It’s been a while since we’ve had a good, regular animated DC series running (no, I’m not forgetting about Teen Titans GO). That’s why I was excited to hear about Justice League Action. The one hour premier episode is here now, and the results, from where I see them, are a somewhat mixed bag, but generally positive.
At the start of the episode, everything from the style of animation to the music felt like a return to the glory days of Batman: The Animated Series. The character models are a bit different, but the presentation is similar. As things balloon out to involve Black Adam and Shazam, Justice League Action takes on its own feel.
The story doesn’t stop there. Soon into the action we’ve got Superman and Wonder Woman rounding out DC’s holy trinity, with appearances from Booster Gold, Cyborg, Plastic Man, and Green Arrow to keep it going. That’s the tip of the problematic iceberg with the debut. Justice League Action gives us exactly that; action. In fact, the story is spastic in its execution. There isn’t a lot of time for character development, or much interaction at all beyond trading quips and barbs. It’s good to see DC let its hair down a little. The live action DC universe has been taking itself seriously to the point of oppressiveness, but the show is in danger of reading like a buddy cop story told by a toddler on a sugar high.
I will say I was also relieved to see a pilot episode featuring Batman that didn’t need to show his origin. Actually, no origins were shown, and I like that. Justice League Action trusts its audience to know its source material, or otherwise be comfortable googling it.
Pacing will be the big thing the show needs to figure out. With a battle with Parasite leading directly to Parasite being hit by a comet, and learning that comet was actually ridden in by our next round of baddies, we need time to breathe and figure out why any of this matters. That being said, I also feel the show may be aiming for a younger audience which could be fine, except Plastic Man and Booster Gold aren’t well known to audiences whose main experience with DC is from The New 52. In short, Justice League Action may have an identity crisis on its hands.
Maybe the best thing I can say is I wasn’t bored during the episode. There’s a lot of potential to recapture the animated glory of the DC Universe, when we had shows like Justice League Unlimited, but there’s plenty of work to do. Everyone knows Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but Plastic Man and Booster Gold need to either serve more of a purpose and develop depth as characters, or be left out of the story.
I wanted Justice League Action’s pilot to be more like Justice League Unlimited, but “Shazam Slam” played out like DC’s version of Marvel’s Super Hero Squad, aged up a hair. It’s a fun ride, but it’s aimed for a younger audience and with so many characters, plenty of folks got left out in the cold. Jim didn’t mention Swamp Thing, John Constantine, and Martian Manhunter’s cameos. Plot points and the number of characters spiraled out of control. It resulted in some characters reduced to a gag or ongoing joke.
Viewers unfamiliar with DC’s characters may want to google these characters (to learn their origins), but it’s not necessary. Ubiquitous data dumps informed the viewer of what they needed to know, when they needed to know it. Paragraphs of dialogue were dedicated to who people were, why they were doing what they were doing, and how what they were doing was going to “stop the bad guy(s).” I expect a little of this with a show’s pilot, but in some cases “Shazam Slam” went to the extreme.
It’s difficult to see where Justice League Action goes from here. There are two main directions it could take. The show could settle down and concentrate on a few core members and reintroduce the rest of the characters we saw in the pilot, a few at a time, over the course of the season. Or the show could continue throwing every character in the DCU at us in twenty episodes or less. The Justice League Action pilot was enjoyable; I wasn’t bored. I’d prefer a little more focus, but even if it doesn’t meet my expectations, Justice League Action could still be a great way to introduce a younger audience to a larger volume of DC characters.
The cynic in me is certain we’ll see a toy line associated with Justice League Action and that’s the whole point of introducing young audiences to as many DC characters as possible. The optimist in me is looking for a compromise between cash grab and good television. Heck, some shows are both.
Well, it looks like McDonalds has cashed in already. I may have some masks to collect.
Thanks for reading.