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Justice League:
Season One

As we grow near the close of Justice League Unlimited, Warner Brothers starts doing right by the show with a beautiful First Season package. Yes, they'd released episodes in drips and drabs before, but those packages seemed more brightly colored come-ons for kids. This four-disc set is definitely for the fans.

Of course, the kids are going to get into it, too. As Bruce Timm notes, despite the production team's intent not to do Superfriends, there's no getting around the fact that this is Superfriends, only much, much cooler.

Something deep within the Fanboy DNA drives us toward loving our team-ups. It's a headache for producers and storytellers sometimes, but the results - well, judge for yourself.

Looking over this first season, it's amazing how assured the show was right out of the gate. Sure, the production team had toyed with other characters from the DCU in the several Batman series and Superman: The Animated Series. Somehow, though, they hit the right balance that could enthrall kids and thrill old fans.

In one of the disc extras, Producers Bruce Timm and James Tucker reveal that they almost struck a different tone. Initially planning on pitching Justice League to Kids!WB, they wanted to appeal to a younger crowd. Never before seen by the public (allegedly), this "First Mission" included Robin, Impulse and a teen female version of Cyborg.

Ultimately, Timm and his team didn't need it. A phone call was all it took to sell the show we know and love to the Cartoon Network. Some of the character designs have altered, but it's still a nice slice of what might have been.

The development of the character designs gets a close-up look on a featurette, which Timm narrates. If you watch all of the extras, you may notice interesting character design changes in Timm himself; there's long-haired Timm with no glasses, shorn Timm with glasses and evil twin Timm with a goatee. This man's ready for his own action figure line. Nowhere, however, does he appear as the slightly confused Timm we see at conventions when we approach claiming he knows us.

Despite the popular misconception that Fanboy Planet is guilty of fomenting, Justice League is not by any means a one-man show. On the second disc, moderator Jason Hillhouse leads a roundtable discussion with several key creators, including Tucker, Rich Fogel and Dan Riba.

The other key creator from the first season, Glen Murakami, sits that discussion out, but does show up in commentary, particularly enthusiastic for the second part of "The Savage Time," the episode that sends the Justice League into the battlefields of World War II while fighting Vandal Savage.

Episodes like that prove the genuine affection and deep knowledge the creative team has for the original comics. "The Savage Time" also brings in the Blackhawks, Sgt. Rock and Easy Company, as well as finds a way to honor the original legacy of Wonder Woman's longtime comics boyfriend Steve Trevor. But this set also includes episodes dealing with the Green Lantern Corps, Aquaman, Metamorpho, The Demon and a thinly disguised Justice Society of America.

That latter appearance caused a stir among fans at the time, but listening to the commentary really brings it into focus. The story has a dark tinge that belies its sunny fifties appearance, and DC really didn't want the JSA to suffer like that. Besides, it worked out, because now many JSA members have appeared in Justice League Unlimited.

"Legends," the Justice Guild two-parter, also underscores the artistic facility of the show. Though the same team had done a riff on Batman artist Dick Sprang in "Legends of the Dark Knight" in The New Batman Adventures, they really went to town here utilizing that Golden Age style, even making a villain look like Bob Hope, whose fictional adventures DC published for well over a decade.

Other episodes stretch to encompass the style of Ramona Fradon ("Metamorphosis") and Jack Kirby ("A Knight of Shadows") while still maintaining its own distinctive look. If they could have used Blue Beetle, there's no doubt he would have still looked like Ditko within the animated universe.

Still in the more educational mode, the set also includes a featurette on storyboarding. What Tucker fails to mention is that that's where he got his start with this team, though he does emphasize that storytelling skills are key.

After watching these discs, you'll agree that these men are masters of storytelling. Though many key elements do not pay off until the next season (I'm ready for that set, Warner Brothers), Timm reveals that they had the rough arcs planned out from the very beginning, allowing for a subtle building of emotional connections among characters.

Watch for the first signs of Hawkgirl bonding with Green Lantern. Notice the seeds of Wonder Woman's attraction for Batman, suggested to Timm by Paul Levitz, Editor-in-chief at DC Comics. (That attraction actually ran parallel to events in JLA, the then-current incarnation of the team in print.)

Best of all, these episodes hold up on repeated viewings. They're fun, they're occasionally thoughtful, and often more intelligent than most people would expect from what was once intended for Saturday morning.

If the set has a flaw, it's that the episodes aren't presented in wide-screen format. However, at least in the first season, Cartoon Network ran the shows both ways, so the letterboxing really only cut off some of the picture at the top and bottom. Timm once admitted at Comic-Con that letterboxing was a pretentious move.

Still, it seemed to give the show the respect it deserved. Watching Justice League at its best is like watching your favorite movie from when you were a kid, and finding out it really is as good as you remember.

Justice League - Season One (DC Comics Classic Collection)

Derek McCaw


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