JL ‘Doom’ animation fails dramatic storyline
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.