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Justice League (Unlimited)? More Like Just Us League (Limited, Etc.)! - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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August 29th, 2010


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10:40 pm - Justice League (Unlimited)? More Like Just Us League (Limited, Etc.)!
After over a year, I have made it through the DCAU (sans Static Shock and The Zeta Project and a couple Batman movies left to watch). The whole reason I watched Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, and Batman Beyond was to fully appreciate Justice League, and it was so worth it.

Justice League begins with the formation of the Justice League, a team of superheroes dedicated to protecting Earth from threats too large for just one to handle. The founding members include the three most well-known characters—Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, here depicted as a newbie outsider from Themyscira—characters you may have heard of—Green Lantern and Flash—and a couple you may have never heard of—J'onn J'onnz (a.k.a. Martian Manhunter) and Hawkgirl. Each character brings something to the team, both power-wise and character-wise. Batman doesn't really play well with others, but he comes through when needed. Superman gets knocked out a lot because he's too powerful, but he represents the ideals of truth, justice, and the American way. Wonder Woman can deflect anything you shoot at her with her magical bracelets, but she still misses her mother. Green Lantern—the African-American John Stewart, adding some diversity to the team—is a rather serious, somewhat uptight ex-Marine, but he has a strong sense of duty. Flash—Wally West, not that the Flashes are particularly distinct—provides most of the comic relief, but he also functions as the team's conscience and heart. J'onn Jonnz is a somber alien of great power, but unlike Superman, he does not have a real fondness for humans. Hawkgirl is a sassy, militant Thanagarian, but she is made of so much awesome I crushed on her even though she had giant feathery wings. Each episode—and nearly all episodes are two-parters—features members of the League teaming up to take down a foe. Or foes! They fight everyone from aliens to Nazis.

The writers have decades of comic book storylines to pull from, and the seven superheroes bring with them seven Rogues Galleries and seven backgrounds, so there's a wealth of storytelling potential here. The fun comes in developing their own take on everything and developing their own continuity. While each two-party story is largely stand-alone, like with Superman: The Animated Series, there is a strong sense of a continuing story and continual worldbuilding, as recurring villains and allies are treated as part of the universe and not just characters who show up in some episodes and don't do anything in between. Justice League, though, has a stronger focus on character development as well, allowing the characters' relationships to grow and develop over the course of the series.

After two seasons and 52 episodes, the show becomes Justice League Unlimited, in which the Justice League expands to include dozens of new heroes, offering many more opportunities for team-ups and cameos, especially because the series also switches to stand-alone half-hour episodes. But JLU has more continuity than any other series in the DCAU, as it has the whole DCAU to play with now. The writers don't need to rely as much on the comics since they've built more than enough continuity themselves to tell awesome, exciting stories. For instance, JLU brings to the fore a storyline whose overt seeds are dropped in Justice League but has really been in play since S:TAS, and that's the fact that the government is afraid of Superman and his superkind, and they want to be able to defend themselves in case their sworn protectors ever turn on them. I'm really glad duchessdogberry made me watch S:TAS, as it informs a lot of JL and JLU. There are also a few Batman Beyond crossovers, and some B:TAS villains make appearances as well, but by far, the most-referenced source material is S:TAS, especially because that series seemed to specifically dedicate episodes to League members like Green Lantern, Flash, and Aquaman (Aquadouche is thankfully not in the DCAU League, since he's a jerk). I would consider it essential viewing in order to truly appreciate this series.

It's hard to sum up everything that is awesome about this series in a post, especially because I don't want to spoil anything. I didn't know anything about the plots, and I'm not overly familiar with the DCU. I just knew that it was a quality animated series, and it is. It's smartly written, and it's not afraid to go to dark places and actually kill characters. It examines what makes a superhero, both the good and the bad. These are the people who are willing to sacrifice their lives at a moment's notice if it means that others will live, but these are also the people who operate outside the law and make the kinds of decisions no one should have to make. It doesn't confine itself to one type of story, and ridiculous plots make for far better episodes than you expect. The voice acting is fantastic, and JLU features several Whedonverse actors. Shit tends to get pretty epic on a regular basis, and it induces MUCH CAPSLOCK. One of the recurring villains is a hyperintelligent gorilla. What, I have to throw that in there.

Justice League and Justice League Unlimited are great examples of cartoon superhero adaptations done right. They're more exciting, compelling, and clever than any Hollywood movie is likely to be. It's a great way to become familiar with the DCU, as I'm now much more interested in so many more characters and stories from the source material, although I fear that their comic book histories are so muddled that I'll prefer the DCAU versions.

I already kind of miss them.
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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:duchessdogberry
Date:August 30th, 2010 06:09 am (UTC)
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Justice League and Justice League Unlimited are great examples of cartoon superhero adaptations done right. They're more exciting, compelling, and clever than any Hollywood movie is likely to be. It's a great way to become familiar with the DCU, as I'm now much more interested in so many more characters and stories from the source material, although I fear that their comic book histories are so muddled that I'll prefer the DCAU versions.

The saddest thing is when you watch Smallville. It burns.

I'm so glad you enjoyed the DCAU, since I sort of made you watch the whole thing. And I hope you revisit it for fun, as it's one of my favorite background noise shows.

I crushed on her even though she had giant feathery wings.

I think the Japanese probably have a term for that.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:August 30th, 2010 06:20 am (UTC)
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The saddest thing is when you watch Smallville. It burns.
Oh geez. Yeah, in retrospect. Moreso, I mean.

I'm so glad you enjoyed the DCAU, since I sort of made you watch the whole thing.
Hee. I totally enjoyed it! Thank you!

And I hope you revisit it for fun, as it's one of my favorite background noise shows.
The DVDs are on my Amazon Wishlist! When I get some more DVD shelf space, perhaps I will splurge on them.

I think the Japanese probably have a term for that.
I think there's a thing called wingfic, actually.
[User Picture]
From:heartsways
Date:August 30th, 2010 06:57 am (UTC)
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Loved this! I watch all the animated series that you've talked about here, and thoroughly enjoyed them. I found some of the nuances to be quite explorative and dark, actually, in keeping with a lot of the themes and ideas from the original comics.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:August 30th, 2010 07:05 am (UTC)
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Yeah, I think the way they handled the whole idea of the Justice Lords and the development of Project Cadmus was much more adult than you'd expect from a children's show. When Lex is taunting Superman to fry him like his Justice Lord counterpart...that's dark stuff, there. And Hawkgirl's story is also pretty complex. It seems rare to find mature storytelling in animated shows.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:stephl
Date:August 30th, 2010 02:59 pm (UTC)
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I *think* like the JLU seasons slightly better than the JL seasons, but I wouldn't swear to it.

Also, the series has one of the best opening sequences EVER. When it was on TV in real time (back when I lived alone and had cable), it was a BIG DEAL for me to get Cartoon Network on in time to catch the very beginning of the credits, with the dark fading up to the silhouettes walking toward the (not)camera. LOVE.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:August 30th, 2010 03:18 pm (UTC)
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I *think* like the JLU seasons slightly better than the JL seasons, but I wouldn't swear to it.
I would probably swear to it. The last half of season one alone would justify it. I lurve the Project Cadmus arc. And then that epic fucking finale. Not that JL doesn't have some great episodes, of course.
[User Picture]
From:seawench
Date:August 30th, 2010 04:29 pm (UTC)
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Bruce Timm came to Wizard World Chicago a few years ago to talk about Gotham Knight, and ended up talking mostly about the DCAU. It was awesome. They really did plan it out almost from the beginning, even when they didn't know what projects they'd get to do in the future. They were hoping they'd get to do Justice League all along. Also, B:TAS gets its amazing look because they drew it on black paper. You probably knew that already, but it's just another example of the thought and care that went into those shows.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:August 30th, 2010 04:50 pm (UTC)
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They really did plan it out almost from the beginning, even when they didn't know what projects they'd get to do in the future. They were hoping they'd get to do Justice League all along.
That's really awesome! And evident from the S:TAS special guest stars.

Also, B:TAS gets its amazing look because they drew it on black paper. You probably knew that already, but it's just another example of the thought and care that went into those shows.
I did not know that! Wow, that's pretty cool.
[User Picture]
From:ethanvahlere
Date:August 31st, 2010 12:35 am (UTC)
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I wish someone would re-run the first couple seasons; I haven't seen those in years. Boomerang (the Cartoon Network version of VH1 Classic) used to show the Justice League Unlimited part - aka the last three seasons - for several months, but I'd like to see them all in order.

What I also love about the show is the vocal talents; if nothing else, for there being a mini-Firefly reunion with Morena Baccarin (Black Canary), Nathan Fillion (Vigilante) and Gina Torres (Vixen) (there's also Adam Baldwin as a government agent, Jonah Hex and the Silver Age (?) Green Lantern, but he's only in a couple of episodes). Come to think of it, Whedon is pretty well represented with Amy Acker (Huntress) and Juliet Landau (Tala and a couple of others) doing fine work as well. And, of course, Clancy Brown is terrific as Luthor.
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From:lenadances
Date:September 2nd, 2010 07:15 pm (UTC)
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You finally watched it!!! ::dances around:: Is it not fantastic? God, I love it more than cheeseburgers.

What amazes me is that they're more adult than most adult shows. Hawkgirl and Vixen sitting down and laughing about GL together over lunch is one of my all-time favorite scenes of all television; it's something you just never see! and they did it! And the Justice Lords thing, and Cadmus being really a very thoughtful response to it, and FLASH, everything about him (trading bodies with Luthor: NEVER NOT FUNNY!) and and and. God. I need to re-watch that again, pronto. I'm so glad you watched it!
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:September 2nd, 2010 08:23 pm (UTC)
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You finally watched it!!! ::dances around:: Is it not fantastic?
IT IS! I was just thinking about how fantastic it was this afternoon.

What amazes me is that they're more adult than most adult shows.
That's the thing about good children's television. You have different expectations, and when you're not focused on adult content, you can still focus on adult concepts.

And the Justice Lords thing, and Cadmus being really a very thoughtful response to it
I know! I love the Cadmus story, and it's kind of nuts that they did that on a kids' show, right?

and FLASH, everything about him (trading bodies with Luthor: NEVER NOT FUNNY!)
HE DIDN'T WASH HIS HANDS BECAUSE HE'S EVIL.

I'm so glad you watched it!
Me too!
[User Picture]
From:lenadances
Date:September 2nd, 2010 09:01 pm (UTC)
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AND LEX PULLING BACK THE COWL AND GLARING AT THE MIRROR AND GOING "I HAVE NO IDEA WHO THIS IS." I just, I am grinning like a complete loon right now thinking about it. And after all that stuff about how he's the weakest one, he then saves the world because speed + mass = KICKING YOUR ASS. Flaaaaaaash, I love him.

Also: "This program was made possible by viewers like you. And the Ultra-Humanite."

Also: I adore that the DC universe's answer to Nick Fury is Amanda Freakin' Waller. She makes me so happy.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:September 2nd, 2010 09:20 pm (UTC)
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AND LEX PULLING BACK THE COWL AND GLARING AT THE MIRROR AND GOING "I HAVE NO IDEA WHO THIS IS."
YES!!

And after all that stuff about how he's the weakest one, he then saves the world because speed + mass = KICKING YOUR ASS. Flaaaaaaash, I love him.
HE CIRCUMNAVIGATED THE GLOBE MULTIPLE TIMES. MULTIPLE TIMES.

Also: I adore that the DC universe's answer to Nick Fury is Amanda Freakin' Waller. She makes me so happy.
She's pretty great! I didn't think of the Nick Fury similarity, though.

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