It's getting better and better! Of these thirteen episodes, only the first one is formula superheroics and after that they hit a groove of actual storytelling and stay there. Of course they fall back again for the season finale, which adheres to this show's rule that three-parters will have less story (instead of more), but that's TV for you. It is what it is. Besides, I quite enjoyed it.
- 14-15. Fury
- 16-17. Legends
- 18-19. Injustice For All
- 20-21. A Knight of Shadows
- 22-23. Metamorphosis
- 24-26. The Savage Time
Quick word about the regulars. Green Lantern's superpowers are the best for animation, despite looking kind of silly in the comics, and the Martian Manhunter is spooky. Batman's cool. However the problematic ones are the Flash and Superman. Supes is the most awesome of the lot when they get him right, but too often they're selling him short and making him a bit rubbish. This is annoying. However at least that's better than the Flash. The guy just doesn't work on TV, or at least that's the impression I got here. You can't animate super-speed. What they'll do instead is have him "running" slowly, but with a blur effect.
Episode one is the generic superhero one. It's perfectly watchable and I was ready to come back for more afterwards, but the cliffhanger surprised me by introducing motivation and themes. The second half's a bit of a runaround too, but it's now also about something.
I liked the Injustice Gang. They're colourful villains, with an Amazonian leader, two 1930s horror movie characters (Karloff's Monster and a gentleman in a top hat with a cane), a flying purple witch, a walking snake and a female Japanese samurai. That's fun. My favourites were the black-and-white duo, but they're all great. Furthermore their leader, Aresia, even has backstory and motivation. This makes for a thought-provoking look at the anti-male philosophy of Wonder Woman's people, but unfortunately it's also shooting itself in the foot with a ludicrous "THEY NEVER TOLD YOU THAT???" Even she herself asks why they never mentioned it.
The answer she gets is, "I didn't think it was important." Now this is either: (a) laughable bollocks from a genre in which this is standard operating procedure, or (b) deceptively deep and savage characterisation of Wonder Woman's mother and the Amazonians. It's clearly a deliberate theme. The story's setting out to tackle these issues, c.f. Hawkgirl's comments to Wonder Woman, making comparisons with her people's inverted chauvinism and calling Aresia's crazed notions their logical extension. However no matter how much the show would like us to be reading it as (b), we're getting a nasty whiff of (a) too. Oh, and how come Wonder Woman's mother doesn't share her daughter's power levels?
What we have here is a great story buried under a merely acceptable Justice League episode. However I still liked it and it's quite barbed if you can see past the fight scenes. There's a good amount of Batman, but it's really the girls' story. Oh, and to my surprise they've chosen a voice actor for Tsukuri who can do Japanese pronunciation.
Not just the best story of the season, but a classic by any definition. It's riotously funny, intelligent and emotional. This isn't just superhero bollocks, but something far cleverer.
It's basically Pleasantville DC. The heroes get sucked into a parallel universe based on a 1950s comic book aesthetic, complete with Adam West line delivery and cornball villains who crack puns at you. It's a bit Ray Bradbury, actually. There's gentle fun poked at the era's racism and sexism and a more explosive concentration of quotable lines than anything I've seen, bar The Big Sleep
. "Fight crime AND bake cookies!" "Only they would commit such a heinous act - and on a Sunday!" "Jeepers! What does it say?" "Holy hostages!"
Oh, and I just about died laughing at the bus full of nuns and the truck of dynamite.
It's brilliant because it's corny, yet it's also genuinely good. For instance the kid sidekick is Robin, but done right. He's got no costume. He's just a sweet, enthusiastic kid and he's charming in a role that's normally irritating. "Can I come? Can I? Can I?" "Sure, buddy." "Oh, boy!" I thought he was lovely. Then there's the way that episode one is funny, ingenious and wildly entertaining... and then in part two, they make it even better! We learn about the town's secrets. The story grows a rationale, consequences and in the end a moving ending.
The story was going to star Gardner Fox's Golden Age Justice Society of America, but DC vetoed it. The eventual compromise was to make everyone a thinly disguised version of real Justice Society characters, including their Injustice Society villains. In summary: brilliant.
"We died to save this earth and we can do it again."
18-19. INJUSTICE FOR ALL
I really liked this one. It's ostensibly a straightforward comic-book runaround with no big ideas, but that's because it's all about its characters. Specifically it's about the villains. They're the main characters. Lex Luthor's the protagonist and he assembles a team as in a caper film, with the goal of destroying Superman and the Justice League.
Naturally it all falls apart, with everyone being backstabbing, violent, unstable and/or the Joker. This is cool. So is Batman, whom they capture. Heh heh.
Our (evil) heroes are:
(a) Lex Luthor, who's dying of kryptonite blood poisoning. The story doesn't do much with this, but it's a deliciously ironic idea and it gives his motivations more punch than usual. Then on top of that, the Justice League at last bust Luthor and expose him to the authorities as a criminal.
(b) Ultra-Humanite - super-evolved albino gorilla.
(c) The Injustice Gang, who feel like old friends since we last saw them two stories ago in Fury. This is actually a continuity error, since the episodes were aired out of order, but the important thing is that they're cool.
(d) The Joker, who's awesome. This is one of my favourite Joker stories. Instead of merely fighting the Batman, here he's the giggling psychopath who unsettles even other villains. He's both scary and funny. Of course he's made about as welcome as a scorpion in your underwear, but this isn't a guy you can just kick out.
This one's about the guys without powers. That's Luthor, Batman and the Joker. The first two of those in particular are almost being compared with each other, with their "billionaire genius" character descriptions and parallel story roles. In short: it's another blinder.
20-21. A KNIGHT OF SHADOWS
It's a Guest Star story, with the superhero in question being Etrigan. Yup, the Demon. He's one of DC's unlikelier superheroes, being a fire-breathing surly devil from Hell. In other words, he's bad news in a way you don't get from most supervillains. His origin story is tied into Merlin, King Arthur and betraying the knights of the Round Table so that Morgaine Le Faye can massacre everyone and destroy Camelot. Understandably he gets on with Batman and no one else whatsoever.
Pitted against him are scary supervillains. They're Morgaine Le Faye and Mordred, both immortal badasses who make Etrigan look like small potatoes. Morgaine gets her claws into J'onn J'onzz and makes him her puppet. Unfortunately Olivia D'Abo is poor as her voice actress, but she's only risible once ("curse your soul"). Meanwhile Mordred is a brat who's been stuck in a ten-year-old's body for centuries and his idea of fun is to dangle rats in front of cats. Morgaine also has soldiers who look a lot like the Neo-Men from Brian Bolland's Camelot 3000 miniseries.
There's also fun with a Hugh Hefner-a-like holding a costume party with guests dressed as Harley Quinn and Supergirl, then chatting up Wonder Woman. "You had the most powerful object in the world and all you wished for is money and women?" "What else is there?"
I liked this one. It's a good story, especially for Batman and the Martian Manhunter. It's also expanding the show's universe of this show yet further, both travelling back into myth with King Arthur and showing us a surprisingly recognisable London. They include old-style phone boxes, London Underground signs, etc. The storyline's fairly routine, but the episode has attitude and a forceful cast. Etrigan!
It's another Guest Star story and again they've chosen someone edgy. We don't see much of the regulars, but instead lots of Metamorpho. No, I'd never heard of him either. Fortunately he's great. His powers are cool and he can wipe the floor with the assembled Justice League. That was quite a fight. Furthermore they're portraying him as someone who might become a superhero, a supervillain or even both. In other words, a real person with flaws. He's involved in a morally dubious company and secretly engaged to the boss's daughter ("a toast to unbridled capitalism"), yet he's also an old friend of Green Lantern from their days in the U.S. Marines.
Unsurprisingly this is more of a Green Lantern story than a Justice League one. He and Metamorpho both represent the road not chosen. They're also both a little jealous of the other.
It's a surprisingly human story, about someone who's not fated to be the Good Guy or the Bad Guy. He's capable of both and we don't know if he's going to live, die, get the girl or what. The finale also has a rampaging Godzilla-a-like that's referencing King Kong.
24-26. THE SAVAGE TIME
It's the three-part season finale! In other words, it's a big dumb fight. However it's also a huge improvement on the season opener, Secret Origins, because it's about killing Nazis. The gang return to Earth only to find a parallel universe in which the Allies lost World War Two, whereupon they have to go back in time and stop history from being changed.
What's great about the story is the buzz of seeing superheroes tossing tanks, blasting planes out of the sky and taking out entire divisions of German soldiers. Yes, I'm shallow. Nazis are the best villains. It's a good showcase for everyone, with Superman being almost scary with his heat vision and Green Lantern having to rely on his U.S. Marine background when his ring runs out of energy. They've arrived during the D-Day landings and the military side of things is surprisingly detailed. You've got troop carriers on the beaches, bridges to be taken and pitched battles in trashed French towns. They're trying to show the full scale of the D-Day operation, which really gives our heroes something to kick against. That's impressive, even before the anachronistic Nazi death wheels show up.
There are also surprisingly human moments. The alt-universe Batman gets one chilling exchange. "You understand that if we do change the past, you - this version of you - will never have existed?" "Nothing would make me happier." There's also a present-day epilogue in which Wonder Woman goes back to an elderly Steve Trevor.
The only problem with the story, apart from the unavoidable fact that it's basically a big dumb war movie, is its TV-ness. The producers don't want to show death. It's hilarious to see German pilots parachuting away to safety even after Superman's nuked their planes, while note also the lack of swastikas. No, really.
Almost startling. Legends is a landmark in the genre and the following three stories aren't exactly trailing behind. The first half of season 1 had been only promising, but I do believe they've already found their feet. If they can maintain this quality level, we're going to be looking at something special.