Posted by Don MacPherson on April 1st, 2007
Justice League Unlimited Season 2 DVD box set
Writers: Dwayne McDuffie, J.M. DeMatteis, Matt Wayne, Paul Dini, Geoff Johns,
Directors: Joaquim dos Santos & Dan Riba
Producers: McDuffie, Bruce Timm & James Tucker
Publisher: Warner Home Video
When Justice League Unlimited first aired, I didn’t catch it on a regular basis. I don’t get the Cartoon Network in my cable package, and here in Canada, the show aired on YTV. The schedule was rather sporadic and choppy, though, and I’d miss several episodes in a row. It was frustrating, but as the Justice League and JLU shows were being released, the age of DVD releases of TV shows was upon us. I felt confident I’d get my chance to see every episode, and I was right. I’ve picked up every set, and I was eager to see the series wrap up with this final 13-episode run. The producers and writers have clearly opted to take a more traditional approach to super-hero storytelling, making for a season that’s more appropriate for all ages. The second season of Unlimited continues with efforts to include a diverse array of second-tier and even obscure DC characters, and it’s even more satisfying that the first season in that regard. These cartoons are a delight, full of fun and energy, serving as a celebration of the wonder and fantasy the genre has offered over the past seven decades.
Realizing that there is strength in numbers, Gorilla Grodd organizes a team of super-villains, with the members pledging to aid others in their capers should they encounter resistance… resistance in the form of the Justice League’s expanded roster of super-heroes. Grodd recruits a reluctant Lex Luthor by promising him the one treasure he desires: the final piece of Brainiac left on the planet. Meanwhile, Hawkgirl is approached by a new hero who claims to be her lover from a previous life, the Flash finds himself the target of a rogues gallery of his enemies on the day that Central City is honoring him, and a call for help takes three heroes to the far future with only two returning home.
Visually, this season of Justice League Unlimited is quite strong. With only two directors working on these 13 episodes and the bugs understandably all worked out in the animation, there’s a slick, consistent look to all the episodes. A brighter color palette seems to be in place for these episodes as well, and that makes sense, given the simpler, old-school approach to the hero-versus-villain plots. Bruce Timm and company’s redesigns and tweaks of DC icons and minor characters alike work well here.
Perhaps the greatest treat in terms of how the show looks comes in the episode titled “To Another Shore,” which incorporates the legend of the immortal Viking Prince into JLU lore. For the flashback sequences, still images of Joe Kubert’s art are used to tell the Viking Prince’s story and how it relates to one of Grodd’s villainous plots. It really stands out as special and will have particular significance to fans of the medium of comics.
One of the flaws with this product is the packaging design. Sure, the Bruce Timm designs are presented in bright, glossy grandeur, and it’s consistent with the design of the Season One box set without looking completely identical. But the character choices are poor. Characters that make no appearance in these 13 episodes or appear only in minor roles are given big play on the cover and interior packaging designs. There’s no acknowledgement of the larger story arc that runs through this season or even particular episodes. The same can be said one of the main three special features included with this set, and that’s a discussion of the “Cadmus” story arc. I like to see the writers and producers discussing their stories, but the problem here is that “Cadmus” ran through Season One, not the second one.
Mind you, Mark Hamill’s interview of three of the show’s producers about Season One for that “Cadmus” retrospective is engaging and stands out as the strongest added feature. Another special feature serves as a defacto commentary track on snippets of a select few episodes and the Legion of Doom arc as a whole. It’s a little frustrating, as it doesn’t flow well and one doesn’t get to watch the episode and listen to the producers at the same time, as is customary for such features. The final special feature is something we saw included in the Season One DVD set, and that’s a complete episode in which the score is allowed to take center stage. It’s a nice nod to the importance of the music, but I found I just didn’t have the patience to sit through an entire episode again for only the music.
There’s an undeniable sense of fun fueling these episodes, not to mention an appreciation of the wide array of comics character and history at the show’s disposal. The Golden Age Spy Smasher shows up in a wonderful sequence that harkens back to black-and-white movie serials of yesteryear. Who ever thought we’d see the Crimson Avenger in a mainstream-TV cartoon, even in just a cameo? Or Stargirl, Shining Knight and the Golden Age Vigilante in starring roles in stories? The “Patriot Act” episode even offers a minor crossover of sorts with the Teen Titans cartoon. The season also takes the viewer to a number of exotic DC Universe locales, from Skataris, to the 31st century to the Flash’s hometown. Wisely, the producers don’t require the viewers to be familiar with the more obscure characters to enjoy the storytelling. Instead, they just dazzle with diversity of concept and characterizations. 7/10