Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Old School Heroics - Justice League: Doom Review

If you are the parent of anyone grade three or older, I hope you have shown your offspring the Justice League animated series from a few years back. Since comic books now seem largely aimed at a more 'mature' market, this brightly colored and wonderfully written series is a great way to expose children to this modern-day mythology, and even squeeze in some lessons about unfashionable things like justice, and friendship, and sacrifice. Plus, the writing was strong enough that a number of my friends without kids began watching as well.

When the tv series ended, and was replaced with some flat renditions of Batman and the Legion of Superheroes, I was pretty disappointed, but the 3-4 direct to video releases per year that DC has done have been uniformly decent. My favorite to date had been last year's Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, but it's now been supplanted by Justice League: Doom.
Doom opens up with a fantastic set-piece pitting Batman (and eventually the rest of the League) against the Royal Flush gang. In addition to being a great bit of animated action, it also does a great job of reacquainting us with this iteration of the League. For instance, Hal Jordan returns as the original Green Lantern, and is ably voiced by Nathan Fillion, and while Michael Rosenbaum does similarly as The Flash, he is no longer playing Wally West, but Barry Allen, the original Flash. I suspect these changes (and the inclusion of Cyborg, who I remember most from the Teen Titans comics of my youth) were made to maintain some sort of continuity with DC Comics' gigantic reboot last year, the so-called 'New 52'. Frankly, as long as Kevin Conroy is playing Batman, they can do what they like with the rest.

Despite these changes, Doom feels like an extra-long, bigger budget episode of the animated series, much like Crisis on Two Earths before it. Much of this is due to the excellent screenplay by Dwayne McDuffie, one of the series' strongest writers, who was also one of the few black men writing comics before his untimely death last year.

The story grows around the theft of Batman's 'contingency plans': means of containing his super-powered comrades if they should ever cross the line, become possessed, or be replaced by doppelgangers from an alternate reality.

In the hands of immortal super-villain Vandal Savage and his Legion of Doom, these strategies become highly effective and lethal weapons to be turned against the League, in a series of diabolically well planned death traps and ambushes. After all, what else would you expect from Batman?

Doom is not just entertaining as we watch legendary heroes tested to their limits, but we get insights into their all too human psyches (and yes, this also includes Martians and Kryptonians), and some great debates about the sanctity of trust versus the safety of the world. There are plenty of laughs, too, as McDuffie's dab hand at superhuman banter gets a final chance to shine,
You can see the trailer on YouTube, but I would honestly recommend against it; with a running time of only 77 minutes, there is not a lot of time to sneak in surprises, so you might as well enjoy the ones you can, right?

A big-screen Justice League does not appear to be in the cards anytime soon, but honestly, these DTV adventures are the next best thing, and they come out far more regularly. If you want some thrilling heroics with familiar, larger than life characters, and a surprisingly legitimate sense of peril, it is well worth checking out Justice League: Doom.

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