It’s been a good six months or so since we took a side-step into the world of straight-to-video animation around these parts, so we might as well do a brief “course correction” on that and take a look at the latest offering from DC Comics/Warner Brothers Animation, the recently-released onto Blu-Ray, DVD and digital download Justice League : War.
This release marks something of a departure for the range itself in that it’s the first animated feature to take place in the “New 52” universe, so gone is the old “DC Universe” logo we’re used to seeing on these things and we’re back to a world where super-heroes are a new phenomenon and the public at large is just coming to grips with what a massive shake-up to humanity’s status quo this all means. That’s cool and I can definitely get behind the whole idea of fresh “world building” to re-introduce these characters for a new generation of readers and viewers.
Unfortunately, what I can’t get behind is pretty much everything that’s been done with the whole “New 52” since then, and the numerous weaknesses inherent in DC’s printed-page universe are on full display here, as well. In short, the problem is that most (with a few notable exceptions) “New 52” product — and it is product, and a thoroughly homogenized, corporatized, personality-free, and ultimately soulless product at that — isn’t designed to engage the imaginations of younger readers, but to standardize the formerly-unique look and feel that manyof DC’s individual titles used to possess and give the company’s ever-aging (DC co-publisher Dan DiDio has even stated publicly that his target market is 45-year-old males with no kids and lots of disposable income) and ever-dwindling readership a universe that is consistent in both tone and style.
In that respect, it’s achieved its goal, the problem is that most “New 52” books are consistently bad and this newly-rebooted universe is a dire, hollow, humorless place. Apart from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s always-excellent Batman book, I honestly can’t think of any DC titles currently on the shelves that are worth picking up on a monthly basis. Most of these comics read and look like mid-’90s Wildstorm books (perhaps no surprise given that former WS head honcho Jim Lee is DC’s other co-publisher) that just happen to feature more established characters.
Still, it’s what we’ve been stuck with for just over two years now, and it was only a matter of time before the relaunched universe playing out on the printed page made the leap onto home video, as well. So here we are.
Based on the graphic novel Justice League : Origin by DC chief “creative” officer Geoff Johns and the aforementioned Mr. Lee, and directed by old-hat veteran of these things Jay Oliva, Justice League : War is about as bland as its title would suggest, with the characters all essentially functioning as one-note ciphers : Batman (voiced by Jason O’Mara) is an overly-serious prick, Green Lantern (Justin Kirk) is an obnoxious hothead, The Flash (Christopher Gorham) is a CSI-type forensic cop who just so happens to be able to run really fast, Superman (Alan Tudyk) is a misunderstood alien feared by the very public that he’s sworn to protect because he’s such a swell guy at heart, Wonder Woman (Michelle Monaghan) is a tough-as-nails warrior who’s trying her best to crack her “ice princess” Amazon breeding, Cyborg (Shemar Moore) is a troubled teen trapped in a half-machine body who just wants his father’s approval, and Shazam (Sean Astin) is a quintessential “good egg” type, unless he’s in his civilian identity of Billy Batson (Zach Callison), in which case he’s a snot-nosed little juvenile delinquent. They all sport subtly redesigned costumes (I guess the powers that be at DC decided the look of every single one of their heroes needed “updating”) than those we’re traditionally used to seeing, and in the timeline this story takes place none of ’em have ever met before until they all reluctantly end up pooling resources in order to ward off an invasion of Para-Demon hordes commanded by the dastardly Darkseid (Steve Blum) from his home base on the hell-planet of Apokolips.
That’s about all you really need to know since the outcome of this battle is obviously pre-ordained, but worthy of special mention/condemnation for old-school Jack Kirby fans like myself is how wretchedly stereotypical all of jack’s “Fourth World” creations that are utilized in this story have become in the hands of far less skilled creators. From Darkseid to Desaad to the Para-Demons to the Mother Boxes, all have been uniformly stripped of the uniquely personal elements that the King Of Comics imbued them with and are every bit as “dumbed-down” as the heroes themselves are. Sigh.
Oliva does a nice job keeping the pace appropriately breakneck (having time to stop and think about the proceedings here would only make things worse), and the voice cast all hit the nail on the head reasonably well (apart from O’Mara who never really “connects” as Batman), but they’re being tasked with the impossible here — to try and make a bog-standard, personality-free story somehow interesting. Needless to say, it’s just not gonna happen.
There’s a rumor going around various online circles these days that an editorial dictate from on high at DC to the various “New 52” creators — many of whom the company has been exposed as treating like so many interchangeable parts in their machine in the years since the relaunch was initiated — stated that the overall tone of of their books should hue as closely as possible to so-called “fan fiction,” and many of those “fanfic”-type excesses that have come to pass, like Superman and Wonder Woman becoming romantically involved, can be seen in their early stages here, so it’s a pretty fair bet that all that crap will be making the leap from the printed page to the TV (or computer) screen in relatively short order, as well. Be ready.
The events portrayed in Justice League : War may take place a few years in the past as far as comic book continuity goes, but make no mistake : this is the shape of things to come. And it definitely ain’t pretty.