Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Justice League: Secret Origins

And here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  You know how this works, I watch a movie and blog about it.  Tonight, I do the premiere episode of the legendary Justice League cartoon.  This is in my  notes at May 4, 2019.

Again, as I sit on the couch at night and my eyes scan my shelves and shelves of DVDs, one that's been catching my eye a lot lately was Justice League: Secret Origins.  So tonight, I finally popped it in and watched it. 

In the early 2000s, animator Bruce Timm scored a hat trick, having been the co-creator and showrunner of the hit cartoons Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, and Batman Beyond.  For his next project, he made the jump from broadcast television to cable, and he was going to tackle DC's biggest superhero team, Justice League.  Timm wanted to do something different, though.  To accommodate all the characters, he wanted it to be the first hour-long animated series.  Cartoon Network wasn't on board, though, so they reached a compromise.  Each episode would be two parts.  Part one was shown on Tuesdays, part two was shown on Thursdays, and then the entire thing would be shown in its intended one hour format on Sunday nights. 

Then came the question of the lineup.  Of course he'd have such JLA stalwarts as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and Martian Manhunter.  To provide a little more diversity, Timm decided to go with the African American Green Lantern, John Stewart, and to fill the seventh slot, he went with Hawkgirl. 

Our familiar characters underwent a few changes as well.  Timm tweaked his trademark character designs a bit.  He got a lot of flak for tweaking Superman's design though.  Timm wanted Superman to look a little older, to show that some time had passed since Superman: The Animated Series.  So he gave Superman a few wrinkles, and changed the shading on Superman's hair to make it look like some grey was coming in.  People complained that this made Superman look too old, so he reversed most of the changes for the second season.

Superman's original voice actor, Tim Daly, was also unavailable to reprise his role, so he was re-cast with actor George Newbern.  For these first few episodes, Newbern sounds like he's doing a Daly impression, but as the show went on, Newbern was able to bring more of his flair to it. 

Justice League premiered in the fall of 2001, and was an instant hit.  It was almost immediately embraced as carrying on the legacy that Timm started with Batman: The Animated Series.  But I had one big problem with it:  it wasn't on in Canada.  No major Canadian broadcaster picked it up until, like, 2003.  And I wasn't going to go with the torrents on dial-up.  So when the three part premiere Secret Origins was re-edited into an hour-long straight-to-DVD movie, you're damn right I ran out and bought it as soon as it hit store shelves. 

It's a pretty standard Justice League origin story:  our heroes band together to fight off an alien invasion, figure their partnership is pretty beneficial, and form the team on a permanent basis. 

We open with the first manned mission to Mars, but one of the astronauts, J. Carter, discovers...something.  We then flash forward two years.  Batman has picked up sabotage in the deep space monitoring network.  Batman's investigation takes him to Metropolis, where Superman offers to help.  Batman briefs Superman, but Superman has to go attend a press conference.  Astronaut Carter is now a senator, and he has a radical new plan to protect the Earth from alien threats:  replace their weapons with Superman. 

Batman's investigation soon uncovers a conspiracy of shape-shifting aliens.  But it's too late, as the invasion begins.  Superman and Batman put up a valiant fight, but Superman soon flees the battle, having picked up a mysterious telepathic signal.  Batman pursues, and finds Superman breaking Martian Manhunter out of a government facility.  Superman tells Batman that Martian Manhunter is their only hope, but they can't convince the Army, as the Army is all revealed to be shape-shifting aliens. 

Superman, Batman, and Martian Manhunter escape, but soon get help from Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkgirl, whom Martian Manhunter also telepathically summoned.  Once they're safe, Martian Manhunter fills them in.  These aliens invaded Mars centuries ago, sparking off an epic war.  When it was all done, the aliens were in stasis, and Martian Manhunter was the lone survivor.  So MM began a silent vigil, watching over the aliens to make sure they would never attack again.  But, while MM was off hibernating, the first manned mission came and accidentally revived the aliens.  MM made his way to Earth to warn the people, but aliens had already used their shapeshifting to infiltrate the government and had MM locked up. 

And the battle to save the Earth begins!  Their first offensive doesn't go so well, as Superman and Hawkgirl are captured, and Batman is missing presumed dead.  The remaining Leaguers mount a rescue mission, but it turns out to be a trap.  Senator Carter reveals himself to be the leader of this invasion, as the real Carter was killed on that Mars mission...so the aliens took his place and began their invasion.  This whole "replace weapons with Superman" initiative was a ploy to weaken Earth's defenses.  It looks as though all is lost...but they're rescued by Batman, who wasn't dead!

Batman figured out the key to stopping the aliens.  As part of their invasion, they built these giant factories, spewing black smoke designed to block out the sun.  Turns out they're not simply nocturnal, like MM told them.  They're incredibly sensitive to sunlight...specifically, UV rays.  Driving off the aliens with a series of flash-bangs, and reversing the factories to eliminate the smoke, our heroes save they day by literally dragging the aliens into the light.

With the world saved, our heroes decide to make their alliance permanent, and form the Justice League.  Batman gifts them with a Wayne Enterprises space station to use as their headquarters, which becomes the Watchtower.  I do love the little exchange between Batman and Superman when Batman shows them the Watchtower.  It's the only time in this episode they call each other by their real names.

Superman:  Do your stockholders know about this, Bruce?

Batman:  It's a line item buried deep in the aerospace R&D budget. 

And thus the Justice League is formed!

All in all, it's a pretty good introduction to the series.  The aliens are obviously based on the White Martians of the comics, and their war machines contain many an homage to War of the Worlds

They also kind of awkwardly shoehorn in Wonder Woman's origin story as a subplot.  It's Martian Manhunter's telepathic summons that inspires Diana to leave Thymescera and become Wonder Woman.  Timm has said he just really wanted to tell Wonder Woman's origin story.  If you want to see Timm do Wonder Woman's origin fully and properly, might I recommend his 2009 straight-to-DVD animated Wonder Woman movie? 

Great voice acting, too.  Martian Manhunter is voiced by Carl Lumbly, who went on to play Martian Manhunter's father on Supergirl.  He'd occasionally lapse into his Martian Manhunter voice on Supergirl, which was a great Easter egg.  The Flash is voiced by Michael Rosenbaum, who at around the same time, was starting to play Lex Luthor on Smallville.  I'm pretty sure they eventually did the "Lex Luthor and Flash" switch bodies episode just because of that. 

And that's Secret Origins, which was a pretty good kick-off to show.  It's strange.  Because of how long it took to get to Canada, there's still a huge chunk of the first season that I've never seen.  Hopefully, it'll come to streaming someday. 

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