Shiny Shelf

Justice League Unlimited

By Jim Smith on 19 September 2004

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

That this site has paid little more than lip service to ‘Justice League Unlimited’ a television series which, at least, half of its most regular correspondents are more less obsessed with, is – ironically – a shocking injustice.

From what I understood about ‘JLU’ prior to broadcast it was meant to be a series of short, short, cute and funny DC Universe cartoons; easily accessible to those turned off by the multipart stories and continuity-obsessions of the previous ‘Justice League’ cartoon. (Did someone say ‘Thanagarian invasion’? Thought so).

Well, that’s a right load of old cobblers I can tell you. While ‘JLU’ is many things – including hip, smart, funny, exciting, beautifully-animated, well-paced, intelligent and occasionally surprisingly wry – accessible it surely ain’t.

The first episode – a theoretically easy-entry point about Green Arrow and Supergirl taking down a nuclear robot – is stuffed with an almost embarrassing number of cameo appearances by the great and good of the DCU and much of the lame, the silly and the downright obscure too. (No kidding, there’s a yellow-bootied non-entity in here who looks like Bananaman. Who is this fool?)

It’s great stuff though. It’s a consistently funny, constantly surprising riot of in-jokes, familiar designs and glorious character moments if you’re a late twentysomething manchild. What “the kids”, ostensibly the series’ audience, would make of it I’ve personally no idea.

However, I’m selfish when it comes to my pop-culture and I’m willing to declare myself delighted with the batch of episodes that is recently airing stateside. The first (see above) is an action-heavy intro but it’s with the second that the series really kicks into gear.

Alan Moore’s legendary ‘For The Man Who Has Everything’, empirically one of the four or five best Superman stories ever told, is adapted faithfully and thoughtfully by JM DeMattis. A few tiny deletions (Jason Todd/seeing what Mongol’s vision is) and a couple of praiseworthy additions (the imagined Krypton exploding/the clothes there drolly mixing Silver Age and post-Byrne designs) don’t detract from essence of the story. This, with Eric Roberts as Mongol no less, is a perfect adaptation.

In the third episode the league get turned into kids. What could be a soulless exercise in cheese becomes something clever and special thanks to the immaculate casting of the child-leaguers and some inspired wordplay. Never has the line ‘Your girlfriend’s so bossy’ resonated half as much. Oh, and Etrigan the Demon turns up. As a baby.

A slightly less zinging fourth instalment with ‘Hawk & Dove’ (how long till a ‘Brother Power The Geek’ episode, I ask myself?) is followed by an amazing episode in which Wonder Woman gets turned into a pig and Batman sings karaoke. No, straight up. What’s more it’s brilliant, beautiful and entirely in character. It’s also kinda sexy thanks to the stoked up tension between Bruce and guest star Zataana. Ralph Dibney’s in this one too. And Bwwana Beast.

By the time we hit the fifth episode it’s back into the Supergirl/Green Arrow subplot as the duo team up with The Question (I know, I know) to take on big businesses and evil clones. Ollie is characterised with wit and subtlety and The Question proves that Starbucks runs the world. Wow.

Next time on my new favourite TV show? Booster Gold. I can’t hardly wait.

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