DC Universe On DVD -- With A Side of Mutant...
Warner Brothers announced Batman vs. Superman as a
possible film project, comic book fans got pretty excited.
Soon enough, of course, the idea got kicked aside. But not
because the idea necessarily sucked, or that executives just
can't seem to get it together with these high-profile characters.
the prevailing wisdom goes that when you team two characters
up in a movie, it means the franchise is on its last legs.
Of course, in the comic book world, it's almost the opposite.
Fans want to see their favorite heroes together, and are eager
to see that translated to another medium.
may let us down when it comes to that (although X2's
success might change conventional wisdom), but let us not
forget that television animation has been giving us what we
want for years. And nobody has been better at that than…hey,
look, it's Warner Brothers!
the studio has begun releasing some of the best of their work
on home video, with a slew coming out late last month. These
releases highlight some of the best animated adventure series
out of America (I leave it to Mish'al to debate anime),
but if you're in the mood for it, there's plenty of cheese,
one DVD release seems to be following a logical order, as
Warner has followed a strict chronology with Justice League.
Following the pilot episode's release last fall, we get the
next four episodes in a collection entitled Justice On
Trial. These feature the Green Lantern Corps and Aquaman;
should you be interested, the
reviews of the individual episodes are here.
chock-filled with minute details of the DC Universe, though
significantly recast to fit the "animated" continuity. Largely
kinetic, action fests writ large, these episodes do a nice
job of just giving us lots of superheroes using their powers,
with occasional surprising guest-villains.
also some great design work. While watching the show in Portuguese
(just for the heck of it), I noticed that one of the aliens
at the beginning is a wood-based creature that looks like
a tree - his eyes look like two albino chipmunks poking out.
Perhaps it's a nod to lost Green Lantern Ch'pp; whatever the
real reason, it's a clever joke, and a sign of just how detailed
these guys get.
a little bit of time to introduce each episode, producer Bruce
Timm tries to pack in as much information as he can about
their choices without getting too erudite. Only voice casting
director Andrea Romano upstages him in a mini-documentary
on the Batman: Tales of the Dark Knight. DVD.
extras, it is this feature, "Voices of Gotham City," that
provides the most insight into the behind-the-scenes work,
and just why Bruce Timm's take on the DC Universe has proven
so effective. Though Timm himself offers up some good commentary
on their story choices, that isn't the only thing that makes
these shows work.
themselves on Tales of the Dark Knight are a pretty
good mix, with only one featuring an established comic book
villain, The Joker. It doesn't seem to be following a given
order, though there is a vague theme concerning Batman's interaction
with children. Overall, Batman: TAS has been the strongest
series out of the studio, perhaps because of its willingness
to explore the pathos of the Dark Knight (which would make
a terrible title for a DVD collection, but hey, Warner, if
you want it…)
gives us glimpses of other villains, such as Two-Face and
Man-Bat, but they must be being saved for other DVD collections.
The Joker episode, "Be a Clown," has the signature combination
of creepy and fun that made Mark Hamill's shot at the character
so definitive. Also of note: an episode focusing on Renee
Montoya, a character I had not known was created for the animated
series before becoming a staple of the comics.
in the same, um, league as the Timm/Dini/Radomski stuff, but
still fun for some of us, is the first ever DVD collection
of Super Friends episodes. Entitled "Attack of the
Legion of Doom," this disc consists of four episodes of Challenge
of the Super Friends. Considerably less goofy and preachy
than its Challenge-less predecessor show, it's still dumb.
Fun, but dumb.
that Warner has gathered the first four episodes, but other
than the pilot, chronology probably doesn't matter. Every
adventure opens the same way, with Lex Luthor calling a meeting
of the Legion of Doom to order, and revealing that one of
the members has a new can't fail scheme to defeat the Super
Friends. (Maddeningly, you and I both know darned well they're
the Justice League -- blissfully free of Marvin, Wendy,
Wonder Dog, Wonder Twins, or Gleek.) My
personal favorite scheme involves changing everyone into Bizarros
entertainment, the episodes don't hold up very well. But as
history, it's impressive how far the producers dug into DC
continuity, going so far as to give Solomon Grundy a generalized
southern accent. I just don't understand how The Riddler made
the cut into The Legion of Doom, but some things just don't
bear close examination.
the same pattern as the other discs, Warner has included brief
episode introductions from story editor Jeffrey Scott. He
remains circumspect in his analysis, and if all you knew of
the Super Friends came from his commentary, you'd think it
was a high quality show.
that's a little harsh and unfair. For its time, Challenge
of the Super Friends was a high quality show. Comparing
it to the other releases just proves how far we've come, and
how ground-breaking Warner Brothers actually was in the early
nineties when it gave Timm and company the go-ahead to play
in their universe.
rate, the disc is worth it for the nostalgia. Just don't try
explaining or defending Black Vulcan, Samurai, or Apache Chief.
series of releases also ventures into enemy territory, with
X-Men: Evolution. Subtitled "Mutants Rising," this
disc actually appears to cull episodes from the second season
of the show. Being the first DVD release for this series,
it seems an odd choice, until you realize that new Fox movie
heartthrob Iceman didn't appear until this set of adventures.
I wasn't a big fan of the concept of the show, producer Boyd
Kirkland makes some pretty good points in favor of it. And
it's watchable, consistent within its own version of the X-Universe.
The cover art would naturally lead you to believe it's heavy
on the Wolverine, but that's mostly a trick of marketing.
(As is Disney's recent release of
X-Men - The Legend of Wolverine
-- Marvel has become like a popular debutante, dating a lot
of studio suitors, telling each one that they secretly like
one of the discs offers a weak set-top game and "secret files"
on the main characters. The game with the most potential is
on the "Mutants Rising" disc, a "Choose Your Own Adventure"
variation that unfortunately doesn't really tap into showing
us the possibilities. It stays largely text-based. The worst,
perhaps predictably, is on the Super Friends collection, a
guessing game that gives you no actual clues as to how to
play. It's complete luck if you get it right.
such extras are for kids discovering these shows for the first
time. Ignore those, and you've still got some fun viewing.
All of these DVDs are a must for true fanboys, but then, you
probably already knew that.
buying for kids, I'd put my strongest recommendation on Challenge
of the Super Friends, simply because it's the friendliest
portrayal of the characters. Otherwise, the real must have
is Tales of the Dark Knight; Justice League
is good, but everything pales in the shadow of the first.
- The Animated Series - Tales of the Dark Knight
League - Justice on Trial
of the Super Friends - Attack of the Legion of Doom.
Evolution - Mutants Rising