JL ‘Doom’ an­i­ma­tion fails dra­matic sto­ry­line

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - BY JOE SZADKOWSKI

The comic book per­me­ates all lev­els of pop­u­lar cul­ture. This spo­radic fea­ture re­views some re­cent ex­am­ples from the world of dig­i­tal video discs (com­pat­i­ble with Blu-ray-en­abled com­put­ers and home en­ter­tain­ment cen­ters) and also in­cludes a rec­om­mended se­quen­tial-art read­ing list to ex­tend the mul­ti­me­dia ad­ven­tures.

Jus­tice League: Doom (Warner Home Video, rated PG-13, $24.98)— The lat­est at­tempt by Warner Bros. An­i­ma­tion to turn a clas­sic DC Comics se­quen­tial-art se­ries into a PG-13 car­toon ar­rives di­rect-to-blu-ray with, yet again, mixed re­sults.

Dwayne Mcduffie, who died last year, loosely adapted writer Mark Waid’s decade-old Jus­tice League comic-book story “Tower of Ba­bel” into a 77-minute ef­fort with dra­matic teeth but vis­ual medi­ocrity.

Su­pervil­lain Van­dal Sav­age steals Bat­man’s se­cret data­base that com­piles the weak­nesses of his su­per­pow­ered pals (called a “con­tin­gency plan” by his Bat­ness) and uses it to un­leash a near-lethal ver­sion of the Le­gion of Doom against the Jus­tice League.

The bat­tle royal stars Bat­man, Su­per­man, Green Lan­tern, Won­der Woman, Mar­tian Man­hunter, Flash and the Teen Ti­tans’ Cy­borg, chal­lenged by Mir­ror Mas­ter, Bane, Met­talo, Chee­tah, Ma’alefa’ak and Star Sap­phire.

Although it de­vi­ates and pulls too many punches from the orig­i­nal source ma­te­rial for me, it sat­is­fy­ingly delves into the overtly gruff and para­noid side of Bat­man while de­liv­er­ing some slick, very per­sonal combat sce­nar­ios.

For ex­am­ple, Star Sap­phire plays upon Green Lan­tern’s un­der­ly­ing doubt and fear to emo­tion­ally crush his al­ter ego, Hal Jor­dan, by forc­ing him to watch the ap­par­ent death of his true love, Carol Fer­ris.

Chee­tah poi­sons Won­der Woman with a hal­lu­cino­gen that makes ev­ery­one look like her. That could prove fa­tal as her never-quit at­ti­tude keeps her fight­ing an un­lim­ited sup­ply of her ad­ver­sary.

And Bane nearly de­liv­ers the ul­ti­mate death knell to Bat­man as he at­tacks Bruce Wayne in a ceme­tery, nearly per­ish­ing in the worst type of death imag­in­able.

Un­for­tu­nately, the story is told via an­other round of unin­spired an­i­ma­tion. The high-def­i­ni­tion for­mat does lend a hand; char­ac­ters take on an al­most 3D qual­ity as they pop from the back­grounds.

Out of the 13 projects, how­ever, my bench­marks for the car­toon pact be­tween DC Comics and Warner Bros. An­i­ma­tion are still, in this or­der, “Bat­man: Gotham Knight,” “Bat­man: Year One” and “All Star Su­per­man.”

A wel­come ad­di­tion to “Jus­tice League: Doom” is the use of a voice cast culled from many of the most pop­u­lar DC Comics-themed an­i­mated shows over the years, in­clud­ing Kevin (“Bat­man: The An­i­mated Se­ries”) Con­roy as Bat­man, Tim (“Su­per­man: The An­i­mated Se­ries”) Daly as Su­per­man, Su­san (“Jus­tice League”) Eisenberg as Won­der Woman, Carl (“Jus­tice League”) Lumbly as Mar­tian Man­hunter and Michael (“Jus­tice League”) Rosen­baum as the Flash.

Best ex­tras: Let’s start with an in­for­ma­tive 36-minute trib­ute to pro­lific car­toon and comics writer McDuffie with mem­o­ries from friends, in­clud­ing writer Stan Berkowitz; McDuffie’s widow, Char­lotte; artist Denys Cowan; for­mer ed­i­tor of Mar­vel Comics Sid Jacobson; Warner Bros. An­i­ma­tion pro­ducer Alan Bur­nett; cre­ator Joe Kelly, voice-over ac­tor Phil La­marr; cre­ator Bruce Timm; and DC Comics’ creative di­rec­tor Mike Car­lin.

Mcduffie will be re­mem­bered as a bril­liant, well-rounded cre­ator who was in col­lege by age 10 and even sold jokes to David Let­ter­man. He was re­ferred to as a “sto­ry­telling GPS” and as­so­ci­ated with such prop­er­ties as Deathlok, Jus­tice League of Amer­ica, Ben 10, Static and Mile­stone Me­dia (a coali­tion of black artists and writ­ers).

Next, there’s a fas­ci­nat­ing 18minute look at how power can cor­rupt, of­fer­ing pro­fes­sors an­a­lyz­ing Bat­man’s mo­tives with JLA against real power abuses and the checks and bal­ances of power in U.S. his­tory, such as Pres­i­dent An­drew Jack­son vs. the Whigs. Best of all, it’s loaded with painted art­work by Alex Ross.

I also en­joyed a brief in­tro­duc­tion to the ori­gins of Cy­borg, in­clud­ing in­ter­views with writer Ge­off Johns and the co-cre­ator of the char­ac­ter, Marv Wolf­man.

Fi­nally, Bruce Timm of­fers a pair of his fa­vorite Jus­tice League episodes. This dy­namic duo, from the 2003 two-parter “Wild Cards,” al­most eclipses the main fea­ture as the Joker (voiced di­a­bol­i­cally by Mark Hamill) causes ex­plo­sive may­hem in Las Ve­gas.

Read all about it: View­ers can see the first three pages from is­sue No. 43 of JLA — the first part of the four-part “Tower of Ba­bel” sto­ry­line — bro­ken down by each art panel.

Yes, that’s it — and in the era when dig­i­tal comics con­sis­tently are be­com­ing the main­stream so­lu­tion to ap­pre­ci­at­ing the se­quen­tial-art in­dus­try, it’s a huge mis­cue.

Con­sid­er­ing that Top Cow Pro­duc­tions teamed up with 2K Games for the video game Dark­ness II to in­clude codes for free ac­cess to two full vol­umes of Dark­ness comics through ei­ther a com­puter or IOS de­vice, this lame ex­tra makes Warner Home Video and DC Comics look Ne­an­derthal by com­par­i­son.

More con­fus­ing, DC ac­tu­ally of­fers a com­mer­cial on the disc tout­ing its on­line comics reader through Comixol­ogy (www.comixol­ogy.com). So why not of­fer a code for at least a com­plete is­sue?

Don’t bother with this silly ex­tra. Just go to Comixol­ogy and buy the en­tire four-is­sue se­ries for your ipad (Nos. 43 to 46 for a pal­try 99 cents each). You will not be dis­ap­pointed.

Game of Thrones: The Com­plete First Sea­son (HBO Home Video, rated TV-MA, $79.98)— While HBO’S adult-themed epic fan­tasy se­ries re­turns with new episodes next month, the first sea­son ar­rives on Blu-ray to tempt new view­ers and de­liver some de­con­struc­tive ex­tras for fans.

Writer Ge­orge R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” saga comes to op­pres­sive life in a beau­ti­fully acted, 10-episode story arc cov­er­ing the first book of the se­ries and in­tro­duc­ing the seven no­ble houses of the ex­pan­sive Wes­teros.

The plot con­cen­trates on the in­sta­bil­ity of King Robert Baratheon’s reign as the Hat­fields and Mc­coys of Wes­teros — the Starks and Lan­nis­ters — duke it out for the con­trol of the lands.

Mid­dle Earth fanciers un­fa­mil­iar with the orig­i­nal source ma­te­rial (and not afraid of some sex­u­ally risque scenes) will find an easy-toap­pre­ci­ate, gritty drama.

The se­ries is loaded with com­plex char­ac­ters mostly grounded in the re­al­ity of a dif­fi­cult, me­dieval life­style and fea­tures an as­sort­ment of rogues and he­roes with just enough fan­tas­ti­cal crea­tures thrown in.

Cast stand­outs in­clude Sean Bean as Ed­dard Stark (pa­tri­arch of the Stark fam­ily); Lena Headey as the de­spi­ca­ble, evil Queen Cer­sei (a nasty Lan­nis­ter); Emilia Clarke as the dragon queen, Daen­erys Tar­garyen; and Emmy win­ner Peter Din­klage as the con­niv­ing dwarf Tyrion Lan­nis­ter, who of­ten car­ries en­tire scenes with his wit and pow­er­ful pres­ence.

The big-bud­geted se­ries presents some ex­pan­sive set de­sign and care in cos­tume de­tail akin to John Boor­man’s “Ex­cal­ibur,” which makes for must viewing in high def­i­ni­tion.

Best ex­tras: HBO takes full ad­van­tage of Mr. Martin’s riv­et­ing sto­ries to pro­vide view­ers with an ex­haus­tive in­ter­ac­tive re­source on the Blu-ray set to learn about the his­tory and cul­ture of his imag­i­na­tive uni­verse.

Called the “Com­plete Guide to Wes­teros,” this menu-driven ex­tra re­sides on all five discs and de­liv­ers a rich com­pendium tied to the lands, houses and his­to­ries and lore of the books and TV se­ries.

Through nav­i­ga­tion us­ing a Blu­ray player’s con­troller, screens present text, nar­rated and an­i­mated il­lus­tra­tions (the most ba­sic of mo­tion comics), stained-glass sto­ry­boards and maps on dozens of top­ics.

For ex­am­ple, in “His­tory of the Night’s Watch,” view­ers can learn about the group of mis­fit sol­diers tasked with guard­ing a wall of ice 700 feet high and 300 miles long through some gor­geous black-and­white, slightly an­i­mated il­lus­tra­tions nar­rated by the char­ac­ters (the ac­tual ac­tors) from the se­ries, in­clud­ing Lord Com­man­der Jeor Mor­mont, Maester Luwin and Ty­win Lan­nis­ter.

De­tail also quickly be­comes en­cy­clo­pe­dic within a break­down of the houses with an in­tro­duc­tion to their legacy, and then bios on fam­ily mem­bers, ser­vants, small folk and no­bles, or while read­ing Lands with its maps and text tied to many key lo­ca­tions.

It is a glo­ri­ous sup­ple­ment that flexes some of the Blu-ray’s tech­no­log­i­cal might and ed­u­cates the in­ter­ested viewer through hours of ex­plo­ration.

Ad­di­tion­ally, each episode of the se­ries of­fers an in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence tied to a ban­ner on the right side of the screen. The ban­ner slides open and con­tains click­able icons to char­ac­ters (text bios ap­pear for those cur­rently on screen), lo­ca­tion (a text en­try) his­tory (about two dozen chunks from the com­pendium) or im­me­di­ate ac­cess to the Com­plete Guide.

Yes, there is much over­lap of in­for­ma­tion from the guide, but it al­lows a more bite-sized at­tack when ex­plor­ing the com­plex­i­ties of the mythol­ogy.

Read all about it: Dy­na­mite En­ter­tain­ment of­fers a monthly se­quen­tial-art adap­ta­tion of the first book of the se­ries, scripted by fan­tasy au­thor Daniel Abra­ham and il­lus­trated by Tommy Pat­ter­son. Look for ei­ther sin­gle is­sues of A Game of Thrones ($3.99 each) or grab the trade pa­per­back ($25) later in March that will com­pile the first six is­sues.

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