Like many of you reading this review, I grew up on the animated excellence of Batman: The Animated Series and that show’s follow-up, Superman. I watched as the animated Justice League expanded the heroic cast of characters, one that ballooned to ridiculous (and awesome) proportions in Justice League Unlimited. More recently, I’ve seen the DC animated universe go to the dark side with direct-to-video movies like Batman: The Killing Joke, pay homage to classic camp with Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, and go downright silly with Teen Titans Go!
With the announcement that Justice League Action would be the next animated series in this ever-popular franchise, some were concerned that it would skew more towards the sillier side than that of the classic action shows. I’m happy to report that the newest installment strikes a surprising balance between the promised action and kid-friendly comedy. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to the classic 90s/00s DC superhero series in years.
To be fair, I’ve only seen the hour-long premiere of Justice League Action, titled “Shazam Slam,” so it’s difficult to say where this series will ultimately end up when compared to its forebears. However, if this tone stays consistent, I’d place its seriousness below that of the mature direct-to-video material, and shows like Teen Titans, Young Justice, and Batman Beyond. The closest comparison is probably Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which took a slightly silly, episodic approach to storytelling but did not skimp on the action. However, this new series appears to favor longer interconnected arcs featuring more complex stories and an increasingly large cast of characters rather than independent installments with new guest stars.
Justice League Action promises excitement and fisticuffs in its very title, and makes good on it. The first hour is packed full of fights, many and varied: There’s a battle between wizards, team-ups and takedowns of classic DC Comics villains, and an epic over-arching race against the clock to put a stop to a trio of supernatural threats. While fans of the comics and earlier shows will no doubt love the parade of supervillains that kicks off Justice League Action, the series’ is just getting started with its cavalcade of superheroes. The DC Trinity leads the way with Kevin Conroy lending his iconic voice and decades of experience to Batman while Jason J. Lewis debuts with a more-compassionate-than-commanding take on Superman and Rachel Kimsey delivers a powerful performance as Wonder Woman. She’s easily the most aggressive and enthusiastic superhero on the team when it comes to dustups.
Elsewhere in the voice cast, Carl Reiner stars as a powerful wizard who will be familiar to many of you, especially once Sean Astin‘s Billy Batson/Shazam steps into the picture. Diedrich Bader, Khary Payton, Chris Diamantopoulos, and Gary Cole complement the cast along with Crispin Freeman‘s unusually humorous and less-stilted take on Martian Manhunter and Dana Snyder‘s pitch-perfect play on Plastic Man. Voice Director Wes Gleason, who directed voice talent in almost a dozen animated DC projects over the last two years, is poised to be the heir apparent to the legendary Andrea Romano. (Some of the dialogue delivery was a little awkward at times, mostly from the newcomers. Oddly the only voice that seemed somewhat out of place here was Mark Hamill playing a character that might surprise you.)
The voice cast won’t take very long to get used to; the animation, however, might take a little more time. It’s definitely got that classic look to the costume design and characters themselves, but it also has just enough of a cartoonish touch to keep it from being mistaken for similar series. It’s a perfect look for a show that delivers bone-crunching combat and epic fights that range all over Metropolis (and beyond) but also keeps things kid-friendly with sparing use of silliness. This really should be a crowd-pleaser across demographics. Sure, older audiences looking for more mature content or younger audiences who gravitate towards silly stuff might find it lacking, but it’s definitely worth a watch for fans of DC Comics, superhero fare, or just well-produced, high-quality action cartoons in general. I can’t wait to see more!
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Look for Justice League Action to premiere in a one-hour special Friday, December 16th at 6:00 p.m. on Cartoon Network. The show’s regular time will then be Saturday mornings (That’s right! Saturday morning cartoons are back!) at 7:30 a.m. beginning Christmas Eve.