Justice League Action
Sam Register, Jay Bastian, Tramm Wigzell and Tatiana Krokar (producers), Bruce A. King (editor)
Kevin Conroy, Rachel Kimsey, Jason J. Lewis (cast)
Adapted from Justice League by Gardner Fox
November 26, 2016 (UK), December 16, 2016 (US)
Justice League Action is the latest entry from the DC Animation team. It is not strictly in continuity with the previous DCAU as we know it (Batman The Animated Series, Superman the Animated Series, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited), though the creative team clearly expects old fans to watch and works the nostalgia angle.
The series takes cues from these selfsame predecessors, but also from the more fun and occasionally preposterous Batman the Brave and the Bold. It’s an unusual mix, but it works.
This variation on the League seems to be recently formed with the Trinity (Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman) doing most of the heavy lifting, with a handful of teen heroes (Firestorm, Blue Beetle, Cyborg, and Stargirl) for them to mentor. This makes for interesting friction from the old vs. new and seasoned veteran style vs. eager, overconfident teen angles, aside from the heroic stuff they face.
The writers also play off the heroes’ different personalities for drama and comedy. Pleasant, sunny Superman trying to be the “bad cop” leaving grim, spooky Batman to be the “good cop” was the first exposure that made me seek out the series.
The Old and the New
The series has brought back familiar names to voice old favorites, strengthening the link to nostalgic childhood faves for older viewers. Kevin Conroy once again brings his ominous bass to voice Batman. Mark Hamill returns as the Joker. Khary Payton is back portraying Cyborg. Gilbert Gottfried reprises Mr. Mxyzptlk. New familiar names round out the cast and some of the unexpected faces who show up in the series. Lacey Chabert is Zatanna. James Woods is Lex Luthor (awww, couldn’t they get Clancy Brown?). Patton Oswalt voices Space Cabbie, a more obscure character from the comics making his animated debut.
While the show focuses a bit more on comedy than most DC Animated series and has gone from the 22-minute full episode format to the 11 minute short format, there is a loose continuity between them. Only the four premiere episodes are necessary to view in order. The increase in comedic focus does not take away from when the writing team wants to give us a serious episode. Often the comedy and drama are commingled in the same short.
The writers also take the tack of placing characters in situations that are unfamiliar territory for them, resulting in unconventional team-ups. Batman is out of his element with lots of magical activity. Superman faces problems he can’t hit. Wonder Woman gets many of the best one liners and is an order of magnitude more pragmatic, but never loses her compassion. She just prioritizes in an unusual way. Plastic Man gets to be the big hero. Strangest of all, John Constantine turns up as magical backup.
Points Off for Sexism and Boring White Guys
The show is, as of this writing, in its 35th episode of its first season, and my only major complaints are: the Superman/Wonder Woman romance appears to be the main one; I grudgingly admit it makes sense because the shorter format doesn’t allow for much in the way of supporting cast.
Hal Jordan is the Green Lantern. Again. We could have introduced new viewers to Kyle or John Stewart, the PoC Green Lanterns. Latino Jaime Reyes is Blue Beetle, but we rarely hear his name and have yet to see his face unmasked. Mr. Terrific, Cyborg, and Vixen are all black. For the first season, it’s a fair mix of hero characters by race.
Lastly and lamentably, the female characters are given short shrift as usual. Aside from Diana, in 35 episodes we’ve seen only Big Barda, Vixen, Zatanna, and Stargirl. They almost always take a backseat to the male heroes when they do make an appearance. Barda is taller than Batman in comics canon but they’re about of a size in the animated series.
According to IMDB, Supergirl is going to appear in a future episode. Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy have appeared on the villains’ side, making the series decidedly man heavy. Lois Lane has made a cameo. But that’s so little to live on.
The show began airing in December of 2016 on Cartoon Network, but the channel has not been aggressive with marketing the new series. Even their off-channel advertising on Nickelodeon, sister channel Boomerang, and Discovery Family has been more robust for mainstays Ben 10, The Amazing World of Gumball, and Teen Titans Go! We’ll be watching closely as the release of the Justice League film comes closer to see if the advertising and time slot improve.
Worse, the show airs Saturday mornings at 7:30 am. That’s fine for DVR but only if viewers knew when to find it. I wouldn’t have found the series if not for the clip that became popular online. I binged via the Cartoon Network app and On Demand. The mind candy is tasty, several episodes at a time.
So call it a sleeper but one worth watching.
Academy grade: B-. Get that marketing and diversity in there to bring this grade up!