As soon as I found out about this, it was a must-watch. It's based on an Alan Moore story! The original was drawn by Dave Gibbons and first appeared in a Superman Annual in 1985, i.e. the year before they collaborated again on Watchmen
... but hey, you already know all this. (The idea of anyone not having read an Alan Moore story is of course unthinkable.)
To be fair, the original story isn't a revolution in its medium or anything like that, but it's a lovely little piece. The question here is whether this Justice League Unlimited episode lives up to the comparison.
Answer: yes, but only if you can forgive a bowdlerised Kryptonian dream world. That's the irritating bit. Alan Moore's story involves a parasitic flower that pulls you into a dream world and makes your dreams come true, which in Superman's case understandably means a Krypton that never blew up. Unfortunately things take a darker turn with Krypton having neo-fascist nationalist parties and criminals being turned into martyrs. There are the equivalent of anti-death penalty protesters getting up in arms about the Phantom Zone and... okay, stop right there. None of that's in the TV adaptation. Not even a hint. Why, do things like that and children might start becoming aware of politics!
Instead the episode literally goes to shit, in the form of a scene about Krypto the Wonder Dog doing a mess on the kitchen floor and Superman making his son clean it up. This is, um, less powerful. Frankly I started getting irritated by the Krypton dream world, until by the episode's halfway point I was ready to write the episode off. Admittedly Alan Moore gave Kal-El a son as well, but he never made it seem like Hollywood bollocks and with him at least you felt Superman's thought processes made sense.
However then Superman wakes up and the episode becomes awesome.
The Krypton dream world didn't work, but blowing it up was terrifying and you have no trouble in believing that Superman is hurting bad when they get the flower off him and he goes after Mongul. Suddenly the episode steps up to the mark and starts doing justice to Alan Moore. The art style doesn't have the beauty of Dave Gibbons's work, but I've got no complaints about the emotion and the power. The fight scenes suddenly become brilliant, for instance. Everything from here on is a blast, with the only disappointment being a failure to see Mongul's dream world at the end. What would have been wrong with seeing Superman's head getting ripped off his shoulders and the streets running red with the blood of millions, eh?
To be fair, it's trying hard to be faithful. Great swathes of dialogue are taken verbatim, including some cool bits. I regret the downplaying of the birthday presents, with the bottle city gone without trace and the rose somehow feeling more interesting to me from Batman than from Wonder Woman. However on the upside... no Robin! Jason Todd's been written out! I didn't hate him or anything in the original, but I've yet to see a story that wouldn't have been improved by getting rid of Robin and this proves to be no exception.
In summary, despite some regrettable aspects it unexpectedly ends up being a barnstormer. It's by no means a perfect adaptation, with some charming moments having been trimmed away along with the more obviously problematic stuff. However its heart is in the right place and as Alan Moore adaptations go, it's more like Watchmen
and V for Vendetta
than the no-brainer likes of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In the end, I liked it a lot. Justice League Unlimited scores another good episode.
"Do you have any idea what you did to me?"