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Justice League:
Crisis on Two Earths

If it had been the basis of a third season of Justice League Unlimited, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths might have worked better. As it is, it's entertaining enough, but much of that comes from knowing the history of the concepts involved. Like at least half of the DC Universe movie, it isn't just enough to know the Justice League; you have to spend time figuring out the (sometimes pointless) reinterpretation of the characters for this time around.

What level does Batman trust everyone? Which Flash hides under the mask? How world-wise is this version of Wonder Woman? And crucially for this movie, how lonely is the Martian Manhunter, really?

Yet for long-time fans, it's fun to see the Crime Syndicate take on the Justice League. In a great opening sequence, screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie also captures the essences of the "good" Lex Luthor (Chris Noth) and Joker, alternately called The Jester. They're from a world not quite upside down, and no matter which reality and his motivation, if he's a Luthor, he's arrogant.

So, too, are the main members of the Crime Syndicate, all with appropriately thuggish voices and some sleazy character designs. Terrorizing a version of Earth where our heroes are villains, they've always been fun creations when used sparingly. McDuffie adds the concept of them controlling gangs by carefully bestowing superpowers on their henchmen, with the result of a lot of easter eggs as unidentified evil versions of minor heroes run around. (I particularly appreciate the dark Uncle Marvel, voiced by Bruce Timm.)

However, the script also quickly points out one of the flaws in the concept when the two teams clash: they're from another universe where the laws are different. The Justice League has problems of its own in one reality.

Another problem comes simply from adapting this basic comic book concept to the alleged requirements of a movie; the Crime Syndicate can't be content just to be basically super crooks. Owlman (James Woods) has to have a scheme much greater than that, even though it never gets adequately justified beyond, hey, he's evil and he's James Woods.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths has its moments, though. A showdown between Batman (William Baldwin) and Superwoman (Gina Torres) earns its PG-13 rating, but not gratuitously. All the action is exceptionally directed. Though it's hard to say if that's Sam Liu or Lauren Montgomery, my money's on Montgomery, as she helmed the most consistently exciting of the DC Universe titles so far, Wonder Woman.

And it's Wonder Woman here who gets to stand out, voiced by Vanessa Marshall. The movie uses the plot to explain a further part of her mythology, though again it serves as more a clever in-joke than a solid development. We're never really going to see this take on the League again, though we might see something similar.

That might be nice in the case of Mark Harmon playing Superman for animation. He really comes across as the stalwart protector and big blue boy scout. That might be worth following up in another project.

Or for a later release, Timm and his production team could just do a series of shorts. This DVD release pioneers the "DC Showcase," presumably intended to give less popular characters a chance to shine. Here we get ten minutes or so of The Spectre (Gary Cole), and it's a compact great time.

Made to look and feel like an animated seventies cop drama, it's got all the fetishistic love of a Quentin Tarantino film. Scratches run down the print. The focus is soft and the colors washed out like an old unrestored print, while the score could be by DeVol instead ofJames L. Venable.

It's a perfect venue for the Spectre, and the story feels like one of the classic Mike Fleischer stories from Weird Adventure. The only thing missing is the look of Jim Aparo's art; otherwise, Cole has Jim Corrigan down cold.

If you spring for the Blu-ray edition, you get much more in the way of animation - four episodes of the Justice League series, but completists already have them, as well as the pilot episode of Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman series. What this disc offers that no other has is a legal copy of the Aquaman TV pilot, once known as Mercy Reef but now retitled, logically, Aquaman.

Many of you may have seen that when it was available on iTunes, but for me this was a nice surprise. Staying far truer to the source material than Smallville (though it's still afraid to admit that it's a superhero show), this also features an engaging performance from Justin Hartley as Orin/Arthur. No wonder that they recast him as Green Arrow. He's got that thing.

Also included are a preview of the next DC Universe movie, Batman: Under the Red Hood and a featurette with some top DC talents. While interesting, they're somewhat fluffy pieces intended to get you hyped up about the source material - worth getting hyped up about, but still, it's better to decide for yourself.

While not as strong as Justice League: The New Frontier, Crisis on Two Earths makes an entertaining package. But guys, how about we see some of Grant Morrison's run adapted? Forget the Crime Syndicate; we want to see Batman beat the Hyperclan.

Derek McCaw

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