.
Trapped In Time also ends on a note that indicates this may be the first in a series. So let's have one of two things happen -- either Cartoon Network goes ahead and does this far more kid-friendly JLA Adventures as a regular series on DC Nation, or we get a series of DVDs at Target. Either way, it works for me, being able to pick up a DC superhero video that I don't have to worry about vetting before showing it to my son.
It also sparks another idea -- why not create JLA Adventures as comics, and if the powers that be really believe that kids won't read the old stuff, go ahead and redo the first twelve adventures of the Justice League with a modern twist -- but not without making it grim, gritty or realistic. Just redo it as what it once was -- good kids' comics. Because right here? We've got a good kids' DVD.
Soapbox complaint: Several creators get mentioned in the end credits for their marquee characters, including Paul Norris for Aquaman and Mike Grell for Dawnstar. But why no Jim Shooter for Karate Kid? Just asking.