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Josh Returns to the DC Animated Universe with Justice League: Doom

Justice League: Doom is the latest direct-to-DVD DC Universe animated feature.  The story is adapted from the “Tower of Babel” story-line that ran through issues #42-46 of JLA back in 1998.  Those original comics were written by Mark Waid and Dan Curtis Johnson and illustrated by Howard Porter, Drew Geraci, Pablo Raimondi, and Steve Scott.  This adaptation was written by the late Dwayne McDuffie.

In the original story, villain Ra’s al Ghul is able to take out the Justice League using strategies specifically tailored to disable or destroy each individual member of the league.  The hook of the story is the revelation of the inside-the-League source from whom Ra’s was able to attain the specific information he needed to create his stratagems.  (Every on-line review I have read of this DVD has spoiled the identity of that member of the Justice League.  I understand the reasons for doing so, since a) most comic-book fans know this story and so know who it was, and b) the identity of that Leaguer is really cool, and the story behind that betrayal is at the heart of this tale and part of what makes this such a great, fascinating story.  But I’m going to try to preserve the surprise for anyone reading this.)

Justice League: Doom is a very, very loose adaptation of the “Tower of Babel” story-line.  Though the central hook remains the same, the villain has changed (here it is the near-immortal Vandal Savage, rather than Ra’s al Ghul), many of the tactics used to attack the League members have been changed, and the villain’s ultimate goal (and his methods for achieving that goal) have changed.  After the very-faithful animated adaptations of Batman: Year One (click here for my review) and All-Star Superman (click here for my review), it came as somewhat of a surprise to me that this adaptation played so fast-and-loose with the source material.  On the one hand, I don’t think the original “Tower of Babel” story was so perfect that any change is a mistake.  Still, I was surprised by the degree to which the story was altered.

First of all, I have no idea why the villain was changed from Ra’s to Vandal Savage.  Why not use Ra’s?  He’s a terrific villain, and his connections to Batman provide a great extra layer of resonance to the “Tower of Babel” story.  (Also, since this DVD used so many of the original voices from Batman: The Animated Series and the Justice League cartoon — more on that in a minute — I would have LOVED to have seen the great David Warner reprise his role of Ra’s, who he voiced so memorably in Batman: The Animated Series.)  I found all of the new Vandal Savage stuff to be the weakest part of the film.  There are several deadly boring, poorly-staged scenes in which Savage and the Legion of Doom he has assembled to destroy the Justice League stand/sit around talking about his plans.  Speaking of which, I though the world-destroying master plan the writers gave him was incredibly stupid — and the way the League stops his plan was even MORE stupid!  (Just one example — there’s this whole bit of business about Savage’s base being on the side of the Earth that was going to get demolished, so he had this device that would make his base intangible so he’d be protected.  Why not save all that trouble and just wait a few hours until his base was on the other side of the sun, where it wouldn’t be harmed??)  So I was not a fan at all of those changes.

I was surprised to see changes to the specifics of the attacks on the individual Leaguers.  Part of the reason for the changes is because the DVD features a slightly-different League line-up than that from the original comics.  (I’m not sure why that is — since these DVDs are designed to not be in continuity with one another, why NOT just use the League line-up from the original comics?)  But even the attack on Superman (who appears in both versions) was changed.  What they do in the movie works really well, but I was still surprised because the image of a skinless-Superman, post K-poisoning, is one of the most iconic images from the original comic.  Also, the new-for-the-film way in which Green Lantern is taken out seemed ridiculous to me.  Still, the half-hour or-so in the center of the film in which we watch, one by one, as the powerful members of the Justice League are defeated, works like gangbusters.  In particular, the moment in which Superman tumbles lifelessly down to the street is really powerful.

Justice League: Doom feels very much like an extended episode of Bruce Timm’s original Justice League animated series.  On the one hand, that’s awesome.  That show was great, and I would have loved to see it continue.  One of the previous DC animated DVDs, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, also felt like an extended episode of the TV show (click here for my review), and so it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the two DVDs share a similar character-line-up, sporting very similar character-designs.  Providing a further connection to the old animated shows, I was THRILLED that this DVD features many of the original voice actors who portrayed these characters in Bruce Timm’s animated shows.  Kevin Conroy is back as Batman, Tim Daly is back as Superman, Susan Eisenberg is back as Wonder Woman, Michael Rosenbaum is back as the Flash, and Carl Lumbly is back as the Martian Manhunter.  In one (really awesome) change, Green Lantern is voiced by Nathan Fillion (Firefly/Serenity), who had voiced the character in a previous animated DVD: Green Lantern: Emerald Knights. It is spectacularly awesome having this group of voice actors back together again, playing these roles.  I really really wish these voices were used in EVERY DC animated DVD.  (In particular, I am desperately hoping Kevin Conroy gets to voice Batman in the now-in-production animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s seminal Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.)

But while it’s cool that Justice League: Doom feels like a new, extended episode of the Justice League series, that also means that it really doesn’t feel like a movie.  Like most of these recent DC animated DVDs, the story is too short (just a little over an hour) and the animation a little too simplistic to really blow my socks off as an epic adventure.  The run-time in particular bugs me, as this film could have really used an extra five or ten minutes to more deeply explore the ramifications of the one character’s betrayal of the League — which is really the whole point of the story.  Without that, the story feels more inconsequential and just like another adventure of the Justice League.  I’ve felt that almost ALL of these animated DVDs have been too short.  I’d happily settle for fewer of these DVDs if each one could be a little longer and a bit better animated.

Justice League: Doom was a fun adventure, but not too much more than that.

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